The Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence, Danna Vale today strongly rejected claims that the Australian Defence Force's capacity to defend Australia was at risk.
"Our successful role in East Timor, and our role in the International Coalition Against Terrorism, both of which have been highly praised by the international community, are evidence of how wrong those claims are," Minister Vale said.
"Highly skilled and trained ADF personnel are doing the jobs they should be doing, defending Australia's interests and taking their place alongside the rest of the world in military operations.
"Over the past ten years the ratio of Defence personnel in combat roles has increased by over 20 per cent. In June 1991 just over 40 per cent of the ADF were at the sharp end of capability, today that figure is 62.4 per cent.
Minister Vale said both retention and recruitment rates for Defence personnel were increasing.
"ADF separation rates over the past eight months have shown a marked improvement, particularly in the current economic environment," she said. "Historically, a healthy economic environment means an increase in separation rates.
"As at 31 March 2002, the annual separation rate for Army was 11.9 per cent, Navy 11.45 per cent and Air Force 11.11 per cent. These rates represent a significant shift downward when compared to the ADF three-year average of 12.97 per cent.
"This change represents the first shift against what was an ascending trend over the previous three financial years."
Minister Vale said in the last financial year the ADF had recruited 7,697 personnel, a 34 per cent increase over the previous year.
"So far this year the ADF has recruited 6,725 personnel, 757 more people than at the same time last year."
Minister Vale acknowledged that Defence recruitment was below ideal levels, a difficulty shared by all Western volunteer forces which faced great competition for highly skilled applicants in good economic times.
However she said the trends indicated Defence was on track to meet its targets in the near future.
"Our Defence personnel are serving Australia proudly in operations throughout the world, and have received great praise for their professionalism, skill and dedication," Minister Vale said.
"In making their claims about Defence personnel numbers the Opposition has demonstrated they are willing to ignore the facts in an attempt to score cheap political points."