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Michael Spence Column for Disagreeing Well: It’s time to bring back national service

In the weekly column where we air an ill-thought out hot take, Sam Randle lets loose!

Australians have shirked their responsibilities to the nation for too long. In response, I propose that Australia reintroduce a program of one-year compulsory national service for all citizens between the ages of 18 and 30.

In response to global climate change, Australia will need a deployable workforce capable of responding to emergencies. Having a trained and mobile reserve army on standby will mean the fallout of heatwaves, bushfires, and floods can be minimised. Young Aussies could be involved in sandbagging, firefighting, or search and rescue operations.

An adequate climate response is equivalent in scale to a national post-war recovery. We do not have the time for private industry to develop their market-ready climate solutions. We need to nation-build. For that, we need nation-builders. An army of national servicepeople could be deployed to rural Australia without needing financial compensation for the inconvenience, something usually afforded to private industry. Imagine solar farms, hydro plants, and transmission lines being built in years, not decades.

Servicepeople could be involved in nature-based solutions through reforestation efforts or regenerative farming. There is a great opportunity for many projects to be developed in consultation with and directed by Indigenous leaders.

Care work is another sphere for deployment. Australia is facing a crisis in disability, aged, foster home, homeless, and youth care. Young Australians entering national service could elect to join social institutions engaged in training and care delivery across any of these sectors.

Some work will require skilled labour. Therefore, I recommend citizens have the option to complete their mandatory service anywhere from age 18 to 30. Those who elect to complete their service after pursuing a relevant TAFE or university course could contribute their expertise for a higher level of compensation.

Many may worry that a return of a national service would lead to increased military posturing in the Asia-Pacific region. But naysayers should recognise Australia’s first conscription program explicitly prohibited overseas deployment; a new program would continue this legacy.

Finally, national service would promote social cohesion among Australia’s diverse people along geographic, gender, class, and racial lines. In service, we would find common ground and escape the silos of our upbringings.

So, when rising seas levels hit our shores, flood sirens signal an imminent deluge, and civilians run for their gas masks in smoke-covered cities, let’s make sure we have an army to fight the climate wars.