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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2002


Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(4.20) —Prior to the debate being interrupted, I was explaining to the House that the Opposition will move an amendment to the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill at the Committee stage to ensure that the call-out provisions applicable to the reserves would be available in circumstances of natural disaster. This is in no way designed to contravene the provisions of section 51 of the Defence Act, which places a ban on the use of the Services in connection with industrial disputes. It is intended to embrace a situation in which there could be a requirement for the use of reserve forces either on the Australian mainland or in Australian territories because of cyclones such as Cyclone Tracy.

There are a number of other aspects to the Bill. The only matter with respect to the reserves that remains in residuum is that, within the second reading speech of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley), there is a suggestion that the present integration of reserves within the Force as a whole is something new and something peculiar to the Australian Labor Party. This is arrant rubbish. Of course, it was begun long since, under a coalition government. There is no doubt that the reserves have a critical role. It is my regret that the Government has not extended the role and capability of the reserves beyond that which is now enjoyed certainly in the Royal Australian Air Force and in the Royal Australian Navy. I also say to the Minister that I believe it essential that he provide for greater training days permissible for each of those in the reserves, not only in the case of call-out but so that the reserves can properly fulfil that additional responsibility which declining numbers in the regular forces requires.

There are a number of other provisions within this legislation to which I want to refer. The first relates to a suggestion that there will be a new type of permanent employment within the Services. The Opposition welcomes this. There has certainly been a problem in a number of categories. Indeed, I have long correspondence from a number of people who have served in different areas of the Services. One piece of correspondence received more recently suggested that we should have a specialist air crew scheme. As everybody will know, people in the Services train to the point of proficiency in their particular category, whether it is to sail a ship, fly a plane or whatever. If they are any good at it, they will inevitably be promoted to fly a desk, which is absolutely useless to the Services-so much so that at the moment we have 33 fighter pilots to fly the 75 about to be equipped F18 aircraft; there are about three times as many fighter pilots flying desks in `Fort Fumble' on the other side of the lake as there are available to fly our Mirage or F18 aircraft. That is a situation which, quite demonstrably, should not be allowed to continue.

As I explained before lunch, frankly, the Minister has failed totally to comprehend that his White Paper is no more than a grandiose idea, if he cannot provide the personnel and money to implement it. At this stage the Opposition is highly cynical about the Government's preparedness or ability to do that. Unless the Minister gets his act together with respect to personnel, the forces will be more notable for their resignations than for their recruitment. The whole of the Minister's involvement with personnel has been to deny them the same terms and conditions of employment as are available to everybody else in the Public Service. The Australian Labor Party pretends that it is in some way a great champion of the employee. But, frankly, it has not shown any of that in its attitude towards members of the defence forces.

We certainly think that there is a role for long term enlistment. Indeed, as I have explained, I commend to the Minister the idea of a specialist air crew scheme. Without going into the extensions that are now to be involved in this legislation, I believe it is a pity that more flexibility has not been provided in terms of billets. One of the problems with long term enlistment is that people who go to about 13, 15 or so different posts in the course of a 20-year service career will, of course, be disadvantaged as against their colleagues in other fields of employment. There is no doubt that families and children suffer and something needs to be done about it. I believe that providing for permanency in certain categories and for longer terms in service billets is a way by which that can be overcome. That, again, is a matter of man management and an area in which the Minister has failed abysmally. We have no difficulties with the Defence Force discipline provision. It provides only for sentencing to be exercised in an alternative way to that carried out at the moment, that is, either by court martial or by a Defence Force magistrate.

There are provisions within this legislation relating to the Defence Force retirement and death benefits legislation. As in so many fields, I am afraid that the poor old Government has fallen flat on its face. During the discussion on our matter of public importance this afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) contended that broken promises are becoming symptomatic of the Hawke Government's performance and approach to the people. That is true, too, of defence. We all know that the immediate past Minister for Defence, now the Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes), made undertakings prior to the 1983 election with respect to servicemen and women's entitlements under the Defence Force retirement and death benefits scheme. Before we had been subjected to more than one of the Government's Budgets, we found that there was an increased tax liability which disadvantaged those who took their commutation-in other words, those who sought to draw a capital sum on their resignation from the Services. I do not believe that is either acceptable or desirable. While it has since been modified, it took about three years for the Government to get its act together. Of course, it still has not got its act together in terms of giving to servicemen and women the same sympathetic salary treatment as it gives to just about everybody else who receives some sort of Commonwealth pay envelope.

There are other areas of difficulty. The Regular Defence Force Welfare Association, in particular Major-General John Whitelaw, has drawn my attention to the fact that there is yet another disability in the amendments to the defence force retirement and death benefits scheme-we will seek to change this at the Committee stage-which is that it denies to the widow of a service pension beneficiary, in respect of any children of the marriage, the right to continue to receive a pension if the male pensioner married after his retirement.

Frankly, given the circumstances that servicemen and women retire far earlier than anybody else, this restriction is unacceptable. I believe that one of my colleagues will say a little bit about the matter. But it illustrates yet again that the Government has not understood that people in the Services treat the DFRDB scheme as a genuine way by which they can move from a uniformed to a civilian career. This Government does not understand that. It has treated them harshly. They are worse off than when this Government came to office. There is no excuse for the Government not being more generous than it is. In fact, the amendments in this legislation are fairly minor. There are a number of things that should have been done that have not been done. That is one of them.

Another of the problems is that we have the continuing consequence of the 2 per cent discounting last year of the DFRDB entitlement. There is nothing more disgraceful. This Government arbitrarily has taken from servicemen, and indeed from other Commonwealth superannuitants, an entitlement that was theirs by virtue of a contract entered into at the time that they were recruited into the Services. That 2 per cent continues to be a disadvantage to servicemen and women. We had hoped that the Government, in its next reference to the Defence Force Salaries Tribunal, would have ensured that there was no lingering consequence of the removal of that 2 per cent. In other words, it is not just a matter of the Government having cut the 2 per cent off once-forever after, the entitlement of servicemen, in the way in which the formula works out, will be cut off by 2 per cent every subsequent year. That is yet another way in which this Government is treating servicemen and women of Australia with a complete raspberry. It is absolutely appalling. The Labor Party is by far the worst employer in Australia for anybody in uniform. It is no wonder that servicemen and women are leaving the Services in droves. Unless the Government improves its act and understands that there needs to be comparability between civilian and service employment, there will be no servicemen or women at all to provide the necessary backup for the highly sophisticated defence equipment that is part of the White Paper program and about which other members and I have spoken in the course of the last little while.

A further amendment in the legislation to which I want to draw the House's attention relates to changes to the Supply and Development Act, in this instance to ensure that there is an ability to transfer employees from the Government Aircraft Factories to the private company-Aerospace Technologies of Australia Pty Ltd-that will take over the GAF for the purpose of both the offset program and the F18 program. There are several things I want to say about this. First, we on this side of the House are delighted to hear that the Government is progressively looking at defence assets, as indeed it is looking at other areas of government-owned corporations, to determine whether they could be run better by the private sector. The announcement by the Minister for Defence about Williamstown Dockyard and Cockatoo Island Dockyard certainly is a step in the right direction. Let us face it: In 1987 we can no longer just afford to continue to operate defence assets on the basis that they worked well between 1939 and 1945. Circumstances are different now and it is important that the build-up of defence procurement is not restricted within the public sector at a time when we badly need to enhance our design and manufacturing capability in the private sector. We welcome those two decisions.

A number of other areas seem to have been totally ignored. We have been worried for a long time that there seems to be an excessively generous treatment of some people in the public sector concerning superannuation. It is important to establish the maximum comparability of superannuation entitlements. In this Bill there is no suggestion of portability of pensions from one area to the other. I presume that under the Supply and Development Act amendments of this legislation, superannuation entitlements will be capable of transfer from the public to the private sector. If not, they should be. If there is to be an acquisition of public sector corporations by the private sector, we on this side of the House anticipate that employees will have the opportunity to acquire shares in those companies or enterprises and that their superannuation and other employment related benefits will be transferred. It is common sense in business. Why the devil cannot this Government approach the running of statutory corporations and authorities in the same way as anybody in the private sector would?

I was interested this morning to see a letter from a namesake of mine. I do not know him but obviously he is a man of some distinction. Mr Graeme J. Sinclair, the Managing Director of Parish Engineering Co. Pty Ltd of Moorabbin, Victoria, wrote a letter which appeared in the correspondence column of the Australian Financial Review of today's date. He commented on the Government's buying policies. He highlighted the difficulties in government purchasing and the degree to which the private sector is disadvantaged in the way in which present government purchasing programs are implemented. We on this side of the House have said that on our election to government there will be radical changes in the tendering process, certainly as it affects design and development and defence procurement. This Government has not changed those procedures. There is no financial delegation. There is no flexibility in financial arrangements between the Department of Finance and the Department of Defence. Those are some of the major inhibiting factors in getting value for the taxpayers' dollar in the defence vote. We all know that there is a need to improve those practices. Mr Graeme Sinclair comments that one of the real difficulties is the way in which the Government denies a fair opportunity for Australian industry to participate in government procurement programs. He referred in particular to the decision on the Swiss air trainer. He said:

. . . the specifications were changed, I suspect deliberately, ruling out the Australian-made trainer.

The Minister for Defence pretends that he is a great man because of the equipment he is going to buy. Yet he buys the Swiss trainer and denies Australian industry and Australian engineers any opportunity of providing some input into the design, even when the Defence Department and the Royal Australian Air Force laid down the criteria which the Government tendered upon. As Mr Graeme Sinclair said, the specifications were changed, deliberately ruling out the Australian made trainer. Now we are in the idiotic position where, having got the Swiss trainer, it has to be changed at inordinate cost to meet the RAAF's flying requirements. This example is illustrative of the problems in this Government's running of the Department of Defence. Frankly the sooner the Government goes the better.

A further part of this legislation concerns the termination of the Services Canteens Trust Fund. Generations of men and women in the Services have been provided with a tremendous facility by the Service canteens. They have provided a place where many in their off-duty hours have been able to enjoy companionship and general bonhomie and have been able to meet and know people from different areas of life. That is one of the few real pluses at a personal level of being in the Services. At this time of the termination of the Services Canteens Trust Fund I pay a compliment to all those who for so long have done so much to help so many in this way. They have been a tremendous group and I think all of us in this House appreciate the contribution that those people have made over the years through the Services Canteens Trust Fund. I will move several amendments in the Committee stage of this Bill. In general, the Opposition supports this legislation, particularly the amendment concerning the call-out provisions of the Reserves. However, it does not believe that the amendments go far enough.