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Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Page: 10337

Mr BALDWIN (3:29 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science and the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change. Is the minister aware that 10 members of No. 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, who are performing duties in support of the special forces have been left at least $20,000 out of pocket, despite a CDF directive in June directing that they receive back pay dating back 12 to 24 months. Minister, has the government not learned from the SAS pay debacle presided over by the former Minister for Defence and the damage it did to the serving men and women of our Australian defence forces?

Mr COMBET (Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science and Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change) —I thank the member for Paterson for his question because it provides an opportunity to outline the specific circumstances of this particular issue. At the outset, I make absolutely clear the government’s commitment to ensuring that our service personnel and their families receive their correct entitlements. The Air Force is currently undertaking the development of a new capability, which is known as the special tactics flight, within No. 4 Squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown. This involves Air Force personnel who undertake specific training to enable them to undertake a range of activities, including operations with special forces. However, the members of No. 4 Squadron are not special forces personnel. When they are deployed on operations or conducting associated training they have an entitlement to a component of the special forces disability allowance. This allowance is paid in recognition of the hazard and stress associated with service within the special forces environment that they of course experience.

I am advised that in April this year, not June as I think the member for Paterson indicated, a directive from the Chief of the Defence Force created eligibility for this allowance to these members and indicated that the allowance would be paid on an occurrence basis—that is, when the capability is in use or when people are in training or in operations, rather than as a continuous payment. At the same time, the CDF also approved the back pay of this entitlement for those deployed or trained prior to April 2009 when eligibility for the allowance was created. The training began in 2007. When transactions related to this allowance, after its generation in April, were loaded onto the pay system at the end of September 2009, I am advised that they were incorrectly loaded at a continuous rate.

Mr Baldwin —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If he was their union official rather than their minister, he would call them out on strike on this issue over their pay.

The SPEAKER —The member for Paterson will leave the chamber for one hour under standing order 94(a).

The member for Paterson then left the chamber.

Mr COMBET —I understand that the Air Force, upon the loading of this data onto the pay system, immediately recognised—this occurred in September—that the continuous rate for this allowance did not accord with the original directive from the Chief of the Defence Force and therefore they stopped the payment. The suspension of the payment was designed to ensure that the special forces disability allowances were not paid in error, which would have led to the need to recover any overpayments. I am further advised that the Air Force is currently in the process of developing the correct business rules for the payment of the allowance and ensuring that all affected members are paid their correct entitlements. I am advised that currently 18 members of No. 4 Squadron are entitled to receive a component of this allowance through their training and/or their operational activity. Today, I have written to the Acting Chief of the Defence Force to urge urgent resolution of this issue. Finally, could I remark that the first that the government was aware of this issue was yesterday and we have taken immediate action to ensure that the circumstances of the particular service personnel are appropriately investigated by the ADF and that their correct entitlements are paid as soon as possible.