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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2293

Senator WOODLEY (9.04 p.m.) —I indicate that the Democrats will be supporting the message from the House of Representatives and I will give reasons for that. One reason for not proceeding with the coalition's amendment in this case is that the government has argued that to provide the defence community with two representatives is out of proportion to other representation on the committee. Having carefully examined its arguments, we have accepted its point. However, we have insisted on an amendment to make it absolutely clear that the views of the ex-service community will be represented on the commission through the Australian Defence Force member. We believe that this is a reasonable compromise.

  The opposition is concerned that a member of the Defence Force cannot possibly represent the interests of former members. It argues that the cases and the needs of former members are different. There are, obviously, differences between serving and former ADF personnel, but they also have a good deal in common. The way to make this arrangement work is to establish a formal consultative process whereby the ADF representative meets regularly with ex-service organisations and undertakes to represent their concerns on the commission.

  The minister will need to be judicious in his choice of an ADF member and must satisfy himself that an adequate consultative process has been established. The government points out that the licensed authorities had only one representative on the commission as do all other Commonwealth departments and authorities. The entire union movement, with many members in the Public Service, is represented by one ACTU officer, and a member of the postal union. That leaves many relevant departments, authorities and unions with no direct representation. They are represented by people whose consultative task is much more onerous than that which the ADF member will have under the government amendment.

  It is rather unfortunate that the government did not follow its normal practice and make its views known to us in advance of the committee stage. This was despite an approach from us to discuss any amendments which might arise. Various commitments prevented us from monitoring the debate on the amendment. In any case, it is usual for amendments to be negotiated before the committee stage. This situation could have been avoided with better communication. I am not sure of the opposition's reaction. I guess it will accuse us of capitulation. The fact is that we have decided to reach a reasonable compromise.