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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1662


Mr TICKNER(10.53) —The subject that I seek to raise in the House tonight concerns a further initiative of the Government members Defence Force action committee. It used to be the case in the Australian Parliament that the Liberal and National parties were able to create the impression that they had some monopoly on concern for the welfare of defence personnel and their families. Times have changed. Now, rather than being allies of defence personnel and their families, the Opposition has abandoned whatever interest it once had in that area. Thankfully, Government members, through their own initiative, have formed the Government members Defence Force action committee. It is a group of committed back bench members of the Government who are determined that the just grievances of service personnel and their families will be heard, not just by the Government but by the Department of Defence itself. We know that the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) is recognised as probably the best Defence Minister in the history of this country. Unquestionably, he is the best Defence Minister since the Second World War. His efforts in administering his portfolio have already, in a relatively short time, become legendary.

Our Government members Defence Force action committee is concerned about questions of personnel management in the Department of Defence. I do not purport to have all the answers to what I think is a very complex question. However, our committee is listening to the views of the Armed Forces Federation of Australia, which was set up with the full backing of the Minister. We have began to listen and, we hope, act constructively on the very serious concerns that have been expressed by the Armed Forces Federation on personnel management. Without agreeing in detail with all the views the Federation puts forward, I think it is appropriate that the House at least hear some of the concerns that have emerged through our committee. The President of the Armed Forces Federation, Lieutenant-Colonel Copley, has suggested to us a number of matters that he believes warrant consideration. He suggested that perhaps there should be a review of the Department of Defence structure giving attention to matters such as the number of administration levels, the effectiveness of the military command and departmental functions, centralised operational planning and removal of Department of Defence support agencies from direct departmental control.

Lieutenant-Colonel Copley's views caused concern because he suggested that the Australian Defence Force has one of the highest ratios of civilian to military staff of any force in the Western Alliance. If that statistic is correct, I would think that all members would share the concern expressed by the Federation. The Federation has suggested that there should be improvement in the lines of communication within the Department to get consultation down to the level of the individual on matters affecting personnel. As we all know, because our business is to relate to people, if we are to have effective personnel management it should be the individual soldier and his or her spouse whom we particularly care for as a Parliament and as a Government.

The Federation suggests-and I certainly agree with this-that we should recognise manpower as an investment in defence capability in its own right and not merely as a labour cost. It further suggests that we should debureaucratise government administrative and financial arrangements, and it suggests a number of other reforms. I believe that these ideas warrant consideration. I am confident that the Minister will examine them but most importantly I can give an assurance to the Armed Forces Federation that for the first time since Federation there is an organised lobby group of members of parliament who care about service personnel and their spouses and that we are committed to deliver justice to those families.