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Wednesday, 29 November 2006
Page: 62

Mr LINDSAY (1:27 PM) —I come to this debate on the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 with some knowledge of the Australian Defence Force and its men and women. I represent Australia’s largest Army base. I represent a community that has two brigades—3rd Brigade and 11th Brigade. I represent a community that has three battalions, multiple regiments and the Royal Australian Air Force. I mix quite widely with all ranks of the Australian Defence Force.

The bill before the House today is one that the senior commanders of the ADF focus on. It is not something that the lower ranks ever mention to you. There has been long frustration within our senior command ranks in relation to the military justice system. There has been a lot of effort and time consumed which really did not need to be consumed in addressing the issues that have happened in the past in relation to military justice. Certainly, it is another issue in relation to the offences that have been committed from time to time—the silly things that have happened, the things that frustrate our commanders that should never happen and the things that tend to reduce confidence in the professionalism of the Defence Force. Thankfully, only a very small number of people are involved in this, because it takes a lot of the time of our senior commanders, right up to the chiefs of the services, to deal with these particular matters which should never have happened.

It was very much in the nation’s interests that we had a Senate inquiry into the effectiveness of Australia’s military justice system. That inquiry has subsequently reported. Out of that inquiry came the proposal to establish a permanent court, to be known as the Australian Military Court. It will replace the current system of courts martial and Defence Force magistrates under the Defence Force Discipline Act.

There has been some concern expressed by the opposition, but I am not hearing that concern from serving members of the Australian Defence Force. I heard the member for Barton express a concern in relation to the independence of the proposed new court. My response to that would be: does anyone really believe that judges appointed to the court would not operate in an independent way? Does anyone really believe that they would allow their professionalism to come under scrutiny? I do not. I do not think anybody else does. I think judges in our community who join the Australian Military Court will be professional people, as they are in the public sector. They would not allow their independence to be questioned by anybody. We have a very fine tradition in our legal system in Australia in relation to this. I also point out that if any judge did allow their independence to be questioned then the community and the military would soon know about it. I do not share the concern of the member for Barton.

The member for Barton also said that he felt there would be difficulty in recruiting judges. Again, that is not my experience. I have seen a very fine law officer from Townsville, a senior judge, appointed into the military. Another senior judge asked me, ‘How do I go about being considered for the Australian Military Court?’ These are senior judges with many years experience who want to be on the Australian Military Court. If that is the case in Townsville, that will be the case elsewhere in the country. I find it hard to share that concern of the member for Barton.

There are some key points in this legislation; for example, a safeguard such that a military judge will not be eligible for promotion except where the promotion is to enable the person to be appointed to Chief Military Judge—a sensible point. We will see a military jury of peers at a rank not less than the person being charged, which I am pleased to say the member for Barton has supported. There will be two classes of juries, depending on which particular offences are being dealt with. There will also be a reviewing authority for an automatic right of appeal from a summary authority to the AMC. There will also be an appeals process which will provide that an offender may appeal a conviction and/or punishment. The Director of Military Prosecutions may also appeal against a punishment.

The bill before the House is a significant element of the overall program of enhancing the military justice system, of having a robust system that will serve the Australian military forces in an independent and impartial way. Certainly the chain of command will not be able to interfere in the operations of the court.

The government will also be required to make consequential amendments to Defence and other portfolio legislation, for which policy approval has been sought from the Attorney-General and from the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. In relation to remuneration of judges—an important point—provisions have been included in the bill to preclude a judge or magistrate from a federal, state or territory court appointed as a part-time or acting military judge from receiving remuneration under the DFDA if they receive salary or annual allowances by virtue of their judicial office—a double-dipping provision. I do not think anyone would have any difficulty whatsoever with the common sense of that particular provision. The other element which was important to consider was that, given that the AMC is a federal court and if the term of employment for 10 years is approved, there is an unintended consequence which would see military judges being eligible for pensions under the Judges’ Pensions Act in addition to the military pension that applies to all Defence Force members. That anomaly will be corrected through an amendment of the Judges’ Pensions Act 1968 to prevent the payment of pensions to military judges under that act.

I indicated to the parliament that members of the Australian Defence Force with whom I have had contact are quite happy with this proposal. They see that it will work well for the Defence Force, that it will work well for those who appear before the court and for those who have been aggrieved by the person appearing under charge before the court. Therefore, I am able to confidently support this particular legislation.

In closing, I will use one minute of my time to recognise the wonderful service that the men and women of the Australian Defence Force give to this nation—in particular, the wonderful service that the men and women of the Australian Defence Force in Townsville have been providing through service in the Solomon Islands, Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, Lebanon and the Sinai. It is very much appreciated. If there is to be a coup in Fiji, it is the men and women of the Australian Defence Force in Townsville who are currently somewhere in the South-West Pacific who will be ready to be available to do what needs to be done in the nation’s interests. Of course the men and women of the Australian Defence Force are always available to do that. I compliment the serving men and women. Townsville will certainly continue to provide a very effective ready deployment force for our country.