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Thursday, 14 May 2009
Page: 4010

Mr LINDSAY (11:34 AM) —Before the member for Blair leaves, I think I need to put some things on the public record which both he and I will agree on. Both of us are very proud of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force in our electorate. We both have very significant defence installations in our electorates. Both of us have both Army and Air Force elements in our electorate, but the ratio in Townsville is the reverse of Ipswich. In relation to the scale of things, Amberley is quite small compared to Townsville. There may be something in the order of 2½ thousand people at Amberley—perhaps a few more—but there are 6,000 in Townsville. Townsville will remain the pre-eminent military base in the country, and long may that be the case—particularly as we are about to grow even bigger with the arrival of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, which is being transferred from Holsworthy up to 3rd Brigade in Townsville. They are already commanded by 3rd Brigade, but they will now be co-located with 3rd Brigade headquarters in the city. That will mean even more defence homes, which the Rudd government has funded in Townsville. These would have been funded under a coalition government, because all of that was locked in. It will also mean a further upgrade of the RAAF base.

Of course, we are also upgrading the port. In the budget this year there is an amount of about $30 million to upgrade the Townsville port so that we can have the new LHD ships dock in Townsville. They are just humongous ships. Of course, their customer is the 3rd Brigade, so when 3rd Brigade deploys in the marine environment it will go on the LHDs when they are built. I should also advise the parliament that tomorrow there will be a major parade in Townsville. Nine hundred and ten soldiers will be on parade. Just being a bit parochial, I do not think RAAF Amberley could put 910 airmen on parade in one go. Certainly in Townsville we can put 910 soldiers on parade. The Minister for Defence and I will be attending that parade tomorrow to honour our soldiers who are being deployed to Afghanistan.

Of course, that introduces the connection to the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2009 before the parliament today: the soldiers who go to Afghanistan will face the issue that part of this bill seeks to address, which is the tactical payments scheme. For example, we look at Afghanistan and ask: ‘What is the solution to that ugly war? What is going to solve it?’ The answer in the long term is winning over the hearts and minds of the Afghanis. It is not whether your gun is bigger than somebody else’s gun or whether you can kill more people than somebody else; it is whether you carry the people of the country with you. There are a whole range of mechanisms by which you can address that particular issue. Our Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force is very important in addressing that issue. Our training teams are very important in looking after the Afghanis. Of course, our special forces are very important in making sure that the bad guys are effectively dealt with.

But in some of those operations there are unintended consequences. People’s homes and businesses can be affected by the war. It may be accidental. The lives of civilians can be lost; families can lose a loved one. Interestingly, in a place like Afghanistan, losing an animal may, in fact, be more devastating than losing a relative. Camels can have a higher value than a human in some of these places. But the point is that, if the ADF is empowered to immediately be able to redress those kinds of issues, we do not lose the hearts and minds of the local population. Yes, it is traumatic if they lose their home through demolition by a bomb blast, a rocket that does not go in the right direction or for whatever reason. Yes, it is traumatic if they lose a loved one. But in part we can compensate for that, and the quicker we can do it the better. That is why the coalition certainly supports the government’s initiative to empower people of lieutenant colonel rank and above to authorise the payment of compensation in theatre, on the ground and immediately. It is a good outcome.

However, something that has concerned us—and I think it has concerned the government because we have been talking about it, and I believe that the government will support the coalition—is the reporting to the parliament on the operation of this amendment. We think it is important that there be a mechanism where you can report to the parliament who was compensated, what the amount was and in what circumstances. We think there should be an accountability mechanism. I think there may well be an amendment moved to this bill in the Senate in due course—and I think it will be moved with the support of the government—requiring Defence, perhaps on an annual basis, to report back to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Security and Intelligence in summary form on the number of incidents, who was compensated and why they were compensated. In that way, the parliament can keep a supervisory eye on what is happening and pick up if there are any difficulties with, or consequences of, the operation of this legislation. This is a way to keep the respect of the people who are affected by war activities, and I think we will all support it.

The amendment to the Defence Homeownership Assistance Scheme Act was originally introduced by the former government and is supported by the Rudd government, because we want to make sure that our people are properly looked after and we want to make sure that this can be used as a retention initiative. The member for Blair was quite correct when he indicated that it is certainly working as a retention initiative. It is very generous. I myself think that the panel of providers should be expanded, but that is a debate for another forum. The coalition, in principle, believes that no member of the Defence Force should be disadvantaged in any area because of their service in the Defence Force. Addressing that is a really big picture item because you can look at employment, you can look at education issues and you can look at homeownership issues. That is why, with the way we post people around the country and the way they continually move, they need to have a home they can call their own. Because of the special circumstances of Defence, they need assistance through the Defence Homeownership Assistance Scheme. That is why it is important, if any inconsistencies are found, or any unintended consequences are found, that they in fact be addressed.

That is what this particular amendment does. They are technical amendments, but members of the Defence Force will of course warmly appreciate that this is being done. Tomorrow, I will certainly tell the soldiers what has been discussed here in the parliament today, and they will know, understand and appreciate the effort that both sides of the parliament are putting into supporting the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. I certainly associate myself with this legislation and indicate my strong support.