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Thursday, 14 May 2009
Page: 4012


Mr PERRETT (11:44 AM) —I thank the member for Lindsay for his contribution. I know that he cares passionately about both his constituents and defence matters. Those two matters often intersect. I also am pleased to speak in support of the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2009. Before I do so, I just want to digress and say a special thankyou to the hosts who looked after me out at Amberley Air Base as part of the parliamentary placement program, particularly Air Commodore Sowade and all of his staff who looked after me and took me on a wonderful flight that was especially enjoyable in a C-17 on the last day. They put me through lots of wonderful experiences and I just want to pass on my thanks to them.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—Are you still looking white?


Mr PERRETT —They certainly took me on an interesting flight—that is for sure. I did not realise that a plane so big could fly so low to the ground or so spectacularly. But I return to the legislation before us. The purpose of this bill is twofold. Firstly, it is to introduce a tactical payment scheme for people adversely affected by the Australian Defence Force operations overseas and, secondly, it is to improve the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme. I will discuss the new tactical payment scheme first. This new scheme will compensate people who are injured or affected by ADF operations outside Australia. According to international law and for the sake of human decency, Australia observes an absolute prohibition on the intentional targeting of civilians in armed conflict. As a party to the Geneva convention and additional protocol 1, Australia makes every effort to avoid military operations that are likely to result in incidental civilian casualties. However, we know that, while every effort is made to avoid it, tragically civilians do sometimes unfortunately suffer harm and death and damage is done to property in the course of military operations. That is one of the tragic costs of war and armed conflicts.

While a number of act of grace payments have been made to civilians following loss and damage, Australia has no formal compensation scheme in place. Instead, payments have been considered more on a case by case basis and require the approval of both the defence and the finance minister. The administrative requirements for these payments are cumbersome and not suitable to the immediate needs on the ground in conflict situations abroad. They are much too laborious. I am advised that $266,000 has been paid to Iraqi civilians in act of grace payments and that last financial year alone Defence paid out $81,000 in act of grace payments. But this process is time consuming, ad hoc and inconsistent.

Our defence forces have learned from East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan that civilians generally expect to be compensated for damage to property, injury or loss of life. When this does not happen or when there are significant delays in providing payment, it can have a negative impact on the ADF’s relationship with local communities, which in turn can place their defence personnel at greater risk. When our armed forces are serving overseas, they are there to bring security and stability to a region or community, to help build capacity and to protect the most vulnerable. This bill ensures that when there are adverse outcomes for civilians they will be compensated. The tactical payments scheme will enable Defence to quickly respond to damage or loss by making payments to civilians who have suffered personal or property damage. Payments will be capped at $250,000 and the scheme will not completely replace act of grace payments, which will still be an option.

This scheme will help further the reputation of Australian defence personnel working overseas. It already has a wonderful reputation, but this will enhance that reputation. The last thing we want is for civilian losses to be written off as collateral damage and forgotten. While we strive to avoid civilian loss and damage, Australia must do what it can to support and protect the local communities which we have become a part of through military operations. As several of the previous speakers mentioned, it is by winning the hearts and minds of these people that we will actually win these military operations.

This bill also amends the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme Bill 2008. The Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme was set up in July last year to help serving ADF members to buy their first home. The scheme is a carrot for young recruits and also a retention tool to encourage members to stay with the ADF, as they receive greater assistance the longer they serve. And it has been successful, with more than 11,000 already approved for subsidies. Successful members are provided with a subsidy certificate as evidence to the bank when applying for a loan. It is very practical assistance. However, the amendments in this bill are about eliminating a number of unintended outcomes. For example, it makes minor amendments to the service eligibility for the loan subsidy. Some members were able to claim more than intended under the scheme if they rejoined the ADF after a break in service prior to 1 July 2008. The amendments ensure that members are subsidised the same whether they rejoined the ADF before or after 1 July 2008.

Further, the bill makes certain that a subsidy certificate is conditional on a member having service credit, thereby providing greater proof to a home loan provider that a subsidy is payable. This bill clarifies that only those members who are buying a home for the first time, while a member of the ADF, have access to the subsidy lump sum payment option. It also clarifies that the subsidy may be payable monthly or as a lump sum payment. The bill ensures that the entitlement of subsidised borrowers who enter into a joint mortgage with a person who is not defined as a partner in the act is proportional to the subsidised borrower’s liability—common sense.

As I mentioned previously, this scheme is a shot in the arm for Defence Force recruitment, with more than 11,000 members signing up for the loan subsidy already. It is not uncommon for schemes like this to require some tweaking around the edges as some of the technicalities are worked out in practice. The amendments before the House are important because they will help ensure this scheme remains a viable and effective recruitment and retention tool for the ADF into the future. I commend the bill to the House.