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Thursday, 14 May 2009
Page: 4014

Mr TUCKEY (11:50 AM) —The Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2009 is important legislation as it adds opportunities and gives encouragement, if you like, to our defence forces in a couple of important areas. In reference to the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme in particular, I did serve a period as shadow minister for defence personnel and the issue arose of persons regularly on transfer and their consequent inability to purchase a home. Let me say that, of all the issues that one must look at in a person’s retirement, the ownership of a home is fundamental. For those who have not acquired a home before they have retired, for whatever reason, we know that their future is much constrained in terms of a fair and reasonable retirement—notwithstanding rental assistance and other matters. Defence Force personnel, by the simple nature of their employment, frequently missed out on a home. Of course, the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme has contributed substantially to their overcoming that particular disadvantage. These good measures, which finetune that process, are to be welcomed.

The other matter in which I have a very great interest, as I constantly read in the media of our involvement in these particular nations, is where we are dealing with insurgents, where we are dealing with people who do not wear a uniform. I have read that the job of the lady who was arrested was to have women raped so that they would be so embarrassed and cast aside, as unfortunately they do in the culture of these people—if you get raped it was your fault—that, in their disillusioned sense, they would put on an explosive belt and go and blow people up. For that one woman, who has now been arrested, that was her job. I think they said at the time that 40 or so women had been conscripted and had lost their lives in this fashion.

So it is not a war like the ones for which many of our defence forces in the past were trained for. You could easily identify your opponent. I remember well that in the Second World War I thought the Germans were obliged to wear that funny helmet because that identified them so that we could shoot them. The fact was that it was a much more efficient type of helmet. In fact, as a little kid I thought ‘German’ was a bad word. I thought they actually called themselves ‘Australians’ because that was a good word. Many of you did not experience the publicity and the way it was all fed to us at that time, but the point I make is that we did at least know our enemy. I support this administrative measure that accommodates an aspect of Middle East culture where, if you shoot someone, you pay them for it. That is part of their culture. It is a questionable practice, but if it allows for the eventual democratisation and a better life for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq—and it now appears the people of Pakistan—then it is good policy. And the world has apparently learned that you can buy someone’s life.

My purpose for speaking in this debate is to express my grave fears about constant press references to pursuing some of our defence force personnel who apparently shoot an ‘innocent’ person. Again, we are going to persecute some of our defence personnel. If a member of a defence force—and examples have been given of others, not our people—enters a premise for the purpose of raping the women in that particular household and then shoots them so they cannot tell the story, that is a crime by any standard and should be punished accordingly. But there appears to be a fine line in this regard with the shooting of a 12-year-old. Why is that, Chair? He was holding a hand grenade and was just about to chuck it at our people. If that had been a false hand grenade, was it the responsibility of our soldiers to find that out first? I do not think so. I think it is a very significant issue of morality that we have to decide those things.

I get angry when we persecute people who volunteer and are sent to very hostile and very difficult environments and who have to decide who they shoot a rocket at, which house they have to blow up and who might be inside the house. There is criticism that quite often the party shooting at them is in a house but that women and children are also in the house—they might be there very reluctantly. This is common practice apparently. What are our defence force people to do? Do they say, ‘We’ll just stand up and let them shoot us because we can’t do anything about it.’ I know the rules of engagement are supposed to cover such matters, but the media in particular want to engage in what I call the flagellation of our defence forces.

While this bill deals specifically with an aspect of that—insurgents and circumstances where property or lives are lost; apparently in some cultures things can always be settled with money, and there may be sense in that—are we going to continue to persecute our own people in these circumstances? These issues are very hard to define. In a split second they have to decide whether the 12-year-old kid is carrying a real grenade. I always come down on the side of the soldier and with the members of our defence forces. I do not think we should put them in uniform and send them to very difficult areas and then persecute them in these circumstances.

This sort of thing started in Vietnam. It is the same thing: know your enemy. Since we have been involved in these sorts of civil wars and in areas of insurgency, it has become extremely difficult for our people. I am sure much of the mental trauma visited upon our defence force personnel in this day and age is relevant to that: knowing your enemy, knowing where you can go, knowing where you can socialise. These are very serious issues. I think we have to be terribly careful that we do not let an excessive moral position override the great difficulty our people face. They cannot say: ‘Sorry we made a mistake. Let’s shake hands.’ They are dealing with matters that involve their own lives. It may be a 12-year-old sitting there with a mobile phone waiting for you to walk past a roadside bomb. It may be a house—and such a case has involved great controversy—next to a roadside bomb, yet the occupants were considered innocent. They might have been frightened but they were not innocent. Someone must have come along with a shovel and been seen by people on the side of the road digging a hole in the ground for what was a substantially sized device. A group of soldiers drove past—I think they were Americans—and some were blown up. They turned to that house as the probable point of detonation and shot some people. Of course they are all to go to jail for that.

Excuse me! I do not know how you make those judgments, but I do not think members of the Defence Force should be found responsible for mistakes of that nature. I can differentiate between a deliberate attack—shooting people to hide a disgraceful act maybe—and when you are on patrol and you are confronted by a 12-year-old kid with something in his hand which turns out to be a grenade. I think you have got to be excused for the action you take thereafter in that sort of case. I give that one as an example. I do not think that will become an issue because the kid did have a grenade. One might wonder what we would be trying to do to our people at this stage if it had been a toy. If the House has not considered that particular point, I hope it will do so in the future.

It is very difficult, but it is totally wrong to send people overseas and say, ‘It’ll be all your fault if you get it wrong, mate.’ I cannot believe that we parliamentarians, as the responsible parties, should ever take that view. We have got to err on the side of our own people because of the circumstances they are in and the pressure they are under. Otherwise, Mr Chairman, I think this is sensible legislation. It is interesting that we have now virtually legitimised money in a brown paper bag, but there is a requirement that we have a more efficient administrative arrangement to do something we are doing already. I guess that to say to the average Afghan, ‘We will get you an act of grace payment and all you have to do is fill in 55 forms,’ would not impress them at the time of their personal loss.

This is pragmatic and sensible but, more importantly, the bill also deals with a very positive component. In my state we have got submarines on the beach because it is no longer attractive for people to take that job at that wage. As I mentioned earlier, in my time as the shadow minister women told me that they were virtually forcing their husbands to go into the submariner class because the cheapest place to buy a house in Australia at the time was down near the Stirling base in the southern suburbs of Perth. A brand-new house and land under $200,000 was commonplace. That was partly because of a man called Len Buckeridge, who is hated by the CFMEU and who is the biggest home builder in Australia. He has made home building efficient and has now vertically integrated his construction business—we have just assisted him in getting a brickworks. He now makes just about everything he puts into a house and he has kept the price competitively low in WA, even in the present environment. People were going there for that purpose and there has been some balance in that but, above all, people who are in the permanent defence forces must acquire a home, they must have the right to rent it when they get transferred and they must be assisted in that matter. They have got to be able to retire with a place they can live in, and it should be debt free at that time. This is a good measure as it intends to improve that.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—Thank you. I just point out that we have had a strict budget, but we are still the Speaker’s panel, not the Chair’s panel. I am a member of the Speaker’s panel, not a chairperson.

Mr TUCKEY —So I will say, ‘Thank you, Mr Member of the Speaker’s panel.’

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Thank you. The chair recognises the member for Wakefield.