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Thursday, 14 May 2009
Page: 4020


Mr SULLIVAN (12:23 PM) —In rising to support the legislation that is before us today, the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2009, I want to make a few comments and particularly comment on the tactical payment scheme that forms part of the discussion. What is being introduced here is, I believe, a much more transparent system than the one that has existed up until this point in time whereby any compensation we have been paying is via an act of grace. We have seen many instances of Defence Force personnel and government ministers actually obfuscating about the quantum and to whom these payments have been made, on the grounds that to do so could place people in danger or establish a market for compensation payments. I recall from one newspaper clipping, which I have not brought with me today, that the former government actually declared that these payments were not compensation but that they were payments that it was morally obliged to make. That newspaper article was dealing with the payment made to the family of an individual who had been shot dead by Australian troops for not heeding their call to pay attention. I understand the troops feared that the individual was preparing to attack their quarters. Further on in that article is some discussion about payments made to people who had been wounded by actions taken by Australian troops.

The reality is that the tactical payment scheme is going to be small payments—I think a cap has been mentioned of a sum that most people would not consider small, but in the circumstances they are small payments—that are able to be made quickly. Members of this place who have lived in countries where there is a culture of compensation for harm that has been done to people will understand that that expeditious nature, that timely nature, of making a compensation payment is particularly vital in retaining the respect and the goodwill of the people who are being compensated.

These condolence payments or property payments that we will be making are going to be very important in the context of what we now see as modern warfare. Long gone are the days where there were battlefields. Long gone are the days when the kings would sit on the hill and watch their armies approach each other in the valley. At the end of the day there would be a winner decided and the kings would depart back to their castles to lick their wounds or pat themselves on the back for having a wonderful day. Those days are no longer with us. Today the warlike experiences that our troops are facing are much more akin to guerrilla activity—house skirmishes. Who knows where the guerrilla activity is going to come from? Our troops cannot select the theatre in which they have to engage with an enemy.

We are now in a situation where, unlike in previous eras’ wars, there is not a country-versus-country situation. Not all of the citizens of Iraq, where we have been until recently, or Afghanistan, where we are currently, oppose our presence there. In fact, we are increasingly engaging in what could be termed civil wars. We need the support, our troops need the support, of the civilian population in the areas where they are. And by being able to retain their respect and their goodwill through payments such as we are talking about, we will be able to ensure their safety as best we can. That retention of goodwill is important.

I have just a few moments left. I would like to mention the changes that are being made in this legislation to defence housing. There are two aspects to this legislation, as you would understand, Mr Deputy Speaker: the compensation style payments and the defence housing. Having spent my youth as a member of a family of a banker who transferred quite frequently from place to place, I understand the situation for military families who have postings in different areas and the fact that it is very difficult for them to be able to purchase a house anywhere. The provisions of the defence housing subsidy scheme, as we see it now, are excellent. The changes that we are making remove some unintended consequences of the introduction of the scheme last year and clarify some aspects of it. It is my understanding that all of these are beneficial to members of the defence forces and it is worthy and proper that we should reward them in this particular way.

Debate (on motion by Mr Melham) adjourned.