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Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Page: 4049

Mr NEUMANN (4:51 PM) —I speak in support of the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2010. I want to speak on three aspects of this bill, the first dealing with the Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal, the second as to procedural fairness in relation to the termination and discharge process, the need for natural justice and the separation of prosecutorial power and decision making and the third in relation to the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme, which is so relevant to and important in my electorate of Blair in South-East Queensland, which contains RAAF Base Amberley. I have often been a delegate to the national conference of the ALP. On numerous occasions we have come out strongly, in our policy and platform, in support of the Australian Defence Force, particularly supporting the independence of defence and honouring its role in our community. The areas in relation to awards and medals are certainly difficult. How medals are handed out is often irregular and very complex. Sometimes there is suspicion that it is not necessarily appropriate to hand out medals to a certain person given the duration of service or the area of service. Sometimes there is some suggestion that politics can be involved in the decision making. That is why I think the commitment that we made in the 2007 election campaign to effectively take politics out of the medals policy is so important.

I do not accept the criticisms of the previous speaker in relation to the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support. We have established an independent Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal. It was established in July 2008 and that was done in an administrative capacity. What particular role and what function that tribunal has are problematic without statutory authority. There is no doubt about that. This is always a difficult area, whether it be an administrative or a judicial tribunal given what the Constitution has to say, whether there is a legal basis for establishing such a tribunal and whether it be about the powers and functions and responsibilities of the tribunal and its members. How a person is appointed to the tribunal is also problematic from time to time. So there needs to be statutory authority for that to happen.

The current tribunal really does not have any authority to make separate decisions or to independently review defence decisions concerning the eligibility of military personnel for defence honours and awards. That really should be rectified, and that is what this legislation is doing. It is setting out the functions of the tribunal, its decision making, who can apply for review, the referral of general defence honours and awards issues for inquiry and advice, the constitution and the method of appointment of members and many other transitional provisions which make this tribunal more sound legally and provide a basis at law. I think this is an appropriate way to go. The parliamentary secretary has acted appropriately. I think this will certainly clarify some of the anomalies with respect to the issuing of medals to military personnel. So I applaud the parliamentary secretary for what he has done in this regard.

The second aspect is a very difficult issue. It concerns the termination of employment of a Defence Force person who may test positive for a prohibited substance. This is always a difficult thing because, if that is the case, that person loses their livelihood, perhaps their financial security, their esteem, and they go down in the eyes of their peers and in the community generally. So it is absolutely vital that natural justice be afforded to that particular person. There needs to be a separation between the person who gives that person notice to show cause and the person who terminates their service. It is extraordinary that currently that is not the case. We need to be fair. It does not mean to say that we should not stamp on the use of prohibited substances. If someone—for example, military personnel at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland—used a prohibited substance and it was an offence under the Queensland Drugs Misuse Act, of course we should show zero tolerance. But we need to make sure, where these things involve many years of service—and perhaps that person can in fact discharge their duties in a way that is respected in the military—where you are talking about a person’s employment, that there is procedural fairness. I applaud the government for what they have done in this regard. It is the right thing to do and it accords with the basic principles of natural justice.

The third aspect of this bill which I wish to talk about deals with amendments in relation to the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme as it applies to reservists. The current situation needs to be changed. We will make amendments which will ensure that section 5 of the act applies to all reserve members and clarify that section 5 applies to a member who has become a reserve member as a result of a transfer from the permanent forces. I have had many friends who I have known through sport, community organisations and in church communities in the Ipswich area who have been permanent members of the Royal Australian Air Force who have then left to pursue other careers but have gone back to work as reservists. To clarify the situation is the right thing.

This scheme has been one of the best initiatives we have undertaken with respect to the military. This has really made it more attractive for people to be recruited and to be retained in the military. I have been to the RAAF base on numerous occasions and have spoken to many, many people about this issue in Ipswich. The feedback I have received is that this scheme is well received. They see this as part of a broad set of initiatives by the government with respect to defence personnel, encouraging them to stay in the service. It is important that we provide higher home loan subsidies to permanent members and also to reservists. The legislation sets up that scheme and outlines the number of years a person needs to serve if they are a permanent member of the military and also if they are a reservist. This is a good and important initiative. It is something that defence families have advocated for for a long time.

With respect to the home loan providers—there is reference in previous legislation to this—I have been approached by Bendigo Bank locally to see if they can get a handle on being involved in this process. I am lobbying hard to see whether it can be expanded to see Bendigo Bank included. I have had some discussions with the regional manager, Michael List, in relation to this issue. Michael is also the President of the Ipswich Chamber of Commerce, and I have had some discussions about whether the Bendigo Bank can be involved in the scheme. I would hope the government, at some stage, would look at that.

With respect to defence housing in the Ipswich area, for a long time, sadly—under governments of both persuasions, but particularly under coalition governments—it was neglected and some of the homes in which defence personnel spent their time were inadequate. I have been to many of them in suburbs such as Leichhardt and One Mile, where there was plenty of defence housing. It must have been tough on families—on children and on spouses and partners—to have to come and live in inadequate facilities and homes away from their loved ones interstate or intrastate.

But we are investing a lot of money in my electorate in defence housing, and this correlates with the initiatives we are undertaking with respect to the legislation and particularly the schedule under the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2010, which we are debating here. We are building 111 defence houses in Ipswich over the next few years. This is injecting $36 million into our economy. It has created 35 jobs in the Ipswich community and indirectly benefited many more. I have visited many of these houses, particularly in the suburb of Flinders View, where I live. In fact, many of the houses are in the estate just up the hill from where I live, and the housing is of very high quality. The housing is very well received. They are four-bedroom brick homes with wonderful views as well. It is also not just part of the usual defence housing that we are constructing in Ipswich but part of the nation-building stimulus plan.

Currently across Australia DHA manages about 17,300 properties, worth about $7.6 billion. Shortly, under the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan, I am to officially open another 20 homes in Raceview, which is the neighbouring suburb to Flinders View on the south side of Ipswich. I want to congratulate the government for taking that initiative. The quality of that housing, I am sure, will be every bit as good as the quality of the housing at Flinders View.

Honouring our military personnel by way of medals but also providing practical support for them in terms of housing is crucial. But, finally, providing procedural fairness for those people facing the possibility of losing their employment is also particularly important. And that is why this initiative in this legislation is so important for my community in Ipswich in South-East Queensland, where the RAAF base at Amberley is based.