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Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Page: 4053

Mr HAYES (5:07 PM) —I rise also to lend my support to the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2010. The proposed bill will address five separate areas but will include the establishment of the Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal, ensure that there is procedural fairness in the determination or charges being processed for defence members who test positive to prohibited substances and make it absolutely clear that section 58B determinations for non-salary conditions of service are subject to tabling and disallowance.

The bill will also amend the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme 2008. It will ensure that section 5 of the act applies to Reserve members. To clarify, section 5 applies to all members who become reservists—they are subject to eligibility whether they transfer from the permanent services or not. That, quite frankly, is very important, as I understand it, to a number of people in my electorate who have lobbied long and hard for that particular provision.

Finally, the bill will amend the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982 to enable the appointment of chief petty officers, together with flight sergeants, as discipline officers. Warrant officers of the Army are already included. The bill will align the punishments available to be imposed in respect of certain ranks.

The government remains totally committed to ensure the security of Australia. There can be no greater responsibility of any government than to ensure national security. To this end we are committed to building a Defence Force that is combat focused, better equipped, more mobile, more capable and certainly operationally ready. To help achieve this we must support our Defence Force through targeted legislation. That is exactly what this piece of legislation is.

Only last month I had the unique opportunity, as the parliamentary secretary is aware, to attend—with, I think, six other members—the Defence Force Parliamentary Program. We spent 10 days in the joint service facility at Al Minhad, which is a staging ground for many of those who are going on to serve our country in Afghanistan. The point of the story is to say that we had those 10 days to actually sit down and spend a great deal of time just with the ordinary men and women of the Australian Defence Force. You cannot help but be touched by their professionalism, their dedication to task and certainly their commitment to their objectives which are defined by the Australian government in terms of their operation.

One of the major things that was discussed with us over there, one of the major things about increasing the retention of the service, was their position in terms of home ownership. That was one of the big things that members of all ranks discussed with us, which is a bipartisan grouping as to one of their decisions to remain in the service. It is no doubt an attraction and certainly important to the retention rates of the ADF, which are very important. After investing in the building up of their skills and their capability, the last thing we want to do is lose those to private enterprise, because those skill sets which they have built up are very sought after. The people that we have built up are in fact sought after. Hence we have attracted to our side of politics the good doctor here, the member for Eden-Monaro. Being a colonel, he has made a major contribution to the government, particularly in honing our focus on how we look after men and women who serve us so bravely in the Australian uniform.

Also very important for many of those people—and I have them nearby to my electorate, particularly in Holsworthy—is the overall pride in the uniform, the pride in being a member of an organisation, and also knowing full well that it is an organisation that has command, control and very clear lines of discipline. Those areas of discipline must be clearly spelt out. The changes that have been brought as a result of this act do much to ensure not only the continuation of discipline but also something that we take for granted, and that is procedural fairness.

Before coming here I did a number of things, but I represented people industrially for a good part of my working life. One of the big things that was always a challenge was to ensure people had procedural fairness shown to them when there was serious action being taken that could curtail someone’s employment. This piece of legislation now does enshrine that. Those military personnel will be given the same degree of procedural fairness as we would expect for our own sons and daughters working in civil occupations.

It is also important to appreciate the position in terms of the processing of honours and setting up the tribunal to make sure it is at arm’s length and fully independent from government. Many members have veterans associations in their electorates. I compliment them on the services they do in respect of veterans and members of the armed service. One of the areas of particular activity for the people in the service groups in my electorate was to focus on the issue of the battle of Long Tan. I know that matter has now been before the tribunal.

Veterans in my electorate, because some were participants, were very supportive of the stance taken by Colonel Harry Smith in his standing up for Delta Company 6RAR and ensuring that there be just recognition of the commitment of Australian soldiers in that particular battle. It is one in which Australia, as I understand it, was outnumbered 10 to one. It is one in which, tragically, 18 Australian lives were lost and another 23 people were wounded. As it has been recounted to me, particularly by my local veterans, this was when they were standing up against an emerging force of a North Vietnamese regiment and members of the Vietcong. As the battle finally concluded and after relief had been provided to the Australian soldiers, it was found that more than 1½ thousand of the enemy had either been killed or died subsequently of wounds. That was an extremely courageous, heroic stand by 6RAR and I think it is one that is going to live long in the memory of all those who honour the name and the reputation of the 18 servicemen who died on that occasion.

Putting it at arm’s length takes some of the emotion out of it and a lot of the perceived stance of senior officers’ recommendations. It allows for a tribunal to entertain evidence based upon fact and make clear and concise recommendations. There is now an appeal mechanism. In terms of the value we place on military service—the value I know the service puts on its medals and its recognition—let me tell you that these people do not go into these occupations to make money. They go in there to serve the country and they deserve to have full recognition for what they bring to bear on our behalf. I think this will go a long way to satisfy that desire, not only for existing members of the ADF but also for those who look after retired members who have served this country well. This is a way of showing continued loyalty to the men and women of the ADF. I commend this legislation to the House.