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Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Page: 4055


Dr KELLY (Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support and Parliamentary Secretary for Water) (5:17 PM) —in reply—In summing up the debate on Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2010 I would like to thank all those members who made genuine contributions to this debate today. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to the member for Fadden who engaged diligently and genuinely with us in the process of explaining this legislation, and I welcome the constructive comments he made in the chamber today. I would also like to acknowledge the interest in defence matters the members for Werriwa and Blair have shown in the conduct of my duties over the course of these last couple of years. They are very genuinely concerned about the welfare of members in their electorates. I will, however, comment separately in relation to the comments made by the member for Paterson, which I place in an entirely different category, but I will address those at the conclusion of these remarks.

The proposed bill provides for five separate measures. The first is that it amends the Defence Act 1903 to establish the Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal by legislation, inserting a new part 8C in the Defence Act 1903, to establish the Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal. The amendment sets out the functions of the new tribunal, what decisions are reviewable by the new tribunal, who may apply for review—including a power for the minister to refer general defence honours and awards issues for inquiry and advice, general provisions relating to the operation of the new tribunal, the constitution of it and appointment of members and transitional provisions for the continuation of business of the current administrative tribunal and the automatic appointment of current members to this new tribunal. Second, it amends the Defence Act to ensure that there is procedural fairness in the determination and discharge process where a defence member has tested positive for a prohibited substance.

Third, it amends the Defence Act to make it absolutely clear that section 58B determinations made under the Defence Act are subject to tabling and disallowance and are able to operate with certainty and transparency. Prior to the commencement of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003, determinations made under section 58B of the Defence Act were subject to tabling and disallowance. With the introduction of the Legislative Instruments Act, determinations made under section 58B of the Defence Act were expressly exempted by the Legislative Instruments Act from being subject to the new legislative insurance regime. It was always the intention that the tabling and disallowance regime continue in accordance with section 46B of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.

Fourth, it amends the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme Act 2008 to ensure that it covers all members of the Reserves regardless of the way they became members of the Reserves. It was the original policy intent that section 5 of the act should cover all members of the Reserves, including those engaged by transfer. The scheme has been administered consistent with this intent.

Fifth, it amends the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982 to enable the appointment of chief petty officers and flight sergeants as ‘discipline officers’ to clarify the jurisdiction of discipline officers and to align the punishments available to be imposed in respect of certain ranks.

There were further comments made by the member for Paterson, as I referred to earlier, in relation to an incident involving an individual who is alleged to have worn decorations and awards to which he was not entitled. This matter was first raised with me by an AAP journalist and I requested the department to provide advice to me on 6 May. That advice was received in my office last Friday, so I do now have information concerning this individual. The Defence Department was not aware of those circumstances prior to my request for further information. I advise the member for Paterson that I am not a police officer and therefore have no responsibility for prosecutions of violations of the provisions of the Defence Act which relate to this incident. Any person who had information concerning this individual had open to them the option of referring the matter to the appropriate authorities, in which case it would have been dealt with in accordance with those provisions. I have no jurisdiction to act as an independent prosecutor or authority in relation to allegations of that nature, so I am uncertain as to what aspect of my duties the member for Paterson was referring to in relation to the matter.

The second matter to which the member for Paterson referred relates to the operation of the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme. He referred to the operation in relation to certain aspects of its application to the Reserves. This matter, he stated, was an aspect of my responsibility. However, I should clarify for the chamber that that is not the case; it is the responsibility of the minister who has the carriage of personnel matters—formerly Minister Combet and currently Minister Griffin. I can advise the chamber that the matters raised by the member for Paterson are currently being investigated by the department, which was requested to do so by Minister Combet. This bill is not the appropriate mechanism for these issues to be resolved because the regulations are available for those aspects of adjustment that were raised by the member—if they are warranted, and that is yet to be established. So at this stage we are waiting upon a report from the department to the minister.

I have to say also that I resent greatly the member’s implied slur with regard to the way the scheme is operating. He commented that the scheme was in some way designed to benefit me personally. In my second reading speech, in which I introduced this bill into the House, I specifically made statements indicating that I was not attempting to draw upon the anomaly that was highlighted in this legislation and to which this amendment is addressed. Had I taken advantage of that to which I was actually legally entitled, it would have meant that I could have obtained a sum upwards of $128,000. I have deliberately, clearly and publicly stated that I intend not to take advantage of that loophole and that I have discounted myself from that scheme and made no application whatsoever in relation to that scheme to pursue those entitlements.

That statement of mine was absolutely clear and I resent entirely the slur from the member for Paterson. I think it reflects more upon him than it does upon me. I would have to say that he reveals himself—through his incompetent comments in relation to this legislation and through his behaviour in terms of his slurs against me and others—as not an appropriate person ever to carry responsibility for the members of this Defence Force.

He also claimed that I had lost touch with members of the Defence Force. I can assure him that as a reservist and as a person with portfolio responsibilities, I take great pleasure and pride in my daily contact with Defence personnel. I was recently up in Darwin at Robertson Barracks and HMAS Coonawarra, and regularly have contact with these members. I understand deeply the nature of their service and the difficulties and challenges that they face. I do my very best to represent their interests in this portfolio, and resent and reject entirely the implications of his comments.

I thank members who made genuine contributions to this debate and I look forward to the further operation of the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal, in particular, which has made great progress in clearing up a backlog of many decades of issues which, in some cases had quite shamefully been left neglected. They have made very many people very happy in relation to the outcomes they have achieved so far under the operation of the tribunal. Once again, I thank the member for Fadden, also, for his comments and for his constructive engagement in this process.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.