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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 4953

Mr LINDSAY (12:49 PM) —The members of the Australian Defence Force are becoming increasingly concerned and increasingly cynical about the current government’s approach to and support for the Australian Defence Force. There was a commitment at the last election that the government would not cut funding for defence. As with so many other issues that we see with the government, what they say before an election and what actually happens in practice are two different things. On the last list that I saw there were 47 broken promises of the Rudd government. The community is waking up and finally beginning to understand that what they saw at the last election was not what they got. It is very concerning indeed.

Members of the Defence Force are no different, because a promise not to cut the defence budget in real terms has resulted on the ground in cuts all over the place. The defence community is saying, ‘How could this be?’ Of course, it is related to the strategic review program, which is to make $20 billion worth of cuts over the next 10 years. We have seen this very recently in the cuts in things like training days for reserves. There have been cuts of 50 per cent for reserve soldiers’ training days. Reserves form a very significant part of our operational deployments these days. We cannot go overseas without having reservists fill places in the system. We depend on them, so their training must be up to scratch. But you cannot have that if you cut the training days. We also heard questions of Defence in Senate estimates this week about family reunion travel, which particularly applies to soldiers in Townsville and Darwin. They have an entitlement to a number of trips to return south to their homes to re-engage with their families. The suggestion was put to the CDF that this entitlement was going to be removed. Surprise, surprise—the CDF said no, there had been no move to do that, but then a public servant told estimates that a committee under General Craig Orme was already looking at this. You do not establish a committee if you do not intend to come up with a recommendation to actually make cuts.

I am saying to the parliament that the soldiers in 1 Brigade and 3 Brigade would be extraordinarily angry if Defence tried to make any changes to the family reunion travel entitlement that they currently enjoy. You will say this is not related to the bill, so why have I said it? It is because it underlines how you cannot actually trust what the government says. This is a bill to amalgamate a number of Australian government superannuation schemes, and of course two defence super schemes are involved. I remain deeply suspicious about what this means for those who will be the beneficiaries of these superannuation schemes.

The coalition cannot support the Governance of Australian Government Superannuation Schemes Bill 2010 as it is presented today. Merging of all of the civil and military boards into one Commonwealth super corporation will have a negative impact on how military superannuation schemes are administered. I can tell you that the veterans out there, when they heard of this proposal, went berserk. They could see a takeover of their schemes by people not related to the military who did not understand the nature of military service. Certainly in Townsville there is universal rejection of what the government is proposing in this respect in this bill today.

The defence community want a separate board to be responsible for military superannuation. We certainly heard this in their submissions to the Senate inquiry on this bill conducted by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration. I note that the Australian Veterans and Defence Services Council Incorporated said:

What is happening to military superannuation amounts to a scaling back of conditions of service to conform to what is provided in civilian employment.

…            …            …

The merger of military superannuation boards with civilian superannuation boards are seen to submerge Defence Force interests in a culture that would have difficulty in accepting the circumstances of military life in the structure of conditions of service.

Of course, the Defence Welfare Association, led by David Jamison, also has serious problems with this bill. They gave the same evidence to the Senate committee.

Specifically, the board of the new corporation will be made up of 10 people, five of whom will be appointed by the minister for finance, three by the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and only two by the Chief of the Defence Force. As soon as you see the Australian Council of Trade Unions on the board of military superannuation schemes, it rings alarm bells. People on the board of a military superannuation scheme should be military people and the like or professional people who have the expertise in relation to the management of superannuation schemes. The veterans community and members of the ADF will not accept this proposal from the government. We firmly believe that clauses 16(5) and 16(6) should be removed from the legislation. We will not support the bill as it stands with the provisions requiring the consent of the President of the ACTU to remove a director.

Additionally, the coalition feels that important amendments need to be made to ensure that those covered by military superannuation schemes are not disadvantaged. These changes include having separate civilian and military boards. A military superannuation board can include the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme, the Defence Force Retirements and Death Benefit Scheme and the Defence Force retirement benefits schemes. The military superannuation board would have control of all of the matters of governance relating to military superannuation. A person would not be able to serve as a director on the board of the civilian and military schemes at the same time; however, the boards would have the same chairperson.

I want to make it clear in representing Australia’s largest military base, in Townsville, and RAAF Townsville and the veterans in Townsville that they and I will not accept the proposals being put up to the parliament today by the government, and I will vote accordingly. I thank the parliament for the opportunity to make this contribution and to make the feelings of my electors known in no uncertain terms.