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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 154


Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (17:57): Tonight, I rise to speak about some of the issues that have been raised with me by our serving men and women but also about some of the issues raised by their families. Mr Deputy Speaker Hastie, you would know more than most that serving in the Australia Defence Force is not a nine-to-five job. It is not a job you can leave behind, and it is certainly a job that not only affects the service man or woman's life but also affect their family. It is important to recognise that when Defence people are being deployed to different bases around the country, and there are new opportunities for the careers of those Defence men and women, it is also a big upheaval in the lives of their families.

I must acknowledge that for many of our service men and women they do put their duty above other considerations and therefore it is our duty as a parliament and the duty of the government of the day to look after these men and women. This means looking after their families as well. I strongly believe that it is our duty to them to demonstrate how valued their service is by ensuring that not only they are looked after but also their families are supported and given what they need. The beginning of this year marks the movement of many ADF members, moving their lives and their families across Australia. I have spent the last six months speaking to these families about what it means for them and what they would like to see in terms of support. Family members face having to pack up and move. They leave behind friends and support networks and their normal routine. Even some of the simple things that we take for granted, for example, finding a new doctor or finding a new school for one's children, can be incredibly intense processes and ones that need some support. For an ADF member with a family, this can be even more difficult.

While moving oneself is an inevitability, often, for members of the ADF, this does not necessarily make it easier for their families. For spouses establishing new friends and support networks, finding new employment, starting a new school and other practical considerations such as changing vehicle registration, changing routines, changing doctors, accessing specialists and joining new waiting lists for those specialists are things that have been raised with me as real and live concerns. It is important that services are available, and I do recognise the support the Defence Community Organisation does give. In particular, I want to recognise the importance of the family liaison officer within this organisation. These positions are very important roles, and they are roles that really need to be filled by people with extensive knowledge of the local communities, who are able to provide individuals and their families who are new to the community with advice and information to link them with the resources and services they need and also with other families to help reduce the feeling of isolation. With this in mind, I was very concerned to hear that the position of the family liaison officer was vacant for a period of eight months in Darwin recently. With no-one in this role it is difficult for families who need that support. So today I put on record that I believe these positions are incredibly vital. They are needed by families within Defence, and I would urge, as much as practical, for these positions to be filled as a matter of urgency.

In addition to the emotional and practical support Defence Force members and their families need when they are moving, there are other considerations such as housing. Defence Housing Australia is an organisation that provides housing to our Defence Force members. The feedback I have been getting is that, while there can be improvements—there are many families that would like to see defence housing closer to the base and to their workplace—the overall standard is quite good. Of course, that is why many people I have spoken to, whether they be Defence Force members or their families, were very concerned about the Commission of Audit's proposal to privatise Defence Housing Australia. While I have not spoken to everyone in the Defence Force and their families, everyone I have spoken to has had universal opposition to this proposal, because this is more than just a commercial operation. Defence Housing Australia is essential to ensuring that wherever our defence members and their families move to they can get accommodation that is safe and especially accommodation where they know they can ring up the landlord and get some attention and action. Certainly, when speaking to some Defence Force members they indicated that, while they go away on long postings overseas, there is some comfort in knowing their families are safe in Defence Force housing and can get the support they need to do repairs, to get more security et cetera. So I think it is incumbent on this government to reaffirm its commitment not to privatise Defence Housing Australia and, of course, to recognise that important asset. The government have said they have no intention to privatise DHA at this time, but that does not give me the reassurance that it is off the table, so I would like to hear those words from the government.

Another issue that is causing huge concern within the defence community, in particular for women members of the Defence Force, is the impact of the proposed cuts to paid parental leave. Many Defence Force members are what Joe Hockey would consider to be 'double dippers'. They receive a paid for parental leave as part of their employment and are then able to access the government scheme as well. There has been some compelling testimony in the Senate estimates about what that means for Defence women in particular—the importance that having access to those two pieces of leave has had for them. There has been evidence to suggest that women members of the Defence Force would have reconsidered having a child if that leave had not been not there.

I think it is incumbent upon this parliament not to just talk about Defence Force members with words but to back that up with action. If that is the case, the government will abandon its planned changes to paid parental leave. It will stop demonising women around this country, those that work in Defence and other places, by calling them double-dippers or people who are somehow cheating the system. We expect so much of our Defence men and women. The least we can do is properly support them to have time with their families.

Of course, we know we want to make the ADF more attractive to women. At the moment, we know that it is not fifty-fifty in terms of women serving in the Defence Force. It therefore seems odd to me that, while once again the government have said words about encouraging women and attracting women to our Defence Force, their policies and their actions do not back this up. I would urge the government seriously to think and reconsider this ill-thought-out policy, not just for women in Defence but for women right around this country and men as well so that they can access and spend time with their families.

Of course, at the heart of our Defence Force capability is the physical sciences and engineering workforce. This workforce is made up of a number of roles including in avionics, biochemistry, engineering, fuel science, geoscience, logistics and naval architecture, amongst many others. It is incumbent on this government to actually have a serious look. Instead, what have we seen? We have seen freezes on our Public Service. That has led to a decline in our capabilities. There has been a Senate report which the government took a very long time to respond to and, now that it has responded—it said it will commit to a census—I would urge the government to do that as quickly as possible because, if we do not have our personnel capability, all the technology in the world will not be able to be executed without that physical science and engineering understanding.

These are a number of issues that have been brought up with me. I would urge the government to take them seriously and actually back their words up with actions when it comes to our ADF and Defence personnel. (Time expired)