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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 4684


Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (15:24): I rise to take note of answers given by Senator Bob Carr to questions asked by Senator Ronaldson. I would like to go back to 10 March this year to an article written by Major General John Cantwell, retired. He starts by saying:

It's all about respect.

He is quite correct. He goes on to say:

Fitzgibbon was out of his depth. He simply didn't get it.

That statement can be applied to many on the other side. The answer to this question today is a classic example. We are talking about respect for the people who have served this nation and who have retired on a DFRDB pension. We are talking about the fact that service pensioners, who are a different group, age pensioners and others have received compensation but the people who are on a DFRDB have not. This government and their representatives here in this chamber do not even understand the difference. How can they pretend to have respect for service men and women of this country when they do not even understand the basis upon which people receive their retirement income? Major General Cantwell is indeed correct when he says that it is all about respect.

If this government respected our serving men and women, not only would ministers be across their briefs and understand the things that affect people but they would be looking out for the interests of people affected by their portfolios. They would not just be able to answer questions here in the Senate; they would be proactively looking out for the interests of those people to make sure that budget measures did not disadvantage them. Clearly, the minister responsible and his representative here in the Senate today have not taken the first step to being proactively concerned for people who are DFRDB recipients in terms of the carbon tax compensation payments and have not bothered to be across their briefs to be accountable in this place when they are asked questions.

The same lack of respect goes to how they have treated service men and women in this budget. Not since 1938 has a government stripped so much funding out of and paid so little of our gross national income to the defence department. The budget cuts not only are on major items, the $1.6 billion cut from equipment, but also go to personnel issues—for example, saving a small amount of money, about $15 million, by cutting the eligibility of single members aged 21 and over, about 22,000 people, to have an airfare paid for their next of kin once a year. That may seem like a small thing but for somebody who does not know when they will be returning from an exercise or from deployment or who may not be close to internet access to book cheap fares that can be a significant cost impact if you are based in Northern Queensland, the Northern Territory or Western Australia and your family lives in Adelaide, Sydney or Melbourne or in the regional parts of Australia. So to achieve their wafer-thin budget surplus, which there is no guarantee they will achieve, this government have been prepared to not only place Australia's national security at risk through cutting funding, some $5.5 billion from the budget this year, and deferring programs over a number of years; they have also shown a complete lack of respect for our service men and women through these measures which affect personnel entitlements.

That flows on to things like caring for wounded and injured servicemen. The government makes great announcements about programs but then it turns out that those are funded from within Defence's existing budget. Defence is doing a very good job, as we found out at estimates, of trying to make that work. But the reality is that the things that this government claims about its care and respect for servicemen is not demonstrated by the minister when he is in Afghanistan and it is not demonstrated by the minister or the Minister for Veterans' Affairs in their planning or preparation for when they come into this place. The minister was clearly not across his brief today and did not understand the basic question that was being asked. It shows that Major General Cantwell is indeed correct: it is all about respect, and there is no respect from this government.

Question agreed to.