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Wednesday, 5 September 1984
Page: 440

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(10.15) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave, Mr President, to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The Defence Legislation Amendment Bill 1984 proposes amendments on various subjects to a number of Acts dealing with defence matters. Many of the amendments made by the Bill are of a minor or drafting nature. Details of these amendments will be found in the explanatory memorandum being circulated to honourable Senators.

There are, however, more important amendments which fall into six groups. These are:

The establishment of an independent pay fixing authority for the Defence Force.

A change to the rules for cummutation of pension under the Services' retirement benefits scheme, in connection with the new taxing rules for lump sum payments.

Abolition of the annual training obligations of members of the Emergency forces .

A change to the title of the Chief of Defence Force Staff.

Abolition of the requirement for collectors of military insignia to have official permits.

Extensive amendments to the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982.

I will describe these particular amendments briefly.

Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal

This is a proposal which the Australian Labor Party put in its election platform and which it has had in its Party platform for a number of years. It will supersede the existing arrangements for defence pay fixing which were established in 1979 as a result of serious problems which had arisen in Defence Force pay fixing. At that time pay fixing was dependent on the making of regulations and this resulted in excessive delays. The then Government chose not to proceed to establish a pay fixing tribunal for the Defence Force, although an amendment was moved by the Labor Party in the House of Representatives calling for such a course to be adopted whereby the committee of reference, which was already in existence, would become a tribunal which would determine the salaries and conditions of members of the Defence Force. Those salaries and conditions would have the same force as determinations of other pay fixing authorities.

This Bill brings into operation those proposals and will eliminate once and for all the practice which has unfortunately been inherent in pay fixing for the Defence Force, whereby references to the committee by Ministers have not been made regularly. In many cases there have been serious delays in the hearing of Defence Force salary-related matters, with the result that, when recommended, rises have been substantial and have caused serious problems within the Defence vote. In turn, this has caused delays and has created hardship to members of the Defence Force and their families.

The Australian Labor Party platform includes a commitment to the fixing of Defence Force pay and conditions on a similar basis to the arrangements applicable to the Public Service. As honourable senators will be aware, the pay fixing arrangements for the Public Service consist of two arms. One arm is the Public Service Board. The Board is empowered to determine terms and conditions of employment under section 82D the Public Service Act. The Minister for Defence is similarly empowered to determine financial conditions of service for members of the Defence Force under section 58B of the Defence Act.

The other arm for the Public Service is the independent Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. This Bill sets up a similar independent body for the Defence Force. It is to be called the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal. The Tribunal is to consist of a Deputy President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and two other persons-one a person experienced in industrial relations and the other a person who is a former member of the Defence Force.

The Bill provides the Tribunal with jurisdiction to determine salaries and salary-related allowances for the defence Force, and requires the Tribunal to review these matters at least every two years. The Tribunal will also have jurisdiction to determine other financial conditions but only if the particular matter is referred to it.

The Bill also establishes the office of Defence Force Advocate. The advocate will have the function of preparing matters for reference to the Tribunal by the Chief of the Defence Force and of preparing submissions to the Tribunal on behalf of the Defence Force. The Advocate will also represent the Defence Force in any proceedings before the Tribunal. This arrangement recognises the fact that the Defence Force has no industrial organisation.

Commutation of Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Pension

Under the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act, an eligible member of the Defence Force can elect on retirement to take a lump sum of up to four years' entitlement to retirement pay. Following such an election, the member's retirement pay entitlement is reduced in accordance with the formula set out in the Act. This aspect of the scheme recognises the disabilities of employment in the Defence Force and helps in the resettlement of members into civilian life after lengthy service. The application of the new taxing provisions on lump sum benefits will gradually reduce the net value of commutation.

The Bill accordingly amends the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act to increase gradually the amount of pension that may be commuted. The amount that may be commuted is to be increased by annual stages over the next 20 years from four to five years' retirement pay. In general terms, this formula will preserve the net value of commutation after tax. However, the increase in the amount that may be commuted will mean an appropriate consequential reduction in the level of retirement pay received in the form of pension. This reduction will initially be very small but even in the long term it will not be more than 6 per cent of the current pension entitlements.

Further amendments proposed to the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act 1973 concern existing transitional provisions dealing with the rights of contributors under the previous scheme who continued to be contributors under the present scheme.

The position briefly is that, according to legal advice, these provisions do not operate as intended with the result that certain retirees are receiving less than the benefits intended. The purpose of the amendments is to restore the provisions to their originally intended operation.

Emergency Forces

Each arm of the Defence Force has an Emergency Force which may be called upon to serve in situations short of a proclaimed defence emergency. These forces are intended to be a supplement to the permanent forces. Each Emergency Force consists of members who were formerly members of the permanent forces. Each member is currently liable to render two weeks service annually. The previous Government decided, on the advice of the Chiefs of Staff, that there was no need to require members of the Emergency Forces to undergo annual training because they joined from the permanent forces as fully trained members. The only exception would be where it became necessary for a member to be re-trained on new or improved equipment or for a similar reason. The present Government has endorsed that decision and the Bill amends the Defence Act, the Naval Defence Act and the Air Force Act to remove the general obligation for members of the Emergency Forces to undergo annual training.

Permits to collect military insignia

In order that a person may legally collect Defence Force uniforms, emblems, badges, et cetera, written authority from the Minister for Defence or an authorised person is necessary in accordance with section 83 of the Defence Act. It is an offence to have military uniforms and insignia in one's possession without authority. In practice, military uniforms and insignia are freely available for purchase from disposal stores and other military equipment stores. It is reasonable to assume that many collectors would not be aware of the requirement to obtain written authority. In practical terms, it is impossible to police adequately the requirement to have written authority; nor is there any reason to inhibit the interest in defence matters which is reflected in the collection of military insignia et cetera. The Bill accordingly removes the requirement to have written authority for the possession of such items. The manufacture, sale, supply and use of military uniforms and insignia will continue to be subject to the requirement to have written authority.

Defence Force Discipline Act 1982

The Defence Force Discipline Act 1982 was passed by Parliament with the approval of all parties. It was a long overdue reform of the law governing the discipline of the Defence Force. It is hoped to bring the Act generally into force early in 1985. The Labor Party did not oppose the Bill, although it had some reservations about certain matters. The Labor Party took this view because of the extremely long development time for the Bill and because of the importance that the Labor Party attached to getting the Bill into force and replacing the existing archaic and complex law on the subject.

It was the belief of the Labor Party that a set of laws which is totally new, whose application has not been tried or tested and which may be found to have deficiencies, should be re-examined after a reasonable period of operation. The Government is reinforced in that view by the number of amendments which it has been found necessary to make even before the Act has come into general operation .

The Bill accordingly amends the Act to require the Minister for Defence to appoint a board to review the Act after its first three years of operation and report to the Minister, who will table the report in the parliament. It is essential for such a review that adequate statistics and other details be kept of trials and proceedings under the Act. It is desirable, in any case, that such statistics be kept and published on an annual basis. The Bill accordingly amends the Act to require the Judge Advocate General to report annually to the Minister on the operation of the Act and for the Minister to table the report in Parliament.

Other amendments to the Defence Force Discipline Act made by the Bill are of four types. They are as follows:

Inclusion of provisions dealing with the investigation of offences, based on relevant provisions of the Criminal Investigation Bill 1981.

Inclusion of provisions which were originally intended to be provided for by subordinate legislation.

Correction of certain omissions and inclusions of new matter.

Correction of defects and drafting amendments.

These amendments are adequately explained in the explanatory memorandum. As passed, the Defence Force Discipline Act contemplated that the investigation of offences would be governed by the Criminal Investigation Bill then before Parliament. However, that Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Parliament in February 1983. It remains the Government's intention to introduce a Criminal Investigation Bill as soon as possible. However, it is necessary to include appropriate provisions in the Defence Force Discipline Act so that it may be brought into operation. The terms in which these provisions are included in the Discipline Act should not be regarded as representing the Government's final view on the subject and if the Criminal Investigation Bill, when passed by Parliament, differs in any important respect from the provisions in the Discipline Act, it is the Government's intention that appropriate amendments be made to the Discipline Act.

Chief of the Defence Force

A significant amendment is the change to the title of the Chief of Defence Force Staff. This title does not accurately describe the position, because the holder of the office heads the Defence Force, not just a staff. The Government considers that the title Chief of the Defence Force more clearly expresses the intended role, and the Bill makes the necessary substitution in the Defence Act and other Acts.

Financial Impact Statement

With regard to the introduction of the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal, the only additional cost will be the fees related to the cost of the Defence Force Advocate, which are estimated to be $60,000 annually. The costs of the Tribunal itself will be equivalent to those of the existing Committee of Reference for Defence Force Pay, which the Tribunal replaces. With regard to the new commutation rules, the net cost to the Commonwealth for the present financial year is estimated to be $150,000, increasing steadily in succeeding years until the new maximum rate of commutation is reached in the year 2003.

The costs arising from the amendment of the transitional provisions of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act 1973 ($200,000 for the first year and $150,000 annually thereafter) are not additional expenditure but offset current unintended savings arising from the present defects in the legislation.

With regard to the abolition of annual training obligations for members of the Emergency Forces, the saving to the Commonwealth for the present financial year is estimated to be $175,000. The saving in future years will be directly related to the number of members in the Emergency Forces. Other amendments made by the Bill will not have any measurable financial impact.

I commend the Bill to the Senate. In doing so, I draw the attention of Honourable Senators to the need for early passage of the Bill so that the amendments of the DFRDB Act relating to the increased amount of pay that may be commuted will come into force as soon as possible.

This is an important element of the DFRDB scheme which is designed to facilitate the resettlement of members of the Defence Force on leaving the Force .

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.