Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2365

Senator HAMER(8.32) —The handling of the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill is typical of the handling of defence in this country by the Government and the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes). The attitude of the Government towards defence seems best defined as feebly well intentioned. The problem is that the Government does not know where it is going on defence. The Minister is an ineffective cypher and the result is that the defence is drifting . The effect on the morale of the Defence Force, which is only too well aware when the Government does not know or even seem to care what it is doing, is devastating.

This year's defence budget is $5.8 billion, just a little more than the interest payment on the national debt, which has exploded under the present Government to $90 billion-almost of South American standards. The interest on this debt, run up to such levels by the Labor Government, costs every Australian taxpayer $34 a week and a lot more will be added if this disastrous Government continues in office for long. The effect of the Government's wastefulness and improvidence in all sorts of areas reflects on defence for there are heavy defence capital payments to be made over the next few years for essential items of equipment, such as the FA18 fighters and the FFG destroyers coming from the United States of America. These are essential capital requirements. But what has been happening is that the defence vote, for purposes other than these capital purchases, has been reduced sharply and the training, the operational effectiveness and the morale-which depends on the first two-of our Defence Force have been diminished very seriously. If one wishes to have an effective Defence Force, one must provide sufficient funds for it to steam, fly, drive and practise its skills. This Government is providing grossly inadequate funds for all these purposes.

Senator Gareth Evans —I raise a point of order. Senator Hamer seems to be using the occasion of this Bill to wax lyrical and indignant about defence policy at large. Mr President, I draw your attention to the relatively narrow scope of this particular legislation which has to do with Defence Force discipline, retirement benefits and matters of that technical order. I put to you that he is not at liberty to use the occasion as one to talk at large about defence policy.

Senator Durack —Mr President, I wish to speak to the point of order. It really is a very extraordinary point of order. The Attorney-General has been absent all day and has not really been aware of the events that have been occurring here. The fact is that this legislation covers an enormous range of defence matters. We are debating the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill which covers remuneration , sets up a tribunal to deal with the remuneration for the personnel of the services, deals with lump sum payments, deals with a discipline and amends one of the major pieces of legislation in the defence area. The point of order of the kind the Attorney-General has raised is really quite absurd.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I do not uphold the point of order. The Bill is a Bill for an Act to amend certain legislation concerning the Defence Force and for other purposes and the amendments are wide-ranging indeed. I think Senator Hamer is within the ambit of the Bill.

Senator Gareth Evans —With respect, Mr President, I would ask you to reconsider that ruling on the basis that the particular legislation that is dealt with is quite specific as to its subject matter and it is simply not permissible and not consistent with the Standing Orders of this House to play ducks and drakes with the spirit and the letter of the rules in this particular respect.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I do not uphold the point of order. It has long been the practice in the Senate to use the long title of a Bill in ruling on relevancy. I have so used it and I do not uphold the point of order. I call Senator Hamer.

Senator Elstob —As long as he does not talk about aircraft carriers.

Senator HAMER —Actually, Senator Elstob, I will be talking about aircraft carriers very briefly in a moment because it is a very important area. Mr President, I thank you for that ruling. The fact is that this Government is providing inadequate funds mainly because of the way it is wasting funds in other areas such as on wasteful and unnecessary Public Service spending. It is providing inadequate funds to keep our Defence Force efficient. The problem really is that the Government does not know what it wants the Defence Force to do. Almost everyone agrees that for the defence of this country-I will give the Senate a couple of examples-we require an in-flight refuelling capability and airborne early warning aircraft; the Government has done nothing about either. We require a ready reaction army force with an airborne capability; the Government has done nothing about that. One can go on and on with the list of failures of the Government to follow through on programs that were being processed by the previous Government partly because of this Government's lack of interest in defence and partly because of the ineffectiveness of the Minister for Defence. This Government does not have a clear concept of the role of our Defence Force. For instance, it pays lip service to ANZUS and then does nothing when New Zealand moves to destroy it. It puts the whole concept at risk by appalling acts of clumsiness such as the Minister's refusal to permit the British aircraft carrier Invincible to dock here, causing alarm to all of our allies and friends who are led to doubt our reliability and common sense.

The Government claims to be interested in the reserve forces yet it does nothing to encourage them and a great deal to discourage them. Reserve force members receive a lower daily rate of pay than their regular force equivalents. They used to be compensated by receiving their pay tax free. Now the Government is taxing it. Great encouragement, I must say! But enough of the failures of this Government in defence. Its failure is notorious and complete. The longer it stays in office the more damage it will do.

What we have before us is a Bill, much of which is uncontroversial. A matter such as the abolition of the requirement for collectors of military insignia to obtain permits is worthy and removes a petty obstacle. Changing the title of the Chief of Defence Force Staff to Chief of the Defence Force is a minor improvement, though typically of this Government it does not do the thing properly. Defence Force Commander would be a better and more descriptive title of what his role is. Worse still, the Government, in going to the extent of changing by an Act of Parliament this title, has left the titles of the other three professional heads of the Services unchanged. We have a Chief of the Air Staff, a Chief of Naval Staff and a Chief of the General Staff. These titles would be more correctly descriptive of their roles if they were described as Navy Commander, Army Commander and Air Force Commander. These archaic titles which the Government has left just show that, when it does make amendments, it does not grasp what it should be doing. I think the trouble is that these new titles might well be too clear and simple for this Government.

The abolition of the annual training obligations for members of the emergency forces was intended by the Fraser Government and is implemented by this Government. These forces are intended to be a supplement, and a very important supplement. They are made up of people who have a minimum of three, usually six and sometimes more, years of professional training in the Services. They are a vital element in the expansion of our Defence Force in an emergency. At the moment, though, each member is required to render two weeks of service each year . This really is a waste of time for people and an expense for the community. It is a waste of time because they are already qualified anyway within the first few years after they have left the service in which they were engaged. The Fraser Government decided, on the advice of the chiefs of staff, that there was no need to require them to do this service because they were fully trained. The only exception suggested was if their category was changed and they needed training in their new category. The present Government has endorsed this and the amendment in the Bill in this respect is accepted by the Opposition.

The amendments to the Defence Force Discipline Act are by far the greatest part of this legislation. They are needed primarily because the Defence Force Discipline Act, which was passed when we were in government, was intended to act in conjunction with the Criminal Investigation Bill. The Bill was before the last Parliament when it was dissolved in 1983 and it consequently lapsed. This Government has not done anything about it. As a result, new provisions have to be put into the Defence Force Discipline Act to perform the functions originally intended by the Criminal Investigation Bill. The Opposition accepts the Government's proposal to review this discipline Act after it has been in operation for three years. When we are in government we will do just that.

We welcome the undertaking by the Minister, presumably speaking for the incoming Liberal-National Party Minister, to present to the Parliament the report of any review. The proposed annual reports on the operations of the legislation by the Judge Advocate General must also be tabled in this Parliament , one hopes, uncensored by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans). This new discipline Act introduces major changes into the way the Defence Force operates. It replaces with a new system a well understood although perhaps archaic and peculiar but disciplined system which operated for many years, and which worked. It is important for the welfare and efficiency of the Defence Force that the new system works fairly and effectively, as it is intended to. We hope that if any shortcomings are revealed they will be corrected immediately and will not have to wait for the three-year review.

The second major change in this legislation is the creation of the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal. This too we support. The Tribunal will review salaries and salary related allowances for the Defence Force at least every two years. The Bill also establishes the Office of Defence Force Advocate, who will act in many ways as the voice of the Services in the proceedings of this Tribunal. This is a very valuable provision. The machinery for determining the pay and allowances of service personnel must take into account their conditions of service, the special demands of service life, and the nature and risks involved in that life. The defence of the nation is the first task of a government, and it is up to the Government to see that the machinery is in place to ensure that we attract efficient and high quality people into the Defence Force. I hope this legislation will prevent any erosion of the conditions of the Defence Force in relation to other government employees.

So much for what we agree with; now for what we do not agree with. The section that implements changes to the Defence Force retirement and death benefits scheme is claimed by the Government to compensate Defence Force personnel for the Government's iniquitous changes to the taxation on lump sum superannuation payments. It does no such thing. The conditions of Defence Force personnel on retirement are different from those of anyone else in the community. Lump sum benefits in the general community are normally given at age 55 or more to people who are leaving the work force to allow them to provide for their retirement. The Defence Force is not like that at all. Only one in a hundred of the men and women joining the Defence Force can expect to serve beyond the age of 55. All the rest are arbitrarily retired, whether they wish to be retired or not, at an earlier age because it is vital that we keep the leadership of our Defence Force relatively young. There is a trap that in peace time, in order to provide proper conditions of service for individuals in the Defence Force, they allow the age to creep up. In the British Army operating in France in 1940 the battalion commanders averaged 42 years of age. That might seem young to many honourable senators here, but at that age they were beyond the physical capability of commanding a battalion in the field. When the British went back to France four years later the average battalion commander's age was six years younger.

We must watch that we do not push the age of our servicemen up beyond the age at which they can perform their duties. We must keep them young so that they can perform their very taxing duties in the field, in command of ships, flying aircraft, or whatever; but we must compensate them for that inevitable fact when we retire them young so that younger people can take over. This is the thing that the Government does not appear to recognise. What we are asking men and women to do is to join a high risk, unsettled, short career with only moderate pay, in the interests of the nation as a whole. Surely the very least we can do is to provide them with adequate resources so that they can set up in a new career, after they leave the defence force, on a level their talents justify, when they are arbitrarily retired in their middle or early middle age. This is necessary not because of their deficiencies but in order to maintain the turnover in the Defence Force.

As the 1972 report of the Joint Select Committee on Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Legislation reported, the justification for the inclusion of such a provision in the original DFRB legislation was that a serviceman often requires a capital sum on his retirement to assist in his resettlement and re- establishment in civilian life. This commutation is not just a matter of remuneration; it is compensation for the disadvantages of service life. Service personnel give their best and most productive years to Australia. They and their families are posted around Australia and overseas. They are often unable to buy a house whereas their civilian counterparts are able to. In early middle age most of them have to re-enter civilian life-they often have young children- establish a home and find work. All the Government is allowing them in compensation for this iniquitous tax on their lump sum superannuation is a higher proportion of their commutation entitlement.

At the moment a service person who is retiring after more than 20 years service is allowed to commute four years of his salary out of his entitlement. Of course , his annual retirement benefit is reduced actuarially by the appropriate amount . The Government is offering to allow him to increase the service he is allowed to commute to five years. He will get more in a lump sum but his annual income will be reduced correspondingly. The Government is allowing servicemen to take the money out of what they would be entitled to as annual income for the rest of their life. The Government is requiring these people who retire arbitrarily and necessarily at an earlier age to have the same sort of conditions and the same sort of impositions as people who retire at the end of their working life at age 55.

It is also worth reminding the Senate that all of this was not supposed to happen, if one is foolish enough to believe the promise of the Prime Minister ( Mr Hawke). Before the last election the Prime Minister promised that there would be no new tax on lump sum superannuation payments. He is now making almost the same promise: Although the Government will probably introduce a capital gains tax, the family home will be exempt. He is making the same sort of promises again. After the last election he repeated the promise that there would be no tax on lump sum superannuation. An article on 18 April 1983 in the Australian Financial Review stated that the Prime Minister had confirmed there would be no increase in the tax rate for lump sum superannuation payments. This information was passed on to all Defence Force establishments during the last election campaign. They believed him once; will they believe him twice?

This is important legislation and the Opposition is not opposing it. It is important because there is a need, although we think the measure is inadequate and quite unsatisfactory, for early passage of this Bill so that the amendments to the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act, relating to the increased amount of pay that a serviceman can commute-from four to five years- will go through. We think that this provision is grossly inadequate, nevertheless it is a great deal better than nothing. We would be most reluctant to stop that change going through. I repeat: We think it is inadequate and inappropriate but it is better than nothing. We do not want to block it. Nevertheless, we feel that the Government has behaved very churlishly towards its devoted servants in the Defence Force, people who have served for a long time under arduous and difficult conditions, without being adequately or greatly remunerated. This is the sort of action which does great damage to the morale and the future of the Defence Force.

I now come to the Opposition's amendment to the motion that the Bill be read a second time. I move:

At end of motion, add ', but the Senate condemns the Government for its failure to keep its promises to the men and women of the defence forces on taxation of lump sum superannuation payments, and for its attack on the ability of defence personnel to accumulate capital to provide for their retirement'.