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Wednesday, 9 November 2005
Page: 42

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade) (12:22 PM) —I thank senators for their contributions to the second reading debate on the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2005. As has been made perfectly clear by speakers, there is considerable cross-party interest in Defence Force discipline and the military justice system. I might say that Senator Milne’s contribution was a typical example of Greens opportunism regarding the very sad Eleanore Tibble episode. Senator Milne failed to show an understanding of fundamental judicial process. The picture is not quite as she painted it today.

The amendments to the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982 and the Defence Act 1903 contained in this bill give effect to certain recommendations made by Brigadier the Hon. Mr Justice Abadee, in A study into the judicial system under the Defence Force Discipline Act, known as the Abadee report, and Mr James Burchett QC, in his Report of an inquiry into military justice in the Australian Defence Force, which is known as the Burchett report. Additionally, a number of amendments represent an initial step towards giving effect to the government’s response to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee inquiry into the effectiveness of Australia’s military justice system, which reported on 16 June 2005. I was interested to hear the contributions made today by the chair of the committee, Senator Hutchins, and my colleague Senator Johnston, who is a member of the committee and who is also present in the chamber today. They were fundamental in assisting the references committee to make a contribution to this very vital and important area of debate.

In broad terms, the amendments create the statutory appointments of the Director of Military Prosecutions, the Registrar of Military Justice and the Inspector-General of the ADF. This has been done to ensure that these positions are independent of the normal military chain of command, have the capacity to act impartially and have the appropriate authority. This requirement was recognised by the Senate in its recent report and by the government in its response to that report. There will be a need for further amendments to legislation as additional parts of the government’s response are implemented. Many of the changes will need refining or amending once an Australian military court has been established on a legislative basis, replacing the current system of individually convened trials by courts martial and Defence Force magistrates.

The legislation implements substantial measures that will help to ensure that the military justice system is open, transparent and fair. The Director of Military Prosecutions will provide an independent prosecuting authority, thus ensuring that decisions on whether or not to prosecute at a Defence Force magistrate or court-martial level are made in a fair and unbiased manner. In addition, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force will provide the Chief of the Defence Force with ongoing review of the military justice system, independent of the ordinary chain of command. This includes both the ADF discipline and the defence inquiry system.

The establishment of a standing court will involve the creation of significant administrative and legislative arrangements. The government is committed to implementing changes with minimal delay, and this bill implements those measures which can be put into effect quickly within the current system. Further reforms will be rolled out progressively as quickly as possible.

There is a very high level of tempo for ADF activities, with our continuing involvement, of course, in the Middle East, a re-establishment in Afghanistan and the requirement to be ready for operations in areas of instability both near and far. There is also recognition by the government, and the ADF itself, that it needs to be out in the marketplace attracting good young recruits to serve, and that there is a competitive employment market. It is worth making the point that a proper military justice system is essential not only to reassure serving personnel but also to reassure parents of potential personnel and the community generally that the ADF is fair to all and a good place in which to work.

The ADF is a big and operationally outstanding organisation. A sound military justice system is essential for its own wellbeing and the wellbeing of the community. The government and the Senate certainly recognise that. The government has long recognised the need for refinements to the military justice system. This bill encapsulates the work of the department in implementing the outcomes of earlier inquiries, as well as certain recommendations contained in the 2005 Senate committee report, to which I was pleased to contribute. The bill will ensure that the mechanisms for an independent and impartial military legal system are entrenched in the primary legislation so that the ADF and the broader Australian community can have renewed confidence in a discipline system that reflects current community standards, which is very important these days.

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.