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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 3693

Senator JOHNSTON (12:35 PM) —From the outset the opposition does support these two very important measures for ADF personnel in the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2009. Firstly, there is the tactical payments scheme in schedule 1, which I will come back to in a moment, and, secondly, there is the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme and the amendments to deal with unintended anomalies arising from the scheme. I do to some extent adopt the words and detail of the speech which Senator Bishop just made.

The most important part of the bill is the introduction of the tactical payments scheme. These provisions provide a mechanism for making expeditious no-liability payments to persons adversely affected by Australian Defence Force operations outside of Australia. The scheme acknowledges that in many areas in which the ADF operates financial compensation for collateral damage to property, for injury and for loss of life is often a common expectation of local cultures. Indeed our allies in both Iraq and Afghanistan have for some long time been availed of a capability of being able to settle such matters virtually instantaneously. This legislation will be a great boon to our soldiers, who will similarly now be able to settle such issues of damage to property, injury, loss of life and other matters related thereto at the time of the incident as opposed to relying upon the act of grace mechanism which is often cumbersome, very lengthy in its time to resolve issues and essentially, at the end of the day, has its effectiveness eroded by the effluxion of time between the payment and the occurrence of the event.

The tactical payment scheme is a defence-specific discretionary mechanism. It will still be possible for defence to have recourse to act of grace provisions in the Financial Management and Accountability Act. Guidance for TPS payments for each operation will take into account the cultural and socioeconomic circumstances of the local people and will be benchmarked against similar policies, as I have already mentioned, applied by coalition partners in theatre. In special circumstances where such claims exceed the financial delegation or fall outside the guidelines, such cases may be referred to the secretary, the CDF or the minister for approval.

The opposition did have some concerns as to the reporting of such matters. Can I say that those concerns have been satisfied. Whilst there is no specific mention in the legislation of the accountability and reporting provisions, the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 sets out that there is an obligation to report in the defence annual report. This is similar to other equivalent schemes such as the act of grace payments and special circumstances payments made pursuant to section 73 of the Public Service Act 1999. Specifically, section 48 of the Financial Management and Accountability Act, together with the finance minister’s orders, mandate that such tactical payments must be reported in the defence annual report. Tactical payments paid pursuant to this scheme will be subject to audit by the Australian National Audit Office.

I am very pleased to say, with the assistance of the former minister, that the opposition’s concerns regarding accountability and reporting of these payments have been met, and I commend the legislation to the Senate.