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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 1720

Senator JOHNSTON (10:49 AM) —Getting a lecture on honesty, morality and fiscal prudence from this crowd is like getting a lecture on those subjects from an embezzler who has been caught with his fingers jammed in the till. This is absolutely outrageous. These people have wasted billions of dollars and this minister has the temerity to come in here and pretend she is an economic conservative. We have heard it all before. What did they tell the veteran community before the 2007 election? They said: ‘We will change your indexation. We will fix it up for you.’

The opposition in this place wants the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Amendment (Fair Indexation) Bill 2010 passed today. In their 2007 policy document Labor said:

There is perhaps no greater duty that we as a nation and as a parliament have than to honour, remember and express our gratitude to those Australians who have served in the defence of our nation.

They went on to say in the policy document:

A Rudd Labor government will provide a fresh approach to veterans’ affairs and a fresh leadership team which is dedicated to working in partnership with the ex-service community on the issues that concern them. Labor will work hard to achieve six goals for veterans …

No. 1 was:

Restore the value of compensation and prevent further erosion due to unfair indexation …

No. 5 was:

A key concern with the veteran community is the impact of rising costs of living and the erosion of their entitlements over time due to unfair indexation arrangements under the Howard government.

No. 5 went on to state that Labor would change indexation:

… to help combat this, Labor is committed to indexing all disability pensions and the domestic component of the war widows pension to movements in the Consumer Price Index or the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE), whichever is the greater.

Further to this, in two press releases on 6 and 7 May 2007, the then Rudd opposition left no doubt as to their intention and promises. Alan Griffin, the then shadow minister, said:

A Rudd Labor Government will restore the value of the Special Rate Disability Pension … Intermediate Rate and the Extreme Disability Adjustment Pensions by indexing the whole of these pensions to movements in Male Total Average Weekly Earnings … or the Consumer Price Index … whichever is the greater.

In a separate press release he went on to say:

A Federal Labor government will restore the value of the Special Rate Disability Pension … Intermediate Rate and the Extreme Disability Adjustment Pensions by indexing the whole of these pensions to movements in … (MTAWE) or the Consumer Price Index … whichever is the greater.

These promises to the veteran community were exactly like ‘there will be no carbon tax’. This is the currency of this government. I note that the minister is not here to listen to this. The government says and does promise to people who are vulnerable in our community that they will be looked after if it gets their vote. And what does it do? As soon as that vote goes through the ballot box, it rips that vote off.

Nick Champion, the Labor member for Wakefield, identified this in his letter to Lindsay Tanner:

Understandably, there is a huge disappointment in both the findings and the government response announced on the same day.

That is referring to the Matthews review.

It had been widely expected that the recommendations would have supported a change to the method of indexation of these pensions to that of which is high, MTAWE or CPI, consistent with the pension, following the earlier Senate and other inquiries. Significantly, many people genuinely believe that prior to the 2007 election the ALP had committed to determining a fairer method of indexation, and a review would provide the direction. So the immediate acceptance of the recommendation of no change in government response is being seen as a reversal of the pre-election position espoused by the ALP in the campaign material.

Oh dear: its own, telling it that it cannot break its promise. But the currency of this government is to say anything in the teeth of a campaign—‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead’—and as soon as the ballot papers are in: ‘Look, everybody knew that when I said that I didn’t mean that.’ You have got to be kidding me.

These veterans have seen hundreds of dollars paid out in $900 cheques across the community—pink batts, school halls. And what have they got out of it? Not a cracker. They were lied to. The member for Eden-Monaro, Dr Kelly, the then member for Fraser, Mr McMullan, Senator Lundy of this place and Annette Ellis, the then member for Canberra, all wrote in similar terms to Lindsay Tanner, saying, ‘But we promised!’

This minister wants to try to tell us all that this is a matter that the Senate cannot pursue because of constitutional difficulties. The two houses have had differing interpretations of section 53 of the Australian Constitution, but the Senate’s position, as documented in Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice 12th edition, page 277, in the context of a discussion of the usefulness of such terms as ‘supply’ and ‘money bills’, is as follows:

Appropriation bills and tax bills are the only useful categories of bills because they are the only categories which are given special treatment by the Constitution. All other bills are treated alike and the Houses have equal powers in relation to them. The two useful categories of bills are distinguished by their defining characteristics. Money bills, which should properly be called appropriation bills, are those bills which contain clauses which state that money, of specified or indefinite amount, is appropriated for the purposes of the bills. A bill which does not have such a clause is not an appropriation bill. A tax bill is a bill which contains a clause which provides that tax is imposed upon a specified subject, either by setting a new tax or raising the level of an existing tax. A bill which does not contain such a clause is not a tax bill.

The fact is that this private senator’s bill is not an appropriations bill and should go forward.

It is very, very simple to find $175 million through the forward estimates of the last budget. A saving of that amount can be achieved by reducing the growth of the Australian Public Service full-time equivalents in the Department of Defence by 33 per cent. What I mean by that is that this will see the number of staff in the Department of Defence, including the DMO, grow in size by 8.3 per cent instead of 12.6 per cent. There is the saving. What I have just demonstrated is exactly how mealy mouthed, penny pinching and utterly deceptive this government is with veterans. What do people who have put their life on the line for their country get out of this government? They get hollow, empty promises.

We will be moving such an amendment. I trust that the Greens will support this bill, because it is a very good bill. We want it passed today to get some justice for veterans. We never promised them something and then broke that promise. These guys promised the sun and the moon and callously ripped the rug out from under these veterans, gave them two fingers and said, ‘Thanks for your vote.’

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Boyce)—Are you intending to move the amendment now?

Senator JOHNSTON —Yes. I move the amendment on sheet 7058:

At the end of the motion, add “and the Senate calls on the Government to reassess the growth in the civilian bureaucracy within the Department of Defence (including the Defence Materiel Organisation) over the forward estimates, to achieve the necessary financial offsets to fund the measures in this bill”.