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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 1883


Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (09:32): Today this Australian Senate is presented with an opportunity to debate and vote for the Defence Amendment (Fair Pay for Members of the ADF) Bill 2014. I know that many Australians, including up to one million voters nationwide, are influenced by how this government treats our Australian Defence Force and veterans' families and will be interested in the contributions from senators in this chamber. This is simple private member's legislation I had drafted before Christmas which links pay for members of the Australian Defence Force with pay for Australian parliamentarians or to the consumer price index, whichever is higher.

The need for this legislation became obvious after this Liberal government, led by Prime Minister Abbott, announced a change in pay rates for members of our Army, Navy and RAAF which was in fact a pay cut after our nation's inflation rate was taken into consideration. It became clear to all fair-minded Australians that the system of determining wage rises for our diggers was broken and had to be fixed. The Defence Amendment (Fair Pay for Members of the ADF) Bill 2014 will fix the broken system which determines the amount of pay that members of our Army, Navy and RAAF are awarded.

This simple piece of legislation, if agreed to by the majority of senators in this chamber, will give members of our Australian Defence Force certainty and a guarantee that they will receive a fair pay increase, because this bill puts in place a minimum pay rise which at the very least keeps track with the consumer price index or politicians' pay increase, whichever is higher. Of course, the bill also leaves open the opportunity for politicians and their public servants to ensure that our Defence families receive pay rises greater than current CPI rates or the rates of pay increases for politicians. I was tempted to put in this bill a legislative mechanism that would ensure that our diggers received a pay rise greater than the CPI rate of the day or greater than the current rate of pay increase for politicians. However, I chose to be prudent and more than reasonable given the fiscal restraint all Australians are now being asked to show.

In short, this bill is reasonable and measured. It does not have any provisions that are excessive. If you believe that Australian Defence Force members deserve a fair go when it comes to calculating their wages then my private member's bill will be very difficult to vote against. There may be some from the government who, for mischievous reasons, may want to confuse the debate. They could say: 'The latest national CPI rate is 1.7 per cent and the government has agreed to a two per cent pay rise. Won't that mean we are voting for a pay cut for our military?' Of course, that assertion would be absolute rubbish. This legislation is flexible enough to allow the government of the day to increase Australian Defence pay by however much they want to. If the government wanted to decrease the pay then it would be the government's responsibility, not the legislation's fault.

The legislation is simple and puts in place a safety net which, we have seen from past governments, is desperately needed. At the moment, Australia is governed by mean-spirited leaders who regularly need to be exposed to the heat of a near-death political experience in order to melt the ice frozen to their hearts and the wax built up in their ears. Unfortunately for voiceless members of the Australian Defence Force, doing the right thing does not come easy for our nation's leaders. So that is why this private member's legislation is so important: it is to keep the bastards wearing blue ties honest.

There would be some members of the Senate opposite me who may have forgotten exactly when the 1.5 per cent pay offer, the effective pay cut for our military, was announced by the Abbott government. I remind those members that it was the day before last year's Melbourne Cup Day. Of course, the choice of this day was deliberate. It showed that the Abbott government knew that they were being dishonest and doing the wrong thing by our diggers. It was proof that the Abbott government hoped that the extraordinary media attention devoted to the race that stops the nation would cover up a government decision which shamed a nation.

Thankfully, support from ordinary Australians spontaneously emerged. My office was bombarded with emails from Tasmanians and other states expressing their disgust at Mr Abbott and his Liberal members and the lack of support for our diggers. This government underestimated the love and respect that our nation has for the members of our Australian Defence Force, 365 days a year—not just the few days of the year that some members of the Abbott government fake affection for our diggers and their families.

Following the news of the Liberal Party cut to members of the Australian Defence Force, I appreciated that fact that Labor leader Bill Shorten wrote to the Prime Minister Abbott and asked him to reconsider the pay offer. I also appreciate the fact that Labor have indicated that they will support this legislation today, along with the Greens and many of my crossbench colleagues. So I sincerely thank them in advance.

In recent days and after a stunning electoral defeat in Queensland which was partly influenced by voters in a few key areas like Townsville and Brisbane—where there are high numbers of Australian Defence Force personnel, their supporters and their families—and pressure from their Liberal colleagues in New South Wales fearing a similar fate, this Abbott government belatedly chose to offer a further rise in our Australian Defence Force pay. This is my message to Prime Minister Abbott following his Defence Force pay backdown. It is relevant to today's debate on the Defence Amendment (Fair Pay for Members of the ADF) Bill 2014 and touches on some of the broader defence issues:

Dear Prime Minister,

I note your decision on Wednesday 4th of March to ask the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) to take a proposed pay increase of only .5% to the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal, making for a total ADF pay rise of 2%.

In 2000 the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF)— the person you have just asked to increase ordinary diggers pay by .5%--received $305K p/a. The latest figures show that CDF in 2014 took home $764K.

That means the person you have just asked to increase ordinary Diggers pay by .5%—in the last 14 years, own pay increased by almost $460K or 250%. Apart from the obvious embarrassment and humiliation you're subjecting the CDF to, isn't this just another indicator that the system for determining our Diggers pay is broken?

While you attempt to justify this less than fair pay rise, by comparing it to the current inflation rate of 1.7% - I remind you that the core inflation rate is 2.1% and current weighted median Consumer Price Index (CPI) rate is 2.3%.

I also remind you that Parliamentary Library background research I commissioned reveals that the average yearly rise in Defence Pays over the last ten years is approximately 3%.

This stands in stark contrast with the average yearly rise in politician's pay, which since 2004 and taking into account the last two years of 0% pay rise, is still almost 7%.

I'm sure that you would agree, that our Diggers, particularly of the last decade and half, have earnt a pay rise equal to that of our politicians.

So therefore I respectfully ask that you reconsider your pay offer to members of Australia's Defence Force.

It's my view that in making your decision to increase defence pay, you should consider all the facts. If you do so there is a very strong case to:

1. Strengthen the ADF pay increase by .5% to an annual rate of 2.5%, rather than 2%.

2. Ensure that all ADF members receive back pay calculated from the 4th of November 2014 or Melbourne Cup Day (the day after their effective pay cut was sneakily announced by your government)

3. Restore ADF Combat Pay or War Zone Allowance back to $200 per day instead of the reduced $150 per day allowance.

I request that you agree to a meeting to discuss these three important issues.

During that meeting I would also like to receive from you a guarantee that Diggers who have served for 20 years, and are therefore covered by multiple compensation acts, and who are now re-deployed to Iraq - are not (because of a bureaucratic provision called offsetting) at a disadvantage compared with younger diggers, if they are injured.

I've been reliably informed that veteran Australian Diggers who have served previously in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq - and who have recently been redeployed to Iraq, compared with younger Diggers covered by only one compensation act - can receive compensation payments up to 10 times less, should they be injured during this new deployment.

It's my view that if you properly consider these four issues, you can only come to the conclusion that members of our Defence Force are not being fairly paid or compensated. I would hope that our meeting would find a resolution to these important matters.

Making our own position safe at home.

While I believe that we both share common feelings about Islamic State and the great evil they have brought to this world - I strongly disagree with your decision to send members of our ADF to Iraq in response to their attacks.

Forcing Australian Tax payers to pay for Australian Troops to be sent back into harms way in Iraq, given that America has only deployed about 3000 troops, is not a wise decision.

At best it will be a "flag flying" exercise. At worst we run the risk of supposedly friendly Iraqi troops betraying our Diggers and killing them - or handing them over to Islamic state forces who will use them to make further horrific online videos.

I believe that a prudent response to the threat Australia faces from Islamic state is to dramatically increase the size and capability of the Australian Defence force and that we should make our own country safe, before we try and make countries like Iraq, Syria, Lybia and North Africa safe from Islamic state fanatics and death cult members.

In advocating for that course of action, I draw your attention to the war-time experience of Prime Minister John Curtin, as described by Bob Wurth in his book "1942".

You will recall that following the Japanese Air Raids in February 1942 on Darwin, which killed 243 people and wounded more than 400 Australians, Prime Minister John Curtin received a cable which said that Churchill, acting with out Curtin's authority had already diverted Australian "troop ships to Burma"- leaving our Nation more vulnerable to Japanese attack.

John Curtin is then reported to have told his friend the biographer Lloyd Ross: "its the proper fate of a country which has not built up its own defences. The proper fate of a country which always fights someone else's war, without making its own position safe."

Its my view that as a Nation we're now making the same mistake that Prime Minister Curtain spoke about at the beginning of WW2, namely that, "We're being be drawn into a war and fighting someone else's battles, without making our own position safe at home."

We need to address this problem in an honest manner—and start with a critical look at the numbers and capacity of our ADF.

Too few members of our ADF and combat troops on anti-psychotic medication

Our shocking Veterans' suicide and homeless rates which your government continues to cover up - is a direct result of successive Australian Governments asking too few members of our ADF to shoulder the burden of prolonged commitments in the Middle East war zones.

It's my view that many younger veterans who take their lives or end up homeless, will have spent 3 plus years or more in the War Zone in the space of a decade. This prompts the question:

What is the maximum period of time a combat troop can serve in a War Zone, before they are guaranteed to suffer psychological harm?

Some young veterans I have meet have in 13 or more years of service completed 10 combat deployments or tours of duty in war zones.

And while you can't criticize the commitment and love that these young men and women have for Australia, you can criticize the politicians and high ranking members of the ADF who know that we didn't - and still don't, have enough full time members of our military to safely commit our Nation to prolonged military engagements in Middle East war zones.

Senior ADF medical officers have personally confirmed to me that ADF members are allowed to enter War Zones armed, while officially receiving anti-psychotic medication.

Surely these well known facts would lead any reasonable person to come to the conclusion that we don't have a large enough permanent defence force?

And that to meet the threat posed to western civilization by Islamic maniacs who want to drag us back into the dark ages, then its time to dramatically increase the numbers and capacity of our ADF.

We could begin the process of boosting the numbers of our defence force by re-introducing a National Service Trade and Traineeship program. This would not only boost the capacity of our ADF but it would also address the dual problems of youth unemployment and national skills shortage.

Closing - Important Veterans ' Questions

In closing, I have been contacted by older veterans with strong connections to our serving ADF members being deployed to the Middle East.

They have requested that I ask you these confronting but relevant questions in relation to the Australian Soldiers preparing and being sent to train and assist Iraqi troops:

1. Do they receive the same combat pay or war zone allowance as the initial cohort of soldiers redeployed to Iraq?

2. Have they received instructions to the effect that: "whatever you do save your last bullet for yourself, don't get captured"?

3. If these soldiers are being deployed armed and warned not to get captured - can you explain why they have been denied the benefits associated with full war like service - and full combat pay and allowances?

4. Has the Australian government deployed these ADF personnel using diplomatic type passports? If so, can you explain why?

5. Are they being warned to discretely advise their families in Australia to be on the lookout for, or vigilant against Islamic state supporters who may be gathering intelligence for future terrorist attacks?

6. If not, why not?

7. Are ADF personnel on Australian Military bases authorized to use their weapons to defend themselves when or if, they are attacked by terrorists?

8 If so, can you describe the chain of command and name who is responsible for authorizing our ADF personnel to arm themselves and use lethal force to defend themselves and others against terrorists attacks?

9. In relation to armed ADF members being authorized to use lethal force, in an emergency or terrorist attack, how long does their lethal force authorization last?

While I will also officially submit these questions as QON, I would appreciate if you provided answers as soon as possible and before the 30 day deadline.

Today I have tried to ask some of the important questions and described some the enormous and deadly challenges faced by serving and former members of our Defence Force. The job before them is one of the most complex, important and hardest that our nation not asks but demands of it citizens. To do the job of a sailor, soldier or member of the Royal Australian Air Force requires extreme courage, dedication, discipline, perseverance, love and loyalty to our country. The least we can do as law-makers is to ensure that they receive a fair day's pay for their extraordinary, unique service to this country. I commend this bill to the house.