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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3589

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (10:30): I rise to speak on the Military Justice (Interim Measures) Amendment Bill 2013, a piece of legislation that I know a lot about. I would have thought that the shadow Defence spokesperson would have looked at the legislation and made some contribution. Obviously he is not that familiar with military justice. However, perhaps he will make the time to look into it. Justice in the military is obviously a complicated issue. It is that classic intersection between the personal rights of a member of the ADF and the national interest. Historically, the justice meted out in the military has been quite severe. If you are a member of the ADF, something as simple as falling asleep at work—which could happen in this parliament and might involve ridicule—could result in a significant loss of life among your colleagues, and therefore the penalty for falling asleep on your watch is quite significant. So there are different standards of justice in the military, and appropriately so. Obviously, they have evolved over the years. Hopefully, we are at the last and most logical iteration and, in light of the High Court's decision, this additional bill will bring resolution.

I should declare a slight interest in this because in my spare time—not that I have much—I am a legal officer, a flight lieutenant, in the RAAF. So it is an area of law that I am particularly interested in. And certainly the High Court challenge in the case of Lane and Morrison changed the approach to military justice. I would like to mention a couple of people from my electorate who are also legal officers in the RAAF—Uso Akari and Mike Nichols. They are two lawyers who give their time to go and work in the reserves. I mention them because they are from my electorate—I could mention many others. I should also mention our panel chair, David Montgomery, who does a great job. He has provided significant amounts of advice to me as to how this legislation should proceed—which I have done my best to pass on, I assure you, Monty. But getting it right does take a little bit of time.

The history of this legislation, as stated earlier by the member for Moncrieff, is that there has been a bipartisan approach. The Australian Military Court was established in 2006, comprising a chief military judge, two permanent military judges and a part-time reserve panel of judges—it is important to get that balance right. At the time, the Howard government hoped that the Australian Military Court would satisfy the principles of impartiality and judicial independence. I think there was advice about the implications under the Constitution and that it would actually have contravened chapter III of the Constitution, but people made the call at the time. I do not begrudge the Howard government, the defence minister of the time or the Attorney-General; it was a reasonable call to make. Obviously, in hindsight it was the wrong call. I do not fault the logic of the justices in the Lane and Morrison case. However, we do need to get it right and, despite all the bluff and bluster of the shadow spokesman for defence, we need to get it correct. Having a look at the type of people who will be able to step up is obviously one of the reasons there has been some delay in making sure that we get it right.

This interim measure, hopefully, will not have effect for long but will be a precursor to a system of justice that will support the individual member of the ADF but also apply the military discipline that is so important in peacetime in places such as Amberley. But it has to be the same military justice system that is operating on the front line in Afghanistan. As we heard from the Minister for Defence this morning when he addressed the parliament, there can be incredible stress placed on our ADF personnel, whether they be on ships, in the air or at the front line. They have to make incredibly quick calls about the rules of engagement and how they will operate in certain circumstances—this is especially so in places like Afghanistan, where the Taliban are working alongside you, in secret, with the intent of doing you harm. So it is important to get the right legal advice and the right rules of engagement and to know how they will operate.

The modern soldier is a very skilled operator. The standards that we see in the ADF are incredibly high. I first encountered the ADF through the parliamentary participation program, when I spent a week out at Amberley. I was blown away at how professional our ADF personnel were, particularly those in the RAAF—I say that because all of my cousins are in the RAAF. In fact, my cousin is in the media at the moment. I was speaking to her on Monday night. It is amazing because of the phone links. They are just going about their business in 51 degree heat with full body armour, but with modern communications they can just phone home as well. The modern world has particular challenges but the modern military justice still has to go back to the core basics of maintaining discipline while being fair, and of entitling people to the appropriate representation. I commend the legislation to the House.