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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2447


Mr FITZGIBBON (Minister for Defence) (9:00 AM) —Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to add to an answer I gave yesterday.


The ACTING SPEAKER —The minister may proceed.


Mr FITZGIBBON —Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition asked me a question—


Mr Pyne interjecting


The ACTING SPEAKER —The minister is adding to an answer. My apologies; the minister did seek indulgence. Indulgence is granted.


Mr Pyne —Madam Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I am loath to raise this point. I know the career of the Minister for Defence is in free fall, but indulgence is to be granted with the general support of the opposition in matters on which we are bipartisan. You cannot come into the House whenever you feel like it and ask for indulgence on matters that are controversial and partisan.


The ACTING SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.


Mr Gibbons —Learn to live in opposition. You lost the election; remember that.


The ACTING SPEAKER —And learn to respect the order of the House, please. Indulgence is being sought; indulgence is being granted. I call the Minister for Defence.


Mr Pyne —The opposition—


The ACTING SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business does not have the call.


Mr Pyne —Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to know on what basis you are granting indulgence to a minister for a partisan political point. There is no basis for indulgence to be granted and we will not support it.


The ACTING SPEAKER ——The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. Thank you for the assistance. I am not actually providing a ruling; I am giving indulgence, which is the prerogative of the chair, to the minister to add to an answer. I am providing indulgence. The minister has the call.


Mr FITZGIBBON —I note that the Manager of Opposition Business now classifies SAS pay as a partisan issue.


Mr Pyne —Your performance is a partisan issue!


The ACTING SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. The minister has the call.


Mr FITZGIBBON —Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition asked me a question on the financial disadvantage of SAS members. In particular, the Leader of the Opposition raised the following statement, which I made in the parliament on 25 February:

No special forces soldier in this country has a debt against his name—


Mr Pyne —Madam Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: under what standing order are you granting indulgence to the Minister for Defence?


Mr Kelvin Thomson interjecting


The ACTING SPEAKER —The member for Wills is not assisting this situation. The minister has the call.


Mr FITZGIBBON —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will begin the quote again:

No special forces soldier in this country has a debt against his name because of the way in which Defence has implemented the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal’s decision—end of story.


Mr Pyne interjecting


The ACTING SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.


Mr Pyne —Madam Deputy Speaker, I want a ruling from you.


The ACTING SPEAKER —There is no standing order; it is in House of Representatives Practice.


Mr Pyne —So your ruling is that the minister should have indulgence?


The ACTING SPEAKER —There is no ruling; it is from the House of Representatives Practice. Would you like me to read it?


Mr Pyne —Yes, I would.


The ACTING SPEAKER —It says a minister may seek, and be granted, the indulgence of the chair. I have given indulgence. The minister has the call.


Mr FITZGIBBON —To take the opposition through this yet again, let me make this clear. On 24 February I told the House:

I guarantee that no special forces soldier will be financially disadvantaged by the implementation of the independent Defence Force tribunal’s determination of March 2008.

On the morning of 25 February, appearing before the Senate estimates committee, the Chief of Army said the following about his directive of 18 February to extinguish all the debts:

It establishes a transition period during which no soldier will be financially disadvantaged until all proficiencies have been audited, deficiencies identified and adequate training opportunities provided to enable affected soldiers to demonstrate proficiency. This effectively removes any discussion about debt. There is no debt.

Following the Chief of Army’s statement I then told parliament in question time:

No special forces soldier in this country has a debt against his name because of the way in which Defence has implemented the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal’s decision—end of story.

What the Leader of the Opposition, in his usual way, left out of his question yesterday was the rest of my paragraph. I will restate it for the record:

That is not to say there is not some work to do. There is some work still to be done—in particular, making sure that they requalify for those allowances which now will be part of their more general remuneration.

That is why I have engaged an independent auditor.