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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 1

Mr Baldwin asked the Minister for Defence, in writing, on 10 November 2008:

Further to his answer to my question without notice (Hansard, 22 October 2008, page 54) concerning the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal (DFRT) and pay and allowance issues for Special Air Services Regiment (SASR) personnel:

(1)   What date did the DFRT hand down the determination on pay and allowances for the SAS.

(2)   When was he notified of the determination.

(3)   Who brought the issue before the DFRT and what outcome did they request.

(4)   If this matter was not referred to the DFRT, why did the DFRT decide to review it.

(5)   Why was there any requirement at all to reduce the level salaries and allowances to members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

(6)   Why was the DFRT determination back-dated to August 2007.

(7)   Why was the determination not given effect from a future date.

(8)   What hardship provisions were made for the affected personnel.

(9)   Why was an interest rate of 7.2 per cent applied to the ‘debt’ when it was not incurred by fault of the person serving.

(10)   Were the estates of soldiers killed in Afghanistan affected by this decision; if so, has he reversed the decision.

(11)   Who decided that a soldier could live on $250.00 per fortnight after deductions for debt repayment, given that a single pensioner currently receives around $281.00 per week.

(12)   Why was the Chief of the Defence Force not informed by the DFRT of the likely consequences arising from the determination.

(13)   How was the DFRT’s decision conveyed to those who were to be adversely affected.

(14)   Were deployed personnel informed of the decision while they were overseas.

(15)   Has all of the money repaid by the affected service persons, including interest payments, been reimbursed to the service persons.

(16)   How will this decision impinge upon the superannuation of the affected persons.

Mr Fitzgibbon (Minister for Defence) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(1)   I am advised the Salary Determination was signed on 5 March 2008 with a date of effect of 9 August 2007. It was implemented on 21 August 2008 and backdated to 9 August 2007.

(2)   In May 2008, a written brief was provided to my office advising that a determination had been made by the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal. Issues relating to the implementation of the determination were brought to my attention as a result of the Senate Estimates hearing on 22 October 2008.

(3)   and (4) I am advised the Australian Defence Force brought the matters before the Tribunal. The Special Forces Pay Group and Pay Structure sought to roll qualifications and skills allowances for qualified special forces personnel into a 16-group placement methodology.

(5)   I am advised the case put before the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal did not seek to reduce salaries or allowances.

(6)   and (7) The Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal is an independent tribunal. The Australian Defence Force has no say over dates and implementation effect. I am advised the case put by the Special Forces Pay Group sought for the decision to be backdated to align it with the date of effect for other determinations. This outcome was sought on the grounds that to seek otherwise would be inequitable for Special Force members as they would otherwise not be eligible for the extra superannuation payable as a result of the anticipated effect of the Determination.

(8)   I am advised that the Special Forces Pay Group did not anticipate that any soldiers were facing adverse financial hardship as a result of the matter. As a precaution however, the Chief of Army directed Special Operations Command to ensure that appropriate support mechanisms were provided to any soldier identified as requiring assistance.

(9)   I am advised that there was no interest charged by Defence to any member in regard to any Special Forces Determination debts.

(10)   I am advised that all Pay Category adjustments and remediation has now been completed, following the Chief of Army’s directive. Any impact on individual soldiers will not be discussed due to privacy reasons. However, any affected estates would have now been remediated, in line with the Chief of Army’s directive.

(11)   I am advised that there was no Departmental decision to this effect.

(12)   I am advised that the Determination made by the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal was made in accordance with the pay case put before them. I am advised that Defence did not anticipate the management problems that have now been identified as a result of this Determination. The Australian Defence Force did not appreciate the complexity of the issues involved. In addition, the capabilities in the electronic systems on which this information was stored did not allow Defence to make an accurate assessment of the possible effects of the Determination.

(13)   I am advised that following the signing of the determination in March 2008 and the decision for an implementation date of 21 August 2008, a series of rolling information briefs occurred. Following a review of members’ individual proficiencies, the majority of members were informed in July 2008 that the changes could render their qualifications ineligible. Many of the discrepancies were identified during this review and action commenced to have qualifications accepted through recognition of prior learning and recognition of current competencies.

(14)   Yes. I am advised that information to deployed personnel was communicated via email through the chain of command. Deployed personnel were briefed by their supervisors.

(15)   I am advised that no interest was charged on debts as a result of the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal Determination and that by 16 April 2009, all personnel affected by the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal decisions had their original pay grade placements restored in the pay system thereby providing reimbursement for any debts that have occurred.

(16)   I am advised that there will be no impact on the employer superannuation obligations for members of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme because the retirement benefit that is paid is a percentage of salary at retirement based on the member’s rate of pay, which is the maximum rate of pay which applies to the member’s rank and pay level and the member’s number of years of effective service. I am advised that there should be no impact on the employer superannuation obligations for the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme members because the employer benefit is based on final average salary and years of effective service. Final average salary is one third of salary payable during the last 1095 days of service (i.e. three years).