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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 1901

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (10:47): I rise to make a contribution in this debate. I think it would be fair to say at the outset that there is not a senator elected to this chamber who is not fully supportive of the Australian Defence Force and the contribution its members make and have made over an extremely long period of time. I think it is unfortunate that they have found themselves in this situation where they were let down—if not something more serious—by this government.

I want to pick up on a couple of points that Senator Reynolds made in her contribution. The first point was on repairing the budget. There are ways of repairing the budget, and I want to give one very specific example. The Public Works Committee, which is charged with examining Defence expenditure, had a proposal put to it to build 50 houses at RAAF Base Tindal. The bespoke, architecturally designed houses were to cost $89.4 million. The committee found that that was not value for money. After a number of hearings and a number of examinations of this situation that was put to it, another model was put up to build 50 tropical designed dwellings using the Defence Housing Association as business as usual to design and construct a delivery model at a cost of $47.15 million. If you are serious about repairing the budget and examining Defence expenditure then you can find an instance on the public record that was subject to public hearings where $40-odd million was saved in one project. It gives you an understanding of how deeply and widely felt the antagonism towards this government's decision clearly is. We see these projects ad hoc. Defence is a large part of the expenditure that goes to the Public Works Committee. We test whether it is value for money and fit for purpose in the public interest. If we can put up an example of where $40 million was proposed to be spent and a business-as-usual model delivered a $40 million saving, how do the people in Defence feel when they cannot get a modest increase when clearly there are savings to be made—and not insignificant ones?

Whilst repairing the budget is the goal of all governments, at what cost should it be? Should it be at the cost of the people who put their limbs and lives on the line every day in the service of this country? I think not. I think, actually, there is bipartisan support for that. I really do. I think there are many people in the coalition ranks who think that this is grossly unfair. I think their numbers are quite significant. There are a number who have gone on the public record to say that. The simple facts are that they should not be in this position. This is a fight that they should not have had to have.

Take the Prime Minister's comment that no-one in the public sector will be paid a higher rate of increase than our Defence Force—that is factually incorrect. If you look at the relevant agreements you will see that the CSIRO will receive an increase of 2.8 per cent per year for the next three years. Airservices Australia will receive a 5.1 per cent pay rise over the next 15 months up to July 2016. Future Fund employees have been reported to be receiving a three per cent annual pay increase. So is it any wonder that our serving men and women are feeling let down? Is it any wonder at all that the various stakeholders who support those men and women in the Defence Force are agitating for a better deal? There is no wonder at all.

This is really the consequence of the bravado of this government. After gaining a significant electoral victory, they said, 'The next thing we are going to do is chop.' There are some places you do not chop. In my view, Australian Defence Force personnel are entitled to a respectable, ongoing increase in their wages and conditions commensurate with the level of commitment that they give to this country without having to agitate in the way that they have been forced to this time. If the government are serious about budget repair, I suggest they have a very close look at some of the procurement contracts and expenditure that are ongoing in our Defence Force as we speak, rather than taking money out of the pockets of those hardworking men and women of our Australian Defence Force.