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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 9521

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (09:47): We come in this place to debate, to reach an intelligent consensus. I asked the opposition spokesman a reasonable question and I got by way of reply a gratuitous insult. Let him reflect upon whether this place is a place where we have intelligent debate or whether it is a name-calling political party escapade.

Mr Baldwin interjecting

Mr KATTER: I am not grandstanding; you are the one who grandstanded. Madam Deputy Speaker, would you shut him up please, so I can continue with my speech? Let me say that, when a minister or an opposition spokesman asks us to vote for a proposal, it is reasonable for us, because we have not been able to get it out of his office, to ask: 'What are the implications of the amendment he is moving? I am more than happy to take the interjections from the opposition spokesman. The question that I asked the opposition was: as we understand it, your amendment throws out all these benefits. That is the question I ask. Would someone in the opposition like to answer that?

Mr Robert interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Does the member for Fadden wish to raise a point of order?

Mr Robert: I am simply responding as the opposition spokesman in this area.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: No, the member does not have the call; the member for Kennedy has the call.

Mr KATTER: We are simply asking these people—they are not going to tell us, obviously; we ask for some information and we cannot get it off them. But, as we understand the implications of what they are doing, these benefits that are needed and wanted will not flow if the opposition gets their way. What you are looking at here is a re-run of the Malaysia solution: 'Oh, no; if we get a solution then that will not be to our political benefit.' It would be nice if they thought a little bit about the benefit to their country, and the servicemen. Quite frankly, if you are going to throw these benefits out, one would have to question your sincerity.

Mr Robert: Madam Deputy Speaker, a point of order on relevance: you cannot equate it with the Malaysia solution. Secondly, I misspoke—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs D'Ath ): No. You have made your point of relevance. I am not going to allow the member for Fadden to enter into debate.

Mr KATTER: I volunteered to go to Indonesia as a lad of 18. We had to give out three telephone numbers, and we were on 24-hour call-up to go over there. I want to make the point that I do not think I was being very patriotic; I just assumed everyone was going. My logic at the time was that it was better to get in first. So I do not want to make out that I was a hero, because I most certainly was not.

My electorate takes in Townsville and has for a long time, so I am very familiar with the biggest Army base in Australia and the people who man that Army base. The family breakdowns in the Army are horrifically higher than in any other areas in Australian society. Mining is another very bad area. Because of fly-in mining, people are away from home all the time, and loneliness creates problems in family relationships. There are forced separations. There is the Child Support Agency, which makes it very easy now for a woman to leave. And then there is a very oppressive regime that falls upon the soldier, because now he has to make child support payments and is left with no money.

So when you go into the Army there is a very grave risk to your family. When you go into the Army you go and fight, and there is a grave risk to your life. We recently had probably one of the most moving events in North Queensland's history in the last 20 or 30 years: Ben Chuck's funeral. He was from a very prominent and well loved family up on the Atherton Tablelands. The Prime Minister—God bless her—and the Leader of the Opposition—God bless him—both turned up to honour a man who had given his life for his country. If you knew that family, you would never doubt for a moment that—unlike me, who joined up because everyone was joining up, not for the best of reasons—they really are very patriotic people. Ben was a very, very patriotic person. My chief of staff was at school with Ben. You would never doubt their patriotism. And they made that point that his death will not be used as an argument with respect to Afghanistan. It is the decision of our country to be there, and it is our patriotic duty to stand by our country. That is the line they took—and I hope I am interpreting that correctly.

Service men and women are just very patriotic people. They risk their life, they risk their family—out of all proportion to anyone else in our society. And because of these factors, particularly the marriage one, we have a very high attrition rate in the Army. People start thinking about it and then decide they do not want to be in the Army, so we lose people with very great attributes that our country simply cannot afford to lose. When the opposition spokesman spent his time passing gratuitous insults to me and wasting three or four minutes of his speech time—rather stupidly, I thought—I was thinking: 'Well, you were there for 12 years. If this was so dreadful and horrific and terrible, why didn't you do something about it in the 12 years you were there, as the government of Australia?' I, amongst many others, including some of your own members, were screaming for action on the indexation issue with respect to our soldiers. You stand here in a position of colossal hypocrisy, because you were there for 12 years and you did nothing about it. If these are such burning questions, were you just a bunch of numbskulls who did not understand it or were you very callous people who did not even bother about it?

The government and the opposition agree, as do the crossbenchers, although I speak for myself and not for them, that these are good moves. The people in the Army I have spoken to have advised that these are very good little things. The pharmaceuticals is one; travel is another. It sounds like a small thing but it is not. It is 20 bucks to get a taxi to go anywhere these days, and $20 is a hell of a lot of money to a veteran on a pension. To be able to do that afterwards is very important, because you get sick and you cannot ring up and get permission in a time frame that is acceptable. The bereavement payment and clean energy are very good things.. But I am not going to go through them all as other members have already done so. There are a lot of good things here.

The second reason we will be voting for this is that as we understand it—I cannot get any sense out of the opposition on this—if we vote for the opposition's amendment all of this is lost. I cannot see any purpose in losing all of this.

Mr Neville: That's not right, Bob.

Mr KATTER: The honourable member said that that is not right. Well I wish somebody on his side would explain it to us. If people are of limited ability intellectually they do not like taking interjections. I understand that. But if you are a spokesman—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Kennedy will resume his seat. The member for Fadden on a point of order.

Mr Robert: Standing order 90 requires that a member not impugn a motive upon another member. The member for Kennedy cannot say of another member that they have limited intellectual abilities.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Are you saying that you have been personally—

Mr Robert: No, I am stating that he cannot impugn the other member he was speaking about.

Mr KATTER: I retract that. I apologise for saying 'limited intellectual abilities'.

There are three options, and I think that most people probably understand this. It can be indexed on male average weekly earnings, 27.7 per cent, on the CPI or on the fairly complex pension benefit arrangement that exists at present. So, there are three different ways it can be indexed. As I understand it, the decision by successive governments—which is a good decision—is that they choose the best of those three for the Australian pensioner. All we are saying is: for heaven's sake, surely our returned servicemen should get the same treatment.

I ask the government: why wouldn't you do this for these people? I ask the minister again to put this before his government. Other crossbenchers and I will be moving legislation along these lines yet again. We plead with you to go down this path. It is not a lot of money. You have cut four thousand million dollars out of the Army budget. Surely you can give back a little bit. But you are losing very valuable personnel at present. These people suffer death on the front line defending the things we believe in, and they have family breakdowns. Really, they should be entitled to a better deal than we in this place have with our indexation arrangements or even, God bless them all, Australia's pensioners. These people should get the best deal of all, but they are not. They are getting a second-rate deal at present.

I strongly agree with the opposition on this. If they did nothing in 12 years at least they are doing something now. As to what their motives are, I am not going to impugn them for that. I am just going to say, 'Good on you, Mr Opposition. We hope that you continue to fight for the best outcome, which is simply putting them in line with all of the other pensions.' I think that is more than warranted.

I can see absolutely no point in depriving our servicemen of these benefits. It would appear to me that the opposition is doing that, and, I hate to say it, but they are doing it for political reasons. That seems to be the clear and unequivocal interpretation that I can put upon what is happening here. If I am wrong someone can come and explain it to me. I would be quite happy to listen to them.

We thank the government for these changes, but we must emphasise that there is no logic, and there most certainly is no humanity involved, in the continuing position by the government of not accepting the preferable alternative as far as indexation of the pensions goes. It is a point of view that my own party will be hammering continuously and continually. Many of the people in the services are closely associated with us and we most certainly intend to be their champions. I think that every single person here should be their champions, but for 12 years the opposition were not and for three years the government has not been. But we will be the first to congratulate either side if they move forward to a serious indexation of the pensions.

I, like many members here, am very gravely embarrassed by us getting parliamentarians' indexation through—indexation of a very generous nature—while having to face these people who have risked their lives, risked their families and sacrificed themselves in a very tough occupation for our sake. I really do think that—unlike myself—a lot of these people act out of patriotism.