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Monday, 24 May 1993
Page: 1116

Senator FERGUSON (8.11 p.m.) —I listened with interest to what Senator Brownhill said about some of the troubles and trials that much of Australia's rural community is going through. I can only endorse the comments that he has made, particularly regarding the wool industry. Senator Brownhill has been in this place for a considerable time; when it comes to highlighting the problems and issues in rural Australia today, nobody knows the situation

better than Senator Brownhill. I commend him on his speech.

  I would like to raise a couple of matters which were raised in the Senate today and which have received some media attention, but I believe not nearly enough. They are certainly far removed from the rural field. When they become common knowledge they will cause unrest, dissatisfaction and division in an area where Australia needs to be stable and united—that is, our defence forces.

  We have heard a lot of talk today about enterprise bargaining and performance based pay rises. Performance based pay is the method by which senior public servants can be judged as to whether they have done a good job and awarded bonus payments. A debate is being conducted at the moment about performance based pay in the Public Service and I do not particularly wish to become involved in that. However, I do wish to state that I believe performance based pay does not necessarily belong in the military or in our defence forces—precisely because it will not promote stability and unity.

  The idea of having senior officers at the same rank but earning different pay goes against the military ethos of `one company' and it will have a negative effect on morale. Even if this were not the case, how could performance based pay possibly be consistent across our three armed forces? How could we possibly compare a commanding officer of an operational squadron of fighter planes, who is an experienced pilot, with an army officer who is in charge of an intelligence section and an expert in Asian languages? How could we even judge within the services? How could we compare that same commanding officer of an operational squadron of fighter planes with the commanding officer of a base squadron in charge of financial and administrative matters?

  But this is not the only reason why junior officers and other ranks are becoming increasingly angry about some senior officers getting pay rises. They are angry because there is no corresponding pay increase for them. The only thing that they will be getting in July is a decrease in the subsidy for renting married quarters. Their service allowance, which is paid in lieu of overtime and other benefits, has not changed since 1987.

  It is hardly surprising that last week newspapers across Australia carried headlines such as `Armed Forces Uproar on Pay', `Performance Wage Bid Splits the Military', `Pay Deal Splits Ranks in Forces' and `Services Rift as Officer Pay Deal Riles the Rank and File'. This uproar, as the Age termed it, is easy to understand when we look at the issue for what it really is. Senior officers are agreeing to significant pay rises for themselves while junior officers and rank and file either do not get anything at all or effectively suffer a pay cut.

  For all these reasons the Army has decided that it will not go ahead with performance based pay. Why? Because the Army consulted relatively widely and discovered that giving a hefty pay rise to senior officers, at the same time as many junior officers and soldiers would effectively receive a pay cut, would be very unpopular. The service allowance for junior officers and other ranks, which is supposed to be reviewed every two years, has not been increased since 1987. This allowance compensates for the loss of civil liberties, hours of duty and for forced moves.

  Part of the rationale for the service allowance is, therefore, to be a payment in lieu of overtime and penalty payments, call-out allowances and many other payments that people in both the public and private sector regard as their legal right, and in many cases can be worth thousands of dollars each year. Yet Defence Force personnel, many of whom regularly spend weeks and months overseas and interstate, working irregular and long hours, receive only $4,000 a year to compensate for overtime as well as their loss of civil liberties, forced moves and many other features of Defence Force life which distinguish it from all other areas of work.

  I would suggest that the Australian taxpayer is getting a real bargain. I certainly know of defence personnel who spend a significant amount of time overseas—usually working outside normal hours. Their overtime would easily exceed the $4,000 a year allowance which, of course, means that they are not being compensated for being subject to military discipline, for being posted every three years, or for the disruption that it causes to their families.

  Paying defence personnel an allowance in lieu of overtime makes very good sense. If we paid flight crews overtime every time they flew early in the morning or late at night, or every time they were called out at 2 o'clock in the morning for a search and rescue mission, we would see an enormous hole in our defence budget when it comes to the salaries of defence personnel. This allowance has been stuck at $4,000 since 1987 when it only increased by one-third of the expected amount. The Australian Armed Forces Federation estimates that for the service allowance to be brought back to its pre-1987 levels it would need to at least double to $8,000.

  But this is a mere patch on the increases that some senior officers could receive under performance based pay. The top bonus that is being talked about is in the vicinity of $12,000 to $16,000 a year—an amount that really would not be very far off the lowest wages that are currently being paid in the Defence Force. Where is the equality in senior officers receiving bonuses almost equal to what their apprentices earn in a year? Some defence personnel receive the family allowance supplement because their wages are so low.

  I concede that it is very difficult to make comparisons with defence pay and conditions, but I would like to know whether any other Commonwealth employees have effectively had their overtime frozen since 1987. Would the public sector unions which represent the public servants accept that a payment in lieu of overtime had not been increased for five years? I think not.

  It is significant to note that in the published reasons for decision, matter No. 14 of 1992, the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal stated:

. . . the question of the review of Service Allowance has been before the Tribunal for some time and we consider that any further postponement of the review of the allowance would not be appropriate. Service Allowance is an integral part of the remuneration of ADF members . . .

It is no wonder that junior officers and the rank and file are angry. It is no wonder that the Army rejected the idea of performance based pay for senior officers.

  There is an argument that Defence Force personnel should receive roughly comparable pay to that of personnel in the Australian Public Service. It is obvious that members of the Australian defence forces should not receive less pay than their Public Service counterparts. But, if that is the reason why the Air Force and the Navy hierarchy have decided to grant performance based pay to their senior officers, the same hierarchy should argue strenuously for better pay and conditions for its junior officers and other ranks.

  It appears that only the Army consulted widely. As it is only the Army which has not implemented the scheme, I ask the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel (Senator Faulkner): what was the result of the Army's consultation which led it to reject the scheme? Am I right in guessing that the overwhelming majority of officers contacted rejected performance based pay? I also ask the Minister: when will junior officers and other ranks finally get the agency based productivity increases under tier three of the workplace bargaining agreement and when will their service allowance be increased?

  Finally, I could not let the comments of the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel today regarding improvements in Defence Force housing go without comment. With regard to my home State of South Australia and the RAAF base at Edinburgh, I ask Senator Faulkner whether he has ever visited any of the married quarters in the Munno Para, Elizabeth and Smithfield areas. Maybe after he has been to see for himself he would not stand up here and give such a glowing report of Defence Force housing. All he would need to do is talk to the wives of Defence Force members who are living in areas where they feel unsafe, where they feel threatened, where they literally sleep with knives or some other weapon under their pillows or by their beds when their husbands are away, where they are scared to go to the local shops, where there is graffiti in the street and where local troublemakers can easily identify Defence Force families and single them out for harassment. When we heard of the glowing reports of Defence Force housing by Senator Faulkner today, I wondered whether he has ever been to see—

Senator Burns —Have you been to see the new ones?

Senator FERGUSON —Yes, I have been to see where some of them are already. It is all very well to talk about the new ones, but we are talking about the ones already in existence. I know of these three areas in particular where what I have said is quite true. Senator Faulkner referred to a study undertaken by the Defence Force Housing Authority which showed a high level of satisfaction with Defence housing. I simply ask the Minister whether that survey asked the families, particularly the wives whose husbands are regularly away, whether they felt comfortable or safe, whether they had ever been broken into, whether there had ever been prowlers at their houses or whether they had ever been subjected to harassment on the basis that they were from Defence families.

  I believe it would be very instructive for the new Minister for Defence Science and Personnel to talk to the service personnel and their families directly. He would then know that performance based pay is causing extreme anger and that defence housing is the bane of a defence family's life and a major contributor to wives convincing their husbands that they ought to leave the defence forces. Yet again this Government has shown that it is out of touch with the community and, in this case, the defence community in particular. If any extra money should be spent in this particular area of defence personnel, it should be on increasing the service allowance and granting a service-wide pay increase, not performance based pay for a select few.

  Many other matters have been raised, but for briefness I will comment on one or two other issues which I believe are very important at this stage. I am very glad that Senator Brownhill referred to the Alice Springs to Darwin railway, which is one of the most important issues confronting South Australians and people in the Northern Territory at present.

  I was absolutely staggered to hear the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) say, a couple of weeks prior to the election on 13 March, that the Alice Springs to Darwin rail link would be of no benefit to South Australians. He said that people would bypass South Australia, and that the most important thing was the rail link between Adelaide and Melbourne. After he had made that statement—which prompted an initial response from people in all the areas directly affected—three days before the election the Prime Minister then said that he was prepared to commit $3 million to complete the survey of the Alice Springs to Darwin rail link.

  I have never seen a more blatant election promise or election propaganda than that. It only emerged after members of the coalition had promised that they would complete that survey and would then give considerable consideration to the completion of that rail link. The Prime Minister offered a considerable amount of money, a financial inducement, to South Australia to get it out of the trouble it was in with regard to the dealings of the State Bank of South Australia—

Senator Panizza —Six hundred million.

Senator FERGUSON —He offered $600 million in order to help the South Australian economy, which has never been in a more parlous state than it is at present. Why would the Prime Minister not help South Australia to help itself by committing funds to help build the railway? This would then allow South Australian businesses to connect to the Asian market and enable them to help themselves, rather than receive a handout from the Federal Government. It is a decision that this Government has to make, but it would seem to me that it would be of far greater benefit to allow South Australians to help themselves rather than to give cash handouts to try to get them out of the trouble they are in because of their current State Labor Government.

  I also would like to touch on the area of help to rural communities, which was mentioned previously by Senator Brownhill. In the last few months we have heard a lot from the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Crean) about the effect of his adjustment schemes and his grants to rural communities. In many cases what has been offered will really only touch the tip of the iceberg. I particularly refer to those people in rural communities who have shown enterprise and who have in the past made some outstanding achievements. I will refer to one particular case.

  In order to fulfil the objective of trying to value-add to rural commodities and of trying to expand and diversify all the commodities that we have for sale in rural areas, some 18 months ago a young farmer on the Eyre Peninsula received the Young Achiever's Award in South Australia for an enterprise into quandong farming, which he did in conjunction with the rest of his rural enterprise. It was seen fit that he should be the young achiever in South Australia because of his decision to diversify and because of his enterprise in trying to value-add in an area that has undergone some horrendous problems due to drought, low commodity prices and then, last year, incessant rain, which ruined the crops of his normal harvest of wheat and peas.

  I noticed in an article in the Adelaide Advertiser last week that this young man's farm was being sold up because he could not get any help through the rural adjustment scheme. Despite his having previously been the young achiever of the year and in spite of the hardships that he suffered at the last harvest because of most unseasonable rains—probably the worst we have ever had at harvest time in our history—this young man's farm was being sold, bar the 400 or 500 acres that were left for his quandong production for which he had received the young achiever award.

  We need to encourage young people and young businessmen in rural communities to help them to survive through what are most difficult times—I concede that we have been through difficult times before, but this is one of the most difficult. If we cannot encourage young people to stay on the land—considering that the average age of our farmers is now 55 years—I wonder what future there is for our rural communities and for those great producers of export commodities which we hear about, and which are encouraged, day after day. Unless this Government sees fit to make sure that people with enterprise remain on the land, I see a very bleak future for our rural communities and those producers of the export earning income required to make this nation great again.