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Thursday, 9 December 1993
Page: 4246

Senator MacGIBBON (12.46 p.m.) —When debate on the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill was interrupted last week, I was speaking about superannuation, which was one of the matters covered in this bill. Before returning to the point that I was making, I would like to recap very briefly. I had outlined that this bill amends five acts and that the amendments concern such subjects as superannuation, limiting of appeals from the Conscientious Objection Tribunal, streamlining of overseas command procedures, mechanics of appointment for Welfare Trust Fund trustees, changes to eligibility for defence home loans and a minor amendment affecting salvage claims.

  I had made the point that while the bill has no real theme, its focus was on rights and conditions of service for Defence Force members. In particular, I spent some time on the fact that this bill was amending the eligibility rules for gaining a Defence Force home loan. Yet some while ago in these sittings of parliament, the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1993 was passed which ensured that such loans are now to be considered as a fringe benefit for family payment and additional family payment purposes. The amount of the loan is to be assessed by a formula which is contained in the legislation; a formula which I suspect carries its own potential difficulties when income is being reviewed by Social Security for the purpose of ascertaining how much family payment or additional family payment a person is to receive.

  Many defence families are about to start to feel the effect of this social security change. It comes into effect on 1 January which is the same time as the annual posting period is undertaken in the defence forces. Exacerbating this concern is the fact that Social Security is unable to provide detailed evidence for recipients of family payment and additional family payment on precisely how they will be affected. Defence families are now facing postings. Ahead of them is Christmas with all its related costs; then into January, when it is time to look at the costs associated with schooling; and all these expenses need to be budgeted for. Yet these families are unable to obtain from Social Security the full details of how they will be placed in the New Year under that amended legislation.

  During estimates, the minister made it clear that he did not know what effect the changes to the legislation would have; he did not even know the details of its implementation. I advise the minister to spend some time in his office taking some of the phone calls and receiving the letters that have been flooding into my office in recent months in relation to what is happening there, and he will learn a few of the facts of life of the legislation that he so enthusiastically put through earlier this year.

  For another group of defence people, Christmas in new locations with new schools will mean quite a different set of expenses because these are people who have been made redundant through either the CSP or the force structure review. As I was outlining last week, according to the reports I am receiving, in the case of some of these people, superannuation is being used as a tool to ensure that people who have effectively been made redundant but who have not been offered a redundancy package, are nevertheless forced out of the services. In such circumstances, it is a voluntary separation and, therefore, they are not entitled to a redundancy package.

  Personnel who have been replaced by civilians as a consequence of the CSP are, in some cases, being offered continued employment in the defence forces but at a lower pay and skill scale with a consequential detrimental effect on their DFRDB, and if they do not like that, they can leave. Most ADF personnel cannot afford to see their superannuation slip back, so they opt to leave. This is good for the government because it ensures that the projected level of separations and the reduction of numbers in the Defence Force that it is driving for and targeting under the review program are met. But at the end of the day it is yet another indirect attack on the defence forces.

  It is of grave concern to the opposition that the Defence Force personnel in this country, under this government, are all too frequently under attack—not in a military sense, but with respect to their conditions of service. The great thing about the defence forces that makes them different from all other sections of the community is that they do not have any way to protect their interests. They are terribly dependent on having an effective minister or ministers of defence to look after their interests. That is simply not happening at the present time. Neither of the ministers—the Minister for Defence (Senator Rober Ray) or the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel (Senator Faulkner)—is doing a thing to look after the welfare of the members of the Australian Defence Force.

  We are spending a huge amount of money—a huge fraction—a record amount of the defence vote, on new capital equipment. All the equipment in the world is worth nothing unless we have capable, experienced people of high morale to operate that equipment. That is not happening at the present time because the emphasis is on the hardware, not on the human resources. Morale in the forces now is very low. People know that there is no real defence policy for this country so, therefore, there is no real purpose—no raison d'etre—for their existence and training. They know that the training they are receiving is far less than they should get, because year after year the defence budget is going down and the capital equipment vote is going up. So the percentage gain to capital equipment gets higher as a part of the Defence vote.

  The only way the squeeze can be made is by driving people out, which has a deleterious effect on morale, as we have seen in the force structure review, with progressive falling numbers in the defence forces; and by cuts in the operating and training budgets—all the things that are part and parcel of defence professional life. This induces a great state of anxiety within the defence forces. Anxiety now is a constant feature of service life: people are anxious about where the ADF is going; they are anxious about their personal affairs, and what their remuneration packages are.

  The government set up the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal—a very flawed instrument; an instrument that at the end of the day makes the CDF, the Chief of the Defence Force, the advocate for improvements in pay and conditions for service personnel, but then makes it mandatory on him to pay that out of his Defence vote. In other words, if the CDF says we need an increase in the service allowance—which is now very much overdue—the only resort the CDF has under this system is to cut back even more in other areas of his budget outlays within the Department of Defence to pay for that increase in pay and conditions. That is transparently wrong. Yet that is the system that this government has put in place, and it is the system that it obstinately refuses to review. It is having a very serious effect on the morale of the defence forces.

  I just go back to the instance I used of the service allowance. That allowance is paid to defence personnel for the disabilities they suffer in being posted to all parts of Australia or overseas; and to make up for the fact that they have no overtime, and in certain conditions can be working very long hours a week in very uncongenial circumstances. That allowance has been a constant part of service life for many years. It now has very little meaning because it has not been reviewed for something like six years and it has taken no account at all of the great changes in inflation that have occurred within the Australian community.

  For all these reasons, morale is very low in the Defence Force, and the men and women in that Defence Force deserve far better treatment than they are getting from this government. The government and the ministers responsible for this have shown no interest at all in defending, let alone advancing, the interests of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. But the opposition is prepared to speak out and see that they get a better go.