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Thursday, 9 December 1993
Page: 4248

Senator SHERRY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (12.56 p.m.) —Senator MacGibbon raised, essentially, three issues. I do not intend to respond to the allegations of low morale in the defence forces. I am certainly not in a position to address that matter, and I am sure that Senator Robert Ray as the Minister for Defence, and Senator Faulkner as the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, can deal with it on another occasion. I do not believe that the criticism of the two ministers is appropriate; I strongly support their handling of their portfolios.

  Senator MacGibbon raised a number of issues that I do not think are central to this debate. However, firstly, he asked why the requirement to restrict the right of appeal from conscientious objection tribunals was not foreseen. In response, I can say that provision for conscientious objection tribunals was made by the Defence Legislation Amendment Act 1992, and the requirement for the amendment now proposed was noted after the bill for the act had been introduced into the House. As there were no practical implications, it was decided to make a subsequent amendment rather than delay the passage of the act.

  It is noted that this amendment was requested by the Administrative Review Council. The amendment brings the conscientious objection provisions into line with current administrative law policy; namely, that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal provides final review on the merits, and subsequent review by the courts is on questions of law only.

  The second matter that Senator MacGibbon referred to was the application of social security fringe benefit provisions to home loans assistance. The extent of the applicability of the recent amendments to the Social Security Act to housing loans made under the defence homes loans assistance scheme, is still under investigation. Clearly, there is a separate issue from the provision in this bill which, as Senator MacGibbon has acknowledged, extends home loans assistance benefits in recognition of overseas service by Defence Force members.

  The third matter raised by Senator MacGibbon was his suggestion that superannuation penalties on voluntary retirement were being used to force separations from the defence forces. The government strongly rejects that as the basis of the policy. The Defence Force scheme provides for pensions after 20 years of service, but, to encourage officers to serve beyond the 20 years, there is a penalty for those who retire before a specified notional retiring age. Management has no discretion in the matter, so there could be no question of misuse of this provision. The penalty does not, of course, apply to officers who are involuntarily retired. It is noted that there is no provision for notional retiring ages in the military superannuation and benefits scheme which has replaced the defence forces scheme. With that I conclude my remarks.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

  Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.