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Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Page: 8077

Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (12:32): I rise to express Labor's support for the Defence Legislation Amendment (First Principles) Bill, which will enable implementation of certain recommendations from the First Principles Review and instil a stronger, whole-of-organisation approach within Defence. Labor's support for this bill is in line with our often expressed position that we will take a bipartisan approach on national security matters when we are satisfied it is in the national interest.

We support the provisions of the bill that are designed to implement two specific recommendations of the First Principles Review. The first clearly establishes the role of the Chief of the Defence Force as the commander of the Australian Defence Force. The other amends the Navigation Act to allow for the consolidation of geospatial information functions in the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation. We have no objection to these two recommendations of the First Principles Review and support their implementation.

We are aware that some in the Defence community regard the changes to the role of the Chief of the Defence Force and the statutory authority of the service chiefs as undesirable. In satisfying ourselves that the proposed changes are in the national interest, we sought and received assurances from Defence leadership that these changes codify existing arrangements in Defence. We also sought and received public assurances from all three service chiefs that they were supportive of the changes, and we consulted with service organisations. We have been reassured that this legislative change will make no substantive difference to the very real and continuing traditions of each of the services.

This bill proposes changes that will see the legislative coverage of the Defence Reserves amalgamated into a single Defence Act. This is a welcome step and continues, in legislative terms, the integration of the reserves into the total force concept that Labor initiated through Plan Suakin and Plan Beersheba.

Labor also note that the bill provides a clearer legal framework for the cadets, which we welcome. The changes clearly establish that the cadets are not part of the ADF and that instructors are not members of the ADF by virtue of their role. The changes also make clear that the cadets are a volunteer based youth development organisation. Labor support these changes as we consider that they better reflect the nature of the cadets program and make it clear that the cadets are not a junior military force. We support the introduction of an annual report on the cadets from the Chief of the Defence Force.

Labor also note the nature of the ADF employment relationship has, until now, been expressed in regulation. This bill seeks to enshrine this relationship in legislation, in the Defence Act, which we support. We believe that such an important issue should be in legislation in the interests of transparency and as one more sign of the unique nature of military service.

For the reasons I have outlined, Labor support this bill. We believe it seeks to make sensible changes that should improve the administration of Defence. In conclusion, I would like to thank the minister and her office for their willingness to make departmental officials available to brief the opposition. The cooperation shown by the minister's office and the department was greatly appreciated.