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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 7020

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (16:06): I rise today to speak on Senator Lambie's matter of public importance. In March this year the Senate passed Senator Lambie's Defence Amendment (Fair Pay for Members of the ADF) Bill 2014. This bill linked, as a minimum, ADF pay to either an increase to CPI or parliamentary allowances, whichever is the highest. Since then this government has failed to allow that bill to be debated in the other place. Australia's new Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, should now do the right thing. He should do what his predecessor would not and allow this bill to be debated in the other place. This is an important issue and parliament should have an opportunity to debate the matter.

Earlier this year the former Prime Minister was dragged kicking and screaming to increase the government's measly pay offer from 1.5 per cent to two per cent. Two per cent is higher than current inflation. Labor welcomed that increase, but it is important that parliament examines a way to ensure that ADF personnel never have to go through that pain again. Senator Lambie's bill proposes a mechanism that would ensure that if inflation moves ADF personnel will not be worse off.

A future Labor government will undertake a full review of the process for determining ADF pay to ensure that it is effective and transparent and properly takes into account the unique nature of military service. It is worthwhile going through some history here to understand Labor's position. After promising not to cut defence funding before the election the coalition government cut ADF pay at the first opportunity. They also sought to cut ADF Christmas leave and other allowances while they were at it. Worse than that, they did it in November, not long before Christmas.

In October last year reports began to emerge that the government was offering an unfair and below inflation increase of 1.5 per cent a year across the three-year agreement. This disgraceful deal was explained away by the former Prime Minister as a way to drive down the pay and conditions of all Commonwealth public servants. He was using our Defence Force personnel as a battering ram in his ideological crusade against the Public Service. That is right—he was using the pay and conditions of our serving men and women as part of his political strategy to hurt all Commonwealth public servants.

ADF personnel have long held a special place in our society. ADF personnel undertake unique, demanding and often dangerous work. They put their lives on the line with dedication and courage to ensure Australia is safe. They do this on behalf of all Australians. Today we have ADF personnel deployed all over the world. Most notably, they are in the Middle East supporting the international effort against Daesh and the Taliban. They are also working on the high seas against piracy and drug traffickers.

Australians instinctively understand the sacrifices our ADF personnel make. That is why we saw such community backlash when the government sought to cut the pay of our ADF personnel. Senator Lambie in particular was extremely vocal in her calls for the government to pay the ADF more. Other crossbenchers also spoke out. The RSL and the Defence Force Welfare Association pushed hard against the pay cut. The new Prime Minister should do the right thing and allow this bill to be debated in the other place.

In 2012 former Prime Minister Abbott told the RSL national conference that 'a fair go is the least a grateful nation can offer to serving and former military personnel'. Prime Minister Turnbull should heed his predecessor's advice and give our ADF personnel a fair go. It is embarrassing that those opposite unanimously supported this—every single coalition senator supported this. Only when the pressure built, as outrage flooded social media pages and the petition was collected, did the craven members of the coalition decide they had to protect serving personnel's pay and conditions. Let no-one on the other side of the chamber pretend that they were there when it counted in this debate, because they were not.