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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 7022

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (16:11): I support this matter of public importance and I support Senator Lambie's Defence Amendment (Fair Pay for Members of the ADF) Bill 2014. There is an important principle here. This bill ought to be debated. If a bill has been passed, particularly by this place, it ought to be dealt with and debated in the other place, one way or the other. People need to nail their colours to the mast—do they support this bill or not? To leave it in the never-never is fundamentally wrong. It needs to be dealt with. This bill passed the Senate in March and has been stuck in the lower house ever since. Now that the government has changed leadership I hope it takes note of this matter of public importance debate and brings this bill on in the lower house as a matter of urgency.

Members of the Australian Defence Force are called upon to carry out a huge range of challenging and at times life-threatening duties here at home and overseas. As Senator Conroy pointed out, we have members of the Defence Force deployed throughout the world. They are doing things as grave as fighting the evil that is Daesh and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Signing on to be an ADF member could see you involved not just in wars in far off countries but in drought, bushfire, flood and natural disaster relief and peacekeeping.

The sense of duty and loyalty of our Defence Force members to this country is incredibly strong and has been so for well over a century and must remain so. Senator Lambie's bill goes a long way towards this aim. It is about having fair pay increases for the ADF. ADF employees are not like other workers. They cannot go on strike; they cannot decide to not do their duty because of an industrial dispute. They are in a unique position in the sense that the ordinary rules that apply to other workers cannot apply to them because of the very nature of their duties. That is why there needs to be a better way of setting their pay. The proposition in Senator Lambie's bill does provide a mechanism, because they do not have the same rights as other workers. Therefore, this bill has a lot of merit.

When this bill was being debated the government was embroiled in a bitter and drawn out pay dispute with the ADF's almost 60,000 full-time members. It was stubbornly sticking to an offer of 1.5 per cent—below the CPI of 1.7 per cent and well below the significant pay increases parliamentarians have had in recent years. Senator Lambie's bill would guarantee that all future ADF pay rises would never fall behind either the cost of living, the CPI, or the pay rises of those of us here in parliament—whichever is greater. It focuses the mind on how we have a mechanism that is fair and equitable for members of our defence forces.

The government settled its pay dispute with the ADF in June, providing for a two per cent annual increase up to November 2017, but this bill forces us to consider a fairer mechanism of pay increases for members of the ADF. This MPI is essentially about having this bill debated in the other place. If a bill has been debated and dealt with in this place then there ought to be a mechanism to ensure that it is debated in the other place. To ignore this bill is completely disrespectful of not only Senator Lambie but the entire Senate, given the passage of this bill in the Senate. That is why I support this MPI.

I urge the Turnbull government to consider this bill, have it debated and come up with a better mechanism of dealing with pay increases for ADF personnel, because they do not have the same rights as others in the workforce because of the very precious nature of the vital duties they perform in the national interest.