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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 7028

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (16:36): I will have some of what he has had, please. That was a very good speech, and I commend Senator Gallacher on his passion. In fact, I think you should frame that, Senator Gallacher, if that is possible with words. That was a really good speech.

I just want to get up-front and on record that the Greens have the utmost respect for our Australian Defence Force personnel. We respect their service, we respect the sacrifices they are prepared to make and do often make. Most importantly we want to make sure that, if they are to be sent into harm's way, the parliament debates the merits of these missions. This, too, for the Greens is a matter of respect. Of course, we have had this debate in the last week in parliament about war powers legislation. The Greens support Senator Lambie's bill to peg the indexation of Defence Force pay to CPI or to parliamentary pay. My colleague Scott Ludlam rose in this chamber and made a contribution to the second reading debate on this legislation. Senator Lambie's bill would ensure that a prime minister or a government of the day, faced with budget circumstances entirely of their own making—especially one that is impotent in actually raising revenue in this country—could not take for granted a cohort of people who from time to time are called on to risk their lives or serious physical or mental injury in the line of their ordinary course of duty and who do not have industrial representation. It is very important to stress that our Defence Force personnel do not have a union that can get out in front and protect them and their families and their working conditions. They cannot go on strike. They basically have no real recourse in this country. This bill would ensure that the kind of errant approach to their rights that we saw in the first year of our former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, never happens again.

I would also like to raise the bigger issue, while we are discussing Defence personnel pay and conditions, and that is that the Greens would also like to see all public servants get fair pay and conditions. We need to be cognisant of the fact that public servants right across the board do a good job for all Australians and they deserve fair pay and conditions. We do not like to see unnecessary cuts to both workforce numbers and fair pay and conditions, especially when we have the ability to raise revenue in this country if we make some hard decisions around tax reform.

It is also worth throwing into the mix, in the very few minutes that I have left to speak, that this government spends tens of billions of dollars on the acquisition of Joint Strike Fighters, new submarines and all sorts of other military hardware, and what we are talking about is small bickies. Indexing someone's pay to CPI is small bickies compared to what we go out and spend on defence hardware. It is personnel versus hardware, when of course the most important thing about our Defence Force is the people—the people who actually serve, who go off to war or on peacekeeping missions, to provide disaster relief and to give aid.

I take the opportunity today to note that, for many ADF personnel, life after service is often when they are in most need of government support. Senator Gallacher mentioned some of the inquiries he has been at recently. Senator Lambie was in Brisbane with us only a few weeks ago when we heard some heartbreaking stories from young veterans who have done multiple tours of Afghanistan and who are suffering terribly. They moved the whole committee to tears.

The Greens supported the government when it introduced a bill originally to index veterans' benefits to CPI, but we opposed it when the government tried to cut income support to the children of veterans. This regulation was ultimately disallowed by the Senate.

In the last 55 seconds of this contribution, I also raise the subject of commemoration of service—and, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, you and I both share an interest in commemorations—and the fact that up to $150 million has been spent on commemorations, while in real-time we are talking about cutting Defence Force pay. It is a bit rich. It is also a bit rich when we are seeing cuts right across the board to the Public Service. So, while we need to commemorate the service of our defence forces, we need to commemorate for the right reasons. It is very important that we put into perspective the amount of money that is being spent in this country on defence hardware and commemoration and that spent on Defence personnel.

The Greens will be supporting Senator Lambie's bill, and I hope that we can carry this forward and actually get some legislation enacted. Congratulations, Senator Lambie.