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Tuesday, 23 August 1983
Page: 40


Mr SINCLAIR(5.32) —The main reason I wish to participate briefly in this debate relates to the inclusion within the first Bill-the Ombudsman Amendment Bill-of clause 20 which inserts Part IIA relating to the establishment , functions, powers and duties of the Defence Force Ombudsman into the original Act. I do not want to go down the track too far for an explanation as everybody is now aware that essentially there will be a new deputy ombudsman who will be responsible for this part of the Act as it applies to the defence forces. His office will be responsible for investigating administrative actions concerning matters related to or arising in consequence of a person's service in the Defence Force.

I think we are all very aware that the nature of a serviceman's commitment is such that he does have a far more total involvement than a person in civilian employ. Therefore, it is necessary that there be open to members of the Services to the maximum ways by which either perceived or real wrongs can be redressed. I believe this Act extends quite properly the responsibilities of the Ombudsman in relation to the defence forces. Several aspects of that are worthy of comment. I am sure that it is necessary as specified in proposed new sub-section 19C. (5) ( d) of the Bill that the proper disciplinary provisions need to be maintained. Indeed they are excluded by that sub-section from inquiry by the Defence Force Ombudsman as is 'action taken in relation to the grant or refusal of an honour or award to a particular member of the Defence Force' under paragraph (e) of the same sub-section. Those two areas are matters which concern me in other ways and it is because of my concern that I thought it worth mentioning in this place.

With respect to discipline in the forces, I have long felt that it is unfortunate that we still have significant differences between the three uniformed Services. The Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force do have differences in the application of the respective defence Acts as they pertain to each Service. There are elements in the exercise of discipline and in the administration of the Services which I think through their difference do not enhance the efficiency of the Services but detract from them. It is one of the areas that, had we stayed in government, I would have asked the Utz Defence Review Committee to look into. There are a number of matters in that field that, if simplified, would be of benefit to each of the Services, they would certainly be a lot more effective. While the processes of discipline are excluded from the responsibilities of the Defence Force Ombudsman , I think it right that I ask the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes), who is not in the House at the moment, to look very closely at those differences and give consideration to ways by which similar Acts could be introduced to a greater degree than now applies to the three Services.

I will identify that process in its ultimate point of appeal as one of those areas which certainly needs to be further examined. When Sir Zelman Cowen was Governor-General, he and I had some discussions about the redress of wrongs procedure as it applies through the Executive Council. I share his worries that, at the moment, the process does not properly allow for a serviceman to have an independent and valid assessment made in the same way that those who are in the Army and Air Force have that procedure available to them and which in most instances, I believe, they expect.

It is in part, without going down the track too far in explanation, because the Minister for Defence is responsible for making submissions to the Executive Council through the Governor-General. He is virtually forced to reach an opinion on any matter that goes by way of redress of wrongs to him. I believe that it would be better if a procedure could be devised whereby when a redress of wrongs is submitted to the Executive Council it has some chance to hear both sides of the argument so that the person within the Defence Force who is complaining could be certain that there is an independent appraisal of the matters. I certainly think it quite anomalous that at the moment at least this procedure is not available to members of the Royal Australian Navy. That is an area that does need correction.

The other area in this Bill that I want to refer to briefly is again of exclusion rather than inclusion; that is action which is taken in relation to the grant or refusal of honours or awards. Proposed new sub-section (8) states:

The reference in paragraph (5) (e) to action taken in relation to the grant or refusal of an honour or award to a particular member of the Defence Force does not include a reference to action taken in relation to the grant or refusal of honours or awards to members of the Defence Force generally . . .

I have been most concerned that with the granting of awards we still have some difficulty in providing adequate recognition for members of the armed forces who serve in particular units around the world. I instance to honourable members the members of the Army who today are serving in Uganda. This is only a small troop. It is there under one of our aid programs and its members are doing a very fine job in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. We badly need to have an award which notes the fact that Australian servicemen are serving outside Australia. We should provide some sort of a clip to designate where that area is.

As I read this Bill, I believe that the Ombudsman can make recommendations in this area but it is something that perhaps we do not take sufficiently to heart. We can probably do something more to give due recognition to those members of our forces who work under very arduous conditions, often far more so than their civilian counterparts, but who receive too little recognition for that service which they perform on the nation's behalf. One need only see members of the American forces who have served abroad to recognise how generously they are endowed with ribbons and awards.

One perhaps feels that is going to the extreme. I do not think we go far enough for the Australian forces. I would like to see the grant of an award for overseas service with a particular star or clip designating the area where a serviceman has served. Perhaps out of the power now being accorded the Defence Force Ombudsman there might be some capability to extend that recognition. Apart from that I would comment only that these Bills are identical with the Bill that the previous Government intended to submit to parliament in due course, that is with respect to the Defence Force Ombudsman. I therefore have no dissent from the provisions as they are set down.