Australian Defence Force Matters of Public Interest

I, too, rise to address this urgency motion. Firstly, I would like to address some of the comments that have been made by members opposite about the provisions in the budget. The pay that is made in the ADF obviously has annual increases. I notice, going back to ASPI’s figures, that the increases have ranged over the last decade from a high under the coalition of around 6.1 per cent. The figure of 1.5 per cent has, in fact, occurred previously as well, and there has been a range in between. The interesting part in the ASPI figures is that in net terms the increase of pay continues over that decade, and it has been in the order of 110 per cent over that decade, well above the CPI increase of 75 per cent—or roughly 75 per cent—over the same period.

The reason I want to bring that out is that the provisions that have to be made for the increasing wage bill for the ADF are not just a matter of the increase to the base wage. If you look at the pay rates in the ADF, not only is there a base wage but there are increments of pay depending on time of service and seniority, and also as people gain additional qualifications there are increments, such that between pay group 1, for a private—which is around $43,700—through to pay group 10, as they get additional qualifications or experience, that goes up to $78,799. So there are a range of factors that influence every year the growing wage bill that has to be provided for by the government. The indexation of wages, the base rate of wage, is purely one. I wanted to take the time to address that point because it has been raised by a number of speakers opposite, and they clearly do not actually understand the construct of the ADF pay system and why certain provisions are made. That growth provision is not all related to the base wage and the indexation.

I would also like to address the concerns that have been raised in a number of emails that we are cutting the pay of people who are putting their lives on the line. People who are deployed are still in receipt of the allowances that they receive, recognising not only their base wage but also the fact that they have been deployed, particularly those who are deployed into a warlike situation. We have our intelligence organisations that make an assessment of the level of threat, such that somebody who has been deployed, for example, on Operation Slipper receives an additional $200 a day while they are there, ranging down to people who are supporting operations in Ukraine, for example, who receive around an additional $137 a day. For those who are in a warlike situation, not only are those additional payments made but they are tax free while those people are deployed. So we are recognising in a very tangible way—and this has occurred under governments of both persuasions, so there is no politics in this—when people are doing things that place them at an elevated risk.

It is not only those who are deployed. People who remain here in Australia often undertake dangerous work, so the ADF pay structure makes suitable allowance for them. For example, for somebody in the Special Forces, just having an SAS qualification, there is an additional $38,000 that is paid to them for having that qualification. It is likely that someone who is a clearance diver would receive an additional $20,000. Somebody who is in the explosives special duty area, particularly if they are in the render-safe area, would have an additional $14½ thousand that is paid to them in recognition of the fact that they are doing duty over and above the ordinary day-to-day work that they are required to undertake.

I would like to talk quickly about the terms of this urgency motion, which talks about the reduction of conditions. Defence have looked at these conditions in saying: how can they increase productivity with minimal impact on people? For some of the things that we are looking at here—for example, the threshold for getting HDA—less than one per cent of the claims for higher duty allowances were for periods of less than five days. The vast majority were in excess of the 10-day limit. And yet the ADF has sustained two systems, which has cost through the administration. By rationalising that, which has a very small impact of less than one per cent, you achieve savings. Some of these measures that have been criticised as a dramatic reduction in entitlements for people are not as dramatic as they are seen to be.

One that I do want to raise though—and I have raised concerns about this with the assistant minister—is those who are married with dependants on a separated posting. I have a constituent in South Australia who is in the situation where she and her husband, who is a serviceman, made a decision as a family, based on the pay and conditions that were available at the time, to accept a posting where he was separated from his family. I have been in that situation myself in my service life where I have taken a posting away from family. You make decisions about your ability to be reunited, to travel and to go back and see your family based upon what you are going to receive in allowances. Under the current arrangement, a family in that situation will actually see a reduction in income.

Defence has a system in place. Chapter 3, part 2, division 5 of the PACMAN looks at salary non-reduction provisions. In paragraph 3.2.39 it says the purpose of this is to set out ‘the way a member’s salary rate can be preserved for a period when it would otherwise be reduced.’ My strong contention here is that this is a classic case where Defence needs to apply these provisions they already have such that a member and their family who have made a decision around postings and geographic locations for a period of a posting, if they are impacted by this change, will receive a non-reduction allowance so for the period of that posting they will be no worse off. At the end of that posting, they can make their decision then whether they wish to relocate together or go through under the new arrangements; but, given that decision was made under existing pay and condition arrangements, I would be strongly encouraging Defence to apply an NRA. I do not believe they have actually made a decision on whether or not it will be, but the PACMAN certainly allows for it. I think it is a very clear case where the existing provisions should be applied so that no member of the Defence Force is worse off in that tangible way because of this pay outcome.