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August 19, 2015

Mr CHESTER  (Gippsland—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (10:50): It is with great pleasure that I join the debate this morning on the Australian Defence Force Superannuation Bill 2015 and cognate bills. I note the contribution by the member for Macquarie, who, like me and all members in this place I am sure, has just paid great tribute to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, who continue to serve our nation with distinction.

In this year of the Centenary of Anzac it is important that we in this place, as members of parliament, reflect on and remember not only the level of service and sacrifice for our nation that has occurred in the past—the 102,000 men and women who died and paid the ultimate sacrifice—but also on the fact that we still have people serving today and putting themselves in harm’s way in the service of our nation.

It was a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence and former Leader of the Liberal Party, Brendan Nelson, who stood at the despatch box, in one of the early contributions I saw in the House, and made the comment that there is no greater service that an Australian could give to their nation than to put on the uniform of the Australian Defence Force and place themselves in harm’s way to help those who cannot help themselves. I give great credit to Brendan Nelson for the work he has done not only in this place as a former minister and a former leader, but also in his post-parliamentary career at the Australian War Memorial.

In many ways, I sense that Brendan Nelson’s contribution to our nation might be more significant in his post-parliamentary career than even his contribution in this place. His ability to pull together the threads of service of the Australian Defence Force and provide a narrative to people through the Australian War Memorial, through the Last Post ceremony and through the many public speaking engagements he is involved in around the nation are a great contribution and a real credit to him. I pay tribute to him, particularly in this year of Centenary of Anzac commemorations, where he has played such an important role in educating the next generation of Australians about the service that has gone before them.

I note that we are considering this legislation during this week of all weeks, when we have in the parliament—as you may have seen, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, in the corridors of this building—an increased presence of uniforms. We have 16 members of the Australian Defence Force here, serving in an unusual way: they are serving in members of parliament’s offices this week. It is part of the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program, which I am very pleased and quite proud to coordinate in my role as parliamentary secretary for defence. This is one of the great programs that operate between the Australian parliament and the Defence Force. It has always enjoyed bipartisan support. It started, I think, about 12 years ago, when it was recognised that there were not many members of parliament who had direct experience of the Defence Force. We do have a few members who have served; however, it was recognised about 12 years go that we needed to increase the opportunities for members of parliament to understand what happens in the Defence Force.

So, every year, members of parliament, both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, have the opportunity to go on an exchange with the Defence Force. This year, I think we have had in the order of 30 members join the ADF—the Air Force, the Navy, the Army—on location, whether it be in training bases around Australia or, in a couple of instances, overseas, working alongside the ADF and getting a better appreciation of the work they do on a daily basis. The reverse of that is what is occurring this week, when we have these 16 members of the ADF coming to the parliamentary offices and getting an understanding of the work we do. I think the ADF personnel get the short straw when it comes to this exchange program! We get to spend time in helicopters, fast jets, Navy assets, Bushmasters in the Army; they get to spend time in our offices! That is just the way it works. 

I have met with the 16 ADF personnel who are here this week, and they are really enjoying this opportunity. I thank them for making themselves available, for being willing to answer some of our questions, but I also thank the members of parliament who are hosting the ADF personnel. It is a terrific thing they do. The previous speaker, the member for Macquarie, is hosting one of our Air Force personnel in her office. I have a Navy captain in my office, Captain Mona Shindy. Captain Shindy has been very much part of my team this week and she has enjoyed that opportunity.

This year, I myself had the chance to go to the Middle East as part of the ADFPP—and I acknowledge the member for Lingiari as he joins us in here today. He was instrumental, I believe, in setting up the ADFPP many years ago and has been a regular participant in the program. I thank him for the work he did then and does now in continuing to support the program. 

As I was saying, I had the opportunity to go to the Middle East earlier this year with a delegation of four other MPs. We spent some time in the UAE but also went across to Kabul and had a couple of nights in Afghanistan, getting a better understanding of the training that our troops are providing now for the Afghan National Army. I think that every one of the participating parliamentarians would have gone there with preconceived ideas, but they would have been completely changed by the time we left. We were able to go out on the base, walk around the hillside with our Army personnel and get a more practical understanding of the challenges they face on a daily basis in securing their own protection in what is still a hostile environment as well as passing on their knowledge to the young officer trainees in Afghanistan who are then going to go out and fight, this summer. They take their responsibilities very seriously, and their challenge is to try and make sure those young Afghani officers are ready to lead and take on the Taliban, and to try and keep them alive in that battle.

We in this place should always be mindful of the duties we impose on these young men and women in the ADF. Having the opportunity to go out there and walk the ground with them, share a meal with them, talk to them about their job but also about their life back in Australia is a really great privilege and something I am pleased to be a part of through the ADFPP. I commend all members of the House who have been involved in the past in the program and I encourage those who may not have participated yet to consider signing up to it next year. I note again the presence here of the member for Lingiari, who has been a very strong supporter of the program. I think he is probably close to having the record for the member who has been on the most deployments, but he has come back unscathed on every occasion.

The ADF Superannuation Bill and the other bills before the House today reflect the fact that the nature of serving our nation in the ADF is changing, and the government recognise that. We are making changes to provide more flexibility for our personnel so they can save for their futures beyond their years in the Australian Defence Force. I am very pleased to see that there is bipartisan support for the legislation. Members opposite and members on this side of the House are all absolutely committed to supporting Australian Defence Force members through their service and into their retirement years.

I digress again to point out that my family has a close relationship with the Air Force in my electorate. Obviously, I lived under the flight path of the RAAF Base East Sale, but I also married a RAAF brat—and that, I can assure you, is a friendly term. My wife’s father spent more than 20 years in the Air Force, so we are very familiar with the trials and tribulations of a service career, the moves involved in the multiple postings and the unsettling effect it can have on young people and other family members, as well as the unique nature of service in the Defence Force. 

This legislation, which was introduced on 25 June this year, provides for a new military superannuation scheme for ADF members which will be known as ADF Super. I will not go into all the details of the scheme, because I know many members have already spoken about the scheme and there are still others to speak, but it does fix one of the longest running grievances, if you like, of the veterans and ex-service community, namely the lack of flexibility in and portability of their superannuation benefits. The coalition government are committed to supporting our ADF personnel not just during their time of service but also, as I said, after they retire. Importantly, these reforms will improve conditions into the future for serving members of the ADF as well. So it is new, it is modern and it provides more flexible superannuation arrangements for people joining the ADF on and after 1 July 2016. So it does not impact on the current members; it is for the new recruits after 1 July 2016. 

The legislation recognises the unique nature of military service, and ADF Super will provide a generous employer contribution of 16.4 per cent regardless of the superannuation fund the ADF members choose to participate in. This is a higher rate than the Australian Public Service rate of 15.4 per cent and it is significantly higher than the 9.5 per cent which is available to the majority of Australians through the superannuation guarantee. 

I think it is a well-accepted principle on both sides of the House that there is something unique about the service provided by our ADF personnel. I go back to my earlier comments in relation to the former Liberal leader, Brendan Nelson, who made the point that there is no greater service you can give to your nation than to put on the uniform of the Army, Air Force or Navy and place yourself in harm’s way.

I am very proud, as a member of the coalition government, to support the legislation before the House. I congratulate the ministers responsible for their consultation and for the work they have done in developing the legislation. I congratulate the members who have spoken in support, and I again congratulate members and senators who have participated in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program in the past and who are hosting officers in their offices this year. I encourage members to continue to support the ADFP Program and to do whatever they can to support our Australian Defence Force servicemen and women as they go about their difficult task.


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