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DEFENCE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2003: Second Reading

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (10.56 a.m.) —It is a pleasure to rise to make my contribution on the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill 2003. This bill has three basic parts.

The first part deals with military discipline and the second part deals with the way in which medals and decorations and also claims about membership of the services shall be dealt with. In the third part there are some changes to the way in which the cadet corps of Australia is dealt with; it makes amendments to modernise some of the titles and references to the cadet corps. The parliament would be aware of an inquiry conducted by Mr Justice Abadee into discipline in the defence services. It is interesting to note that following that report the Judge Advocate General, in his 1997 annual report, said of that inquiry:

The recommendations in the Abadee report are based on a recognition of the importance of maintaining service discipline whilst, at the same time, paying proper regard to both the existence and appearance of a fair trial and independent system of trial. ... The most important recommendations relate to the multiple roles presently vested in the Convening Authority. The first of those roles is concerned with the decision to lay charges and the selection of appropriate charges. However the Convening Authority also appoints the Judge Advocate and the members of the court or the Defence Force Magistrate. It is my firm view that Command influence should cease at the point at which charges are laid. In the light of present day concerns for an independent trial in disciplinary procedures and the experience in other military jurisdictions, I regard it as essential that both the Judge Advocate and members of the court or the Defence Force Magistrate be appointed by an authority other than the Convening Authority. If the reforms presently under consideration are implemented these functions will be vested in the Judge Advocate General.

That was the statement of the Judge Advocate General, and today we are seeing passing through the parliament changes that bring into function the disciplinary roles and amendments relating to the convening authorities. Under this program, where a charge is referred to a convening authority it may direct that the charge not be proceeded with, it may refer the charge to trial or it may convene a court martial. This opens up a wide range of opportunities for disciplinary action and, to some degree, brings about the prospect of civil jurisdiction being applied to matters relating to defence—for instance, matters of complex fraud and items that would be properly dealt with in a civil court can be dealt with in a civil court. The procedure, as best I see it, fulfils the government's commitments and offers a clearer and fairer approach to military discipline. It recognises in difficult circumstances the need for command to be confident that its instructions will be followed, but at the same time it maintains a proper protection for in-service personnel to be protected against abuse or be able to take actions to defend themselves if circumstances arise that call for such action. Various changes to the act are clearly set out, and the recommendations of the Deputy Judge Advocate General's 1997 report are implemented almost in their entirety. [start page 23133]

There are changes to the government's ongoing commitment to ensuring that former defence personnel wear only those decorations and medals to which they are entitled. This is really directed at the prospect of there being people who, for their own advantage, do wear decorations to which they are not entitled. I think we have a very appropriate piece of legislation here. Having been to many Anzac Day celebrations, I hear after the event claims muttered about the entitlement of various individuals to wear decorations. There is always the claim that certain individuals are overstating their achievements. There are major measures in the bill to change the penalty provisions for a person falsely claiming to be a returned soldier, sailor or airman or for wearing a medal or decoration to which they are not entitled. In the first instance—and this is serious—the government is proposing that from a fine of $200 there should now be a maximum penalty of $3,300 or six months imprisonment for making those false claims.

It is very clear in the Defence Act that, of course, relatives or family members are entitled to wear the medals or decorations of service persons who are deceased or are incapable of wearing their medals or decorations. This in no way impinges upon the tradition that we have—and it is tradition that young Australians are extremely proud of—of wearing, usually on the right side of the chest, the medals of our forebears. The penalty for destroying or defacing a medal or decoration will increase from $200 to a maximum fine of $6,600 or 12 months imprisonment. I think it is a perfectly reasonable proposition that the destruction of valuable property for any reason whatsoever should be penalised in this manner.

I have been told that there have been a number of successful prosecutions where the nominal penalty of $200 has been applied, but the government feels there is a need—and I must say it is strongly endorsed, as I understand it, through the whole length and breadth of the returned services community—to impose a stricter regime in this area. In my view and in the view of the government it is most desirable that these measures be introduced before Anzac Day 2004 so that the government's intentions can be carried through at that time.

There has been a wide-ranging debate about medals and decorations. I understand the wish of all people—whether they are reservists or in national service—to have their service recognised, and I think that is appropriate. The government have taken strong action, sometimes against advice, to recognise either reservists or national service personnel. However, I have held the view for some time that an appropriate way we could have dealt with this matter—unfortunately, we have moved past it now—would have been to introduce a medal for a member of the Defence Force service. That would entitle a person to wear a medal indicating that they had served the prerequisite induction period and become a member of the Defence Force service, and it would apply to both people who enter as permanents and those who do not. In that way we could remove some of the unnecessary discrimination that permanent serving members feel when they have to wait a set period of time before being entitled to any recognition of their period of service to their country.

I know that some would say that that is an American way of doing things—and, yes, that is true: it is—but it would solve many of the problems that we have now created for ourselves with various categories and sections of the defence community claiming this or that right. I think the entitlement could be applied to a wide range of people and could resolve many of the categorisation problems that have confronted us over a period of time, and, in addition to their eligibility for membership of the Defence Force, it would allow us to acknowledge people's national service—at home or overseas—and the role of reservists. [start page 23134]

The final remarks I wish to make are directed towards the cadets. I am absolutely delighted that this government has chosen to resurrect the significance of the cadet scheme throughout Australian schools. It has been most successful, and young people everywhere who are involved in the cadets are most enthusiastic. A number of schools in my electorate have cadet corps, and I cannot too strongly commend the cadets at Oakhill College and Baulkham Hills High School, where they parade regularly. They are proud to be members of a corps, their officers are committed and focused and the results being gained in attitude and outlook are highly significant. I want to encourage the government to continue expanding the cadet scheme around Australia. It is most valuable in the training and the further education of young people.

Another provision in the bill is that the Army Cadets, the Naval Reserve Cadets and the Air Training Corps should be renamed, respectively, the Australian Army Cadets, the Australian Navy Cadets and the Australian Air Force Cadets. I think they are much more appropriate descriptions of the actions and service undertaken by the various elements of the Australian service cadet scheme. I want to commend the government for making these changes and to encourage the government to do more for our young people. The cadet corps is a significant way of doing more for our young people.

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 27th November 2003
Release Date: 2 Jan 2004

 
 




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