Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, to a question without notice asked by Senator Ronaldson today relating to defence superannuation.
Obfuscation and bravado is clearly no substitute for even a passing interest in veterans' pensions. This minister today has been caught out because he has absolutely no knowledge or understanding of what people are doing in the real world. Veterans are doing it tough, and I will tell you exactly why a little later on.
The responsibility of government involves an awful lot more than having a deep cultured voice and a thespian demeanour. This minister brings to the table of charade of knowledge that is so thin as to be almost as thin as this government's prospective budget surplus. There are 57,000 DFRDB personnel. They have been misled; they have been lied to; they have been effectively cheated of their vote in the 2000 election.
Pensioners have received compensation. The question to this minister was: what is going to happen to DFRDB recipients? He did not even know that Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits is referred to as DFRDB. He was groping around looking for what is one of the most important things. These are people who have given great service to their country and this minister simply does not know or care or understand about them. He is dismissive. He was clearly inconvenienced by having been asked a question on the plight of these pension recipients in the face of this carbon tax based upon a lie. It was a lamentable performance.
It makes me worry about our standing with our near neighbours and further abroad when this man is in charge of diplomatic issues. To be so dismissive, to be so disdainful and, frankly, to be so ignorant says a lot about why we have had, since 2007, 350 boats and more than 19,000 people arrive on our shores. When he goes back to his office I can just imagine the first thing he will say to his staff is, 'What the hell is DFRDB? What is it? What on earth is MTAWE?'—male total average weekly earnings. He has no concept of the day-to-day lives of ordinary Australians. He does not even know or understand the massive betrayal, given that Kevin Rudd said, before the 2000 election:
A Rudd Labor government will maintain a generous military superannuation system, in recognition of the importance of the ADF and the immense responsibility placed on personnel in securing and defending Australia.
… … …
The Military Superannuation Review is the latest example of the Howard Government refusing to release vital information about the operation, costs and alternative policy approaches that should be considered in this area.
'A Rudd government will provide a fresh approach.' So he held out the opportunity and the prospective opportunity for DFRDB recipients to have an indexed system that was 'much fairer and more generous'. What did they do? On 21 August 2009, Lindsay Tanner said:
The Rudd Government is satisfied, after considering Mr Matthews’ report, the purpose of indexation of civilian and military superannuation pensions should continue to maintain the purchasing power of the pension.
We are aware that this will disappoint many superannuants ...
In short, all of the promises by Rudd and Labor were cast aside by this callous government. They wonder why their primary vote is at 30 per cent. It is the great lies: the carbon tax, the 2009 defence white paper and of course the promises to veterans to index defence DFRDB pursuant to MTAWE—and we know that that was the great lie. This minister has no idea about it. (Time expired)
It is very surprising and disappointing that Senator Johnston would use this take note debate to attack a minister and to attack people for having no responsibility and no respect for people who served our country. There has never been a debate in this place that that was the point. There has been a debate in this place about the appropriateness of how you actually look at DFRDB pensions and it has been quite serious and over a long period of time. As people on both sides of this chamber know, the issue of changing the way DFRDB pensions are assessed is not a new issue. We could go back over the extensive debates in this area, through periods of the Howard government through to the Rudd and the Gillard governments, and there have been disagreements. Recently, a very strong debate was conducted in this place that ended up with a decision that we would change the process. That was very difficult and people were deeply affected by the process.
Senator Johnston was quoting again from the piece of paper that they have about what the Rudd process was before the 2007 election. Again, in the very words read out by Senator Johnston, there was an agreement for a 'fresh approach'. There was an agreement that the issues would be considered and indeed they were. As Minister Carr reflected in his answer to the Senate today, the report was done with the support of this chamber and it was an independent review of the way pensions were to be assessed. The results of that independent review came to this place and the government agreed with the review. That was not easy. All of us, every person in this chamber, have people in our electorates who have DFRDB pensions. All of us know what extremely strong advocates they are and I would expect that every one of us meets regularly with those people. They come forward with their arguments and they are very telling about the way they feel that their DFRDB pensions should be assessed.
Those same arguments were the ones that they took to the review in 2008 and the independent assessment said that that was not going to be the way that the pensions would be assessed. We will continue to have a debate, and I think we should. None of these issues should remain untouched. All these debates should be had, but the real issue of the debate should be about what we are discussing, not some attempted slur on our minister, as we have seen today, to imply that he did not have any compassion or knowledge of the people who have served our country. That is not the way to have an effective debate. That is not the way to show respect for the very personnel about whom we are talking. The question given to the minister today talked about the process for DFRDB pensions, and we do know what that means—and Minister Carr does know what a DFRDB pension is—
I can guarantee that he does in terms of the process. What the question was referring to was how it was going to be calculated for the impact of the carbon price. That was not mentioned by Senator Johnston in his taking note contribution. Senator Ronaldson clearly knows that the point of his question was about how the pensioners on the DFRDB system would be impacted by the carbon price. That was what the minister went to in his answer. But in Senator Johnston's taking note effort, he turned that around to an attack on the foreign minister. That does not actually add to the debate. It becomes personal and minimises the impact of the original question.
We can tell people in this chamber what the impact on DFRDB pensions will be by the indexation of their pension. Certainly, you would have to admit that the minister did say that DFRDB pensioners will have their pension linked to the CPI. That is what happens now. That is the result of the Wallis review. That is the result of several debates, and I think there have been at least three debates in the last 18 months in this place on the way DFRDB pensions will be handled. After all of those debates, the end result is that the CPI is the way that the pensions will be handled. I fully expect that we will have these debates into the future, and so be it. But in looking at the way the question was answered today, and that is what taking note is all about, what was said was that they are done through the CPI—the impact on DFRDB pensions will be continuing. (Time expired)
As much as I like Senator Moore, that speech bore absolutely no relevance to either the response of the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the response of Senator Johnston. Senator Carr clearly had no idea what DFRDB is—none at all. He probably knows by now because he is back in his office. He did not attempt to answer that question at all. He read from a brief which had been passed to him by someone else. Again, we have the repetition and the reinforcement today that the Australian Labor Party do not support the coalition's view on changing the DFRDB indexation. We know, again as a result of today, that the only way those DFRDB and DFRB recipients are going to get an appropriate indexation of their pensions is by a change of government. That was reinforced today. The minister made no attempt to answer my question in relation to the impact of the carbon tax on military superannuants. Some 57,000 superannuants and their families will receive no compensation for the carbon tax. That was quite clear from Minister Carr's answer today, or lack of answer, because if it were otherwise he had the perfect opportunity to set the record straight. They will be getting no compensation. So on 1 July 57,000 Australians and their families will get the double-whammy. They only get the six monthly CPI increase and not the full suite of indexation options that the coalition will provide, and they get no compensation at all.
Regarding Minister Carr, I would just make this comment. Every other minister in this place walks in with two armfuls of briefs. This minister, who has the responsibility of representing the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, walks in with a folder that fits under one arm—no weight at all. And he gives no weight to his responsibilities. He swans around this place as an esoteric show pony. He is not doing his job and he deserves to have someone sit down and tell him that he just does not swan in here and then swan overseas and not accept any responsibility for the matters for which he has representative responsibility.
I want to turn in the time left open to me to a quite remarkable speech given by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs in the other place on 31 May. In a remarkable contribution, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs suggested that it was illogical that we the coalition pursue fair indexation of pensions. I do not have the time to go through this quote, but what the minister did was to take an example of a colonel equivalent who retired in 2010 after 35 years of service and then frame his whole debate around a superannuation payment of $59,000 per year. What he said was:
You might tell me what the logic is here. What is the logic of equating a superannuation payment of $59,000 per year to the age pension?
Well, we have equated military superannuation to the age pension. We have equated it to the service pension. What the minister failed to do was to tell the other place that he had inflated by 250 per cent the average payment under the DFRDB and the DFRB. It was an absolutely and totally duplicitous use of an example that he should have known, and did know, was not an example of the average amount of the DFRDB or the DFRB. It was a deliberate attempt to mislead the other chamber by a minister who leads a government and who fails to accept that what is happening to military superannuants at the moment is grossly unfair.
In the 28 seconds left to me, I will again repeat that I do not care what Senator Moore and others say about further discussion taking place on this matter, because quite frankly no-one believes them. No-one believes the Australian Labor Party because 12 months ago in this chamber the Australian Labor Party and the Greens had the opportunity to provide fair indexation to military superannuants and they failed to do so.
As has been said today, and I think quite eloquently by my colleague Senator Moore, and earlier by Senator Carr, the government engaged Mr Trevor Matthews to conduct an independent review of the indexation method used to adjust Commonwealth civilian and military superannuation pensions. The government accepted Mr Matthews's recommendation that Commonwealth civilian and military superannuation pensions should continue to be indexed by the CPI. This is important, because if we had chosen not to accept Mr Matthews's recommendation those on the other side would be coming in and harping on as they do. So it does not matter what we on this side do; the other side always find the negative and like to take it up.
As Senator Moore alluded to, and I agree with her, this debate does need to continue. But I find it bizarre that the opposition come in and slur a minister and allege to know what he knows or does not know. I do not know how they know what he does know or does not know in relation to definitions and acronyms. But it is not the first time this week that the opposition have come in and slurred people. In fact, I myself was slurred by none other than Senator Bernardi the other day. I am pretty tough, and I am quite happy to take it up, but this is just another example of how they come in and tell so many untruths and so many fictions. Senator Bernardi commented that I had never worked in private enterprise or been self-employed. I have, Mr Deputy President, as I am sure you are aware. You are Tasmanian, so I am sure you are aware of that. I have done both of those things, so I am really pleased to be able to get that on the record.
It is pretty important that those on the other side come in and tell truths, but they do not. They continue to tell untruths. They continue to run their scare campaigns. They continue to carry on. If I listened to those on the other side, I might as well not wake up on 1 July because the world will come to an end. Mr Abbott himself has commented in regard to that. I think the direct quote from Mr Abbott was that the 'spectre' will destroy and kill entire industries and 'wipe towns off the map'. This is just another way those on the other side carry on all the time and tell untruths. Honestly, people are getting really sick of it. I was also interested today in some of the other comments that were made in regard to people on this side. What some of the newer senators on that side have not worked out is that I used to work in the childcare industry. In fact, it is the place where I was self-employed for quite some years. When I worked in the childcare industry, I could control 30 three-year-olds. But trying to control those on the other side—
No, Mr Deputy President, I am sorry, but I have to say that I am just trying to point out to those on the other side interjecting constantly throughout my speech—they have not stopped since I stood up—that I can just keep talking over them and I am happy to do that. They can waste their breath but, having worked with three-year-olds previously, I am quite used to being able to do that.
What else can we say about the motion to take note today? As I said, the government engaged Mr Trevor Matthews. This is something the other side do not seem to want to acknowledge. Mr Matthews, who is a prominent actuary—he does not do his funding processes in cafes or restaurants—conducted this independent review of the indexation method used, and we accepted those recommendations. That is what we have gone on. Those on the other side, as I said earlier, just do not like that fact. If we had not accepted any of those recommendations they would have had a little grizzle about that. They are grizzling about this. They grizzle that the sky is falling in. They grizzle that Whyalla is going to be wiped off the map. I do not personally think that is going to happen, and I do not think the sky is going to fall in. They come in here and grizzle all the time. They do have a bit of a problem—yes, I accept that—with the fact that I have worked for a trade union representing workers. (Time expired)
I rise to take note of answers given by Senator Bob Carr to questions asked by Senator Ronaldson. I would like to go back to 10 March this year to an article written by Major General John Cantwell, retired. He starts by saying:
It's all about respect.
He is quite correct. He goes on to say:
Fitzgibbon was out of his depth. He simply didn't get it.
That statement can be applied to many on the other side. The answer to this question today is a classic example. We are talking about respect for the people who have served this nation and who have retired on a DFRDB pension. We are talking about the fact that service pensioners, who are a different group, age pensioners and others have received compensation but the people who are on a DFRDB have not. This government and their representatives here in this chamber do not even understand the difference. How can they pretend to have respect for service men and women of this country when they do not even understand the basis upon which people receive their retirement income? Major General Cantwell is indeed correct when he says that it is all about respect.
If this government respected our serving men and women, not only would ministers be across their briefs and understand the things that affect people but they would be looking out for the interests of people affected by their portfolios. They would not just be able to answer questions here in the Senate; they would be proactively looking out for the interests of those people to make sure that budget measures did not disadvantage them. Clearly, the minister responsible and his representative here in the Senate today have not taken the first step to being proactively concerned for people who are DFRDB recipients in terms of the carbon tax compensation payments and have not bothered to be across their briefs to be accountable in this place when they are asked questions.
The same lack of respect goes to how they have treated service men and women in this budget. Not since 1938 has a government stripped so much funding out of and paid so little of our gross national income to the defence department. The budget cuts not only are on major items, the $1.6 billion cut from equipment, but also go to personnel issues—for example, saving a small amount of money, about $15 million, by cutting the eligibility of single members aged 21 and over, about 22,000 people, to have an airfare paid for their next of kin once a year. That may seem like a small thing but for somebody who does not know when they will be returning from an exercise or from deployment or who may not be close to internet access to book cheap fares that can be a significant cost impact if you are based in Northern Queensland, the Northern Territory or Western Australia and your family lives in Adelaide, Sydney or Melbourne or in the regional parts of Australia. So to achieve their wafer-thin budget surplus, which there is no guarantee they will achieve, this government have been prepared to not only place Australia's national security at risk through cutting funding, some $5.5 billion from the budget this year, and deferring programs over a number of years; they have also shown a complete lack of respect for our service men and women through these measures which affect personnel entitlements.
That flows on to things like caring for wounded and injured servicemen. The government makes great announcements about programs but then it turns out that those are funded from within Defence's existing budget. Defence is doing a very good job, as we found out at estimates, of trying to make that work. But the reality is that the things that this government claims about its care and respect for servicemen is not demonstrated by the minister when he is in Afghanistan and it is not demonstrated by the minister or the Minister for Veterans' Affairs in their planning or preparation for when they come into this place. The minister was clearly not across his brief today and did not understand the basic question that was being asked. It shows that Major General Cantwell is indeed correct: it is all about respect, and there is no respect from this government.
Question agreed to.