House debates

Wednesday, 1 September 2021


Defence Legislation Amendment (Discipline Reform) Bill 2021; Second Reading

12:56 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Discipline in the military is critical to the success of the Australian Defence Force—it almost goes without saying, but it is so very, very true. The men and women who don an ADF uniform are made of special stuff, the right stuff. They are disciplined beyond any measure in civilian life and they need to be. Rigid training hones the discipline in them. The Defence Legislation Amendment (Discipline Reform) Bill 2021 updates the Defence Force Discipline Act to enhance the management of disciplinary matters within the ADF. These are good amendments; these are timely.

Our ADF is always under pressure; that's the very nature of the critical role it plays and this is certainly so today. Our military personnel, from the Chief of Defence right through to the newest recruit, are also the very best in the world at what they do. I have been lucky enough to visit Al Minhad Air Base, Camp Baird, in the United Arab Emirates twice. The first time was in August 2014 and then again in October 2019. On both occasions, and I had the opportunity to speak to military personnel from other allied nations, I was told that our ADF men and women are the ones they want to serve alongside. Australian men and women are regarded highly for their courage in combat, ingenuity, service, respect, integrity, excellence and discipline.

Of course, ADF personnel are only human. Whether they are old hands in the Special Air Service Regiment or are on their first posting after marching out of recruit training, they still have human frailties. They make mistakes; they err. No-one is perfect, and whether it's an undisciplined act or something of a more serious nature that requires their superiors to intervene then commanders need the tools and the guidelines to enable them to make the right call every time. These amendments do just that.

I have a little historical context—and it's not that ill discipline began at this point; I'm not saying that at all and I'm not suggesting that in any way, shape or form—an interesting anecdote, nonetheless, as part of this debate. But before going into that narrative, I would point out that air forces, armies and navies have been instilling discipline and meting out military punishments for breaches since the start—since that long line of khaki which happened well before Gallipoli. It annoys me that we have some modern military 'historians' who wish to put 21st century slants and revisits, and rewrite such things as Anzac legends, simply to sell a book. Then, there are some journalists and media organisations who are quick to besmirch the good names and reputations of our SAS and others when they are only in possession of half the facts or none at all. The old saying 'I wouldn't want to be in the trenches with that person' certainly applies in these cases. The SAS does so much to protect this nation and to assist other nations. They are the best of the best.

Some of the media coverage attempting to tarnish the names of some soldiers because of a song played at a funeral is, quite frankly, beyond the pale. It's so typical of a society prone to catastrophise the very, very smallest of issues. And those of us who are fortunate enough to have never experienced the physical and mental pressure of a soldier involved in active combat and the subsequent lifelong bonds held between brothers and sisters in arms should not be so quick to assume the worst in people or throw wild accusations which effect the whole, instead of perhaps a few.

As I stated, there is a fascinating piece in relation to the military and disciplinary procedures from way back—although it seems like only yesterday—in my local newspaper, the Daily Advertiser, and I was working there at the time. In the edition of Thursday 14 February 1985, there was an article highlighting the fact that women had just entered recruit training with the 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Kapooka, Blamey Barracks, the home of the soldier. The article said:

The first Australian women to train alongside men in the army arrived at Kapooka last night.

Two buses, one from Sydney and one from Melbourne, delivered 48 new recruits who will go through an intensive training period for the next 11 weeks.

The women, whose average age is 18, will undergo virtually the same training as the men. The only difference is that hand grenade throwing has been completely ruled out—because that is combat related—and there are slight variations on physical requirements.

That, I am thankful to say, has changed. The article continues:

Next week the new recruits will rise at 5.45am to start training drills, field and bush exercises and weapon handling.

The Kapooka recruits form Delta Company and yesterday's arrivals will be known as 31 Platoon. Recruits have come from all over Australia and have signed for three or six-year terms.

The first busload from Melbourne arrived at 5.50pm and the girls shuffled out to prepare for their first taste of army life—standing at attention during a roll call. The second busload arrived from Sydney at 7.20pm. After the roll-call the women dragged heavy suitcases to the barracks, their new home for the next 11 weeks. That period will not be easy one, according to Royal Australian Army ordinance corps Major Bob Antonis.

He said training and night study will mean a 17-hour day for the new recruits and there wouldn't be "time for them to fraternise".

Although the women will be billeted in a barracks less than 50 metres from male soldiers, a "hands off" warning has been issued. An officer spoken to last night would not specify what punishments would be carried out for those disobeying the warning but agreed guilty male soldiers could be in a great deal of trouble.

Senior army officers did not allow us to speak to the recruits when they arrived last night. However, one recruit spoken to in Melbourne yesterday was enthusiastic about her new career.

Helen Jones, 20, from the Victorian town of Portsea, signed on for six years. Recruit Jones has had 18 months experience in the Army Reserve. "I realised I wanted more after being in the Army Reserve," she said.

…   …   …

Delta Company will be under the command of Lieutenant Jill Curry and 31 Platoon leader is Sergeant Gail Legge.

After the 11-week training period the recruits will decide which army trade they will undertake.

The next batch of recruits, 32 Platoon, will arrive in four weeks.

One wonders what happened to those recruits, but it was a proud day when those women arrived at Kapooka. And, indeed, the little anecdote about the fact that there was going to be very strict rules enforced as far as 'fraternising', as the journalist Steve Connolly called it, no doubt that was carried out, because Kapooka has always been the home of the soldier but the home of discipline as well. I'm proud to say it's in my electorate, of Wagga Wagga, and it does a great job. Successive commanders have ensured that the discipline has been what it needs to be at Kapooka. Indeed, this amendment improves the management of disciplinary issues in the entire Australian Defence Force. The act enables commanders in the ADF to ensure and enforce military discipline, and ensure the safety and wellbeing of servicemen and women.

I'm pleased that the amendment will result in a military discipline system that is going to be more efficient and easier to understand and, perhaps most importantly, to use. It will reduce needless delays, while also being fair to those involved. This was a point made by the member for Stirling in his contribution to this debate on Monday. He talked about the fact that it will result in a system that will be far easier to use, and it will reduce unnecessary delays. He should know. Having served in the Australian Army, he would know this. He said:

This is important, because if somebody has a pending infringement hanging over them for months or, potentially, longer then it can impact, certainly, their morale and that of the rest of the unit, and their ability to attend promotional courses and other training activities as well. So it's really important that we get in and deal with infringements quickly when they occur.

Morale is something that is so critical in the ADF. I do acknowledge not only the member for Stirling, but other members in this place who have served. Parliamentarians who have come here having given service in the military, I commend them. We say always thank you to them and to all of those who have served, who are serving and those who will potentially pull on a uniform in the future.

The majority of breaches covered by the DFDA are of a uniquely military nature. They range from offences that are operational matters, right through to being late for work—and sometimes being late for work can be a serious breach. Unlike other occupations where you could be five or 10 minutes late, in the Defence Force this can be a critical error. Serious criminal offences or other illegal conduct can be referred to civilian authorities, such as the civilian police. It is critical that breaches of discipline are resolved expeditiously—and fairly!—to maintain morale, as the member for Stirling pointed out, and to ensure good order and fighting capability.

We need, at all times, to maintain an operationally capable Defence Force with the absolute highest levels of professional competence, and we do; commitment, and we have; and discipline, both on and off duty. As I say, we can be very proud—and we are—of those people who pull on a uniform, because the service and sometimes the sacrifice they make is the ultimate. What they do for and on behalf of our nation in difficult times is beyond measure, and we should be very thankful—not just on Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, or on Anzac Day, but on every single day.

This bill will provide commanders within the ADF with the necessary tools to better carry out their mission. It will reform the ADF's military discipline system, and in particular—and this is important—the lower level summary system and disciplinary infringement scheme so that we do have that ability to get these matters resolved quickly, because resolving these matters quickly is what it is all about. It will make it easier to use the act when dealing with minor disciplinary matters, particularly when deployed on operations. When members are out in the field and things are alleged they can be resolved quickly and amicably, and everybody can get on with what they need to do. It will build on what is working well, and that's important. The disciplinary infringement scheme works by enabling a broader range of minor breaches in military discipline to be managed faster and simply as disciplinary infringements, rather than as the service offences, which are intricate, adversarial, court-like procedures, that currently apply.

This will also provide a more formalised and better structured discipline hierarchy based on the seriousness of the offending, available punishments, rank of the individual—that's critical too—and the seniority of the discipline authority.

As well, the changes introduce several new service offences relevant to the modern ADF. The new service offences to be introduced include, I'm pleased to say: cyberbullying and the related offence of failure to comply with a removal order concerning cyberbullying material; failing to perform a duty or an activity; and failing to notify a change in circumstances when in receipt of a benefit or entitlement. The cyberbullying aspect of this amendment is so critical. We are in a new era where mobile phones can be used, dare I say in the context of this debate, as weapons. People do not need to have some things filmed and then shared amongst colleagues. It makes it so much more critical when you are in either close quarters or close confines with work colleagues, as the unique nature of military service provides. I'm very pleased, and I know that the parliament will also be keen, to see this measure adopted as part of this amendment.

The changes build on the very successful and highly regarded disciplinary infringement scheme. They will provide more opportunity for our people to choose to have a wider range of minor breaches of discipline dealt with in a less-confronting manner than before with the more formal, court-like and adversarial summary authority tribunals. This reduces stress on all involved. What we want and what we are going to get through these amendments is a better discipline system managed well and done properly. I commend the amendment to the House.

12:00 am

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it would be remiss at the commencement of remarks on a bill related to the Australian Defence Force to not first make mention of the milestone yesterday of the exit from Afghanistan of the United States, and of course the experience over the last month, particularly, of our own heroic ADF personnel and other personnel from other agencies—DFAT and home affairs—and the effort that they've gone to to help many people, particularly Australian citizens, safely leave Afghanistan. Of course, I pay tribute to all of those who served there over the last 20 years, particularly the 41 fallen Australians. I pay tribute to them, their sacrifice and, of course, the sacrifice of Australians throughout the history of the Commonwealth in conflict, particularly major conflict overseas and particularly those who lost their lives.

It's a poignant reminder of how significant the Defence Legislation Amendment (Discipline Reform) Bill 2021 is, because our Defence Force is so vital to the national security of our nation. They have our utmost respect, and we need to ensure that our legislative frameworks when it comes to dealing with them are modern and efficient. Those are the two things I would like to reflect on in my contribution in support of this second reading.

I also pay tribute to those who have already made a contribution to this bill, particularly ex-service personnel. I apologise if I'm missing any, but I think I heard the contributions of the member for Stirling and the member for Solomon. There may be other former serving personnel who have contributed to this second reading debate. I was quite interested to hear both of their contributions, because they are uniquely qualified to speak on this. I also pay tribute to my colleague Senator Andrew McLachlan, who I know was quite involved in the process leading to this bill coming to the chamber. He has particular experience when it comes to military justice. I know that other contributors in this second reading debate talked about the contribution that he made to what is now before this parliament. I pay tribute to him.

I'm very proud that we have some excellent ADF capability in my home state of South Australia, particularly RAAF Base Edinburgh, which, frankly, is a RAAF and Army base. It's a vital national security asset to the Commonwealth. Many people who serve on that base and serve in uniform live in my electorate of Sturt, adjacent to that base. We're also very proud to have such a significant defence industry capability in South Australia. We are building the Royal Australian Navy's future frigates and submarines in South Australia. We have other great military assets, like Cultana and Woomera, which are so vital in testing and proofing ranges and so on.

This bill does two important things: it improves the efficiency of our military justice system and it modernises our military justice system. Regarding the second of those, I endorse the comments Mr McCormack, the member for Riverina, made about modernisation, in particular in relation to introducing cyberbullying as a category that needs to be reflected in our military justice system. It is vitally important that we recognise the potential for cyberbullying, not just in the services but throughout our society. We've changed, updated and modernised other elements of our justice system to make sure we recognise the significance of this type of activity as bullying and its potential to lead to very, very significant long-term impacts on victims. In many cases it can lead to suicide. It is a very serious thing, and we need to acknowledge it. We need to indicate that we won't tolerate it and that we believe that anyone who engages in it should be appropriately dealt with.

The amendments in this legislation, which ensure that that's very clear in the military justice system, will send the message to those who serve in uniform that, in the ADF, just like in any other part of our society, we don't tolerate what is emerging as a new form of potential harassment. Mobile phones, smartphones et cetera, and all the various devices that can capture material now, didn't exist in decades gone by, so I understand why it isn't until now that we haven't had a proper mechanism in place to deal with this category of offence. But I am very pleased that it is being picked up in this legislation. I also endorse some of the other modernisation in the legislation, which other speakers have talked about. It is vitally important that, as regularly as possible, we ensure that the military justice system is capable and competent to deal with the most modern, developing offences. They may not have existed in decades gone by but they do exist now and need to be appropriately dealt with through the mechanisms of the military justice system.

Regarding the efficiency of our military justice system, we talked about the lower level summary offences in the Defence infringement system. I particularly note the member for Stirling's comments about this, as someone who has experienced the military justice system. I don't cast the aspersion that he's necessarily been within it, but he's served in uniform and therefore is aware of examples of how, in the past, the system hasn't necessarily been as efficient as it could have been. There's a saying that the punishment should fit the crime, and I think the process should also fit the crime. Though I have not served, I understand from the contributions of those who have that at times some of the disciplinary processes can, frankly, take far too long. For some of the lower level offences, the fact that you've got a question mark over you and you're awaiting the outcome of a particular disciplinary procedure can cause significant impacts on your career. It can hold you back from consideration for certain promotions or impede progression in your career. A comment was made by one of the contributors that, in some ways, having a low-level conviction for something is better than having an outstanding matter for the same allegation. That's because, until that allegation is resolved, you can be put on pause for any progression through the ranks within the ADF. I think we can all agree that it is fair and right that people get access to swift justice, which is fair justice. When certain allegations are hanging over the head of service personnel, they should not have to wait for an undue period of time to get an outcome as a result of potentially avoidable bureaucracy or delays. Equally, and as something else that contributes to the efficiency of this, we believe in the importance of the right to the presumption of innocence.

We also believe in the right of appeal and that when a decision is made against someone, whatever the disciplinary decision might be—whether or not it's a conviction or whatever action it might be—it's important that there's an opportunity for review. Again, that has to be in the context of the scale of the offence and the scale of the consequences that the person is subject to, if they are found to have committed that offence. Equally, when you've got summary justice being distributed, it's important that there is an appropriate scale of review in place for those determinations that might be made against someone. That's another thing that this bill does. It creates efficiency where allegations are made, but it also ensures that there's fairness, there's a presumption of innocence and there's some natural justice in the processes so that, as the scale of an alleged offence is more significant, so too is the substance of the process, the right to appeal and other representation. The military justice system has the same capability as courts martial in undertaking proper trials where the offence meets that threshold. Equally, as has been mentioned by other contributors, the civilian justice system is very commonly referred to when there's an allegation of a crime that's been committed that would be a crime of the same substance outside of the military system in civilian life in this country. I think that's very important. It's important that we make sure that we have a very high standard when it comes to discipline in the forces. Also, if you serve in the forces, you should have the same rights and privileges as any other citizen of this country.

Clearly, the Defence Force needs its own system of enforcing its rules, as the consequence of not doing something—say, not following an order—in the Defence Force is quite different to the consequence in any other workplace. Having the categorisation of offences in the military system that wouldn't be considered offences in other workplaces—you wouldn't use the term 'offence' in other workplaces or our parts of our society—is vitally important within the ADF because, as I mentioned at the commencement of my remarks, we rely on our service men and women so much to secure our national security and the interests of our country. We're proud of them and the service that they provide to our country and have provided throughout our history. This is a good opportunity for us to make sure that the military justice system, which is very important, is modern and efficient so that they are capable of receiving justice and also have no ambiguity whatsoever about the standards and what is expected of them.

With those comments, I thank all those that have contributed to the debate. Thank you for the bipartisan support for this important reform from all those on both sides of the chamber. I think this is an excellent outcome, particularly for the men and women in uniform that serve our nation with such great distinction. I commend the bill to the House.

1:23 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to address the Defence Legislation Amendment (Discipline Reform) Bill 2021. There's no doubt that we live in a changing society with changing workplaces, and the acceptance of many actions and behaviours yesteryear is perhaps no longer permissible, not just in Defence but right across society. There has been a lot of reform within the workplace concerning our treatment of individuals—bullying, for instance. Respect, I think, is the bottom line as well as the value of reaching speedy resolution on problems that exist within the workplace. We all know that a problem in a workplace that is unresolved can cause tension between workmates, and Defence is no different. As the conditions change and society changes, so too do the rules need to change. Defence was once largely a male domain, and it now has a very mixed workforce. Once again, in many cases, activities that may have been tolerated in the past would no longer be tolerated in Defence and, when infringements occur in this area, they need to be dealt with quickly. They're not something you want hanging around for a long time.

I'm sure we've all seen the kind of induction that people get in the defence forces—I haven't served in the forces, but it has been depicted quite well—with the sergeant or the corporal about 50 millimetres away from the inductee, yelling their tonsils out in a very confrontational way. For instance, I had a friend some years ago who joined the reserves. He gave up after a few weeks, when, in the middle of a rain event, he was asked to dig a hole under a tree and, once he completed the task, he was asked to shift it. Basically, he had to fill it in and start again somewhere else. I don't know whether that kind of treatment goes on in Defence today. I suspect it's not the same as it was, because the expectations of society and workers—and, at the end of the day, that's what Defence Force employees are; they're workers—are quite different.

Looking for a bit of inspiration, I googled famous AFL sprays, and I saw Ron Barassi giving someone a dreadful dressing down, Rodney Eade's complete rant and Malcolm Blight—there's a whole list of them. If you watch them, you see that that's not the way they treat their workforce today. They treat them with much more respect because society's expectations have changed, and dispute resolution, as a rule, is dealt with very quickly. Basically, it doesn't fit the bill anymore, and neither does it in the modern Defence Force.

The essence of this amendment is discipline resolution. It's the link between cause and effect: if I sin today, do I get dealt with tomorrow, next week or next year? The purposes that sit within Defence at the moment can often lead to it being next year, because it ends up in an adversarial court situation, which, of course, at the end of the day, only makes people more reluctant to report poor behaviour. This moves in that area. It takes account of the modern world, which the member for Sturt just spoke. The fact is that the electronic world and our mobile phones have such a big part to play in society. There's an instant camera in our pocket or in our hand at any given event, and there is the ability to spread information, misinformation, rumours and all those other kinds of things around on the electronic services. We need to be up to date in the Defence Force as well. I'm pleased that this legislation takes those issues into account.

Our military has an excellent reputation worldwide as a well-trained, highly disciplined unit that can get done jobs that need to be done. We owe a great debt of gratitude to them. Every year, when it comes to those important dates on the calendar—Anzac Day, Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan or Vietnam Veterans' Day—we pause to reflect on those who have served in our country's service. But we shouldn't forget them on any given day. Certainly, individuals get changed in the defence forces and generally, I would say, for the better—not always, because sometimes they come away with poor experiences and things that cause mental issues. But, in general and across the board, if one of my children were wanting to go into the military, I would be encouraging them, not discouraging them. That's what I think of the organisation and the values that it holds and the important role that it delivers for Australia's place in the world. That's why we need to keep it relevant. That's why we need to keep it up to date. I'm pleased that this legislation is receiving bipartisan support. I commend the proposed legislation to the House.

1:29 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the member for Grey was expecting it to be 1.30, but he's given me an opportunity to begin my contribution, which will continue at an appropriate opportunity. In speaking to the Defence Legislation Amendment (Discipline Reform) Bill 2021, can I first acknowledge that I am speaking today on the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS treaty, an incredibly significant agreement between our nation, New Zealand and the United States. That treaty is in particular focus at this time, given the events at Hamid Karzai International Airport in recent days.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.