Senate debates

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Military Justice (Interim Measures) Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading

1:36 pm

Photo of Gary HumphriesGary Humphries (ACT, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Materiel) Share this | | Hansard source

The Military Justice (Interim Measures) Amendment Bill 2013 extends the interim regime established by the Military Justice Interim Measures Act (No. 1) 2009, following the High Court's invalidation of the legislation establishing the Australian Military Court in the case of Lane and Morrison, of 2009. The interim regime provides for the appointment and remuneration of the Chief Judge Advocate and other statutory office holders on a fixed tenure of four years. That tenure expires in September this year. The purpose of the bill is to extend the tenure for an additional two years or for a lesser period specified by the Minister for Defence by legislative instrument. That legislative instrument would not be subject to disallowance.

The Attorney-General's and Defence departments are currently working on a bill for the successor to the Australian Military Court. The relevant ministers have advised that they intend to introduce that bill in the winter sittings—although, at this stage, it is very late in the piece and we have plenty of other legislation to be getting on with. There are, however, several unresolved legal issues with the proposed bill, and it seems likely this will be a matter for the next parliament. Recognising the desirability of maintaining the status quo until that is resolved, the coalition is pleased to support this bill.

1:37 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support Senator Humphries's comments and the Military Justice (Interim Measures) Amendment Bill 2013, which amends the act to extend statutory appointments for a further two years. The reason this became necessary was the decision of the High Court in August 2009 that the Defence Legislation Amendment Act 2006 took the AMC, the Australian Military Court, beyond what is authorised by section 51(vi) of the Constitution. Subsequently, in September 2009, I think, Senator Conroy incorporated the second reading speech, which made the observation:

… it will also allow time for the establishment of a military court which meets the requirements of Chapter III of the Constitution including the introduction of appropriate legislation for this purpose.

The expectation, of course, would have been that two years was an adequate interim period for the legislation to be passed. It is my understanding that, within the Australian Defence Force, there has not been much reaction to the issues associated with this extension—nor, indeed, to date, to the inability of the parliament to arrive at a permanent solution.

My reason for speaking in this debate is to make sure all in the parliament are aware that these are matters that affect ADF officers and other personnel, particularly those in the field—those involved in combat operations in combat zones. I do not think it is beneficial and I do not think it is fair that the parliament delay, by even a day longer than it needs to, giving a sense of surety to these young people whom we send away on our behalf to represent this country, particularly those in dangerous areas where, quite often, they have to make instant decisions in terms of engagement with an enemy or a suspected enemy. Whilst they themselves might not be focusing too much on these matters, I think it is only fair that they have a degree of surety so that, should they be in circumstances where the justice system has extended to cover their actions and their actions have been the subject of scrutiny as a result—which, as we know, has happened in the recent past—we are very clear on the mechanisms and the processes, and the judiciary is in place to adjudicate without delay, to give them a sense of both surety and honour in the way in which this process takes place. It starts here in the parliament: we must delay this process no longer.

1:40 pm

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank senators for their contributions and I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.