Defence personnel devalued

The Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal has granted defence force personnel a 1.5 per cent pay rise. Given that inflation is currently in excess of two per cent, this is effectively a pay cut for Australia’s armed forces and a move which has been signalled as the start of tougher pay negotiations for all public service staff.

The national director of the Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA), David Jamison, slammed the increase, saying it was not acceptable at a time when our forces are again being called on to fight overseas. “It’s effectively a pay cut and devalues our work at a time when our forces are again being deployed overseas,” he said. “The government is using defence personnel as a whipping boy to reduce its pay offer for other public servants. This is about fairness. It shows that the government’s spending priorities are askew.”

Tony Abbott said that while he would like to pay ADF personnel more, he was constrained by the budget and he signalled that pay increases to other public servants would also be restricted. “We’re going to see restraint across the whole of the public sector and I would be very surprised if anyone in the commonwealth public sector receives more than is received by our defence forces,” Mr Abbott said.

Staff at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) and the Department of Human Services (DHS) are both considering whether or not to take industrial action. The DHS officers had been offered a one per cent pay increase if they agreed to give up 60 per cent of their entitlements. On the DVA, Nadine Flood, the national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), said it “is one of more than 70 commonwealth agencies unable to make a deal because of this government’s inflexible and harsh bargaining policy.”

Public Service Minister, Eric Abetz, said that the 12.5 per cent increase being called for by the CPSU was “unrealistic” and its threat of industrial action was to hold the government to ransom. “The CPSU’s unhelpful approach seems to be the product of it needing to justify its extravagant claims to save face. It would be highly unfortunate if industrial action disrupts the processing of pensions and other payments to vulnerable Australians in the lead up to Christmas,” he said.


Opinion: A job to be valued

While many may argue that public servants are paid too much anyway, underpaying defence force personnel to prove a point is harsh and unfair.

These are the men and women who, at times, are asked to put their lives on the line at the whim of the current government, whoever that may be. They have no option to take industrial action when unhappy with conditions, or pay rates, and this has indeed led to them being the ‘whipping boys’ when it comes to pay negotiations. A career in the defence force is seldom for life, with many serving an agreed period of time in return for training in a discipline which will help them in life outside the force. A cushy number some might say, but there is every possibility that these young men and women will be deployed overseas to fight a bloody war from which they may never return. And should they return and face a life outside the forces, the things they have seen and the conditions they fought in often affect their lives in ways which we simply can’t imagine. As we now more fully understand even if they’re not physically impaired, they are frequently mentally damaged with PTSD, etc.

Our defence forces do the jobs that others don’t want to – they’re our first and last line of defence in both military and civl emergencies, and yet we treat them like second-class citizens, to be there at our beck and call, but choose not to adequately remunerate them for their service.

We give pensioners and those who rely on government benefits an increase based on the rate of inflation, yet we can’t do the same for our forces. Offering anyone a pay increase, which is less than the rate of inflation is effectively, asking them to take a pay cut, something I don’t see any of our highly paid, less than effective politicians doing any time soon.

Do you think our defence forces are underpaid? Should everyone in the public service be guaranteed an increase of at least the rate of inflation? Or is it time for us to realise that the money just isn’t there to fund pay increases? Should Tony Abbott and his MPs lead by example by reducing their generous pay and perks?