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Deal done: government gets its Defence Force pay offer approved

The federal government’s tough line on Defence Force pay has been approved by a semi-independent tribunal, in which under-CPI wage increases are now a flag in the ground for other public sector pay deals.

The Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal handed down its decision Monday afternoon on the day that the previous three-year Workplace Remuneration Arrangement expired.

While acknowledging opposition to the deal — a 1.5% increase each year until 2016 — that after taking into account CPI increases will represent a notable cut in real terms to ADF members’ salaries, the tribunal said its hands were tied.

“We have no discretion to vary the quantum or timing of the agreed increases,” the tribunal stated in its decision. Its only power was to make the determination put by the government, or refuse to.

Officially, the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, represents ADF members in striking the agreement with government. His deputy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, put to the tribunal that “this was the best outcome that could be achieved”. That position was accepted by the tribunal and formed the basis of the decision to accept the agreement.

However, Defence welfare groups, including the Defence Force Welfare Association and the RSL, were emphatically opposed. DFWA advisor Gerard Nelson told the tribunal that it should reject the agreement, and if the tribunal was inclined, to “issue a direction for the CDF and Minister to reconsider their agreement”. The tribunal noted:

“In making these submissions, Mr Nelson accepted, properly so in our opinion, that there was some doubt as to whether we would have power to make any such direction and, if we were to do so, the practical utility of it in light of the nature of the application that was before us.”

Still, Defence families took to Facebook to express their discontent at having to make more cuts to their personal households when both this deal, and the previous one also cut conditions including leave, a situation they called “insulting” to the sacrifices made for the nation. After a botched release of the agreement, in which Defence families were left to discover the details via interpretations of varying accuracy on social media, the department produced a frequently asked questions page almost a week later.

The tribunal gave most weight to the joint submission from CDF and minister, which justified the effective cut on circumstances, including:

“… budget restraints, Government policy in respect to ADF remuneration and the APS, the requirements for the identification of genuine productivity initiatives, the costing of those initiatives and the need for the wage increases to be affordable within the defence budget.”

CDF and the chiefs of services committee had given consideration to delaying the negotiations until the outcome of non-military personnel wage negotiations was known, as well as putting forward a one-year arrangement instead to determine if the fiscal pressures changed.

Shadow parliamentary secretary for Defence Gai Brodtmann told The Mandarin she was concerned that the government had budgeted for a 4% increase per year to ADF pay over the agreement period, but failed to pass even half that amount onto the troops. Brodtmann calls the deal an “insult to ADF personnel and their families”, not just for the real wage cut but also for cutting Christmas and recreation leave.

“It’s outrageous that this government can send our service men and women into harms way, and at the same time force our active personnel to take a real pay cut,” she said. There’s no good reason why the government couldn’t offer a fair deal. Government’s own budget papers revealed that a fair deal had already been provided for.”

The cuts to conditions and leave comes into effect on November 4, with the first 1.5% pay adjustment on November 6.

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.