Australian Defence Force 4.5% pay deal is approved by tribunal

3 Nov 2014

Daniel Hurst, political correspondent The Guardian Newspaper reports.

A tribunal has agreed to the government’s proposal to grant Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel pay increases of 1.5% a year in return for the loss of some leave entitlements.

The chief of the ADF, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, has previously defended the below-inflation proposal, saying 4.5% over three years was the best outcome he could negotiate with the government in the current budget climate.

On Monday, the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal ruled in favour of the ADF proposal, beginning with a 1.5% pay rise on Thursday followed by the same increase in November each year.

In its decision, the tribunal said it had limited powers and had “no discretion to vary the quantum or timing of the agreed increases”.

The Labor opposition and several crossbench senators accused the government of shortchanging the nation’s military personnel, saying the proposal was lower than inflation and therefore amounted to a pay cut in real terms.

The Returned and Services League (RSL) and the Defence Force Welfare Association also raised concerns at a hearing in Canberra last month. The RSL said it was concerned the “financial position of ADF personnel is not being maintained at a time when Australia is asking significantly more of our servicemen and women”.

The assistant defence minister, Stuart Robert, said the pay arrangements applied to more than 70,000 ADF permanent force and reserve members, but those serving on operations would continue to receive additional entitlements.

Robert said he would love to give ADF members more money but the budget position required wage restraint. “We don’t have [the money] … 1.5% is as good as I can possibly get at present,” he told the ABC.

In a message to ADF members on Monday, Binskin acknowledged concerns about the level of the pay rises: “I know that a number of you believe that this increase does not properly acknowledge the work that you do.”

Binskin said the proposal was developed using principles that included “all government wage increases start at zero” and “the ADF must operate within the government’s wages framework”.

He said increases to salary were premised on “improvements in productivity and efficiency”.

Binskin said the arrangement approved by the tribunal included the cessation of the option for commanders to approve extra recreation leave, “noting there are no changes to other ADF leave provisions”. There was also a one-day reduction to “stand-down” provisions at the end of the working year.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said the ADF should not have to fight the government for decent pay and conditions.

“Tony Abbott should hang his head in shame at cutting the real wages of our ADF personnel and cutting their Christmas and recreational leave compensation leave,” he said.

“It is inexplicable that this government can send our service men and women into harm’s way, and at the same time force the ADF to take a real pay cut.”

The tribunal was told the estimated cost of the increases to pay and allowance over the three years of the arrangement was $617m.

The three-member tribunal is headed by Anne Harrison, a senior deputy president of the Fair Work Commission. The other members are Arch Bevis, a former Labor MP and former shadow defence minister, and the retired brigadier William Rolfe.

Military personnel do not have direct union representation and do not have an opportunity to vote on the proposal. The special tribunal considers submissions and is responsible for approving proposed defence pay arrangements.