First off let me state for the record that as an ex-serviceman myself I have never been ashamed to have been an Australian soldier nor will I ever be. Let us leave such expressions as ‘I am ashamed to be Australian’, to limp wristed writers, academics and left leaning commentators who have never experienced the exhilaration of military service, the thrill of representing the nation both at home and overseas or the experience of leadership in a military environment let alone in any field. Service overseas in areas of conflict, doing the nations bidding, peacekeeping duties across the world, humanitarian tasks wherever and whenever and simply serving in the military, are the core reasons why defence personnel “sign” up.
The problem we have at present is that we have government representatives and a bureaucracy that simply does not understand what service in ADF is all about. They do not understand the unique nature of military service and are intent on equating everything that service personnel do to that of a civilian, particularly a public servant who rarely if ever get out of their office and never experiences being away from home either on exercise for up to six months of the year or being on active service on constant rotation. We have a government that is afraid to acknowledge the uniqueness of what service personnel do for fear of opening the flood gates of the public service unions that seemingly work on the basis of wanting more but remain intent on doing less and going home each night safe and sound.
We have a situation where the points of difference between military service and its uniqueness and that of the public service are now seen to be minimal. Why is that? Simply put why has the situation got to this point?
We, and I say we deliberately, have not fought the fight. We have not organised for the long term but rather have relied on others to put their head above the parapet and failed to support them as they toiled for fairness for our service personnel. We have too readily said ‘what is the RSL doing about this?’, ‘why don’t the senior officer’s fall on their swords over this pay issue?’, or worse still, ‘woe is me no one loves us!’
The RSL gave up the fight for members of the ADF a long time ago. In the recent pay case it simply put in a one page submission to the determining authority which in essence said that as the decision has been made, we disagree with it but we accept it. That is not representation, that is not lobbying, that is not fighting for your constituency rather that is throwing in the towel.
Senior officers have also in recent times been found wanting. They are not affected by the 1.5% pay increase decision as their pay is tied to that of the senior public servants so why should they be concerned. Their pay increases in quantum amounts and above the CPI so the hurt is never felt in the corridors of Russell Offices. One of the senior uniformed spokesman displayed his timidity on the issue by defending the decision on the grounds that ‘Australian service personnel are well paid in comparison to those overseas’ ignoring the obvious fact that they reside in the Australian economic environment and not in some unrelated foreign country. Even those at the senior levels of the ADF cannot articulate a cogent or persuasive argument in defence of the indefensible. They ignore the fact that these same affected ADF personnel continue to strive for excellence and put up with the exigencies of service such as the constant cycle of training, rotations, courses and two or three year postings simply to maintain the pride and the reputation that the ADF has across the world. It is that reputation that the government relies on in crises after crises to promote the nation on the world stage. That reputation has not been achieved by working nine to five in an air conditioned office.
Politicians are also guilty as their income rises on a regular basis and in quantum amounts as do their allowances and incidentals so there is no hurt felt by them. Politicians, even those who have had recent service in the ADF have simply toed the party line, sat mute on the issues that affect us and in the case of some spokesmen displayed an arrogance that does them no credit.
What is to be done? Advocacy or lobbying demands consistent and considered arguments over the long term. Getting in the face of the politicians and abusing them or their staff does no credit and does not advance the argument one iota. Rather it is damaging in the long term as likeminded people are all then grouped by this low common denominator. Considered and well-constructed arguments then fall on deaf ears and subsequently ADF personnel take two steps backwards.
I strongly encourage those people with concerns regarding ADF entitlements to join an ex-service organisation and contribute to it with ideas, ammunition and energy. Don’t simply join and leave others to do the heavy lifting – contribute. The Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA), the Naval Association, the RAAF Association, The Royal Australian Regiment Association, the Australian Special Air Service Association, the Australian Peacekeepers & Peacemakers Veterans’ Association (APPVA) the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia (VVAA), the Australian Federation of Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Servicemen and Women and others have combined to form the Alliance of Defence Service Organisation (ADSO) join one of them and become active in the development of issues and considered discussions. If you think you can revitalise the RSL then join and become active. Whatever you do, do not leave others to do the heavy lifting rather do something positive and be constructive about your service in the ADF and never be ashamed to say “I am a proud member of the Australian Defence Forces!”