Since the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal (DFRT) handed down its decision in the recent ADF Pay case (referred to as the WRA case) much less than well informed criticism has been circulating about this outcome.
The facts are:
the RSL forwarded a robust written submission to the DFRT arguing for a better deal than the Government and Defence had put forward in their WRA "agreed" case
the RSL intervener appeared at the DRFT hearing into the WRA "agreed" case to further reinforce the RSL stance
the RSL issued a press release expressing concern about the WRA case
the DFRT, established by the Defence Legislation Amendment Act 1984, is the sole determining body for all ADF remuneration cases
DFRT decisions can be appealed but in circumstances where there has been previous agreement between the Government and Defence about a pay case (as in this instance) it would be highly unlikely for any appeal to succeed
The DFRT was established to be and to be perceived to be an independent "umpire" on all ADF remuneration matters. This was achieved up until about the year 2000 because for the most part the Government and Defence mounted separate cases in hearings before the DFRT. It was an adversarial system and "agreed" cases were not the norm.
In recent years Governments of all political persuasions have chosen to orchestrate prior "agreement" between that organ of Government representing their interests (most recently the Public Service Commission) and Defence (with the Chief of the Defence Force representing the interests of the ADF) before major pay cases are put before the DFRT.
The RSL continues to argue against this modus operandi and included the following in the RSL's submission to Government about the 2015 Defence White Paper:
The Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal (DFRT)
The RSL continues to support the need for the Tribunal as an independent body charged with setting the rates of remuneration for members of the ADF. What we do not support is the current arrangement whereby most major pay cases are put forward as "agreed" between the Commonwealth Government (the employer) and the ADF (the employee) before being placed before the Tribunal. These agreements are at odds with earlier practice whereby the Commonwealth advanced its case separately from the ADF thereby allowing the Tribunal to be perceived as a truly independent umpire.
The widely held perception is that the Chief of the Defence Force is hampered by the need to negotiate these "agreed" cases in acting forcefully in support of legitimate pay claims by the men and women of the ADF. An equally worrying perception is that the Tribunal has become something of a "rubber stamp" merely legitimising early negotiated "agreed" cases.
A more worrying consequence of the development of 'agreed" pay cases is that it has given rise to the re-entry of party politics into the setting of rates of pay and conditions for ADF members. When hitherto there were mostly contested cases, there was little if any party political comment with almost all accepting that the independent DFRT was a fair umpire.
The RSL recommends that the 2015 Defence White Paper include policy reinforcing the independence of the DFRT and eradicating the reasons for the perceptions noted above.
Ken Doolan AO
Returned and Services League of Australia