MILITARY groups have condemned the decision to increase the meal costs of low-ranking defence personnel by almost 7 per cent, as senator Jacqui Lambie demands a "more sober and measured" approach from newly appointed Defence Minister Kevin Andrews.
Junior personnel living in barracks will have to pay 6.7 per cent extra each fortnight for food from early next year — more than four times the 1.5 per cent salary increase — from $148.90 to $158.90. Meal costs for mid and high-ranking members will drop from $169.60 and $190.90.
It will be the first time low, mid and high-ranking members in "living-in accommodation" are charged the same fortnightly rate for meals in the mess hall.
About 11,000 ADF personnel will live in barracks next year, 3820 of whom will pay the fortnightly charge for food in the mess hall. The Australian understands the majority are low-ranking members.
With tensions high after a rent hike of up to 4.2 per cent and the below-inflation pay deal, the Australian Defence Association said the increase was "unethical" and The Defence Force Welfare Association called it "terribly unfair".
"Talking to soldiers as frequently as I do, they're unhappy about the dilution of their conditions of service across the board," ADA executive director Neil James said. "Pay, medical care, food standards, they're being asked to pay more for things that aren't as good. (The government hasn't) looked at the long-term big picture."
The DFWA, backed by a range of defence groups, has written to Tony Abbott asking that no charges — including rent, food and uniform costs — exceed the 1.5 per cent salary increase.
Independent senator Lambie, who refuses to vote for government legislation until the ADF receives a 3 per cent pay rise, said the hike in meal price was an "act of political bastardry of the highest order ... The new Defence Minister must now show he's not like the old (one) and have the courage to stand up for Diggers.
A Defence spokesman said the meal charges for military members had been "very modest for a long period of time".