Tony Abbott has ceded ground in the war over defence pay, this morning announcing the restoration of a range of entitlements, including discretionary leave over Christmas and other allowances previously stripped by the independent Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal.
But the backdown may not be enough to satisfy independent Senator Jacqui Lambie says “it’s all or nothing” when it comes to the government altering the controversial Australian Defence Force (ADF) pay deal.
The Abbott government’s recently approved, below-inflation salary package for Defence personnel has been the subject of intense public and political scrutiny, with Lambie leading the charge in the Senate, last month threatening to block all future government legislation until the deal is overturned.
While the government remains committed to the 1.5% payrise deal, the prime minister has requested the independent Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal discontinue the changes made to allowances, saying the government does not support them.
“Restoring the allowances will mean discretionary leave, food and motor vehicle allowances will remain,” Abbott said in a statement, emphasising the government would absorb the associated costs of this decision.
However, Lambie has dismissed any compromise, stating she would “not be satisfied with any result short of a total victory”, pressing for an above-inflation rise of 3% over three years.
“It’s time to empty the magazine, fix bayonets and charge,” Lambie said.
“A fair ADF pay deal will only cost the Abbott government an extra 1.5% or approximately $121M per year. We send more than $500M in foreign aid each year to Indonesia alone… There’s plenty of money in the budget, we just don’t have the decision-makers with the right priorities.”
In reference to Lambie, Abbott said “This government is not in the business of meeting with every member of the cross-bench and saying yes, you can have whatever you want”.
Labor leader Bill Shorten sided with Lambie, claiming the government’s pay offer would still be unfair, even if leave privileges were restored.
“What he [Tony Abbott] needs to do with Defence pay is make sure that our troops, their wages are keeping up just with the cost of living,” Shorten said.
Late last month, Lambie requested a meeting with Abbott to discuss the pay deal, signalling the government was prepared to “extend the olive branch” on Defence pay.
Despite these proposed discussions, Treasurer Joe Hockey’s parliamentary secretary, Steven Ciobo, said there would be no compromise on Defence pay.
“The gate’s closed. The horse is gone. The fact is that the Defence Remuneration (Tribunal) has signed off on this. It’s a done deal,” Ciobo told Sky News.
Before entering Parliament for the final sitting week, Lambie told reporters she “met with the devil himself”, Clive Palmer, last night to see where he stood in regards to decisions concerning the ADF pay deal and the government’s higher education reforms legislation.
Despite Palmer having different “tactics” when it comes to the ADF salary package legislation, Lambie said “He [Clive Palmer] encourages me to keep my stance on what I’m doing and supports me in what I’m doing.”