DEFENCE bean-counters plan to strip tens of thousands of dollars of tax-free "war on terror" payments from staff serving in the Middle East.
The "threat allowance" of $130 a day would be paid in full only to soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan. And a sea-going allowance for sailors on frigates patrolling the Arabian Gulf and conducting dangerous antipiracy boarding missions off the Horn of Africa would be cut to about $60 a day.
RAAF and other personnel at the headquarters at Al Minhad air base near Dubai would face the biggest hit: their allowance would drop to about $30 a day under the plan. The move would mean a pay cut of more than $10,000 for sailors after a six-month deployment and $13,000 for air force personnel and HQ staff at Al Minhad.
Details of the new pay scales were to be released this week for comment. The Federal Government last night denied any knowledge of the plan.
Tax-free allowances have been a sweetener for military staff forced to spend months away from family and friends. All military personnel are exempt from tax on their wages for the duration of their overseas deployment. A senior defence source said multiple deployments resulted in severe stress for families and a pay cut would discourage people from committing to deployments.
In some air force trades, individuals are on their sixth Mid-East deployment, and the tax-free allowance has been a major motivator. "Some people will vote with their feet and not volunteer for future deployments," the source said. It is believed the retiring head of Joint Operations, Lt-Gen Mark Evans, who commands all deployed forces, strongly opposed the new allowance arrangements.
It looms as a major headache for his successor, Lt- Gen Ash Power. A spokesman for Defence Minister Stephen Smith said last night he had no knowledge of any cuts to allowances. He said there was no truth to rumours that the Budget contained a $63 million drop in allowances. "That figure is always in the portfolio Budget statement, because it is a $63 million hit to the Budget that has to be accounted for," the spokesman said.
Soldiers in Afghanistan have often complained that sailors and RAAF staff who are at comparatively little risk are paid the same threat allowance as they are. One senior soldier said cutting some allowances paid to one-star officers and above, such as car entitlements and computer allowances, should be considered first.
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