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Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Page: 777


Ms MARINO (7:14 PM) —The Defence Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2008 was presented to the House in December 2008 and seeks to make amendments to three separate measures. The Senate has referred this bill to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to conduct an inquiry into the three distinct policy measures. It is due to report on 20 February this year. The first of the three measures will amend the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the Criminal Code Act 1995 to implement the third protocol to the Geneva conventions in Australian legislation. The second measure will amend section 124 of the Defence Act 1903 to explicitly enable regulations to cover the provision of medical and dental treatment, including pharmaceuticals, to an ADF member or cadet or family member of an ADF member. The third measure amends the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 to insert a provision for specific arrangements for the joint defence facility at Pine Gap to be a prohibited area.

Schedule 1 of the legislation seeks to amend the third protocol of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 to recognise the red crystal in situations where the red cross could be considered culturally inappropriate, predom-in-antly in Islamic countries. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is renowned as an international humanitarian movement with a mission to protect human life and health and to prevent and alleviate human suffering without discrimination based on nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinion. Since its inception, the movement has utilised the red cross and red crescent emblems as devices to protect its medical services, but some countries have found it difficult to identify with the symbols, believing them to have religious significance or meaning. The red crystal emblem has no religious, ethnic, racial, regional or political connotations. The amendment ensures that the new emblem is used only with the consent of the Minister for Defence. The bill also amends the Criminal Code Act 1995 to ensure that the new Geneva emblem is covered by the existing offences relating to the improper use of the emblems of the Geneva conventions.

The introduction of an additional neutral protection symbol has been under discussion for a number of years, and the red crystal has been the most popular proposal. This new symbol is referred to as the ‘third protocol emblem’ in additional protocol III. It entered into force internationally on 14 January 2007, and in May 2007 protocol III was tabled in parliament. It is now time to take binding treaty action to ratify the protocol. Therefore, this bill incorporates the red crystal emblem along with the existing emblems, the red cross and the red crescent, into Australian statutes. I support schedule 1 of this bill.

I also want to take this opportunity to talk about some of the 115 million Red Cross volunteers, particularly those in Australia who do such a wonderful, quiet but invaluable job, as we are seeing in the Victorian bushfires. Tonight I want to focus on the Brunswick Red Cross unit in my electorate, which is the oldest unit in Western Australia having been formed in July 1915 in historic Alverstoke by members of the Clifton family. The unit now has 45 members. While many units in Western Australia are closing owing to a lack of support, especially in wheat belt towns, the Brunswick unit continues to attract members. The Brunswick Red Cross unit has a disaster committee. They are specially trained personnel on standby in an emergency situation to cover registrations and inquiries for disaster affected people and to do tracing if required. The Brunswick group assisted with the 1964 Brunswick floods, the 1979 Cyclone Alby that caused widespread devastation, and the 2002 Bali bombings, organising for clothing and blankets to be sent to Bali for survivors.

The Red Cross is always on hand to provide food and assistance for firefighters during the bushfire season, and we are seeing that this week with the hands-on, selfless but vital work of the countless Red Cross volunteers in the Victorian fires. I have no doubt that countless numbers of Red Cross volunteers are working right now across the fire ravaged areas. The Brunswick volunteers are currently working as well with the community in providing information about how south-west residents can donate to the Victorian bushfire appeal.

In around 1920, the Red Cross in Brunswick played a vital role in my own life. My mother was a little girl of probably between four and six when her family’s farm was razed by fire. One of the vivid memories my mother had was that, because it was wash day, everyone had only one set of clothes as all the washing was on the line. So effectively the little children had no clothing, and their house was burnt down as well. It was the Brunswick Red Cross that came to the family’s aid and provided the basic, simple things in life to allow the family to go on.

The Brunswick Red Cross unit covers the shires of Harvey, Dardanup and Capel, working in conjunction with many organisations offering services during an emergency. Brunswick has several older members and other unit members make certain they are picked up for meetings and outings, because some of these ladies do not have transport, as this allows them to keep in contact and enjoy a social atmosphere away from their homes.

The city of Bunbury in my electorate has a Red Cross shop, and volunteers provide a soup patrol, carer support, multiple births support, cosmetic care and Telecross. The towns of Donnybrook, Collie, Augusta and Busselton also have popular Red Cross shops. A blood bank is located in Bunbury, and the van travels to towns all over the South West.

Fundraising is still a very important part of Red Cross activities, and doorknocking is coordinated in Queensland. Equally, I am sure the Red Cross units in Queensland are an integral part of the management and support of those affected by the floods. Red Cross units are continually briefed by headquarters on the international activities of the Red Cross and continually receive the latest updates when they attend regional rallies.

With regard to schedule 2 in the bill, the intention is to provide a broadening of regulations to cover the provision of medical and dental treatment to an ADF member, cadet or ADF family member. Labor’s election promises were very clear, promising free medical and dental care for ADF families, stating that:

A Rudd Labor Government will progressively extend free health care currently provided to ADF personnel to ADF dependent spouses and children.

Labor will begin this with a $33.1 million investment starting at 12 Defence Family Health Care Clinics, with a focus on remote bases locations and major regional centres.

Instead of honouring this promise to invest $33.1 million to start those 12 defence family healthcare clinics, with a focus on remote base locations and major regional centres, defence families in these limited locations are now having to source their own doctor and dentist. The commitment to provide defence healthcare clinics in Townsville and Darwin has also been scrapped, with the two defence family healthcare clinics promised at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville and Robertson Barracks in Darwin replaced by a plan in which defence families will have to access health department GP Superclinics in Darwin and Townsville. I also note that the government’s plan mentions only five of the 10 rural and remote defence locations. I can only conclude that this means it will not deliver on its promise to defence personnel in Townsville, Edinburgh, Elizabeth North, Amberley, Williamtown and Darwin.

I am concerned that this bill does not provide details of proposed regulations for the entitlements for family dependants of ADF members, firstly, to be entitled to a standard consultation by a general practitioner for no charge and, secondly, to be entitled to benefits of up to $300 per dependant per annum for basic dental services as stated by the member for Lingiari in October. It is also not clear whether the nature and extent of the medical and dental treatment will be detailed in the proposed regulations or whether it will be left to the discretion of the diarchy or the individual service chiefs as is the current case with the relevant defence instructions. In the interest of transparency and accountability it would be preferable that the medical and dental care entitlements be contained in regulations which would be subject to disallowance under the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 rather than in Defence documents such as the defence instructions.

The extent of medical and dental treatment, if any, available to persons other than members of the ADF and their families is also not clear. The terms ‘member of the household of the member’ and ‘a dependant of the member’ are not defined in either the Defence Act or the bill. It is therefore not clear whether the proposed medical and dental treatment could, for instance, be extended to people other than spouses and dependant children who are ‘members of the household of the member’. It would seem to rely on the extent of their dependency. It is not clear whether the member of the household of the ADF member must be totally or need only be partially dependent on the member in order to receive the proposed medical and dental care.

With regard to reservists, section 4 of the Defence Act defines a member as including any officer, sailor, soldier or airman. It is not clear whether the bill intends that reserves and their families are to be included in the class of persons who will have access to the proposed medical and dental treatment. This is probably unlikely given that in section 4 and elsewhere in the Defence Act—for example, section 58B—a distinction is drawn between the terms ‘member’ and ‘member of the reserves’. The legislation amendments deal with the provision of health care to cadets. However the extent of health benefits available to cadets has not been made clear. The government must provide details of the relevant proposed regulations in relation to the free health care currently provided to ADF personnel and to ADF dependent spouses and children.

I have other questions about the lack of detail and explanation—for example, are the families of cadets not currently included in the scheme going to be covered in the future? What are the ramifications for Medicare cover for ADF dependants? Will there be fringe benefits tax to family members? The bill, the EM and the second reading speech are remiss in answering the question of whether reserves and their families will be covered for medical and dental treatment. Under section 4 of the Defence Act 1903 a member includes an officer, sailor, soldier or airman, which would suggest that reserves would be covered. Are reservists and their families going to be included in the provision? And why do families receive preferential treatment over reservists? Why is free health care offered to non-ADF persons before reservists, many of whom are currently serving their country overseas? What are the cost implications of the inclusion of reservists and their families?

Also the terms ‘member of the household of the member’ and ‘a dependant of the member’ are not defined. It is not clear whether the proposed medical and dental dependants could be extended. Can the government detail what the model to be used to determine dependency is? The term ‘member of the family’ includes but is not limited to a member of the household and a dependant of the ADF member or cadet. Can the government provide clarification of how a household will be defined? What will this do to Navy Health and other Defence-only private health insurance funds that currently provide reduced health cover for ADF families? ADF personnel are able to access free medicines through the pharmacies on base. Does this mean that the government’s policy will provide for free medicines to ADF families as well, and what are the cost implications of this?

Labor’s election promise acknowledged that ADF families can face significant difficulties in obtaining access to general medical and dental care for dependants, especially in regional and remote localities. Now that the plan to provide ADF health clinics in these locations has been scrapped, how will the proposed trial where people must source their own GP and dentist help these families? Given that $203 million per year is spent on Defence health, Labor’s plan does not come close to delivering on their promise. Also, given the Australian Defence Force is still experiencing some recruitment challenges, this broken promise to ADF families will not assist in attracting people.

Labor promised his $33.1 million investment starting with those 12 defence family healthcare clinics, with a focus on remote base locations and major regional centres. The fact is that only $12.2 million over four years is now allocated for a pilot program, and this is $20.9 million short of the election promise. This means that only $2.4 million is allocated for the 2008-09 year. We have only four to five months left out of the year. This is forced savings indeed. Labor’s plan for defence acknowledged that posting ADF personnel to remote locations may mean that those families can face significant difficulties obtaining access to general medical and dental care for dependants. I assume the government means those Australians living in metropolitan areas and not those living in regional and rural and remote areas, struggling to access the sort of health care that Australians elsewhere enjoy. I also note that the allocation of $2.4 million limits dental care to $300 per dependant and the families must source their own doctors and dentists.

In the five months to 30 June I would be very interested to learn how many ADF families have been able to adequately and regularly access GP services and dental care in these areas. The amendments proposed under schedule 3 in relation to the joint defence facility at Pine Gap will specifically declare the facility a special Defence undertaking and prohibited area directly under the act rather than by the existing process that requires a ministerial declaration and will provide a formal basis for any future prosecutions by removing the opportunity for argument about the validity of the declaration. I support schedule 3 of this act. I would have to add that I strongly support the Australian Defence Force.