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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11726

Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (11:48): Firstly, I thank the members for Fadden, Ryan, Fisher, Hinkler, Shortland and Banks for their contributions to this discussion and to this bill, which amends the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act 2006. The amendments will improve access to compensation and health care for former Defence Force members. You may be aware that claims have been received from a small number of personnel who should be, but are not currently, eligible under the acts in respect of their participation in the British nuclear test program. Unfortunately, previously British nuclear test eligibility under the acts was restricted to specified test sites defined by a kilometre radius during specified periods. Personnel who were either in the specified test sites during the specified periods or involved in the transport, maintenance, recovery or cleaning of equipment, vehicles or aircraft used in the specified sites during the specified periods are eligible. However, up till now this eligibility has not extended to transport, maintenance, recovery or cleaning of aircraft outside of the specified periods or used to measure fall-out outside the specified test sites. Personnel who worked on these aircraft prior to their decontamination should be in our view—but currently are not—eligible under the act as the work or contamination occurred outside the specified test sites or specified periods.

This bill will enable these and any future eligibility issues to be rectified in a timely manner. This will be achieved by enabling the Repatriation Commission to determine additional eligibility criteria relating to participation in the British nuclear test program, under both the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act, through a legislative instrument. Due to the quality of the records from the test period and the secrecy surrounding the operation, further extensions of eligibility cannot be ruled out in the future. The use of legislative instruments to determine new eligibility criteria will enable the Department of Veterans' Affairs to be more responsive to British nuclear test participants and will enable compensation and health care to be provided with a minimum of delay. These amendments are a demonstration of the government's commitment to continually improve the services and support we provide to our current and former military personnel.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.