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Thursday, 29 June 2000
Page: 18582

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (10:54 AM) ——I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

This Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2000 is a parcel of amendments that directly or indirectly assist veterans and their families.

Amendments being made in this bill will assist Australian Defence Force members who have been severely injured as a result of their service, and the families of members who have been killed as a result of their service.

These amendments will ensure that any additional payments for the severe injury or the death, made by a determination under the Defence Act 1903, will not affect any compensation payments that may be payable under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. These additional payments were part of a package of assistance that this government introduced after an inquiry into military compensation arrangements undertaken in 1997, in the aftermath of the Black Hawk accident.

A further element of this package of assistance being introduced through this bill is the provision for the children of these severely injured or deceased veterans to have access to counselling and guidance by the Veterans' Children Education Boards.

This bill also will allow the Repatriation Commission to accept an application for reimbursement of travelling expenses incurred by a veteran travelling to obtain medical treatment more than three months after the travel where there are exceptional circumstances for the delayed application.

There have been cases where the current three-month time limit has caused difficulties where a person has suffered a prolonged illness, limiting their ability to manage their affairs. By introducing flexibility into these processes, the government is demonstrating once again it listens to the needs of the veteran community, and is responsive to those needs.

This bill will give effect to three recommendations made by Professor Dennis Pearce, in his review of the Repatriation Medical Authority and the Specialist Medical Review Council, which were endorsed by this government as part of its commitment to identify improvements in the system of determining claims for compensation. These recommendations clarify the powers of the authority in respect of requests it receives to review statements of principles.

The bill will also complete compensation adjustments associated with A New Tax System. These adjustments will ensure the value of the pension supplement will flow through to the amount of a bonus calculated under the Pension Bonus Scheme and to the farmers income test, which is part of the criteria for eligibility under the Retirement Assistance for Farmers Scheme. Amendments will also enable the maximum amount payable for certain medical reports, obtained and used in support of a claim for pension, to be increased in line with the expected GST impact.

This bill also introduces various changes that will improve administrative arrangements associated with the delivery of services and assistance to veterans and their families.

The operation of the Veterans Review Board will benefit from increased flexibility. This will be obtained by:

providing an additional configuration of the board;

the introduction of a `slip rule' to correct an obvious error in the text of a decision or in a written statement of reasons for decision; and

a power to delegate certain action within the board's registry.

The Repatriation Commission facilitates access to a wide range of health care services for eligible veterans and dependants. The commission has progressively reviewed the circumstances in which it needs to approve treatment before it is provided to the eligible person as the Department of Veterans' Affairs has shifted its focus from a health service provider to a purchaser of services. This bill reflects these changes by removing references to the former repatriation hospitals from the act, and by reducing the need for prior approval of treatment from a general to an exceptional requirement.

The bill will provide a link between any special assistance and benefit the Repatriation Commission may grant a veteran or dependant and the appropriation available to the similar form of assistance or benefit that is available to other veterans and dependants eligible under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. This will streamline the processes associated with any such grant by the commission in the future.

The present restriction on the Repatriation Commission to delegate its powers to a person employed under the Public Service Act 1999 is a barrier to effective use of contracted and outsourced services. This bill will enable the commission to delegate its powers to certain contractors where the person, or the agency or firm for which the person works, is contracted to perform services on behalf of the commission. The desired standards of service and codes of conduct of persons to whom the commission would delegate its powers would be set out in the terms of the contract.

The recent introduction of the Home Support Advance Scheme has provided an opportunity to invite tenders for provision of advances under this scheme. The changes to the Defence Service Homes Act 1918 will enable these business arrangements to be made, and separate this new scheme from the Defence Service Homes Scheme that continues to be administered by the Westpac Banking Corporation.

In conclusion, this is a bill that offers reform to the conduct of business and further demonstrates this government's commitment to cut red tape. It also offers timely and appropriate assistance to veterans and their dependants.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Martin Ferguson) adjourned.