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Thursday, 31 August 2000
Page: 19845

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (12:28 PM) —I will not detain the House unnecessarily on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2000 for which, I have been advised, the opposition has no suggested amendments. The provisions are not controversial. There is the provision that entitlements deriving from the Black Hawk tragedy should be included so that Veterans' Entitlements Act payments are not reduced because of those figures, which are $200,000 for death or severe injury, $50,000 in respect of each dependent child, et cetera. The other changes are that there will be an extension of counselling within the provisions of the Veterans' Children Education Scheme and the possibility of altering what essentially are typographical errors in Veterans' Review Board decisions, where they have some minor differences from the evidence given. Also, in regard to the Repatriation Medical Authority, it will not be obliged to conduct investigations where the request does not state the grounds for review. These matters are not controversial.

The member for Moreton spoke at length about the compensation scheme. The government has brought down a review of the military compensation scheme and I am pleased to say there have been constructive discussions between the government and the opposition in an area where I think all of us appreciate that a variety of circumstances have led to problems—essentially, the chain of command, the situation of a very distinct culture separate from the rest of the Australian work force, the ready fitness program and its impact in essentially suppressing accidents, and people who do not come forward and reveal their injuries. I think a figure has been cited that the average person in Australia reports an industrial accident after a year. In the case of the armed forces the average is 10 years. That indicates a very real problem, and it has been exacerbated by ready fitness. People fear termination and the loss of their employment.

Turning to the lack of representation aspect, I do not want to go into the whole question of union representation but one of the realities is that people do not feel they have a representative body that can take up these issues. The member for Moreton cited a number of problems. Obviously there is a significant incidence of cases involving people in his electorate, such as those involved in the Westralia matter and the cadets' injuries, and he has obviously followed these in a very substantial manner. We would hope that these discussions lead to a system that avoids the current practice of interaction between two different schemes—the various requirements as to when you started, the type of injury and the type of operation you are involved. That comes into line with other realities of Australia's workers compensation system while recognising that there are distinct differences that do relate to military service. There is an opportunity in these discussions to bring in a scheme for which we can have bipartisan support and which tackles these difficulties.

In conclusion, the opposition is in accord with the government's legislation. It essentially is a mopping-up operation with regard to changes on Black Hawk that might relate to other similar tragedies and changes in the Repatriation Medical Authority and Veterans' Children Education Scheme.