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Thursday, 1 March 2001
Page: 24862

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) (11:20 AM) —in reply—I appreciate the member for Lowe's comments. They are very generous comments. Perhaps, as a former employee of the department, he has some intelligence I should be more aware of.

Mr Murphy —I still have contacts.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —That is important. I also appreciate the comments of other members. For a long time there seems to have been a more bipartisan approach to the issue of how successive governments look after our veterans and war widows in this country. Long may that be the case. I know from time to time there will be some disagreements—and I appreciate that as well—but I have appreciated the generous comments of the member for Lowe and the comments of other members during the debate.

The Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill 2000 is about advancing the government's program to harmonise offence-creating and related provisions in the Commonwealth legislation within the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code will codify the most serious offences against Commonwealth law and establish a cohesive set of general principles of criminal responsibility. The purpose of this bill is to apply the Criminal Code to all offence-creating and related provisions in acts falling within the Veterans' Affairs portfolio and to make all necessary amendments to these provisions to ensure compliance and, importantly, consistency within the Criminal Code's general principles.

While the majority of offences in legislation in the Veterans' Affairs portfolio will operate as they always have, without amendment, there are some that will require adjustment. Amongst the most significant amendments is the express application of strict liability or absolute liability to some offence-creating provisions. Under the Criminal Code, an offence must specifically identify strict liability or absolute liability, as the case may be, or the prosecution will be required to prove fault in relation to each element of the offence. This is necessary to ensure that the strict or absolute liability nature of some provisions is not lost in the transition to the application of the Criminal Code's general principles. If relevant offences are not adjusted in this manner, many will become more difficult for the prosecution to prove and therefore reduce the protection which was originally intended by the parliament to be provided by the offence.

The bill will similarly improve the efficient and fair prosecution of offences by clarifying the physical elements of offences and amending inappropriate fault elements. This harmonisation of offence-creating and related offences in veterans' affairs legislation with the Criminal Code is an important step in the government's program of legislative reform that will achieve greater consistency and cohesion in Commonwealth criminal law.

The member for Cowan raised a few issues in relation to private insurance and PTSD. Let me assure the member for Cowan that work is under way with Treasury to attempt to assist the insurance industry's assessment of PTSD claims, particularly those relating to veterans. I certainly appreciate the member for Cowan's comments that response times for correspondence are improving. I am sure this is something that every minister has battled with from time immemorial, but I did notice his comments that response times are improving. I can assure the Main Committee that my objective is always to provide helpful and high quality advice. Sometimes that may take time, especially when there are complex inquiries on claims and appeals.

I also appreciate the member for Cowan's comments in relation to the rate of T&PI compensation. I just want to reiterate that I initiated a meeting with the president of the federation, Blue Ryan. They were helpful and constructive meetings, and my department has worked with the federation to help it develop a submission. I think that demonstrates the close relationship that the department has with the ex-service community, whether it is with the T&PI Association, the RSL or the VVAA—and that was also my initiative. I instructed my department to work with the association—in this case, the federation—to work up its submission to the government.

I can assure the member for Cowan that I have been proactive in the way I have dealt with the issue of the T&PI Association, the ex-POWs' submission that is coming forward and in the way my department has worked with the POW association. We work with all ex-service organisations. It has ever been the case that ex-service organisations like to work with their constituencies at a grassroots level to get their feelings on issues, and then they present their submission to government. That is how, over more than 80 years, we have been able to develop in this country the best repatriation system in the world. If we were to go around that process, in the end we would find government thinking that it knows best—when in fact it is so important to continue to network through the ex-service organisations, which are very much grassroots driven organisations that do a tremendous job for the ex-service community in Australia.

Finally, in relation to Darcy Upton—I think the member for Cowan raised the issue of Darcy Upton—I am pleased to say that, with the assistance of Veterans' Affairs staff, Mr Upton's son Darcy is now registered for assistance with the Vietnam veterans' children's support program and will be able to access a range of support. That program was an initiative of this government following the health study of Vietnam veterans, which we announced in the budget last year. I think it is a significant breakthrough for government that we are looking after, in this case, the children of Vietnam veterans, and I am pleased to see that we have the support of the opposition on these new measures. Also, I would like to think that members of the House who have concerns always feel that they have access to my office. I believe it is always important that we, rather than the media, hear first if there is an issue affecting our veterans, because in that way we can work in partnership, as has always been the spirit of the Veterans' portfolio with whichever political party is in government. I thank members for their contribution and I commend the bill to the committee.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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