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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20598

Mr McClelland asked the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 12 August 2003:

(1) What is the current delay in the Army Medals Section of the Department of Defence for processing applications for military awards predating 1975.

(2) What steps are being taken by the Army Medals Section, the Department and/or her office to notify applicants for awards of the anticipated delay and what steps are being taken by the section, the Department and/or her office to reduce that delay.

Mrs Vale (Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Applications as at May 2002 are currently being processed.

(2) Applicants are advised of the expected time it will take to process their applications when they are acknowledged. Regular updates are also to be promulgated by Defence, beginning in the near future, concerning the status of backlogs and other honours and awards matters as part of a newly established communications program.

The Government's ongoing commitment to honour the service of Australia's current and former Defence Force members has resulted in the establishment of new medals and the widening of the eligibility criteria for existing medals. In particular, recent reviews, the establishment of the Anniversary of National Service 1951-1972 Medal and the increased operational tempo of the Defence Force generates thousands of enquiries and delays of some months in processing applications for awards.

To ensure fairness, each enquiry is processed in order of receipt. Every effort is made to ensure that eligible recipients receive their awards as quickly as possible. The process has been reviewed and, where possible, streamlined, to reduce the backlog. I am pleased to say that there are a number of initiatives now in place aimed at introducing efficiencies and reducing the applications backlog, and these include:

the collocation of all Honours and Awards functions previously undertaken in Canberra, Melbourne and Queanbeyan to one complex in the ACT in February 2003;

the recruitment of new staff to replace staff not transferring from Melbourne; and

the planned introduction of a new application processing system in the near future.

The Directorate in Canberra is working hard to reduce the backlogs. Once new staff are trained and all outstanding applications transferred to Tuggeranong are acknowledged, it is expected that backlogs will begin to reduce quickly.