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Thursday, 4 March 2004
Page: 25955

Mrs VALE (Minister for Veterans' Affairs) (9:10 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill is a package of amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 (the VEA) to enable the electronic lodgment of documents relating to benefits paid by the Department of Veterans' Affairs. It will further improve the delivery of repatriation services to the Australian veteran community and is in line with the government's commitment to putting all appropriate government services online.

The need for amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act flows from the passage of the Electronic Transactions Act 1999 (the ETA). The stated purpose of that act was to facilitate the `development of electronic commerce in Australia by broadly removing (the) existing legal impediments that may prevent a person using electronic communications to satisfy obligations under Commonwealth law'.

The ETA had a two-step implementation process. Prior to 1 July 2001 the ETA only applied to those laws of the Commonwealth that were specified in the regulations. After that date the ETA was to apply to all laws of the Commonwealth unless they had been specifically excluded from the application of the ETA.

In February 2001 the Repatriation Commission advised that certain provisions of the Veterans' Entitlements Act would require exemption. These exemptions entitle the Department of Veterans' Affairs not to accept claims delivered to the department electronically.

It was intended that these exemptions would be reviewed and repealed as the procedures for the delivery of electronic claims and documents were developed. It was also intended that the appropriate amendments to the VEA would be made to provide for the electronic communication of claims, applications and other documents.

This bill is designed to achieve two purposes: the unification of all existing lodgment provisions in the VEA; and to allow for both the electronic and physical delivery of documents into the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

The existing provisions require that for a claim, application or other document to be lodged it must have been sent to the department at an approved address or delivered to a designated person. The amendments will include provisions for such documents to be lodged at an approved electronic address.

The need for the amendments to deal specifically with electronic delivery is due to the importance placed by the VEA on the date of lodgment of a document, as this date forms the basis for the calculation of benefits once a claim is accepted.

Because of this, the amendments will require that an electronic document not only must be sent to an approved electronic address but must be received to be regarded as having been lodged on the date that it was sent.

The bill provides the Repatriation Commission with broad powers to determine the methods by which documents can be lodged with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, including approved electronic addresses.

These amendments are only applicable to the lodgment of claims, applications, requests and other documents under the VEA and will not apply to any other information that is received into the department.

Information provided to the department by telephone will not be subject to the amendments. The VEA contains a number of provisions that refer to the oral communication of information in response to a notice issued by the department. Other provisions allow for the oral withdrawal of various written applications. These are unchanged.

This bill marks the next step in the government's ongoing program of improvements to the delivery of services to the veteran community. It builds on the commitment to the use of new technologies in veteran service delivery and a successful trial in Tasmania to allow veterans to lodge information electronically.

The passage of this legislation will ensure that the repatriation system keeps pace with the online age and assist veterans who, like many Australians, are moving to e-business as the way to do business into the future.

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

Debate (on motion by Mr Swan) adjourned.