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Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Page: 1051


Mr NEUMANN (11:53 AM) —I speak in support of the Veterans’ Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2010. At the beginning of this speech, I wish to pay tribute to the former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon. Alan Griffin, the member for Bruce, particularly for his support of veterans in the Ipswich and West Moreton community in the electorate of Blair. It was at the Ipswich RSL that he announced that we would undertake a parliamentary inquiry into the deseal/reseal program which resulted in what I would call the Bevis parliamentary committee recommendations that were taken up and brought about some degree of justice for the people—in the Ipswich and West Moreton area and across Queensland and elsewhere—who worked in the deseal/reseal area. He also attended upon my community of Ipswich and conducted a forum on a number of issues raised by people in the veterans community as well as by serving RAAF personnel at the Amberley base. So I pay tribute to him and say that the legislation that we are dealing with here today is the work of him, his staff and his department and I thank him for it. It has been taken up, of course, by the new minister, the honourable member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon.

This legislation picks up from where it was before the parliament was prorogued and, as the member for Fadden outlined in very great detail by way of schedules, makes a number of amendments with respect to the service of notices, dealing with Australian participants in British nuclear tests, dealing with dependants of war veterans, and dealing with the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme in relation to the collection of a state emergency service levy from policyholders—which, by the way, will have no impact on the bottom line of the budget. It also protects the integrity of our regimes with respect to Specialist Medical Review Council matters and deals with compensation and the interests of those who receive it under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act by making sure that compensation can be paid into bank accounts in the recipients’ names.

The member for Fadden correctly, and quite eloquently actually, outlined by way of the schedules what this legislation contains. It is really a plethora of amendments through which there are significant reforms to the legislation. Extending nuclear test participant eligibility to a number of people who served during the British nuclear tests at Maralinga is credible and worthy, and the government is to be commended for it. While I am on that subject, I wish to pay tribute to a local advocate in my area, a guy called Merv Kleindon, who lives in Ipswich in the One Mile-Leichhardt community and has been such an advocate for everyone who worked in that program back in the fifties and beyond. A number of Indigenous people were also exposed to the effects of radioactivity, as were the service personnel who were engaged in working on the planes that went through the area. People like Merv had advocated for justice not just for Indigenous people and not just for people who worked in the military but for others, such as the Australian Protective Service officers, covered by the legislation here, and other participants who suffered ill health as a result of their involvement in the British nuclear tests. We see in this bill the extension of eligibility for non-liability health care under the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act for those people involved in British nuclear tests between 20 October 1984 to 30 June 1988 who now suffer malignant neoplasia. Many people were involved who were exposed to activities in the past which should not have happened.

There are other changes here in the legislation with respect to notices. For instance, Federal Court decisions following the absence of provisions in Commonwealth legislation setting out the requirements of service of written notice involving the operations of the act and the need for the Acts Interpretation Act, which provides for service on a person by sending it to the residential address, impacted on the current legislation. Amendment to the proposed legislation will extend the period of time for lodgement of claims and will provide benefits by making the statute clearer in many areas that are currently ambiguous under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act. Sometimes when legislation is passed we see notice provisions in relation to one piece of legislation that do not quite marry, say, with the Acts Interpretation Act, but what we are doing here is making improvements in that regard.

As I said before, the bill enables Defence Service Homes Insurance to collect a state emergency services levy from policy holders in New South Wales to assist the New South Wales Labor government with the cost of providing emergency services in that state. This is done throughout the country in various places, particularly New South Wales, and there will be no impact on the bottom line here. This is a sensible amendment in the circumstances and I commend the minister for that.

The bill also enhances the operation of the Specialist Medical Review Council by making it clear that that particular council may review a decision of the Repatriation Medical Authority so as not to amend a statement of principles—another worthy thing in the circumstances. There are changes aplenty in this legislation and they constitute a myriad of improvements. I was intending to speak at length on each and every one but the member for Fadden outlined the changes very clearly in his speech, for which he should be thanked. I also thank him for recognising at times where we have taken very just and humane and decent steps to help people who have been the recipients of injustice.

I thank the government for what it undertook and for looking at the review of veterans’ entitlements and looking at the recommendations of Justice Clarke. They have certainly had an impact in my area and, as I say, with respect to the work of the previous Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, I could not have asked for more cooperation in my community, particularly with respect to the Clarke review but also in relation to the deseal-reseal issue. It made a big impact locally in my electorate.

This legislation, again with important amendments, will impact to the benefit of the Australian community in terms of certainty of statutory interpretation, notice provisions, and making sure the legislation that deals with our veterans, who should be honoured, deals with them in a just and humane way.