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Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Page: 1055

Ms HALL (12:12 PM) —I would like to commence my contribution on the Veterans’ Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2010 by paying my respects to all those veterans in the electorate of Shortland, and for that matter throughout Australia, who have made an enormous contribution to Australia. I think every time we debate veterans legislation it is important to look at the group of people that the legislation is impacting upon. In Shortland electorate we do have a large number of veterans, particularly Second World War veterans and veterans who have been affected by the nuclear tests that took place in Australia. This legislation does extend the nuclear test participation eligibility to certain Australian protective services officers for the period of 1984 to 1988.

I am very familiar with the impact that those nuclear tests had on the lives of our veterans and Australians who were in that area at the time the tests took place. I have done a lot of work in my electorate with veterans and those affected by those tests. I have seen some of them die. I have seen others who have constantly fought cancers such as cancers of the skin, in one case working with and helping over an extended period of time a person with myeloid leukaemia. He was somebody who really raised with me the issues associated with the atomic testing. I could see at a personal level how that testing impacted on his life, and then I met with a wider range of atomic test veterans. I think the extension of this participation eligibility is important. Those officers of the Australian protective services deserve to have that coverage because I know that their health and their lives have been impacted enormously.

As a member of this House who stood up at times on this issue when the Howard government was in power and saw how little compassion and sympathy that government had towards our nuclear test veterans, it really warms my heart to be part of a government that has not only recognised the impact that the testing had on the lives of our veterans but has also extended it to the Australian Protective Services. This extension, this eligibility for non-liability healthcare treatment, provides for the government to fund cancer treatment for participants in the British nuclear tests in Australia. Members of the Commonwealth Police, now known as the AFP, were previously granted access to non-liability health care by an amendment to the Australian participation act in 2008. I point out that was under the Rudd government. It took a Labor government to bring about the changes that have been needed. This extension was granted on the basis of scientific evidence, something really important to put before the House. There has been a wide body of scientific evidence that has supported the fact that atomic testing in Australia did impact on the lives and health of those people that were in the area at the time. To be quite frank, it is very disappointing that there was such a long period when those persons that were in that area went without having the recognition and the healthcare treatment that they should have been entitled to. The fact is that this scientific evidence indicated that the unique nature of the service of the police and APS officers increased the possibility of exposure to contaminated dust and dirt.

The constituent to whom I referred earlier who had myeloid leukaemia had worked as a truck driver. He told me how everyday when he would return from work his clothes would be covered in this contaminated dust. There was no decontamination process to go through; rather, he walked in, took his clothes off and his wife threw those clothes into the washing machine and then he went to work the next day in either those clothes or a fresh change of clothing. It is interesting to note that his wife has cancer. It is not myeloid leukaemia; it is a different kind of cancer. So I do not think we can underestimate the impact that being in that area and being exposed to contamination had on the lives of those people.

The APS officers patrolled the Maralinga area alongside the Commonwealth Police and the AFP. The amendment provides treatment eligibility for APS officers who served in the Maralinga area up until 30 June 1988, after which time comprehensive precautions and protocols were put in place to prevent exposure. So those APS officers will be eligible for the non-liability medical care and treatment that should have taken place a while ago. It has taken a Labor government to recognise that these APS officers really need the support of their government to be able to obtain the health treatment via white card that they should have been able to claim for a long period of time. The amendment allows APS officers who claim within six months of the introduction of this legislation to have their reimbursement for treatment backdated to 2006. I think that is a very important aspect of this legislation because we all know that the treatment for cancer can be quite an expensive process. This is recognition by the government that those APS officers who served during the relevant period should not be disadvantaged because they were not included in the extension in 2008. That is a really important part of this legislation. While this legislation may seem quite minor in nature, it has enormous implications for a number of APS officers who were in that atomic test area.

Some of the other items included in the Veterans’ Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2010 include the payment for the State Emergency Service. It is my understanding this will have no financial impact. The amendment has a minimal administrative impact on the Defence Service Homes Insurance. DSHI can collect a levy from policyholders but requires the Defence Service Homes Act 1918 to be amended to pass the moneys collected onto the New South Wales government. So this is a requirement of the New South Wales government. This levy is being implemented because it is needed to help finance the State Emergency Service. The New South Wales government introduced this levy on insurance policies specifically to fund the State Emergency Service, which plays a very vital role in communities throughout New South Wales. Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, I think that your area recently was badly hit by adverse weather events and the SES played a very important role. I know they did very similar sorts of work in my own electorate after the 2007 storms hit the Hunter. The State Emergency Service is a vital service and it is so important that we ensure that it is properly funded.

Another aspect of the legislation is the extension of time from three months to 12 months in which certain types of travel expenses can be claimed, bringing it into line with other travel reimbursements. Sometimes it is very difficult to put claim forms in within the three-month period. It is an anomaly that there are different periods of time within which different travel expenses can be claimed. It is sensible that all travel claims can be claimed within the same period of time. I think legislation should be put in place that requires all people who are eligible to claim their travel expenses to be treated similarly. So this is, once again, a very sensible change.

The legislation also makes provision for serving notice under both the war entitlements act 1986 and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004. Further, it makes clear that war-caused or defence-caused injury or disease remains compensable under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986, even if the injury or disease has been aggravated, or materially contributed to, by defence service under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004. This is very important because we need to support our veterans. We need to make sure that they get compensation when they need it—and legislation should be about enabling, not preventing, that. I see this legislation as enabling compensation to those who are entitled to it under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986.

The legislation corrects the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 to enable the payment of a pension to a dependant of a veteran who was a prisoner of war during operational service under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, where the veteran died after the commencement of the current act. Once again, this is a very, very important change to the legislation. A further provision enables a Specialist Medical Review Council to review both versions of the statement of principles applicable to the same injury, disease or death. The legislation also clarifies that the Specialist Medical Review Council may review a decision of the Repatriation Medical Authority. Further, the legislation ensures certain lump sum payments of compensation and it enables Victoria Cross recipients to receive an allowance if they are also eligible for an allowance from a foreign country. This is very important legislation. It should be embraced by all members of this House, and I encourage members to support it as it is about benefits to all our veterans. (Time expired)