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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11157


Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (09:01): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present legislation that further improves the operation of Australia's repatriation system and provides improved access to compensation and health care for former Defence Force members.

This bill will amend the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act.

The department has received claims from a small number of personnel who should be, but are not currently, eligible for compensation and health care under the acts as a result of their participation in the British nuclear test program.

The personnel were involved in the maintenance, transporting or decontamination of aircraft used in the British nuclear test program outside the currently legislated nuclear test areas or time periods.

These amendments will facilitate and streamline access to compensation and health care for these Australian personnel, and any future claimants, who participated in the British nuclear test program conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.

This streamlining will be achieved by enabling the Repatriation Commission to determine, through a legislative instrument, additional eligibility criteria relating to participation in the British nuclear test program under both the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act.

The quality of the records from the test period, and the secrecy surrounding the operation, means that it is impossible to rule out the likelihood that new information may come to light which warrants further extension of coverage to additional groups of participants.

Streamlining will enable the department to be more responsive to new information regarding personnel associated with, and tasks undertaken as part of, the British nuclear test program.

The bill will benefit Australian personnel who participated in the British nuclear test program, and their dependants, by enabling compensation and health care to be provided with a minimum of delay.

These amendments are a demonstration of the government's commitment to continually improve the services and support we provide to our current and former military personnel. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.