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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2725


Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of ANZAC) (10:28): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

It gives me great pleasure to present legislation that will enhance Australia's repatriation system and provide improved access to compensation and health care for Australian Defence Force members and their families.

The Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004—the MRCA—was introduced on 1 July 2004 and provides rehabilitation and compensation coverage for injuries, diseases and deaths caused by all types of military service after that date.

In the lead-up to the 2007 election, we undertook to conduct a review of the MRCA.

That review commenced in mid-2009, at which time the MRCA had been in operation for five years.

Extensive consultation with the defence and veteran community was undertaken throughout the review process.

The report concluded that the objectives of the MRCA are sound.

It also confirmed that the unique nature of military service justified rehabilitation and compensation arrangements specific to the needs of the military.

However, not unexpectedly given the relative complexity and period of operation of the MRCA, the review found opportunities for improvements.

The government announced its response to the review as part of the 2012 budget.

This bill will give effect to a number of initiatives that form part of the government response to the review of military compensation arrangements.

In total, the government will implement 96 of the 108 recommendations put forward by the review.

A number of review initiatives that do not require legislation have been implemented, or are being implemented, to assist our members, former members and their families.

Many of the measures in this bill will further enhance the benefits and services provided to the defence force community.

These amendments deliver on the government's commitment to continuing to improve and evolve our support for the veteran and defence communities, and their families, to better meet their needs.

Of significant benefit is the introduction of a repatriation health card—for specific conditions, known as a white card, to former members of the Australian Defence Force with conditions accepted under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, where they have a long-term treatment need.

The new streamlined arrangements will replace the existing treatment arrangements under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act which requires SRCA members to claim reimbursement of treatment costs for their SRCA injury or ask their healthcare provider to invoice the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

This measure will provide a consistent method of access for all former members of the Australian Defence Force with long-term treatment needs.

The bill will provide greater flexibility for wholly dependent partners of deceased members under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

From 1 July 2013, instead of a single choice between receiving ongoing compensation payments or a lump sum payment, wholly dependent partners will be able to choose to convert either 25 per cent, 50 per cent, 75 per cent or 100 per cent of the periodic compensation amount to an age based lump sum payment.

This increased flexibility will enable a wholly dependent partner to better meet their immediate and long-term financial priorities, and applies to future partners and to existing partners who have yet to make their choice as to how to receive their compensation.

The bill provides for an increase in the amount of compensation paid for financial advice for those persons who are required to make a choice under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act about the nature of the benefits they receive. The maximum compensation available will increase from $1,592 to $2,400 and legal advice related to that choice can also be covered within the new limit.

The bill will also provide a one-off increase to the rate of ongoing compensation for eligible young persons under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. Ongoing compensation is one component of a package of compensation for this group.

The rate will be increased to match the rate payable for a dependent child under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, or SRCA.

This will result in an expected increase of approximately 50 per cent on the current rate.

Rehabilitation and transition management services under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act will be enhanced to improve consistency across the three branches of the Defence Force and increase flexibility in rehabilitation management.

Improved consistency will be achieved by giving the Chief of the Defence Force overarching responsibility for rehabilitation for serving members.

Transition management services will also be made available to part-time reservists.

The responsibility for rehabilitation for part-time reservists will transfer from the Department of Veterans' Affairs to the Chief of the Defence Force to give more visibility to Defence of the rehabilitation needs of this group.

There will also be greater flexibility in the transfer of rehabilitation responsibilities between the Chief of the Defence Force and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission.

The bill contains provisions which will allow earlier payment of compensation for permanent impairment for claimants with more than one accepted condition under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

Additionally, DVA will make greater use of the payment of interim permanent impairment compensation and will be able to include a payment for an imputed lifestyle effect when determining the level of interim compensation payable, which will result in increased compensation payments.

From 1 July 2013 the eligibility criteria for special rate disability pension under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act will be expanded to include certain persons who are not currently eligible because the person converted their incapacity compensation payments to a lump sum or because the incapacity payment is reduced to nil because it is fully offset by Commonwealth superannuation.

This measure will also result in the person being entitled to additional benefits that are associated with eligibility for special rate disability pension, including a gold card, education assistance for eligible young persons and a MRCA supplement.

The bill will make changes to the treatment of superannuation under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act so that serving members and former members are treated equally.

Technical amendments will be made to the definition of 'Commonwealth superannuation scheme' under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act to exclude contributions made by a licences corporation and to include Commonwealth contributions into a retirement savings account.

The powers of the Veterans' Review Board will be enhanced to provide a remittal power to allow certain matters to be referred to the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission for further consideration and determination.

The membership of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission will be increased by an additional member, to be nominated by the Minister for Defence.

This will assist the commission in the management of the broad and complex occupational health, safety and compensation issues faced by the Defence Force.

The claims process for conditions accepted under the Veterans' Entitlements Act that are aggravated by service covered under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act will be simplified.

Currently, a person must choose whether to claim the aggravation under either the Veterans' Entitlements Act or the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

The existing process is complex, resulting in confusion for clients, and is administratively resource intensive.

From 1 July 2013, a simplified arrangement will be introduced resulting in all such claims being determined under the Veterans' Entitlements Act.

The bill will expand the definition of 'member' in the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act to include persons holding an honorary rank, persons who are an accredited representative of a registered charity and former members undergoing career transition.

Other measures in the bill will create an entitlement to travel expenses under the Veterans' Entitlements Act for certain partners of eligible persons, and make technical amendments to Veterans' Affairs acts in relation to the appropriation of treatment costs for aged-care services and administrative arrangements for payments to bank accounts.

The measures in the bill clearly demonstrate the Australian government's support and high regard for our Defence Force members.

The government is committed to continuously improving and adapting to the needs of veterans, serving and former members and their families.

These proposed changes will result in a positive outcome for many in the Defence and veteran communities.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.