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Thursday, 14 March 2013
Page: 2106

Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (09:48): First let me thank the minister for continuing to keep the parliament and the nation up to date on this important issue. I join the minister in acknowledging the chair of the organisation overseeing this, the Hon. Len Roberts-Smith RFD QC, and his senior leadership executive.

I reiterate the coalition's strong and complete bipartisan support for what is occurring to address the issues of the past. We are satisfied that we have been kept informed. We are satisfied that the processes and procedures that have been put in place are appropriate and are working to the fullest extent possible. I note the issues raised on access to documentation. I also note the work that has been done to overcome these. I, like everyone in this place, would fully expect DLA Piper to cooperate, and I am sure that will be the case going forward.

It is also our very strong expectation that the Department of Defence will make every resource and every document available to the group providing the oversight and will provide assistance to that task force so they can discharge their duty. I note the overwhelming support for the senior leadership team within Defence from the minister through to the CDF, the secretary and down. But it is important to note that the coalition will not tolerate any departmental obfuscation. Everything must be made fully available to the task force upon request without delay.

I think we all acknowledge that it is important the task force be able to operate completely and utterly unencumbered, as much to expedite the process as to ensure that those who were failed in the past receive the recognition and reparations they are entitled to. We may well be beholden to our past, but it is now our responsibility to ensure the wrongs inflicted on those fine men and women of the ADF over the last six decades are addressed and, importantly, that those egregious acts and wrongs are addressed to the satisfaction of those aggrieved, whether through counselling, reparation payments, apologies, restorative justice or all of the above. To that extent, the coalition is extremely satisfied with the process being undertaken by the task force.

In terms of the initiatives, we welcome the free hotline service that has provided an avenue to many who previously did not know there was a place to turn to have issues addressed. The coalition fully supports the minister in his decision to extend the time frame in which the task force can operate from 12 months to 18 months to enable the task force to work through until May 2014. We also put on record that if the task force requires extra time it should, of course, be given to it.

We also fully support the extension necessary for the task force to completely address and assess claims made, but we also support the idea that there needs to be a finite time for potential claimants to actually lodge their claims. The minister has stated that allegations of abuse that occurred prior to April 2011 must be made by 31 May this year. We agree with the minister that this is a sensible measure that will allow the task force the time they need to ensure everything is appropriately addressed. Importantly, it gives those aggrieved time to decide whether or not they wish to make a formal allegation to the task force. That gives eight or nine weeks for the Australian people to consider their position, and that is appropriate. I note, Minister, from our discussion yesterday, that you will be looking for some degree of advertising to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of the time frame and the time required to lodge a claim, and again you receive the coalition's strong support.

Minister, thank you for your update to the House on this very important measure. Thank you for providing the necessary parliamentary oversight. I believe that the Senate committee is meeting today and the chair of the task force will be addressing the Senate committee to provide that necessary parliamentary oversight. The key thing is that we move forward—that we move forward with grace, that we move forward with determination to right the wrongs of the past and to set a new standard. I believe that the Pathway to change document that the CDF and the senior leadership team have embarked on is addressing that adequately.