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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 191

(Question No. 870)

Senator Jones asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 2 May 1984:

(1) Are Australian service personnel who enlisted in the armed forces since 1972 entitled to defence force home loans, irrespective of whether they served in a war zone.

(2) How many Australian service personnel, prior to 1972, were 'attached' for duty in 'special areas' as defined in the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service ) Act during the Vietnam War, as opposed to service personnel who were posted for 'special duty' in 'special areas' as defined under the same Act.

(3) Is the Minister for Defence aware that those personnel 'attached' to areas in (South) Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War were exposed to the same dangers to their health and lives as those personnel allotted for 'special duty' in the same areas.

(4) Are those 'attached' personnel entitled to the same war service benefits as the personnel allotted for 'special duty' in view of the fact that they served Australia together in the same 'special areas' of a recognised war zone; if not, why not, and will the Minister for Defence introduce legislation to correct this unfortunate anomaly which so blatantly discriminates against a small section of service personnel who placed their lives in danger in the service of this country.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Defence service homes legislation is not within my portfolio, but I have been advised by my colleague the Minister for Veterans' Affairs that personnel who enlisted after 1972 must serve for minimum periods specified in the Defence Service Homes Act to qualify for a defence service homes loan. The service need not be in a war zone.

(2) A search of service records has revealed that the number of personnel who visited Vietnam between 1965 and 1972 was about 3600 and comprised a few national servicemen, some (then) Citizen Military Force members, and the rest regular servicemen.

The number is made up of:

(a) the crews of Naval escort vessels which sailed in and out of Vietnam waters ;

(b) the crews of transport vessels such as Sydney (including Army transport staff), Jeparit, Boonaroo and Army small ships which carried personnel and equipment;

(c) the Royal Australian Air Force aircrew personnel who manned transport aircraft ferrying personnel and material; and

(d) a variety of personnel from all three services who visited the area on staff duties, familiarisation visits and for various other reasons.

(3) and (4) Again repatriation legislation is not within my portfolio. However, my colleague the Minister for Veterans' Affairs advises that as a general rule, service personnel not allotted for special duty in a special area as prescribed in repatriation legislation are ineligible for repatriation benefits.

Those personnel allotted for special duty in a special area were expected to live and serve under conditions entailing the prospect of continuing danger from the activities of hostile forces. There is no basis for extending full repatriation benefits to personnel not allotted for such duty.

Nevertheless, it was foreseen that situations could arise in which non-allotted personnel were exposed to some element of danger. Consequently a special provision, section 7 (A) of the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act, was made for veterans who were not allotted for special duty in a special area, but who were incapacitated as a result of action of or against hostile forces while serving outside Australia, to be eligible for repatriation benefits for that incapacity.

The existing provisions including those in section 7 (A) are considered fair and adequate.