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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5339

Senator MARK BISHOP (6:56 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

For the information of the Senate, the RMA has its origins in the recommendations of a review of veterans' compensation conducted by former senator, now professor, Peter Baume, in March 1994, commissioned by the then minister in this place, Senator John Faulkner, the current Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. The Senate will know that veterans' compensation is a complex and often vexed issue. Much of the difficulty arises from a combination of the difficulty of accepting claimed war-caused injury or disease in the absence of acceptable and authoritatively established medical science, and the traditional benefit of the doubt extended to cover veterans' claims. Until 1994 this had been an area of much contention and litigation and, therefore, a cause of much bitterness between veterans and government.

The purpose of establishing the RMA, therefore, was to introduce authoritative medical science with standards for the acceptance of claims where a hypothetical linkage needed to be established between service and the injury or the illness. The RMA has now in place statements of principles covering 90 per cent of claims made. The annual report updates the parliament on the status of its work for the year, including new statements, revised statements and the current position of reviews conducted by the specialist medical review authority.

It is quite clear to me, arising from my fairly extensive consultation with the veteran community this year, that the RMA, since being created in 1994-95, has been an outstanding success. While it is unique to the veteran jurisdiction, it is clearly perceived as being truly expert and professional and as having brought to the compensation business a high level of consistency and fairness in the decision making process. It has removed the guesswork, the suspicion and indeed the speculative attempts by non-experts, and it has substituted them with a system which is predictable and transparent but, above all, one which is now trusted and greatly respected. My compliments therefore go to the RMA, to its chairman, Professor Donald, and to his team for having brought about this transformation from a scene which I understand to have been one of great tension and mistrust.

Before I close, I would like to mention that the RMA has also been requested by the government to examine two difficult issues: the Gulf War syndrome and multichemical sensitivity, MCS, upon which I made some comments earlier today. No finding has been expressed on the Gulf War syndrome pending the completion of the DVA health study. The RMA has concluded that MCS does not exist as a medically accepted disease as defined in the Veterans' Entitlement Act. The findings of the RMA in response to the government's requests are not the end of the matter, however, simply because the tasks they were given are, strictly speaking, outside their bailiwick.

The elements which make up the Gulf War syndrome are subject to a large amount of research in the USA and the United Kingdom, and it is a Defence and DVA responsibility to participate in that to ensure that Australian interests are covered and protected. Similarly, on MCS there seems to have been little done at all to bring together the research in such a way that those who believe they suffer illness from their exposure to combinations of chemicals can have any confidence that their fears are being taken seriously. I commend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.