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Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Page: 3520

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (12:33): I rise to speak on the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (MRCA Supplement) Bill 2011, and I will confine my comments to the bill, unlike the clearly rattled minister who has been reduced to shrill and completely out of context personal commentary during his recent speeches—and I think we all think it is really a bit sad to see him behaving like that.

The coalition supports this bill and my remarks will be brief. This bill will clarify arrangements for payment of war widows pension payable under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. The need for this clarification has arisen from the changes made by the Labor government's Harmer review of pensions and will ensure that an inadvertent overpayment of some allowance is not made. This is largely a housekeeping bill which the coalition will not seek to delay.

Next Thursday, 30 June, a lengthy public consultation period will close regarding the Campbell review of military compensation arrangements. I hope the government acts swiftly to consider the views expressed through this process. This is a significant review. Whilst it is almost 12 months late being delivered, it is comprehensive and a credit to its authors. It is the first review into the operation of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004. The act has withstood fair scrutiny. The recommendations for change are modest. I am optimistic that the government will accept recommendations which will improve the outcomes for veterans with multiple eligibility and who may be negatively affected by current compensation offsetting arrangements. These proposed changes are supported by Defence and DVA to address unintended consequences of the initial arrangements for compensation offsetting.

However, I note with concern that Treasury, Finance and the Department of Workplace Relations believe that 'no-one is financially worse off' under the present scheme and they therefore support the status quo. The veteran and ex-service community do not hold this view, and neither does the coalition. The veteran and ex-service community, together with the coalition, will continue to lobby the government to implement changes which would ensure that Danna Vale's 2003 declaration lives on. As Danna Vale, the previous veterans affairs minister, said:

A member who suffers an injury or illness [after 1 July 2004] will be able to combine prior impairments from the SRCA and the VEA with the new arrangements to get the best possible outcome.

The best possible outcome is what we must give our veterans under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004. There is more to be said about the issues in the veterans' affairs portfolio and the MRCA review, but I plan to do that on another occasion. I commend this bill to the Senate.