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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
30/05/2018
Estimates
DEFENCE PORTFOLIO
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Department of Veterans' Affairs

[17:52]

CHAIR: Welcome.

Senator Payne: I note Mr Lewis has moved on from his role as secretary and I want to acknowledge his extensive service not just to the Department of Veterans' Affairs but as a long-term senior member of the Australian Public Service. I also welcome Ms Cosson as the new secretary of the department.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Minister. On behalf of the committee we're also sad that we didn't have the opportunity to publicly farewell Mr Simon Lewis and congratulate him for his over-40 years of service to the public sector, particularly for the work he's done for veterans' affairs. Ms Cosson, If you could pass on this committee's thanks for his engagement with the committee, and for his patience and tolerance of all of our questions over the years, we'd be very grateful.

I would also congratulate you, Ms Cosson, on your appointment as secretary of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. As we know, here, it is an important committee for current-serving men and women, looking after them, but also for those who have previously served. You have a challenge on your hands, as always, so welcome.

Ms Cosson : Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Ms Cosson, would you like to make an opening statement?

Ms Cosson : I would. I would also like to acknowledge my predecessor, Simon Lewis, and congratulate him not only on his leadership of the Department of Veterans' Affairs for the last five years but also, as you mentioned, on his long and very successful Public Service career for over 40 years. Simon had a very clear vision for the department and the need for us to change. I am very honoured to be stepping into the role of secretary and am committed to continuing our progress towards change and transformation of the department.

Since the government accepted the recommendations made in the Senate committee's report The constant battle: suicide by veterans, there have been a number of significant independent and specific reviews to examine how we can meet the needs of our ex-service men and women and their families in the future. We have started to capture all of those in our report. To remain transparent in how we are tracking against these reviews, we would like to table an update on DVA's and Defence's progress in implementing the recommendations and to then post these on our website. I appreciate the committee has not had the opportunity to review this update, but I'm very happy to take questions on our progress.

CHAIR: The committee would be very happy to have that document and also your opening speech tabled, if possible.

Ms Cosson : Absolutely. In addition, I wanted to add on the budget that we received a $31 million investment at MYEFO in response to the recommendations from the review into Jesse Bird's suicide and the Senate inquiry. The 2018-19 budget allocated $11.2 billion to our portfolio, including around $100 million in additional funding. This additional funding includes significant investment of around $112 million in our transformation. We received $2.2 million to expand our mental health care to certain reservists. We had an investment of $10.8 million to provide veterans with incapacity payments at 100 per cent of their normal earnings when they are engaged in full-time study. Additionally, there is $8.3 million to enhance veterans' employment services and opportunities. We're also looking to improve our communication with general practitioners and allied health service providers and for opportunities for enhanced complex care management for our most vulnerable clients. So I look forward to updating the committee.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that opening statement, Ms Cosson. Minister, would you like to make an opening statement?

Senator Payne: No.

Senator GALLACHER: If I go to budget measures on dental and allied health, is there someone who can take some questions on that?

Ms Cosson : Certainly.

Senator GALLACHER: The 2018-19 budget has signalled changes in expected savings of $40.7 million; is that correct?

Ms Cosson : Yes, that's correct.

Senator GALLACHER: Is that spread over four years, or is it—

Ms Cosson : That's correct. It's spread over the forward estimates.

Senator GALLACHER: Are the savings achieved over the four years or are they—

Ms Cosson : In the first year I believe it is an actual spend to prepare that program, looking at fee schedules and also some technical changes. There are four components to that particular save.

Senator GALLACHER: I'm just trying to flesh out some of the savings. How much is the treatment plan for allied health expected to save in 2019-20 and also 2021-22?

Ms Hancock : The overall package of measures is due to spend $1.1 million in 2018-19. In 2019-20, it's a saving of $17.2 million. In 2020-21, it's a saving of $13.8 million. In 2021-22, it's a saving of $10.7 million.

Senator GALLACHER: So you are expending an additional—

Ms Hancock : $1.1 million.

Senator GALLACHER: And you're expecting to save in the following financial years $17 million, $13 million and $10 million.

Ms Hancock : For a total of $40.7 million.

Senator GALLACHER: It sounds like a great investment. How is it going to achieve these savings?

Ms Hancock : This is a package of measures with several elements to it. In the first year, which is 2018-19, there is development work underway to introduce from 1 July 2019 a new concept called the treatment cycle. This year, 2018, also sees the introduction of some minor technical adjustments to schedules in November. But the majority of the work in 2018-19 is development work on the treatment cycle.

Senator GALLACHER: Is there an easy way to describe where these savings are coming from? I'm not sure that people would be going to the dentist too often, but allied health schedules—is that physiotherapy or mental health? Where are the savings going to come from?

Ms Anderson : This is not about cutting veterans' access to any of the allied health services. The save is expected to occur because the introduction of the treatment cycle will ensure that, when veterans are receiving allied health services, it's the right service at the time that the service is required.

Senator GALLACHER: I'm sure that's probably what everybody is seeking: they go to get the right service when they need it.

Ms Anderson : That should be the idea—

Senator GALLACHER: These are significant savings. It would be very low-hanging fruit if you could achieve this without any—

Ms Anderson : What we've found is that, between June 2012 and June 2017, there was a net decline of about 17 per cent in the overall numbers of DVA's treatment population and a 27 per cent decline in the numbers of DVA gold card holders. But, during that same period of time, the total dental and allied health expenditure increased by 22 per cent, and, within those overall trends, both the musculoskeletal and the mental health services showed substantial increases. The mental health component can be attributed to the expansion of non-liability healthcare arrangements. I think what we're seeing is a reduction in the treatment population, but the number of services being provided is actually increasing.

The measure is designed to ensure that the general practitioner is at the centre of the individual's care and that, when the GP makes a referral to an allied health professional, it is for a set period of time. That can be 12 months or 12 treatments by the health professional. The health professional, once they've reached those 12 treatments, then needs to correspond back with the general practitioner, and then the general practitioner makes a decision as to whether, for the ongoing treatment, exactly the same treatment is required or whether there is a change in the treatment that is required for that individual because their condition has changed. Currently, what happens is that a referral is made, but there is no limit on the number of services that can be provided during a 12-month period.

Senator GALLACHER: Is there any advice that underpins these savings? Has an actuary looked at this and calculated it?

Ms Anderson : Yes.

Ms Hancock : This follows the conduct of a review of DVA's dental and allied health arrangements over the last three years, during which time we did considerable analysis of service provision patterns and expenditure.

Senator GALLACHER: I've got a number of questions which I'll run through. Does this include treatment under non-liability health care?

Ms Hancock : Yes, insofar as that treatment is delivered by psychologists or mental health social workers.

Senator GALLACHER: Is there flexibility in this trial for those who have ongoing needs, such as veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress?

Ms Anderson : Again, the referral would be made for 12 treatments, and then there would be correspondence back with the client's treating general practitioner to decide the next cycle of treatment.

Senator GALLACHER: You're not saying 12 and that's it?

Ms Anderson : No.

Senator GALLACHER: So there is flexibility if they've—

Ms Hancock : There is no limit proposed on the number of times that a person can have the treatment cycle.

Senator GALLACHER: So what has been suggested is that, after 12, you have to go back to your existing doctor and get another course of treatment?

Ms Anderson : You have another review of your medical condition for the general practitioner to then make a decision, and that could be in negotiation with the allied health professional, but the decision is made at the end of the 12th treatment as to the next period of treatment, if it's exactly the same or if it needs to be altered.

Senator GALLACHER: Once the 12 sessions have been completed and there is a visit to a GP and a report and the determination is that further treatment is required, does this then need to be approved by DVA or is that the okay of the doctor?

Ms Hancock : There is no involvement of DVA at that point. It is a clinical decision for the treating practitioner.

Senator GALLACHER: You have been through a course of visits. You go back to your GP. The GP decides you need more visits. It doesn't go to Veterans' Affairs at all. It is that treating doctor's decision.

Ms Anderson : That's right.

Senator GALLACHER: Very good. Can the department detail the technical adjustments being made to the dental and allied health fees. Will the rebates for providers be going up or down?

Ms Hancock : The technical adjustments proposed from 1 November won't by and large involve major fee adjustments. There are, for example, some changes to the dental fee schedules to align them more closely to the industry standard in dental care. There are some changes of item numbers. It's that sort of adjustment.

Senator GALLACHER: Is there a growing gap between the RMFS and the Medicare rebate?

Ms Hancock : These are concerning dental and allied, not medical fees.

Ms Anderson : Senator, just to clarify, the treatment cycle—the process of going back to your general practitioner and getting a referral for 12 treatments—does not apply to dental or optical services.

Senator GALLACHER: If we look at, say, mental health treatment, how does this align with the issues around the gap between the Medicare rebate and the RMFS and people who said that the gap was such that they probably wouldn't take any DVA clients?

Ms Hancock : By and large, there are few different rates involved; but, generally speaking, the DVA rate is about 135 or, in some cases, 140 per cent of the Medicare benefits schedule amount.

Senator GALLACHER: What about what people are charging in the marketplace?

Ms Hancock : The principal difference is that, under Medicare rules, practitioners can charge the patient an out-of-pocket gap. Under DVA rules, practitioners cannot charge patients an out-of-pocket amount.

Senator GALLACHER: The committee has taken evidence, particularly in the inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel, that there was an issue there. Is this going to exacerbate it, fix it or bring it together?

Ms Hancock : The treatment cycle of this package of proposals won't in itself address concerns relating to quantum of fees. There is further work to happen in this package of reforms in the third and fourth year, particularly the examination of trials of new funding models for particular professions. So, in the course of the review of dental and allied health arrangements over the last couple of years, a number of the practitioner associations have brought to our attention the fact that not just that the fees are not considered sufficient but that a more modern or a different approach to how fees are arranged would be more suitable for treating DVA clients. So this part of the package, the third segment of the package, is to trial some different arrangements for fees for particular practitioners.

Senator GALLACHER: Clearly there are significant savings here, and I accept that you're doing this in the best interests of DVA and the veterans, but is it going to exacerbate an existing situation, particularly with mental health provision, where people may not be able to access services?

Ms Anderson : That's not the expectation. I think that, separate to this particular budget measure, there is also a body of work going on—and this was outlined at the last estimates—around looking at the distribution of particular speciality areas. We're not necessarily talking about allied health; we're talking also about medical specialties and in particular, psychiatrists. We're looking at the geographic distribution of psychiatrists. We're looking at a number of other approaches to identify if there are gaps and where the gaps are with those practitioners who are accepting DVA's cards and those who are not.

Senator GALLACHER: With regard to trials of funding models, are relevant allied health provider associations consulted, or will they be consulted?

Ms Hancock : Yes, they will.

Ms Cosson : Certainly Ms Hancock mentioned the review that led to this particular measure, where we had allied health professionals and clinicians as part of the working groups that were established to provide us with advice.

Ms Hancock : We already have substantial submissions from a range of practitioner groups, and we've started verbal consultations following those up.

Senator GALLACHER: Perhaps we could get on notice just a summary of the associations that have been and are being consulted.

Ms Hancock : Yes, of course.

Senator GALLACHER: What are the trials anticipated to look like, and what will they cost?

Ms Anderson : For the trials at this point, there still needs to be a considerable body of work put towards those. We will use, as the basis for that planning work, a range of the submissions that we have received. As Ms Hancock has previously mentioned, there is likely to be a small cost involved in setting up those funding models. But, as Ms Hancock also referred to, that work is happening in the third year. Our attention in the first and second years is on those first two components, around the amendments to the schedule and the treatment cycle.

Senator GALLACHER: Will those trials be developed in the second and third years or the third and fourth years?

Ms Anderson : It will be in the second and third years, because they're actually to go live in the third year.

Senator GALLACHER: Will they be geographically based or cohort based?

Ms Hancock : It's trials of funding models, so it will involve the construction of a different funding model for a particular profession and then a trial, perhaps geographically based. But it really depends on which profession we're talking about and the nature of the model that's been developed.

Ms Anderson : We'd certainly be taking further advice from the professional associations around those types of elements of the trial of the funding models.

Senator GALLACHER: Is this why we're expecting to see savings in those latter years. Is that as a result of these trials?

Ms Anderson : No, the savings result from the introduction of the treatment cycle.

Senator GALLACHER: So this will be an added benefit?

Ms Anderson : Yes. Subsequent to the forward estimates period being over, we anticipate that, if the funding models are effective, that would be something that we could consider for further introduction.

Senator GALLACHER: But it wouldn't necessarily produce any savings?

Ms Anderson : It's probably too early to be able to make a definite comment about that.

Senator GALLACHER: With regards to the suggested future upgrades in the budget fact sheet, the department has identified reviewing DVA fee schedules to ensure they are up to industry standard. There are access issues in this space around the Medicare freeze. Do you want to inform us as to that area?

Ms Hancock : For DVA dental and allied health services, indexation resumes on 1 July this year.

Senator GALLACHER: When you pause indexation and then you resume it, you haven't caught up; you've just started again. You still have the underlying gap, so to speak. You're not retrospectively indexing, are you?

Ms Hancock : No, it's a resumption.

Senator GALLACHER: You still have that pause to deal with so the issue is still there. How do we get over that issue?

Ms Cosson : I think with this particular measure, we are looking at our funding model—as both Ms Anderson and Ms Hancock mentioned—and importantly we are working with our providers. What we have established is that we haven't had a good strategic relationship with our providers to understand how we can ensure we are getting the best service for our veteran community. That's the second pillar of what we are doing with this measure. With the whole idea of having a look at treatment cycles—where we did receive advice from clinicians and our allied health providers—it was important to say that the veteran needs to have that connection with their general practitioner to ensure they are getting the best service they should get from their providers. There may be some instances where their providers may not be giving that best level of service, and we need to work very closely with them. Importantly, the veteran needs to work with their GP.

As I think both Ms Anderson and Ms Hancock mentioned, this isn't capped. If a veteran returns to the GP and the GP says, 'No, you need to go back and continue to have this treatment', then that has been based on evidence that the veteran is responding. So there may be savings where a GP identifies they don't need that level of support from a particular allied health provider, but they may need something different. So the analysis that was undertaken said we could probably find some savings. I appreciate and acknowledge that some veterans have expressed some concern with this measure, but it is important in the next steps that we are working with our ex-service community, with the allied health providers and with our general practitioner group, AMA, and actually work out what is going to be the best and most effective service for our veteran community.

Senator GALLACHER: Is there a plain English version of 'identified reviewing DVA fee schedules to ensure they are up to industry standard'? What does that actually mean? Does that mean the industry is here and you're over there?

Ms Anderson : No. It's more of a technical amendment. It's actually not referring to the pricing.

Ms Hancock : For example, the dental schedule uses terminology differently from the DVA dental schedules, and we would propose to use the terminology which is considered the most modern and appropriate terminology by the Dental Association.

Senator GALLACHER: Who hasn't got the same? The industry has a standard, and DVA have a different standard; is that what you're saying?

Ms Hancock : The use of the term, 'standard' in this context is perhaps a little confusing. The example I just gave is where terminology in a particular profession may have moved on from when DVA wrote fee schedules. We're simply proposing to modernise our terminology, adopting standard terminology for a profession.

Senator GALLACHER: All right.

CHAIR: Senator Kitching.

Senator KITCHING: I want to ask about the Senate inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel. What are the recommendations where you feel there is still a lot of work to do or, some work, rather than the ones where you feel that things are going smoothly? We can do it that way maybe.

Ms Cosson : Certainly. Fortunately—or unfortunately—Senator, we've had quite a few reviews into the department, particularly in this area, and I feel that we have been on a fairly steady track now for the last couple of years in responding to a number of reviews, which include the National Mental Health Commission review and the joint review we did into the tragic suicide of Jesse Bird. But also the Senate inquiry has just reaffirmed what we need to be doing in some particular key areas. We looked at transition, working very closely with Defence and the ComSuper corporation. We've still got a little bit of work to do there, but I actually feel that we have a much closer partnership with Defence now in understanding what those barriers to successful transition are. But, as I mentioned, we still have a little bit of work to do there. In understanding suicide prevention, we've got a number of pilots that were announced in budget that are progressing, and they will start to kick off on 1 July this year. But those pilots are important for us to then do some evaluation on what our best practice is that we need to have as repeatable work.

Senator KITCHING: I don't think I've got your budget statement here, but, just on the pilots, are they being done on a geographic spread or on severity?

Ms Cosson : A bit of both, Senator. There are two significant pilots. One is the Mental Health Clinical Management Pilot, which is $6.8 million, and that is predominantly Brisbane. We're starting with that pilot, and Ms Anderson will always correct me if I'm not quite right on this one. That is a partnership with beyondblue, and this will really address the higher-risk veterans who have potentially attempted suicide and may need some additional level of support post their admittance to a hospital. That's one pilot, and that will start on 1 July this year. The other major suicide prevention—

Senator KITCHING: Could I just interrupt, Ms Cosson? In the inquiry there was some evidence given that sometimes veterans might commit suicide and then there was no way to track them because not everyone knew. If they'd made an attempt and they were in hospital, someone might not realise they were a veteran. And there were some IT solutions that were proposed around that—that they have the same number all the way through from Defence into DVA, for example. Have you been able to improve the—I don't want to use 'tracking' of people, but are you able to get a much better grasp on, perhaps, suicide attempts?

Ms Cosson : There are a couple of things there. From 1 January 2016, we now know everyone who enlists in the Australian Defence Force, and they're registered with us. But you are correct: we have said previously that there are still veterans that have served since 1999, and even Vietnam veterans, who we don't know. So we rely on outreach and communities to let us know who those veterans are and, importantly, to get a message out to them that they should register with us, and that's an IT solution that's helping them connect a lot more easily with us. We're also now working very closely with Defence so that we know everyone that leaves Defence, and we, importantly, know everyone that might be at risk—where, perhaps, they're not happy with their medical discharge or they've got medical conditions, particularly mental health conditions, that we need to ensure they have continuity of care for. We have established not just these pilots; we are also looking at a new case management model so that we are connected with them and have a little bit more of a wraparound during that transition and check in with them regularly after transition. So there is a whole range of initiatives. In response to your question, there are some things that we've gone a long way with, but we're learning as we go and we're still identifying some gaps that we need to address. So transition and suicide prevention are two of our key areas.

The other area for us is our own transformation, as we've talked about over the last couple of years, looking at our processes, our culture and our IT solutions and making sure that we are efficient but, importantly, connected to the veterans. We've been doing a lot of work there, but we're still in the first phase of that journey. You have asked a lot of questions previously on our ICT. This last year we've really put the foundations down to improve our ICT and de-risk a lot of our old IT, but there's still a long way to go with that, and a lot of the recommendations emerging from the Senate inquiry talk about our transformation.

The other area I'd suggest that we need to do a little bit more with is some of our internal processes that are to make sure that it is easier for our veterans to access our services. We have introduced a new digital portal that they can get into more easily. We've identified 40 conditions that we know from evidence are likely to be related to service. They don't need to give us evidence. So it's about streamlining—that claiming experience. But we need to expand that. There is a lot more we need to do.

Senator KITCHING: For another committee, we went to DHS's cybersecurity centre, but also saw a model they're going to roll out. It was with an avatar, but it also used facial recognition software in order to see someone coming in—whether they were agitated or not, for example. Have you spoken with DHS around that? That's an IT solution for them, and it obviously has a lot of capability. Do you speak with other departments about their ICT? I've got more questions about IT, but I'll do that after the break.

CHAIR: After this question, it might be an opportune time to break for dinner, and then you can come back and continue, Senator Kitching.

Senator KITCHING: Lovely, yes.

Ms Cosson : We, as a department, were an early adopter of a whole-of-government approach to our ICT, and we are in partnership with the Department of Human Services and leveraging their programs to ensure that we're looking at modern systems and we're innovative. We've had the experience of going out to their innovation centre, and that partnership with DHS is actually delivering a lot of the solutions for our veterans. I can talk a lot more about that after the dinner break.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you.

CHAIR: It being almost 6.30, we will now break for dinner, and we will resume the hearing with the Department of Veterans' Affairs at 7. 30 pm.

Proceedings suspended from 18:27 to 19:30

CHAIR: I understand the minister will be with us shortly, but we'll kick-off. I have a couple of questions on TPI issues. I understand that your predecessor, Mr Lewis, gave a verbal undertaking to attendees at a TPI Federation congress in March of this year that he would place a submission before the minister on issues that were raised at that congress. Are you aware if that has occurred?

Ms Cosson : I am aware that Mr Lewis attended the congress. I'm not aware if he actually said that he would ensure a submission went forward, but I am aware that Mr Lewis and I and the team have worked on briefing all our ministers on TPI Federation submissions. I understand that the TPI Federation raised it with the minister in March as well, so we have put briefs forward to ministers since I have been with the department.

CHAIR: You'd be aware then that there was also a recent budget and then an estimates submission from the TPI association for funding to meet this gap that they've made a representation on. I understand from the PBO that it was a gap of about $240 million a year. Can you provide a bit more information to the committee on the issue from DVA's perspective?

Ms Cosson : Certainly. I am aware the TPI Federation had some costings undertaken by the PBO. It was, as you said, $240 million per year. When we've met with the TPI Federation, the president and members, we have talked about our budget processes. We've outlined for the TPI Federation what we would be required to do in order to put forward a budget submission. Of course, if it's going to cost us, that includes how we would then be able to identify a way to pay for that submission through a budget process.

CHAIR: Have you done anything at this stage to test the PBO numbers or do you think they're about correct?

Ms Cosson : We haven't tested it yet, no.

CHAIR: Would you intend to have a look at that a bit further in the financial sense and do some analysis on it?

Ms Cosson : We could certainly have a look at whether that is a figure that stands up with our colleagues in central agencies, absolutely.

CHAIR: From the interaction that I've had with the TPI association, a number of members were of the opinion that Mr Lewis had given them an undertaking to put together a submission on that. If you're not aware of that, could you take that on notice and see if you could advise whether a submission is being prepared. If it is not, you were talking about putting some further material together for the minister, so could you provide as much information as possible about what you will or won't be doing on that issue.

Ms Cosson : I will take that on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I welcome the minister back. I couldn't possibly ask this without her being here. The announcement today on assistance dogs, which seems to have captured everybody's imagination in the media, sounds like a fantastic trial program for assistance dogs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. I'm wondering if you'd be able to give us some more information about the program.

Ms Cosson : Absolutely. We're very happy with this program. A lot of work has happened between estimates appearances to make sure that we can get the best trial under way. It is a trial over the four-year period. We are entering into a partnership, which I'll have Ms Anderson outline because she and her team did all the hard work.

Senator GALLACHER: With respect—and my tongue is firmly in my cheek—has the American trial concluded?

Ms Anderson : The American trial is continuing. As you'd be aware, DVA has engaged La Trobe University, in partnership with the Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia, to undertake the trial. As the secretary said, it's a four-year trial and, as the minister announced today, $2 million has been allocated to the trial. It's expected that there'll be up to 20 participants who'll take part in the trial and there'll be a staggered selection of participants to commence within six months of the contract execution. I guess at this point I will reinforce that this is about psychiatric assistance dogs, not companion dogs. That's one of the reasons that the trial needs to go over the four years—to enable the matching and the training appropriately of dogs and participants.

CHAIR: In terms of the dogs themselves, are there any particular breeds? Who does the training and what's involved in the training of the dogs?

Ms Anderson : I understand that the Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia, who will be supplying the animals and doing the training, have about five different breeds that they use. In terms of which dog they use, it's very much determined by the characteristics of the participant.

CHAIR: It's matching the right breed to the right person?

Ms Anderson : That's right.

CHAIR: One final question on that is: will they have some sort of certification or anything so they can take these dogs with them on aircraft and wherever they go? I know it's a bit down in the weeds, but it is an important issue.

Ms Anderson : I think it'll be very similar to guide dog requirements in terms of being able to take them in public places that most companion animals can't actually travel.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Senator Payne: I wanted to observe, if I may, we need to make sure that we're educating businesses and similar organisations that these are a particular support dog for particular veterans and don't just fall into the 'any old dog in the café' category.

CHAIR: Thank you, Minister. That was the motivation of my question: how do we make sure that people don't inadvertently make things worse if they are denied access or they are subject to comments or anything else? As part of this pilot, is there money or work going into providing that sort of support outside of their domain?

Ms Anderson : That will be a consideration, certainly, once the participants and the dogs actually start to go out in public together.

CHAIR: I know it's only been announced today, so it might be a little early, but if you're able on notice to provide the committee with a bit more information on the program itself, its intent and also how you're intending to roll it out with some more of this detail, I'm sure everyone in the committee would be very interested in that.

Ms Anderson : Absolutely.

Senator MOORE: There's been a lot of interest in the process. It's always difficult with a pilot in how you actually engage with the people. This particular use of dogs has been in the mental health community for a very long time, and it's all different breeds and sizes of dogs; there's no standard.

Ms Anderson : Interestingly, there is an internationally recognised standard already developed for assistance dogs. We'll be making sure—and certainly the organisation who is providing and training the dogs will be matching that particular international standard.

Senator GALLACHER: Could I ask a couple of quick questions on the Maralinga veterans. In last year's budget the government extended full health care to British nuclear test veterans, which include Maralinga veterans. Is the department considering further support for veterans of Maralinga?

Ms Foreman : No. We're focusing on making known that the gold card is available to those veterans. I can give you the number of gold cards that have gone out if that would be helpful.

Senator GALLACHER: Well, how many of the Maralinga veterans are still alive?

Ms Foreman : I think I'd have to take that on notice. Sorry—we did cost this, based on a number, but I don't know whether we broke it down to Maralinga. Mark?

Mr Harrigan : At the time of costing this, we certainly would have looked at the populations still alive that would be entitled to the card, but, as to the specific number of Maralinga veterans or civilians, I would need to take that on notice.

Senator GALLACHER: It's not a particularly large number, though. Is it something that perhaps someone from the back of the room would know, so we can clear it away tonight?

Mr Harrigan : We could attempt to get that figure.

Senator GALLACHER: Is the department tracking deformities or illnesses in the descendants of the Maralinga veterans, and, if so, do you have any statistics on that?

Mr Harrigan : We are not tracking that data.

Senator GALLACHER: That has not been raised, in any way, shape or form, with you?

Mr Harrigan : No, not that I'm aware of.

Senator GALLACHER: In summary: we've extended full health care to British nuclear test veterans, which include those Maralinga veterans. You're not considering any further support?

Ms Foreman : If they've got Defence service, they're obviously able to access compensation and non-liability health care.

Senator GALLACHER: We will wait to hear on notice how many people are actually still alive.

Mr Harrigan : Yes.

Ms Foreman : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: But you would have undertaken an exercise when you costed this?

Ms Foreman : That's right.

Mr Harrigan : Yes, we would have. Importantly, you've referred to veterans there, but this budget measure also included the provision of the gold card to civilians who were in some way involved in the British nuclear tests.

Senator GALLACHER: And there's no tracking of any deformities or illnesses in the descendants of Maralinga veterans?

Mr Harrigan : No.

Senator GALLACHER: Can we go to the Medicare freeze and the impact on the repatriation medical fee schedule. Who are the appropriate officers for that?

Ms Cosson : If you'd like to start, I'll see if I can take the first question.

Senator GALLACHER: Has the department received any feedback on difficulty accessing specialist allied health services as a result of the Medicare freeze and its impact on the RMFS?

Ms Cosson : Initially, in relation to access to psychiatrists, we had some reports of veterans finding it difficult to access those services, but there are very few cases that have been raised for our attention. Importantly, what we do is: if a veteran does suggest that they are having difficulty finding a psychiatrist that will accept our card, we will find them a psychiatrist that they can then attend in their particular area. But we did do some analysis following previous estimates, and what we have identified is that we've actually got more providers accepting our cards and seeing our veterans who need help, and we're very grateful that they do accept the cards to see our veterans. Ms Hancock, I think, would have some numbers where we have seen an increase—or Ms Anderson has got the numbers there on the increase of providers.

Senator GALLACHER: If the answer to that question was yes, do we know how many people have indicated they have a problem?

Ms Anderson : Between January 2016 and March 2018, DVA provided assistance in 26 cases for veterans who were trying to locate health providers in their area, and three of those were for psychiatrists.

Senator MOORE: Were they in regional areas? Twenty-six is not that many. I don't think it would breach privacy to see where those regions were.

Ms Anderson : We do have that.

Ms Hancock : In response to a question on notice, we actually tabled the list of 26 and the locations in which those services were being sought. That was question 6 from additional budget estimates—

Senator MOORE: I'm sorry?

Ms Hancock : It's a mix of regional and metro.

Senator MOORE: Being extraordinarily parochial, can you tell me where the ones are in Queensland? I'm sorry if it's geographically challenging!

Ms Hancock : One request for a physiotherapist in Mount Isa, one for a psychologist in Townsville, one for an orthopaedic surgeon on the Gold Coast, one massage therapist in Brisbane, and that's it.

Senator MOORE: It's a wide range.

Ms Hancock : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: I think we had some information that someone may have transferred or moved from Sydney to Darwin and, whilst they had access in Sydney, they struggled in Darwin. Is that a feature of psychiatric support? Are there particular areas in the country where there are problems?

Ms Hancock : We are aware there is a workforce shortage of psychiatrists generally. We've had particular issues with veterans' access to psychiatry in Darwin going back about five or six years. We haven't had issues raised with us in recent years.

Ms Anderson : Also, it's important that veterans are aware that if they are having difficulty finding a provider in their area who is able to accept DVA cards, if they make contact with DVA, we can assist them to either find a suitable professional in their area or, if there are no professionals in their area, we will pay for them to travel.

Senator GALLACHER: This is a common theme for medical insurance across the board. If you have Medibank Private cover, you will look for a provider they have a relationship with, so DVA link you up with whoever they deal with. Is that normal business?

Ms Anderson : Yes.

Ms Hancock : Every registered medical practitioner is able to provide a service to a DVA client if they wish.

Senator MOORE: I can understand how that would work in the case of the orthopaedic surgeon, because it would have been for a particular issue. I'm interested in a physiotherapist. If you have a veteran who is requiring physiotherapy, standard practice indicates that's a series of treatments usually over a period of time. If that required travel to do it, that could get quite complex. Have you got cases where that's been the need? It is a one-off specialist visit for a particular purpose as opposed to something that requires extended regular service.

Ms Anderson : I think it would also depend on the complexity of the individual's medical condition.

Senator MOORE: Absolutely.

Senator GALLACHER: If every specialist can take a patient or a client, has there been any specialists who have contacted the department about the gap with regards to the RMFS? Have you had any representations about that?

Ms Hancock : We occasionally receive representations from either individual specialists or, occasionally, their association on their behalf. It's not a particularly common occurrence. It is more common for a patient to call us and say that they've had difficulty finding a provider who will accept a DVA card—that's the 26 cases that we referred to just before.

Senator GALLACHER: But has there been or occasion where a specialist or association have contacted you?

Ms Hancock : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: Do you keep stats on that?

Ms Hancock : We do from time to time. At the moment, we're actually in the middle of a survey period where all the incoming calls to our health provider line are being monitored for issues relating to adequacy of fees. We're having a five-week survey period to collect information about how many specific complaints or issues are raised during that period.

Senator GALLACHER: So you wouldn't have the detail as we speak but you will have some detail about that?

Ms Hancock : Yes.

Ms Anderson : By the end of the financial year.

Senator GALLACHER: If we could be provided with that on notice, that would be good. At the last estimates, the department advised you were undertaking a deep analysis of various Medicare items—the DVA fee and the average that the AMA has provided to identify the difference in those items. Has this work been completed?

Ms Anderson : It's still under way. We're undertaking a range of activities. I'm happy to outline those if you would like me to.

Senator GALLACHER: We might ask for that. Can we, just procedurally, work out when we think this work will be completed?

Ms Hancock : Around July.

Senator GALLACHER: Is that July 18?

Ms Hancock : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: What form will it take on completion—will it be a report? Will it be published?

Ms Hancock : Senator, it's nothing as formal as a report. It will form part of a broader body of work where we're looking at access to healthcare services. That will be advice that we will provide through the department and to the minister.

Senator GALLACHER: It's possible that the committee may not be party to that until it goes through all those processes. Perhaps if you could put on the record what you are actually doing, then we can see whether we need to pursue the end report and/or the document?

Ms Anderson : Yes, that's absolutely fine, Senator. There are a number of fronts that we're investigating just to work through the issues.

Ms Cosson : As I mentioned earlier, one of the key issues for us is to develop a better provider strategy, where we are actually engaging with our peak bodies and understanding how we can build a better relationship and help them understand the unique nature of military service and the importance of accepting our cards and respecting the service of our veteran community. So, together with the providers, the work that Ms Anderson just outlined will inform that strategy that we are proposing to develop.

Senator GALLACHER: The deep analysis that you're doing: is that basically just a data search, or do you have to interact with various entities? Or are you just looking at what you pay and what they pay?

Ms Anderson : Senator, there's a range of areas that we're looking at. We're looking at existing fees, we're looking at gaps in service provision, we're looking at other access issues, we're looking at geographic spread, and we're looking at provider portals, where there's an opt-out provision to assist both providers and DVA clients to know providers who are offering services to DVA clients. And, as the secretary just mentioned, we're also meeting with the College of General Practitioners, the AMA and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists to work with them on ways that, together, we can look at increasing access to psychiatrists, in particular those that specialise in military and veteran mental health.

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you for that. Regarding the use of medical specialists, is it common for the department to fly medical specialists to regional areas instead of using local specialists?

Ms Anderson : No, Senator. There was a psychiatry scheme that was in operation until last year where three psychiatrists were flown to regional areas but, over a period of time, there was a range of alternative methods by which those psychiatry services could be provided, so that's no longer a scheme. At the moment, I don't think it's a common practice for DVA to fly specialists into particular areas. As I mentioned, we tend more to fly clients to where the specialists are, if they aren't available in their local area.

Senator GALLACHER: I had an issue raised by a veteran in Launceston who wanted to know why someone was flown in and a local provider wasn't used. On notice, can the department advise: what is the process for engaging a medical specialist to determine a claim, particularly in a regional area, if there is such a process? Does the department engage local specialists or, alternatively, pay specialists to travel to regional areas?

Ms Hancock : Senator, the issue that you're raising there relates to the determination of a claim. The situation that we were talking about before was, once a person had actually come through the claims process and had an entitlement to treatment, about how we arranged access to that treatment. The question about access to psychiatry for a claims assessment purpose is more for Mr Geary.

Mr Geary : We could occasionally fly in a medical legal psychiatrist to an area where there was none available for claims assessing purposes.

Senator GALLACHER: All right. You can take this on notice: can you advise the process for engaging a medical specialist to determine a claim, particularly in regional areas? Do you pay specialists to travel to regional areas? If you do pay, can you outline the decision-making process behind the determination—that is, are local specialists not appropriate or not available? How much has been spent on this in the last 12 months and how much in the previous 24 months?

Mr Geary : We'll take that on notice.

Senator GALLACHER: Non-liability health care: the 2017-18 budget expanded non-liability health care to all mental conditions listed in DSM-5. We understand that this was a groundbreaking initiative from the government. Do we know how many applications the department has received in the last 12 months for non-liability health treatment?

Mr Geary : We do. As at 23 May 2018, we had received and processed 8,331.

Senator GALLACHER: In the 12 months? What would be the cost of those treatments—do you have that figure?

Mr Geary : I don't have the cost for treatments. We would probably have to take that on notice.

Senator GALLACHER: Was there some modelling done prior to the budget announcement?

Ms Foreman : For last year's budget measure? Yes, there was.

Senator GALLACHER: What was that modelling?

Ms Foreman : I don't have that with me at the moment, but I certainly can get that to you on notice.

Senator GALLACHER: Was the modelling around 2,000 at $4,500 a patient?

Mr Harrigan : Commonly the cost of a white card for this type of treatment, for costing purposes, is around $2,000 to $3,000 per individual. It obviously depends on the nature of their illness and the period over which they receive treatment. But specifically for costing purposes, it's around $2,000 to $3,000.

Senator GALLACHER: I understand it's an initiative but I did—are these figures correct? Is the budget estimates—sorry, I'll go back. At the last budget estimates, we were advised that there was an expectation of 2,000 veterans to benefit in the first year at a cost of around $4,500. The information we've got now is that there were 8,331.

Mr Geary : That's for all of the non-liability health care over the previous 12 months. I think you're talking about the new initiative around reservists.

Senator GALLACHER: Let's go back a step then. How many applications did the department receive in the 2016-17 financial year? I want to get a picture of before and after.

Ms Foreman : For that one, 4,910.

Senator GALLACHER: And 8,331—so a substantial increase. I'm trying to get a picture of whether it's within the budget parameters that you thought.

Ms Foreman : For the 2016-17 budget, at that stage non-liability health care was for the five top mental health conditions. In the 2017-18 budget, we received $33.5 million to then expand the eligibility to all mental health conditions. That's why we've had an increase in the take-up for non-liability health care. Hopefully that explains the jump there.

Senator GALLACHER: I'm perhaps asking you to do the sums: is it in line with budget estimates, this expenditure and increase?

Ms Foreman : Can we just take the modelling on notice? Certainly it's not capped. So if we have more veterans coming to us seeking non-liability health care, we're not capped at that at all. And then Mr Harrigan also mentioned that in this recent budget was the announcement where we are extending it further to pick up some Reserve service. Do you have that modelling, Mr Harrigan, where we got 2.2 million, which was based on about 2,000 reservists going to take that up in the first year?

Mr Harrigan : No, it was significantly less than that. Can I just go back to your previous line of questioning? When we did the costing for non-liability health care in the 2017-18 budget, and this was to broaden the conditions to all mental health conditions, we arrived at a population that we thought would take up on that initiative at that point in time, and that was around 2,000 people.

Senator GALLACHER: And that's on top of the 4,900, is it?

Mr Harrigan : That's on top of those who would already be accessing mental health treatment through non-liability health care.

Senator GALLACHER: So 2,000 on top of the 4,900 gives you 6,910 and you've got 8,300.

Mr Harrigan : That's right; it's around the 8,000 mark. It's within the ballpark, and that would be within the budget parameters for this type of measure.

Senator GALLACHER: And in that 8,331, is that everybody who applied or everybody who had a successful case?

Mr Geary : Look, there would be very, very few rejected. I'd have to take that on notice, but the vast majority—

Senator GALLACHER: But some may have a very small expenditure and some may have a larger one.

Mr Geary : Yes, that could vary. And some people probably won't even access the treatment, but they have the card.

Senator GALLACHER: So the figures I should be looking at are 4,900 plus 2,000 additional, which gets you approaching 7,000, and the figures that you've given us are 8,310.

Mr Geary : Correct.

Mr Harrigan : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you very much for that. Senator Kitching do you want to conclude on the one that you'd started?

Senator KITCHING: Thank you. I want to go back to ensure that we've covered off the areas where you felt, Ms Cosson, there was work still to be done. There was transition. You mentioned another area—

Ms Cosson : Suicide prevention.

Senator KITCHING: Yes. And they were the main areas, weren't they?

Ms Cosson : And also our transformation is still an ongoing process.

Senator KITCHING: Transformation, yes. And in fact, because of that I might just go to some questions on ICT reform. In this coming financial year's budget, there is about 112 million over the forward estimates—is that correct?

Ms Cosson : That's correct.

Senator KITCHING: So how much of that is going to address ICT issues?

Ms Cosson : The Department of Human Services has been allocated about half of that funding for the ICT, to continue the work that's already underway with the funding received last budget. I can give you a little bit of a breakdown of that. It is about $61.4 million in 2018-19, and it would be 77.2 million over the forward estimates. This would include about 15.8 million for our ICT maintenance costs, given DHS are our partner and they are delivering all our ICT at the moment. DHS will provide 47.7 million in 2018-19 for the ongoing transformation of our ICT, which will be focused on still leveraging their WPIT Program for our student payments; about 2,500 of our students will get the benefit of that new ICT, with the aim over the next financial year to roll it out for all our income support clients. About 170,000 clients will get the benefit of that ICT development. And there will be $13.7 million in program management and client management and business support. That can get broken down little bit further if you would like.

Senator KITCHING: No. That's good, thank you. In terms of the ICT systems that will be addressed, how many of the ongoing systems are affected? I think there's some support or maintenance money in there. And then how many are new systems, or where the money is going to new systems, where the systems talk better between DVA and Defence?

Ms Cosson : It's all of that. I'll let Ms Pope give you further detail. We had $23.9 million a couple of budgets ago, which was looking at our rehabilitation and our processing systems, where we had 18 systems that we've now improved. We haven't turned any off yet, because they're so complex—we're making sure that we don't turn something off before we've actually identified what business needs we still require from them.

Senator KITCHING: Are they proprietary systems, systems that have developed over a longer period?

Ms Cosson : They've been developed over decades.

Senator KITCHING: But now that DHS is your partner those systems will speak better with whole-of-government systems, will they?

Ms Cosson : Certainly being able to leverage the DHS systems, and DHS is able to stabilise and de-risk those back-end systems before we turn them off. We're working really closely with them on that.

Senator KITCHING: That's very sensible.

Ms Cosson : But also our income support systems, where we've been working with Department of Human Services, particularly for our students, in the first instance, to identify that WPIT program and how we can better use that to then longer term get rid of our legacy systems. That's where we're heading. We're not there yet. That's still quite a bit of transformation—

Senator KITCHING: Is DHS doing the payments? Is it their system that's doing the payments or are you still doing the payments? They've got a payment system.

Ms Cosson : That's right. We're leveraging their system, but we're designing the business processes and then the system will do the payments.

Senator KITCHING: And their system will do the payments?

Ms Cosson : That's correct.

Senator Payne: That's very valuable, Senator—I know that as a former Minister for Human Services but also as somebody who's been sitting with Veterans' Affairs in estimates for some time—because it means the policy approach and style stay with the Veterans' Affairs side of the organisation, while the mechanics, at which Human Services are skilled, are left with them.

Senator KITCHING: I think that's a really good solution—that's fantastic—and also because their systems are so secure.

Ms Cosson : That's right.

Senator Payne: Can we all touch wood, please!

Senator KITCHING: Yes!

Ms Cosson : What's been great is our business sitting down, as the minister pointed out, with the Department of Human Services, and Human Services designing it, because they've recognised that what's important to us is to still maintain a connection with our veterans and, in this case, with the students, for life. It's not a transactional process that Department of Veterans' Affairs requires, so they're tailoring it for our business, and what we're learning is how we can streamline our processes and do our business better through better IT solutions.

Senator KITCHING: Of the remaining systems that aren't affected yet, how many are there of those? Will they be done over the forward estimates or do you envisage that this might be—

Ms Cosson : Hopefully most of them will be done over the forward estimates, when we've had a look at the investment or leveraging the WPIT program but also our Veteran Centric Reform and investing in our systems. But also we as a department have capital funding of about $27 million where we are looking, with Department of Human Services, to de-risk some of our smaller systems until we can move onto the larger platforms within DHS.

Senator KITCHING: What do you term as a 'smaller system'?

Ms Cosson : They're not business critical but they support the business.

Senator KITCHING: There is an 1800VETERAN number that's mentioned in the budget papers. Is that going to be up and running?

Ms Cosson : We're hoping that will be up and running by the end of this calendar year. We still have quite a few hundred phone lines into the department. I'll let Ms Pope speak of it, because she has done a lot of work in building this capability.

Ms Pope : We've gone from many hundreds of phone lines—the last decease from 179 incoming phone lines to 60, and we're working our way down to the nirvana of 1800VETERAN, so that a veteran calls just that number and doesn't have to figure out who they are trying to call, where they are or which area. It gets a professional service that directs them straight to the person they need to talk to. That's what we're working towards. We're not quite there yet, as the secretary said. We've also removed a lot of internal call transfer arrangements. There were automatic diversions and we have been able to take a lot of those out of the system as well. 1800VETERAN is what we are working towards. We already own the rights to that number and title, but putting it into effect is the next step.

Senator KITCHING: Can you walk me through the nirvana. If I am a veteran and I phone 1800VETERAN how do I identify myself? How are you envisaging that's going to work?

Ms Pope : The way I envisage it—and there are probably colleagues who are better skilled around channel management and those kinds of areas, but I'm happy to have a go—is that the person who answers the phone would be a skilled call centre person, trained by DVA and understanding what sort of arrangements and services we have available to veterans, and able to help the veteran identify what it is they're needing and direct them to that point of service, whatever it happens to be. And there is a very wide range of services that DVA delivers—a microcosm of the wider suite of government services really.

Senator KITCHING: If I give my name is my call history going to come up?

Ms Pope : I see what you mean. I would probably have to take that on notice. There are further enhancements we need to make to the technical capability of our phone system, which is also leveraging DHS's capability. We did part of the work last year—a big switch across of our telephony system and there are a couple more iterations to go, including being able to gather automated data so that we can understand call patterns and the kinds of issues that are raised and begin to do data analytics on calls. That helps you solve problems, because if you know that a whole lot of people are calling on a particular issue, if you can solve that issue you can remove those calls from the system. They are some of the enhancements we'll have in the future. I think it is called VOIP—something to do with voice recognition—

Senator KITCHING: Voice Over Internet Protocol.

Ms Pope : That will be part of what we do in the future.

Senator KITCHING: In October, will you have a better idea when we're back here and we can discuss—

Ms Pope : I would say so—yes. I don't have the—

Senator KITCHING: No, it's fine.

Ms Pope : I don't have the timing around that, but it is certainly one of the many things we're looking to improve.

Senator KITCHING: There is a current 1800 number, isn't there?

Ms Pope : There is probably more than one, I would say. There is a number that helps people in regional areas not have to pay for calls into DVA centres.

Senator KITCHING: What's the cost of the transition—down from 179 to 60 to just the one number?

Ms Pope : That's an interesting question that I haven't even asked myself. I would have to take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: It would be great if you could.

Ms Pope : I think we would count it as an investment rather than a cost, probably. It would be staff time to work out how we can take numbers out. It was an analysis of which numbers were being used and which ones weren't, because there were a lot of numbers that were obsolete, as well as the call tracking when they automatically transfer. They weren't actually being used. They were the first ones we removed from the system.

Senator KITCHING: Under the new system, will a call be answered immediately? Are you envisaging three rings of the phone—do you have an optimal—

Ms Pope : A standard?

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Ms Pope : Again, I would have to take that on notice, but the answer to that would be absolutely, yes. There is a colleague of mine who has the responsibility for the metrics around phone contact at the moment, but we have a set of metrics around our expected time to answer a call, how many of those calls meet the standard and so on. You would adjust those standards for the new system as we move forward.

Ms Cameron : I might be able to help with that.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you.

Ms Cameron : We do have a service standard, and it is that 70 per cent of calls will be answered within 60 seconds. We probably wouldn't look to change that standard as we're rolling out these changes.

Senator KITCHING: So that's the current standard?

Ms Cameron : We would probably look to keep that as is as we move through these changes.

Senator KITCHING: And then when you get to the 1800 VETERAN, are you thinking that it will be quicker than that? That's pretty quick.

Ms Cameron : It's an ambitious standard. I can't really tell you whether it will be quicker because there will be a learning curve, too, for staff as well as for clients in how they interact with the new process. What will happen is that clients will have a couple of options to select from when they call in, just as they do now. The default will be that they come through to the Veterans' Access Network if they don't select an option or they get confused. So there is a default there.

We will actually need to track some of those metrics as it's rolled out and see what the impact is. We're also looking at introducing a couple of other things, such as a place-in-queue function, so that if there is a wait time the system will actually tell the client there is an X-, Y- or Z-minute wait and, if you would prefer, we can actually call you back when your place in the queue comes up. We need to work that through and actually understand what that impact is for us.

Senator KITCHING: That's good, thank you. Could I ask about MyService? That lodges claims for incapacity, permanent impairment and income support? Is that—

Ms Pope : Not yet, but it will in the future. At the moment it delivers assistance around initial liability. When we did the initial work, that was the significant pain point for veterans and it was the thing that was taking a long time. In effect, it was what it took to get to the front door—needing to prove that whatever the condition was related to your service. That process is what's been improved through MyService. But the next iteration—and you were asking about some of the things that we would be doing over the next year—is, indeed, to include permanent impairment and incapacity payments into MyService.

Senator KITCHING: When do you expect that to be operational?

Ms Pope : Through this next financial year.

Senator KITCHING: Okay.

Ms Cosson : If I can just add to that, please? What MyService has also delivered is that you don't have to lodge a paper claim anymore if you're one of our younger veterans. If you come under the act that came in in 2004—

Senator KITCHING: Yes, the new act.

Ms Cosson : That's right. You can go online and it's four questions rather than 14 pages of—

Ms Pope : Four or five questions.

Senator KITCHING: Four questions.

Ms Cosson : Four or five questions—

Ms Pope : It depends on what your circumstances are.

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Ms Cosson : It goes straight through. It's a very good digital front door to the department. We're actually trialling it and testing it with our younger veterans. They're telling us what they would like to see as improvements and enhancements to MyService and they rate it.

Senator KITCHING: How are the ratings?

Ms Cosson : We got an immediate rating of five stars. The ratings are going very well.

Ms Pope : Four-and-a-half stars, I think it was. And most of the less-than-five stars were because some people were not yet eligible. They gave us a lower rating because they tried to use it and found they couldn't. It's expanding the eligibility of a number of potential clients who can use it—that's also part of what we're doing over the coming year. But we have increased to incorporate other acts beyond the MRCA Act since we first started it. More than 4,500 veterans are now using it. We've actually seen the number of claims for initial liability increase overall. We think that's because it's easier and so people who weren't claiming before are now putting in claims.

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Ms Pope : It's not a confronting experience; that's the feedback we're getting. It allows them to get a white card and access to Non-Liability Health Care very easily. They get a digital white card, which—

Senator KITCHING: I was going to ask you about that.

Ms Pope : It records their conditions. It means that when they go to the doctor they can show it, just like you use your phone with other things if you have any sort of wallet on your phone. They can show their card and it tells the doctor what conditions they're covered for, instead of the doctor having to make a phone call to DVA or whatever to establish what conditions are included. They're little steps forward, but it's making a difference.

Senator KITCHING: I wish Medicare were that easy! We discussed before the break the veterans who might not be able to be reached—you can't reach them because they're not within the system. How are you going about reaching them? Is that partly through word of mouth? I can imagine that someone saying to someone on Anzac Day, 'The system, they've really improved it.' How are you actually doing that in a less ad hoc kind of fashion?

Ms Pope : In relation to MyService, we've been careful not to overpromote it because it's a new system. We did it as what's called a public beta, so we needed to be sure it could be stabilised and handle increasing numbers. It's proving itself in that regard. DHS is helping us support it and build it out.

In terms of contact with veterans who are not in touch with us at the moment, we've got a whole range of different things we're doing at the moment. One is working with Australia Post. We have three pilot sites with Australia Post, where we have big posters up that say, 'Have you ever served?' or 'Are you the family member of a veteran?' So when somebody goes into the post office for an ordinary interaction, they see the poster. We've trained the Australia Post staff and they have an iMac kiosk where the person can go and look up information about Veterans' Affairs. There is a call back function, so you can fill in a digital form and get a call back within 24 hours from a DVA staff member. The Woden site here in Canberra was the first one we opened before Christmas, and one-third of all the searches done on the kiosk there are for DVA material now, which is a really quite remarkable amount, considering it's only just started. We hand out brochures and information about VVCS and other services there as well. We've opened in two further sites—one in Mount Gambier and the other in North Lakes in Queensland. We pick locations where we don't currently have a service delivery point.

We've also put material in the War Memorial and in the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. The material has been flying out the door in both places. There are little business cards that give the contact information so that the person can do that same call back arrangement as they would through the kiosk in Australia Post.

We're also working with DHS on a range of pilots of other ways of getting in touch with veterans. One that I'm personally very excited about is that DHS has two trucks that travel around remote and regional areas, delivering services from a semitrailer. One is called Desert Rose and the other one is called Golden Wattle. I'm showing off on DHS's behalf here.

Senator Payne: You only just beat me to it, Ms Pope!

Ms Pope : One of them is in Tasmania at the moment, and the other one is in Queensland. Yesterday we had a visit to Chinchilla in Queensland, and the local RSL put on a sausage sizzle so that more veterans might come and access services from the truck. Five veterans from that area who weren't in contact with DVA used the truck to access services. The staff on the truck are trained by DVA as well.

Senator Payne: I can't begin to tell you what significant progress that is. I cannot begin to describe it.

Ms Pope : We're pretty excited about the barbecue. We'll write out to RSLs in the locations—we have a three-month forward schedule of where the trucks are going—to encourage them to do the same and start to bring in the people who are otherwise not connected to DVA.

CHAIR: Is it scheduled to come to WA?

Ms Pope : It is, actually. One of them is going to WA. I've got the schedule here.

Senator Payne: They travel constantly.

CHAIR: If you could actually table it and provide us with it—not necessarily now, but on notice. If you could table it—

Ms Pope : I can table it. I have the schedule here.

Senator Payne: They also do emergency—

Ms Pope : Sometimes they get diverted from where they intend to go because if there's a flood or whatever they go and help. DHS should be paying me a retainer at this point, I think! I'll find the document and I can provide it to you. It is a useful forward schedule of where they'll be going.

Senator KITCHING: And are you going to roll out the Australia Post program to more people?

Ms Pope : We're looking at that at the moment. This is a pilot, and one of the challenges is the cost-effectiveness of it. We have to look at that compared with, for example, operating out of DHS locations. We're piloting another 17 agent sites with DHS—so, where they have an agent, training and providing DVA services through those agents. That's a much more cost-effective way, so far, than the Australia Post option. But the advantage of the Australia Post one is that anybody goes into an Australia Post office, so there's another angle there.

Senator KITCHING: When you say cost-effective, what is the cost of the—I mean, it's a pilot program, so—

Ms Pope : I'd have to take that on notice, but I'm happy to, yes. But obviously there are set-up costs and training and provisioning of the sites and that kind of thing, and preparation of the materials and those kinds of things, and then an overhead for staff time—

Senator KITCHING: And the training.

Ms Pope : Yes, the training and all that.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you. That's fantastic.

Senator GALLACHER: I'll do veterans' employment, if someone can answer some questions on veterans' employment. I just have a series of questions which basically go to some detail. The 2018 budget provided additional funding for veterans' employment: $4 million to support the employment program and $4.3 million for those having difficulty transitioning; is that correct?

Ms Foreman : Yes, that's correct.

Senator GALLACHER: If we go to the detailed breakdown of the additional $4 million provided in the budget for the PM's employment program, how much of that would be going to the website versus how much is going to the industry advisory committee to develop the framework to allow businesses to commit to supporting the employment of veterans? Do we know that detail?

Mr Harrigan : In relation to the $4.3 million measure, that's $4.3 million over the forward estimates, over four years.

Senator GALLACHER: Sorry: I've started with the $4 million. I've sort of said that the $4 million PM's employment program—

Mr Harrigan : That's $3.9 million rounded to $4 million over four years. The expenditure for that initiative, however, is in only 2018-19 and 2019-20. So, this is a two-year expenditure figure. In terms of the breakup over that two years, we have $699,000 for the awards. That is the running of the event over those two years and the appointment of some contractors or a contractor, being an event manager, to assist with the successful running of that event. As we did this year, we would be looking for some supplementation from sponsorships that would allow us to deliver a successful event in those years. The amount funded for the promotion of the broad program—and some of that would be to the event itself and for the promotion of the IAC's commitment—over two years is $732,000.

Senator GALLACHER: So, the IAC is funded for $732,000?

Mr Harrigan : Well, that's not IAC funded, because we don't fund the IAC. They volunteer their time. We do support them in a secretariat way.

Senator GALLACHER: So, it's supporting the activities of the committee.

Mr Harrigan : That's part of it, yes.

Senator GALLACHER: And that would be running a website and that sort of thing?

Mr Harrigan : That's right. Well, the website is separate. There's $340,000 over two years for some research and evaluation. There's a small FTE—half an FTE—in there, over two years, of $186,000. This would be an individual to assist in the delivery and development of that commitment. We've allowed in the budget for some contractors to assist as well, given the caps that are placed on the department in its recruitment of staff. There are contractor costs of $404,000 and there are other non-capital IT costs of around $100,000. Then there's a capital component in year 2, which is 2019-20, of $1.488 million.

Senator GALLACHER: What is that going towards?

Mr Harrigan : That would be towards modifying and upgrading the website to allow it to facilitate the commitment—communicate the commitment, identify organisations and businesses that choose to sign up to the commitment so that they are visible to veterans who might be seeking employment.

Senator GALLACHER: That's fairly clear. Is there any research and evaluation going on as part of this allocation over those two years?

Mr Harrigan : Yes. As I previously mentioned, we made an allowance of $340,000 for research and evaluation.

Senator GALLACHER: Who would do that research?

Mr Harrigan : We haven't decided who would do that yet. It could be that we conduct the research internally, using internal resources, but at this stage we've just simply made an allowance. The research would be focused on the commitment—that is, developing a commitment that we think might be useful for business to sign up to, but we won't really know that until we test it.

Senator GALLACHER: The cost of that research was about $342,00, I think you said.

Mr Harrigan : Yes, $340,000.

Senator GALLACHER: If we go to $4.3 million 'to provide additional support to move veterans into employment', could you break down the 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21?

Mr Harrigan : Yes. The $4.3 million is a four-year cost. There are costs in each of the four years, unlike the previous measure. Year 1 is 2018-19 and has a cost of $530,000. Year 2 is 2019-20 and has a cost of $1.254 million. Year 3 is 2020-21 and has a cost of $1.662 million. And 2021-22 has a cost of $862,000. That's a total cost of $4.308 million.

Senator GALLACHER: Can the department advise if any additional support will be provided?

Mr Harrigan : Support in what way?

Senator GALLACHER: Have any changes been made to the eligibility of the career transition scheme, for argument's sake?

Mr Harrigan : No. This measure is designed to complement any support that a discharging member might be entitled to through CTAS. It's generally that period after 12 months, beyond 12 months, when CTAS support ceases.

Senator GALLACHER: Who would be able to access this additional assistance? Is there a criteria or a list?

Mr Harrigan : We would be targeting those who are finding the transition to civilian employment difficult. That might be because they require assistance with development of a resume, it could be some type of career coaching or it could be interview assistance.

Senator GALLACHER: How many people do you anticipate will access this additional assistance? Do you have a figure in mind or is there an assessment of what's likely to be the peer group?

Mr Harrigan : In terms of our costings, we expect that in 2020-21 there will be a take-up of 700, in 2021-22 there'll be a take-up of 350 and in 2022-23 we estimate it'll be 175.

Senator GALLACHER: So you've got a core group in mind and you're going to have a big take-up and then taper down until you alleviate—

Mr Harrigan : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: But don't people transition every year out of Defence?

Mr Harrigan : They do. This initiative has a slight delay in its implementation because of the work that we need to do to get ready for it. There's some ICT work and, as I mentioned before, there'll be some tendering that we need to do for the provision of this coaching—resume support and career coaching.

Senator GALLACHER: So, presumably, these people will identify themselves through an interaction with the department—or not necessarily?

Mr Harrigan : As we've mentioned previously, we now have visibility of everyone who enlists in the ADF and discharges from the ADF. So it's conceivable that we, through those channels, will be able to identify those in need; otherwise, we'll use our broader employment program to promote the initiative. We would also be asking the ex-service community to assist us as well to put us in touch or put veterans in touch with us who need this type of assistance.

Senator GALLACHER: Is it likely that the program will continue beyond the forward estimates?

Mr Harrigan : It may, Senator, but that would be a decision for government.

Senator GALLACHER: Have targets been put in place with regard to what success will look like? Is that the 170 in the last year?

Mr Harrigan : Us meeting those targets won't necessarily determine success. I think once we get to the point of delivering this, we will assess the take-up and assess the results that we achieve through providing that tailored support and whether that assists the individual to move into civilian employment. We would be hoping to capture some data on that, post us providing that assistance. That may be one way of looking at success.

Senator GALLACHER: It's an extremely important issue—and I don't need to tell you folk that. It would be very interesting to follow these measures, wherever you publish that. Presumably, you do it internally, but it would be interesting for the committee to look at the successful operation of this program.

Mr Harrigan : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you very much for that. I'm happy to hand over to you, Senator Moore, to do the—

Senator MOORE: The Armistice Centenary Grants Program. It is an update on the Armistice Centenary Grants Program. My understanding is that the deadline was extended. Is that right?

Mr Fely : That is correct. The deadline was extended.

Senator MOORE: Can you tell us how many MPs have completed their applications prior to the original deadline?

Mr Corke : We do have that information but, unfortunately, it wasn't collated specifically for delivery tonight. We can take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: Can we find out who they were? Is there any reason—

Mr Corke : We can give you a list of each electorate.

Senator MOORE: The ones who had completed by the original deadline?

Mr Corke : They had completed by the original deadline.

Senator MOORE: Can you tell us who made the decision to extend the deadline? Was it a ministerial decision?

Mr Corke : It was a ministerial decision.

Mr Fely : We were observing the lack of numbers coming through more generally, so we had discussions with the office and made that recommendation to them.

Senator GALLACHER: Is it true that there could be 10 applications per MP?

Mr Corke : There was no limit to the number.

Senator GALLACHER: So it could be more.

Mr Corke : The limit was a financial one—$50,000 per electorate. We have examples of where there is a single bid for $50,000 that has come from an electorate. There are others where they have broken it down into a much smaller amount and therefore a much larger number of grants. A committee was set up in each electorate to determine how they would judge that.

Senator MOORE: Has the funding been fully expended?

Mr Corke : At this stage, it's not expended nor committed. At this stage, we have $7.5 million available. We have received a total of 823 applications, which accounts for $6.6 million. So there is no call on the $900,000 at this point in time. Once again, we will make recommendations to government once all of those have been processed as to options on what to do with the remainder, one of which could of course be to go back and ask for additional bids.

Senator GALLACHER: Does that equate to 45 electorates or does that equate to less than $50,000 applied per electorate?

Mr Corke : It's a mix. In the main, it's electorates underbidding on the amount that was available to them.

Senator MOORE: Is the deadline now passed?

Mr Corke : Yes.

Senator MOORE: So the extended deadline has gone—

Mr Corke : The extended deadline was 29 March.

Senator MOORE: What was the original one?

Mr Corke : It was 28 February.

Senator MOORE: So we've got $900,000 at this stage yet to be expended, and at this stage there's no decision about what's going to happen with that?

Mr Corke : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Has there been any feedback from community groups with concerns about how the program was being operated?

Mr Corke : The only concern that we've had is that sometimes there has been an unrealistic expectation about how quickly, having submitted the application, decisions would be made. But, of course, you'd understand that, with the number of applications we put through, all of them having to be ultimately signed off by the minister as a delegate, we're putting through a brief a week, each containing around 50 separate applications. So it'll take us several months to actually work through them all.

Senator MOORE: But at this stage you've worked through six point something million dollars worth?

Mr Corke : No, $6.6 million is the complete claim. At this stage, none of them has actually been approved by the minister.

Senator MOORE: So no claims have been approved yet?

Mr Corke : No claims have been approved yet.

Senator MOORE: I didn't realise that. When was the claiming process opened? When was this grant round opened?

Mr Corke : It was opened for applications on 11 November 2017.

Senator MOORE: Understandably with Armistice—fine. So people could have been putting their grants in up until 29 March, or originally up until 28 February, and there still haven't been any approvals granted?

Mr Corke : No.

Senator MOORE: And you have been getting people contacting you concerned about that?

Mr Corke : Yes.

Senator MOORE: At this stage, what are you saying to them when they contact you—'It's in train'?

Mr Corke : That's all we can do. Until we actually get the minister to agree to a grant, we give no advice other than, 'It's under consideration,' until there's a decision one way or the other.

Senator MOORE: When did you put your first round in to the minister? You said you'd been putting through briefs on a weekly basis. When did your first batch go in?

Mr Corke : I'd have to take it on notice, but, from memory, it was about three weeks ago, and we've got another batch which is processing through at the moment.

Mr Fely : If I may, we didn't start processing until the grant period had closed—

Senator MOORE: Sure, I understand that.

Mr Fely : and they're processed as they come in.

Senator MOORE: When people were given the indication to put an application in, was there no time frame put out to give an indication of when the money would come through?

Mr Corke : No, and in some respects it depends on what the activity is that the people are proposing. Whilst some of them are proposed to occur on or around Armistice in 2018, others are for projects which may well be commencing now to be completed by 2018.

Senator MOORE: That could be a problem.

Mr Corke : It is an issue for some electorates. That's the nature of some of the responses that we've had, where they'd like to know now. Often what we're giving them is not the complete amount of money they need to complete the project, but they need to know that they're going to get it before they can commit to doing it.

Senator MOORE: Remind me. The MP puts it in on their behalf because it's electorate by electorate.

Mr Corke : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Is there a panel that looks at them?

Mr Corke : We have a set of guidelines. The panel is actually within the MP's electorate office.

Senator MOORE: So they set them up, and I'm sure that was a bit of an opportunity to raise awareness—'This is my panel'—and that was screened by them before the MP signed off.

Mr Corke : Yes.

Senator MOORE: And then it came through to you.

Mr Corke : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Do you accept that recommendation or was there a process again of looking at—

Mr Corke : We have a team of people who are now working through those, who are basically applying the rules that apply to the grants program. The information that's provided to the minister is how much the group asked for, how much the electorate office actually approved—that's not always the same thing—

Senator MOORE: Not always the same.

Mr Corke : and how much we recommend that they approve to be granted. In most cases, there'll be a variation on all three of those numbers. From our staff's point of view, the things that could change include that an organisation may have asked for a sum of money but, because of their GST status, we're required to reduce it by the amount of GST, so there's a slight variation.

Senator MOORE: And they understood that?

Mr Corke : Yes. Also, sometimes they will ask for support, for instance, to an event. There are some elements of an event that can be paid for in a grant; there are other elements of an event that cannot be, and therefore some elements of the grant—not the entire grant but some elements of the grant—we may not recommend. At that point the Minister will make a decision in terms of whether or not he will go by the recommendation of the department or advise something else.

Senator MOORE: So the current minister has been the minister from the time that the first round went to him?

Mr Corke : Yes.

Senator MOORE: So there's no delay because—

Mr Corke : No.

Senator MOORE: And that's Minister Chester?

Mr Corke : Minister Chester.

Senator MOORE: He's been in charge since the first batch was put up?

Mr Corke : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Can you tell us who's been putting in the concerns, when people have contacted with you with concerns?

Mr Corke : We could in some cases. It's a fairly large constituency that we are now dealing with. If you wish to know, we will take it on notice to gather that list.

Senator Payne: You wouldn't do that in an identified manner, either.

Senator MOORE: No. I'm trying to find out the kinds of places. I'd like to go by electorate.

Mr Corke : We could certainly give the number of queries per electorate.

Senator MOORE: I live in Brisbane. Have many concerns being raised in the Brisbane electorate—that kind of thing. At this stage, have you had any discussion with the minister that indicates when there could be decisions rolling out?

Mr Corke : Yes, we have. I expect decisions will start rolling out quickly. We expect a pack of around 50 decisions to be afforded to the office pretty much each week now until we've exhausted the group. They're aware of the implications of having to keep the processing of those throughout that period.

Mr Fely : To put it into context, the first pack has been a fairly sizeable chunk of work for the office to get across, because it's reading all the letters and understanding what the templates are that are coming forward to them. I was only talking to them today about that level of effort. Once they go through that, the next pack is going to be in the same format coming through and it will be a lot more familiar. It has taken us a while to get the first lot going, and I expect it would be the same for the office to get across.

Senator MOORE: How many batches have gone to the minister so far?

Mr Corke : Just the two. One, and there' s another one another one on the way.

Senator MOORE: So one batch has gone? And it went when?

Mr Corke : Only in the last couple of weeks.

Senator MOORE: Last week?

Mr Corke : Probably two weeks.

Senator MOORE: So the first batch went to the Minister two weeks ago. You're preparing a second batch to go imminently?

Mr Fely : I signed off on that yesterday.

Senator MOORE: And it has about 50. That seems to be the workable group.

Mr Fely : Fifty is worth it, yes.

Senator MOORE: You can get through your process and get it into all the paperwork that's required, and about 50 is a reasonable batch that will go through, and that is your working model?

Mr Corke : Correct.

Senator MOORE: And that's not determined in any way by geography? It's first in, first served?

Mr Corke : First in, best dressed. We got our first applications quite early on in some cases.

Senator MOORE: Since people got it, that was my understanding.

Mr Corke : Others waited right up until 28 March.

Senator MOORE: Thank you. We'll get an update at the next estimates.

Senator GALLACHER: In these programs, they are obviously small grants so there is no capacity to audit or do any of that. How do you check at the end of the day the integrity of the spend? Is it self-reporting?

Mr Corke : There is an acquittal process as to what the money was spent on.

Senator GALLACHER: You put this to the minister, the minister signs it off, at the end of the spend there is a report that comes back to the department that closes the loop?

Mr Corke : Correct. For each applicant, they have to acquit the money that they were provided.

Senator MOORE: Which is your standard grants process. A lot of people who would be applying for these are the kinds of people and organisations that are familiar with DVA grants, so they just do it. There are a lot of RSLs, a lot of community groups. We will get an update on the next one, if you can do that.

We have had a lot of discussions in the past about changes with transport bookings. Has the department received any complaints about transport bookings in New South Wales?

Ms Cosson : I'll ask someone to come and join me at the table, but I certainly did get a compliment the other day for a transport booking.

Senator MOORE: Has the department received any compliments about transport bookings in New South Wales?

Ms Cosson : Objectively, we probably have received some complaints.

Senator MOORE: I understand that, but there is a particular issue about the change in St Marys. We've had these discussions over a series of estimates.

Ms Cosson : One of our veterans at the Coral-Balmoral commemorations came up to me to show me, on his phone how, how he gets text messages now about his transport bookings. He was so impressed because the team had sat down with him and helped him navigate the transport arrangements. I took that as a great compliment where he sought me out to give me that feedback. I was very pleased. Ms Anderson, you have the actual complaints and compliments there?

Ms Anderson : Yes, I have information about the complaints, but not so much about the compliments, which is not reflective—

Senator MOORE: Well, you've got one so far. There's one compliment.

Ms Anderson : I'm also aware that we've received some very positive feedback from some veterans' groups where DVA staff have been out, met with them and taken them through the various issues associated with booking transport. DVA staff have also engaged the local transport companies to also be part of those discussions. I know that those veteran groups have been very, very complimentary.

Senator MOORE: There's been no listing of complaints, you said? You said that there's a change, and we got that. Have there been complaints? That's because at the beginning there were, and change is difficult. It doesn't matter where you are. For the different services, particularly when they came in to having the taxicab option as opposed to the community transport service—

Ms Anderson : I guess, Senator—

Senator MOORE: If there's not, that's fine. We are trying to check it out.

Ms Anderson : Just to give a bit of perspective, from the 1 January this year to 30 April this year, we had just over 328,000 booked car-with-driver trips undertaken throughout Australia. There were 117 complaints that were received. That's about 0.036 per cent.

Senator MOORE: That's not too many. Are there more in one region than another?

Ms Anderson : I can let you know by state.

Senator MOORE: That will be fine.

Ms Anderson : During that time, there were 25 in Queensland, 49 in New South Wales, five in the ACT, 13 in Western Australia, 17 in Victoria and eight in South Australia to make up that 117.

Senator MOORE: So there's no pattern.

Ms Anderson : No, not really.

Senator MOORE: Not with the size of those geographies either. That's fine. I have some general questions about art therapy. We had the questions about support animals earlier, so it is only natural that there are questions about art therapy. In terms of the mental health issues that have been raised over a number of years in the process, is the department looking for more holistic options for services provided to veterans, like government-endorsed creative art therapies, to integrate into the suite of services available to current serving members and veterans?

Ms Cosson : I'll start off, and Ms Foreman may be able to add to this. I'm certainly aware that, as part of our rehabilitation programs, we include art therapy. One of our veterans, who is working very closely with us, is undertaking art and is very talented. He actually met with Dr Nelson during a visit last year.

Senator MOORE: I know this is a particular interest of Dr Nelson's. There are quotes here in these questions which I won't repeat, because we know about that. I have just been working with some people in a refugee base school. There's no government funding, so we raise money to provide the arts therapy options. The evidence is overwhelming in terms of the benefits. Is there any funding being provided to art therapy programs currently that you're aware of?

Ms Foreman : There are two aspects to your question. The first one is the assistance we provide to individual veterans through our rehabilitation program.

Senator MOORE: Which is a standard rehab program?

Ms Foreman : No, often rehab programs are just medical programs. Ours is also psychosocial and vocational.

Senator MOORE: I consider them to be in the one—someone has a need, and the response is made taking into account a range of issues, but it is personally focused.

Ms Foreman : That's right. So, yes, if art therapy is something that's been discussed with the rehabilitation provider and the individual as something that will assist them achieve their goals—because we have a goal oriented approach—then we're able to support art-therapy art classes. That's the rehabilitation plan for veterans who've got illnesses or injuries that have been linked to their service. But the other thing we're doing at the moment, which arises from the Constant battle recommendations, is a strategic review of our grants programs. One of the aims of that review is to explore the potential to fund the sorts of therapies that you're suggesting. That wouldn't be funding to an individual. It would be funding to an organisation to demonstrate how art therapy may be of assistance, the different types of art therapy and a wide range of other therapies as well.

Senator MOORE: And provide that as an option for people to take up.

Ms Foreman : Yes—to build up a bit of an evidence base, if you like.

Senator MOORE: The first model that you talk about is dependent on someone raising the issue of art therapy in the general discussion.

Ms Foreman : That's right, yes.

Senator MOORE: If you are not aware of the benefit or the availability, it may not even cross your mind.

Ms Foreman : I'd like to think it crosses our rehabilitation providers' minds, because that's a key element of some of the psychosocial work, which is about reconnecting people, and often that is through art or other forms of recreation, sport and a whole range of things.

Senator MOORE: And music.

Ms Foreman : Exactly.

Senator MOORE: The Invictus Games has been focusing on the value of sport, the value of team and all those things.

Ms Foreman : Exactly.

Senator MOORE: For your approved rehab providers, do you keep a record of whether they have got access to art therapy options?

Ms Foreman : I'll ask for Ms Kairouz for some assistance. I am certainly aware that, where it's part of somebody's plan, the rehabilitation provider will seek to locate someone who's able to deliver the services.

Ms Kairouz : Our rehabilitation providers are all Comcare accredited providers. In addition, they must meet our additional criteria, which include working with people who either served or are in similar sorts of occupations, including first responders. They're qualified individuals. The first part of the process is that they sit down with the veteran and they do an assessment. They'll identify immediate needs—where the person has an immediate need and we need to get support straightaway—including to support what other treatment they may be getting through their primary health care. We then go through an assessment process, which can take up to a month, working very closely with the veteran and also with their treating doctors and any specialists, to identify what might be suitable activities that they could they undertake. We will get them whatever support that they require in that process. The program's uncapped, so there are no monetary limits on what we might provide. The rehab provider and the individual may identify art therapy as the goal, or they may identify that the person wants to work towards something that's in the creative field, and art therapy might be part of that. We'd expect that the veteran would be able to access whatever equipment that they needed, perhaps art lessons in their local area. If their interest was at a higher level, we might even look at something more in terms of tertiary education, whether that's at TAFE or at university.

Senator MOORE: I know that there's a wide variety of options that come under the heading 'rehab'. It would just be to ensure that people who worked in the field understood that this is a genuine option.

Ms Foreman : Yes.

Senator MOORE: And you would have that expectation that anyone working with veterans would understand that art therapy is one thing that could be ticked off as an option. I'm just wanting to get to that level.

Ms Foreman : One thing of many.

Senator KITCHING: On the Long Tan bursaries—I'm happy for these to be taken on notice, but you might be able to answer; they're just very quick questions. How many applications for the Long Tan bursary did the department receive in 2017?

Ms Foreman : We will have that figure for you in a moment.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you—and 2016 and 2015.

Mr Hill : In 2017, we had a total of 50 long-term bursary applications. I haven't got the figures for the previous financial year.

Senator KITCHING: What was that figure?

Mr Hill : It was 50.

Senator KITCHING: Would you be able to take on notice for 2015 and 2016?

Mr Hill : Most certainly.

Senator KITCHING: How does the department advertise the availability of the scholarship?

Mr Hill : The Australian Veterans' Children Assistance Trust, who administers the program for us, publicises the bursary, as does the department through its usual modes such as the website and the like.

Ms Foreman : The AVCAT, the organisation that Simon was just referring to, have extensive links with the ESO community and there are various members of the ESO community on their board. They also administer other scholarships and programs for the children of veterans.

Senator KITCHING: Was the number of scholarships reduced to enable an increase in the funds?

Ms Foreman : No. That was a separate decision that the commission took in, I think, November last year—sometime in 2017. The commission looked at the fact that we hadn't increased the bursary over a number of years; whereas education costs et cetera had increased during that time. So a decision was made for it to rise to a top of $12,000 rather than $9,000.

Senator KITCHING: I have a photograph here—this is about a war memorial overseas—of the First Australian Imperial Force memorial in Jerusalem. I understand that DVA is responsible for the maintenance of Australian war memorials overseas.

Mr Corke : We are responsible for the maintenance of some war memorials overseas. I would need to check the records to see if Jerusalem is one of them. A large number of memorials established overseas have been established by private or other interest groups, and the Australian government has no responsibility to maintain them. However, we do run a grants program in the War Graves Branch which enables people who do maintain these memorials to seek funding from us to assist them to maintain them.

Senator KITCHING: This is the First Australian Imperial Force War Memorial at Mount Scopus Cemetery in Jerusalem, and it doesn't seem to be in the best of repair. Would you be able to take on notice to see whether it is a memorial that DVA has a direct responsibility for, or who might be responsible for it?

Mr Corke : I would be able to tell you very quickly whether or not we are responsible, but finding out who is looking after it, if it is not us, is somewhat more complex.

Senator KITCHING: If you could let us know, that would be good. I will leave it at that, because we'll go from there and see who is responsible.

Senator MOORE: Is the list for which DVA is responsible on your website somewhere?

Mr Corke : The bulk of them are. In the main it's memorials in places like on the Western Front and Gallipoli. There are 14 separate memorials that we maintain in Papua New Guinea—as part of that campaign—but there are a number of others in places like Crete et cetera.

Senator MOORE: On that, would also be the budget that is given to the maintenance of those memorials.

Mr Corke : We have a budget for maintenance of memorials, which is an ongoing budget, and we run a program of maintenance, as we do for our war cemeteries. So it's not that a certain amount is allocated per year per memorial; we go on the basis of a memorial needing to be managed as an asset—'This one is coming up for repair'—and then we'll arrange to have that done.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions?

Senator Payne: I don't have a question; I just wanted to make an observation. I had the great honour and privilege of being in Villers-Bretonneux on Anzac Day this year and being at the opening of the Sir John Monash Centre on the preceding evening and later in the day was at Bullecourt, and I spent a great deal of time visiting some of the smaller memorials on that part of the Western Front.

I just want to take this opportunity at these estimates as somebody who did experience those events in an extremely privileged way to commend the department on the work of their officials. I see Major General Mark Kelly behind me somewhere and Mr Corke. Also of course Mr Lewis was there and countless other members of the Veterans' Affairs team whose names I am not aware of, but it was an of exceptional effort and they should be enormously proud of the work that they did. The 8,000 Australians who were at Villers Bretonneux for the dawn service most certainly were proud, as were the men and women of the ADF, to participate and support those events. I wanted to place that on the record.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Minister—wonderful sentiments to conclude this evening. Are there any more questions for the Department of Veterans' Affairs? If not, that concludes the committee's examination of the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Defence portfolio. I thank the minister and officers for their attendance and also Hansard, broadcasting and our brilliant committee secretariat. The committee will begin its hearings tomorrow morning at 9.00 am with the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolios. Thank you. Good night, everyone. The hearing is now adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 21:06