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Department of Veterans' Affairs

CHAIR —Good evening, everyone. I reopen this meeting of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. We are here to discuss budget estimates in respect of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. I welcome Mr Ian Campbell, secretary of the department. I welcome also Senator Stephens, the parliamentary secretary looking after our interests tonight, and other officers of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Mr Carmody, also welcome to you. I have not seen you for a while. Does either the minister or Mr Campbell have an opening statement to make?

Senator Stephens —No, thank you.

Mr Carmody —No, thank you.

CHAIR —In that case we will turn to the portfolio overview, dealing with corporate and general matters.

Senator FARRELL —The opposition have indicated that in government, God forbid, they would implement a wide-ranging freeze on Public Service positions. Can you tell us what implications you anticipate this would have for Veterans’ Affairs and your clients?

Mr Campbell —Obviously, any freeze on staff, and therefore the non-replacement of staff who have left, retired or left for whatever reason, would have an impact upon service to the clients of the department.

Senator FARRELL —Can you tell us in what way?

Mr Campbell —Yes, if I could just go on. The policy that I have seen is not clearly defined, so I am not quite sure whether they have a particular view on service delivery agencies, although I did hear the shadow minister for veterans’ affairs at the Tasmanian state RSL congress say that Veterans Affairs direct service delivery staff would not be affected—it would only be those who were not direct service delivery staff. But that does not make it much clearer for me because I am not quite sure what the definition of ‘direct service delivery staff’ is. I can guess what some people may think it is.

Senator FARRELL —How would you interpret it, Mr Campbell?

Mr Campbell —I would argue that ‘direct’ is not quite relevant in my portfolio. I would argue that the vast bulk of staff—all but probably 60 or 70—are actually involved in servicing veterans in one way or another and that the 60 or 70 do veterans’ issues but do not provide services for health, income support and compensation. The worry I would have is that a freeze on any level of staffing ultimately would impact upon our time taken to process and pay our providers because we are a very large provider of health services. If the impact were felt in the IT area, which I think most people would not see as being direct service delivery, that would also concern me. Sooner or later the systems by which we pay veterans—that is, income support and disability pension—and pay providers for health services would start to create problems when the system goes down. So I cannot quantify an impact but I would say that any lack of replacement of staff leaving over any period of time would have an impact upon the services that are provided to veterans and their families.

Senator FARRELL —What sort of turnover do you have at the moment?

Mr Campbell —The turnover at the moment is about 10 per cent.

Senator FARRELL —Ten per cent per annum?

Mr Campbell —Yes. It can be as high as that, but you then have to work out which turnover would continue to occur if you had a service-wide freeze. I know that they are not talking about a service-wide freeze. We currently have just under 2,000 staff—not all full time—so over three or four years you would be talking about well over 100 staff, maybe 200 staff, and that could have a substantial impact upon service delivery.

Senator FARRELL —The turnover levels, I guess, are higher in the non-full-time areas—no?

Mr Campbell —No. Our turnover varies from year to year, sometimes with economic conditions, but we have a relatively old agency. Not only is the agency old in chronological terms—

Senator FARRELL —Relative to what, Mr Campbell?

Mr Campbell —To the rest of the Public Service. The organisation goes back to 1918—that is not the oldest but it is very close to the oldest—and, on average, our staff are aged in their 50s. I think it is the high 40s or low 50s—that is, in the top three. In addition to normal staff movements we are looking at, over the next four, five or six years, a significant number of staff retiring on age grounds, not necessarily at 54/11 but retiring in their 50s or early 60s.

Senator FARRELL —Given that scenario, it is possible that the turnover rates may be higher than the 10 per cent that you have just mentioned?

Mr Campbell —If there is a freeze right across the Public Service it would not be as high as 10 per cent because some of that turnover is people going to other departments. So the actual attrition rate, which for resignations and retirements is down around the four to five per cent, at a point because of our average age if there is a freeze or a lack of replacement over any period of time, we would probably have a higher rate of natural attrition due to retirement than most other agencies because of the average age of our staff.

[7.40 pm]

CHAIR —As there are no further questions, we are dealing with corporate and general matters under the portfolio overview. Are there any questions in that area?

Senator KROGER —Yes, thanks, Chair. Mr Campbell, what is the usual process that the department takes in preparing and responding to questions on notice?

Mr Campbell —Do you mean questions on notice to Senate estimates committees such as this one?

Senator KROGER —Absolutely.

Mr Campbell —When we get them we draft answers—and sometimes they can be done quite quickly, sometimes they take a long period of time. Then the answers are provided to the minister and the minister’s office and then a final clearance is given and they come to the committee.

Senator KROGER —Mr Campbell, how can you account for returning a question on notice to the last additionThere is does refer to it that wayal estimates only this afternoon, some 15½ weeks after that particular additional estimates? Of the total number of questions, which was 51, one was returned today and the other 50 were eight weeks past the date by which those questions were asked to be responded to.

Mr Campbell —It is unfortunate that we took so long this time. I would point out that in previous estimates committee hearings we have been more timely than we were this time. It is just the amount of work that has been on for us over the last six to eight or nine weeks. We have had a budget, the commencement of the various ex-service annual conferences, and the issuing of a couple of review papers. I apologise for the delay. I ask you to look at our record. We have not normally been this tardy and I hope we are not this tardy again in the future. But I would put it down to the amount of work.

Senator KROGER —It just makes it very difficult, as a senator, to respond to complaints from veterans when they complain about the tardiness of responses from the department to individual concerns when, personally, my only experience of your timeliness is 51 questions of which 50 were only received on 28 May and the last one received today. It gives very little opportunity for us to look at those responses to see whether there are any further follow-up questions that need to be asked.

Mr Campbell —Senator, as I said, I have apologised. I think there were extenuating circumstances concerning the amount of work that was going on and, while you might not have experienced the timeliness in the past, I am sure that the secretary will tell you that the timeliness of these answers is not our normal record. I assure you that there was no hidden agenda here in keeping anyone waiting. It is just unfortunate the way it unfolded.

Senator KROGER —I hope that further questions on notice are taken in a better spirit perhaps with an attempt to respond within the time frame that is given. I want to turn to the Dunt review and some of the recommendations made in that review. I have the recommendations here but in particular I turn to recommendation 6.1 which referred to ‘Initiatives such as the Single Claim Form, Separation Health Examination and the Client Liaison Unit’. I understand that a separation health examination trial was running until mid-2009 and was to be evaluated with a view to a national rollout. I was just wondering, firstly, how that trial proceeded.

Mr Douglas —The trial did complete. There were three agencies involved in conducting the trial: the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Australian Defence Force and ComSuper. Consequently there were three separate phases of the evaluation strategy necessary—in other words, an evaluation from each of the individual agencies’ perspectives. Two of those evaluations were able to be completed relatively quickly. The third agency required additional time to conclude their evaluation. The Australian Defence Force, not surprisingly, bore the majority of the direct workload for completing the health examination at the time of separation from the military. They did so in the last few weeks. We now have those three evaluation reports, so we will be in the process of reviewing them and preparing further recommendations on where to proceed from here.

Senator KROGER —What is your anticipation of that time frame for the review of the evaluations and putting together a submission from that in terms of the outcome of those?

Mr Douglas —As I said, the evaluation from Defence has only relatively recently been concluded. Given that they bore the lion’s share of the workload, I am somewhat reluctant to make too firm a commitment, given that I have not even had the opportunity to read the report. I think there is a clear agreement from the three agencies concerned that there is a strong desire to find a way that makes this work, given that it really does depend on the obstacles identified as to what needs to be done and how to proceed. Given that, I do not believe we could conclude with a recommendation to government by the end of this financial year. I think it would be much more in the first quarter of next financial year.

Senator KROGER —From your observations of the other two evaluations, was there a view that the approach of the single medical assessment would be a successful one?

Mr Douglas —That is certainly one of the favourable aspects of the evaluation thus far. On the other hand, anecdotally from Defence’s perspective, Defence have of course seen somewhat of an increase in their workload, given that they are now covering off health examinations for the needs of three agencies, not just one. The question is just how much of an issue that is for rolling out the process across the board. That is what we have to consider.

Senator KROGER —Did you have feedback from the ex-servicemen community in relation to the trial?

Mr Douglas —The trial is done at the separation phase of a serviceman’s time in the Defence Force. This is a process which is occurring before much of the contact would occur with an ex-service organisation. A separation health examination does not necessarily lead to a claim being lodged in every circumstance. Nevertheless there is obviously a linkage between this process and the currently also being trialled single claim form, and that has significant involvement from the ex-service community. They were extensively consulted on the design of the form. They have been extensively involved in the preparation of completed forms and will of course be extensively committed in the evaluation of the trial outcome from that trial.

Senator KROGER —I would have though anything that would be seen to be simplifying the process and making it easier for them would be considered in a favourable light.

Mr Douglas —There is no doubt that, when you look at the separation health examination, the number of additional medical diagnoses or examinations required is much lower, and the degree of additional burden on potential claimants is much lower. The question is: how much does that balance off against the workload required by the Defence doctors to do a fuller health examination?

Senator KROGER —Do you respond to all the questions in relation to the Dunt review?

Mr Douglas —In the first instance, yes.

Senator KROGER —I will follow on with you, then. The second recommendation I want to come to is 6.2, which is in relation to claims involving chronic mental conditions. The recommendation was that DVA develop a protocol for managing the provision of advice to clients at risk of self-harm. Has the development of a protocol started? Has that been established?

Mr Douglas —The protocol, from my understanding, has been endorsed. There was extensive consultation with the ex-service community and the protocol is now in use by our claims processing staff.

Senator KROGER —So that is up and running as we speak?

Mr Douglas —Indeed.

Senator KROGER —Can you furnish me with the details of the protocol?

Mr Douglas —I will have to take that on notice. I do not have it with me tonight.

Senator KROGER —That would be terrific. For how long has the protocol been implemented?

Mr Douglas —I would have to take that on notice. In rough terms, from memory, it is about three months.

Senator KROGER —So there probably has not been time to evaluate the effectiveness of the protocol. Is that a reasonable suggestion?

Mr Douglas —That is a reasonable conclusion, though I am not aware of much self-harm being exhibited by clients. It is one of those things where no news is good news.

Senator KROGER —Recommendation 6.3 is that every VRB hearing for a veteran involving a mental health related condition should aim to have at least one member with a clinical mental health background on the two or three member board. How many claims in 2008-09 involved mental health related conditions? If you have the figures for 2009-10 I would be happy to have those too.

Mr Douglas —I do not know. We would have to take that on notice. It is a possibly a question we would need to ask of the Veterans’ Review Board.

Senator KROGER —That would be helpful because it would give us some context. Has someone with a professional background in the mental health area been appointed?

Mr Douglas —That recommendation was held over pending the appointment and commencement of the new principal registrar of the Veterans Review Board. That appointment has now been made. The individual concerned has been in place for only a short time—he commenced in late March—so I would not expect that this is a matter he has yet turned his mind to. But, given that we are in a period of regular monitoring of the status of the implementation of the review recommendations, we will no doubt be asking him to turn his mind to it shortly.

Mr Campbell —Perhaps I could add to that. I know a little bit more about the recruitment process than Mr Douglas does, which is understandable. The members of the VRB have a statutory time frame. Those time frames expired late last year but we extended them when we appointed a new principal member. They have now been advertised, and the principal member is now undertaking reviews in all capital cities. In the context of that, he is looking at that recommendation.

Senator KROGER —I guess they have a contractual period for which they are appointed to the board?

Mr Campbell —I think the current members had a three-year term, which was extended. Sorry, they had different terms but they all came to maturity on the one date. There are about 40 members and I think the principal member is thinking of staggering their appointment so that he does not have all 40 expiring on one day.

Senator KROGER —There are not many boards where the members’ terms all expire on the one day.

Mr Campbell —That was the previous principal member. I think the current principal member is actually handling it slightly differently.

Senator KROGER —Recommendation 6.5 is in relation to DVA considering a further step in the primary application process whereby an application could be returned to a veteran to seek further supporting documentation or evidence in relation to their claim. I understand that this was designed to expedite the claim process so that obtaining further documentation did not delay the claim application process. Has this occurred?

Mr Douglas —I am across most of the detail of many of the recommendations, but I am afraid that I will have to take that one on notice.

Senator KROGER —Okay, that is fine.

Mr Campbell —Senator, could you just hold on for one second. We might have somebody here who can answer that question.

Senator KROGER —Thanks, Mr Campbell.

Mr Douglas —No, we would need to check on the detail, but could I just make the observation as a point of principle that we are encouraging our claims-processing staff, wherever there is a possibility that further information could be obtained which might turn the balance on a claim, rather than simply to reject it, to go back to either the advocate or the claimant or their representative to seek out whether they have additional information which might help decide the claim in their favour. That is a point of principle.

Senator KROGER —I have a couple of further points on that one, but I will put them on notice so that you can deal with all of them at once. In relation to recommendation 9.1:

The ACPMH have been contracted by DVA to evaluate its Mental Health Initiatives for 2007-10 …

Can I ask how that evaluation is progressing?

Mr Douglas —I do not believe it has been received yet.

Mr Campbell —That is, the report has not been received.

Mr Douglas —No, the report has not been received, I believe.

Senator KROGER —Do you have any idea when that is—

Mr Douglas —I would have to take that on notice.

Senator KROGER —So we have no idea when that will be publicly released either. Does that appear in the budget, or is that an item that will come up next time around?

Mr Douglas —No, that has been done from existing funding arrangements with the Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.

Senator KROGER —In existing funding arrangements?

Mr Douglas —No additional funding was necessary for that.

Senator KROGER —Review recommendation 9.4 was:

A … review of PTSD programs in Australia should be urgently commissioned.

I understand that the government agreed to fund a review of departmentally funded PTSD programs. Is that correct?

Mr Douglas —Correct.

Senator KROGER —There was a review that was meant to commence in 2009, late last year.

Mr Douglas —The tender for that has been called and is either about to close or in the process of being evaluated, but I will take that on notice to give you precise dates.

Senator KROGER —Thank you very much. I now have some questions on departmental staffing. I am happy to put them on notice if they cannot be responded to—

Mr Campbell —Perhaps we will see how we go.

Senator KROGER —I am interested in the breakdown, essentially, of staff who administer and/or are trained in the various acts: VEA, MRCA and SRCA. Could you give me an indication of how many staff are trained in and administer the VEA?

Mr Winzenberg —In our PBS we have the numbers of staff by outcome, which are the numbers of staff that deal with those particular outcomes. So, for example—

Senator KROGER —Can I just ask, preliminary to that: is there a crossover between the three acts? Are they multiskilled in managing, or is each area specifically administered by a different group of people?

Mr Campbell —Perhaps Mr Telford should answer that question given his responsibility for those three acts.

Mr Telford —There is indeed a crossover. In fact, it would be very difficult to answer that question, inasmuch as we do train people specifically under each piece of legislation, clearly, as they move into the assessment and related activities associated with those claims. However, they are not necessarily working just on one piece of legislation. It is not necessarily three silos. In fact, having people working across the three pieces of legislation—and we are moving to that model now—has great benefits in order to determine liability irrespective of the claim under which the individual is putting in an associated form. As we move to a single claim form, of course, that cross-skilling will be far more critical than it currently is, when we still get three separate forms depending upon the piece of legislation under which the individual is claiming.

Mr Campbell —If I can just make it a little bit more complex: Mr Telford has been talking about compensation processing under the three acts. Of course, where we provide health care, for example, we will actually be providing health care to a person under multiple acts and we will be doing that through a single channel. So, to reinforce Mr Telford’s answer to your first question, it would be very difficult for us to say with any fine grain of detail—I could do it at a high level—that these are exactly the resources that work on SRCA, MRCA or the VEA in terms of compensation health care, because, as Mr Telford said, we already do it in health, where we do run across acts, and we are moving to that direction in compensation as well.

Senator KROGER —I am talking in very general terms here, then. What would a rough percentage be of those who would be across all three acts or moving to that situation? Is it a small number? Is it a large number within the department?

Mr Telford —Well, can I say medium? I do not have those figures in front of me and, as I said, it would be very difficult to do that. As the secretary was saying, it is a matter of what element of the process they are actually engaged in, whether it is liability determination, needs assessment or rehabilitation assessment, and you can talk about permanent impairment versus processing of accounts and reimbursement of accounts. There are a whole stack of activities under each one of those particular acts. Certainly the people who are cross-trained, if I can call it that, across MRCA and SRCA are significant, and we are moving to have people trained across MRCA and SRCA versus the VEA increasingly as we move to a model which, as I said earlier, looks at the individual’s needs as opposed to the acts under which they are making an application to accept liability.

Senator KROGER —So it would not be possible to get an indication by act—

Mr Telford —I could fine down some of the—

Mr Campbell —No, Senator, I do not want to mislead you. I do not think it would be possible to give you a figure that was meaningful that we would be happy with, because we structure our outcomes according to income support, compensation and health—and that is where Mr Winzenberg was leading with his answer, too, with the various outcomes. I think to take it on notice would be slightly misleading because I do not think we could give you a figure that was really meaningful because it does vary according to the function under the various acts.

Mr Telford —And it would be out of date, almost, because we are moving, as I said, to cross-train. So it would be out of date as soon as you got it, even if we could do it.

Senator KROGER —Okay, I will think about that further. Chair, that is all for corporate and general matters.

[8.03 pm]

CHAIR —In that case, we will turn to outcome 1, Compensation and support. Are there questions on that topic?

Senator KROGER —Yes. I turn to program 1.1, Veterans’ income support and allowances. The budget papers show that a declining number of claims are expected to be processed, yet it is planning for an increased number of pensioner initiated reviews. I am just wondering why that is the case.

Mr Campbell —There are two very different reasons. The first is that the number of new claims reflects the number of veterans turning 60, because you are eligible for a service pension at age 60. Obviously, with the ageing of the veteran population, most of those from the Vietnam era, pre Korea and World War II have reached the age of 60. Most Vietnam veterans are now 60. The new claims coming in are some of the older ones in later deployments and some who might have been in retirement and not needed the service pension but then needed it later on, so it is just a reflection of the demographics of the veteran population.

The pensioner initiated reviews are where a pensioner has a change in their income circumstances and they ask us to review their circumstances with a view, because their investments have fallen away, to them actually getting a higher level of pension. In the current economic circumstances, particularly with what has happened in the share market over the last two years and therefore what has happened in various superannuation funds, unit trusts et cetera, it is not surprising that there is an increased number of pensioners coming to us and saying, ‘Could you please review because I think I am eligible for a higher level of pension.’ So there are two different reasons: one is the demographics of the veteran community; the other one is the economic circumstances.

Senator KROGER —When you look at the figures, you see there is quite a significant decline in primary claims, so I guess what you are suggesting to me is that the number of reviews that have been submitted indicate that there is a significant issue in relation to changing income circumstances.

Mr Campbell —I think the economic conditions of the last couple of years would confirm that. One of the beauties of our system and that of Centrelink is that we review very quickly, particularly when a pensioner requests it. In the main, people in these circumstances are requesting it because they are going to be eligible for a higher level of pension.

Senator KROGER —On the same issue: in the last financial year’s budget estimate compare to this year’s there seems to be a 60 per cent increase in the actual number of new claims processed versus budgeted. I am looking at the 2009-10 PBS, where we have 6,653 budgeted new claims, as against, under ‘2009-10 Revised budget’ in the PBS just out, 10½ thousand new claims processed. Does that seem right, or am I reading that wrongly? Last year’s figure for budgeted new claims to be processed was 6,653 and in the last PBS we have 10,500. There is quite a substantial difference there.

Mr Campbell —The figures are right. My feeling is that that probably reflects more the economic circumstances than a significant misreading of the number of veterans turning 60. They become eligible for income support when they turned 60. This also picks up the income supplement for widows, doesn’t it, Mr Telford?

Mr Telford —Yes.

Mr Campbell —So this would also reflect an underestimate of the number of widows who became eligible for income support supplement, which is an income and asset tested payment.

Senator KROGER —So that is included in that?

Mr Campbell —And that would also be reflecting the economic circumstances.

Senator KROGER —Can you do a breakdown of those claims?

Mr Campbell —I would have to take that on notice.

Senator KROGER —Can you take that on notice please. Looking at it again, there are 16,000 more pensioner reviews than budgeted for. I would presume that you would provide a similar analysis for that?

Mr Campbell —The economic circumstances, yes.

Senator KROGER —How many of these would have been appealed to the VRB?

Mr Campbell —I would suspect almost none, if none.

Senator KROGER —Really?

Mr Telford —None.

Mr Campbell —None.

Senator KROGER —That is impressive.

Mr Campbell —My colleagues behind me are silent, so I think I am right.

Mr Telford —We are saying ‘none’.

Mr Campbell —This is income support, though, not disability compensation.

Senator KROGER —Yes, I understand. So how many claims are expected under the deseal-reseal scheme this year?

Mr Campbell —That is a very different question. I might ask Mr Bayles and Mr Telford to answer that.

Mr Telford —Sorry, what was your question again, Senator?

Mr Campbell —‘How many claims are expected under the F111 scheme?’

Mr Telford —Not income support?

Senator KROGER —No, in relation to the—

Mr Campbell —The claims there will be compensation claims, so I may ask Mr Bayles to talk about that.

Mr Bayles —The budget measure that was announced in the budget relating to the F111 deseal-reseal program involved an extension of the current scheme to include a new group of people, estimated to be about 2,400, who may become eligible for compensation claims under a particular provision in the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. That particular provision is section 7(2), which enables claims for certain conditions to be accepted without a causation test. It is estimated that there are now 2,400 individuals who may be able to make claims under that the provision for conditions that may be related to that particular type of service. Our best estimate is that about a third of them would make claims for compensation under that provision for conditions that may be accepted under section 7(2) of SRCA.

Senator KROGER —I will come back to that in a moment because I want to discuss the program in a little more depth. So you are anticipating a decrease in income support claims?

Mr Campbell —F111 and income support are two completely different—

Senator KROGER —I understand that and I will come back to Mr Bayles—

Mr Campbell —We are anticipating a decrease in income support claims in the coming years because of the age profile of the veteran community. That is because most of the Vietnam veterans are now aged 60 and the younger veterans—that is, veterans from the Gulf War et cetera—are not yet anywhere near the age of 60.

Senator KROGER —In relation to the assistance provided by ESOs does the department keep records of the number of claims that are lodged with the assistance of an ESO?

Mr Telford —No.

Senator KROGER —None whatsoever?

Mr Telford —We keep them, depending upon whether or not they indicate they have come in from an individual. In some cases the system can record that information, but it is not necessarily considered something that we would routinely record for the purpose of determining a claim.

Senator KROGER —I have a particular issue I want to raise in relation to an ESO in Victoria. Is it normal for a claim to be some 35 pages long?

Mr Telford —The length of the claim depends upon the amount of supporting material that the claimant wishes to attach to it.

Senator KROGER —What would be the average size, though, of a claim that comes across the desk?

Mr Telford —I would not be able to tell you, but 35 pages seems rather long.

Senator KROGER —You would think that would be excessive?

Mr Telford —It depends on the condition, though.

Mr Campbell —Under MRCA and SRCA a claim is a claim and that is one condition. Under the VEA a claim can have multiple conditions as part of that claim. So it is quite possible that a claim could be made under the VEA, whether the individual was claiming six or eight conditions. Maybe they would put in some of their service records—we can get those from Defence—and they would have supporting documentation, including medical documentation. It is horses for courses.

Mr Telford —I thought you were talking about income support. We have moved from income support to compensation. If we are talking about income support claims then that depends upon the amount of financial circumstances behind the individuals. That claim could well be 35 pages long, depending upon their investments and all the rest of it.

Senator KROGER —Mr Campbell, you do have multiple claims at one time?

Mr Campbell —Mr Telford was quite right to pick up that I was talking about disability claims. Most, not all, of the claims that are submitted by ESOs are in respect of disability compensation. The advocates work more on disability compensation and not so much on the income support ones. So if you have an ESO that has a 35-page application, my guess is it would be for a disability pension. But we would have to see it to be sure.

Senator KROGER —Is it unusual to have more than one claim submitted at a time, to have multiple claims?

Mr Campbell —No.

Senator KROGER —That is quite common practice?

Mr Campbell —Quite common.

Senator KROGER —I am asking for your guidance here. Is it true that the department has stopped providing reply paid envelopes for the return of forms?

Mr Telford —Yes, we have.

Senator KROGER —Could you furnish me with any information about what saving that has provided to the department?

Mr Telford —It was not so much a saving as it was particularly related to the circumstances you are referring to, where we have ex-service organisations who are submitting claims on behalf of veterans, which is what we are talking about. We provide funding under the BEST program to these organisations to support them in their activities, including a range of computer activities, consumables, staffing and a range of activities within those centres. The construction of the claim and the submission of that claim to the department, we believe, is within the gamut of that funding.

Senator KROGER —The particular advocacy group that I am referring to, which is in Victoria, assist with and process hundreds of claims every year on behalf of veterans and their families. It has created a huge impost on them because they are spending significant sums on postage, so it is some thousands that they are having to come up with and take out of other services that they are able to provide. So I was really interested to know whether you are aware that the change in policy to not provide reply paid envelopes is adversely affecting some advocacy groups.

Mr Telford —Without knowing the organisation you are talking about, I would suggest that that is part of what they would be considering in the construction of their application for funding under the BEST program. That, I would suggest, would not be a significant part of the level of funding that we provide to the organisations, which is quite considerable—without knowing the organisation you are talking about.

Senator KROGER —Can applications be lodged online or sent electronically?

Mr Telford —Not at present, no.

Senator KROGER —Are there any moves to investigate the opportunity to do that and therefore eliminate some of the costs involved?

Mr Telford —We always look at increasing the amount of online applications that we have, but certainly we are not moving universally to have all our claims submitted online. At the moment there are some that can be submitted online—I do not know which ones they are—but we are moving to increase the number. That will happen as the complexity of the form and the supporting documentation that goes with it means it needs to be done, as was mentioned. If you are talking about an application for compensation then there will be significant supporting documentation that goes with that, so what does the organisation do? Do they scan that in? How do they deal with that? Do they just submit part of the claim or not? It is more complex than just whacking in a form where you do not have supporting documentation, necessarily.

Senator TROOD —I have some questions on 1.2, disability support. I want to clarify the impact of the government’s change in the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (Disability, War Widow and War Widower Pensions) Bill 2007, in relation to pension entitlements. My understanding is that there was a change in this legislation in 2009 and a break in the relationship between the disability pension and the MBR factor.

Mr Telford —In what year?

Senator TROOD —In 2009. There was a reversal of the legislation that was introduced in 2007 with, I think, new legislation last year which affected the relationship between the disability pension and the MBR factor. Is that your field, Mr Telford?

Mr Telford —I am not quite sure what you are referring to, Senator, but I suspect that you are talking about the introduction of a new measure which was part of the Harmer review.

Senator TROOD —Yes.

Mr Telford —That has put in place a new measure which was developed by the ABS and is used in conjunction with the CPI and MTAWE, and that did develop a new factor—that is correct.

Senator TROOD —What do you call that new factor?

Mr Telford —I cannot remember what the acronym stands for. Can someone help me here?

Mr Bayles —It is to do with pensioner cost of living index.

Mr Telford —It was a measure which related to the additional costs of those in the aged age group.

Senator TROOD —Here is some assistance, Mr Telford.

Mr Campbell —Pensioner and beneficiary cost of living, Senator.

Senator TROOD —Thank you.

Mr Telford —Pensioner and beneficiary cost of living index. It is called PBLCI for some reason.

Senator TROOD —It sounds like a friendly animal. Please continue, Mr Telford.

Mr Telford —That is all.

Senator TROOD —Okay. But this introduced a differential, as I understand it, between pension recipients, is that not correct?

Mr Telford —No.

Senator TROOD —Well, in relation to their entitlements. There was a multiplier, or a factor, applied to different pension holders, is that not correct?

Mr Telford —Yes.

Senator TROOD —And it had a different impact on the results of pension recipients?

Mr Telford —No, it does not. It just introduces a third factor which is taken into account. It just tries to level out the cost of living associated with the aged population versus the others.

Senator TROOD —So this adds another element—

Mr Telford —That is right.

Senator TROOD —to the calculations that are being made in relation to entitlements?

Mr Telford —Correct.

Senator TROOD —Is the addition of that element true for all holders of disability pensions?

Mr Telford —Income support. Income support then creates a factor which has an impact on disability pensions, that is right.

Senator TROOD —I see. Is it generally beneficial to their position?

Mr Telford —Oh yes.

Senator TROOD —Okay. So this was a response to a concern within the veterans community, is that right?

Mr Telford —No.

Senator TROOD —About the nature of their interests or the rights of their entitlements?

Mr Telford —No, it was a result of the Harmer review into more sustainable pension arrangements and it was introduced in those reforms and flowed through to our systems as well.

Senator TROOD —Okay, the argument being that this will ensure that these pensions maintain a relevance into the future whereas those recipients of pensions would have fallen behind in their entitlements. Is that right?

Mr Telford —Sustainability over a longer term was certainly a key objective of the Harmer review.

Senator TROOD —Was there a specific intention in the Harmer review to review disability pensions in particular?

Mr Telford —No.

Senator TROOD —Why was that?

Mr Telford —The government made a decision that this was a review into income support.

Senator TROOD —I see. So essentially there was no argument to look more broadly at all pension entitlements?

Mr Telford —It was not within the terms of reference, no.

Senator TROOD —I see. Was your department responsible for drawing up the terms of reference?

Mr Telford —No. This policy was run by FaHCSIA and undertaken by that organisation in conjunction, obviously, with a range of other departments, including us.

Senator TROOD —Did you make a contribution to the development of the terms of reference?

Mr Telford —I do not recall. I think that they were pretty much set in terms of the remit which that review was given—and it was clearly given in respect of income support pensions, not DVA disability pensions.

Senator TROOD —I think that solves problems here.

CHAIR —Senator Xenophon wants to come in and ask five minutes worth of questions on Maralinga. We are past that section. I presumed that because it is a budget measure—

Senator XENOPHON —Not necessarily, because this relates to measures external to the budget, arguably.

Senator TROOD —I am happy for him to do that.

Senator XENOPHON —Thank you. It will be pretty short. The recognition of military personnel who participated in nuclear tests at Maralinga, Emu Field and Montebello Islands through disability pensions and healthcare benefits is welcomed, but can I ask whether any consideration was given to paying lump-sum compensation to veterans?

Mr Campbell —The commitment that was made at the time of the 2007 election was that the government would review the recommendations of Clarke that had not been accepted by the previous government back in 2003-04. The recommendation in Clarke in respect of the British Nuclear Test Program—I will use that term, which is the full term—was for them to get ‘non-warlike hazardous’, which is in effect non-warlike. There was no recommendation for a lump sum.

Senator XENOPHON —Was there any consideration given, for instance, to the United States system, where they give lump-sum compensation to their nuclear veterans?

Mr Campbell —The answer is no, because that was not in the government remit. I might ask Mr Carmody and Mr Bayles to talk, because I think there is a bit of a misunderstanding around what actually is provided overseas.

Mr Carmody —As to what is provided overseas and, firstly, in terms of lump-sum payments, as Mr Campbell said, the VEA system does not provide for lump-sum payment. Moving to payments overseas, the United States system that you refer to does in fact have some eligibility for an ex-gratia payment but under very strictly limited circumstances and very, very tight constraints. The practical reality is that the access to disability pensions and what is available under the current decision under Clarke is much more extensive.

Senator XENOPHON —Do you concede that the acceptance of the £20 million ex-gratia payment back in 1993 from the British government mean that no compensation is available to Australian veterans or their widows, or that, if any compensation is awarded, it would have to be paid back to the British government—in terms of the nature of the deal?

Mr Carmody —I thought we had addressed this before, but the $20 million pounds was not paid for compensation; it was paid for rehabilitation of test sites. It also—

Senator XENOPHON —That is what the deed said.

Mr Carmody —It also was not paid to this portfolio. That is my understanding: it was paid for the rehabilitation of test sites.

Senator XENOPHON —Anyway, there is an argument about the nature of the deed. Finally, is the government liaising with the veterans who are seeking compensation through the British courts; and is any assistance being offered to those veterans who are seeking to join a class action in the UK?

Mr Campbell —The answer is we and the government are aware of their interest but no financial assistance is being provided to those individuals.

Senator XENOPHON —Is that something that is under further consideration or has the final decision been made?

Mr Campbell —I can never speak finally for government’s decisions because I am a bureaucrat, but there is no current proposal, which is probably the best way I can put it for them, to be paid any assistance with legal costs.

Senator XENOPHON —Mr Carmody, are you suggesting I need to put this to another department—that if any lump sum compensation was awarded to Australian veterans via any British court case; and would that have ramifications in relation to the $20 million pound settlement back in 1993?

Mr Carmody —No. My answer was only—in fact I might not have been clear—in relation to what happened to the $20 million pounds in 1993. My understanding was very clearly that it was for remediation; that was all.

Senator XENOPHON —Okay, I will leave it there. Thank you.

CHAIR —Are we still on outcome 1?

Senator KROGER —We are, and I just want to come back to the war widow entitlement and the removal of that entitlement for new claimants who enter a de facto relationship. I was wondering how many applications for war widow status were received from remarried war widows who are not able to receive a pension because they applied for it after they were married again.

Mr Telford —Is your question: the number of women who have remarried post the death of their veteran and have applied for a war widow’s pension?

Senator KROGER —Yes. What I am interested in is those widows who have been unsuccessful in their pension claims because they have remarried in the first instance after their claim had been knocked back.

Mr Telford —I do not know that number, but it would not be very large. I think that people who are advising them, whether it be advocates or others, would understand clearly the rules around the fact that once a woman separates from and remarries a veteran, they lose their eligibility but I do not have those figures.

Ms Spiers —I concur with Mr Telford that we cannot give you the figures of those that have claimed that have remarried. To give you an indication of the reasonably low number that we are aware of, we have probably seen about 11 claims for act of grace payments for those ladies over the last three years, so very low numbers. So these are the ladies that—

Senator KROGER —So what determines an act of grace payment?

Ms Spiers —An act of grace claim is a claim administered by the department of finance for where there has been an unintentional consequence of legislation and a person can make a claim for an act of grace payment. These ladies are excluded from entitlement under the Veterans Entitlements’ Act because they have remarried prior to claiming and often feel their only recourse is to look for an act of grace. So the numbers that we have seen through claims to the department of finance for act of grace claims have been relatively low over the last three years as an indicator.

Senator KROGER —Thank you. I hear that you say it is relatively small, and by relatively small you are suggesting only—there were 11 act of grace—

Ms Spiers —It is approximately 11 over the last three years that I have been aware of.

Senator KROGER —You would have a record of claims that were knocked back from those who were no longer eligible?

Mr Telford —Yes, but we would not necessarily know the reason for that—

Ms Spiers —Without looking at the files.

Mr Telford —That is right—without looking at the files. But the major reason that there would be a denial of a widow’s pension would be around the fact that the veteran had not died of war caused disabilities—that would be the major reason. We do not record the reason on our system, so we could not find the reason that the person was denied a pension.

Senator KROGER —I am particularly concerned about the instance where a widow may have applied and have been refused, for whatever reason; or perhaps she did not even immediately applied for a claim and entered into a de facto relationship quickly, then realised she had forfeited her opportunity to claim without appreciating the legal consequences of what she had done.

Mr Telford —It is an issue of dependency. If a woman separates from her veteran husband, and enters into a new de facto relationship or a de jure relationship, she is no longer considered to be a dependent of the veteran. It is fairly straightforward—

Senator KROGER —Yes, it is but—

Mr Telford —And a war widow’s pension relates to dependency.

Senator KROGER —Yes. It is the definition of that, though also what they would be eligible for. In some of these instances it is a very fluid group of individuals that we are talking about. What savings do you think that you have achieved by removing that entitlement?

Mr Telford —Are you talking about the new entitlements now?

Senator KROGER —By removing the entitlement, when you are talking about a small number.

Mr Telford —The new de facto relationships will be a saving of $1.4 million over four years.

Senator TROOD —I have some questions about the Building Excellence in Support and Training—the BEST program. I think that is in outcome 1.4. As I understand it there was a review of advocacy training, and I think that the government’s response has not been delivered yet—has it? Is that correct?

Mr Campbell —There was a review of the BEST program in advocacy and training. The review has not yet been handed to the minister, so the minister is obviously not in a position to respond. I envisage that the minister will receive it in the near future. I suspect he will then issue it to the veteran community for comment and consultation.

Senator TROOD —I see. Do we know how long that is likely to be?

Mr Campbell —Before he puts it out? I cannot really speak for the minister, but I would not be surprised if—

Senator TROOD —No, of course, but I wondered whether you had received any intimations—

Mr Campbell —I would not be surprised if it is able to be released within the next four to six weeks.

Senator TROOD —That is good, thank you. Can you tell me how many applications for BEST have been received by the department for this year—the 2009-10 year?

Mr Campbell —Unless I am significantly wrong it is within a ballpark figure of, I think, about 250 to 260 or 265—something like that.

Senator TROOD —Do you have any comparative figures as to the numbers for last year?

Mr Campbell —Not on me, but I would be surprised if they were vastly different.

Senator TROOD —Okay—perhaps you could take that on notice for me and give me those figures. I wonder whether or not you have received any intimation or concerns expressed by the ESO community about the delay which I understand exists in relation to the processing of these applications?

Mr Campbell —There was a delay last year, and that may be the concerns that the ex-service community put to you—and they were discussed at various times in this committee. We are still operating on a timetable that would have the grants process finalised and hopefully decisions taken by the government so that the ESOs would be aware at the beginning of the financial year what their grants were.

Senator TROOD —Have you sought to take steps to try and speed up the process in any way? Have you put more staff on it or concentrated the effort in some fashion?

Mr Campbell —There are a number of things we have done in the process, but at this stage I do not think we will run into the unfortunate delays that we had last year.

Senator TROOD —That is encouraging. I think there is an increase in the funding budgeted in relation to this matter this year. Is that correct?

Mr Campbell —Are you talking about program funding?

Senator TROOD —Yes.

Mr Campbell —Yes, there was a carryover of some underspent funds from last year.

Senator TROOD —Is that essentially the explanation?

Mr Campbell —That is the main explanation, yes.

Senator TROOD —You may have just mentioned this in passing. Do you have a time when you expect the notification of ESO funding to be concluded?

Mr Campbell —This government has tried to have it done by the end of June. Unfortunately, we fell short of that last year, but the objective is that they will be informed by the end of June or the beginning of July.

Senator TROOD —I have some questions about the government’s response on the deseal-reseal matter. I think it is part of the same area. Recommendation 8 was accepted by the government with some modifications. I want to clarify whether or not the claims that refer to the SRCA are from the date of inclusion of the injury or from the date of the injury. Is it clear where the entitlement is established with regard to that matter?

Mr Bayles —Can I just clarify that. Do you mean the date of conclusion?

Senator TROOD —My understanding is that, in relation to these claims, there is a question about whether or not your claim is accepted, and from that date there may be an entitlement, or the entitlement relates to the date of the injury. In some cases there can be quite profound differences in relation to the claimant’s entitlement. Is it clear in your mind which is the relevant date?

Mr Bayles —It is the date the condition manifests in terms of the legislation under which benefits would be provided.

Senator TROOD —So it is essentially backdated to the date of the injury?

Mr Bayles —The SRCA legislation of 1998 encompasses some previous antecedent legislation—a 1971 act and a 1930 act. It matters when the condition manifests as to which piece of legislation you would be covered by in terms of the range of benefits you can get for that particular condition. What we are talking about is that the condition might have manifested in a particular time frame, and that will determine which act it applies to. But the 7(2) provision I referred to earlier has an equivalent provision in the 1971 act, and the recommendation applies to both the equivalent provision in the 1971 act and the provision in the 1988 act.

Senator TROOD —So there is a process already established for dealing with these 7(2) claims—

Mr Bayles —Correct.

Senator TROOD —and, insofar as there may be more of them as a result of decisions, they will be processed in the same way as in the past. Is that correct?

Mr Bayles —Correct.

Senator TROOD —Thanks, Mr Bayles. I have questions about some of the guidelines, which are slightly troubling. Perhaps they should not be, but I am interested in your response. There is a form ‘F11105: guidelines for using statutory declarations in applications for tier classification’, which requires the provision of statutory declarations, as I understand it, with regard to providing proof of the claim. I think claimants are required to present two statutory declarations.

Mr Bayles —Yes.

Senator TROOD —It is also my understanding that the claims themselves are not determinative of the entitlement—the department assumes the right to go behind the statutory declarations and determine the accuracy of the information in the statutory declarations. Is that also correct?

Mr Bayles —The statutory declarations are one piece of evidence that can be used in relation to a claim for tier status. The guidelines make it clear that there are other forms of evidence: primary, secondary and tertiary evidence. Statutory declarations are rated as tertiary evidence. The intention of the use of statutory declarations is that they would be used not in the majority of cases. In the majority of cases we will be able to find some primary or secondary evidence of somebody’s involvement in the program and we will be able to determine their entitlement to a tier classification. The statutory declaration could be evidence provided by the applicant. But if we do not have a statutory declaration and we get a claim, the department with the assistance of the Department of Defence will attempt to find primary and secondary evidence. The statutory declaration may come into play where we do not have any primary or secondary evidence. There will be a test of plausibility in relation to the statutory declaration in terms of whether the evidence in the statutory declaration makes good sense, or whether there is anything in that statutory declaration that looks impossible or could not be so.

Mr Campbell —I  might be able to help here; I think I know the issue that has been raised with you. There are some members in the F111 community that are concerned about the statutory declarations. Two weeks ago last Friday the minister and I and Mr Bayles had a meeting with a representative group of them in Brisbane. The minister and I made certain undertakings about reporting back. We agreed with that group of representatives that they will come back to us some time this month, probably mid this month, with some suggested alternative ways of finding the information we require without necessarily having the stat decs. While they are in the guidelines as they exist, we are talking with the F111 community to see what other alternatives there could be.

Senator TROOD —Perhaps you appreciate my anxiety here. To make a false declaration is an offence and you would seem to be—I do not mean to impute ill will here—seeking to prove that people had made a false declaration and therefore creating an offence.

Mr Campbell —That is why I said to you that the minister and I did meet with a representative group in Brisbane two weeks ago last Friday and they are now coming back to us in the middle of this month with suggestions. Under these circumstances, I would say this is still an issue that we will be working through with the people who are affected.

Senator KROGER —I am trying to understand this. The people wishing to make a claim and who sign a stat dec would be co-workers or commanding officers. How long ago are we talking about?

Mr Campbell —That is one of the major points that the group that we met with made, quite rightly—those people might not be around, they might not know where they are, and indeed some of them might be deceased. That is the very point they were making to us.

Senator KROGER —Absolutely.

Mr Campbell —And that is why we have talked to them quite openly, and they are coming back with their suggested ways through—some time, I think, in the middle of this month.

Senator KROGER —And it is the commanding officer who has put in a claim himself, or—

Mr Campbell —No. I think it was the co-worker who has put in a claim.

Senator KROGER —A co-worker who has put in a claim or a commanding officer.

Mr Campbell —We are well aware of the concerns of the group and that is why we met with them and they are coming back to us with their suggestions.

Senator KROGER —Okay, thanks.

Senator TROOD —You will be familiar with this problem already, I am sure, Mr Bayles and Mr Campbell: the absence of adequate documentation with regard to many of these claims. The documents were destroyed or are unavailable or they were poorly kept et cetera. I sat on that inquiry for a period of time and I remember hearing quite compelling evidence from time to time of people who had a legitimate concern. They believed they were affected by this work but there seems to be no documentation in relation to their work or, indeed, even being involved with the aircraft. What are you doing in those circumstances where there just does not seem to be a record of individuals working on these aircraft, or adequate documentation which proves their case?

Mr Bayles —That is where statutory declarations may be needed—if there is absolutely no evidence at all.

Senator TROOD —I see.

Mr Bayles —But the department will take on the onus of trying to find any primary or secondary evidence it can to support somebody’s application. The complexity of the previous scheme involved the need to determine the number of days that individuals worked in the deseal-reseal program in order to determine their tier classification. That was one of the difficulties, in that there were not records of how many days individuals did the work. With the extension of the tier 3 classification to a wider group, the number of days does not become an issue in respect of that tier 3 classification. It is just that they were there doing that work. So it might be a little bit easier with this scheme than in the previous scheme.

Mr Campbell —And, of course, this is a compensation scheme and there are 31 conditions that were recognised in the health study. If they have one of those 31 conditions and they were on base then I think there is a pretty straightforward case.

Senator TROOD —Thank you. There was a recommendation in the inquiry report that suggested that the department should identify someone with some expertise in this area who could assist in the processing of these claims. Has that person been employed?

Mr Telford —We have worked up all the documentation required for that individual—the statements of duties and so forth—and that position is being advertised—

Mr Bayles —This week.

Mr Telford —this week. They will go through the normal processes and be appointed. They will work in Brisbane alongside the individuals who are processing the claims.

Senator TROOD —When do you expect this position to be advertised?

Mr Telford —This week.

Mr Bayles —This week.

Senator TROOD —And when do the applications close?

Mr Bayles —In two weeks time, on 17 June.

Senator TROOD —How long would it normally take to be able to fill a position of this kind, Mr Telford?

Mr Telford —We would hope to have an individual on board within six weeks or so.

Senator TROOD —I see. Until that person is employed, will there be a delay in the processing of claims—

Mr Telford —No.

Senator TROOD —or will his or her responsibility essentially be to make sure that claims are processed in a timely fashion et cetera?

Mr Telford —That is right. This person will not be responsible for processing claims. They will commence and go forward in the normal process. This individual will have a role of not being a delegate but being one step removed in order to be able to examine the processes and how things are going and report back appropriately through me and the secretary and so forth. It will not cause any delay.

Senator TROOD —Will that person be an employee of the department?

Mr Telford —Yes.

Senator TROOD —I might put these questions on notice. I presume you have some statistics about the overall time it is taking to process claims in relation to these matters?

Mr Telford —By all means put them on notice, but we probably will not be able to answer them, because we do not know yet what the new regime is going to involve. As Mr Bayles has indicated, there are issues around statutory declarations which will take who knows how long. We do not quite know yet how long some of those investigations will take. There is also an undertaking to review a whole range of files which had been rejected in the past because of statutory declarations and other matters. So it will be months down the track before we will be able to say exactly what processes are in place, where the hold-ups may be, what we should be measuring and how we go about streamlining those and getting people trained.

Senator TROOD —Have you begun the process of review yet?

Mr Telford —Yes, we have started the process of extracting those files.

Senator TROOD —I assume you are at the early stages of this process.

Mr Telford —That is right. We are getting people—staff and the individual we just talked about—on board, training up staff who are moving into the area and so forth. We are gearing up pretty quickly, but I could not guarantee that I could give you any information on that for some months to come.

Senator TROOD —I see.

Senator KROGER —How many staff are you looking at designating for this particular area?

Mr Bayles —That will depend on the number of claims that we receive. We have staff on board already who have begun the process but, as Mr Telford mentioned, it is very early days and we need to assess the extent of applications that we will receive. We will put staff on depending on the number of applications that are flowing through to us.

Senator KROGER —As I understand it, you have already received some applications, of which, presumably, some have been accepted and others rejected.

Mr Bayles —We have not accepted any claims yet. We have begun reviewing claims that were previously rejected. It is very early days. We have not started to make decisions on those cases yet. They are beginning to come through from examination. The initial cases we will look at it will be cases where we will probably be able to say yes and accept someone into tier status 3, but it is only just beginning to happen.

Senator KROGER —Sure. Are those that you have rejected a large or small number?

Mr Bayles —About 500 applications were rejected previously. We are going through those. That will take some months to do.

Mr Campbell —I would add one other thing to assist the people who are answering your questions. At the meeting that I mentioned I had with the minister two weeks ago in Brisbane, we undertook to give them a status report at the end of the calendar year—that is, in six months time—about the progress, including on this issue of the number of claims, rejections et cetera. I think they were quite happy with that because they knew that it would take some months for this to flow through.

Senator TROOD —Have you advertised or do you intend to advertise for claims?

Mr Bayles —Yes, we are.

Senator TROOD —Have you set a date for that advertising yet?

Mr Bayles —We have begun to look at how we would do that. We have not yet placed the advertisements. I hope that we can do something in June to encourage people to come forward. As you know, we have a website available. I have written letters to over a thousand individuals, both those who were covered by the previous scheme and hundreds of people who applied under the previous scheme and did not get benefits. So we have written to about a thousand people and the website has been quite widely advertised, but we do intend to do some press advertising this month.

Senator KROGER —I received a copy of a form that was sent to me from a DVA client in relation to the Veterans’ Children Education Scheme. I am happy to give you a copy.

Mr Campbell —Is this a form for additional tutoring?

Senator KROGER —Yes. I am under instructions here. I would not be game to go back without being able to say I had done it. When the form was given to me I had no idea what it was all about and I had to ask them. There is no identification on it.

Mr Campbell —I saw the form, I suspect from the same source as you, probably about a week ago. I have asked for background to it but I do not have it yet.

Senator KROGER —Do you have the form?

Mr Campbell —I do not have it with me but I have seen the form.

Senator KROGER —You do not need this copy then.

Mr Campbell —I understand the question that has been asked by the individual and I think it is not an unreasonable question. He has asked in respect of his daughter.

Senator KROGER —Yes. It probably is the same person. There is no identification on it.

Mr Campbell —I have asked for a briefing on it, but that was only about four or five days ago and I have not received it yet.

Senator KROGER —You have it in hand; that is all we need to hear. I have just one other item for the outcome. This is in relation to the Clarke review, in particular to processing times under SRCA and MRCA. They seem to be much higher than claims made under the VEA. Looking at what is in front of me, there seems to be a difference between 120 days and 32 days—is that right?

Mr Telford —Seventy-five days for VEA.

Mr Campbell —The 32 days is income support. The days you are talking about here are compensation. When you talk about the time taken to process these, which is what Mr Telford is talking about, it is compensation comparisons with SRCA, MRCA and VEA.

Senator KROGER —So I am not comparing apples with apples here?

Mr Campbell —No. The 32 is income support. In the other comparison it is 75 days for the VEA, which Mr Telford talked about.

CHAIR —Are there further questions on outcome 1?

Senator KROGER —No.

[9.02 pm]

CHAIR —We will turn to outcome 2.

Senator KROGER —Following on from the discussion about the deseal-reseal workers, can I get a clarification on the white card and the gold card? Who should I speak to in relation to that?

Mr Campbell —Perhaps if you could go into the question a bit more.

Senator KROGER —If a person is involved in DSRS and has a white card, do they automatically become entitled to a gold card?

Mr Telford —No, they do not.

Senator KROGER —If somebody has a condition for which they have had support with a white card approved and the treatment of that condition creates a secondary condition, does the white card cover that secondary condition?

Mr Telford —They would have to come back to the department and have that condition accepted by us as being related to whatever injury or disease they initially claimed for. If that was demonstrated then that additional condition would be added to their white card.

Senator KROGER —Sure. An example that would illustrate it is someone being treated for cancer where the treatment that they have had creates a secondary condition. I am asking whether it would be covered under that circumstance.

Mr Telford —In some of those cases it is directly linked to that condition and they would not have to come back to us. It would depend upon the individual condition we are talking about, but the general situation is that if you had two conditions you would need to have those accepted as accepted disabilities. But the way you are constructing it, it would be almost one condition relating to the other, so it would just continue on.

Senator KROGER —Correct, because observations have been made that the treatment for the primary condition has created other issues, whether they were stress—

Mr Telford —Make it as easy as possible.

Senator KROGER —and whether there is consideration for that. I now come to Veterans Health Week; I understand that is being brought forward, is it? When is that being held this year?

Mr Douglas —I believe it has.

Mr Campbell —I think it is about the third week of July.

Senator KROGER —Is that normally held later in the year, or earlier in the year?

Mr Campbell —This is only the second year for it in recent times. It was discontinued some years ago, and the government undertook to have it. Last year, which was the first one since the 2007 election, was held in October-November I think, and this year it will be in July.

Senator KROGER —Does that have an advertising budget?

Mr Campbell —I suspect that to the extent that we use awareness there must be some small amount of money, but there is not a specific advertising budget for it that I am aware of. Certainly, money that would be spent on advertising and awareness would not be large amounts of money.

Senator KROGER —Does it have an overall budget?

Mr Campbell —Because it is done by each DC, it is run—

Senator KROGER —By different agencies?

Mr Campbell —Sorry—deputy commissioners, who are our state managers. The state manager in Victoria has national responsibility for it, and he is not here tonight. But each state decides what activities they will do in concert with the veteran community within their state. The activities they do in Brisbane may well be different to what they do in Hobart, for example.

Senator KROGER —So it is coordinated more on a state basis?

Mr Campbell —It is implemented on a state basis, but such things as the date of it is always set on a national basis.

Senator KROGER —Sure, but local activities are organised on a state basis. I have a couple of questions in relation to the DVA dental care fee structure, which I am happy to put on notice unless you have quick responses for them now.

Mr Douglas —You can try me and we will see how we go.

Senator KROGER —Can you tell me what it is, or is that too complicated?

Mr Douglas —There are thousands of items on the dental fee structure.

Senator KROGER —Maybe I will put some specific questions to you on notice.

Mr Douglas —That would be helpful.

Senator KROGER —I will put my outstanding ones on notice.

[9.07 pm]

CHAIR —If there are no more questions under outcome 2, Health, we will turn to outcome 3, Commemorations.

Senator TROOD —I have a couple of questions in relation to Gallipoli activities. Can you give us a brief run down on the role the department is playing in relation to the planning for the centenary of Gallipoli, if, indeed, you are doing anything?

Mr Campbell —Do you mean the centenary of Gallipoli or the centenary of Anzac and World War I?

Senator TROOD —You can tell me both—if you are doing things in relation to both that would be helpful.

Mr Campbell —They are two very different things. The centenary of Gallipoli will be the service that is held there on 25 April 2015. This year, six weeks ago, we had the 95th anniversary. There are four services there on 25 April: there is the dawn service, which we and New Zealand share, and there is Turkish involvement in that; there is Lone Pine, which is the Australian service; there is the 57th Regiment service, which is Ataturk’s regiment; and then there is Chunuk Bair, which is the New Zealand memorial, and which they organise. Together with the New Zealanders, we are very well advanced in planning for our annual services there, but everything we have been doing now for the last 18 months has been with a view for planning for 2015. I think that while there is a long way to go, and we have 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 to go before 2015, work is well in train there.


With regard to the more general issue, which is what I think your question is about, the Prime Minister announced in April, on Anzac Day, actually, the creation of a commission made up of former Prime Ministers Hawke and Fraser, together with Rear Admiral Ken Doolan, National President of the RSL, asking them to seek views from the community and having community consultations and providing advice to the government on how the Centenary of Anzac might well be commemorated. As said, that was announced on Anzac Day. We are now in discussions with the two former Prime Ministers and Admiral Doolan with a view to working through the process of how we go about seeking community views and what the terms of reference are. All that is in hand between the members of the commission, the minister and the department.

Senator TROOD —Is the commission essentially a responsibility of your department, Mr Campbell?

Mr Campbell —They are reporting to the Prime Minister but the responsible minister—and, therefore, the minister they will work with—is the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, and, therefore, we will provide the support, yes.

Senator TROOD —Is this one of these situations where the Prime Minister will be receiving the reporting and you will be paying all the costs? Or is his department going to bear the cost?

Mr Campbell —If the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is watching—and I suspect he is not—I would like him to pay for the costs. But, no, I will be bearing the cost.

Senator TROOD —Have you done any costings yet?

Mr Campbell —No, because we are still talking to the members of the commission about their process—what sort of consultation should there be, how widely they want to advertise and things like that.

Senator TROOD —Do you have a timeline on where you think you will be in a few months time?

Mr Campbell —We are talking with the three individuals to get this right. The two former Prime Ministers are both very busy men, as is the head of the RSL, and setting an artificial time frame of, say, 31 December might be silly given their other commitments. We are working through with them now an appropriate time frame.

Senator TROOD —That is helpful and I am grateful to you for that information. That provides me with some useful information. There is a figure in your budget for $3.9 million worth of capital works, as I understand it. Is that related to Gallipoli activities?

Mr Campbell —I might ask General Stevens to come to the table. While we are finding the figure you are referring to, my guess that it is very largely relate to the Western Front Interpretative Trail, which we have talked about at previous committees and General Stevens is managing that.

Major Gen. Stevens —Can you point me to the figure?

Senator TROOD —That is a reasonable question. It is in program 3.2.

Mr Carmody —This is 3.9. It is not a matter for General Stevens but he may as well stay at the table, as you might have questions of him anyway. Now that I have found the reference to it, this is the issue of the road at Gallipoli. You will recall that some years ago there were some issues with regard to significant erosion and some roadworks.

Senator TROOD —Indeed I do.

Mr Campbell —The Turkish government have made a decision about what they are going to do and how they are going to protect both Anzac Cove and protect the battlefields on the landward side of the road. They are paying for all of that, but we have been providing some assistance with consultancy work with engineering firms et cetera. That is what that amount is for.

Senator TROOD —So this is about a road?

Mr Campbell —It is about a road and about protection of Anzac Cove. Anzac Cove is eroding quite rapidly and it is causing the road to collapse. Unless the road is stabilised there, there has to be—

Senator TROOD —So there is some sort of retaining wall or something like that?

Mr Campbell —There will be on Anzac Cove, yes. It is a very small wall.

Senator TROOD —Can you tell us how small a wall it is?

Mr Campbell —Up to about two metres in places and it will go for the length of the wall. I think it is 2.3 metres.

Senator KROGER —So 2.3 metres high?

Mr Campbell —Yes.

Senator TROOD —At the highest point, but not necessarily uniformly.

Mr Campbell —If you have a look at Anzac Cove and the beach south of it, which is Brighton Beach, Brighton Beach already has walls like this, and the cemeteries that are north of Anzac Cove, including where Simpson is buried, also have walls to protect them. What has been happening at that area where there is no protection is that the beach is being eroded. This is a national park on the coast with only one road. On the other side of the road are the battlefields. So the risk that everybody is running, and the Turkish authorities are very concerned about it, is that further erosion at the beach will mean that, to maintain the road, further cutting will have to occur on the landward side, which means that you are getting into the battlefields.

So to protect the battlefields on the landward side of the road you actually have to protect the beach to stop the erosion. They have worked very carefully on this and one of the last tests they did was that they did some ground-penetrating radar on Anzac Cove to make sure that there was nothing buried there that you would not expect on a beach.

As I said, the Turkish government are paying for all the capital works. But, going back to 2005-06, the Australian government provided some assistance with consulting works and engineering works. That is what that amount is about.

Senator TROOD —I see. This is essentially the building activity.

Mr Campbell —No, this is not the building. The Turkish government paid for the building.

Senator TROOD —So they are paying for all of the building of the wall et cetera.

Mr Campbell —We have paid for some assisting works in engineering and consultancy works.

Senator TROOD —How long is this wall?

Mr Campbell —It is 600 metres, which is the length of Anzac Cove.

Senator TROOD —And it abuts an existing wall.

Mr Campbell —And the ones that protect the cemeteries, yes. But, as I said, the important thing about it is—and this might sound a bit counterintuitive—the beach has to be protected to protect the battlefields on the other side of the road.

Senator TROOD —I was there many years ago, so I understand the nature of the problem from my recollections.

Mr Campbell —I was there on Anzac Day and at parts along at Anzac Cove now the vertical drop from the road to the beach is up to 15 to 20 metres. What is happening is you are getting wash and erosion from the Aegean Sea and then you have the flow of water coming down from the ridge, which is then washing away the top. So it is being broken away in two ways.

Senator TROOD —You made reference to this a moment ago, I think, and you led me to believe that you were confident that these works would not interfere with any graves, any individuals or anything of that kind.

Mr Campbell —Certainly. It is on the beach and it is to protect the beach so that the battlefields are protected. No, there is no record of any graves or any burials there. As I said, the Turkish authorities went over the total area with ground-penetrating radar and they did not find anything.

Senator TROOD —I see. What sort of time frame are we are looking at? Have we completed the engineering consultancy works or not?

Mr Campbell —It is the Turkish government doing it now. My understanding is that they are preparing the tender, and they have a very well-defined, clearly defined process of tenders and how long government tenders have to be let, and then the works will be done. But they are assuring us that it will be done before next Anzac Day—

Senator TROOD —The next Anzac Day?

Mr Campbell —Anzac Day 2011, but that it will be done before the wet. Their winter—I should not call it a wet; it is not actually a wet in the northern states.

Senator TROOD —That is a Queensland term.

Mr Campbell —Their winter can be quite severe. It does actually snow down there and they get quite a bit of rainfall, which causes more washing away and more erosion. So their aim and objective is to have it done before the winter sets in, which in their time is probably late October or early November.

Senator TROOD —Is this process proceeding in a frame of consultation and cooperation? More particularly, are there Australians involved in inspection of the site works at all or not?

Mr Campbell —The works will be undertaken by the Turkish government—

Senator TROOD —I understand that.

Mr Campbell —and these works will be under the stewardship of the local governor. With the works they did five years ago that was not the case. Of course, we have a consulate down there and I have an officer in Ankara, and they have very close relationships with the Turkish governor. Yes, they will be watching what is happening and obviously talking to people. But the responsibility for building the road and all of the associated works is with the Turkish authorities.

Senator TROOD —I appreciate that. I was keen to know not that we would have a supervisory role but that at least there was not any objection on the part of the Turkish government to Australian officials monitoring, if you will, the progress.

Mr Campbell —I do not know how long ago you were there. I know Senator Bishop was there in 2005. The Turkish authorities are really very good to us, to our tourists who are over there and to government officials. Their level of cooperation is superb.

Senator TROOD —Thank you.

Senator KROGER —This is something that you no doubt know about, and I hope that you do. Apparently there is a village in France called Croix Blanche near Bullecourt.

Mr Campbell —It is a cross-roads rather than a village, I think.

Senator KROGER —There is currently a road being built on a site where there is a suggestion there might be some remains under there—men still listed as missing and presumed killed. I have some details about a couple of them here. Is that right?

Major Gen. Stevens —It is. I have been advised of this by Mr Lambis Englezos, who tells me that he believes that a couple of Australians died there during the Battle of Fromelles. There was a medical aid station of some sort established there. Some Australians died there and he believes they were buried there. Now they are doing road works in the area. I think he is concerned they may be uncovered by the road works. I cannot answer the question as to whether they were recovered. I cannot even answer the question as to whether they were buried there in the first place, or whether they were recovered. All I can say is that in the normal course of these works in France if at any stage remains are discovered then there is a protocol that is put into place immediately to protect the remains, recover the remains and then they go through the same identification process as in the big Fromelles recovery.

Senator KROGER —The suggestion is that it is only 50 metres or so away from where the road is being built. Do they engineer these works in a sensitive way? They do not totally desecrate an area if they do come across some remains.

Major Gen. Stevens —As far as I am aware we are not talking about an established cemetery; we are talking about a battle field burial. If the battle field burial was never recovered then there will be no sign that it is there. The normal course of action would be that the road works would go ahead but if in the course of any of those road works remains are discovered then the road works stop and they recover the remains respectfully and then we go through the process.

Senator KROGER —Thank you.

CHAIR —Anymore questions on this outcome?

Senator TROOD —I will put some on notice.

CHAIR —That concludes our examination of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Thank you.

 [9.24 pm]