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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 3578

Mr Oakeshott asked the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, in writing, on 12 February 2009:

Why are convoys, such as those who were with the Australian General Transport company operating between Alice Springs and Darwin during World War II, ineligible for Gold Cards.

Mr Griffin (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

Eligibility for the Gold Card is assessed on an individual basis and is determined by specific criteria set out in the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA).

Under the VEA, a veteran who served in the Australian Defence Force is entitled to the Gold Card if the veteran:

  • has qualifying service and has reached the age of 70 years; or
  • is severely disabled due to war or defence service; or
  • is receiving a service pension and satisfies the income and assets tests for treatment; or
  • is receiving a disability pension at 50 per cent of the general rate and also a service pension; or
  • is an Australian former prisoner of war.

Qualifying service attributable to service during World War II is different from ‘operational service’ in that there are two elements to the concept of qualifying service. Firstly, a person must have been engaged in operations against the enemy and secondly, the person must have incurred danger from the enemy at that time. A veteran incurs danger from hostile forces when he or she is at risk or in peril of actual bodily harm from hostile forces.

Those who served in certain locations of Northern Australia above latitude 14.5 degrees south for at least three months between 19 February 1942 and 12 November 1943 (inclusive) have both operational and qualifying service. Operational service provides access to the disability pension and treatment for accepted disabilities.

The origin of the 14.5 degree south latitude and period 19 February 1942 til 12 November 1943 goes back to 1943 when the Repatriation Act 1920 was amended to include service ‘within Australia’ as service in a ‘theatre of war’. The Repatriation Commission, which determined what areas were to be ‘theatres of war’ for the purpose of the Repatriation Act 1920, defined ‘theatre of war’ as including the Northern Territory north of the parallel 14.5 degree south latitude between 19 February 1942 and 12 November 1943. The latitude 14.5 degree south was selected as the furthermost limit of the range of Japanese bombers operating against Australia, while the dates 19 February 1942 and 12 November 1943 were the dates of the first and last Japanese bombing raids on the Northern Territory. In 1986 the Repatriation Act 1920 was replaced by the VEA.

Veterans who served north of 14.5 degrees south and the islands contiguous to that part of the Northern Territory for less than three months during the specified period may also qualify if they “incurred danger”. As the test for “incurred danger” is objective, not subjective, qualifying service in such circumstances is determined on a case-by-case basis. This interpretation of “incurred danger” accords with that made by the Full Federal Court in the case of the Repatriation Commission v Thompson and is consistent with the intent of the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 and its predecessor legislation.

Personnel in convoys travelling from Alice Springs to Darwin may have been apprehensive and aware of the possibility of being bombed (or strafed), but a person does not incur actual danger by merely perceiving or fearing that they are in danger. To be at risk or in peril from hostile forces of the enemy and therefore have qualifying service, a member of the convoys would have to have been in the general area of a bombing.