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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5674

Mrs MARKUS (6:18 PM) —As the minister would be aware, I have already spoken in parliament about a number of specific measures relating to the budget and of course this House has already dealt with legislation affecting measures relating to the re-review of the Clarke review. The budget provides $55 million for workers on the F111 deseal/reseal program operated by the Royal Australian Air Force between 1973 and the year 2000. The government’s response follows a parliamentary inquiry report tabled in June last year. I recently met with the F111 Deseal/Reseal Support Group, which is well known as the Goop Troop, who raised with me a series of issues which emerged after the government’s response was released.

In response to questions in Senate estimates earlier in the month, the secretary to the department indicated that the government was aware of specific concerns and was working through these concerns with the group. Although I am pleased that this is happening, it is worth asking why these issues were not worked through prior to the government’s response. Was there consultation between the report being released and made public and then the government bringing about a formal response?

Specifically, there are concerns about the number of documents that former workers are required to provide to the department in order to verify their involvement in the program. Fact sheet F111-05 guidelines for the use of statutory declarations in applications for tier classifications require claimants to provide two statutory declarations, one from the claimant and the other from a co-worker or a commanding officer who has already had their claim accepted.

When asked in Senate estimates how many claims had already been accepted, the department conceded that at that point there were none. Further, the fact sheet notes that evidence is tested for plausibility. When asked about this, the department indicated that this was an issue they were working through with the support group. Of course, what we would have liked to have seen was an explanation to the Senate committee of—

Honourable members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DS Vale)—Order! The member for Greenway is entitled to be heard in silence.

Mrs MARKUS —the basis for the requirement existing, as was requested. Despite it being an offence to make a false statutory declaration, clearly decision makers may have some doubt about the veracity of the two statements made by former members of the Australian Defence Force. Is that the case?

In the inquiry’s report on page 103 the following is recorded:

One of the difficulties encountered by many claimants was the lack of maintenance records held in relation the F-111 maintenance workers.

Any of us who have spoken to any of the people affected are aware of this. It continues:

Defence advised that after an exhaustive search by RAAF, including interviews with former 1 and 6 Squadron personnel, aircraft maintenance records prior to 1992 were unavailable.

It goes on to say:

Many contributors to the Inquiry have commented on the fact that individual aircraft maintenance records, which would have proven their involvement in the formal DSRS programs, are unavailable.

That is also well known. The inquiry’s recommendations on statutory declarations were accepted with modifications by the government. The accepted recommendation was modified to require two statutory declarations. Understandably, there is concern within the ex-service community about these requirements. There appear to be, on the face of it, serious concerns with the way the government has developed its response to this particular area and too little consultation between the inquiry’s report being tabled and the government’s formal response. Now it appears to be being mopped up after the fact.

I ask the minister to explain the lack of consultation with affected ex-service people prior to the government’s response. I also ask the minister to brief this House on the extent of his further negotiations on the package and what areas remain of concern to the affected individuals. Further, I ask the minister to detail for the House the time line for the establishment of the claims unit inside this department to manage the expected increase in claims as part of the government’s response. What will the target claims-handling times be? How many staff will be engaged in the process? Also, given that the parliamentary inquiry recommended extensive training for departmental staff, what training has begun and how will the staff training be reviewed and assessed?