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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 10360


Ms O'TOOLE (Herbert) (11:43): I rise to speak on the Defence Legislation Amendment (2017 Measures No. 1) Bill. My electorate of Herbert is home to the largest ADF presence in the country, and I am incredibly proud and very honoured to represent the largest garrison city in Australia. The ADF community in Townsville makes up approximately 20 per cent of our overall population. This includes current and ex-serving personnel, veterans, peacekeepers and family members. Townsville's economy reaps significant benefits from this large and welcome ADF presence. In fact, the ADF contribution financially can never be understated. Our community's social capital is also greatly enhanced by the presence of the Defence Force, their families and our veterans.

In order to gain a sound understanding and to recognise the significant and important role that the defence community and their families play in our community, I established the first Townsville Defence Community Reference Group. The reference group was also established to provide vital feedback and input into policy development to ensure that ADF voices in my community are heard in Canberra. The reference group is made up of local leaders in the defence community, including serving members and community organisers—dedicated leaders who all work tirelessly in the interests of our serving and ex-serving personnel, veterans and their families. They are people like Floss Foster, from Veterans Off The Streets; Ray Martin, from ADSO; Nicky Rothwell, from Women Veterans Network; Phillip Thompson, from selectability; Lieutenant General John Caligari (Ret.); Peter Hindle, from Vietnam Veterans; Trevor Mullins, from TPI; Bill Whitburn, from the RSL; and Andrew Clinkaberry and Walter Davis, from Overwatch. The people all work tirelessly in the ESO community.

I work collaboratively with the reference group to ensure that our Townsville defence community has a strong voice and input into federal defence policy. The reference group has had many successes to date as a result of a strong and respectful collaboration with a range of stakeholders, including changes to the National Mental Health Commission review panel to include representation from the young veteran community and families and a community consultation in Townsville with the relevant ministers. In late 2016 Minister Ley, then the health minister, and Minister Tehan, in his role as Minister for Veterans' Affairs, hosted a forum in Townsville. The National Mental Health Commission review panel conducted a consultation with both the Townsville Defence Community Reference Group and the public in Townsville. The reference group has also been very active in working collaboratively with the Northern Queensland PHN in the implementation of the veteran suicide prevention trial in Townsville, with the following activities undertaken in January and February this year: drafted the terms of reference for the steering committee; nominated members from the group to participate in the initial steering committee; nominated the chair of the steering committee, who reports to the reference group on the trial's progress; drafted the suicide prevention trial project officer job description; and participated on the interview panel for the recruitment of the project officer, along with the PHN personnel.

The Townsville veteran suicide prevention trial is the most advanced in the country, and this is due to the grassroots collaboration and hard work that has been and continues to be done by the Townsville Defence Community Reference Group in collaboration with Northern Queensland PHN and other stakeholders. Supporting veterans, ex-serving personnel and their families should not be embroiled in politics, especially considering that we are talking about people who have given courageously and selflessly of their lives in order for Australian citizens to enjoy the freedoms that we do in this country on a daily basis. Defence families also deserve to be supported, as they too make sacrifices when their family members are deployed overseas. Our ADF members put their lives on hold to serve and protect our country, and they deserve nothing less than our unwavering support during and after their service.

This bill comprises four schedules which seek to smooth the processes around medications, increase protections for reservists, add contemporary definitions of children, and enable reclassification for those who leave Defence. The first schedule amends the Defence Act 1903 to enable the policy framework to broaden and expand the conditions under which a positive test result for prohibited substances must be disregarded, including in circumstances relating to appropriate usage of over-the-counter medication or substances administered by authorised persons. This is a practical amendment which will smooth processes in circumstances in which individuals test positive for over-the-counter or prescribed medications. As it stands, Defence members and Defence civilians who test positive for a prohibited substance solely because they took a prescribed or over-the-counter medication are currently required by the act to show cause as to why they should remain in the service or why the arrangement in which they were engaged as a Defence civilian should not be terminated. If the medication was administered, supplied or prescribed by a qualified medical practitioner, this is treated as though it was a negative result.

This amendment will insert a provision into the legislation whereby a member's test result will be treated as a negative result when a medication has been administered, supplied or prescribed by medical officers, nurse practitioners, dentists, pharmacists or other health professionals who hold such authorisations approved by their Australian national registration boards; administered, supplied or prescribed by Defence internally authorised health and allied health professionals or Defence trained health staff; or obtained as an over-the-counter medication as a pharmacy medicine, pharmacist-only medicine or a general-sales medicine.

Schedule 2 amends the Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001 to ensure all reservists are eligible for the full range of protections under the act, in respect of their employment and education. Reservists play an integral role in the defence of Australia, serving in an entirely voluntary capacity to provide support to the ADF, help rebuild lives and communities after floods, tsunamis and bushfires as well as delivering humanitarian support overseas. Reservists are fundamental to our Defence Force as they help to safeguard the security and national interests of this country. It is vital that Reservists be supported to take part in this program and not be disadvantaged by their desire to participate. The amendments are described by Defence as being needed to mitigate some of the disadvantages Reserve members may face when active in defence service, because of their absence from their workplace, their education provider and, in some cases, their country.

A review of the Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001 in 2008 concluded that the act was working well overall, but it made recommendations to improve the act's clarity and consistency and to address some gaps in available protections. The amendments will expand the scope of the employment, partnership and education protections to apply to all defence service by Reserve members; expand the scope of the financial liability and bankruptcy protections to apply to all operational service by Reserve members; clarify the employment protections to give greater certainty about Reserve members' rights when they are absent from their employment to render defence service; enhance the education protections to create an obligation on education providers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate Reserve members' defence service; introduce anti-victimisation and anti-harassment provisions to improve the experience of Reserve members in their civilian workplaces; and introduce a civil penalty regime as a complement to the existing criminal offences throughout the act, recognising that Reservists are a part of the broader defence capability. These changes will improve the protections for Reservists and encourage greater retention and capability in the Reserve forces.

Schedule 3 will transfer the hydrographic, meteorological and oceanographic functions from the Royal Australian Navy to the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation. This move is in accordance with a recommendation from the first principles review of Defence. The transfer is expected to realise synergies in the exploitation of imagery and other data to produce intelligence and non-intelligence geospatial related information in support of Australia's defence interests and other national objectives. It is a minor change in the act; however, as a recommendation of the first principles review, of which Labor was broadly supportive, we are pleased to see this enacted in this piece of legislation.

Schedule 4 will align a small number of provisions in the Australian Defence Force Cover Act 2015 with other military superannuation schemes and provide clarity on the definition of an eligible child of a member or invalid. These amendments will ensure that members who resign from the ADF and later find they could have been medically discharged will be able to apply to the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation to have their mode of discharge circumstances reassessed. This is consistent with other military superannuation schemes and I am supportive of these changes, particularly in relation to those suffering from undiagnosed mental health conditions. There are many circumstances in which ADF personnel may leave the forces as a result of an unknown medical condition, whether this is a physical or mental illness. I believe it is appropriate that those men or women who leave under these circumstances have the ability to have this issue reassessed.

This schedule also seeks to make amendments which will create a more contemporary definition of an eligible child. This will allow a child to become eligible at a later date, where the child is found ineligible at the time of the member's death. The government has provided the following example: where the child of a member is over 18 and ceases full-time study to care for the member or to undertake a gap year prior to the member's death, subsequently resuming full-time activities after the member's death while still under the age of 25. This amendment will allow a child to become eligible for a benefit in additional circumstances. In addition, these amendments will remove the requirement for a child of a deceased member to be wholly or substantially dependent on the deceased invalid or member or an eligible spouse. This will ensure that all eligible children of a deceased member are recognised, regardless of where they reside, and it does not unintentionally exclude children who would otherwise be found eligible if there was no eligible spouse.

Labor will always support changes which improve processes and protections for members of the Defence forces, employees of the defence industry and their families. By smoothing the processes around medication, increasing protections for reservists, adding contemporary definitions of children and enabling reclassification of those who leave Defence, this bill seeks to improve their conditions. This bill will assist those in the Townsville Defence community by providing a smoother process and increased protections for those men and women who serve our country. Any legislation that improves the processes, quality, transparency and generally the lives of our current serving and ex-serving personal, veterans and families will have my strongest support. I am proud to serve the Herbert electorate, which the largest presence of ADF veterans, ex-service personnel and their families call home, because their contribution to our community cannot be overstated. The ADF makes a significant and valued contribution to our community, and I am very proud to support these changes.