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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 10366

Ms LAMB (Longman) (12:11): I rise today, as some of my colleagues have, to support the Defence Legislation Amendment (2017 Measures No. 1) Bill 2017. It is a bill of four schedules that seeks to smooth the process for our Defence Force personnel and increase protections for those thousands of Reservists who live in our community raising families, working with local employers and participating in some of our great sporting clubs and arts and cultural clubs. The bill increases protections for those amazing Reservists. It is sensible legislation and it is practical legislation. I'm very pleased to not just support it; it is legislation that I feel quite honoured to speak about, as a member of parliament and as representative of my own community.

I speak in support of this bill for our Defence Force past, present and future—a Defence Force community that is growing in areas like Narangba in my electorate. I have to say that while Labor will always oppose regressive policies like attacks on workers or cuts to vital funding streams, we will always support positive legislation that helps take steps forward. Australia is a great country. There is no need to make it great again, because it is great—we all know that. It always has been, and we have to thank our Defence Force for supporting Australia in becoming that great country that it is today and has always been.

When we look in the rear vision mirror at the past—from our youthful days in Gallipoli to the work that is being done all around the world in places like Afghanistan, Syria and the South Pacific—the Australian Defence Force has always been there to support us. So we must always do whatever we can to support our Defence Force personnel and Reservists. There is always more that we can do, of course, but sometimes it is as simple as passing legislation such as this. Any practical measures that we can pass which will assist our Defence Force personnel or our veterans or our Reservists must always be considered. Labor will always support sensible legislation that supports the ADF. Labor always has and Labor always will. We understand just how important the ADF and its personnel are.

The first schedule of this bill amends the Defence Act of 1903 to expand the conditions under which a positive test result for a prohibited substance must be disregarded. Essentially, this will smooth the process and circumstances where individuals test positive for an over-the-counter or prescribed medication. The existing legislation requires Defence Force members and civilians who test positive for a prohibited substance to show cause as to why they should remain in the service or why the arrangement in which they are engaged as a defence civilian should not be terminated, even if the positive result was due to a prescribed over-the-counter medication. Effectively, this policy has been punishing people for getting sick. If a Defence Force member has a cold and subsequently takes some particularly strong over-the-counter medication, the policy forces them to jump through a whole range of hoops to prove that they are still fit to serve. But with the new provisions that are due to be implemented in the legislation through the passage of this bill, a member's test result will be treated as a negative result when a medication has been administered, supplied or prescribed by an authorised medical officer, a nurse, a dentist, a pharmacist or another health professional approved by the Australian national registration board. Really, this just makes sense. It really does. I trust the Australian health care system—thanks to Medicare, we've got one of the very, very best in the world—to safely and accurately prescribe medication to patients.

The test results will also be treated as negative when a medication has been administered, supplied or prescribed by defence internally authorised health and allied health professionals or defence trained staff. To be quite honest, I find it alarming that this isn't already the case. Flawed policy such as this just shows how necessary it is that we have practical amendments like the ones this bill can produce for us.

The third reason for test results to be treated as negative is if the drug was obtained as an over-the-counter medication as a pharmacist-only medicine or a general-sales medicine. This helps to prevent the vilification of a member of the Defence Force who needed relief from sickness like a cold or the flu. We've just come out of the cold and flu season. I'm sure many of us have headed to the pharmacist in the last few months, seeking relief from a cold or the flu. I never thought I would see it: sensible drug testing from this government. After the horrible, horrible social reform that we've seen this week, it seems strange that the government are seeking to pass positive reform in the same sitting week. But, regardless, I will never get in the way of positive reforms. So I'm happy to support this sensible amendment to drug testing in the ADF.

I would now like to move to schedule 4 of this bill. It stands out to me as a really strong and really positive step forward. Schedule 4 will align a small number of provisions in the Australian Defence Force Cover Act of 2015 with other military superannuation schemes. Notably, it will provide clarity on the definition of an eligible child of a member or an invalid. Labor and I are supportive of these changes. They provide protections for members of the ADF who resign from the force and later find out that they would have been eligible to be medically discharged. There are a number of circumstances which may cause a member of the Defence Force to resign as a result of an unknown medical condition. For some, this may be an undiagnosed physical condition. For others, this actually might be a mental illness. Having found that they could have been medically discharged, this schedule will allow for the former member to apply to the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation to have their mode of discharge circumstances reassessed.

It is entirely appropriate that any man or any woman who leaves the Defence Force under these circumstances be granted the ability to have this reassessed. It is fair and right, particularly in the case of an undiagnosed mental illness. For many, mental illness can go undiagnosed for extended and very, very long periods of time. It would not be fair for people who resign due to stresses that were placed upon them by a mental illness to lose out in their superannuation because they weren't formally discharged. Sometimes people themselves just aren't even conscious of an ailment, but they still suffer from it and they just aren't sure why. These people shouldn't be punished. We should be supporting these people whenever we can. So I'm very pleased to stand here and support schedule 4 of this bill, in particular today, just before R U OK? Day, which falls tomorrow. I think it's particularly important that we acknowledge that really important day, so I'm very pleased to stand here to support schedule 4.

R U OK? Day reminds us to ask a friend, a colleague or a family member, 'Are you doing okay today?' It is a simple question that could truly help someone who is struggling with a mental illness. For our returned service men and women, it can make a world of difference just to be asked that question: 'Are you okay?'

I also strongly support schedule 2 of this bill, which provides protections for another area of the Defence Force that can be overlooked, despite the important role they play. I'm talking about the brave men and women who are employed as Defence Force reservists. These are wonderful people living and working in our community—we play touch football beside them, we volunteer at our local Lions Club with a lot of these people, and we join them down at the surf life-saving club over at Bribie Island. These are amazing brave men and women. Schedule 2 of the bill supports reservists in a number of ways, particularly helping to manage their civilian lives. For example, anti-victimisation, anti-harassment provisions, will be introduced to improve the experience of Reserve members in their civilian places. There will also be protections to give greater certainty about Reserve members' rights when they are absent from their employment to render defence service. There are also protections to create an obligation on education providers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate Reserve members' defence service. These protections are, of course, very welcome. Reserve members have to give so much of their time to the Defence Force, but we can't let it consume all of their lives, of course. Protections like these allow members of the Army Reserve to live, to work and to learn. It allows them to approach their service to the Reserves as exactly what it should be, which is as a part-time job—a service to their community and their country, but not as an all-consuming aspect of their lives. By recognising it as such and putting proper protections and safeguards in place, I really do believe that we will see greater retention and capability within our Reserve forces. I'm really confident these protections will result in a much stronger Reserve force. I have to note that these amendments were initially proposed some years ago as recommendations from a review of the Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001, and it is good to see them finally being implemented.

Labor has always said that if there are more ways in which we can support our Defence Force personnel—anything at all—we should be doing them. We believe that in supporting this bill we are smoothing that process for the service men and women and increasing protections for people who serve our country. I'm sure everybody in the House agrees that this is a good thing. I stand here to support this bill wholeheartedly on behalf of my community.