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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3111

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(10.57) —The Government does not accept the amendments moved by Senator Macklin, for some very good reasons. Firstly, the appointment of members to the existing processes , from the Repatriation Commission right through to the Repatriation Review Tribunal, are for a three-year duration. It is true that the Administrative Review Council recommended a seven-year appointment. But it was felt that, certainly in the initial stages there ought to be a period between three years and seven years, so the Government decided on a five-year period, particularly as we wanted to accommodate the ex-service community's capacity to nominate a person in that important area of the Veterans Review Board. Bearing in mind the age of many veterans we did not want to be put in a position in which those who served in World War II or Korea would automatically be excluded because of the seven-year determination. We have agreed, in consultation with the veteran community and their organisations, that they will have the right to nominate a person to the VRB.

I am afraid Senator Macklin sees the role of the VRB in somewhat the same way as he saw the role of the RRT. As I said in the second reading debate, it is a review board. It is not the final court of appeal, which is at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal level. At the direct request of the National President of the Returned Services League, Sir William Keys, the Government agreed to have a special repatriation division. The matter was raised with me during the discussions I had with the representatives of the veteran community. The Government was not persuaded at that stage to have such a division of the AAT. But, as part of our consultative and consensus approach to this legislation , the Government finally agreed to establish a third tier of the AAT and a special division of it. What Senator Macklin is referring to largely relates to the AAT rather than the VRB. We see the VRB as being an intermediate review board. If an applicant has not been able to present a case to the satisfaction of the delegate there will be an appeal to the VRB in the immediate sense. To that extent, the Veterans Review Board is not to be seen as having the same role as had the final court of appeal of the Repatriation Review Tribunal.

We believe that a five-year term will also give the Government, and the Minister in particular, the opportunity to review the activities of the members of the Veterans' Review Board which the Minister has appointed. We are talking here of a large number of appointments. I remind the Senate-and it stands to reason-that not every appointment necessarily will be proven, beyond all reasonable doubt, to be a good appointment. So to appoint someone for seven years not only restricts the Government's capacity to appoint veterans who have served in war but also restricts the Government from rectifying a difficulty should one arise. I urge the Senate to support the recommendation that is encompassed in the legislation, particularly as it enjoys the near unanimous support of the veteran community. I remind honourable senators that this legislation is the result of extensive consultation and agreement. Whilst I do not take away the right of the Senate to change legislation during the Committee stage, I point out to honourable senators that doing so may well have greater repercussion than they imagine if, in fact, the purport of the legislation is altered as a result of the agreement to a considerable number of amendments during the Committee stage.