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Thursday, 25 March 2004
Page: 27339

Mr LINDSAY (11:01 AM) —I am sorry that the member for Franklin had to leave, because I think he would have appreciated the comments that I am going to make. But Deputy Speaker Adams, the member for Lyons—another fine member from Tasmania—is present. I am pleased to see the success of the trial that the Department of Veterans' Affairs undertook in Tasmania. I am pleased because I would like to announce that I am about to become an honorary Tasmanian. On 12 June, my daughter Kylie is going to marry a very fine Tasmanian architect, Hobart's leading up-and-coming architect, Chris Jacobson. On the occasion of their marriage, as Chris's father-in-law, I will become an honorary Tasmanian. Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, I am looking forward to that.

Back in Townsville, which is my home city, there is no doubt that the veterans' community is electronically literate. Over the past several months veterans have had their voices heard through electronic communication with their federal member of parliament and indeed with members of parliament and governments right across the country. They are no strangers to the use of electronic technology. They are very good at talking among themselves. They have web sites and chat rooms. They have their own groups in which they talk to each other. They are very comfortable with using computer equipment, computer technology and electronic means of communication. It is therefore fortuitous and proper that the government is now moving to enable electronic communication between our veterans around the country and the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Because of the provisions in the Veterans' Entitlements Amendment (Electronic Delivery) Bill 2004 wherever veterans might be throughout the world they will have access to the DVA in a timely manner.

I would like to pay tribute to Kevin Bycroft, the local manager of the DVA in Townsville. I appreciate the assistance that Kevin gives me, my office and my staff with respect to difficult matters that arise. The advice he gives is particularly important. Kevin is able to clear away some of the bureaucratic red tape that sometimes exists when veterans—who, understandably, sometimes do not understand the rules, regulations and procedures—lodge claims with the DVA. Kevin and his people at the DVA in Townsville are just magnificent in their can-do attitude to dealing with problems that arise. Nothing is a problem; there is always a solution. I can say very confidently that my office and the veterans who we all serve and look after very much appreciate the help from that office.

This bill achieves two purposes. It is good to see that it has the support of all the parliament. It is going to unify all the existing lodgement provisions within the VEA, and that can only be a good thing. It is going to allow for both electronic and physical delivery of documents to the DVA. The member for Pearce outlined the importance of maintaining physical delivery of documents, but also the importance of now allowing electronic delivery of documents. The existing provisions require that for a claim, application or other document to be lodged, it must have been sent to the department at an approved address or delivered to a designated person. These amendments will include provisions for such documents to be lodged electronically at an approved address. In my view, the date of lodgement of the document is a very important point. The date that the electronic communication is received is virtually instantaneous from when it was sent, and the date that is recorded in DVA records forms the basis for calculation of benefits once a claim is accepted.

Information provided to the department by telephone will not be subject to these amendments—that is also understandable. The VEA contains a number of provisions that refer to oral communication of information in response to a notice issued by the department. Other provisions will allow for the oral withdrawal of various written applications, and these are unchanged. This bill marks the next step in the government's ongoing program of improvements to the delivery of services to the veteran community. It builds on the commitment to use new technologies in veterans' service delivery and the successful trial in Tasmania to allow veterans to lodge information electronically.

I certainly have put a lot of effort into making sure that we get the best deal for veterans in Townsville and Thuringowa. In the last several months there has been significant interest in changes to entitlements and the way the VEA works. I certainly have had a strong part in all of that and played my role in standing up for veterans in the community. I give a commitment to Townsville veterans that I will continue to stand up for them in the Australian parliament.