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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2293

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Sport and Territories) (9.07 p.m.) —The Military Compensation Bill introduces a compensation scheme to meet the special requirements of the ADF. This scheme is, in part, structured around the provisions of the Safety Rehabilitation Compensation Act with modification for Defence Force needs. The government initiated an extensive program of consultation about the new scheme with groups representing both the Defence Force and the veteran communities.

  One of the issues raised during the consultations related to the representation of these communities in the administration of the scheme. So far as the SRCA is concerned, administration is supervised by the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission. To meet the concern raised during the consultations, the government agreed to add a Defence Force representative to the commission. A government amendment was moved for this purpose when the Bill was debated in the House of Representatives in February of this year.

  During the consideration of the Bill in the Senate on 22 March, an opposition amendment was carried to add a further member of the commission to be nominated by an organisation or organisations representing veterans. The government believes that this further change is inappropriate. The present 10-member composition of the commission has been structured to represent employers, unions, and government, and an additional member to represent the veteran community would be inconsistent with this intention.

  If the amendment for an additional member representing veterans were accepted, it is likely there would be pressure for other organisations or groups to be represented such as, for example, retired public servants. This would not only disturb the existing balance in the commission's membership, but would also increase its size to the point where it would become unwieldy and inefficient.

  With respect to the Defence Force representative, I point out that it needs to be borne in mind that members of the Defence Force are not represented by a registered trade union, and their interests, therefore, are not directly covered by the ACTU members of the commission. The Defence Force representative is also able to enhance the commission's awareness of the nature of defence service—a matter of particular relevance with the introduction of the military compensation scheme. These factors do not apply with respect to the suggested nominee of veterans' organisations. For these reasons the government does not accept the amendment that was made by the Senate.

  At the same time the government acknowledges that there would be merit in an explicit legislative recognition of the interests of former as well as serving members of the Defence Force in the administration of the SRCA. Accordingly, the government has proposed a reformulation of the provision of the SRCA dealing with the Defence Force member of the commission. It is proposed that there be a further amendment to express this provision in terms that this member of the commission be a member of the Defence Force who, in the minister's opinion, represents the interests of members and former members of the Defence Force. The government believes this recognition of the interests of both groups does meet the concern that arose in the consultative process that I have referred to, but does so in a way that does not alter the balance of the commission or lead to the range of other difficulties that I outlined.

  I take this opportunity to place on record the fact that the development of the Military Compensation Bill has involved very extensive consultation between my staff, officers of Defence, officers of the Department of Veterans' Affairs and, of course, the Australian Defence Force, representatives of the ex-service community, and serving members of the ADF. I place on record my appreciation of the contribution by all the organisations and individuals who have participated in these consultations. The process has been very constructive and certainly has assisted the government in making a range of improvements to the bill.

  I place on record the government's appreciation of the contributions that have been made and say very clearly that in our view they are both valuable and valued. The consultations have also given the Department of Defence and the ADF an opportunity to examine their administration of rehabilitation and compensation and to establish a clear direction for future development. I also appreciate the contributions by the opposition and other senators who, while supporting the legislation, have raised a number of valid concerns and issues for government consideration. I believe the final product is very much working in the common interests and wellbeing of our service personnel.