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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Department of Veterans' Affairs

CHAIR: I welcome Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC—both excellent positions for you with your background, Minister. I also welcome the Secretary of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, Mr Simon Lewis PSM, and officers of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I also welcome the Hon. Brendan Nelson—it is good to see you Brendan—who is the Director of the Australian War Memorial, and officers from the War Memorial.

This evening the committee will examine the additional estimates for the Veterans' Affairs portfolio. Topics will be considered in the order set out in the agenda. The committee has set Thursday, 24 April 2014 as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. The committee has also decided that senators should provide their written questions on notice to the secretariat by the close of business on Thursday, 6 March.

Under standing order 26 the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance, the secretariat has copies of the rules and can provide advice. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an Order of the Senate on 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised, which I now incorporate into Hansard. There are also copies available on the witness table.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

   (a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

   (b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

(13 May 2009 J.1941)

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)

Minister, would you like to make an opening statement?

Senator Ronaldson: No, thank you, but I know that the secretary would like to.

CHAIR: Please proceed, Mr Lewis.

Mr Lewis : I did make an opening statement at the last hearings, being my first appearance as secretary. I do want to make a short statement this evening. I will not make a habit of it, but at the last hearings there were, I think, three senators who asked questions about how we are tracking on performance on processing compensation claims. So I thought I should just provide an update for the benefit of the committee. We acknowledged at the last estimates hearing the urgent need for work to be done to address claims processing times. The Minister for Veterans' Affairs and I are strongly committed to addressing this issue. In fact, this was the first issue that the minister raised with me following his swearing-in last September.

Supporting clients is our core business and addressing claims quickly and efficiently is vital. Today I am pleased to report on some significant progress in this space. As a first step, the department has developed a four-part action plan to improve the timeliness of claims processing. The strategies are: reducing work on hand; improving client communication and engagement; improving case management practices; and reviewing and improving business processes. Let me take you through the four parts in more detail and outline a number of short- and longer-term initiatives that have been identified and progressed.

Firstly, in relation to reducing work on hand, the department has development a new workload management and forecasting tool that allows for better monitoring, reporting and distribution of workload on a national basis. As part of this monitoring we are focusing on meeting or exceeding key performance indicator targets to ensure output exceeds intake. A dedicated team in Melbourne has been working to address the claims work on hand. Between 1 July 2013 and 31 January 2014, the number of compensation claims awaiting completion fell from 7,001 to 5,885. I acknowledge that this is a small gain, but it is a start. I expect this number will continue to fall.

Secondly, in relation to improved client communication and engagement, the department is ensuring that clients are kept informed of the progress of their claims from start to finish. We are engaging clients in the claims process as early as possible and do this through discussions with serving members about the lodgement of claims on 35 on-base advisory service—OBAS—locations at Australian Defence Force based around the country; the training information program, or TIP; providing training and information for ex-service organisation, welfare and pension officers on the claims process; and through MyAccount—a step-by-step process guiding claimants through the online lodgement of claims. As well as supporting individuals to submit a claim, these services also help promote a better understanding of the claims process, including information and documentation required to speed up the process.

Once a client has submitted a claim, we will keep them informed of its progress by contacting them when the department has received the claim and for MRCA claims we provide a progress report to the client on the status of the claim at the 60-day mark and provide further advice to the client at the 110-day mark if we anticipate that claim will not be completed in 120 days. The department is bound to these steps by new administrative protocols tabled in the Senate in June 2013 and which came into effect for MRCA claims from 14 October 2013. We are looking to expand these protocols to the VEA and SRCA claims this year. In addition, clients can also keep informed of their claim's progress by tracking it through the online self-service portal called MyAccount.

Thirdly, in relation to improving case management practice, the department has taken action to ensure better reporting and distribution of work across all of its claims processing locations. This will ensure more effective workload management. We have also introduced other strategies to reduce the delays in the processing of claims. These include: further training, guidance and support to claims assessors to expedite claims through the process; and better use of departmental medical advisers to ensure faster turnaround for advice on medical aspects of compensation claims.

The fourth strategy is in relation to reviewing and improving business processes. The initiatives I have covered are all fast wins for our clients.

In the longer term DVA is reviewing its business processes for handling claims. We have engaged experienced change management consultant Beca to assist in this work. Beca's work will encompass the following: the as-is business work process maps allowing DVA and Beca to document and analyse the current business processes; the to-be business work process maps which will identify streamlined practices and business processes; and an implementation strategy which will identify a pathway to introduce organisational change and the development of any ICT systems to support the to-be business process. Finally, the department is also examining the structure of its compensation processing areas in order to maximise efficiencies.

In summary, reducing the times taken to process claims is achievable. The department is working towards achieving its current target of 75 to 120 days per claim. I thank the veteran and defence communities and their families for their patience on this issue. Whilst in the short term it may take some time to reach these targets as the department works to implement the strategies I have outlined, in the long term I expect to report on better results for our clients. I will continue to provide updates on the progress of this very important work, and I thank the committee for the opportunity to provide this update.

Senator Ronaldson: Chair, with the leave of the committee, I will just add a couple of words.

CHAIR: Please go ahead.

Senator Ronaldson: I want to confirm to the committee how important I personally feel this claims-processing time is, and I want to support the work that the secretary and the department are doing. This is not just about claims-processing times; this involves a whole range of issues for our young men and women, particularly those who are returning from Afghanistan. It is an early intervention issue as well as a claims-processing-time issue. There is no doubt that, if we can reduce the pressure on these young men and women who are returning—particularly when they are transitioning out of defence—I think it is going to have a significant positive impact on them.

I do not want anyone to think that it is just about claims processing; this is actually about a far bigger issue which the department and I are acutely aware of and which we will be doing whatever we can to address. I am not saying that this is the only intervention issue—because it most certainly is not—but it is a very important first step.

CHAIR: Thank you, Minister.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you, Mr Lewis, for coming and joining us this evening. Since the federal election and the November supplementary budget estimates, have there been any changes to the structure of the department?

Mr Lewis : There have been no significant changes, Senator. I think you asked the question at the last hearings. There might have been a change to a section or two, but I would not regard them as significant changes. I think I flagged to you that over time it is possible there may be more significant changes to parts of the department, but none of that has happened at this stage—and neither is it likely to happen in the short term.

Senator FARRELL: You did say that there may be some changes in the future. If they are not short term, what are your long-term plans in this regard?

Mr Lewis : I will get through the short term before I get to the long-term! The reality is that I am still—

Senator FARRELL: You have raised the prospect of some changes. Obviously you have an ambitious program for reducing waiting times. I appreciate that you have to deal with the short term, but do you have some longer-term plans?

Mr Lewis : The longer-term plans are really going to depend on how the department improves its service delivery model in the face of declining resources. That is the reality, so we will be looking at a number of options which might help us to achieve that over time. We will need to decide what the core functions of the department are and what functions might appropriately be done as part of whole-of-government delivery over time. When I say 'over time', I mean that it might well be that the extent to which we work through DHS in relation to some of our ICT support might be extended further over time; there might be other changes. But not only are there no decisions in relation to that but also we would need to do a lot of work to even scope out how we would go about those changes.

Senator FARRELL: But you are obviously giving some thought to it.

Mr Lewis : There will be thought given to it, I have no doubt—probably over the next several years.

Senator Ronaldson: If I could just come in there, when we talk about—

Senator FARRELL: Minister, you did this last time. We are starting to ask some questions of the secretary, and—

Senator Ronaldson: My apologies. I thought you had finished.

Senator FARRELL: You will know when I am finished.

Senator Ronaldson: When you stop talking, which I thought you had. That is fine.

Senator FARRELL: I did take a breath, but I was in the process of trying to get some answers. I do not know whether you do it deliberately to distract us or distract the secretary from answering the questions, but you do have this habit, can I say, of butting in. So I would appreciate—

Senator Ronaldson: Senator, I hold you in the highest regard.

Senator FARRELL: I am sure you do.

Senator Ronaldson: And I would do nothing that would interfere with the smooth running of your questioning or the committee.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you very much. I appreciate that, and I shall keep you to it. I was just about to ask you, Mr Lewis: have you had any discussions with the minister about some of these longer term plans and ideas?

Mr Lewis : It is probably a bit early to go into detailed conversations even with the minister. I have to get my ideas sorted first. There are discussions we are having at the departmental level about some of the changes that we might be contemplating, and we will need to work out, in some cases, how we would pursue the investigation of those changes, because under the normal arrangements that apply we would need to develop some proposals and then we would want to consult in relation to those proposals. In light of the consultation, then we might implement changes or possibly even adapt some of the proposed changes to do something a little bit different to what we had planned in the first instance. But that kind of process will inevitably be happening over the next year or so. I just cannot give you details now, but if you ask me in May I might be able to tell you more.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. You mentioned core functions. Have you given some thought to what it is your—

Mr Lewis : It is probably easier in some ways just to look at the functions the department did supply over the last couple of years which are now being provided by other departments. If you extrapolate from that, that will give you an idea of the sorts of things. But we essentially acquire all of our ICT support from DHS—not all of it but a very large portion of it. Over time, we possibly could do more with DHS. We are going to need to work out ways to minimise the duplication of functions we do in different places. Without going into the details of that, we currently do a number of similar functions and processes in quite a number of places. It would be more efficient to do them in fewer places. I pursued a similar strategy when I was in Defence, and I have no doubt we will have to be doing some more of that in DVA as well.

Senator FARRELL: All right. Can you tell us whether the current full-time equivalent staff that has been established for the departments has changed since we last met in November?

Mr Lewis : I think that when we met in November we advised that our target was for an average FTE of 1,924, and we are still on track for that target outcome for this financial year.

Senator FARRELL: It looks like somebody has come up to the front.

Mr Lewis : Some people are not sure I can give the right answer. Is that number correct?

Mr Winzenberg : Yes, the secretary is correct.

Senator FARRELL: Can you just run those figures by me again.

Mr Winzenberg : Our full-time equivalent average for this year was 1,924. That was set in the portfolio budget statement last year.

Senator FARRELL: And that has not changed since the November period?

Mr Winzenberg : As the secretary said, we are on track to meet that.

Mr Lewis : That is our target for this financial year, and we are on target for that.

Senator FARRELL: Can you provide us with some actual staffing levels for each of the divisions.

Mr Lewis : It is handy that my colleagues came to the table.

Senator FARRELL: I think they anticipated it.

Ms Dotta : I can start with that. We can give you full-time equivalents by each of the respective business units.

Senator FARRELL: That would be terrific.

Ms Dotta : These figures are at 31 January 2014. For the commissions we have eight. In New South Wales under the Deputy Commissioner, we have 121; for the Deputy Commissioner Northern Territory, we have eight; for the Deputy Commissioner Queensland, we have 150; under the Deputy Commissioner South Australia, we have 40; under the Deputy Commissioner Tasmania, 28; under the Deputy Commissioner Victoria, 106; under the Deputy Commissioner Western Australia, we have 66. We have 52 full-time equivalents in VVCS. We have 232 in Corporate Division; 118 full-time equivalent staff in ICT Solutions. We have 162 full-time equivalent staff in Client and Commemorations; 338 full-time equivalent staff in Rehabilitation and Support; 446 full-time equivalent staff in Health and Community Services. We have 25 full-time equivalent staff in the Principal Legal Adviser area; 10 full-time equivalent staff in the RMA; 23 full-time equivalents in the VRB. That is a total as at 31 January of 1,932. I also need to advise that we have some counsellors in the VVCS.

Senator FARRELL: You don't know the numbers for those?

Ms Dotta : Yes, we have 60.9 full-time equivalents.

Senator FARRELL: That is near enough to 2,000 in total.

Ms Dotta : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: Mr Lewis, have the projections changed at all for the next three years since the supplementary budget estimates?

Mr Lewis : Our resourcing has not changed since estimates in November. I think at that estimates hearing you were interested to get a bit of a sense for what our numbers might be in future years.

Senator FARRELL: Correct.

Mr Lewis : We are still mapping that out to some extent.

Senator FARRELL: You have a very good memory.

Mr Lewis : I checked.

Senator FARRELL: That is always handy.

Mr Lewis : But I do remember the discussion. I think it is likely that our reduction in FTE equivalent, starting level, in 2014-15 is going to be in the order of 60. It is not a precise number. If you asked me to allocate that across those business groups that Ms Dotta just described to you—we are not quite at that point now—we are working out whether we would allocate that pro rata or adjust that some way at the present time.

Senator FARRELL: What is happening in terms of recruitment since the last estimates?

Mr Lewis : We are adhering to the recruitment rules that have been put out by the APSC. If you are looking for just the flow effect on our staff—you probably got a bit of sense from those numbers. We have had our graduate pool arrive. It is a very strong program we have in the department, so they are on deck working now.

Senator FARRELL: How many of those do you have?

Mr Lewis : About a dozen or so.

Mr Winzenberg : Fifteen.

Senator FARRELL: How do you select those?

Mr Lewis : It is a very competitive process, extremely competitive.

Mr Winzenberg : We advertise and invite applications. We are in the process of looking at the intake for next year now. I think last year we had about 400 applications and we short listed about 80. We interviewed those 80 and selected through that method.

Ms Dotta : We have what we call a graduate assessment centre process and we conduct that in various state locations.

Mr Lewis : About 60 went through. So one in four went through the assessment centre—which is quite an intensive process—and actually ended up being part of our graduate pool. So it is very competitive.

Senator FARRELL: Where do these people typically come from?

Ms Dotta : They come from all around Australia. We can talk about last year. We ran graduate assessment centres in the ACT, in Brisbane, in New South Wales in Sydney, and in Victoria in Melbourne. We did fly some candidates in from Western Australia and, I think, from South Australia and Tasmania. We have candidates from around Australia, and we have selected candidates this time around from Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales—I think we have one from Western Australia—

Senator FARRELL: And none from South Australia?

Ms Dotta : I am not sure about South Australia. I can't tell you off the top of my head.

Senator FARRELL: What sorts of backgrounds?

Mr Lewis : I have a fairly strong recollection that one is from Adelaide. I think one might be from Adelaide.

Senator FARRELL: Let us hope so—one out of 15.

Senator Ronaldson: You could put your hand up post July, Senator!

Senator FARRELL: Do you take mature-age applications?

Ms Dotta : We do not discriminate based on age.

Senator FARRELL: Very good.

Senator Ronaldson: I will write you a CV, Senator!

Senator FARRELL: Could you?

Ms Dotta : As to the types of qualifications, we have three ICT graduates. We select them slightly differently. They come though the Department of Finance AGIMO process, and we participate in that, so three of them have an IT background. The others range from law. Sometimes we are successful in getting people with medical or health type qualifications. A lot of them have international studies or education. We are always seeking commerce, but whether or not we get them depends on the intake year. I think we have a psychology graduate as well this year.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you for that explanation. Do you have any plans for voluntary redundancies?

Mr Lewis : I do not plan to have a department-wide redundancy offer go out at all. I do not like those across-the-board redundancy programs.

Senator FARRELL: I am sorry. I just missed you there.

Mr Lewis : I am not in favour of those programs—'Put your hand up across the department if you're thinking about going.' I am just not in favour of those at all. I do not think they are good for organisations. Sometimes they become necessary if there are very aggressive reductions required, but if we can avoid them I would prefer to do so. As I think we have just explained, we think we are okay for 2013-14. I am hopeful that we will likewise be okay in 2014-15. That is not to say that occasionally we will not do a targeted VR. Just occasionally, as a consequence of restructuring of roles and organisational responsibilities, you will find that a person or two or a pocket of individuals might have a skills mix that is no longer suitable for the work of the department, do not want to be retrained and in some cases do not want to be relocated, and we do not have many options. So in some targeted occasions and places you might need to do it, but I think you will find our recent track record has been quite limited in the number of VRs we have offered.

Senator FARRELL: What sort of turnover do you have?

Mr Lewis : About eight per cent when you asked in November.

Ms Dotta : Our turnover is typically eight per cent, although more recently, if you look at this year to date, it is a bit lower than that.

Senator FARRELL: Any particular reason for that?

Mr Winzenberg : The new recruitment arrangements and the general job market mean there are fewer people leaving than there were a year ago, so we are running, on a year on average, at about 6½ per cent compared to eight. So it is just a little bit lower.

Senator FARRELL: That would make it more difficult in the event that you did have to reduce staff, wouldn't it?

Mr Lewis : It depends on the scale of it. As I said, I think that what we are currently planning, which is around 60-odd in a population between 1,900 and 2,000, is manageable. If it became a much larger number then of course we would need to look at other options.

Ms Dotta : Senator, I can help you. We have had a recruitment and redeployment committee that has been in place for quite some time, so we look to redeploy staff that may be excess in one part of our business to another part of our business, and we have been quite successful over the course of the last couple of years in keeping the number of staff on that list small.

Senator FARRELL: So you are finding the people with the qualifications to go in a different area.

Ms Dotta : Exactly. We review all positions that become vacant, comparing them to the internal redeployment list before we seek to fill positions.

Mr Lewis : So we try to match it inside the department before we go beyond the department.

Senator FARRELL: Do you advertise internally for those positions?

Ms Dotta : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: How many people fit into the category of fixed-term contracts or temporary contracts?

Ms Dotta : We have those figures.

Mr Winzenberg : As at 31 January, we had about 90 of what we call non-ongoing staff. In addition to those, we had a number of ICT contractors—137. Over and above that, there are probably another handful of general staff on contracts.

Senator FARRELL: That is a large number in the ICT. Is there a particular reason for that?

Mr Lewis : I do not know that it would be that unusual.

Ms Dotta : Project work; the ICT skills—some of our technologies are quite old, and we have a reasonable amount of project work at any point in time, and project work is funded for short periods of time.

Senator FARRELL: So, in terms of your reducing your waiting time, is this one of the things that you are focusing on?

Mr Lewis : I would love to be able to solve the problem by just putting us onto modern ICT infrastructure with state-of-the-art software, but, as Ms Dotta was explaining, we have literally dozens of very old systems. So there will be major systems development projects required to change that. It will take many years.

Senator FARRELL: So this is not providing—

Mr Lewis : There is no quick—

Senator FARRELL: you with any assistance in the short term—

Mr Lewis : No.

Senator FARRELL: but you see it as a long-term—

Mr Lewis : Some of our software platforms are getting so old that they are almost becoming unserviceable. We of course have strategies for migrating to updated software and systems, so we have to allocate our resources to make sure that we can migrate before those antiquated programs are no longer serviceable.

Senator Ronaldson: There has been substantial underinvestment in this area for some time.

Senator FARRELL: You are talking about back to the Howard years?

Senator Ronaldson: There has been underinvestment for a long time, yes, and under both.

Senator FARRELL: It could be interpreted that you were just talking about the last six years, but in fact you were talking about a much longer period than that.

Senator Ronaldson: I acknowledge that, but—

Senator FARRELL: Were you talking specifically in the computer area or the technology area or generally?

Senator Ronaldson: It is the ICT area, I think, isn't it?

Mr Lewis : It is ICT. We really have not had much reinvestment in the department's ICT for some period of time, which is why I think a sensible strategy for us is what the department has already been doing: leveraging a whole-of-government delivery platform through DHS. It is just smart.

Senator Ronaldson: Without making too fine a point about it, Senator, you will appreciate that there will be substantial resources required to bring that system up to date, and I do not want to be overtly political but the current budgetary situation which this government has inherited of course makes those sorts of investments all the more difficult. It is a very significant issue for a department that is just about to undergo, in my view, the greatest transformation in its history. A great challenge for the Department of Veterans' Affairs is to be in a position to meet those challenges and actually be ahead of them.

I do not need to tell you, or to state the obvious, because you are acutely aware of it—we have discussed it before—that we are going to see the face of and the client face of this department change over the next five years quite dramatically, with the sad but inevitable decline of the Second World War veterans and now the ageing Vietnam veterans—as people of our age, we do not think the Vietnam vets will ever get old, but they are: they are getting older. And of course we also have this very large group of young men and women—60,000 over the last 20 years, which is the same number as those who served in Vietnam, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, et cetera.

So there are very, very significant challenges. When the secretary was talking before about it, or you asked about whether we talk about things, I can tell you: we are constantly talking about those challenges and how we can meet them, from the point of view of staffing, ICT, the structure of the department and the skills base in the department—it is a massive transformation. I know you understand that, but I doubt whether there would be another department in the Commonwealth which, potentially, is about to undergo the extent of this transformation.

Senator FARRELL: Mr Lewis, you said at the outset that you thought you were not quite ready to discuss with the minister some of the ideas you have for the future. Sounds like he has some pretty good ideas—

Mr Lewis : Maybe I have been softening him up for some of the challenges! But you were asking me about organisational change—

Senator FARRELL: But isn't that what the minister is talking about?

Mr Lewis : Yes, he is, but he does not know what I am going to bring forward as my proposals yet, in detail, because that is what it is going to involve. I have given you a sense of the direction, but we will have to do a lot more online than we are doing now because basically we have minimal online capability. We have to build that. We have to alter our channel strategy because a lot of our younger clients want to work through online channels but our older cohort do not. But we have to work out how we do that in a declining resource environment. That is a challenge for us. It is a bit like a 'wicked problem', but we have to solve it—and we will.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you for that.

CHAIR: Senator McEwen.

Senator McEWEN: Are we up to outcome 1?

Senator Ronaldson: Chair, I am quite happy, and I am sure the department is, to not necessarily strictly go through these outcomes. If the senator has a variety of questions, then we are quite happy to take those. We have all our people here.

CHAIR: Is everybody happy with that approach? Okay. Good.

Senator McEWEN: Under the government's recently released policy, DVA Towards 2020, 'a blueprint for Veterans' Affairs', can you outline what major changes the department would undergo?

Mr Lewis : It is a strategic plan. It is essentially like our light on the hill. It is a visionary statement. It is a very high level statement of the department's intent. It is built around three key pillars: being responsive, connected and client focused. We are going to make those words real in the department, because if we do those things we are going to be doing things quite differently from the way we are doing them now. The reality is, as we were talking about just before, that we might aim to be responsive, but if you are a claimant waiting to have your claim processed we do not look like we are responsive. The same is true in other parts of our business too. We want to be connected, but in fact we are organised in silos, and our silos are not well connected at all. The consequence of that is that someone in the health division will not have a good sense of what other issues the department might be having with a particular client. So letters might go out to a particular client on health matters but there might have been other letters on income support, letters on a compensation claim—there are a whole suite of other letters that could be received by that client but we do not know about them. That is a problem because the client should expect that the department knows how we are interacting with each of our clients.

That is going to require significant change, and I do not want to give you the sense that we are going to solve it tomorrow. But we need to redesign how we go about our work in order to really be client focused, which is one-third of these pillars, but also better connected as an organisation to allow that to happen. This is really a departmental document of a vision that we have agreed with the minister of where we want to take the organisation. The detail, the hard work to follow, is going to be seen in the corporate plan, the business plans, that we build that sit underneath that and how we cycle those from one year to the next, because we will have different objectives, different milestones in each year of the plan. Is that enough for you? If you want more detail, I could ask Mr Chalmers to give you more.

Senator McEWEN: No, that is okay. But the intention is to have this change in the way DVA delivers services to its clients, to veterans, implemented by 2020. Is that right?

Mr Lewis : I say 'towards 2020' because I would like to get there before 2020; that is all.

Senator McEWEN: All right. Will that require changes in staffing, as in staffing levels, the skill sets of staff, or a reallocation of staff?

Mr Lewis : It could do. It could do, over time. As the minister mentioned just before, our client cohort is changing rapidly. As a consequence of that change, we need to adapt to how they want to interact with the department. Currently, we are really configured more around how we service the older clients, but we need to adapt to deal better with our younger clients, and that is a big piece of work for us. It is cultural as much as it is about our systems and about our organisation.

Senator McEWEN: Are you consulting now with staff about the changes that may be required?

Mr Lewis : Yes. As I said before, even once we have developed some proposals, they will be proposals for discussion with staff and, for that matter, ex service organisations; because we are going to want to road-test some of these suggestion before we actually make a decision to implement them.

Senator McEWEN: You talk about adapting in that policy document 'adapting communication methods to better suit young veterans'; what do you mean by that?

Mr Lewis : Principally they regard us as dinosaurs because we cannot interact with them the way they expect us to. They are online; they are connected; they work through Facebook. They expect to be able to lodge claims online and get them processed online, because that is the environment that a lot of them deal with in other places. As I mentioned just before, we have a substantial piece of work. But there is also significant investment required to get to the point where we can actually meet their expectations.

We are building some capabilities right now. CMVS, for example, is an area where the department has already started to build some online capabilities, and we are hoping to go further. It goes right to the communication issue you mentioned before. If you want a bit more on that, I could ask Mr Carmody to talk a bit about what we have been doing in that space.

Senator McEWEN: Yes, thank you.

Mr Carmody : In CMVS, Choice and Maintainability in Veterans Services, really the project breaks down to our 'My Account' service, our online service. We have about 20,000 clients online at the moment. We are building things for them so that they will come to us and be able to use our services online. As the secretary outlined, though, part of our challenge is the back end not just the interface with our clients. We can build online claim forms but we have to process them manually. We can build a lot of online services but, because of the age of our systems, we need to do a lot of the back of housework manually. So there is not much of a save; in one sense the client sees the application go forward but what the client does not know is that when we get it we print it out, and treat it like it was a piece of paper. We need to build the systems behind that to make that work.

We have built a number of systems. We have automated a lot of our online transport bookings. We do about one million transport bookings a year, and refunds for transport bookings are up around 80,000. So we are doing lots of online things at the moment. We have created opportunities for the ex-service community, who quite often represent veterans, to nominate and be accepted online as representatives and then do some business online for the community.

Every six months we are putting out more releases in the online space. So we have made a significant inroad into the online space, but our big challenge is what is going on behind: our business processes and how we modernise those. Once we overcome that hurdle, we will be able to deal more readily with our clients online; and not only the younger clients, but also quite a lot of our older clients are quite happy to work online if we can provide the type of service that they need and provide it quickly. If you can get a two- or three-day turnaround on your transport claim rather than a 30 day turnaround, then you are happy. And they are the things we are moving towards. But there are quite a number of steps in this journey.

Senator McEWEN: Presumably, you are still going to have some veterans who, for whatever reason, will not be able to use the online systems, so how are you going to protect their interests?

Mr Lewis : We will need to maintain those other channels for those older clients. That will include paper, phone et cetera.

Mr Carmody : The challenge will be if we can build—

Senator McEWEN: Not just older clients but maybe clients who have disabilities—

Mr Carmody : Clients who have disabilities, clients who have other challenges. If we can rebuild the back-of-house systems so that they actually operate online then—the way we operate at the moment is that we receive something online and we print it out on paper. If we can get to a situation where we receive it on paper but then, back of house, we put it online and process it online, we will be able to speed up the claims for them too. They will not notice because they will have interacted through their normal channel, but we will be able to put it into our faster channel, behind the scenes. So we have a lot of work to do in that space. But, as the secretary said, we can maintain channels for those who are not able or not willing to use the online service, but we are also confident that more and more people will pick up the online service.

Mr Lewis : And if we can get it online, that does actually then go back to Senator Farrell's point: we can start to redesign where we are doing the work. Right now, we are moving a lot of paper from one location to the other. That is both inefficient and costly.

Senator Ronaldson: One of the other issues—and someone at the table can expand on this because I do not pretend to be an ICT expert—is that the system, particularly with multiple claims, actually cannot talk to itself. One part cannot talk to the other, and that slows it down as well. So there are multiple issues. I do not know whether Mr Carmody wants to elaborate.

Mr Lewis : I think this is in the area of processing claims; a claims processor might need to have three main systems and possibly another dozen niche systems in order to process a single claim. They might need to be working from one system to the other, and they are all quite old systems.

Mr Carmody : That is right. If a claim overlaps or if people have entitlements under more than one act, and those acts are processed under their own act-specific IT system—very old systems that have built up over time—then entitlements have to be assessed between the two acts. So the delegate needs to process it in, say two or three systems and then go offline and do a manual calculation for the offset allowance between the three—this is very complex—offsetting particular payments. And of course in cases where pensions or entitlements change frequently because they adjust on the basis of earnings, these calculations are being redone and redone all the time offline. So there is an immense amount of back-of-house processing. Once we can get off the older systems, we will be able to make significant headway in processing.

Senator McEWEN: Will veterans still be able to talk to a human being?

Mr Lewis : We will always have call centres. We will have the capacity for veterans to talk to members of the department staff. But a lot of veterans actually do not want the conversation; they just want to get their claims processed and they want it to be done efficiently. So I think that, if we provide a good service for them which meets their requirements, there will probably be less need for those kinds of calls to come through. Probably also there will be less need for the department to be preparing correspondence to deal with people who complain about our poor service, because that actually involves resources as well. We are trying to improve our services but sometimes it takes us a long time to do processing of claims and the like. We then have to deal with the correspondence attached to that as well as the phone calls.

Mr Carmody : As the secretary said before, sometimes we have multiple letters going to clients from different business lines. Because we have stand-alone IT systems that do not talk to one another, we do not necessarily have visibility of all of the correspondence at the one time that might have gone to a client. So when the client calls in to speak to a human, the person might be talking about something that that officer has no visibility of. That correspondence might not be visible because the systems do not allow the DVA officer to have complete visibility of the interactions with the client. When you call your bank and they say: 'You called three weeks ago. You asked for this, and we sent you this letter,' and you can have that debate. We are not in a position to be able to do that yet. So I think being able to speak to someone who can answer a query—or in terms of our online processing system, being able to check the status of your claim online, being able to go in online and dig into our system and say, 'that is where my claim is up to'—will help a lot of people.

Mr Lewis : Senator, I have just two additional points. One is that sometimes the needs of a client can be so complex that we actually decide we need to get that handled by a special team that we have in Melbourne who basically aggregate all of the complexity of that client's claim to just make sure we can tackle it holistically and properly. Obviously we cannot afford to do that with 320,000-odd clients. But if there is sufficient complexity about a particular case, that is how we will tackle it.

The second point is: we need to get to the place that Mr Carmody was talking about. But that is going to require a fair bit of work for us. We are trying to work out whether there is a way we can have a single view of the client, by linking in some way all of these antiquated IT systems that we have just been talking about. How feasible that is, we are not too sure. But that is what we are going to be trying to do—if it is feasible and if we can afford to do it.

Senator McEWEN: Thanks for that. We have had discussions at estimates before, and the minister has made comments, about the possibility of having more veterans working in the department to assist veterans, and that includes staff training and interaction with veterans in the training and engagement process. Have any solutions to that issue been put forward to the minister? Are we making any progress there?

Mr Lewis : We do have quite a number of veterans in the department now. We are looking, when we recruit, to the potential for increasing the veteran cohort. We will be looking in the next round at whether, for example, we might be able to get a veteran as part of our graduate cohort, as a possibility. The minister is very keen for us to be doing that where we possibly can. One of the things that has made it a little bit of a challenge for us is that we are not actually bringing that many new people into the department now, for the reasons that we articulated earlier. Because of the gradual reduction in the number of people inside the department, we are seeking to relocate our staff into roles as they become vacant. If there are people who can do those roles inside the department, that is a good option for us because it is providing ongoing job security for those individuals. As we reduce our non-ongoing headcount—as I think Ms Dotta mentioned before—we try to get that work done by one of our permanent members of staff. So we are seeing a smaller intake coming from outside than we would have had in former years.

Ms Dotta : I can add that since the last Senate estimates we have gone out and collected data on employees who have military service. I just need to say that the provision of this data was voluntary, so it was up to the employee to indicate. We have identified 104 employees who have military service in the department at the moment.

Senator McEWEN: What percentage is that?

Ms Dotta : 104 out of—

Mr Carmody : 1,930-odd. Five per cent.

Senator McEWEN: But you are actively attempting to recruit more people who have had military service?

Ms Dotta : Yes.

Mr Lewis : We have others like me who have some experience of the Defence organisation but not military service.

Ms Dotta : I can also add that, as part of the graduate program, from time to time we are also successful in picking up graduates who are ex-serving members.

Senator McEWEN: Are you happy with the progress Minister?

Senator Ronaldson: I am happy that there is now a focus within the department. There are some constraints, as you know. While I am pleased that the figure is five per cent—and I really was not too sure what it would be, quite frankly—clearly there is more that we can do. There are the constraints that the secretary was talking about before with, I would have thought, probably the small turnover within the department of six per cent. I do not know what other departments do, but I would have thought that six per cent was small. But there will be a focus, as all of the officers have said, to increase, wherever possible, that number of veterans who are working with the department, because they bring with them, as you would appreciate, a unique experience and a different view from those who have not served.

It is a great interaction between those who have not served and the staff who have. I was talking to a graduate program group before Christmas, and there were a couple of young vets in that graduate program group that came through. When I was speaking to the others, they said that all the inductions were fantastic and what they were taught was great, but they took a lot out of just speaking to these people—I think it might have been a young man and a young woman—who had served, and they learned as much if not more from speaking to them as from looking through manuals.

Mr Lewis : I would just caution one thing about that number. Clearly that number is a floor number. A lot of people choose not to provide a response to those kinds of requests. I have known that for many years in relation to a whole range of questions that we have tried to get answers to. If you ask people to provide that detail, some will and some will not. I do not know what the true portion of the department that has military experience is, but I would say it is probably reasonable for it to be a bit north of five per cent—but we just will not know what it is.

Senator McEWEN: We will continue to ask questions about that at future estimates. On another matter now, on about 20 February this year it was reported that the phone system at the DVA office in Brisbane had failed. It was reported on your Facebook page. Do you know what went wrong?

Mr Lewis : I am interested to know that you are tracking our Facebook page so closely, Senator. I am sure somebody will be able to help you.

Ms Dotta : We do not have the complete details, but my understanding is that at the time clients, veterans or their families who were trying to contact the department through one telecommunications company were not able to get in. They got a disconnected call. Other telecommunications companies were fine, so it was not all clients. An early indication was that one of the telecommunications companies that we deal with—because we are transitioning under the DHS arrangement from one telecommunications company to another—had put in a change that had not worked properly, and that led to the issue. The best way for us to advise clients, because some clients could come through and some clients could not, was to put a notice up on our website. I think it took a little bit over 24 hours to resolve the problem. It was outside the department's control, and it was in the telecommunications sector.

Senator McEWEN: But it was caused by a change in system.

Ms Dotta : By one of the telecommunications providers, yes. We are transitioning from services that we used to get directly from a telecommunications company to services that we now get through the Department of Human Services contract with another telecommunications company. So part of our organisation at the moment is on one provider; another part is still on a different provider.

Senator McEWEN: Is that change of service provision to implement less contact with human beings?

Ms Dotta : No, it is just to replace and transition from our current provider to a new provider, but it is also to improve our call centre capabilities, the telephone group cells.

Senator McEWEN: What do you mean by 'improve the call centre capabilities'? What is ringing in my brain is that this is some kind of system you are implementing so that people will now have to push three or four buttons on their telephone to get through to the department that they want to speak to or the person that they want to speak to.

Ms Dotta : At the moment, we have different contact call centres on different types of technology. We are trying to standardise it, and we are moving under the Department of Human Services contractual arrangements. Not all customers—or clients, I should say—were impacted. Lots of clients were still able to call in to the department. It was only clients on a particular company.

Senator McEWEN: Which company? I presume it is Telstra or Optus.

Ms Dotta : Clients who had services with Telstra, but it was not a Telstra problem. But clients who had telephones with Telstra were not able to contact certain numbers in the department. It took us a while to work out what was happening there. Once it was identified, we had Telstra, Optus and Macquarie all working together to sort it out. Once it was identified, the problem was able to be fixed. When we have these incidents, we get what we call a post-incident report. We are still waiting for the full analysis of that to understand exactly what went wrong, but that is what I am led to believe at this point in time.

Senator McEWEN: Telstra accepted responsibility?

Ms Dotta : No, it was not a Telstra problem. It was caused by a different provider. It was not Telstra's. Telstra was not the cause of the problem.

Senator McEWEN: For how long were the services out of action for those people who were affected? Did you say?

Ms Dotta : I think it was in the order of 24 hours. It happened on one day. We thought we had fixed it overnight. We did not fix it until later the next day.

Senator McEWEN: Did it create a backlog of people, or did you not know because they could not get through?

Ms Dotta : It is my understanding that they were getting a disconnected signal.

Senator McEWEN: So how did they contact you? Or they could not?

Ms Dotta : I am not able to answer that; I am sorry. I do not know.

Senator McEWEN: Since the services came back on for those people, have they raised with DVA that the phone was out and asked why it happened?

Ms Dotta : I am not aware of any feedback in relation to that, but I would suspect that we would get some complaints. But I have not had any come through.

Senator McEWEN: Perhaps you could take on notice whether or not—

Mr Lewis : If you want to look at the detail on that, we could take that on notice. We will get a response through the Deputy Commissioner Queensland.

Senator McEWEN: Do you have any way other than your Facebook page of letting veterans know that a phone system is down? I know we all love Facebook, but not everybody is on Facebook.

Ms Dotta : It was on the website as well as on Facebook. That is my understanding. This was a first for us to experience them not being able to get to us. Normally, if we have issues with telephones in one state, we can automatically re-divert calls to other states. This was a special, unique situation we had not encountered before.

Senator McEWEN: Presumably you did not—

Senator Farrell interjecting

Ms Dotta : Because the calls were not getting to us. They were getting a 'call disconnected'. We are still working through the issues. This is the initial analysis I have been given of what the cause was. It was a first for us.

Senator McEWEN: You are rolling out this change throughout the department. Is it likely to happen again? What are you going to do to make sure that it does not happen again?

Ms Dotta : There was no change that was requested in the department to cause this problem.

Senator McEWEN: You are sure it is not going to happen again?

Ms Dotta : I cannot say that it will not happen again. It was not inside our control.

Mr Lewis : We do not give guarantees. Given the interest you have in it, why don't we take on notice that we will come back to you with, first of all, any feedback the department got from clients in relation to affected service and, second, some more of the detail about what we understand the nature of the failure to be, once we have got access to that report, which I do not think should take too long? In that way, I think we can better explain to you the circumstances of what happened a week ago in Brisbane.

Senator McEWEN: All right. Perhaps you can also take on notice whether the department is thinking about any other ways of contacting veterans when these sorts of failures of communication occur, other than a Facebook or a web page, because, as all senators know, when veterans want to ring the DVA they usually need to get an answer.

Mr Lewis : Sure.

Senator Ronaldson: I think that, because this was a once-off, the difficulty, as you would understand, is that the department did not know who was trying to ring them; therefore, it was not possible to ring them back and see what their issue was. I think your point is well made. We want to make sure that this does not happen again. We have taken it on notice, and I am sure there is an appropriate explanation for what occurred on this occasion.

Senator McEWEN: I am happy to go to someone else, although I have more questions.

Senator GALLACHER: I have a couple of questions to the minister. There is a recent addition to the parliament who has been active in politics both as a political adviser to the Liberal Party and as a former chief executive of the ACCI. Dr Peter Hendy, MP for Eden-Monaro, while at ACCI, commissioned a paper which was entitled Commonwealth spending (and taxes) can be cut—and should be. The paper advocates widespread welfare cuts and, importantly in this area, cuts to service, widows and TPI pensions and the scrapping of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and disabled war vets and war widows being administered by various departments such as welfare and Health. Are you aware of that paper and the major concerns that have been raised in some of the online forums of the veterans community?

Senator Ronaldson: What I am aware of is that Dr Hendy was totally misrepresented in relation to this matter. Dr Hendy has communicated with many veterans in relation to this situation. I read an article today in the Vietnam Veterans Federation—or association; I cannot remember which one it was—magazine today. It has just come to me. It was the Vietnam Veterans, Peacekeepers and Peacemakers. Dr Hendy has given a very detailed response. I am happy to go through that if you would like me to do so.

It reads:

I would like to comment on your recent article entitled One to watch. This article was about a 2005 paper commissioned by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) when I was the Chief Executive of that organisation.

For the record it was a discussion paper prepared by an independent consultant, Mr Des Moore, a former Treasury Deputy Secretary, who wrote a piece broadly about possible budget cuts. It was designed by Mr Moore to be a provocative thought-piece about ways of getting the overall Budget in order.

The key point is that it was not ACCI policy and was never adopted as such. Indeed that was communicated by ACCI to your journal at the time. Nor have these policy positions ever been my personal views.

Fast forward eight years and this paper resurfaced during the 2013 federal election campaign in Eden-Monaro when I ran as the Liberal candidate against the ALP incumbent, Mike Kelly. It was circulated by my political opponent at a media event, with the claim that it represented my personal views on taxation, budgets and other policy areas such as Veterans Affairs. A similar false claim has now appeared in your journal. There is also an email doing the rounds in the veterans community which has a concocted email purportedly from me which quotes me advocating reducing service pensions and abolishing the Veterans' Affairs—both claims being absolutely false and defamatory.

Can I suggest, the political games continue; clearly there is an orchestrated campaign afoot. But to create anxiety in the veterans' community in this way is a low act. As the new member for Eden-Monaro, all I ask is that the coalition be judged at the end of this term by what it has delivered to veterans. Labor had six years to sort out the pension issues of veterans and squibbed it. In fact, when the coalition, in opposition, put an increase in veterans' entitlements up in the bill, Labor voted it down. As we said during the campaign, a coalition government will ensure the DFRDB and DFRDB military superannuation pensions are indexed in the same way as age and service pensions. Our commitment will apply to DFRDB and DFRDB superannuants aged 55 and over. Under the coalition, 57,000 military superannuants and their families will be better off. I just wanted to set the record straight.

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you.

Senator Ronaldson: You asked me whether I was aware of it. I am aware that this was a quite disgraceful political attack by one of your former colleagues who deliberately misrepresented Dr Hendy's views, who sent a scare campaign around the veterans' community—which was a disgrace, an absolute disgrace. If I sound angry, I am. Dr Hendy was angry as well. He was grossly misrepresented. The coalition has absolutely no intention of disbanding DVA, no intention at all. That is a blatant lie. I have made it quite clear that the DVA will be a stand-alone department. This rumour that was spread on the back of your former colleague's dropping of a document. Misrepresenting it meant that we had war widows who were concerned that their pensions were going to be reduced and a large number in the veterans' community who thought their pensions and entitlements were going to be reduced. It was an absolute disgrace.

Senator GALLACHER: Well now that is all on the record, can I go back to my line of questioning?

Senator Ronaldson: I would hope that you would not support that sort of scare campaign amongst a group of people who, quite frankly, deserve far better.

Senator GALLACHER: We agree on that. So we can go back to—you are aware of it obviously very well aware of it. You had it on hand and you have had a lengthy reply put into Hansard. You obviously do not share the view and that is what you have indicated, so we can have that on the record that Veterans 'Affairs is here to stay and people are going to get looked after. I think that is—

Senator Ronaldson: We share that view. I do not share that view spread by a scare campaign from one of your former colleagues because there is no view for me to share on the back of anything that is said by Dr Hendy before, after or during. What was said was a complete misrepresentation of what he had said.

Senator GALLACHER: So you are ruling out the concern. You are reassuring the people who express concerns that Dr Hendy's view may have some currency. You are ruling that out.

Senator Ronaldson: It has no currency. I have spent an enormous amount of my personal time, which I am quite happy to do, responding to people who had the living bejesus scared out of them by this disgraceful campaign. How anyone in all conscience can spread that sort of rumour impacting particularly war widows, many of whom are of advancing years, and run a scare campaign to scare them is probably the most disgraceful thing I have ever seen.

Senator GALLACHER: With respect, Minister, there was a paper commissioned and the paper did advocate a vast array of welfare cuts. There was a paper; it was paid for and commissioned. You are saying it was a piece of research, thought bubble or whatever you are saying it was. But the reality is ACCI commissioned, under Dr Hendy's leadership, a paper called Commonwealth Spending (And Taxes) Can Be Cut - And Should Be. Now, you have been very upfront and said you are not going that way. You said that Dr Hendy is not going that way but he did commission research. So if we are going to talk about who started the ball rolling, I suppose, the document started the ball rolling. Anyway you are on the record. You were very clear on that.

Senator Ronaldson: I cannot let you get away with that. Where is the evidence that this was commissioned by Dr Hendy?

Senator GALLACHER: It was commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce when Peter Hendy was the CEO. I have been a CEO. I suppose if my organisation was paying for a piece of research, I would know about it and I would authorise it so it seems like common sense to me.

Senator Ronaldson: It was a discussion paper commissioned by ACCI. I have read you the statement from Mr Hendy. Des Moore, a Treasury deputy secretary, wrote a piece about broadly possible budget cuts. I will read again: the key point is it was not ACCI policy and was never adopted as such. What your former colleague did during the election campaign was say that not only was that ACCI policy but it was the personal views of Dr Hendy. It was not. It was not then and it is not to this day. I know it has not happened, but Dr Hendy deserves an apology for what was done. It was a despicable and low act. I think I know you well enough to know that I do not think you would support a campaign like that.

Senator GALLACHER: If I can return to my line of questioning, we started with a very broad brush in your view. But there are clearly, with the Commission of Audit, very publicly discussed priorities of this government. Expenditure cuts: should they extend to veterans? If your department is faced with a dividend or a share of pain in the budget to come or under the Commission of Audit and there is a recommendation, are you quarantined from that?

Senator Ronaldson: As you have been, I have been around for a while and I do not think there is one minister of any political persuasion who will sit here and start answering questions about hypothetical matters. The Commission of Audit has not reported. You may well be in a position to ask me some questions in the May estimates where fiction may become fact and fact may become fiction. I have got no idea but I am certainly not going to answer questions on the back of hypothetical scenarios. I am sure you understand that.

Senator GALLACHER: The hypotheticals will, as you say, become reality as we hear from the Commission of Audit.

Senator Ronaldson: As I said, fact may become fiction and fiction may become fact—I do not know. Who knows? It is all hypothetical.

Senator GALLACHER: So you are not ruling out that veterans' entitlements can be reviewed because of budgetary outcomes?

Senator Ronaldson: The trouble with following a prepared script is that sometimes you get an answer which makes the next question fairly meaningless. With the greatest respect, that last one fitted into that category.

Senator GALLACHER: All right, I have no further questions.

Senator FARRELL: Mr Lewis, you started today's events by giving us a rundown on waiting times for the processing of claims, and I appreciate that. I would like to spend a bit of time drilling down into some of those figures. You may not be able to expand upon what you have told us already.

Mr Lewis : We will do what we can to help.

Senator FARRELL: We will see how we go. I think the principal point you were trying to make in your opening address was that response times for processing of claims have improved. It looks like we have a few people here who—

Mr Lewis : People who know a lot more than I.

Senator FARRELL: may have some more exact information. Perhaps you can tell us, or the people who have just joined us can tell us, exactly by how much the claims have improved in that period of time.

Mr Lewis : Like I said, it was relatively modest, but, to recap, I indicated that between 1 July 2013 and 31 January 2014 the number of compensation claims awaiting completion fell from 7,001 to 5,885, which I described as a small gain but a start. In some ways, I would suggest that is actually probably a little more than a small gain.

Senator FARRELL: That is the total number of claims?

Mr Lewis : Claims awaiting completion. I will go to times taken to process. I think we advised the committee at our last hearing that, as we solved some of these ageing claims, our time taken to process was actually going to spike. When a claim has taken a long time to solve, until you have solved it it is not even part of your stats. You need to solve that claim to realise how long it took you to solve that claim. Is that clear?

Senator FARRELL: Yes, I understand you.

Mr Lewis : We have three main acts in this area. Under the VEA, we have a target of 75 days on average. For the period from 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013, the previous financial year, the average was 79 days. In the seven months of this financial year it has gone slightly up to 81 days. The reason for that is that we have taken out some of our older claims. At the same time, however, we have reduced the average age of claims on hand—I am sure one of the team has that number. I will give details of the other acts. Under MRCA initial liability, we have a target of 120 days on average. In the previous financial year, we achieved 155 days; for the seven months of this financial year, it was 150 days. So we have brought that down a little.

Senator FARRELL: In your previous statement, I think that had gone from 160 to 170 days.

Mr Lewis : We have actually come down—so we are continuing to come down.

Senator FARRELL: Just so I am clear, when we spoke last time it was between 160 and 170 days. You have now got that down to 150 days. Do I have that correct?

Mr Sadeik : One hundred and fifty five days was in the annual report for last financial year.

Mr Lewis : Is that the period you are interested in? Was it higher in the period prior to that?

Senator FARRELL: I think you mentioned during the November supplementary estimates that the claims were taking between 160 and 170 days.

Mr Sadeik : I think I would have to take that on notice.

Mr Lewis : We might take that on notice. We will just make sure we are talking apples to apples here.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. I suppose all I am saying is the drop has been even greater than it had been.

Mr Lewis : It had been higher than that in the past, I believe. Maybe we were talking SRCA—because I am now coming to the last category, which is SRCA initial liability. Our target is 120 days on average. For the last financial year we achieved 171 days. Maybe that is what you are thinking of. For the seven months of this financial year, we have achieved 160 days. I would be delighted if we could continue that trend. I do not know how easy it is to do that, and my colleagues on my right here might think that is challenging for us. But clearly that is the direction we want to head and we are looking, as I described before, at changing our processes and a number of elements of our interface with clients to try to get it down lower.

Senator FARRELL: Is there a set of claims that take a longer time frame to deal with?

Ms Foreman : The secretary mentioned, when we were talking about the Veterans' Entitlements Act, that the times taken to process have gone up slightly, by two days. I just wanted to add to that, though, that the number of claims that are actually outstanding in relation to that particular act is 2,586, which is down 23.9 per cent of 3,398 claims, as at 30 June 2013.

Senator FARRELL: So they are a pretty substantial portion of that overall figure.

Ms Foreman : They are, but, as Mr Lewis mentioned, it represents the fact that we are getting through some of our older and more difficult cases that are starting to come down, which is allowing us to now move forward on some of the more recent cases.

Senator FARRELL: Why have you been able to do that? What has changed?

Mr Lewis : I think it was at the May estimates that Senator Ronaldson, sitting in your seat, asked a whole bunch of questions about claims processing times, and I suppose it put a spotlight on the performance that really got us focusing on the fact that our performance was not good and we needed to improve. And it has been a focus for the department since.

Ms Foreman : Just to add to that, we set up a backlog team in Melbourne specifically to address some of the older and more difficult claims, and that is showing success now.

Senator FARRELL: As the profile of the veterans is changing—we have spoken about the decline of World War II veterans, and then obviously the increase, particularly the large number that have come through the more recent wars—does that affect the way in which the processing is being done? Does it make it easier, or does it make it more difficult? Are we likely to see a further improvement in the reduction of time it is taking? Or will there be, because of the profile of these particular soldiers, more complicated processes that could push the time frames out rather than reduce them?

Ms Foreman : We will see more claims taken under MRCA as opposed to the Veterans' Entitlements Act, so that will change the way we treat those claims.

Senator FARRELL: And that is where it is taking a bit longer, isn't it?

Ms Foreman : Yes.

Mr Sadeik : It is hard to capture the profile of a claim as it comes in. There are a number of factors that could have an impact on the time taken for a claims assessor to take it through to decision-ready. These factors can include that when a claim form is submitted it may not be appropriately filled out. There might be some gaps in the contention, some of the details contained within the compensation claim form. Or there may not be established proof of identity. There are legislated processes we have to go through to establish and confirm the bona fides of the claimant. Also, the decision has to be evidence based, so we require a diagnosis of the condition, and the delegate needs to be able to link it to defence service. So, it is a combination of factors and as part of the investigation process we have to ensure that we have as much evidence as possible. And sometimes that means going back and re-engaging with the client to try to source those pieces of evidence to enable us to make a full decision and to have a fair process for the claimant.

Senator FARRELL: What about the returning soldiers who have been in Afghanistan—can you tell us how those claims are being impacted on? Is that proving more difficult to deal with? Or is it easier to deal with?

Mr Sadeik : That is an open-ended question, because, if the information in evidence is available upon lodgement of claim, it is a relatively smooth and quick process. The department has, as the secretary spoke about in his opening address, an on-base service advisory. We have representation on 35 ADF bases across Australia. We have officers out there working with the ADF members about the claims process and the sort of evidence that is required to ensure a smooth and quick turnaround of a determination of claim.

Senator FARRELL: Obviously there has been a reduction in the backlog. What do you put that down to? What things have happened? The secretary describes it as a modest reduction, but what do you think it is that you have done or are now doing differently that has enabled you to reduce that backlog?

Mr Lewis : Sorry, Senator—I picked up part of the question, but not all of it.

Senator FARRELL: I guess what I am saying is that you have reduced the backlog; you have described it as—

Mr Lewis : And of course part of that will include the returning soldiers from Afghanistan.

Senator FARRELL: I was just wondering what you put it down to. You obviously took onboard Senator Ronaldson's comment when he was the opposition spokesman. You have made some attempts to reduce both the waiting times and the backlog. What is it that you are doing differently now that you were not doing before?

Mr Lewis : We left behind a copy of the opening statement. I do not know whether they gave you a copy, but it is worth a read through. The opening statement articulates probably the four key things we have done since then to tackle the backlogs. Some of that has led to some what we call quick wins, but it is also setting the stage for what hopefully will be some significant improvements to come.

There is one thing we have not spoken about, though, and that is the critical role played by advocates. A well-trained qualified advocate helping a vet lodge a claim that is filed, completed and with evidence is going to sail through the system much faster than one that is incomplete, that is lacking the evidence and that does not have someone who is qualified to assist the veteran lodge that claim. One important piece of work we are working on at the moment with the ex-service community—because they recognise it as a challenge too—is how we will deal with advocacy and the need for quality advocates into the future. So, it is just that we have not spoken about it. But a lot of the other elements are part of what we discussed at the start of this evening's proceedings. And I think I also gave you a bit of an indication of some of our longer-term pieces of work as well. Going to the back end of my opening statement, where I was talking about the way in which we are managing our business processes for how many claims and we have employed Beca Assist for change management, there is a lot of opportunity for us in that, because we have a very distributed processing model at the present time across about nine different processing streams conducted in probably about eight different locations.

Senator Ronaldson: Senator, in relation to your question of what was done, there was a dedicated team put in to Melbourne. You asked what specific things were done, and there was a specific team put in to Melbourne to start reducing this workload.

Senator FARRELL: I think that was the point I was trying to get at.

Senator Ronaldson: And it took it down from 7,100 to 5,885 from 1 July until the 31st. So, that was a very specific response from the department to the issue.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, that was really what I was trying to get to. Now, I have received a complaint in my office, which I think the minister has referred to. I will not mention the name of the person, but they did say that the time for travel expenses had blown out from 10 days to over 40 days. I am happy to perhaps show you the correspondence. It went to you originally—

Mr Lewis : That is probably the best way. If you provide us with that we will certainly look into it. Obviously we have our own KPIs in relation to processing those claims, but sometimes matters slip through the cracks.

Senator Ronaldson: I am assuming that letter went to the department after you forwarded it to me, but I will double-check and make sure it did.

Senator FARRELL: The suggestion seems to be that times are blowing out rather than reducing, but I am happy for you to give an explanation.

Mr Lewis : We probably have some stats on that, if you are interested.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, I think that would be handy, because obviously this particular veteran is of the belief that times are blowing out. Now, it may just be his particular case, but if you think that in fact—

Mr Lewis : In fact, Ms Daniel may have something for us right now.

CHAIR: There is in fact a scheduled tea break, so would you like to have tea first, or hear the witness's comments?

Senator FARRELL: Perhaps during the break I can show you the correspondence, and we can work and have a cup of tea at the same time.

Proceedings suspended from 21:02 to 21 : 20

CHAIR: We should go to outcome 3 at this stage to accommodate various people. Is it not true that the previous government established an Anzac Centenary Public Fund to hold corporate donations received by the Australian government? If so,—and it is so, I believe—what are the rules attached to moneys which are donated to this fund?

Mr Lewis : I might ask Major General Chalmers to assist.

Major Gen. Chalmers : Yes, an Anzac Centenary Public Fund has been established. It was established as a special account. It has rules associated with the fund that are common to special accounts and it also has some other rules that go to its deductible gift recipient status.

CHAIR: Do the rules include permitting donors to nominate where their funds will be spent, on the Western Front or on Anzac or somewhere like that?

Major Gen. Chalmers : I will ask my colleague, Ms Mack, to answer in detail.

Ms Mack : To meet the terms of the deduction for tax deductibility you cannot nominate what your donation is for.

CHAIR: I see, so if somebody wants to especially have some sort of memorial on the Western Front to a family member or something, they cannot actually specify that.

Ms Mack : The special account can only be spent in Australia. It cannot be spent overseas.

CHAIR: Would you like to run through those rules for the information of the committee?

Ms Mack : I will do that and, if you like, I can table the determination that sets those rules out.

CHAIR: If you would prefer to do that, you can. Is it a very long document?

Ms Mack : No, I will just give you the key criteria. The fund can be used for the purposes of elements such as but not limited to: travelling exhibitions; other art exhibitions and commemorative displays; commemorative events, re-enactments and services; redevelopment and refurbishment of existing memorials; digitisation of repatriation records; education grants and scholarship programs; conferences; concerts and festivals; multimedia interactive websites and web platforms; and documentaries.

CHAIR: That is a very up-to-date list and very high tech, but very interesting. Donors can nominate where their funds will be spent in accordance with that list, can't they?

Ms Mack : The money that comes into the special account is without, if you like, strings attached to it. The minister is the decision maker on that account with the Prime Minister, and the minister can take into consideration people's requests, but the money can only be spent by the minister's decision in consultation with the Prime Minister.

Major Gen. Chalmers : It is very clear that, because the fund has DGR status, donations to it are a gift to the Australian people. Whilst donors can express a preference they cannot dictate as to where the money will be spent.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that information. Are the funds tax deductible?

Ms Mack : Yes, the funds are tax deductible. As they go into the account, they are tax deductible.

CHAIR: Are there any particular rules attached to the tax-deductibility of these funds?

Ms Mack : The money that goes into the fund must remain as a gift. You cannot ask for which way the money should be spent and you cannot receive recognition from that money. The government can acknowledge who has put money in that fund, but the donor cannot take advantage from having made the donation.

Senator STEPHENS: And it can only be spent in Australia.

Ms Mack : Correct.

CHAIR: I see. So we will not see any of this money spent, for example, on the Western Front or in—

Mr Lewis : No.

Senator STEPHENS: That is a tax office ruling.

CHAIR: The tax office comes up with a lot of strange rulings. What is the balance of the fund today? Could the committee be told that?

Ms Mack : It is approximately $16,000.

CHAIR: That is not a lot of money at this stage. How long has it been open for?

Ms Mack : It has been open since this financial year.

CHAIR: Has it been widely advertised?

Ms Mack : It has had some reasonable publicity, I believe. Our key fundraiser has been associating with corporate Australia and other—

Major Gen. Chalmers : Our strategy has been through a fundraiser appointed by the government—Mr Lindsay Fox. Mr Fox has gone out in the first instance to major corporations to seek very large donations to the fund. The strategy really is to gain the money that we would hope the fund would achieve through corporate donation, although it will be possible for private donors to donate if they so desire. Really, we are not looking for pensioners to give up some of their money to help fund the Anzac Centenary; we are really looking for corporate Australia to contribute.

Senator Ronaldson: I launched that with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on 12 December, I think, last year. Mr Fox spoke and he is very generously giving his time.

CHAIR: I would have thought corporate Australia would be more than happy to support it, actually. Could you identify some projects with been identified for funding from this fund?

Ms Mack : The government is looking to fund a travelling exhibition. The War Memorial is taking the lead on developing a concept at the moment. We have also identified the redevelopment of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, the Hyde Park memorial and some other key projects in other states and territories. That is not the limit of the list, but they are certainly key priorities on the list.

Senator Ronaldson: Those decisions were made by the previous government and were effectively locked in at that stage.

CHAIR: They are reasonable things to be funded. Is there any priority in determining where the funds go—such as the War Memorial being first, or something like that?

Ms Mack : The minister has certainly restated the former government's priority as the travelling exhibition, but the minister is the decision maker, as I said previously, in consultation with the secretary. So, as money comes into the fund, advice can be provided to the minister and we can certainly provide advice on priority.

Mr Lewis : The requirement in relation to all moneys leaving the fund is that the minister does that in consultation with the Prime Minister.

CHAIR: I understand that James Brown has written a book called Anzac's Long Shadow in which he criticises the expenditure on the centenary of Anzac. He claims in his book that that the government will spend $325 million on the centenary of Anzac. Is that correct?

Major Gen. Chalmers : It is not entirely clear how Mr Brown developed the figure of $325 million. He does say that he believes that is the amount that would be spent by governments—that is, the Commonwealth and the states and territories. But $325 million is not a figure than I am familiar with. The Commonwealth has committed just over $145 million to the Anzac Centenary. Of that $140 million was committed by the previous government. The current government has committed a further $5.1 million.

Mr Lewis : In terms of the comparison to mental health spend, which I think Mr Brown has also referred to—

CHAIR: Apparently he did, yes.

Mr Lewis : We annually spend around $166 million on mental health activity. That is just the DVA alone, not including expenditure across Defence or other agencies for that matter.

Senator Ronaldson: The $140 million plus Commonwealth money that Major General Chalmers referred to is over four years. It is over $166 per annum that is spent on mental health and $145 odd for the Centenary of Anzac is over four years.

CHAIR: The Centenary of Anzac is a very special event. I suppose in the modern world $325 million is not such a huge amount of money, when you look at the whole of spectrum of World War I and the enormous contribution Australia made to that. I think we had the highest percentage of volunteers, as against our total population, that signed up for that war. It was very important in formatting the Australian character and sense of self-identity.

Senator Ronaldson: I do just want to reinforce that that figure of $300 odd million is simply not correct in relation to the Commonwealth's spend. The former government had allocated approximately $140 million. There was the new government, as part of an election commitment, that put an extra $25,000 into each federal electorate under the Local Community Grants Program. We allocated some extra resources into Albany, because there was a funding shortfall there and the project would not gone ahead if we had not urgently found some money. But the $300 million is just not correct. It is not correct.

I want there to be no doubt that mental health is an absolutely priority for this government. There is a large amount of money being spent. We have enormous challenges with returning men and women from Afghanistan. It is not an and/or, but the spending has already been allocated and it has already been budgeted for—apart from the small amount that I referred to, which the new government has put in. It will not be to the detriment of mental health spending and it will most certainly not be to the detriment of the needs of these young men and women returning, because Australia has an enormous obligation to them.

The money going to the Centenary of Anzac will not impact on our ability to look after those young men and women. It has already been budgeted for. We are absolutely determined to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes we made post-Vietnam, where the treatment of those men was a disgrace. It was a very, very dark day in Australia's history. We are determined that history will not repeat itself. I know that my shadow counterpart shares my view in relation to this issue.

Senator FARRELL: Just before we get off this topic, because you have raised it, can we have some clarification on how many corporate donations have been committed to the fund that Lindsay Fox has been raising?

Major Gen. Chalmers : Certainly. If you can indulge me, could I finish on the issue of James Brown and then answer your question on the public fund. I think Mr Brown asserts that this is a zero-sum game and that if money is spent on commemoration it will not be spent on mental health. As the minister has pointed out, that is entirely incorrect. As the minister has also pointed out, it is not the case that three times as much money has been spent on commemoration as on mental health—far from it.

Maybe because I am responsible for commemoration I make this point, but I am also a veteran. The point to me is that commemorating veterans' service is just as important as direct treatment of veterans' mental health. As a society we owe it to veterans to recognise their service and to provide validation that their sacrifice was worthwhile and is respected and that we acknowledge their service. We do that through commemoration. It is not just about commemorating the First World War diggers. The Anzac Centenary program is about a century of service: it commemorates and recognises the service of the ADF through the last hundred years. I feel strongly that it is a mistake to think that commemoration is somehow not important in validating the service of veterans. I think it is a mistake to think that the Anzac Centenary program is not recognising the service of contemporary veterans either. As the minister said, it is most important that we do not repeat the mistakes of Vietnam in not recognising and not commemorating the service of our veterans.

To go to your point about the Anzac Centenary public fund: at this stage Mr Fox has advised us that he has had letters of commitment that total around about $86 million. That is the amount that we expect will flow into the fund. Perhaps there will be more, because he is actively fundraising and continues to actively fundraise. That money will be paid in tranches into the account, so it is unlikely that $86 million will be paid into the account immediately, but we expect that over four years at least that much will flow into the account.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I certainly endorse the views you have expressed and thank you for clarifying the situation. It is very important that the more recent veterans are not overlooked and not forgotten, but it is also very important to commemorate Anzac Day and those First World War veterans.

Senator RONALDSON: And the Western Front and the centenary of service since, as Major General Chalmers said.

CHAIR: Yes, of course.

Senator PRATT: My questions are in relation to the Albany National ANZAC Centre. When did construction begin, and can you update us on its progress?

Ms Mack : Certainly. Construction began late last year and building progress is going very well. They are currently ahead of schedule and aiming to complete the centre by mid-October.

Senator PRATT: It needs to go well because it is a pretty tight time line there. Did you say mid-October?

Ms Mack : They are aiming for mid-October. The centre formally opens on 1 November.

Senator PRATT: We want to make sure there is good risk management there to make sure it is completed according to that time line. Can you give details of how much the Gillard government contributed and how much the WA government has contributed to date? I know there have been some changes since then, so I am just trying to get a step-through.

Ms Mack : In total, it is in the order of $8 million. Since the government has come into power, we have contributed a further $1.35 million.

Senator PRATT: So it was an initial $8 million?

Ms Mack : All up, it is $8 million. The exact number, in total, is $8.4 million.

Senator PRATT: What was the Gillard government budget for that?

Ms Mack : It was all but $1.35 million.

Senator PRATT: So around $7 million. How much came from the WA government?

Ms Mack : The funding has been on a 75-25 split.

Senator Ronaldson: Senator, I do note that during the term of the Gillard government, a press release was put out by the Prime Minister when she announced the funding for Albany which said it was fully funded. When this government came to power and I was sworn in as minister, there was actually a very significant funding shortfall.

Senator PRATT: Yes, I know, the project had some complexities.

Senator Ronaldson: Your government had left this project in a precarious state and I urgently had to find in excess of $1 million to for it to go well.

Senator PRATT: And I am sure we would have afforded that. But it has been made a lot more difficult by the state government having—

Senator Ronaldson: You cannot blame the state government. The Premier, and those around him, have moved heaven and earth to make sure we get this thing done.

Senator PRATT: We all want to get it done.

Senator Ronaldson: I am going there again next week. I am very confident that, despite extraordinarily tight time frames, it will be completed. But it has not been helped by the fact that your government underfunded this project despite saying it would be fully funded.

Senator PRATT: I reject that totally. You do not know the extent to which it is going to require funding until—the budget was there and budget parameters change. The City of Albany has contributed how much?

Ms Mack : The WA government is co-sharing the cost with the Commonwealth.

Senator PRATT: Do you have a breakdown of what the moneys have been used for, or are they just part of the whole project?

Ms Mack : Part of the entire project.

Senator PRATT: In an answer to questions on notice from the November budget estimates it was stated that, as at 3 December 2013, the Australian government had allocated $8.4 million—we have established that—and $2.72 million for the Albany commemoratives convoy event. It was also stated that the extra $1.35 million in funding for the centre at Albany would be considered through the normal budget process. Where has that extra money come from?

Major Gen. Chalmers : That $1 million the minister agreed to came from money that was allocated, through the budget process, to BEST but it could not be used in the first year. So it was directed to the Albany interpretive centre.

Senator PRATT: Where did it come from?

Major Gen. Chalmers : The BEST grant funding scheme.

Senator Ronaldson: Senator, part of the coalition's election commitment was to restore BEST funding, which your government had reduced without notice—

Senator PRATT: That was not my question. I have got the answer to my question.

Senator Ronaldson: I am telling you where it came from.

Senator PRATT: It came from BEST. Thank you.

Senator Ronaldson: This money was not able to be utilised until the next financial year, and I reallocated those funds. Fortunately, there was that money to do so.

Senator PRATT: Good on you!

Senator Ronaldson: I hate to think what would have happened to that interpretive centre had that money not been available.

Senator PRATT: How has Premier Barnett's change of plan for the centre affected the costings and budget for this project?

Ms Mack : I am not sure what you mean by the change of plan.

Senator PRATT: The site change for a start.

Ms Mack : The program will still deliver on time for 1 November.

Mr Lewis : I am not quite sure what you are talking about when you say a change by the Premier in relation to the site.

Senator PRATT: The original design was for a different place on the hill.

Mr Lewis : I am with you now. The original design would have been even more expensive. As part of value management exercises, conducted principally by the Western Australian government, they did alter the position. It is still in Albany but it is not in the location where it would have cost a considerably greater sum. That value management still involved a net additional cost.

Senator Ronaldson: The decision was driven by available funds. It was not a decision of the Western Australian government.

Senator PRATT: I understand that. But the state government said they would raise the rest of the money at the time for the project as it was originally envisaged. Instead, they have put forward 25 per cent. That has been the major driver for the change in the scope of the plans, as far as I can tell.

Senator Ronaldson: My understanding is that, all the way through this process, it was always a 75/25 funding arrangement. Indeed, that occurred in relation to the funds that were desperately required in November and December last year to make sure this project went ahead. The Western Australian government put in their 25 per cent. We put in our 75 per cent. It is simply not correct to say that it was underfunding by the Barnett government that caused the site to be changed.

Senator PRATT: Nor is it correct to say it was underfunding by the Gillard government when it was priced at around $10 million originally.

Senator Ronaldson: The funding arrangement was 75/25 under your government and it has continued under the current government.

Senator PRATT: Is there currently a funding shortfall?

Ms Mack : No.

Senator PRATT: If required, there would be more funds? Clearly it is important to finish it.

Mr Lewis : We are delighted that the project is on time and inside budget.

Senator PRATT: Can you outline the differences between the original design and location of the centre and the current design and location.

Ms Mack : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator PRATT: You don't have any understanding of that?

Major Gen. Chalmers : The interpretive centre, as currently located, is smaller. Clearly it does not have the same position that was originally envisaged. I have seen photos of the progress to date on construction and it is possible to see the viewing platform. It looks out across King George Sound and the area where the first convoy was anchored. So it achieves all that was originally envisaged for the original interpretive centre.

Senator PRATT: I have been to the site. It is not a complete view. The views are substantially different in terms of the overall vista that you get.

Mr Lewis : My sense is that the view will be panoramic.

Senator PRATT: How much cheaper was Premier Barnett's new plan for the centre, the one that has been implemented? What are the budget costings?

Mr Lewis : I need to get my timing clear here. My recollection is that the value management exercise, which I was talking about earlier, was actually initiated before the change of government. In fact, I would be pretty confident that the design that had the shortfall was actually pre election.

Senator Ronaldson: And the saving. All of this—the siting, the whole thing—predated the federal election.

Senator PRATT: My beef is not with the Commonwealth on this; it is with our accountability to the state government of Western Australia.

Mr Lewis : I am sure we can help you. I am just trying to get clarity as to what you are asking. You are keen to understand the original design when it was going to be on the headland and the indicative cost—I am not sure of the degree of fidelity that would be available on those costs; obviously that was work done by the Western Australia government, to which we were a contributor—the design and associated cost attached to the location and the design that was ultimately implemented.

Senator PRATT: Yes. Clearly there is a long history to this. Do we know the difference between the costings for what was proposed for the original site and what is being implemented at the current site?

Major Gen. Chalmers : We can provide that information on notice.

Mr Lewis : We definitely have it. It was several million dollars. I cannot give you the precise figure.

Senator PRATT: It was a substantial saving.

Mr Lewis : It was a substantial difference.

Major Gen. Chalmers : The original project was simply not able to be delivered within the funding envelope that was available.

Senator PRATT: The original plan sited the centre in front of the former Mount Adelaide signal station and it had glass panels offering a 165 degree view of King George Sound, where the ships arrived and left from in 1914. Can you explain the different views and their significance.

Major Gen. Chalmers : The interpretive centre, as it is sited now, does not have a view that extends around as far to the left, if I can put it that way, as the original; it does not sit on the headland; it sits inside the complex—sorry, I cannot recall the name of it. That accrues substantial advantages. There is some loss of the view on the left-hand side. On the other hand there is now no need to put in a cafeteria in competition with the existing cafeteria in the facility, which can now be taken advantage of. So there were substantial savings to be gained by putting it in the location it is in now. As I said to you earlier, having seen a photo that shows that the building is at the stage of having a framework built and the veranda viewing area established, I can tell you that the loss of panoramic view is minimal.

Senator PRATT: It is my understanding that the original idea of the first plan was to ensure that the centre, on its original site, overlooked the vast south coast ocean so you could see where the first convoy of ships that carried troops gathered in Albany. Indeed, the site was chosen because it was the place where the first filming and footage took place of the ships that were there. Is that right?

Major Gen. Chalmers : I think that is moot—because it was unaffordable. Nevertheless, the existing location does allow you to see the site at which the ships were anchored and also the site further out where the New Zealand ships anchored. So the visibility of the anchorage is still very good.

Senator PRATT: These issues are very tightly debated in the local community as to their significance and in the Western Australian community.

Senator Ronaldson: I understand that. But I just want to reinforce the point that the siting and the amount of funding was all decided by the former government and the Western Australian government. It was a 75/25 funding split. If you are concerned about the fact that the original proposal did not go ahead, then you are actually concerned about the failure of your government to allocate more funds. There was a certain amount of funding allocated, and that is what drove the site and the nature and extent of the interpretive centre. If you are trying to flick this off and make a political point in terms of the Western Australia government, it is just not right.

Senator PRATT: We funded what was originally budgeted.

Senator Ronaldson: There was a funding envelope—75/25. That drove what could be built and where it could be built.

Senator PRATT: This could be Australia's second most historically significant military memorial site. So these are important issues to resolve.

Senator Ronaldson: Of course they are. We will all be very proud of this Anzac interpretive centre and we will be very proud of the events that are going to occur on 1 November this year. It is a very historical event for this nation.

Senator PRATT: It does mean, however, that the public will not have as complete a view of where the convoys were anchored. Is that correct?

Major Gen. Chalmers : No. The public can view the complete anchorage from the lookout. From the interpretive centre itself, the anchorage, almost in its entirety, can also be seen. So there is no real loss. I put it to you that, when the centre opens and you attend the opening, you will be impressed. It is going to do justice to the site and to the history that it commemorates.

Senator PRATT: Nevertheless, they are not the plans put forward originally by the City of Albany and the RSL.

Major Gen. Chalmers : Which were unaffordable.

Senator PRATT: Clearly you are arguing that the original site chosen on Mount Adelaide was too difficult and too expensive to build on.

Major Gen. Chalmers : I am not arguing that; it is just the fact.

Senator PRATT: The local MP, Peter Watson, said that the previous location and design was a better package with a better view of the harbour so the spectators could enjoy a complete view of where the first Anzac troops departed. That would be a true statement, wouldn't it?

Major Gen. Chalmers : It possibly provided a better view. I cannot really say that for certain. But I am not sure whether that constitutes a better package, because the package itself had to include its financial viability, and it was not viable.

Senator PRATT: Are there plans to enhance the lookout?

Major Gen. Chalmers : The Western Australian government, as I understand it, has received a donation from Wesfarmers, which has enabled them to construct a path that goes up to the lookout and to enhance the lookout area.

Senator PRATT: Will the online interactive components be ready by November?

Ms Mack : Yes.

Senator PRATT: Terrific.

Senator Ronaldson: Only because we put more money into them.

Senator PRATT: I am pleased to hear that you did. Budgets for these kinds of things do change a little bit.

Senator Ronaldson: I have a press release dated 18 April 2012—

Senator PRATT: That was not my question. Ms Mack answered my question.

Senator Ronaldson: I am providing you with information about the matters we have been debating. This press release from Minister Snowdon said: 'This Gillard government funding will ensure the new centre is up and running by November 2014, the centenary of the first convoy. The new centre will offer panoramic views of King George Sound, where the convoys gathered.' The realities are that the funding you put in could not meet that commitment, and that is why it is sited where it is. So, if you have an issue, I suggest you write to Ms Gillard and to Mr Rudd and tell them that you are bitterly disappointed with the fact that they did not appropriately support this project.

Senator PRATT: How much will the general public pay in entry fees?

Ms Mack : The running of the centre is a matter for the WA government. I am not aware that they will be charging an entry fee.

Senator PRATT: That is good to know. How many visitors are expected?

Ms Mack : Again, I think that is a matter for the Western Australian government.

Senator PRATT: What about the funds for the day-to-day operation of the centre once it is complete?

Ms Mack : The Western Australian government will be the owner-operator of the centre.

Senator PRATT: So it is correct that the City of Albany will operate the centre?

Ms Mack : Yes.

Senator PRATT: And the WA museum will do the curatorial services for it?

Ms Mack : Yes.

Senator PRATT: Will the federal government consider contributing to recurrent expenditure for the centre, such as staffing, et cetera.

Major Gen. Chalmers : We have a firm agreement with the Western Australian government that between the Western Australian government and the City of Albany the operating costs will be met and the Commonwealth will have no liability for operating costs.

Senator PRATT: This is a significant site and, as we all know, local governments and the like can struggle sometimes to keep good pieces of infrastructure viable. Is this something that the Commonwealth will keep an eye on?

Mr Lewis : I think General Chalmers has answered the question, hasn't he? That is the deal we have done with the Western Australian government.

Senator PRATT: So, the long-term sustainability is not a question for the Commonwealth?

Mr Lewis : No. The Commonwealth government has supplied three-quarters of the funds to build the centre.

Senator PRATT: Does the federal government view it as a viable proposition? Will it be profitable? Will it be able to maintain and sustain itself?

Senator Ronaldson: Presumably the former government thought it was. That is why they funded it and that is why they sited it where it is. Senator, you are a Western Australian senator. Can I invite you, please, to stop talking this project down and start supporting it? You have an obligation as a Western Australian senator to talk positively about this. The negativity that I am hearing tonight, I think, is very, very disappointing. Why don't you get on board, support it and talk about it positively? That is the challenge for you.

Senator PRATT: The Gillard government, your government, made very positive contributions to this and it would not be happening without those commitments.

Senator Ronaldson: I do not disapprove of that. Why don't you talk the project up? Say how excited you are about it.

Senator PRATT: I am excited, and now I am going to ask some questions about that. How many people are going to attend the Anzac centenary ceremony in Albany or are forecast to come?

Ms Mack : The Western Australian government with their tourism department are currently forecasting numbers. They are working with tourism agents in other states.

Senator PRATT: So we do not know yet?

Ms Mack : They are still determining the number that they would approximate would attend.

Senator Ronaldson: They have not been there yet, Senator, so how can they say what the numbers are. They are forecasting.

Senator FARRELL: A point of order. It would be far more productive if the minister would stop intervening and let the public servants answer the very sensible questions that Senator Pratt is asking.

Senator Ronaldson: I am only intervening, Chair, when there are matters that need to be addressed.

Senator PRATT: I was asking about the numbers of people attending this exciting event.

Senator Ronaldson: No-one knows how many people are going to be there until they are there. You have been told about the forecasts.

Senator PRATT: I am asking about the forecasts.

CHAIR: Whatever it is, it is a presumption.

Senator PRATT: The answer is that we do not know. That is the answer.

CHAIR: The minister's comments are very valid.

Senator Ronaldson: We know what the forecasts are. Of course we do not know how many people are going to be there because the event has not occurred yet.

Senator PRATT: There is a big re-enactment happening at a cost of $2.72 million. You would think we would have an idea about numbers.

Mr Lewis : We are happy to talk to you about that program. Would it help if we talked about that $2.7 million program?

Major Gen. Chalmers : Senator, you are now asking, I guess, questions not necessarily about the Anzac Interpretive Centre in Albany but about that 1 November 2014 centenary weekend, which will be the Albany Convoy Commemorative Event.

Senator PRATT: I appreciate that there is a ceremony for the opening and that there is the re-enactment. They are different elements.

Major Gen. Chalmers : It is actually a much bigger event than that. The Western Australian government and Albany City Council are running an event around that weekend.

Senator PRATT: They are really exciting events.

Major Gen. Chalmers : The Commonwealth is responsible particularly for running the convoy commemorative event, and that is what the $2.78 million you referred to funds. In the period that occurs the Albany Interpretive Centre, or, as it is now known, the National Anzac Centre, will be opened.

Senator PRATT: I will put my questions about the ceremony on notice so that I can save myself Senator Ronaldson's interjections. Can I simply ask if for the opening ceremony there is a breakdown of what the state and the Commonwealth are responsible for?

Major Gen. Chalmers : Yes, there is.

Senator PRATT: Can you outline that?

Major Gen. Chalmers : The Commonwealth is responsible for the Albany convoy centenary event. There is the planning that goes around the ship visits, the ship open day, the parade and the sunset service—all those form part of that event. That is nested inside a much larger event that the city council will be running, which is being organised and run by their own event provider. So there are clear lines of delineation between what the Commonwealth is responsible for and what the Western Australian government and Albany City Council are responsible for.

Senator PRATT: Moving onto the re-enactment specifically, how many countries will be involved—

Major Gen. Chalmers : It is not a re-enactment. We are not re-enacting it so much as commemorating, so we will not be dressing up as First World War soldiers and nor will we have ships from—

Senator PRATT: I thought there would be ships—

Major Gen. Chalmers : There will be ships but they will not be dressed up as First World War ships—

Senator PRATT: I would not expect that to be the case. We would be hard-pressed to find that many historical ships.

Major Gen. Chalmers : Indeed. So they will not be re-enacting but will be commemorating.

Senator PRATT: How many countries will be involved in that.

Major Gen. Chalmers : It is not entirely clear yet, because we do not have responses from all of the countries that we have invited—

Senator PRATT: What kind of countries have been invited—

Major Gen. Chalmers : But we have had positive responses, particularly from New Zealand. They will be providing a warship and of course the Australian Navy will provide ships. We will have three Australian Navy warships and a New Zealand warship. Of course, all of this depends on operational contingencies, because these ships have a primary role. But the Chief of Navy some time ago invited South-East Asian countries, on the basis that he intended to conduct a naval exercise, and the ships would be present and able to participate. The UK and French navies have been invited, and we have had very strong and positive responses, particularly from the French. It is just a matter now of formal responses coming from those governments.

Senator PRATT: Was the re-enactment event costed at $2.72 million?

Major Gen. Chalmers : For the commemorative event.

Senator PRATT: Has it had to change in scale to meet the budget?

Major Gen. Chalmers : No.

Ms Mack : No.

Senator PRATT: How many ships will be involved in the event, approximately?

Major Gen. Chalmers : At the moment we have a firm commitment for four ships.

Senator PRATT: Was that the original number that was planned for?

Major Gen. Chalmers : I do not think we planned for a number of ships. Bearing in mind that the original committee of, I think, the Albany RSL and the Albany City Council had in mind the sort of commemorative event that they wanted to run. But that, too, was a separate planning process. I think they would have liked to have had—off the top of my head—the original 35 ships in the original convoy. They would have liked to have had 35 ships in three lines out in the sound. In fact that is not possible, partly because it is a working port and we cannot block the port completely, so we could not have that many ships in there. But clearly it is our intention to have as many ships as are practical and possible to try to add as much splendour to the occasion as the Navy always does.

Senator PRATT: That is four Australian ships?

Major Gen. Chalmers : Three Australian ships and one New Zealand ship.

Mr Lewis : Plus there are invitations out for others. There could possibly be more.

Senator PRATT: Do we know yet if the French navy, for example, has responded to that request?

Ms Mack : We do not have any other positive responses, but there are some countries still under active consideration.

Senator PRATT: Good luck with pursuing more participants. That would be fantastic.

Major Gen. Chalmers : We are working hard on that because we understand that one of the benchmarks for success will be having the navy there and having a naval presence that is significant.

Senator PRATT: I look forward to what will be a great event.

Senator Ronaldson: I think the issue with the ships is that it has to be tied in with the exercises they might be doing. I do not think anything will be coming necessarily for a specific visit. My understanding is that they will need to tie it in with a longer-term exercise.

Senator PRATT: I am sure the troops won't mind visiting Albany.

Senator Ronaldson: They would love it.

Senator WRIGHT: My first question concerns program 3.1; it is about deductible gift recipient status for the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial Project. I am following up on answers given in the supplementary budget estimates hearing in November last year regarding DGR status for the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial Project. In that hearing, Minister Ronaldson confirmed that the projects DGR status will expire on 31 December this year. However, the minister stated that, if there is a requirement for it to be extended because extra time is needed for the project's efforts, he would make strong representations to Treasury that there be an extension. The minister stated:

… I am very committed to ensuring that the peacekeepers are given the best opportunity to raise those public funds by using the DGR status.

I emphasised in that hearing that my understanding was that the project was highly unlikely to raise those funds by December of this year, and I understand from those involved with the project's committee that this remains the case. So I am interested to know what plan there is to consult with the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial Project committee during this year to ascertain whether its DGR status needs support in extending. Also, has the minister made any representations in support of extending this status?

Major Gen. Chalmers : If I can take your question in parts, you have asked what plan there is for consultation. Major General Tim Ford, who represents the peacekeepers project, and I have met and will continue to meet and discuss the project, their progress in fundraising and their need for DGR status. It is true to say, however, that in this case the ball is in their court. They need to apply—we cannot do this for them—to the Treasurer for an extension to their DGR status. We can assist them with providing advice, but the fact of the matter is that it is a matter for the Treasurer. They need to put the application in. Once there is an application in play it will be subject to the Treasurer's decision-making processes.

Senator Ronaldson: I am seeing Mr Ford next week. I am assuming there will be a request from him for support for an extension. If he asks for my support as Minister for Veterans' Affairs, while I will not be making the decision, I am very happy to support that very strongly, if that is the wish of the committee.

Senator WRIGHT: Regarding the term of the extension, from having spoken to people involved I know that having to lurch from year to year is somewhat difficult as there is some uncertainty there. While I understand that we do not necessarily know how long it is going to take to raise the funds, if the project's DGR status was extended for, say, five years, that would alleviate the need for frequent reviews and extensions. I would be interested to know what the department's view about that would be and what would be the optimal process for securing that five-year extension? Would that be a request to the Treasurer, supported hopefully by other people? How would that work?

Major Gen. Chalmers : I would have to take on notice whether or not that would be possible—whether or not DGR status could be extended for that period of time—bearing in mind that there is a financial impact of DGR status in forgone tax, which has to be funded.

Senator WRIGHT: I understand that, but my understanding is that in relation to other charities it is ongoing. Obviously this is for a purpose that would be finite, when it is built, so I guess that would be taken into account. I would be stressing what a realistic timeline is. Please take it on notice.

Major Gen. Chalmers : I am simply not aware, so I will take it on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: I have a question in 3.2 in relation to Gallipoli related activities. It is about Indigenous representation at Gallipoli. I understand that the office of the South Australian Minister for Veterans' Affairs made representations to Minister Ronaldson about Indigenous representation at the Anzac centenary commemorations in 2015 at Gallipoli. I understand that Minister Ronaldson advised that, although it was too late to make provisions for Indigenous representation in the ballot, he would write to the Minister for Defence to request appropriate Indigenous representation in the ADF contingent which will be chosen to travel to Gallipoli next year. Has this request been made of the defence minister?

Major Gen. Chalmers : Yes, it has.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. Has the defence minister provided a response to the request?

Major Gen. Chalmers : I believe the CDF has responded and said that they will make every effort to ensure that Indigenous representation exists within the ADF contingent.

Senator WRIGHT: Can you give me any idea about at what point that decision will be made so that it will be publicly known?

Major Gen. Chalmers : I think the selection process for the ADF contingent is really a matter for Defence, so I could not tell you exactly when that would occur.

Mr Lewis : The easier way might be to take it on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: I have missed my opportunity to ask the other witnesses. If you could take it on notice and find out, that would be helpful.

Major Gen. Chalmers : I would say that they will not be selecting the individuals who will go to Gallipoli in 2015 for some time yet.

Senator WRIGHT: It is more the process that I would be interested in. Thank you.

Senator FAWCETT: My first question goes to community groups who may want to have a commemoration or memorial of service men and women who have lost their lives. One in particular has come to me with the fact that there is no central repository or easy way for them to access some details. So, if, for example, they wanted to have name, rank and serial number, there is no apparent and easy way to get that information. Does DVA have or could it provide information such as that to community groups such as an RSL that wanted to have a memorial?

Major Gen. Chalmers : We certainly have a roll of people who served in particular conflicts. I am just not aware whether we could interrogate that database by place of birth—which, presumably, would be the criteria that an RSL would be interested in. So, were we given a list of names, we could provide detail about each serviceman. Were we asked, 'Can you tell us all of the Canberra servicemen who lost their lives in the Second World War,' that may be more difficult.

Senator Ronaldson: Senator, I do note that, in the main, memorials do not have rank. That is the choice of those who are erecting the memorial, but certainly at the AWM you will not see rank. Most memorials will just have the name and the initials. At the POW memorial in Ballarat that I was part of there is certainly no rank; it is normally just surname and initials.

Senator FAWCETT: On a completely different topic, assistance to defence widows, can you tell me what support the government provides to widows or, potentially, widowers of Defence Force personnel who are killed in conflicts, particularly what has been happening recently. Are these processes set? Are they developing? Can we expect anything different in the future?

Mr Lewis : Thank you. We have been doing work on that in recent times and I will turn to Ms Daniel.

Ms Daniel : There are a number of aspects to the support that we are providing to the young women and their children after those tragic deaths in Afghanistan. There are some sets of compensation entitlements under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act which I can go through if you wish, but I think, importantly, as the department learnt to deal with the needs of these young women, we have made some changes to the way we deliver services and, I think, reflected the comments that the secretary made earlier about our stovepiped and fragmented organisation.

One of the first things that we did in 2011 was introduce a new role to assist these young widows and their dependents, a role that we call service coordinators. These positions were established in each of our state capitals and in Darwin and Townsville to provide these young women and families with a single point of contact with the department so that they did not need to work through the different parts of the department. The service coordinators also have helped those widows navigate the range of other government supports and services outside DVA they may be entitled to. Importantly too, the service coordinators have had an important role in working in the transition from DCO to DVA arrangements in the period immediately following death. That has been a protocol and service that we worked very closely with Defence to get in place and to get really well tuned.

The other thing I would comment on is as these service coordinators developed the relationship which they do have with these young families, we realised that they have needs that have not necessarily been met by our traditional programs, which are targeted more towards our older clients. The commissions have on occasions made decisions to provide extra support and extra services to those individuals on a case-by-case basis based on assessed need. We now have developed a framework that helps us set out the way we provide those additional supports. They are all intended to assist the families through some of the difficult transition phases they work through in adapting to life without their partner.

Senator Ronaldson: With your military experience you would understand what the Second World War widows and the Vietnam widows needed and what their requirements were. It is an entirely different time. A lot of organisations, not just this department, have had to respond to those. Magnificent organisation like Legacy or the War Widows Guild also had to revisit the way they assist these young women. As someone said, what have a 70-year-old man mowing lawns and a young widow got in common? It is a changing dynamic that all of these organisations have had to come to terms with. I am confident they will but it has presented enormous challenges as you in particular would appreciate.

Senator FARRELL: I have a few questions about the Gallipoli ballot. Can you tell us whether the successful applicants have been determined yet?

Mr Lewis : Not yet. That process is currently underway. The ballot closed at the end of January. We are going through the various processes. I think we might have touched briefly on the cascading ballot arrangements for this ballot. I might call on my colleague Mr Chalmers to give you a bit more detail on the way the ballot process works.

Major Gen. Chalmers : As the secretary pointed out, we have closed the ballot. As you might be aware, we had over 42,000 applications. We have now gone through a process of deduping, as it is technically called by Ticketek—making sure we do not have duplicate entries or that people have not entered multiple times.

Senator FARRELL: Were there many in that category?

Major Gen. Chalmers : There were people who had entered multiple times but the vast majority were people who had, in a non-technical way, pressed the enter button twice because they were not certain whether or not their entry had gone through. We did not detect any level of fraud or attempt to enhance chances or so on. So we will be in a position shortly to run the ballot. That will be done by Ticketek using their random algorithms for—

Senator FARRELL: Do we know when that will be?

Major Gen. Chalmers : I think will be done by 31 March—but I might hand to Mr Evans, who has the detail.

Mr Evans : As Major General Chalmers has said, we have just completed the process of cleansing the data so that we have no duplicate or multiple entries in the database. That activity had to be harmonised with our colleagues in New Zealand, because there was the potential for a person to have entered in both the Australian and the New Zealand ballots. The ballot rules only allowed you to be in one or the other, so that was a set of duplication that had to be searched for and remedied. The next step will be to run the ballot for direct descendants—400 double places.

Senator FARRELL: Before you go on to that: so we expect the first ballot to be completed by 31 March?

Mr Evans : We are anticipating all aspects of the ballot to be completed by 31 March.

Mr Lewis : There will be internal-to-government cascading ballots. Nothing will be announced or released until we complete the whole ballot process.

Senator FARRELL: And we expect that whole process to be completed by 31 March. When will people expect to be advised?

Mr Evans : Immediately after the ballot process has concluded.

Major Gen. Chalmers : Our commitment is to advise people before Anzac Day this year.

Mr Evans : That advice will be in two processes: by letter and by email, where the applicant has provided an email address—which in almost all instances they have done.

Senator FARRELL: So they will get the information pretty soon after the 31st.

Mr Evans : That's correct.

Senator FARRELL: You were just about to go on to talk about the 400.

Mr Evans : Each of the first two cascades will require a little bit of time immediately after the cascade in order to engage with the people who have been successful and establish that they are able to prove the connection that places them within the cascade. With the direct-descendant category there is precedence given to those people who have identified as sons and daughters of Gallipoli veterans—so the first generation. We have around 870 people in that category; 400 of those people will be identified. Where they have not already provided a birth certificate—there was no requirement for them to do so, but some did that as part of their application process—we will be contacting them in order to provide that single piece of documentation that links them with their father who was a veteran.

Senator FARRELL: Before they are chosen or afterwards?

Mr Evans : There will be 400 who will be provisionally identified and then those 400 will have to prove—

Senator FARRELL: They will have to establish their bona fides.

Mr Evans : In the event that a person cannot demonstrate that link, we will go to the 401st and so on until we have 400 people whose bona fides have been established. People have 14 days from notification in which to provide that documentation. It does not have to be an authorised copy; it is simply a copy of a birth certificate. So it will be as quick a turnaround as we can get.

Because there are 121 people who are sons and daughters who also have veteran service, we cannot go to the 400 in the veteran category until we have established whether any of the veterans have already been selected as part of the direct descendants. So our first cascade could take as long as two weeks before we are then able to run the second.

With the veteran category we have just short of 5,000 people who have registered. Half of those are DVA clients and have indicated that they are happy for us to use our records to establish their bona fides. For those of the 400 who are not DVA clients we will, again, have to go out to them and ask them to provide documentation to establish that they meet the veteran category requirements.

Once those first two cascades are done, the third cascade happens just like that—it is 3,000 out of the people remaining in the database. Anyone who is unsuccessful in the first or second categories, and all of the people who made no indication that they were either a direct descendant or a veteran. So that one happens very quickly; it requires no further verification. So we will move slowly through the first two and then very quickly have the full allocation established.

Senator FARRELL: Will you publish the winning nominees publicly?

Mr Evans : It is not our intention to have an insert in a newspaper or something along those lines. We will be contacting each person individually and people will be advised whether they have been successful or whether they have not obtained an application in the ballot—and that second advice will also include information about their alternatives in commemorating the 25 April 2015.

Mr Lewis : Senator, we will not be publishing data of that kind, for privacy reasons. If we wanted to do that we would have had to advise them that that was a condition of entry—and we did not do that.

Senator FARRELL: Okay, I understand.

Senator Ronaldson: Senator, just so there is no misinterpretation of Mr Evans' comment: when he refers to 'selected' he of course means successful in the ballot.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, I don't think anybody—

Senator Ronaldson: We won't be 'selecting' anyone. I just wanted to make absolutely sure—

Senator FARRELL: No, I didn't interpret it that way.

Senator Ronaldson: Not you—I was just worried that others who may be listening might not be sure.

Senator FARRELL: Of the 160 passes set aside for widows, do we know how many have been taken up?

Mr Evans : At this stage we have not finalised the process of selecting widows. As I think was advised back in November, we have made the first pass of contacting the widows to alert them to the fact that a more formal contact will occur and that they did not need to register in the ballot. The formal contact from the minister to the widows inviting them to take up the government's offer will be going out shortly. I do not have a target date at this point but it will be in the same general context as the 31 March.

Mr Lewis : I think it is fair to say that, given the age of those widows, and the nature of the geography of the Gallipoli Peninsula, I would be surprised if a large portion of that group attended.

Senator FARRELL: I think you indicated that last time. Does that mean that, if there is not a complete uptake of the 160—

Mr Lewis : I would be surprised if there were not some.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, I understand that. But do those that are not taken up go back into the pool?

Major Gen. Chalmers : No, because the widows are official guests of the government and will fall within the 500 official guest category. So they do not take away from the 8,000 Australian and 2,000 New Zealand places.

Senator FARRELL: No, but if 160 don't apply, will those vacant spots go back into the pool?

Mr Lewis : That will be a judgment that ministers will need to make. When I say 'ministers', obviously there is a decision there around attendance that will need to be taken by the Australian minister along with the New Zealand Minister for Veterans' Affairs in relation to slots not taken up.

Major Gen. Chalmers : But it is fair to say that, of those 500 places, 250 of which we have allocated to Turkey, there will be pressure on trying to accommodate the number of representatives from other countries and official guests in that space. Having said that, we have an absolute commitment to any widow who is fit enough to attend that they will attend.

Senator FARRELL: I understand that. That completes my questions on that topic. I have one other question for the minister before we get onto the War Memorial. It is the 60th anniversary this year of the Korean armistice, Minister, and there are still 42 Australian soldiers listed as missing in action. Has there been any contact with the family members who registered their DNA on the family reference database?

Senator Ronaldson: I will ask someone from the department. It is a longstanding issue, as you know.

Major Gen. Chalmers : It was the 60th anniversary last year. The thrust of your question—which is: has there been contact with families?—I would have to take on notice. I am not aware of any such contact.

Mr Lewis : We ran a mission to Korea last year.

Major Gen. Chalmers : As part of the armistice we took commemorative missions—

Senator FARRELL: Has there been any further contact with the Koreans since then?

Mr Lewis : Since the mission?

Senator FARRELL: Yes.

Mr Lewis : I might need to take that on notice. In relation to what in particular?

Senator FARRELL: Trying to locate the—

Major Gen. Chalmers : Location of missing service people is primarily a responsibility of Defence, not of this department. So, whilst obviously we have an interest and work closely with Defence, in the first instance that would be a question for Defence.

Senator Ronaldson: If it is humanly possible, and if we have plenty of notice that the 500 official places are not going to be used and we have time, it would be my intention that we would try to do whatever we can to give those places to those on the waiting list. It will be a timing issue; but if, for example, six months out we knew exactly what the official group was, how many the numbers were and there were some left over, I would be endeavouring with the department to try to utilise those places to go to those who are on the waiting list.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you, Minister.

CHAIR: With that, we conclude your appearance. I thank you very much being here this evening.