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Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Page: 1

Mr BILLSON (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) (9:01 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present legislation to give effect to minor but necessary measures that will correct a number of anomalies and improve administrative procedures in the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio. The measures will improve the support we provide to our veterans and defence personnel.

The Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Statements of Principles and Other Measures) Bill 2006 will amend the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 to enable the Repatriation Medical Authority to review one or a number of factors in a statement of principles, rather than the entire contents of the statement of principles.

The Repatriation Medical Authority’s medical and scientific experts formulate statements of principles that are used to assess whether or not a claimed injury, disease or death is war or service related.

The Repatriation Medical Authority reviews the statements of principles regularly to ensure they are based on the latest medical and scientific evidence—in other words, best practice.

The amendments will enhance the review process, making it quicker and more appropriately focused.

This bill also amends the Veterans’ Entitlements Act to enhance the operation of rules on existing income streams and clarify policies relating to those income streams.

These changes include consequential amendments, in response to changes in the family law, to allow the means test to be applied to certain non-superannuation annuities that are split following a divorce property settlement.

Other amendments to the Veterans’ Entitlements Act will enable benefits and allowances, the rates or amounts of which are fixed by or calculated under Veterans’ Entitlements Act regulations or any other Veterans’ Entitlements Act legislative instrument, to be funded from the consolidated revenue fund.

This bill also corrects minor errors and anomalies in the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Act 2004.

These acts provide treatment, rehabilitation and compensation for all permanent and reserve members of the ADF, cadets and cadet instructors who suffer an injury or disease as a result of service after 30 June 2004.

Benefits provided by the new scheme match and, in many cases, enhance those provided under previous arrangements.

However, certain unintended anomalies in the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act mean that the act, in a small number of areas, does not truly reflect its original intentions.

This bill corrects those anomalies, including removing the age 65 age limit from the Special Rate Disability Pension which should be payable for life, consistent with the Special Rate or TPI pension under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act.

The bill will also correct the provisions covering liability by excluding the acceptance of a self-inflicted disease. This brings the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act into line with the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.

The bill also includes amendments that will ensure that service personnel incapacitated by injury or disease during training are remunerated at levels commensurate with what they would have earned if they had completed their initial training and will provide for the payment of travelling expenses for claimants attending a hearing by the Veterans’ Review Board.

Amendments in the bill will re-open section 88A of the Veterans’ Entitlements Act to certain persons eligible under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. This will enable those eligible persons to receive treatment of a specified kind as determined by the Repatriation Commission.

Other amendments will clarify the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act in relation to who may lodge a claim on behalf of a member or a dependant who is under the age of 18 years and will remove the unnecessary requirement for the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission to determine a treatment path for a serving member.

The proposed changes and minor technical amendments contained in the bill will enhance my department’s capacity to deliver benefits and entitlements for our veteran and defence force communities. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Gavan O’Connor) adjourned.