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Wednesday, 22 March 2023
Page: 17


Mr KEOGH (BurtMinister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel) (10:01): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Albanese Labor government is committed to the task of saving lives and delivering a better future for the veteran community.

When an Australian signs up to our Defence Force, they make a solemn vow to defend Australia, to operate in support of our national interests.

They do so knowing that they may find themselves in harm's way and could make the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

This is why as a government and as a nation we have a solemn obligation to look after our Defence Force personnel, veterans and families.

To make sure for those who find themselves injured or needing support, that this is readily available.

I am pleased to introduce today the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2023.

This bill introduces a number of measures that will improve the way we support veterans and their families, address some technological anomalies, and make some minor technical improvements to the operation of veterans' legislation.

The amendments contained in the bill, a number of which are long overdue, demonstrate the government's ongoing commitment to implementing practical support measures to better support defence personnel, veterans and their families.

Schedule 1 will require the Repatriation Medical Authority (RMA) to provide an annual report for tabling in parliament. This item addresses the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee's recommendation in their July 2019 report, 'Annual reports (No. 1 and No. 2 of 2019)', that the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA) be amended to publish an annual report. The RMA has, as a matter of practice, already been tabling an annual report, so this measure will convert this existing practice to a legislative requirement.

The RMA have, of course, been consulted and supports this measure.

Schedule 2 amends the language contained in section 330 of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRCA) and section 58 of the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-Related Claims) Act 1988 (DRCA).

This is important because the language in these provisions is reflected in communications with veterans, and the present phrasing regarding the Military Rehabilitation Compensation Commission refusing to process a claim until further information is provided is distressing to many veterans. The phrase will be replaced so that the commission will instead 'defer' processing of the claim, which reflects actual practice.

Schedule 3 fixes incorrect references in the Veterans' Entitlements Act to a provision in the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999.

Schedule 4 amends the Defence Service Homes Act 1918 to clarify the determination, revocation, replacement, variation and content of the statement of conditions made under section 38A of that act.

The statement of conditions is similar to a product disclosure statement for insurance. It is the legislative instrument that sets out the risks against which the Commonwealth will undertake insurance under the relevant part of the act, and other terms and conditions relating to insurance by the Commonwealth under that act.

The original drafting of section 38A left it ambiguous as to the extent the minister may re-make or otherwise revoke and replace a statement of conditions.

The amendments in schedule 4 repeal certain subsections under section 38A and substitute provisions that clarify the operation of the statement of conditions and the conditions to vary, revoke and replace the statement of conditions.

The new provisions continue to ensure that any revocation or variation of the statement of conditions must not remove the right of a person to receive a payment to which the person had become entitled before any revocation or variation took effect.

Schedule 5 will automate the alignment of the private vehicle allowance rate in the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 and the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-Related Claims) Act 1988 so that they continue to align with the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.

This will ensure consistency and create ongoing administrative efficiencies. Clarity and certainty will be provided for both clients and the department through the creation of a transparent and legislated process for the rate.

This bill is just one of many ways that the Albanese Labor government is working to better support veterans.

We came to government with a commitment to invest in a better future for defence personnel, veterans and families.

The October 2022 budget delivers on this commitment, with significant investments including:

$46.7 million for 10 new veterans and families hubs across the country.

$24 million to deliver the Veterans' Employment Program.

$4.7 million to develop the Op Navigator smartphone app to better support Australian Defence Force personnel in transition.

$97.9 million for a $1,000 increase to annual totally and permanently incapacitated payments.

$46.2 million to boost defence force personnel and veterans' homeownership.

We're also responding to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide's Interim report:

We've invested $233.9 million to engage 500 new frontline staff at DVA to eliminate the compensation claims backlog, delivering on a key election commitment, and we've already employed 275 of those staff;

$87 million to modernise IT systems in DVA, improving claims processing;

$24.3 million to provide increased support to veterans who are having their claims processed and to improve modelling capabilities needed to forecast and manage future demand for DVA services;

$15.5 million to support DVA's continued and timely engagement with the royal commission.

And vitally, we've invested $9.5 million into developing a pathway for the simplification and harmonisation of veterans legislation. Consultation on that pathway is now underway.

This government is committed to implementing practical support measures to better support defence personnel, veterans and families.

The amendments contained in the bill before us today, while modest, demonstrate our government's ongoing commitment, while we also work on our Veterans' Legislation Reform Consultation Pathway.

We want our service personnel, veterans, and veteran families to know that they will get the support that they not only need, but deserve.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.