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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 3279


Mr TEHAN (WannonMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security and Minister for Defence Personnel) (09:44): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present a bill which will excise compensation coverage for Australian Defence Force members and former members with service prior to 1 July 2004 from other Commonwealth employees, providing a 'military specific' scheme for the long-term administration of claims for Defence Force members.

The bill will duplicate the existing Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRCA) as a standalone act, with appropriate amendments to give full control of the act to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs.

Importantly, eligibility and benefits under the standalone act will be the same as those currently available to serving and former ADF members under the existing SRCA. I will just repeat that because it is very important: importantly, eligibility and benefits under the standalone act will be the same as those currently available to serving and former ADF members under the existing SRCA.

There are no other changes to benefits or entitlements in the new act or the enabling bill. The new act will simply replicate the SRCA and retain the provisions that currently apply to members and former members of the ADF. Indeed, section 121B specifically operates to protect the entitlements of those covered by the SRCA and to ensure that no person is disadvantaged by the enactment of this act.

It will not apply to (or impact on) veterans with eligibility under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA) or the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRCA).

The VEA and the MRCA will remain in place and DVA clients with entitlements under these acts will be unaffected by the commencement of the new act.

The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 currently provides compensation coverage to all Commonwealth employees and is administered by Comcare on behalf of the Department of Employment.

The current act is also administered by the Department of Veterans' Affairs, with part XI extending coverage to Australian Defence Force members and former members for injuries and illnesses linked to service prior to 1 July 2004.

Members and former members with conditions linked to service from 1 July 2004 onwards, are covered by the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004.

While the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 ceased to apply to new periods of Defence Force service from 1 July 2004, a significant proportion of ongoing compensation and treatment expenditure under the act continues to apply to current and former Defence Force personnel.

The development of a standalone SRCA for ADF members and veterans was announced by government nearly two years ago, during which time DVA has been consulting with Defence and ex-service representatives (both of which have been supportive of a standalone act).

The duplication of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 in the form of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 is important for DVA as it will give the Minister for Veterans' Affairs responsibility for all compensation acts covering ADF members. Once again, this is worth highlighting: these changes will give the Minister for Veterans' Affairs responsibility for all compensation acts covering ADF members.

It is a foundational step towards broader reform being undertaken by the Department of Veterans' Affairs to significantly improve services for veterans and their families by re-engineering DVA business processes. To enable this veteran-centric reform to occur, it is essential that policy responsibility for relevant legislation sits with the Minister for Veterans' Affairs.

It will also allow DVA to consult with the veteran and Defence communities in the future on areas of potential alignment with the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 once the standalone act commences.

I want to acknowledge the strong support for the establishment of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 from the Ex-Service Organisation Round Table (ESORT) and the Department of Defence and I am privileged to have the opportunity to bring about a change that will allow the government to ensure that the changing needs of our injured and ill Defence Force members and their families are appropriately met into the future.

Debate adjourned.