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Thursday, 28 November 1985
Page: 2486


Senator LEWIS(4.43) —The Opposition supports the Australian Democrats amendment, which is the same as that proposed by the Opposition. We understand what the Government is saying, that it is going to introduce some kind of military compensation program at some stage in the future, but we do not accept that new recruits coming into the forces should in the meantime be simply covered by ordinary Commonwealth compensation legislation. The reason that peacetime defence forces came under the Repatriation Act in the first place was the recognition of the inadequacy of Commonwealth compensation legislation. It is all very well for the Government to indicate that it is working on some compensation package which will be forthcoming, but it is asking for a blank cheque from the incoming recruits. When one considers the Labor Government's behaviour in relation to its liability to HMAS Voyager survivors-it denied liability on the basis of the statute of limitations-one wonders how any serving member of our forces can have any confidence that this Government will ultimately come up with a just package. I also mention that nothing could be further from the mind of a recruit when he is entering the defence forces than the possibility of death or injury resulting from the hazards of service. Once in the defence forces, there is nothing that the recruit can do about it. That is why the Parliament has an obligation to ensure that recruits and their dependants are adequately covered.

The amount of expenditure involved in leaving the existing entitlement to repatriation benefits until a satisfactory defence forces compensation package has been put in place has not yet been set out, although I presume that the Minister will give it to us. Surely it must be small, given the continued rundown of our defence forces under this Government. There seems to the Opposition to be no persuasive argument against allowing new recruits to remain under repatriation cover at least until the legislation implementing the Government's new compensation package has been brought into the Parliament.