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Thursday, 5 December 1985
Page: 3039


Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(3.44) —by leave-The Senate is being asked to extend the sunset clause which was imposed six months ago and which is to expire at midnight this evening. There has been considerable discussion within the veteran community, and in particular with the leaders of the ex-service organisations, over the last few days about the possible passage of the Repatriation Legislation Amendment (Extension of Operation) Bill and the issues relating to the provisions of the Veterans' Entitlements Bill. Substantial agreement has been reached within the veterans' organisations on the passage of the Bill now before the Senate. Considerable progress has been made in discussions with the Australian Democrats and the Opposition on the same matters. One matter remains unresolved although some progress has been made towards reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

The main ex-service organisations have indicated that they are satisfied with the position of the Veterans' Entitlements Bill regarding the standard of proof arrangements to apply to claims lodged before 15 May 1985. I and my officers have had the opportunity to discuss these matters with a number of ex-service leaders and with honourable senators opposite. I will quote from a letter I have just received from Sir William Keys, the National President of the Returned Services League of Australia. It is dated 5 December 1985. It states:

5 December 1985

Dear Minister,

Following discussions between all major veterans groups and subsequently the Government and the Australian Democrats the RSL would agree to extension of the Sunset Clause and will make no further claims for the extension of benefits embodied in the VEB subject to the following guarantees:

(a) that the VEB would be brought on for debate as early as possible in the Autumn Sittings 1985;

(b) that the 40 year rule will not be invoked adversely to any claimant in the period of the Sunset Clause leading up to the enactment of the VEB;

(c) that there will be rights of review available under the VEB in respect of any adverse determination made during the whole period of the extended Sunset Clause;

(d) that the standard of proof that will apply to applications for pensions lodged prior to the 15th May 1985 will be that contained in Clause 42 of the Veterans Entitlements Bill (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill being that of the pre-6th June 1985 Section 47 standard of proof subject only to a ``reasonable hypothesis'';

(e) that new entlistees to the Australian Defence Force will continue to be covered under the VEB until proclamation to be made by the Governor-General of the new military compensation scheme.

The RSL notes the agreement for the extension of the service pension to allied veterans. The RSL is pleased to note that you have agreed to consider recommendations of the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the clause of the VEB relating to uniformity of the AIDS legislation.

On the basis of the foregoing, The Returned Services League of Australia is happy to give an assurance that ``there will be no further proposals to extend benefits embodied in the VEB or new issues raised which could give rise to amendments to the VEB'' prior to this enactment. Any new proposals will be put forward for consideration in the Budget context.

This assurance is related only to extensions of benefits or new issues and will be subject, in due course, to ratification by the National Executive of the RSL. You will appreciate that it would be impossible to seek such ratification in the time available.

Further, the League reserves the right to take whatever action is necessary to bring about the resolution of any errors, omissions or anomalies which might yet be found in the VEB and prior to its debate during the Autumn Session.

Yours sincerely

SIR WILLIAM KEYS

National President


Senator GIETZELT —The Senate has had an opportunity, as indeed has the House of Representatives, to consider the consolidation of the Veterans' Entitlements Bill, which brings into one piece of legislation some 90 Bills over a long period. There are many tangible benefits in the Veterans' Entitlements Bill. The Government recognises that it is in the interests of the veteran community to have the passage of that Bill. Because of circumstances it is not possible for that to happen on the date for which it was planned, that is, this week. Therefore, as a result of the negotiations that have taken place with the Opposition, the Democrats and the veteran community we have reached a measure of agreement which will give us the opportunity in the first few weeks of the autumn session to review the Bill and put it into place.

The Government has made many concessions in the Veterans' Entitlements Bill. It has recognised its commitment to the veteran community and has recognised its sacrifices. We believe that the Veterans' Entitlements Bill is a big achievement in paying tribute to those who served their country in wartime situations. The Repatriation Legislation Amendment (Extension of Operation) Bill will extend the sunset clause for six months. We give a guarantee that the Senate and, indeed, the Parliament will have the opportunity when Parliament resumes in February to resolve the outstanding issues in the interests of the veteran community. In those circumstances, I commend the Bill to the Senate.