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Wednesday, 16 December 1992
Page: 5241


Senator DURACK (7.25 p.m.) —I intend to confine my rather short remarks to the Veterans' Entitlements Amendment Bill 1992. I preface my remarks by quoting from the beginning of Justice Toohey's judgment in the recent High Court case known as Bushell's case, which was delivered on 7 October of this year, only a few weeks ago. Justice Toohey stated:

The history of legislative attempts to provide a satisfactory formula for the determination of claims for service-related incapacities has not been a happy one. A glance at the index to the series, Administrative Law Decisions, under the heading "Veterans' Affairs", gives some idea of the amount of litigation the relevant legislation has spawned.

The reason I have risen to speak in this debate is that I believe that over the last 10 years or so there have been very strong attempts by the Repatriation Commission to subvert the longstanding intentions of Parliament in favour of claims for war-caused injuries by veterans. In fact, over these years the High Court has continuously by its several decisions supported the intention of Parliament, yet in these years the Government has supported the attempts of the Repatriation Commission to change that longstanding tradition. Fortunately—and I commend the Minister for Justice, Senator Tate, who is at the table—the Government has now got up some courage of its own and has been standing up to the pressures and blandishments that it has clearly been receiving from the Commission.

  The Bill we are debating is yet another classic and the most gross example of all of these legislative attempts which Justice Toohey has referred to as being `not a happy one'. The Bill purports, as previous Bills have, to change the law from the way it has been interpreted by the High Court, and to change it certainly from what has been the longstanding intention of Parliament. This Bill is the last and the worst example of that attempt.

  However, the Bill has already been sent to the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. As a result of the hearings of that Committee, the Government has now retreated extensively, if not comprehensively, from the position presented to this Parliament in the form of the Bill, the second reading of which we are debating. So I am perfectly entitled to make comments upon the Bill as presented to us. However, the Government has now presented amendments which amount to a massive reversal of what was attempted by the Government in the first place.

  Nevertheless, because of the history of these years, the veteran community is still very suspicious and very concerned about the effect even of the Government's amendments, which on the face of it are really a major reversal of the proposals in the Bill as they have been presented to us. I can understand therefore the veteran community wanting more time to fully consider it, because it has every reason not to trust this Government and certainly not to trust the Repatriation Commission in relation to the vital issue of its war-caused disabilities or death.

  Therefore, I will certainly be supporting the motion that has already been moved by my colleague, Senator Newman, to defer further consideration of this Bill, after the second reading debate, so that this matter can be properly considered by what is going to be a summit meeting of the veteran community early in February next year. It seems to be only fair to them, as a result of their deep and justified concerns—

  Debate interrupted.