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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3501

Senator MINCHIN (12:48 PM) —I confirm that the opposition does not oppose the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (International Agreements and Other Measures) Bill 2008. It is a bill that makes amendments to the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986. It gives effect to revised arrangements for entering into agreements with the governments of other countries in relation to payments of pensions and provision of assistance and benefits to eligible persons residing in Australia. It will authorise the use of funds from the CRF for payments to eligible persons. It will enable the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to enter into agreements with foreign governments of other relevant countries—currently a duty performed by the Governor-General. It extends the period for which the Commonwealth or Australian Federal Police may be considered to be a nuclear test participant for the purpose of the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act 2006. Finally, the bill amends the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act to correct minor errors and anomalies in the act.

Therefore, we do not oppose the bill or the measures contained therein, and in particular we welcome schedule 2, dealing with Commonwealth or Federal Police who served at Maralinga, in my state of South Australia. Overall, the bill contains relatively minor amendments, and the EM reports that they have negligible financial impact. But I do want to take this opportunity to echo the comments of the shadow veterans’ affairs minister, Bronwyn Bishop, in the Main Committee that we are concerned by evidence of the government’s attempts to undermine veterans entitlements. On the surface this bill would seem to be non-controversial, but Mrs Bishop, as she said, received a caucus-in-confidence note that talked about the impact of these changes on veterans in relation to schedule 3, part 2, the effect of days worked on compensation. The minister was silent on the anticipated impact of these changes, and this potential savings measure is not stated in the EM, but caucus was duly alerted to the potential negative impact of these measures on veterans entitlements under changes to section 196(3)(c). We do express our concern about that and other evidence of the extent to which the government is placing restraints on veterans entitlements. So, while we do not oppose this bill, we do place on record our concerns with evidence of Labor’s policy in relation to veterans and we, the opposition, put the government on notice that we will be closely monitoring these and future amendments to ensure that veterans do not have their entitlements undermined.