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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
25/02/2009
DEFENCE PORTFOLIO
Department of Veterans’ Affairs

CHAIR —Good evening, Mr Campbell and your officers. Welcome to this set of questions and estimates for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Welcome, Minister Ludwig. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Ludwig —No, thank you, Chair.

CHAIR —Mr Campbell?

Mr Campbell —No, Chair.

CHAIR —On that basis, I will hand over to Senator Kroger.

Senator KROGER —At the last estimates, a question came up in relation to the then government’s proposed changes to partner entitlements. There was much discussion about that, in particular in relation to the number that would be affected by it. Since those estimates the government has amended its plans for changes to the partner service pension. Can you tell me how many partners will now have their entitlements removed?

Mr Campbell —I might ask Mr Telford to take issue with the detail of that.

Mr Telford —There are roughly 560 affected by the changes. However, as you allude to, there were changes in respect of particular groups who may have been forced into a separated situation as a result of some domestic violence or other domestic situation beyond their control. As you know, the legislation was amended to take care of that. We wrote to all the individuals who were possibly affected by this, providing them with a form to fill in to provide information and background details on what may or may not have been the circumstances which resulted in their being separated. Of the 560, we provided 334 questionnaires to those partners, and 127 of those have been returned. We will be examining those over the coming months to see the circumstances and what will happen with those particular cases.

Senator KROGER —I presume the questionnaire you are referring to is one that ascertains the basis of the domestic situation—that is, whether or not they are living together. Is it of a personal nature? Or is the questionnaire of a more general nature? What is the basis of the questionnaire?

Mr Telford —The basis of the questionnaire is for them to establish that in fact their separation was due to some circumstances of domestic violence of some sort or other or some mental trauma as a result of their husband’s service in a conflict of some sort that resulted in their separation.

Senator KROGER —My limited involvement in this area leads me to believe that these things are quite discretionary and in many instances it is very hard to prove that one’s poor health is attributable to service. What is the process of consideration? Once these questionnaires have been received, what are the guidelines that you have set up to provide for what are considered to be discretionary circumstances? What process will you use to investigate those?

Mr Telford —There will be no black and white rules. As you would appreciate, the circumstances for each individual will be totally different. The partner may decide to provide reports. Orders may have been out against the husband at one point in time; there may have been situations where there has been hospitalisation, either of them or their child, resulting or something of that nature. It is a questionnaire which allows them to demonstrate, in the way that they feel most comfortable and to prove—to the extent that is possible—that indeed there have been circumstances that have resulted in their separation. The detail they want to go into, the level of evidence that they provide and the timeframe—all of that—is really up to the individual.

When those forms are received by the department, we have a special group of individuals who will be looking at those carefully to try to understand the circumstances. They will look through the history of the mental health of the husband, other circumstances and the timeframe. It is not black and white; there is no hard and fast rule.

Senator KROGER —What are you looking at? Did you say that 127 have been returned?

Mr Telford —Yes.

Senator KROGER —Of the 334 questionnaires, 127 have been returned to date. Given that there is a lot of grey here—as you said, it is not black and white—in dealing with them, do you anticipate that they will be invited in or in fact visited to discuss it and explore their concerns and issues and to validate the bases of their questionnaire returns?

Mr Telford —It is a bit early, really. It does not come into effect until 1 July 2009, so there is still time. Obviously, two-thirds of them are still considering their circumstances and situation and whether they will place some of their details on record. They also need to make decisions about their financial circumstances and a whole lot of other things. We will be looking at these very carefully and will have a particular process for those which are rejected. We will have a quality assurance arrangement—as we do across all of these claims. We will want to have a closer look at the rejected ones to make sure that we have a consistent approach to how we are assessing the evidence that the individuals have provided and their circumstances. Whether that will result in some phone calls to or some discussions with the individuals is yet to be determined or known.

Senator KROGER —Given the intensive nature of the considerations that need to be made, has a separate budget been put together by the department to cover the costs of however many staff that are involved in sending out the questionnaires, managing them and giving them consideration?

Mr Telford —There will be no additional staff. This will be absorbed within our normal process of looking at pension claims.

Senator KROGER —I understand from what you say that the entitlements do not change until 1 July 2009—which for many of these people is not far away if they are going to have a change to their income. Have any transitional arrangements been considered or made for those who may no longer be eligible?

Mr Telford —No, not at this point in time. It will depend upon when the questionnaires and material are received back in the department and the time we have to assess those. Some of them are going to be straightforward and very easy assessments to make, if the person provides details of apprehended violence orders and the like or various medical reports on abuse and so forth. That will be quite straightforward and easy. But others may take a bit of extra time, and we will see as we approach 1 July what discretion we may or may not have to deal with some of the complex or more vexed cases.

Senator KROGER —Have you got any sense at this point in time of what kinds of numbers you are looking at—of that 560—that will have changes to their benefits?

Mr Telford —No, we do not.

Senator KROGER —In relation to the reduction of payments, do you have any indication in your estimates of what the reduction in payment is going to be for those who are losing their partner service pension and going onto another form of income support?

Mr Telford —They will be dropping back onto a Centrelink payment of one sort or another, depending upon their circumstances. I do not have those details with me at the moment.

Senator KROGER —It would be interesting to do the math to see what the difference is in outgoings, to see what the real difference will be from a government and departmental level for those currently on the partnership entitlements arrangements who as of 1 July may no longer be eligible and will go on Centrelink. In a response to a question on notice in the House of Reps it was estimated that 340 to 365 former Vietnam vets would be losing their partner service pension. Of the remainder—the couple of hundred others that we are talking about—what other conflicts or circumstances were they receiving their partner service pension for?

Mr Telford —I do not quite understand the question.

Senator KROGER —Of the 560 that you have suggested are receiving the partner service pension, 365 I understand are former partners of Vietnam vets. I was seeking your advice as to what category, if you like, the other 195—

Mr Telford —I do not have that.

Senator KROGER —fell into.

Mr Telford —For other conflicts, I do not know. I can take that on notice, though.

Senator KROGER —That would be interesting to know. I have no further questions.

Senator JOHNSTON —Mr Campbell, I have some general questions. Forgive me: I am not as immersed in the intricacies of Veterans’ Affairs as I might be, so when I get the titles of things and the acronyms wrong, please bear with me.

Senator Ludwig —I will see if I can correct you too!

Senator JOHNSTON —A lot of veterans have said to me that they are very concerned that all of the information coming out of the department is presumptuous of people having computers. They are telling me that a very large proportion of them, particularly older veterans, do not have computers and do not have computer skills. How do we go about accommodating that with respect to the ongoing issues that we all have in this area?

Mr Campbell —I probably would dispute the basic premise. We, like most service delivery agencies, are using computers and the internet—and we are using the internet increasingly. But in terms of Commonwealth agencies we are probably almost in the vanguard of still using paper based activities as well. I would need to have the particular examples. I am aware of a couple of cases where there has been a concern voiced that we are no longer mailing out fact sheets. That might be the one you are talking about.

Senator JOHNSTON —I think it is. ‘Referral to the website’ I think is the broad heading that I would use.

Mr Campbell —Yes. We say, ‘Okay, the website is there,’ but all of our staff are under instructions that if a person does not have access to the website then the fact sheets should be mailed out. The only other point I could add to this is that we have had a couple of cases that I am aware of where there was a bit of confusion between either the veteran or their family and the officer because they wanted all the fact sheets mailed out, and that is probably not a very sensible activity for us, nor for the recipient of them. So in those cases there was discussion about which ones they wanted, because we have many fact sheets. Certainly, if you have got particular cases with names, I am willing to go back and speak to the appropriate officer who dealt with them. But I would argue that we are still, if you like, very much a paper driven agency, even though we are going to the web and web based activities.

Senator JOHNSTON —Do you have the demographic analysis of your clientele?

Mr Campbell —Yes.

Senator JOHNSTON —Do you know how many you have got over the age of, say, 70?

Mr Campbell —We know exactly how many we have over the age of 70, how many we have over the age of 80—yes, all demographics, and we know gender as well.

Senator JOHNSTON —Can you tell me what percentage of your recipients are over the age of 70.

Mr Campbell —Not off the top of my head, but I am sure there is somebody sitting around in the room who has that figure.

Senator JOHNSTON —I reckon Mr Douglas has got that figure.

Mr Campbell —Mr Douglas has got it.

Senator JOHNSTON —He has never let me down before!

Mr Campbell —Yes, he is pretty good!

Mr Douglas —I cannot tell you the total, but I can break it down by the piece of legislation.

Senator JOHNSTON —All right.

Mr Douglas —In the biggest share of our client group, which is under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, we have 10½  per cent aged between 75 and 79; 26½ per cent, 80 to 84; 22.7 per cent, 85 to 89; and seven per cent, 90 or over. So that is approximately 60 to 70 per cent. Under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, only about five per cent are aged over 75, maybe 10 per cent aged over 70. The Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act is only five years old, so of course there are none older than 70.

Senator JOHNSTON —So the first group is the group we would want to focus on.

Mr Douglas —Yes.

Senator JOHNSTON —I suppose it is very expensive to deal with that quite sizable percentage aged over 70 in terms of paper—as you say, in terms of postage and all that sort of stuff. It is very easy to just handle a database and send things out to an address that you think is satisfactory. Is that right?

Mr Campbell —No. I do not want to be misunderstood, Senator. We are aware of the circumstances that you are raising—we think we are; we do not know the individuals concerned, and it is in Western Australia, if I understand correctly.

Senator JOHNSTON —That is right.

Mr Campbell —We have not had any other complaints anywhere around the country that we are aware of. What we do know is that if a request is made for the fact sheet and sending it electronically is not appropriate or not suitable then we do send it by mail. And there is not a cost issue there. The point I made about cost was that, if a person wants a fact sheet and we are sending it to them, we would actually like to know what the issue is that they are dealing with so we can send them the appropriate fact sheet or fact sheets rather than send them every one we have, because that in itself can be daunting for some of the people from the age group we are talking about.

Senator JOHNSTON —Okay. I think you have said enough that I have some information available to people who have a problem, and maybe it is something I can deal with.

Mr Campbell —But if, in the case of the Western Australians, they do have some concerns then they should go to the deputy commissioner in our Perth office and she will see what she can do.

Senator JOHNSTON —All right. More broadly—I have got outcome 1 in front of me—I see that we have got some staff reductions projected over the next three years.

Mr Campbell —Yes.

Senator JOHNSTON —Can you tell me what the extent of those reductions will be, what positions and areas of operation they will affect and which states will be most affected.

Mr Campbell —At the risk of making this a difficult answer, the answer is: no, I cannot tell you where, which program areas or indeed which states. Let me just expand on that, because I am not trying to be unhelpful.

Senator JOHNSTON —I am not sure the question was the right question, but we will battle on. You know what I mean.

Mr Campbell —I understand where the question is coming from. The question is coming from the fact that our resourcing is decreasing. That is ultimately being driven by the number of veterans, because we are an agency where a large number of the people that we provide services to are World War II veterans or widows of World War II veterans. Unfortunately—it is a fact of life—they are leaving us in numbers. As a consequence of that, our resourcing will fall and it will continue to fall, I suspect, for a number of years. It will always be gradual, but there will be a fall. The reason I cannot answer your question explicitly is that, as a general point, a decrease in funding does not always result in a decrease in staff. It does depend on how efficiently you do things and whether you change the way you do things. That is one point.

The second reason I am a bit hesitant to give you exact answers is that before Christmas I commissioned a review of the administrative changes that occurred in the department from 2006 to 2008, which were called 1DVA. I am expecting that that review, which I will be getting very shortly, by an independent person from outside the department will give me some indicators about what tweaking—and I use the word tweaking, not fundamental change; I do not want anyone to misunderstand me—we might need to do to the changes of 2006-07. When you make changes like we did in those days, tweaking occurs after a couple of years. Once we get that review, my senior colleagues and I will work through what to do with regard to any structural issues or any other issues to do with how we provide our services and in what states they might be affected. So I am not trying to avoid your question and, at the risk of leading with my chin, I will probably be in a better position to talk to you about that in some detail at the next hearing.

Senator JOHNSTON —Thank you for that answer, I appreciate it. Does the review have a name?

Mr Campbell —Yes. Is being done by a gentleman called Ian Lindenmeyer.

Senator JOHNSTON —So it is the Lindenmeyer review.

Mr Campbell —Yes, he is a former senior public servant in the Commonwealth Public Service.

Senator JOHNSTON —Do you anticipate releasing that review to the public? You are thinking about it, I take it.

Mr Campbell —I have not received it yet, so it is a bit hard. I am thinking about it. Certainly the commitment I have given to all staff is that I will release the recommendations, but I am not sure whether there will be parts of the report that I might consider confidential. But I have given an undertaking to staff that the recommendations will be made public to them, so that becomes a public document, as far as I am concerned.

Senator JOHNSTON —Thank you for that. What date are we expecting that?

Mr Campbell —I am expecting it either late this week or early next week.

Senator JOHNSTON —Very good. So by next estimates we should be able to deal with that review in terms of whether you are going to release any of the recommendations or be able to discuss at large with interested parties the subject matter.

Mr Campbell —Given that I have undertaken to give all staff the recommendations, I consider that as publicly releasing them, so I would have no trouble doing that at the next hearing. Then I would be in a position to talk through the findings of the report and where the department is going with them.

Senator KROGER —What were the parameters of the review? I missed that.

Mr Campbell —If we go back a little bit, in 2003 and 2004 the agency started to recognise that the decrease in numbers of World War II veterans was going to be steady but quite substantial over a period of time. So the organisation set up a service delivery review and went through a whole process of working a way forward. We are an unusual Commonwealth agency. Most Commonwealth agencies grow. We grew for quite a period of time, but we are now getting smaller, and thank goodness we will continue to get smaller because it means certain things about operational requirements.

In 2006 we introduced the result of that, which was called 1DVA. It was a process that went to a more national management model. Broadly, the terms of reference of the Lindenmeyer review are to review how well we have done that and whether there is any tweaking required. I used the term tweaking both times because, essentially, everybody considers we are on the right track, I think, but tweaking is probably almost inevitable after something as fundamental.

Senator JOHNSTON —I turn to the area of litigation. The department, I expect, is involved in litigation for any number of reasons in defending claims from those who perceive they have an entitlement that has not been met, and what have you. Do we have an analysis of litigation as to, firstly, jurisdictional areas? Do we spend most of our time in Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearings, do we spend our time in the Federal Court or beyond? What is the situation?

Mr Campbell —Before I ask Ms Spiers to speak in detail, we have one earlier layer before the AAT or the Federal Court which is the Veterans Review Board, which is where the vast bulk of —I would not call it litigation—appeals go to. That is the first step outside the department.

Ms Spiers —As I understand your question, you want to understand what proportion of our litigation expenses are for each piece of legislation or type of forum in terms of the AAT or the Federal Court.

Senator JOHNSTON —Yes. I would like to know what jurisdictions we spend most of our time in in litigation, what the common thread of the issues is and what are the costs.

Ms Spiers —What we have publicly on our website we have to disclose every year—the expenditure on legal services. For the last financial year that was just over $10 million. The question you have asked is slightly difficult to answer, only because, as Mr Campbell has indicated, part of our legislation has a review step called the Veterans Review Board. It is a very non-litigious environment. In fact, it is quite deliberately designed for the Repatriation Commission not to attend. It is for the applicant, usually the veteran, to have their say before an independent panel which usually includes a services member on the Veterans Review Board. So the department does not see that as a litigious environment, nor do we see the Administrative Appeals Tribunal as litigious. Our three major acts—the Veterans Entitlements Act, the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act and the part of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act that we administer—all have rights of review to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. We do not see that as a litigious environment. Clearly, we are represented there for various appeals which either the commission instigates or we defend a matter when the applicant is one of our clients. We are still bound by the rules of the Legal Services Direction, which is issued by Attorney-General’s in terms of how we present our matters and how we assist the tribunal in making the correct or preferable decision.

Senator JOHNSTON —You mean you have to be a model litigant?

Ms Spiers —Exactly.

Senator JOHNSTON —I am appreciating your answer. You obviously know this subject very deeply. At the board level, would we retain the services of a practitioner or would we have an experienced departmental officer represent the department?

Ms Spiers —We have neither. Quite deliberately, the setup of the Veterans Review Board excludes legal practitioners attending those matters. For instance, if the veteran wants a commission decision and go to the Veterans Review Board, he or she cannot have a lawyer with them; they can have an assistant or—

Senator JOHNSTON —A best friend or whomever.

Ms Spiers —Exactly, and they may be legally qualified, but they are not there as a lawyer representing the individual. As I mentioned before, the Repatriation Commission does not, except in exceptionally rare cases, even make a submission to the Veterans Review Board—we do not attend.

Senator JOHNSTON —So it is an ex parte hearing, in other words?

Ms Spiers —Exactly. Although those cases are clearly based on the law, it is a fact based case. It allows the applicant to have his or her day in an environment that is supportive, and they get to explain why they think the commission decision is incorrect. It is an informal process in terms of how the boards operate. The department is responsible for providing material to the board. In fact, it provides the original documents, the files, to the board for their viewing but does not actively participate in general in those cases. As I said, in my time in Veterans’ Affairs I can probably count one or two cases where we have actively wanted to appeal or make representations. So, in the scheme of things, it is negligible.

Senator JOHNSTON —The board gives written decisions?

Ms Spiers —That is correct—in the majority of cases. And it gives reasons.

Senator JOHNSTON —And the commission and/or the applicant has the right of appealing that through to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal?

Ms Spiers —That is correct.

Senator JOHNSTON —Do you have any analysis of any common thread of areas of legislation, by percentage or anything like that, with respect to board matters?

Ms Spiers —I do not have that information before me. I am happy to take that issue on notice. If we can provide that information, I am happy to do that.

Senator JOHNSTON —We would appreciate that. Going onto the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, does the commission have representation—

Mr Campbell —Senator, I think I need to make one additional point here. We administer two pieces of legislation—the Veterans Entitlements Act and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. The point of the strict line of departmental consideration, departmental review, VRB, AAT—if that is the next case—is under the VEA. For the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, it is an either/or situation when the departmental decision-making process is finished.

Senator JOHNSTON —What do you mean?

Mr Campbell —It is either the VRB or the AAT.

Senator JOHNSTON —That is on the rehabilitation side?

Mr Campbell —That is for the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. That is the second act that we administer.

Ms Spiers —And the third act, the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, does not have the Veterans Review Board element as a review right.

Senator JOHNSTON —It just goes straight to the AAT?

Ms Spiers —Correct. It has an internal right of review, but it goes to the AAT.

Senator JOHNSTON —You can see what I would like to know. To cut to the chase: could you tell me the common threads when you are not represented and it is ex parte, and the break-up of the common threads, the commonalities of issues, in the AAT for the first and third of those acts?

Ms Spiers —The Veterans Entitlements Act and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act?

Senator JOHNSTON —I think so. You said the cost was $10 million.

Ms Spiers —That is the cost of legal services—

Senator JOHNSTON —So lease fees for premises and all sorts of things are bound up in that?

Ms Spiers —It is for legal advice about lease fees, yes. That money is predominantly used by a part of DVA that has external lawyers representing the department at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. We have a different model for who is represented or who represents the Repatriation Commission or the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Senator JOHNSTON —Excluding all of the tribunals and all of that, what proportion of the $10 million is not related to applicant appeals?

Ms Spiers —Are you asking for details of where the commission actually appeals, or—

Senator JOHNSTON —No. Let me use the word ‘litigious’ again—though I know that it is the wrong word. How much of the $10 million is for non-litigious legal fees? Is it $1 million, $2 million?

Ms Spiers —No. It is very minor amount. Of that cost, it would be in the order of about $100,000 or maybe $150,000. That would be for things like property services and leases. It is quite minor.

Senator JOHNSTON —So a significant amount—over 90 per cent—of the cost is with respect to dealing with applicants’ applications and appeals.

Ms Spiers —Predominantly.

Senator JOHNSTON —This is a broad issue. Forgive me for jumping around a bit; I am trying to stick to our program but I am finding that I do not understand what some of these headings mean. I have had a number of inquiries from New Zealanders and Brits who have been engaged and fighting alongside Australians in Vietnam or elsewhere. Some of the New Zealanders are now Australian citizens. What are the circumstances and the protocols, government by government, with respect to veterans affairs? What is the story there? Whenever I go to an RSL I have a whole lot of, particularly, former UK citizens who say there is an issue. Where are we with that? I can see it is a bit of a bottomless pit for us to be carrying the can for other countries.

Mr Collins —The tradition within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and in the veteran community generally has always been that each country is responsible for the compensation for its own veterans irrespective of who they served with. Even if we served with our allies in Vietnam, for example, those allies’ own governments are responsible for any injuries or incapacity that they suffered as a result of that service even though they may live in Australia now. So, in essence, it is back to the home government. However, having said that, we do have some benefits for our Commonwealth and allied veterans as part of our current legislation, which includes the provision that, if they meet residency tests and they have qualifying service—that is, they did serve in a theatre of war—they are eligible for income support, or service pension as we call it, at the same age as their Australian counterparts—in other words, five years earlier than they would get it if they were part of the general community. Also, in fairly recent years—going back about 10 years or so—we have extended pharmaceutical benefits to them as well. So they get a card—it is called an orange card—and with that they get access to concessional pharmaceuticals.

Mr Douglas —In addition, many of them have their health treatment costs for their accepted disabilities covered by their own countries. So within particular limits we will arrange access to health treatment, pay the costs and then seek reimbursement from the particular countries. Depending on the nature of the treatment required, it might require us to seek prior approval from their particular country.

Senator JOHNSTON —Thank you for that. I thought that was the case. Tell me: do we have a document or does the website have all of the protocol, agreements and all of that laid out somewhere where I can see what the thresholds and parameters are for eligibility for these things?

Mr Collins —I am fairly sure there is a fact sheet, but I would need to—

Mr Campbell —There might actually be several fact sheets, because we have a lot. What we will do is to take it on notice to provide to the committee the documentation we have, including any links for IT. So we will give you both paper copies and links.

Senator JOHNSTON —I would very much appreciate that. Can you tell me what countries we predominantly focus upon in that area?

Mr Collins —Mainly British.

Senator JOHNSTON —British?

Mr Collins —British, New Zealand, Canadian and some Vietnam veterans.

Senator JOHNSTON —Okay. I would really be obliged for that, because I am not sure whether these fellows understood that there was something available for them. That is good. Thank you very much. I have a lot of questions which I will put on notice. I want to move on to other areas if the committee is happy with that—

CHAIR —Indeed. Proceed, Senator Johnston.

Senator JOHNSTON —because I think we are rapidly moving through this, such that the department might be very happy.

Senator Ludwig —The minister might be!

Senator JOHNSTON —How often has the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Ex-Service Matters met?

Mr Campbell —The prime ministerial advisory council met for the first time in October last year for a two-day meeting in Parliament House. Its next scheduled meeting is for 19 and 20 March in Canberra. But they did have a teleconference about four weeks ago. It was in about the second or third week of January, and they discussed a number of issues. I would count that as a meeting, even though it was done by teleconference. With these things we are trying to move to an increased number of teleconferences to keep costs down.

Senator JOHNSTON —That is excellent. Can you tell me whether there are minutes and whether the minutes are to be published anywhere? Or is it a confidential agenda?

Mr Campbell —It is not confidential. There are minutes, and those minutes are circulated to all members of the committee. I need to seek confirmation that they are then made public. I am not sure I have anybody here who can do that.

Senator JOHNSTON —I am happy for you to take that on notice.

Mr Campbell —We might check that while we are here and try and answer before the meeting is over.

Senator JOHNSTON —Lovely. I would appreciate that. Can you tell me a little bit about how the council functions? How does a matter come before the council? Are you responsible for those matters? You are probably on the committee, are you?

Mr Campbell —No, I am not on the committee. It is prime ministerial.

Senator JOHNSTON —Are you ex officio or anything like that?

Mr Campbell —I did attend the first meeting for quite a bit of time.

Senator JOHNSTON —I think you told me that last time.

Mr Campbell —But equally I am quite comfortable if they wish to discuss things when I am not there. I am relaxed by that. It is not an ex officio arrangement. At the moment, the issues that they have considered have been referrals from the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. The minister made it quite clear last year that there were a number of issues that were, if you like, on the government’s agenda that he wanted considered. He is referring those to me. The question of other matters coming in I think is something that we will start to tease out as time unfolds and they become more comfortable with their role.

Senator JOHNSTON —Is it anticipated the government or the minister will disclose to us what has been referred?

Mr Campbell —I think the minister has been quite open about that. He has referred proposed consultation arrangements between the commission, the department, the minister and the ex-service community—and it is quite clear he has done that—and they have discussed that. He has also made clear that he will also raise with the advisory council issues such as the review of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act and the consideration of the Clarke report.

Senator JOHNSTON —Is there any particular time frame by which the advisory council will consider an issue?

Mr Campbell —No. I think it will depend on case by case. It will depend on the issue. As I said, the last issue they considered by a teleconference hook-up. Other issues they will consider when they meet late next month.

Senator JOHNSTON —Is it anticipated that the council will provide any sort of annual report or any documentation as to their meetings, what they have discussed and their recommendations?

Mr Campbell —This puts me in an awkward position, because I am not a member of the committee. Certainly there is no statutory requirement for an annual report. Annual reports are usually driven by statute. After each meeting, I am sure that the chair, Dr Allan Hawke, will provide advice to the minister on what took place at the meeting. I am sure that will happen, and that will include any responses to referrals from the minister and other issues they wish to raise with him or with the Prime Minister.

Senator JOHNSTON —Very good.

Senator KROGER —I am just trying to clarify this in my own mind. What is the structure? What is the process of the advisory council? Is it essentially a consultative body that gets its brief from the minister? Is it one that actually will look at policy? Does it have a formal brief?

Mr Campbell —It has formal briefs. I think we provided the committee after the last meeting with the terms of reference, and I do not have them here in front of me. It is essentially a body that has wide-ranging representation of the veteran community both in terms of conflict representation and age and gender representation. It is very wide ranging.

It is an advisory body—obviously, it has no decision-making powers—to the minister and the Prime Minister on issues of importance and great interest to the veteran community or people within the veteran community. I have given three examples of issues. One is the consultative mechanisms generally between the government, the department, the veteran community and individual veterans. The second one is advice on the review of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, which came into effect on 1 July 2004, so we have an act that is now 4½ years old—it is timely that that be reviewed—and also providing advice to the government on their review of the Clarke report recommendations. The Clarke report came down in 2003. In 2004, the then government responded, picking up some recommendations and not others. So the current government, in the lead-up to the 2007 election, committed to reviewing the recommendations which had not been picked up. The minister will consult and seek the views of the advisory council in that context. I think they are three good examples of the activity. Like any new body, it will also find its way forward as they become comfortable.

Senator KROGER —Thanks, and I can look up Hansard for your contribution at the last estimates, if you provided that.

Mr Campbell —If we did not provide the terms of reference, I am quite happy to do so.

Mr Telford —On the minister’s site, there is a link to all of the documentation—the terms of reference, the individuals and their bios and so forth. That is where it all can be accessed very quickly.

Mr Campbell —For our hearing on 22 October we provided the terms of reference in answer to question 1 to Senator Johnston.

Senator JOHNSTON —Can I go on to inquiries and reviews. You have answered my first question with respect to the unresponded matters contained within the Clarke review. I note the minister, in a recent radio interview, indicated a further inquiry into issues surrounding military compensation. Are there any details with respect to that review or inquiry, such as terms of reference or when the inquiry is likely to be completed?

Mr Campbell —That is the other one that I was referring to in may answer to Senator Kroger, the review of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. No, the terms of reference have not yet been finalised but I would expect and hope that they would be available and for the process to have started by the end of the financial year.

Senator JOHNSTON —Very good. What about a review into the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme?

Mr Campbell —That is the review which the opposition, now in government, when they made that commitment, made quite clear would occur probably in the third year of this government’s term.

Senator JOHNSTON —And we are still sticking to that?

Mr Campbell —At this stage.

Senator JOHNSTON —There is a Vietnam veterans health study. How many people have signed up for that?

Mr Campbell —Mr Telford has the figures in front of him.

Mr Telford —There are several groups that we are looking to recruit for the family studies program. There is an optimal target that we want to reach and then there is a minimum target on which we are advised by our methodologists as to what we need to have to make it robust. Of the Vietnam veterans, as at 19 February, we were looking for an optimal 5,000 and minimum 3,000 and we have 2,743 veterans signed up. For the veterans children, we were looking for an optimal 5,000 and minimum of 1,800 and we have 3,001 of those registered.

Senator JOHNSTON —That is interesting.

Mr Telford —So those two categories are going well. We have two other groups. We have a control group of ‘Vietnam era’ veterans—that is, those who were in the Army but did not actually serve in Vietnam.

Senator JOHNSTON —Uniformed personnel who never went to Vietnam.

Mr Telford —That is right. And we are matching them with another group. We have an optimal figure of 5,000 and a minimum figure of 3,000. To date, we have only 1,783 of those. For their children, which again are a critical control group, the optimal number is 5,000 and the minimum number is 1,800. But we have only 970 registered. We have been engaged in very comprehensive publicity campaigns, through a range of media and ex-service organisations and the like, to try and get those two control groups bumped up because that is where, at the moment, we are lacking the numbers. We are starting to put in place new strategies around telephones and other mechanisms to try and track them down. The difficulty, of course, is that we cannot approach the children, even if we know them, because of privacy issues. We have to go through the veterans themselves to ask them to volunteer to pass the names of those children on. So it is a very complex piece of study roll compilation. But we are pushing along. We are very encouraged, particularly by the study group, and we are now working hard to get the control group up to the numbers that we need.

Senator JOHNSTON —Is it the case that a substantial number of the children are in fact ‘of majority’? Do you follow what I mean? I mean that they are adults.

Mr Telford —Absolutely.

Senator JOHNSTON —How long have we been seeking to get our studies going? How long have we been chasing our groups?

Mr Telford —We started on 31 May 2008. Since that time, we have sent out 10,148 letters of invitation to randomly selected veterans and another 11,386 letters to the control group. We have been following that up, as I said, through various mechanisms—the follow-up letters and so forth—since that time. And we are engaging on another follow-up now.

Senator JOHNSTON —Can you tell me what the end result will be if you do not meet your threshold? Is that the other strategy that you are talking about?

Mr Telford —No. I am saying that—

Mr Campbell —We are confident that we will meet the threshold.

Senator JOHNSTON —Eventually?

Mr Campbell —We are confident that we will meet the threshold and that we will get there. At this stage, there is no plan B if we do not because we are confident that we will get there.

Senator JOHNSTON —So it is just a question of time—when more and more people are availed of the importance of the task?

Mr Campbell —It is a question of time. There is publicity time—for example, we got General Cosgrove to write a letter to a number of people. We will keep on trying tactics like that.

Senator JOHNSTON —Can I ask a question about the transition from military life to civilian life? Do you have responsibility, to some extent, for that?

Mr Campbell —Yes, to some extent—in partnership with the Department of Defence.

Senator JOHNSTON —What do we give to enlisted personnel who want to leave the ADF prior to discharge?

Mr Douglas —We have predominantly become involved with those who are medically discharging. In the event of medical discharge, we have a service known as the Transition Management Service. We invite them to an interview and sit down with them and explain the arrangements associated with their transition, including how they go about the process of lodging a claim. In addition, we have a service called Stepping Out, which we launched during the last 12 months or so. This is a seminar service offered by the VVCS. It is designed to provide some transition seminars for serving members—and they can invite their families if they want—to help them make the transition. We are also involved with the Department of Defence, through its integrated people support scheme, which is attempting to target those who are leaving for other than medical discharge reasons to explain the various services and how to access them and to give them contact numbers and details to follow up after those sessions if they want to.

Mr JOHNSON —Are you permitted to access military bases, defence facilities, to deliver this information?

Mr Douglas —Indeed. We work very closely with the Department of Defence. In fact, particularly in the major deployment bases around Townsville and Darwin, we have worked very hard to develop very close relationships with the base command structures. In fact, in Darwin we are extremely fortunate in that the head of our compensation process in the area happens to be the partner of the sergeant major, which is a terrific—

Senator JOHNSTON —A terrific thing. I do not have any further questions on administrative and other veterans type matters. I would like to go on to—I am happy to be dissuaded—memorials and war graves, which you might be pleased to know.

CHAIR —Proceed with that.

Senator KROGER —Before we move on, your comment about seeking more people interested in being in control groups in the house study made me think about an earlier question, Mr Cameron, in relation to the pension partners scheme. Regarding the questionnaires that have been sent out to the 560-odd group, a number have not been returned. Are those questionnaires being followed up?

Mr Telford —Are we talking about the partner service pension or the family study?

Senator KROGER —The partner service pension. Sorry—from your response to the other question, I wondered about what we were doing to ensure that there was some follow-up.

Mr Telford —I actually cannot answer that question. The reason is that there are clearly some sensitivities around that. We will have to look at the remaining number that are not coming through. We will have to make a decision about whether we follow it up. It is a difficult matter to say, ‘We sent you questionnaire asking whether you were involved in domestic violence. We are following up to see whether you were or not.’ You can see the difficult position we would find ourselves in.

Senator KROGER —The person who answered the questions earlier said that only 127 were returned out of the 560 that had been sent out.

Mr Campbell —No—I think you will find that 334 were sent out.

Senator KROGER —There were 334 questionnaires sent out but only 127 were returned.

Mr Campbell —So 207 have not been returned. Over one-third have been returned and about 60 per cent—or a high 50 per cent—have not been returned at this stage. Of course, as Mr Telford pointed out at the time, people might be thinking about sending those back because the legislative changes, as you know, do not take effect until 1 July.

Senator KROGER —But it would be important to make sure that there is appropriate follow-up because, given the significance of the issue, it would be terrible if they did not and just put it into the too-hard basket or in the bottom drawer because it was too painful to deal with, and then, come 1 July, they lost their entitlement without any redress.

Mr Telford —You make a fair point, Senator. What I was saying was that we are not at a point yet where we need to do that, as the secretary said. But, when we do get to that stage, we will have to think very carefully about how we are going to do that—whether it is a one-on-one situation or some other strategy which we need to put in place. We will need to think that through carefully because we do not want to be seen to be harassing or bringing it up. Some people might have decided to move on. The other thing of course is that, we have had quite a number of replies coming back saying, ‘We’ve reconciled’ or ‘We’ve divorced’ or what have you. The circumstances change and they make a decision on reconciliation, divorce or some other situation based upon those circumstances. It is very tricky. We are conscious of the point you make.

The other thing is that, with some of the letters we have sent out, we have had quite a number of replies saying, ‘We’ve reconciled’ or ‘We’ve divorced.’ So the circumstances are changing and they make a decision on reconciliation, divorce or some other situation based upon those circumstances. It is very tricky but we are conscious of the point you make.

Mr Campbell —With regard to the advisory council, what will happen is what happened after their most recent conference. The issue discussed will be released but because they are providing advice to government the fine details will not be released.

Senator JOHNSTON —I think that is perfectly legitimate. Just the issues would be adequate. Concerning nominal rolls, as you can see, I occasionally frequent the odd RSL meeting and field a number of these inquiries. I was told that the nominal rolls are not kept up to date and particularly with respect to the Korean, Malaysian and Borneo theatres that those nominal rolls are inaccurate and a lot of personnel who served are not on the nominal rolls. Is that an issue you are aware of?

Mr Telford —No, I am not. I am aware of general issues about who is and is not on the nominal roll, how they claim they should be but are not, and a whole range of those issues. I have no detail I can provide you on what you just mentioned.

Mr Campbell —The issue may well be not an incomplete roll but those operations where there is a roll and where there is not. We have a roll for Korea but we do not have a roll for Borneo or Malaysia. So I suspect the issue which has been raised with you is not an incomplete roll for that operation but the fact that there is no roll at all.

Senator JOHNSTON —My instructions are not kept up to date. So there is no roll for Malaysia or Borneo.

Mr Campbell —No.

Senator JOHNSTON —Then how do we get on the roll for Korea? What is the threshold issue?

Mr Telford —We search the records we have from Defence and other sources. So you do not get on the roll in that sense. Then an interim roll is published and widely disseminated for individuals to come back and add themselves to the list if they have been missed off for whatever reason. There are issues about what is correct and what is not correct on the record, people have the capacity to change those and we make decisions about various issues.

Senator JOHNSTON —Is that a reviewable decision?

Mr Telford —No, they are matters of fact. Concerning the point about being up to date, I am not sure what is meant by being up to date because there are various categories and information contained on the nominal rolls and, as I said, they are matters of fact.

Mr Campbell —Perhaps we could be helpful after the hearing. If you would like to give us the names of the people who have raised the concerns, we will investigate.

Senator JOHNSTON —I will get the names and write to you about them.

Mr Campbell —If you could do that, we will then investigate to see what the issue is.

Senator JOHNSTON —There is a process whereby you can take issue with what is or is not upon the roll when you are dissatisfied with—

Mr Telford —And people do all the time.

Senator JOHNSTON —Concerning war memorials and war graves: has there been any damage to our memorials in Gaza and Beersheba as a result of the recent military action in Gaza?

Major Gen. Stevens —The war cemetery in Gaza did suffer some damage. The reports we get from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission indicate that 363 headstones in the cemetery were damaged and that 10 of those headstones belonged to Australians. We have seen pictures of what look to me like mortar craters in the turf of the cemetery, which was part of the reason that the damage occurred.

Senator JOHNSTON —What are we going to do about them?

Major Gen. Stevens —The Commonwealth War Graves Commission are responsible for the repairs to this. They are in the process of identifying all those headstones and getting replacement headstones made, which will then be shipped to the cemetery. The damaged headstones will be replaced and the turf will be repaired.

Senator JOHNSTON —I have been to the memorial site at Beersheba, and several countries have headstones there. Are we going to unilaterally do repairs to the headstones of our fallen soldiers, or are we going to consult others?

Major Gen. Stevens —No. Like the other Commonwealth countries, we are members of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The commission operates in our name. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will make repairs to the headstones of everybody in the cemetery. That will be part of their budget, of course, and the costs may be passed on to us. I understand that they are looking at who caused the damage, and they may ask the country that caused the damage to make a payment. That has happened before. It happened in the Gaza cemetery in a previous action. In that case, Israel did in fact make reparations for the damage that was caused.

CHAIR —There was no damage at Beersheba, was there?

Major Gen. Stevens —Beersheba is outside the conflict area. There is a second war cemetery in the Gaza strip, at a place called Deir el Belah. There was no damage to the cemetery during this particular action. That cemetery was in fact damaged last year by a bomb which was locally placed, if you like, on the Cross of Sacrifice—and it destroyed the Cross of Sacrifice.

Senator JOHNSTON —Do we have a costing?

Major Gen. Stevens —The Commonwealth War Graves Commission estimates that it will cost ₤95,000 to repair Gaza.

Senator JOHNSTON —Is that pounds, or euros?

Major Gen. Stevens —Pounds.

Senator JOHNSTON —British pounds?

Major Gen. Stevens —British pounds?

Senator JOHNSTON —That is approximately A$200,000.

Major Gen. Stevens —It is about that, yes.

Senator JOHNSTON —For how many headstones?

Major Gen. Stevens —There were 363 headstones damaged, 10 of which are the headstones of Australian soldiers.

Senator JOHNSTON —So we would be prorated for 10?

Major Gen. Stevens —Yes, we would.

Senator JOHNSTON —How is the replacement of the interpretive centre at Villers-Bretonneux coming along?

Major Gen. Stevens —What we are doing, on behalf of the minister, is investigating ways that we can do interpretation on the Western Front. Previously we had been given money to study a centre and then begin to develop a single centre. But, as we developed that, the cost of doing so—the number of visitors to the area and those sorts of calculations—made us and the minister look at that to see if it was viable. The minister has asked us to look at alternative concepts based on the museums that already exist on Australian battlefields—which, in the main, are sponsored by local communities—to see if we can somehow strengthen those and build on those to provide the interpretation in partnership. What we would end up with is an interpretive trail, if you like, and that is what we are doing at the moment.

Senator JOHNSTON —How much of the Villers-Bretonneux money have we spent?

Major Gen. Stevens —The only money we have been given for Villers-Bretonneux was $2.8 million to do some preliminary work. Of that, we have spent just over $1 million, and we have approval to spend another half a million dollars. So we will probably return about $1.5 million of the $2.8 million.

Senator JOHNSTON —When do you think you will have a plan for that site?

Major Gen. Stevens —I think we will have a plan for interpretation on the Western Front shortly, but that is up to the minister and how it proceeds through the—

Senator JOHNSTON —When you say ‘shortly’, do you mean several months, several weeks or several days?

Mr Campbell —If I could come in here, the proposition that was put forward prior to the election by the former government was, as Major General Stevens says, posted to examine—not to actually fund—an interpretative centre. Major General Stevens has gone through the process that the department and the minister have been working through but, of course, any decision on what is actually going to be in France and Belgium is a matter for government and a matter of the timing of government processes. I do not think that either of us is in a position to actually foreshadow when the government might take a decision on that.

Senator JOHNSTON —Two governments.

Mr Campbell —Sorry?

Senator JOHNSTON —Two governments, possibly.

Mr Campbell —Why two governments?

Senator JOHNSTON —Well, the French government—

Mr Campbell —Yes, certainly, but I thought you were asking about where the Australian government was going to be.

Senator JOHNSTON —I just want to know when a plan would be finalised—

Mr Campbell —My point is that that is a matter for government consideration. There is the issue of the proposal put forward by the previous government for which they provided a small amount of funding for investigation. We and the minister have been looking at potential options, but what is finally decided will be a government decision and I cannot second-guess when government might take that decision.

Senator JOHNSTON —So we are waiting on a decision?

Mr Campbell —There is government consideration and then there will be a government decision, but I do not want to leave you with the impression that there is something sitting in front of the government at the moment, because there is ongoing thinking as well.

Senator JOHNSTON —So it is a little bit up in the air, okay. What are we spending annually on monuments and memorials here in Canberra with respect to vandalism?

Major Gen. Stevens —I might have to seek assistance here from my colleague from the commemorations area, Ms Blackburn, because the explanation is that the Office of Australian War Graves deals with war graves in Australia and memorials overseas, whereas memorials in Australia are dealt with by the commemorations area.

Mr Campbell —Perhaps if we could add one point here: if you are referring to the issues concerning the New Zealand memorial of a little while ago on Anzac Parade—

Senator JOHNSTON —I might be, but I am not sure.

Mr Campbell —If you were, that is the responsibility of the National Capital Authority, not of us. I just put that on the table and hand over to Ms Blackburn.

Senator JOHNSTON —That is interesting. It is a very big jurisdictional issue, isn’t it really?

Mr Campbell —That is why I am trying to help.

Senator JOHNSTON —That’s good!

Ms Blackburn —I can only reiterate the secretary’s comments. That is a matter for the National Capital Authority.

Senator JOHNSTON —That is the New Zealand memorial and the damage that that sustained?

Ms Blackburn —That applies to any maintenance or repair of memorials along Anzac Parade.

Senator JOHNSTON —So it is all memorials on Anzac Parade?

Ms Blackburn —Yes.

Mr Campbell —And any in the grounds of the War Memorial are the responsibility of the War Memorial, obviously.

Senator JOHNSTON —So that is the National Capital Authority?

Mr Campbell —The National Capital Authority is responsible for those on Anzac Parade, as Ms Blackburn and I have said, and anything within the precincts of the Australian War Memorial is obviously the responsibility of the Australian War Memorial.

Senator JOHNSTON —Which is not you?

Mr Campbell —I think they are scheduled to speak after us, if I am correct, Chair?

CHAIR —You are right, Mr Campbell.

Mr Campbell —So I am quite happy to finish up quickly so that the director can come forward.

Senator JOHNSTON —I think you are right. I think I am out of your jurisdiction now.

 [8.44 pm]