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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
06/05/2016
Estimates
DEFENCE PORTFOLIO
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Department of Veterans' Affairs

[14:15]

CHAIR: I now welcome the Secretary, Mr Simon Lewis, PSM, and officers of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Good afternoon. Mr Lewis, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Lewis : No, thank you.

Senator GALLACHER: I have a couple of questions around the budget. We understand that there will be $24.8 million over two years from 2015-16 to develop a second-pass business case to simplify and streamline the DVA business processes and replace the legacy ICT systems. Would you give us an outline of that. How is that going to better deliver your services?

Mr Lewis : Certainly. It is a very important area of focus for us. I thank you for your questions at past estimates on this very subject and we will be happy to provide you a high-level overview. I think Ms Dotta would be the best person. In summary—while she is coming to the table—this will allow us the money we need to do, in a conventional sense, our second-pass business case in relation to what will ultimately be a transformation of DVA, which will flow through to our ICT systems but also involve quite substantial re-engineering of our business processes. At the heart of it, we have first-pass approval. We are now seeking to do the work for the second pass. Our intent in the next budget will be to come back for second-pass approval.

Ms Dotta : Apologies, Senator Gallacher. I did not hear the question.

Senator GALLACHER: It referred to the budget item of $24.8 million over two years from 2015-16 to develop a second-pass business case to simplify and streamline DVA business processes and replace your legacy ICT. We are well aware on this committee of the problems you have had with your ICT and your systems, so we are very keen to be updated on how this injection of funds will work and make the place better.

Ms Dotta : There were two initiatives funded as part of the budget. The first is the business case for veteran-centric reform, which, as you mentioned, is $24.8 million in 2016-17 to develop a business case for the transformation of DVA from a claims-processing focused organisation to a veteran-centric focused organisation. DVA will receive $18.7 million and we will consult with the veteran community and the Department of Human Services on the design and priorities for the transformation. The Department of Human Services will receive $6.1 million to design the modern ICT solution that will underpin the business case, and that solution will integrate with their broader, whole-of-government welfare payments infrastructure transformation program. I can tell you a little about the objectives and outcomes of the veteran-centric reform and then a little about the separate initiative, which is the improving processing systems, where we received another $23.9 million.

The veteran-centric reform program, when implemented, will significantly improve the services for veterans and their families by re-engineering DVA business processes, underpinning these with modern ICT solutions. The result will be consistent with the DVA strategic plan to be client focused, responsive and connected. The five key outcomes that the program will address in the design as part of the second-pass business case are: seamless transition from the ADF, simpler and faster access to services for clients, partnering for efficiency with either health providers or other agencies to provide whole-of-government solutions, tailored and coordinated support for veterans and their families, and circumstance-driven services.

As the secretary has said, DVA's ICT for many years has been underinvested in. As a consequence of this, many of our business processing arrangements are heavily paper based and often require manual calculations, as well as that our systems are disconnected and fragmented. In the budget, there was also funding of $23.9 million over two years to enable DVA—

Senator GALLACHER: If I could pause you there, that is probably going into my second line of questioning. Thank you for your evidence about the improvements that we are planning to achieve. Will the $6.1 million for DHS go to an existing system or pay for a new system? Is that an efficiency—

Mr Lewis : I might start, and then I will turn to Ms Dotta. It continues a long-term arrangement. As we have discussed before, we have been on a journey with DHS for over five years now. We renewed our five-year MOU 12 months or so ago. Our ICT draws from DHS and has done for that period of time. The problem has been that that ICT involves 200-odd software applications which are massively antiquated, so whatever we do in future is something we need to do with DHS as our partner, and so they obviously will be our partner in the redesign.

Senator GALLACHER: So you will have DHS staff involved in that process?

Mr Lewis : Absolutely.

Senator GALLACHER: There is a provision of funds to DHS in 2015-16—that means it is already underway.

Mr Lewis : We will now be doing the planning work around that. It will take us a short time to gear up. We are every bit as eager as you are, so we will be ramping it up as fast as we can.

Ms Dotta : The process that we are undertaking is part of what is called the two-pass investment process for government. We worked jointly with DHS to produce the first-pass business case. In summary, a first-pass business case is about identifying the need and doing a high-level plan and some high-level benefit analysis to take to government for a decision to build a more detailed blueprint, an implementation plan and a full cost-benefit analysis. We have received funding to undertake the work to do the second-pass business case. It is really the design, the prioritisation, the planning for the technology solution as well as the business transformation that would be necessary to turn DVA into a client focused, responsive, connected organisation.

Senator GALLACHER: Are the staff that you have allocated to develop the second-pass business case from within your department? Does the $24.8 million include the DVA staff costs?

Mr Lewis : It certainly includes that, but the allocation of staff is now the discussion we need to have—about how we manage our $11.7 billion business-as-usual functions at the same time as we design the new system. Obviously, we want to get our very best people to help us to design the new system, but they also play critical roles in our current business processes. So there will be a combination of arrangements. Some may be offline; some may be offline for short periods of time; others may do it as part of an expanded job. Those are the discussions we will be having in detail with our staff over the next several weeks. But there will be more staff.

Senator GALLACHER: I accept perfectly your situation. Will that mean there will be external consultants engaged?

Mr Lewis : We will definitely need the external consultants to assist, but we will also need to employ additional staff in relation to the second-pass business case.

Senator GALLACHER: What proportion of the funds will be allocated to the external consultants?

Mr Lewis : It is a bit early, isn't it?

Ms Dotta : That is yet to be determined. We are in the process of undertaking a selection for what we are referring to as a 'strategic partner' to assist us—an organisation with experience in major organisational reform.

Senator GALLACHER: So no external consultants have been actually been engaged yet. You are looking at more?

Ms Dotta : Correct.

Senator GALLACHER: When do you expect this second-pass business case to complete?

Mr Lewis : Our intent would be to bring it back into the budget for the next year, 12 months hence.

Ms Dotta : It needs to be undertaken consistent with the budget process for 2017-18.

Senator GALLACHER: If you go to the next item, it is the $23.9 million over two years from 2016-17 to improve the operation and sustainability of the existing DVA ICT systems. Can you provide any additional details on the way DVA intends to improve the operation and sustainability of your legacy ICT systems?

Ms Dotta : This investment is predominantly focused on our compensation-processing systems. In that space, we have three systems. Each one of them focuses on a separate part of our operations. Each one is linked to a separate act—the processing we undertake under each of the separate acts. These systems are very old. Some of them are so old we do not actually retain all of the code that is used in the processing. This initiative is to undertake urgent, critical work to enhance these existing systems—to improve their reliability, to improve the consistency through more automated workflow and more automatic calculations and to streamline processing, wherever possible through digital and electronic document management embedded into part of the business process.

Senator GALLACHER: Is this a completely new initiative, or is it building on an improvement program already in place?

Ms Dotta : It is a completely new initiative; however, it will leverage existing capability that we already have in place.

Mr Lewis : The best way to think of the two together is that the first one is in relation to bringing past the second pass for government approval. Then if it approves it, there will be a substantial program somewhat akin to the WIPT program that I think you would be familiar with. That would be, potentially, a five-year program.

We have substantial risks, as you know, from our aged ICT framework. It is too long a period for us to wait until the end of that period, so this is a risk mitigation strategy to ensure that we can actually patch our current systems sufficiently to get through to that future state.

Senator GALLACHER: The $23.9 million will provide improvement for all of your 200 existing ICT applications, or will they remain unchanged or will their functions be moved?

Ms Dotta : The $23.9 million is just for the three existing compensation-processing systems and for enhancing, improving or modernising them as much as possible within its funding for two years—for 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Senator GALLACHER: The particular areas of service delivery that are priorities were—can you just restate that? The priority areas that you said?

Ms Dotta : The priority area is the compensation processing. It is actually replacing or modernising what we refer to as CADET, CCPS and Defcare systems. They are the compensation-processing systems that our staff use for claims under the three different legislative acts.

Senator GALLACHER: When would you expect improvements to arise from these implementations?

Ms Dotta : Work will start as soon as possible, and the funding is for 2016-17 and 2017-18. The way we will go about this is through regular releases. Typically, they will be six-month releases. That is how we typically do this type of work. It will be managed through a senior responsible officer who oversees the compensation-processing work that we undertake.

Senator GALLACHER: I understand you have a particularly vexed job here. But is it the intent of these improvements to extend the life of your legacy systems? Or do you expect new life expectancy out of the new systems? How does it all fit together? Presumably, you cannot just shut down and start again, so you have to transition.

Ms Dotta : That is correct. So these are our compensation processing systems. We would be looking to expand on solutions we already have in place to enhance the functionality provided to staff. We will do it in a way that the payment aspects of it can be easily transitioned to the modern payment systems underway, as part of the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation Program. So it will be iterative work—progressively replacing and improving.

Senator GALLACHER: In relation to the form of the collaboration with DHS, will this mean that you will have shared ICT applications?

Mr Lewis : We are essentially drawing on DHS ICT now, so there is no doubt that the more we could have our future application requirements drawn from the DHS dominant stack, that is better both for us and for DHS. In some places, we may need to other software applications added to the DHS stack in order to meet our needs. But DHS is our ICT provider.

Senator GALLACHER: I know from some work in another committee that DHS are doing work for the National Disability Insurance Agency.

Mr Lewis : It is very similar.

Senator GALLACHER: That is fine, and if they are the gurus of service delivery, that is excellent. I am just curious as to whether any portion of the funds that you commit give them a benefit which they do not give back to you.

Mr Lewis : I certainly hope not. We might re-use tax management systems and the like that they might be developing to help NDIA that might actually be useful for us. There is a mutual opportunity here to achieve good outcomes across the whole of government. But the funding we have got is to facilitate the DVA rebuild.

Senator GALLACHER: So there probably would not be any shared applications developed as a result of this.

Mr Lewis : I think is quite likely there will be.

Ms Dotta : Potentially, yes

Senator GALLACHER: But would you pay for all of them? Or would DHS make a contribution?

Mr Lewis : If it is already in place, for example between DHS and NDIA, there is going to be an incremental cost—even if we were to utilise the same applications. We would need to fund those incremental costs. There may be additional licences required; we would need to fund those additional licences. But this would not be an indirect resource transfer back to another agency, if that is your question, Senator.

Senator GALLACHER: Okay.

Senator PAYNE: But you can also ask DHS tonight, Senator, if you are very keen!

Mr Lewis : If they say something different, let me know!

Senator PAYNE: I will be there, Simon, I will keep an eye out!

Senator GALLACHER: Going to the Veterans' Review Board and the case management system, there is $2.7 million over four years to put in place a new case management system and to roll out the alternative dispute resolution for the Veterans' Review Board. Can you give us a breakdown of the $2.7 million? How will it be allocated between the new case system and the national rollout of the ADR?

Mr Lewis : Certainly. I will ask Ms Foreman or Mr Bayles to assist.

Ms Foreman : That money is for the building of the new case management system. It is replacing essentially manual processes that the board is currently using. What will happen is there will be a new electronic system which will enable people to lodge appeals online, and view where their appeal up to online.

Senator GALLACHER: So at the moment, if a board member were to get a brief like this a couple of days before a board meeting and go through it, that would probably reflect the previous month's work. So is this going to bring matters to resolution more quickly?

Ms Foreman : On the administrative side—

Senator GALLACHER: It will bring them to the decision-making—

Mr Lewis : On the administrative side, it will help. But as we have discussed previously, the alternative dispute resolution process itself has very big prospects because what it does is, rather than having a full hearing, it allows an individual VRB member to hear the two sides, and it helps to manage expectations on both sides. The success rate from the early trials we have done is very promising

Senator GALLACHER: So is this a new ICT measure?

Mr Lewis : We have talked about a trial previously, but now we are looking at a full rollout. So this is new.

Senator GALLACHER: Is this the trial that was undertaken in the ACT and NSW?

Ms Foreman : And in NSW, that is right.

Mr Lewis : It was a trial, it was very successful, but this is now the full rollout. Senator, to go your point: this is new. This is the full rollout of alternative dispute resolution as part of the Veterans' Review Board processes.

Senator GALLACHER: Does it involve any additional case management staff?

Ms Foreman : No. In the longer term, as the secretary has just mentioned, what we found from the trial that was run out of New South Wales and the ACT was that close to 60 per cent of the cases that went through that process were finalised within a period of two months, whereas, when you use the more traditional VRB processes, the average was about a year. So it is going to speed things up for veterans.

Senator GALLACHER: Fantastic.

CHAIR: Could I ask a question, Senator Gallacher?

Senator GALLACHER: Yes.

CHAIR: That is a significant benefit for the veteran community, but are there any other advantages, benefits, that we anticipate as a result of the pilot?

Mr Lewis : Of the ADR? There is a time benefit, but I just go back to the expectations issue. Sometimes if a veteran does not get good advice from an advocate at the start of a process they can have a false sense of what they are entitled to under the law. The benefit of having someone who is expert in these matters—but not a full panel, which can be a bit daunting—is that they can start to manage their expectations around the way the law works and what they are entitled to, but also to ensure they are getting everything they are entitled to. That leads to a bit of accommodation on both sides and good outcomes, and faster. So I think it is a combination of the two.

CHAIR: So cost can be the same or less or more?

Mr Lewis : Over the long term the costs should be less. Because we are dealing with, in a sense, the load of current appeals, and we are trying to bring in a new model, there is a bit of a hump we have to deal with on a transitional basis, which is why we have a little bit of money there. Our hope is, over time, it should take out some costs from the system as well as time.

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator Gallacher.

Senator GALLACHER: Will there be an existing legacy system? How will the two integrate? Will you have a hard date where you switch over to the new one and they do not interact anymore? How does that work?

Mr Bayles : Essentially you would switch over to a new system. There may be a question we have to work through around how much data is remitted from the old system to the new, and we need to have access to the data that was in the old system. So we will retain data that was established and stored in the old system in order to retrieve it if we need it.

Senator GALLACHER: So you would do it incrementally. If a case arose and you needed to transfer the data, you would do that. You would not be transferring it all over.

Mr Bayles : You might do a data migration up-front on day one but still have access to some data that you do not want to migrate into a new system, because primarily you would use the new system in the new cases going through the VRB.

Senator GALLACHER: Just crystal ball grazing: if someone is on the new system and they refer to something which is on the legacy system, we are not going to tell them that it is not available—it will be there?

Mr Bayles : We will manage that.

Senator GALLACHER: It can be migrated over. But you would not be transferring everything?

Mr Bayles : We probably would not. For dormant cases that had already been resolved, you may not need to move that across to a new system.

Senator GALLACHER: Given the startlingly good figures in respect to this trial and this system, what provisions are you making to assist veterans to navigate it and interact with it?

Mr Lewis : I might ask Ms Foreman to talk a bit about the work we are doing to also assist advocates, because we are introducing a new advocacy system. I think your question really goes to the support framework for the veterans.

Senator GALLACHER: My next question was about those veterans with limited access to the internet and/or using an advocate. You could answer those together.

Ms Foreman : The advocates play a very important role in the system, as you alluded to. At the moment we are in transition. There used to be something called the Training and Information Program. We are transitioning that to the Advocacy, Training and Development Program at the moment, which is a more modern program based on adult learning principles. It has accreditation and online learning. That is an important feature, because we have to make sure that our advocates are as skilled as possible and that access to information for the advocates to use is as up-to-date and as easy to access as possible. So we are in transition with that program at the moment, but it does go hand in hand with the ADR and the other developments of the Veterans' Review Board, because it is a modern, up-to-date program.

Senator GALLACHER: And a niggly question: will veterans with potentially limited expertise in or access to the internet still be able to make a paper application?

Mr Bayles : Yes.

Ms Foreman : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: Can they still do it on paper and provide documents?

Mr Bayles : Yes.

Ms Foreman : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: Hopefully, it will be unusual but it will still be catered for.

Mr Bayles : Yes, we will have capability to handle manual processes.

Ms Foreman : It will be faster for them if they do things online. That would be our preference for a whole range of reasons. But yes, there will always be the option of lodging a paper claim form.

Mr Lewis : Over time it is more likely they are going to want to just do it on one of these things.

Senator GALLACHER: I know there are still a few Luddites around though! Can you give us a snapshot, hopefully a very positive one, about how this will affect management and reduction of backlog of claims?

Mr Lewis : Are you talking about VRB?

Senator GALLACHER: It is a Dorothy Dixer. You have a chance to tell us how wonderful it is going to be.

Ms Foreman : In relation to claims in general, do you mean?

Senator GALLACHER: Yes. We want to know how it is going to reduce the backlog of claims and how it is going to improve the efficiency and/or, hopefully, the veterans' satisfaction of getting their claims dealt with.

Ms Foreman : With the new systems that Ms Dotta spoke about earlier, we have the chance to redefine our business processes and how we actually go about the claims process. It has huge advantages for us. Apart from collecting a whole lot of management information about the most usual types of claims et cetera, what we will be able to do in real time is to let specialists and doctors know that we need medical reports. We will be able to seek medical information from specialists and doctors via email or the internet. Our clients will be able to lodge claims online. If the claim form is fully complete and all the information is there, that will speed up processes hugely. Instead of having the clunky system that we have, and instead of having to have as many paper claims, we will have fully online claims which people can lodge. The potential is huge.

Senator GALLACHER: Do you measure the backlog of claims? What would you expect it to be in the future?

Ms Foreman : This is one of a variety of things that we are doing in this space. It is not just the ICT. We have also changed our operating model in the sense of where claims are processed. We are also digitising our files. You may know that at the moment our files are all paper based. We are digitising our files. We have a new operating model. We have a senior officer responsible for all this work. I think the change in business processes, supported by the ICT, has the potential to hugely improve our processes. The only thing I would say is that to process a claim we are dependent on information from elsewhere. We are dependent on medical evidence and information from Defence about the service details of the client, so we will still need to work on getting that information—

Senator GALLACHER: So the backlog may not be on your side at all?

Ms Foreman : That is right.

Senator GALLACHER: It may be a lack of information.

Mr Lewis : In fact, the claims spend probably about 30 per cent to 35 per cent of their time inside the department. I would like to make one point, because you may want to come this in future estimates.

We are doing our work on the second part of the business case over the next 12 months. There is a massive opportunity to relook at the whole philosophy of the way in which we are providing support to veterans. We are pushing an early engagement strategy whereby we will become much more aware of our future clients while they continue to serve inside the ADF. If someone lodges a claim which is processed while they are still serving with the ADF, it does not matter how long their claim takes to process because they are still supported by Defence and joint health, and they are getting their fortnightly pay. The reason we focus so much attention on it now is that people are out of the system. They are lacking support and they have to pass our eligibility test. If we can get most of our future clients on our books before they have even transitioned from the ADF, then the world is going to be a much better place for the whole system. That is what we are pushing. It is called early engagement.

CHAIR: Thank you Mr Lewis. Could you explain to us what the government is doing to address mental health issues confronting veterans and their families? Is there anything in the budget that is going to assist this very needy area?

Mr Lewis : Thank you. This is a very important area for us and I will ask Ms Foreman and Ms Campion to come to the table to assist. Of course, as you would be aware, there is an important measure which has been announced by the government, which is as recommended by the Senate committee.

Ms Foreman : This budget contained a really important measure for veterans. It allocated $37.9 million to extend what we call non-liability health care to all permanent members of the Australian Defence Force. No matter what type of service they did, no matter how long they served or where they served, they will be able to get access to treatment for mental health.

This was actually a recommendation of the Senate inquiry into the abuse of members in the Defence Force. They recommended that we remove the previous rule that you had to have three years continuous peacetime service. You also could not get it if you had served before 1972. Both of those rules have gone. You only have to have effectively served one day in the Defence Force to qualify to get treatment for non-liability health care.

CHAIR: Is that figure of $37.9 billion over the forward estimates?

Ms Foreman : That is right, yes.

Mr Lewis : That is a net figure. The gross figure for DVA is higher than that. It is about $46 million, from memory. There are some offsetting reductions, minor reductions in other portfolios.

CHAIR: So that is additional to existing funding.

Ms Foreman : That is right.

CHAIR: Is there anything at all coming out of the new initiative to assist the children of veterans?

Mr Lewis : I might ask Ms Campion.

Ms Campion : The budget contains a measure of $2.1 million dollars over two years, for 2016-17 and 2017-18. It is to go to an organisation called Australian Kookaburra Kids Foundation. Kookaburra Kids currently provides a range of support activities, recreational activities, educational camps and those sorts of things for children whose parent has a mental illness. The funding that we are going to provide to Kookaburra Kids will be for them to modify their existing program to meet the needs of the children of current or former serving members. As part of that they will piloting and trialling that approach and doing an evaluation. They will be determining what the actual need might be across the country for an ongoing program of that sort of nature.

CHAIR: That is a two-year funding—

Ms Campion : It is two years at this stage. It is just for the pilot.

CHAIR: Mr Lewis, what is the government's intention in regard to the 2014-15 budget measure relating to the backdating of veteran's disability pensions? Are they proceeding with that measure?

Ms Foreman : No, that measure is not going to be proceeded with. It would have seen the cessation of backdating up to three months. Because that measure is not going ahead, veterans who lodged disability claims will be able to get a backdating of the claim by up to three months.

CHAIR: Is there an added cost to the budget?

Ms Foreman : Yes, it is $38.8 million.

CHAIR: Over the forward estimates?

Ms Foreman : That is right.

CHAIR: What action is the department taking to maintain the war graves of Australians overseas?

Mr Lewis : Thank you, Chair. I will ask Ken.

CHAIR: In answering that, Mr Corke, could you give us some understanding of the general condition of war graves, any priority areas for upgrading and maintenance and where they are.

Mr Corke : To put war graves into perspective, Office of War Graves has two different sets of graves that we maintain. There are those that are recognised as World War I and World War II war graves. They are managed through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and my office is an agent for that commission for parts of Australia, New Guinea, Guadalcanal and that sort of area. So we are not just talking about Australian war graves. These are Commonwealth war dead for which we have an obligation.

In addition to that, we have other postwar dead from wars that have occurred since World War II. They are not covered under the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. That is done under Australian Defence legislation. In total, we have over 13,000 graves within the two which we maintain from Papua New Guinea down into Australia. On top of that, Australia has something which is quite unique which was commenced in the 1920s. It was a recognition that some soldiers who may die some time after the war may still have a linkage between their cause of death and their war service. That is what we refer to as postwar dead or postwar commemoration. We have over 315,000 of those which we currently maintain. Given the age, particularly of the World War II veterans, we are adding about 3,000 of those a year.

We outsource most of the maintenance work. Typically, my staff will do maintenance inspections on a regular basis as much as possible. The priority is towards the Commonwealth war graves themselves. But we need to remember that there are war graves spread all over Australia. Sometimes, it is one or two graves in a cemetery; some of those cemeteries are quite remote, including Torres Strait. So it becomes a challenging asset to maintain. We generally have sufficient budget to handle the routine maintenance and as we are doing that maintenance we then classify the graves in terms of what we think their life span is likely to be from that point forward.

The two worst categories are as follows. Category A is where we say it needs to be repaired immediately because of a safety risk to do with that grave. The next category is where we say it will not be able to be maintained at some point within the next eight years and, therefore, we schedule it for refurbishment. At the moment, we have about 3,000 graves that fit within those two categories and need to be refurbished. Most of that maintenance work is outsourced and the capacity to complete it generally is limited by industry's capacity to do what is quite unusual work these days in terms of stonemasonry and those sorts of things which we have to be able to hire.

The budget measures have given us an additional $2.7 million because there has been a backlog in our ability to keep these graves repaired. That is largely because we are now seeing graves of World War II war dead that need to be refurbished because they are reaching the end of their life. So there has been a backlog. This money will enable us to do about 1,000 more graves on top of what we would already be doing anyway over the forward estimates. The reason we are only doing those thousand is because it is limited by the delivery capacity of the industry that supports us. If we had more money, we could not do it. So a thousand on top of the ones we will be doing anyway through our base budget is all we could manage to do over the forward estimates.

Senator McEWEN: I have some questions about commemorations. In regard to the shift in the Anzac Day Lone Pine service to the day before, can you tell us how that went? How many people went to the Lone Pine service?

Mr Lewis : I was there. I did not count them, but my guess is about a hundred went. I am told there was another bus that tried to get up there that did not manage to get there in time. We might have had several hundred that probably would have gone there. I thought it was a very respectful service for the 24th. It was a very busy day, as you are probably aware. I think the minister and I went to seven commemorative events over a 26-hour period, or thereabouts. We returned to Lone Pine later on the 25th after the dawn service. In terms of how it went, I can get Mr McKeon to describe the Lone Pine wreath-laying.

Mr McKeon : At around 3 pm on 24 April, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs along with his colleague the New Zealand Minister of Defence visited the Lone Pine Cemetery, supported by elements of the Australian Defence Force, and a small commemoration occurred. As the secretary said, a number of visitors took the opportunity to participate by viewing that service. After placing the wreaths at the Stone of Remembrance, the minister took the opportunity to lay some private tributes on the gravestones and then went on to the Turkish 57th Regiment Memorial Service.

Senator McEWEN: Did most of the hundred people who attended, the visitors not the minister, then go down and stay for the dawn service the next day?

Mr Lewis : Yes, I believe so. They all walked down Artillery Road, from memory.

Mr McKeon : That is right and they joined at the Anzac Commemorative Site for the dawn service the next day.

Senator McEWEN: Is there a review planned to decide whether this will be the way of commemorating Lone Pine on Anzac Day in the future?

Mr Lewis : We are intending to conduct a commemorative event on 6 August—

Senator McEWEN: Yes, we know that.

Mr Lewis : which is the timing for Lone Pine.

Senator McEWEN: I understand that. But are we going to continue with the Lone Pine service associated with Anzac Day?

Mr Lewis : On the 24th?

Senator McEWEN: Yes.

Mr Lewis : That is something we will need to recommend to an incoming government. Either way you look at it, we are going to have another government by the time—

Senator McEWEN: What is the process for deciding?

Mr Lewis : We will brief an incoming minister and take it from there.

Senator McEWEN: Okay. That is a ministerial decision?

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator McEWEN: The centenary of the Battle of Fromelles and Pozieres, which is in—

Mr Lewis : 19 and 23 July.

Senator McEWEN: Correct. Have we repaired our blue with the British about the tenders?

Mr Lewis : I do not know whether there was a blue with them.

Senator McEWEN: It was all over the media in February, I think.

Mr Lewis : All I can is that we have 70 seats have been allocated to the Brits. We still have lots of seats available for anybody. Here it is early May, we made the invitation in December and it is nearly six months since then. There are seats available for people even now who want to go. The priority is for Australians. We said that on day one.

Senator McEWEN: There were media reports that the British felt that they had been pushed out by Australia.

Mr Lewis : We said on day one there was a priority for Australians and those Australians who wanted to come have presumably put their hands up, or thrown their hat in the ring, in the last five months.

Senator McEWEN: Is Minister Tehan going to attend that?

Mr Lewis : That is a matter for government.

Senator McEWEN: What happens during an election campaign?

CHAIR: It is after the election.

Senator McEWEN: It is too. That is true. Could be another minister all together—we can only hope. So the plan for Anzac related events goes from 2014 to 2018. What comes then after Fromelles and Pozieres?

Mr Lewis : We talked about the Anzac Centenary and the centenary of service. The next big one is actually linked to centenary of service and that is 18 August, which is the 50th anniversary of Long Tan. Would you like me to discuss that at all?

Senator McEWEN: The service, as in all theatres?

Mr Lewis : Yes. The Australian government and, I think, somewhat uniquely has been commemorating both the centenary of World War I and a centenary of service, which is that opportunity for us to talk about important commemorations over that period.

Senator McEWEN: So Long Tan is this year. What is next year?

Mr McKeon : In 2017, the Australian government will be commemorating Polygon Wood on 26 September. Then moving on beyond that will be Le Hamel on 4 July 2018, followed by a memorial service at the Australian National Memorial on 11 November 2018 in Villers-Bretonneux in France. In addition to that, on 31 October 2017 there will be a commemoration in the state of Israel at Beersheba, commemorating the Palestinian campaigns.

CHAIR: Horses?

Mr McKeon : It is very unlikely that horses would be involved in the official commemoration conducted by the Australian government, but I am aware that there are other activities planned on that day with the Light Horse Association and also the local municipality. That could be the place where we would see light horses.

Senator McEWEN: Are there any significant commemorative events planned from now until 2 July 2016 at which you would anticipate having ministerial representation?

Mr Lewis : The one that immediately comes to mind relates to the Terendak repatriation. These things are usually conducted in a bipartisan way. So you would ordinarily have an invitation and, just like Anzac Day last year, and we would have the equivalent to the opposition leader and the opposition spokesman for defence.

Senator McEWEN: I am curious for my own knowledge: what happens in an election campaign?

Mr Lewis : I will need to take that up with the minister. My sense would be that the same rules would ordinarily be applied. You cannot avoid the dates. The Terendak repatriation happens early June and I would expect that to be done in a bipartisan way.

Senator McEWEN: Okay. Are there any of those significant commemorations within Australia?

Mr Lewis : That one is. That will be in Sydney.

Senator McEWEN: Thank you. That is all from me.

CHAIR: That concludes the committee's examination of the Defence portfolio. I thank the minister and officers for your attendance.

Proceedings suspended from 14 : 59 to 15:18