Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister for Defence Personnel, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Deputy Leader of the House) (12:40): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I am pleased to introduce the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Omnibus) Bill 2018.
This bill demonstrates the commitment this government made in 2016 and 2017 to put veterans first and continues on measures we introduced earlier this year under the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No.1) Act 2018 and the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No.2) Act 2018.
The bill is designed to improve outcomes for serving Australian Defence Force members, veterans and their families, and will ensure that essential services are available to veterans when they need it.
As the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, I recognise the Australian community has a clear expectation that veterans and their families will be well looked after.
This bill will:
extend claim avenues to include the Chief of Defence Force;
resolve veterans’ claims more quickly by strengthening the ability of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission to obtain information from third parties; and
expedite lump sum exemptions for veterans by simplifying DVA and Department of Human Services processes.
Schedule 1 of the bill would amend the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 to enable the Chief of the Defence Force to make a claim for liability on behalf of a current serving Australian Defence Force member where the member suffers a service injury or disease and agrees to the Chief of the Defence Force or his delegate making the claim. This amendment would provide an alternative way that a claim for liability may be made. In some cases, it may facilitate an earlier acceptance of liability.
The amendment is intended to benefit veterans by minimising some of the difficulties that may be encountered when making an initial claim for liability some time after the injury was sustained or the disease contracted.
Veterans will also benefit in having their future claims for related diseases and conditions that manifest after their service more easily accepted. For example, if DVA accepts a knee injury at the time of the injury via a claim from the CDF, accepting osteoarthritis of the knee in the future will be much easier.
DVA will be able to use the additional claim data at the point of injury to better inform decisions around trends in injuries and onset of other conditions. This may inform later policy on simplifying and streamlining the claims process. This measure introduced today demonstrates that the government is determined to ensure veterans and their families will continue to be the focus for many years to come.
Schedule 2 of the bill would enable the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission to obtain information in determining a claim for compensation under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related) Claims Act 1988, or the DRCA.
Veterans can be adversely affected when information critical to their claim is not provided by third parties. These provisions will provide veterans and their families with easier access to information relevant to their compensation claims.
The provisions will require Commonwealth, state or territory departments, authorities and other persons, such as current or former treatment providers, or other parties to provide information on request of the commission. This will ensure that the commission has access to all the information necessary to make decisions on claims.
The amendments would bring the DRCA in line with the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 and the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986.
Schedule 3 would improve administrative practices in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs concerning income support clients and the exempting of certain lump sum payments from the income test.
The amendments to the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 would allow certain exempt lump sum determinations made by the secretary for social services to apply to income support clients where the determination is consistent with Department of Veterans’ Affairs legislation and policy.
Currently, the Repatriation Commission makes separate, yet identical, exempt lump sum determinations for payments that have already been exempted under the Social Security Act 1991 by the Secretary of the Department of Social Services.
For example, the Department of Social Services made an exempted lump sum determination in relation to payments to the stolen generation. These payments are exempt from the income test. Previously, DVA would then draft an identical instrument and register it so the same exemption could apply to DVA income support clients.
Under the new arrangements, DSS will advise DVA of its determination, which will be applied to DVA income support clients without the requirement to register an additional instrument.
The Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 will retain the authority for the Repatriation Commission to make a determination to specify an exempt lump sum is an amount that the Repatriation Commission determines to be an exempt lump sum. The amendment will not change the current exclusions of the determination as it applies to companies, trusts and primary production.
Each of these amendments will mean better outcomes for veterans and their families.
I commend this bill.