Thursday, 15 September 2016
Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; In Committee
I move my amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 7924:
(1) Page 4, clause 2 (table item 26) to be opposed.
[military rehabilitation and compensation]
(2) Schedule 24, page 212 (line 1) to page 215 (line 27), to be opposed.
[military rehabilitation and compensation]
The big problem we have is the veterans suicide crisis, and the large reason we have this problem is because of the way the veterans are being treated when they lodge claims for compensation. Veterans would rather return to war than deal with the mess the claims system is currently in and has been for many years. What the government is proposing under the single appeal pathways, even though it has been amended by Labor, still means that this bill denies veterans a right to legal representation when forced to go against a government body stacked with government lawyers. Important decisions about veterans' entitlements are being made in situations where a veteran and advocate walk into a room packed with government employees holding law degrees. It is a denial of natural justice and due process, and the government is trying to cover it up by saying they will simplify the process by taking away the lawyers. They are taking away the lawyers all right—they are taking them away quite nicely because, bloody hell, the veterans are not having one. You are putting them up against nine or 10 lawyers in a Veterans' Review Board. How would you go if you had PTSD, a missing arm, some missing legs, and you are going in there against a lawyer.
Senator O'Sullivan interjecting—
If you want to stand up, Senator O'Sullivan—
The CHAIR: Senator Lambie, address your remarks to the chair.
An honourable senator: Tell him to shut up, then!
Have some sympathy. You should pull your head in. Senator O'Sullivan—
The CHAIR: Senator Lambie, address your remarks to the chair, not through the chair. Please continue.
An honourable senator: Tell the boofhead to pull his head in.
The government only did half the job when they drafted this measure. They have taken away the lawyers representing the veterans but not the lawyers from the government. Last time there was such an inequity was when the Christians were thrown to the bloody lions.
This measure should be fiercely opposed because it jumps the gun. The Senate has already agreed to an independent inquiry into veterans affairs and the high rates of suicide. By the way, just so we are all clear, there was another one yesterday. I think we are at about 48 so far this year. It is going great guns! Nothing should be changed that disadvantages veterans until the veterans have had an opportunity to have their say in front of a committee. I know many veterans will make submissions which will describe the many injustices inflicted on them by the veterans compensation system, including the VRB and the AAT.
So I am asking you, Labor, to stand up for veterans tonight and support my motion to stop the government changing the compensation system to further deny the veterans their rightful compensation and entitlements. Labor, you stood with me and voted to establish a historic investigation into veterans affairs, with particular reference to:
a. the reasons why Australian veterans are committing suicide at such high rates,
b. previous reviews of military compensation arrangements and their failings,
c. the Repatriation Medical Authority's Statements of Principles, claims administration time limits, claims for detriment caused by defective administration, authorised medical treatment, level of compensation payments, including defence abuse, as contained in all military compensation arrangements …
More importantly, the committee will inquire into the performance of Veterans' Affairs—or the lack of performance over many years—and other related matters.
The government budget measure to establish more savings by adopting a single pathway for veterans compensation claims is jumping the gun. Before any change to the veterans compensation system is allowed by legislation, particularly a change which many veterans and legal experts say will have adverse effects on veterans, the findings and recommendations of the Senate inquiry should be seriously considered.
I am sorry, Minister—I need you to remind me what the cost saving of this measure is.