Thursday, 15 September 2016
Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; In Committee
This is actually not about savings. The saving is absolutely miniscule. It is $3.6 million over the entire forward estimates. The reason we are doing this is to improve the service available to the ex-service community.
This initiative will benefit the ex-service community because it will streamline the appeals process presently available to veterans under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act by providing access to the more veteran-friendly appeals process that exists through the Veterans Review Board. This implements the recommendation of the 2011 review of military compensation arrangements which was initiated by, and the recommendations of which were accepted by, the former Labor government.
It will achieve savings for the Department of Veterans' Affairs through a reduction in legal costs as a result of the introduction of a single appeals pathway for veterans covered under the MRCA. As I say, it is just $3.6 million worth, but that relates to specific legal costs.
The new appeals pathway, supported by a new initiative known as alternative dispute resolution, will encourage and facilitate the resolution of disputed cases at the Veterans' Review Board through case conference discussions. This streamlined process combines the advantages of the two current appeals paths available to veterans under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. The Veterans' Review Board provides a process that is non-adversarial and veteran friendly and will encourage and support participation in the process to reach a resolution for the veteran at the earliest possible point. This approach is supported by ex-service organisations, which have been consulted on this measure, because going through the Veterans' Review Board is independent. They know and understand the process, which is friendlier and less formal.
In the event that an appeal still proceeds to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, access to legal aid will still be possible, subject to the usual eligibility requirements. The new process will make settling disputes faster, easier and less demanding for veterans covered under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act than is presently the case.