Wednesday, 6 September 2017
Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment (Defence Force) Bill 2017; In Committee
Senator Lambie has moved the two amendments on sheet 8100. The first relates to schedule 1 and aims to insert item 45A section 140, and the second amendment relates again to schedule 1, but involves a substitution with item 47 paragraphs 142(1 )(c) and (d). The opposition regrettably will not be supporting the amendments, as we believe at this point in time, with our knowledge of the legislation, that they are unnecessary and in fact could lessen the protections for veterans in the DRCA. Amanda Rishworth in the lower house has been extensively involved in all of the discussions in this area. She is the shadow minister for veterans' affairs and has been actively and conscientiously working with the government to get this legislation right. She is a very dedicated member of parliament and has spent a lot of time and effort on this piece of legislation.
The DRCA is designed to separate Defence Force members from other Commonwealth employees, who are covered by the SRCA. The principles which these amendments seek to insert currently sit within section 69 of the SRCA and have not applied to Defence Force members since 2004. Rather than being required to only minimise the duration and severity of injuries to employees by arranging quickly for rehabilitation, Defence Force members have been covered under an expanded aim of rehabilitation which states that the intention is to 'maximise the potential to restore a person who has an impairment, or an incapacity for service or work, as a result of a service injury or disease to at least the same physical and psychological state, and at least the same social, vocational and educational status, as he or she had before the injury or disease'. This definition, combined with section 142, which calls for claims to be determined accurately and quickly, means that the principles of determining claims quickly and restoring individuals to the same social, vocational and educational status, as applied to Defence Force members in the SRCA, is upheld in the DRCA.
We have been informed that this amendment would result in a conflict of definition between the two principles of rehabilitation—one that offers a broader range of support and one that hasn't been used since 2004. The provisions in the DRCA that have been applied in the SRCA since 2004 provide a stronger commitment to Defence Force members than the inclusion of part C of the amendment. Labor believes that this amendment could lessen the protections for veterans in the DRCA. While we will not be supporting the amendment, we do understand the confusion, given that the government response to the Senate inquiry failed to clearly articulate that the rehabilitation principles in section 69 have not been utilised for the Defence Force members since 2004.
Labor pursued these concerns extensively with the government and the department—and I have some questions I'd like to ask the acting minister in a moment—and, to be perfectly honest, found it hard to get a clear explanation. I hope in the answers to the questions I'm going to ask shortly we get some clarity about those issues. It has taken a considerable amount of research into and examination of this legislation to understand the implications clearly on both the current operations of the SRCA for Defence Force members and the impact of this amendment. We believe that the inclusion of this clause in the DRCA would see two different aims of rehabilitation, which has the potential to cause a conflict and could result in lessening the protections for veterans. As such, Labor will not be supporting the amendment.