Monday, 29 July 2019
Australian Veterans' Recognition (Putting Veterans and Their Families First) Bill 2019; In Committee
by leave—I move amendments (1), (2) and (3) on revised sheet 8178 together:
(1) Clause 7, page 4 (line 7), after "Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004", insert "(the MRC Act)".
(2) Clause 7, page 4 (line 14), before "within a time", insert "except under the MRC Act—"
(3) (3) The Commonwealth is committed to the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission deciding a claim under the MRC Act within 90 days beginning on:
(a) the day the Commission receives the claim; or
(b) the day the Commission receives information, or a document, that the Commission requested in relation to the claim under section 330 of that Act;
whichever occurs later.
These amendments send a very clear message that, when you come to the DVA for help, you can be sure you'll finally receive it. These amendments commit the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission to make decisions on veterans' claims within 90 days of receiving all the paperwork. They form a promise to treat veterans in a way that's fair, doesn't take too long, doesn't leave them worse off and doesn't treat them like the enemy. Without these amendments, this bill does absolutely nothing.
One of the biggest issues that we have is the time it takes to clear these claims. If you have all the evidence on the table, there is no more to say about this. If you have all this evidence on the table and you can't make that decision by 90 days, I have to ask what sort of department you are running. This is part of the suicides. It's because of the time it is taking to do these claims. If you really want veterans to see that you have respect for them and for everything that they've done then, for goodness sakes, 90 days is more than long enough to make a decision.
I rise to inform the Senate that I intend to support Senator Lambie's amendment. I know how passionate and intent she is and how much she cares for the welfare of veterans. The DVA of course sometimes doesn't meet the high expectations that Senator Lambie and others have of our returned service personnel. I must put on the record—I know Senator Lambie doesn't agree with me—that I struggle with the idea that someone who spends 24 hours in uniform is determined to be a veteran. Nonetheless, that is the protocols of the government has instilled. I think it's entirely reasonable that there be a legislative instrument that ensures or tries to ensure the DVA complies with a reasonable assessment and return when they're approached for assistance by those who have been prepared to give their all in service of our country. As such, I think this is a well-meaning amendment. It's worthy of consideration. I hope the government gives it due consideration. I look forward to the minister's response in that regard. Pending any further comments, it will depend on what the minister has to say.
I thank Senator Lambie for these amendments and I can advise that the government won't be opposing these amendments, but we do have grave concerns about the third amendment and the 90 days and Senator Lambie's rejection of clause that said, 'except in exceptional circumstances', because there are circumstances—very complex cases—where this 90 days is not required. Of course, the government always wants as many of these as possible to be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.
What I would also say is that I was very privileged and very proud to have introduced this bill into this chamber on 4 July. I would like, on behalf of the government, of thank all senators who have contributed to this very important debate. The bill does create a framework which the government, business and Australian community are able to more effectively and deliberately thank veterans for their service and acknowledge what they have done all of our behalf.
I'd like to think five veterans in particular who are in this building this evening. They are five Long Tan veterans from the Vietnam War. I was deeply moved and privileged to have had the opportunity to thank each and every one of them. The first is Colonel Adrian Roberts MG OAM (Retd), who was troop commander of 3 Troop, 1 Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron. Also joining us tonight was Lieutenant Peter Dinham, who was lieutenant and platoon commander of 2 Platoon, Alpha Company 6 RAR. I also want to thank Warrant Officer Class 1, Bob Buick, platoon commander of 11 Platoon, Delta Company 6 RAR; Flight Lieutenant Dr Bob Grandin, No. 9 Squadron RAAF; and also Private Victor Simon of 12 Platoon, Delta Company 6 RAR—one of two Indigenous soldiers who fought in the Battle of Long Tan. Here in this chamber this evening I want to thank all of them for their service and all 108 Australian Anzacs who fought in the Battle of Long Tan. On behalf of all Australians, I say to those Vietnam veterans: thank you for your service.
This is the purpose of this bill: it provides for recognition of the sacrifice and challenges borne by both the serving member and also those closest to them, particularly the families who always make service to our nation possible. All Australians share a deep appreciation of the contribution made to our nation by our ADF, those who have defended Australia and those prepared to defend us all. The Australian people quite rightly expect that the welfare of veterans and their families should be an enduring priority for the government, and this bill highlights that priority.
With the introduction of this bill, the Australian Defence Veterans' Covenant is established. I think that is a very good thing and something that is well overdue. The Australian Defence Veterans' Covenant is a mechanism by which all Australians, from every corner of our nation, can honour a very proud military history. They can recognise the service and sacrifice of all who have committed to defend the nation and pledge their commitment to support veterans and also their families.
What some members of this chamber might not quite appreciate is that this covenant is designed to establish a new exchange of trust, of recognition and also of thanks between the Australian community and current and former serving personnel. The purpose of the covenant is to give a foundation to a cultural shift that we seek. That is a shift towards acknowledging our deep respect for those who serve and their sacrifice so that the rest of us can enjoy the freedoms we enjoy today. The covenant bill is subtle but also sophisticated in the way that it encourages us all to build a new mindset around current and ex serving personnel. The bill provides all Australians with the opportunity to see serving personnel and veterans in a new light. It answers some questions that I get often: how can we recognise the service of these men and women, and how can we do that individually?
For too long, many veterans have unintentionally fallen victim to excessive paperwork and bureaucracy. Again, this bill seeks to introduce new values, a new framework and a new cultural change within those charged with administering the bureaucracy that supports our veterans. The bill calls on decision-makers to be just, to be fair and to be consistent. It encourages a culture of constant improvement in evolution in our decision-making around Defence veterans and serving personnel, as well as promoting a more empathetic decision-making process. At its heart is a respect for all of our veterans. The covenant asks these decision-makers to evolve their decision-making and to be ever mindful of their own role in the emerging story of how our nation treats our veterans.
By introducing the covenant, the government is encouraging a cultural shift in the way the community interacts with serving personnel. We encourage all Australians to step up, to step forward and to say thank you to the men and women who have given us so much and for those today who continue to give us so much. For all of those reasons, again, I thank those in this chamber who have contributed to this debate and I commend this bill to the Senate.
I just wanted to say a couple of words in commendation of Senator Lambie and her fine work in pursual of this amendment and advocacy in the general area of veterans' affairs. As the recently appointed Greens' spokesperson in the area of peace, disarmament and veterans' affairs, I look forward with enthusiasm to a productive working relationship with Senator Lambie as we continue to cause a bit of trouble in this place in the name of folks who actually need our help.
I would finish this evening by calling the chamber's attention to the continued absence in the Australian legislative landscape of a responsibility upon this chamber and the other place to vote when we send folks to war. This has been a great conversation about symbolism. It has been a great conversation about the importance of paying homage to and caring for and respecting our veterans, all of which is true. But I would ask both parties in this place, Labor and Liberal, to take that language through to its natural conclusion and be prepared to sign your name on the dotted line when you send our troops to war—something which is not currently required of us in this place. If we're going to talk about our responsibility to veterans, and if we're going to talk about the impacts of war, let's begin right here. Let's begin right here by passing a piece of legislation to bring us in line with the rest of the OECD and many of our so-called defence partners, such as the United States. Even the United States requires their congress to formally sign off on prolonged periods of deployment. Let us get our act together, in the names of those who have fallen and in the names of those who still fight, with the result of coming home, and let us at least be prepared to take responsibility when we put troops in harm's way.
I commend this motion and the work of Senator Lambie to the chamber.
I think we had pretty much got to that point anyway, Senator Lambie. The question is that the amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 8718, revised, as moved by Senator Lambie be agreed to.
Question agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.