House of Representatives

Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Omnibus) Bill 2017

Second Reading Speech

Mr Tehan (Wannon-Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security and Minister for Defence Personnel)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Omnibus) Bill 2017. The bill comprises eight schedules that would implement several small but necessary amendments to veterans legislation to clarify, improve or streamline the operation of the law.

Schedule 1 of the omnibus bill amends the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 to modernise and align the Veterans' Review Board's operations with those of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, following the amendments made by the Tribunals Amalgamation Act 2015.

The amendments also support the alternative dispute resolution processes and the recent amendments to the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004, which provide for a single appeal path for reconsidering decisions.

Schedule 2 would amend the provisions of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 concerning the Specialist Medical Review Council to improve the operation of the Specialist Medical Review Council-the SMRC-to streamline some of the SMRC's administrative arrangements and to better reflect the manner in which its functions and processes have evolved over time.

The proposed amendments would simplify the nomination and appointment process for councillors, enable online lodgement of claims, streamline the notice of investigation requirements and give the SMRC an ability to pay the travel costs of applicants who appear before an oral hearing of the SMRC.

The proposed amendments in schedule 3 of the omnibus bill would enable international agreements to be made that would cover allied veterans and Defence Force members with service of the type for which benefits and payments, including rehabilitation, can be provided by the Repatriation Commission or the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission under the relevant acts.

Currently, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs can only enter into arrangements with the governments of countries that are, or have been, dominions of the Crown. These amendments would enable the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to enter into arrangements with a broader range of countries.

The proposed amendments in schedule 4 are intended to clarify that vocational rehabilitation assistance under an employer incentive scheme in the form of wage incentive payments are within the scope of the enabling provisions of relevant legislation.

The proposed amendments in schedule 5 would amend subsection 409(2) of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 and, if enacted, subsection 151A(1) of the Safety, Rehabilitation Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988, to add the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation (CSC) as a person to whom the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (MRCC) may provide information, for purposes allowed under CSC's legislation.

The proposed amendments would implement a recommendation by the 2011 Review of Military Compensation Arrangements, intended to improve the information-sharing framework for incapacity and superannuation benefits between DVA and CSC and therefore reduce the time taken to process claims by DVA and CSC which would better support injured former ADF members.

In addition, enabling the CSC to use medical information and reports held by the MRCC to determine superannuation claims would also avoid the need to send ADF members for further medical assessment where DVA already holds relevant medical evidence that could be used by the CSC to determine superannuation benefits.

ADF members would be spared from any retraumatisation from having to retell their stories. This is particularly significant for ADF members who suffer psychological conditions, including those that have arisen as a result of physical or psychological abuse.

Schedule 6 of the bill amends the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 to provide for the delegation of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs' powers and functions.

Unlike section 212 of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 makes no provision for the delegation of the minister's powers and functions.

That omission has prevented some administrative reforms from being implemented to achieve efficiencies across the Department of Veterans' Affairs as part of the government's commitment to reducing red tape.

Schedule 7 of the omnibus bill amends Veterans' Affairs portfolio legislation to exempt certain legislative instruments from subsection 14(2) of the Legislation Act 2003.

The amendments would enable these legislative instruments to incorporate material contained in another nondisallowable legislative instrument or another nonlegislative writing as in force from time to time. The amendments would also update the language of some of the provisions under which legislative instruments are made under Veterans' Affairs portfolio legislation to accord with a contemporary drafting style.

Many of DVA's legislative instruments include references to external documents, such as fee schedules and the Rehabilitation Appliance Program National Schedule of Equipment, which are incorporated by reference into the instruments and are legally regarded as being part of the instruments.

Currently, any change to an incorporated document cannot be recognised unless the changed version is incorporated in the legislative instrument by an amendment or a replacement instrument. Under the proposed amendments, changes to the incorporated document would be automatically recognised and not require the minister or commissions to remake instruments each time an incorporated document is changed.

The amendments in schedule 8 of the omnibus bill were included as part of the lapsed Repeal Day (Spring 2015) Bill 2015. They repeal redundant and spent provisions concerning benefits that are no longer made and cannot be made again. Removing these redundant elements will make veterans legislation easier to interpret.

Noting that this legislation includes a number of measures that are beneficial but technical in detail, I will be writing to the chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee in order to review the bill and to seek public comment for the benefit of the parliament.

While this will be conducted in addition to the normal consultation my department will conduct, I encourage all interested parties to use this opportunity to provide input to the bill.

Each of the sets of amendments are relatively modest. They will enhance the operations of the department and will mean better outcomes for veterans.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.