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Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill 2014

I am proud to be speaking in favour of this Bill, a measure which finetunes the legislation governing military compensation so that it can best serve our returned service community.


The amendment will allow the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission to retrospectively apply the new compensation methodology implemented last year to certain people receiving transitional permanent impairment compensation.


The Bill ensures that the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission can retrospectively calculate the rate of compensation due to a claimaint who had initiated reviews or reconsiderations of compensation with the MRCC, Veterans’ Review Board or Administrative Appeals Tribunal.


This will ensure that compensation is paid on a whole-of-person basis and that compensation now and into the future will be equitable across all arms of military service and all forms of compensation schemes.


This is a good measure focused on ensuring equity and fairness for the returned service community. It will mean that assessing for compensation under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act will take into account conditions which are already accepted under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act or the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.


An imperative component of this Bill is the fact that no recipient will be worse off because of the retrospective application of this new methodology.


In fact, servicemen and women will be better off overall because of the way compensation will be applied. That factor of the Bill alone should inspire support. Where the rate of compensation can increase due to the calculation, it will do so.


Where the rate of compensation decreases according to the new methodology, it will remain at its previous, higher, amount. This Government proudly backs increases in the level of support afforded to those who have paid the ultimate price and their families.


It is fitting that this no disadvantage condition applies to the implementation of this Amendment. The Veterans of this country deserve a fair go and they deserve our support and appreciation.


They certainly deserve generous provision and compensation when, in the line of duty, an individual suffers permanent impairment.


After all, the sacrifices ex-servicemen have given their country and given all of us, their fellow citizens, are unable to be exaggerated.  We absolutely must ensure that the social security framework supporting returned servicemen and injured veterans is consistently maintained and rises in line with the cost of living.


It is worth noting that this year marks ten years since the establishment of the MRCA, a means of assessing compensation which encompasses the whole of military service and will equip the Governmnet for the future in terms of adequately caring for our servicemen and women. The establishment of schemes such as this are pleasingly accepted by the wider community.


The Review into Military Compensation of 2011 confirmed that there is a public understanding of the fact that military compensation is a special and separate form of social security which pays heed to the unique challenges and value of military service. In the report, it was noted that:


“The existence of statutory compensation legislation designed specifically to meet the needs of military service appears to be implicitly accepted.”


Compensating those who have given their all for their country should be one of the first and most uncontroversial activities of Government. The Coalition has always prided itself on maintaining a strong relationship with Australia’s veteran community. Now that our team is in Government we are striving to follow in the footsteps of successive Australian governments who have made it their priority to provide compensation and support to ex-servicemen and women since the First World War.


I would like to take the opportunity to reflect on the deeper reasons that fair military compensation is such a priority to this Government.


It goes without saying that engagement in war is a costly, stark and confronting task. It takes immense moral courage and physical endurance. The sheer number of Australians who have laid their life on the line for their country and been injured in the process – mentally or physically – demands, in turn, that their country remembers and supports them.


The mental and physical burdens of service have a ripple effect to the family and friends of those who return. It is up to us in Government to look for opportunities to advance the care and treatment of these returned personnel. In the drafting of these amendments the Government has done just that, finding a way to finetune legislation to maximise equity and care.


The high-risk, high-demand nature of the work that our military personnel do both onshore and offshore, in times of peace and in war, requires a level of commitment not just to the job but to the country which cannot be compared to civilian service.


The requirement to be deployable, to put one’s life on the line, and to adhere to strict and serious codes of service demands a total commitment to the role. As it should be, this commitment is met with deep appreciation on the part of the Australian people, but it is also often met with significant injuries and personal challenges.


When our servicemen and women meet with these challenges because they have given so much, we as the Australian government and the Australian people must go out of our way to carry those who have carried the interests of our nation.


More than 26,000 Australian men and women have served in Afghanistan; Some 17,500 served in Iraq. Those figures represent the tens of thousands of lives which have been marked and changed by military service. Often, lives are transformed in a way that is not visible to the eye.


Mental health is a major issue with regards to our returning servicemen and women. Post traumatic stress disorder is a serious risk to those who have served in combat roles in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, although the support services and prevention programmes within the Australian Military are particularly effective.


The Australian Defence Force has reported that Twenty-two per cent of the ADF population or one in five experienced a mental disorder.


This figure is far too high and demands that we be more vigilant as a community against the often unspoken and all the more ravaging effects of war – those that begin after the conflict has ended.

As our Prime Minister said in July of this year:


“Those who serve must know that their country will not ask them to bear the emotional wounds of war alone.”

Furthermore, as the Minister for Veterans Affairs, the Honourable Michael Ronaldson wrote to veterans in Winter of this year,


“The 2014 Budget … places the mental health needs of veterans and their families at the forefront of the Government’s commitment to the veteran community.”


Indeed, I welcome the rise in military pensions and the recent establishment of the Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health earlier this year.


Councils such as these strengthen and inform the approaches that government takes to the mental ravages of war in alliance with the work that the Department of Veterans Affairs is already doing.


The DVA services over 310,000 veterans, dependants and their families.


As of May this year, there were 1,428 DVA clients in my electorate of Barton, many of whom are vulnerable dependants. Almost 50 are recipients of MRCA compensation, the subject of these amendments. This Bill assures me that the Government is doing right by those veterans and ex service personnel living in my electorate and dependent on rehabilitative care.


I am proud of the programs that exist for servicemen and women as well as veterans in my electorate of Barton. The people of Barton have a strong level of respect and reverence for the service carried out on their behalf as Australians by our defence personnel and this is reflected in the strong turnouts we always see at Anzac Day services and remembrance occasions.

The Electorate is serviced by many fantastic programmes which ease the challenges of returning to civilian life, dealing with service-related injuries or mourning the loss of a loved one. Australian servicemen and women have done an incredible job in the establishment of returned service leagues, community building initiatives and mental health programmes. Veterans have founded their own services like the Veterans’ and Veterans’ Families’ Counselling Service, a service founded by returned Vietnam veterans.


The expansion of the service on 1 July of this year to include those who have served in border protection, disaster zones and training accidents is a welcome advance in our care for those who have served in a variety of roles.


The Veteran Home Care Program, the mental-health focused program ‘At Ease’, RSL Clubs, the Arncliffe Men’s Shed and the DVA-run Wolli Club at Earlwood-Bardwell-Park RSL are just some examples of the ways that government, the veteran community, and countless volunteers come together in my electorate to give back.


I always hear positive things from constituents about the Department of Veterans Affairs and its support programmes. I have met military widows and families out doorknocking in my electorate who attest that the DVA takes meticulous care and shows a very human side.


The returned service community deserves to be recognised and they deserve a space to tell their stories. Experts suggest that being given an opportunity to tell of the experiences of war is important in the healing process. The Director of the Australian War Memorial Dr Brendan Nelson believes that initiatives such as the Memorial and the Centenary of Anzac will afford veterans the opportunity to make sense of their experiences and gain closure.


I am looking forward to the commemoration of the Centenary of Anzac unfold next year as we anticipate the rollout of the local grants programme in my electorate of Barton. Establishing an Electorate Committee to review the grant applications for the Local Anzac Grants programme was a rewarding experience. The committee was honoured by the inclusion of Major General Raymond J Sharp AO RFD ED, a former Commander of the 2nd Infantry Division.


His participation in the committee reminded me that those who have given their all for their country are still serving their country in countless ways in the returned veterans’ community, especially in the education of the next generation.


The Australian community of Veterans is a proud and strong one, but one facing significant struggles and burdens. These challenges should give the Government and every Australian citizen cause to strive harder to provide ex-service personnel the strong level of support and gratitude which they deserve.


The wounds of war, both visible and invisible, are unimaginable for those who have never served in times of conflict. With the drawdown from Afghanistan in particular, the human complexity, conflict with insurgency and serious levels of physical strain leave a drastic toll for many.


Young Chris May, a young soldier deployed to Afghanistan at the age of 19, put it this way in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald:


"It's a different world when you come back. You see everyone getting hyped up over reality TV or the State of Origin. People don't really appreciate the bigger problems of the world. In 12 months everyone will have forgotten about Afghanistan, and what then? All the guys know that's what's going to happen. Things will go back to the way they were before, and people will forget that we were ever there."


Preventing a young returned serviceman from feeling forgotten and disconnected and rehabilitating him from his wounds, visible and invisible, is a true test of our identity as a nation with utmost respect for our diggers.


When the pride and fervour of Anzac Day or the Centenary of Anzac is over, we in government must ensure that no digger is left behind; that no family member is left without support; one way to ensure these things is to keep our compensation schemes in top notch condition and to keep them as equitable and sound as possible.


By consistently finetuning the legislative framework, we can ensure that as a government we are giving the returned service community the level of support that they deserve and require. As such, I commend this Bill to the Chamber.