Australian Veterans' Recognition (Putting Veterans and Their Families First) Bill 2019


Background and history

In October 2018, at the conclusion of the Invictus Games in Sydney, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Government’s proposal to ‘develop an Australian Veterans’ Covenant that will be enacted in legislation so the nation can recognise the unique nature of military service and support veterans and their families’. Simultaneously, Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Darren Chester, informed the federal, state and territory Veterans’ Ministers Meeting that the proposed Covenant would include a veterans card and lapel pin ‘as a legacy of the Anzac Centenary period’.

Consequently, the Australian Veterans’ Recognition (Putting Veterans and their Families First) Bill 2019  (the first Bill) was introduced into the House of Representatives on 14 February 2019. There was broad support for the first Bill during the second reading debate in the House of Representatives.

The first Bill was immediately referred to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 22 March 2019. The Committee tabled its report into the first Bill on 22 March 2019 and recommended the Bill be passed without amendment.

The first Bill lapsed on 11 April 2019 with the dissolution of the 45th Parliament.

The Australian Veterans’ Recognition (Putting Veterans and Their Families First) Bill 2019 (the Bill) was introduced into the Senate on 4 July 2019 with provisions identical to the first Bill.

Purpose of the Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to enact the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant (the Covenant) into legislation and to acknowledge the uniqueness of military service and the support provided by veterans’ families. Part of this acknowledgement includes the issuing of pins, cards or other artefacts to veterans and family members of veterans under Part 3 of the Bill.

Committee consideration

The Committee inquiry report for the first Bill notes:

[P]eople who already hold Gold, White or Orange cards will be automatically provided with a new Veteran Card and Veteran Lapel Pin. Other veterans, eligible reservists and currently serving members will be able to request a Veteran Card.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) website states that under the Covenant, the new ‘Veteran card is available to anyone who has served in the Australian Defence Force with at least one day of continuous full-time service’. For the purpose of this Bill, a veteran is defined as ‘a person who has served, or is serving, as a member of the Permanent Forces or as a member of the Reserves’. Some stakeholder submissions to the Committee inquiry had varying views on this definition; from further broadening the definition to include non-military personnel such as police serving on peacekeeping missions to restricting its application depending ‘on the length or nature of their service’.

The Bill’s definition reflects agreement reached at the Veterans’ Ministers meeting in November 2017. The Joint Communiqué stated:

The Roundtable reached consensus on a common definition of veteran that is to be recognised by all jurisdictions. It was agreed that a veteran would be defined as ‘a person who is serving or has served in the ADF’. Ministers agreed use of the term veteran should not be limited by the definitions contained in existing legislation.

The Committee noted in its report that while this is ‘the first time the definition has appeared in legislation’, it was ‘satisfied that the definition in the [first] Bill does not alter eligibility for support under other legislation’.

The focus of the Covenant is different to that of the existing Australian Defence Force (ADF) Family Covenant, which was originally launched in May 2009. The ADF Family Covenant is a pledge to families of ADF members on behalf of the ADF that recognises the important role of families in supporting serving ADF members. The ADF Family Covenant is not enshrined in legislation.

The Committee inquiry into the first Bill received 20 submissions from interested parties, mostly ex-service organisations that broadly supported the Bill. A number of these organisations were involved in the consultation process leading to the development of the Bill.

Financial impact

The Explanatory Memorandum states that the financial impact for the Bill is $11.1 million over the forward estimates. The Additional Estimates hearing on 20 February 2019 clarified that the stated costs include newly issued Veteran Cards, and the replacement of existing health cards with Veteran Cards, the oath and pins.

DVA advised the Additional Estimates hearing in February 2019 that the $11.1 million budget is allocated to the ‘whole program’ over a four year roll-out period, including issuing of new cards during the current financial year, a global refresh (issuing of new Veteran Cards to replace existing health cards) in the next fiscal year, issuing pins and the oath, as well as administering the program.

Recognition

DVA Secretary, Liz Cosson, explained to the Committee inquiry the ‘veterans’ recognition package’ includes ‘an oath, a lapel pin, cards or other artefacts’ (clause 9 of the Bill). Ms Cosson also emphasised that the Bill ‘isn’t intended to give any benefits; it’s actually all about recognition’.

The DVA website states that existing DVA clients will receive the new Veteran Card to replace their current DVA health card, without change to existing entitlements and services. A digital version of the Veteran Card has been available from the MyService portal since 21 January 2019. In addition to veterans accessing health services via the Veteran Card, the card will also allow businesses to offer concessions to veterans. In April 2019, DVA reported that more than 70 businesses had registered and 47 had made specific offers to veterans.

Part 2 of the Bill contains clauses 5 to 8, provisions which seek to acknowledge the service of veterans and their families. Clause 5 is a general recognition provision, through which the Commonwealth acknowledges the unique nature of military service and the demands that it places on the families of veterans, and commits to supporting veterans, including through providing opportunities to participate in employment and education. Under clause 6, the Parliament endorses the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant, which is set out at Schedule 1 to the Bill.   

Clause 7 of the Bill sets out the Commonwealth’s commitment to decision-makers applying the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 (and instruments made under those Acts) in a way that benefits veterans or their families ‘where that interpretation is consistent with the purposes of that provision’. DVA’s submission to the Committee inquiry noted that clause 7 does not create ‘new statutory rights for veterans’ but ‘sets the tone for decision makers in determining eligibility and entitlements’. Clause 8 sets out the Commonwealth’s commitment to working cooperatively with veterans, their families and ex-service organisations to address issues facing veterans.

Clause 10 clarifies that Part 2 of the Bill does not create or give rise to enforceable rights or obligations and that a failure to comply with Part 2 does not affect the validity of any decision and is not a ground for review or challenge of a decision. The Explanatory Memorandum clarifies that Part 2 of the Bill ensures that the recognition provided to veterans and their families ‘does not broaden or create any new rights or obligations’.

The Bill is expected to pass without further inquiry or any amendments due to its non-controversial nature and is broadly considered a positive contribution to the ongoing acknowledgement of veterans’ issues. 

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