Veterans - Submarine special operations to be accredited as warlike service

Budget Review 2010-11 Index

Budget 2010–11: Veterans

Submarine special operations to be accredited as warlike service

Peter Yeend


The Government announced in the 2010–11 Budget that it will accredit submarine special operations conducted in the period 1978 to 1992 as warlike service.[1] Accreditation as warlike service will provide Australian military personnel involved in such service with access to the Service Pension from age 60 and also access to a Gold Card from the age of 70 years.

Special submarine service – examined by the Clarke Review

The Report of the Review of Veterans’ Entitlements (the Clarke Review) examined submarine special service operations to assess whether they constituted warlike service.[2] In the late 1970s to the early 1990s, some Royal Australian Navy (RAN) submarines, filled with special intelligence equipment, were regularly deployed in areas to the north and west of Australia. Submissions to the Clarke Review claimed that the special operations were conducted in an environment in which overwhelming force could have been expected if the submarine had been detected. The Clarke Review commented that the operations were covert and thus it was unable to elaborate further on the nature of the tasks performed in its report. The Clarke Review found that due to the classified nature of the operations, the assessment of the service and whether it met the warlike definition could only be made by the Department of Defence. The Review reported that it had deliberated extensively about the nature of the operations with the authors of submissions and senior Defence officials and concluded that there was no evidence to substantiate a description of the special operation service as warlike. As a result, the Review recommended that the service be classified as non-warlike service.[3]

Peacetime service as warlike service

In addition to the submissions regarding submarine special operations to the north and west of Australia covered by this budget initiative, the Clarke Review received 44 submissions to have various forms of peacetime military service accredited as either ‘warlike’ or ‘non-warlike hazardous service’ under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA).[4] These claims included personnel involved in covert intelligence gathering or covert signals and also major peacetime accidents like the Black Hawke helicopter crash of 1996. Generally, the Clarke Review did not recommend that peacetime service should be accredited as warlike service under the VEA. The exception to this was the accreditation of some peacetime mine clearing and bomb disposal work post World War Two (WWII) in the South Pacific and this was given effect with the Veterans' Entitlements (Clarke Review) Act 2004.[5]

While accreditation as warlike service for mine and bomb clearance work does show that some peacetime service has been recognised as warlike service for the VEA, it is exceptional. Generally, governments have not wanted to have peacetime service recognised as war or warlike service in the VEA, as it would then diminish the special recognition given to the special service provided for in the VEA. This view was emphasised in Prime Minister John Howard’s media release when announcing the Government’s responses to the Clarke Review recommendations:

The Government will continue to provide special recognition and comprehensive assistance to those who have served Australia in times of war, at personal risk of injury or death from an armed enemy.

In keeping with this approach, we have accepted the Clarke Report’s recommendation that there be no change in the incurred danger test for Qualifying Service. However, we reject the view that this test has been interpreted too narrowly.[6]

Governments have considered that illness/injuries/death incurred by Defence Force staff during peacetime activities should be covered by workers’ compensation arrangements, as applies to public servants generally.

A precedent for other claims?

War, and warlike service, involves action against an armed hostile enemy force in a time of conflict. Section 7A of the VEA describes qualifying service.[7] It essentially refers to risk and dangers incurred while a service person was engaged in service during a period of hostilities from an armed enemy force.

The proponents of the submarine special service insist that, had they been detected, they were at great and overwhelming risk and danger. However, the detail of the special submarine service has not been made public due to the apparently ‘top secret’ nature of its operations. Nor has there been any publicity relating to its operations, such as might be expected if it had engaged in any conflict with, or discovered any covert operations by, other forces or nations. Therefore, the Government’s decision implies acceptance that the risks the operations ran should be given the same recognition as warlike service. This is even though the submarine operations were not during a period of hostilities against an armed enemy force, hitherto a requirement for the classification of war and warlike service. This budget initiative might therefore set a precedent for the accreditation of other claims relating to dangerous peacetime military service.[8]

[1].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2010–11, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010, pp. 301–2, viewed 16 May 2010,

[2].    Department of Veterans Affairs, Report of the Review of Veterans’ Entitlements, (the Clarke Review), 2003, pp. 342–54, viewed 15 May 2010,

[3].    Ibid.

[4].    Ibid., p. 342.

[5].    P Yeend, Veterans’ Entitlements (Clarke Review) Bill 2004, Bills digest, no. 134, 2003–04, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2004, viewed 15 May 2010,

[6].    J Howard (Prime Minister), Additional benefits for veteran –  government response to the Clarke Report, media release, Canberra, 2 March 2004, viewed 15 May 2010, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;db=;group=;holdingType=;id=;orderBy=customrank;page=0;query=AuthorSpeakerReporter%3Ahoward%20Content%3Aclarke%20Date%3A01%2F03%2F2004%20%3E%3E%2001%2F04%2F2004%20Dataset%3Apressrel;querytype=;rec=1;resCount=Default

[7].    7A Qualifying service

(1) For the purposes of Parts III and VA and sections 85 and 118V, a person has rendered qualifying service:
(a) if the person has, as a member of the Defence Force:
(i) rendered service, during a period of hostilities specified in paragraph (a) or (b) of the definition of period of hostilities in subsection 5B(1), at sea, in the field or in the air in naval, military or aerial operations against the enemy in an area, or on an aircraft or ship of war, at a time when the person incurred danger from hostile forces of the enemy in that area or on that aircraft or ship.

[8].    The Clarke Review, op. cit., pp. 342–54.