Radio Interview - ABC AM

The Hon Matt Keogh MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel


SUBJECTS: Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide; Veterans’ Legislation Reform.

DAVID LIPSON, HOST: The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide found one of the things compounding trauma for returned servicemen and women was the complex system for seeking entitlements, compensation and rehabilitation, so much so that it could be a contributing factor to those who take their lives. This morning, the Government's releasing its long awaited exposure draft legislation aimed at simplifying and harmonising the century old system. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs is Matt Keogh. I spoke to him earlier. Matt Keogh, thanks for being with us. Just explain first why streamlining the veterans’ compensation system is so important.

MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MATT KEOGH: It's great to be with you. Look, the reality is that over 100 years, we've had three different schemes of veterans’ legislation grow organically over time. And it's meant that the system is very, very complex for veterans to understand, but also for the Department to process. It means veterans don't understand what they're entitled to and it really blows out the time that it takes them to get access to the services and supports that they need and deserve. And so the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, in its interim report, recommended that this set of three different types of schemes supporting veterans needs to be simplified and harmonised. And that's what we're getting about doing.

LIPSON: Right, so you're folding those three acts that deal with compensation for veterans into one, standardising all provisions. It looks to me like most veterans making claims will be better off, some much better off. Can you guarantee that no veteran will be worse off as a result of this? 

MINISTER KEOGH: What we're doing is grandparenting veterans that are already getting benefits under each of the three different schemes, so they'll continue to receive what they're already getting. So, no veteran will be worse off there, but it'll make sure that it's simpler for veterans to bring in new claims, because all new claims would be dealt with under one single piece of legislation, that's the 21st century MRCA, which veterans will be familiar with, which is the most up to date piece of legislation for veterans. We'll be making some enhancements to that as well, to make sure that we've got a simplified system, that it's more harmonised across the board. But veterans who are already getting entitlements are not going to be seeing any negative changes to their circumstance.

LIPSON: What about those in the future that are making claims? Because one of the scenarios in the information booklet shows a 62 year old who lodges a new claim for a service related shoulder injury would get $21,000 instead of $43,000 as a lump sum. 

MINISTER KEOGH: This is a really crucial enhancement that we're making here, because in that particular scenario that you outline, that veteran would never have been entitled to a gold card and that's been a real bugbear amongst the veteran community. And in fact, the Productivity Commission recommended to Government that we don't expand the eligibility for gold cards. But what we are doing is that that veteran, in that scenario you've identified, would also get access to a gold card, which means they'd be covered for all of their health conditions related to service or not. And that's a real benefit for veterans on an ongoing basis as well every year

LIPSON: There's also a greater funeral allowance, higher travel reimbursement for treatment, more ability for special assistance to be granted to veterans and their children. This is all really important stuff for veterans, but have you modelled how much more it'll cost the Government?

MINISTER KEOGH: Look, we have been working on what the cost will be and at this stage, this is an exposure draft of legislation. So, we understand that by moving more veterans into the MRCA, that will mean that there will be some costs to Government. But what’s important is we support our veteran community and they get access to the support and the entitlements that they need.

LIPSON: What is the cost, then?

MINISTER KEOGH:  Well, because we're still at the exposure draft stage, there may be changes that come to this legislation before we get to entering this into Parliament.

LIPSON: Can you give us a ballpark?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, I'm not giving a ballpark figure on this at this stage because it's an exposure draft and we want to make sure we get it right before we bring the actual legislation to Parliament. What's important is that we're able to consult with how this legislation works. So, for example, our proposal here will see the introduction into the MRCA of what's called an additional disablement amount, which is the equivalent, roughly, of something that exists in the Veterans’ Entitlements Act at the moment called the extreme disablement adjustment. That's something that veterans had some strong views on making sure was replicated in the new legislation. We've proposed that in what we've put forward in this exposure draft, an example of how people were very positive, but we've also listened to the feedback that we received.

LIPSON: The Department's also been working very hard to clear the backlog of claims. Just briefly, how close are you to doing that?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, essentially we're through that backlog, which means that now when someone puts in a claim, if you were to put in a claim right now, David, that claim would be with someone being reviewed within 14 days instead of having to wait. And that's a really important achievement that we've gotten to that point. Now, that doesn't mean that your claim is processed instantaneously. There's assessments that need to be made, medical reports that need to be reviewed, and of course, for many veterans, they've had to wait, in some cases hundreds of days to get to this point now where their claim is being assessed. But it's great now that we're effectively through that backlog, back to what's a business as usual scenario where you lodge a claim, someone's looking at it within two weeks.

LIPSON: Matt Keogh, thank you.

MINISTER KEOGH: It's great to be with you.

LIPSON: And Matt Keogh is the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.


Media contacts

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling provides 24/7 free confidential crisis support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families on 1800 011 046 or the Open Arms website. Safe Zone Support provides anonymous counselling on 1800 142 072. Defence All-Hours Support Line provides support for ADF personnel on 1800 628 036 or the Defence Health Portal. Defence Member and Family Helpline provides support for Defence families on 1800 624 608