Labor condemns delays to veterans affairs reforms

Minister for Veterans' and Defence Personnel Darren Chester. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Minister for Veterans' and Defence Personnel Darren Chester. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The Morrison government is yet to respond to a major review of veterans affairs more than a year after it was handed down.

Saturday is the first anniversary of the Productivity Commission's landmark review of Australia's $13.2 billion veterans affairs system.

Among its main findings was the system needed to be reshaped to focus on prevention of injuries and illness, as well as rehabilitation and transition.

While the Productivity Commission retreated from its earlier recommendation for the department to be abolished entirely, it wants two of the three military compensation acts - the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act (MRCA) and Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation [Defence-related Claims] Act (DRCA) - to be harmonised, with the oldest scheme - the Veterans' Entitlements Act - to be phased down.

The commission also recommended there be a single pathway for all reviews, regardless of which scheme the veteran is claiming under, and called for the creation of a Veteran Services Commission to oversee the performance of the system.

Labor's veterans affairs spokesman Shayne Neumann said the delays had caused anxiety in the veteran community.

"This landmark report found the veteran support system needs fundamental reform and there needs to be a much bigger focus on mental health and suicide prevention, civilian transition and support for families," Mr Neumann said.

"However, it also included recommendations to abolish Gold Cards for veterans' dependents and outsource Department of Veterans' Affairs services to an independent commission, which has caused enormous concern among veterans and their families.

"I've called on the Minister for Veterans' Affairs Darren Chester to rule out these proposals, but he has failed to do so, which has only created further anxiety in the veteran community," he said.

NSW Labor's veterans affairs spokesman Greg Warren said tens of thousands of people had been left in limbo.

"There are around 85,000 DVA clients in NSW, including 3,800 in Eden-Monaro, which shows just how many people are impacted by decisions relating to Australian Defence Force personnel," Mr Warren said.

"Reports, inquiries, studies, investigations - they are all useless unless they are actually acted on and used to create positive change."

Labor's comments come as voters in Eden-Monaro head to the polls in Saturday's byelection.

Mr Chester's office said the government had been formulating its response to the report as part of the 2020-21 budget, which had been deferred to October 6 due to coronavirus.

"In this context, the Australian government continues to consider its response to Productivity Commission's report. Notwithstanding, the government continues to invest in veterans and their families through the most significant transformation of the Department of Veterans' Affairs in its 100-year history," his spokesman said.

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This story Labor condemns delays to veterans affairs reforms first appeared on The Canberra Times.