Posted on 06 Mar 2017
Leading military lawyers have slammed a new Bill that could allow the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) to disregard former High Court appeal rulings on veterans’ compensation.
The Federal Government has introduced the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment (Defence Force) Bill (DRCA), giving the DVA sole authority in deciding veteran compensation, which will ultimately lead to restrictions in avenues of appeal.
The Bill has the potential to drastically reduce the level of compensation received by veterans and ex-service personnel.
Slater and Gordon National Military Compensation Lawyer Brian Briggs said the Bill could provide leeway for the DVA to ignore High Court rulings handed down under the existing Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRCA), given that it is a new piece of legislation.
SRCA deals with all Commonwealth employees, including military compensation cases for injuries suffered before 2004 – some of which included DVA decisions that were eventually overruled by the High Court.
Mr Briggs said the Bill awarded the DVA the power to amend or revoke legislation as well as the Comcare guide, which is used to assess compensation under SRCA. As a result, he said the government department could ignore previously overturned appeal decisions.
He said this could be detrimental to veterans and ex-service personnel who relied on this crucial support after putting their lives on the line while protecting our country.
“The threat posed by the DRCA is that these authoritative rulings may no longer apply, especially if the existing SRCA guidelines and policy advices are repealed, amended or revoked,” Mr Briggs said. “DVA has previously attempted to circumvent the rulings of the courts through policy, which has failed given the authoritative nature of these decisions.
“Under DRCA they could simply not adhere to these rulings arguing that SRCA is no longer current legislation.”
Mr Briggs said he believed the DVA often considered veterans and ex-service personnel as numbers and would jump at any opportunity to cut or remove compensation that was rightfully owed.
He said the proposed new legislation would increase the red tape required for veterans when compared to the process involved for other Commonwealth employees who will still be governed by SRCA.
“The Bill opens a pathway to schemes where a veteran will face a longer and more onerous process of proving liability and will ultimately receive less compensation than a Commonwealth public servant with the exact same injuries,” Mr Briggs said.
He said he was also concerned at how quickly the Government has tried to get the Bill through the Parliament, suggesting it was trying to get the legislation through “under the radar”.
The Bill has passed the House of Representatives and is about to be discussed in the Senate following a short two-week public submission period.