Commentary: Janet Albrechtsen on the Government’s confidential settlement in the Higgins Case and its comparative injustice to injured or disabled military veterans

15 Jan 2023

Read the full article here,

The following excerpts from that article are specific to her comparative injustice commentary.

The process followed by the government, and in particular the Department of Finance, to settle this claim was so outrageously out of line with what taxpayers were entitled to expect that this matter should not go away in 2023. 

Genuine integrity was meant to be a core KPI for this government. That flies in the face of what public servants did with the Higgins claim. And the best way to understand the secretive, unaccountable, unprofessional and ­apparently profligate use of taxpayer money in settling claims of workplace misconduct in parliament is to contrast it with the way other claimants on the public purse are treated.

Our injured or disabled military veterans, in particular, must look at the way the Higgins claim was finalised with disbelief at the comparative injustice of it all.

They are probably the most obvious category of deserving claimants who are entitled to feel outraged at the comparative injustice of their treatment. Former soldier, now senator, Jacqui Lambie, is the best known of those veterans who must ­compare their personal experience of seeking compensation to the Higgins experience and weep, but there are many people in her category.

The Department of Finance may be the fairy godmother, but veterans are stuck with the Department of Veteran Affairs.

In Lambie’s autobiography, Rebel with a Cause: You can’t keep a bloody Lambie down, she tells her own harrowing story of seeking compensation for the ­significant physical and mental ­injuries she suffered as a result of her service.

She wrote: “There is a saying in the veterans’ community that the method the DVA uses against veterans is conveyed in three simple words: delay, deny, die. Well, I had had a gutful of the first two, so now I only had the third left.”

Lambie was, and is, no outlier.

A 2019 Productivity Commission report – A Better Way to Support Veterans – describes numerous submissions to it concerning poor experiences of veterans with the DVA, including one veteran who wrote “nothing in the DVA process … is easy and the treatment of veterans at times applying for a claim is nothing short of contempt for their service of their country”.

The problems continue. In ­August 2022, the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide produced its interim report which said (among many other critical findings) the Australian government has known for years that the system requires fundamental reform”.

Adding insult to injury, veterans who are permanently impaired or die as a result of their service in the armed forces are paid paltry compensation sums.

No doubt Parliament House, and ministers’ offices, can be a stressful place to work. But can it really compare with the risks and dangers, pain and suffering that our military face?

Afghanistan or Canberra – which deserves the solicitude of taxpayers more?

Source: The Weekend Australian Newspaper 14-15 January 2023