29 Jan 2016

This Opinion article by Columnist Ross Eastgate was originally published in the Townsville Bulletin, 28 Jan 2016.

Ross Eastgate

NEVER ask a question to which you do not already know the answer.

Calls by some veteran groups, particularly the Australian Peacekeepers and Peacemakers Veterans Association (APPVA) for a royal commission into the Department of Veterans Affairs have not received universal support from the wider veteran community.

Specifically the Alliance of Defence Service Organisations (ADSO) and the RSL have rejected calls to support a petition proposing such a commission.

The issue was first raised in 2014 by then rookie Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie whose strident denunciation of all things hierarchical in the wider defence organisation echoed the hollowness of most PUP pronouncements.

Lambie has since deserted that sinking ship but has continued to make outrageous, exaggerated and mostly unsubstantiated threats and claims on a variety of defence matters.

APPVA and others supporting a royal commission into DVA have also made wild allegations of gross mismanagement, time delays, removal of treatment paths, adversarial practices and even corruption by DVA and its staff.

ADSO’s decision not to support a royal commission was based on the APPVA’s refusal to supply specific details substantiating such allegations – supposedly on legal advice – and its further failure to demonstrate it has analysed the issues in depth, articulated an objective, developed a structured strategy and analysed the implications of embarking on this action.

ADSO would also be mindful royal commissioners operate under strict terms of reference set by the appointing government, have wide coercive powers and operate within a set time frame.

As ADSO spokesman David Jamison said in a letter widely circulated throughout the defence community, royal commissions are not instigated lightly and often have wider, unintended consequences. Recent examples have clearly demonstrated that latter concern.
Any terms of reference could also look into counter-allegations that elements of the veteran community encourage false claims, coach veterans to present with conditions they do not have, and persistent, deliberate fraud.

Royal commissions into defence matters last century included Liverpool military camp during 1915, Navy and Defence Department administration (1917-1919) and assessment of war service disabilities (1924-25). Two royal commissions into the 1964 Melbourne-Voyager collision have still not produced satisfactory outcomes for all those involved.

ADSO’s opposition also relies on continuing existing consultative processes between ex-service organisations and DVA.

No doubt ADSO also fears unforseen outcomes from answers to questions no one has yet considered.

There are already concerns the government and more importantly its bureaucratic advisors would be happy to be rid of DVA as a separate body and have all its matters handled by CentreLink and Medicare.

Indeed, the appointment of a single minister to oversee both portfolios, although himself a veteran, is already signalling terrifying alarms among those with the experience and foresight to expect the worst when it comes to veterans’ entitlements and superannuation.

Strident, populist politics rarely succeed, no matter how well intentioned.

Obtaining appropriate outcomes for all those damaged by their military service will be best achieved by those prepared to argue in a united, calm and rational manner.