Here is a draft Hansard transcript of the Veterans Support Amendment Bill – First Reading. You will note that not one MP raised the question of pre-1974 deployments. So what are your MP’s doing? Obviously nothing – another interesting point is that they are sending this bill to the Social Services and Community Committee. There is some thought that it should have been sent to the Defence Select Committee as it is this area where VETERANS are born. Not in Social Services.
VETERANS’ SUPPORT AMENDMENT BILL
Hon RON MARK (Minister for Veterans): I move, That the Veterans’ Support Amendment Bill be now read a first time.
I nominate the Social Services and Community Committee to consider the bill. At the appropriate time, I will move that the bill be reported to the House by 12 June 2019 and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week when there has been a sitting of the House, and outside the Wellington area, despite Standing Orders 191, 193, and 194(1)(b) and (c).
The bill which has come before the House today is designed to put right a drafting error in section 9 of the Veterans’ Support Act 2014. It’s important to do this quickly so that New Zealand veterans can have certainty about their entitlements and so that the agency which administers entitlements for our veterans, Veterans’ Affairs, can continue to work to make sure that all eligible veterans will receive what they should be receiving.
Our veterans legislation changed in 2014. Until that date it was governed by an Act which first became law quite some time ago, indeed back in 1954 and it was known as the War Pensions Act. The 2014 legislation changed the criteria which determined whether a veteran who has served New Zealand can receive support and services and if they have been injured or made ill as a result of their service for their country. Those criteria now are a lot broader in range than they were in 1954. They cover a wider range of different threats, both operational and environmental. The old legislation only covered service in war or emergencies.
Section 9 of the Act authorises the responsible Minister to declare deployments that meet those specified criteria to be qualifying operational service. And this entitles veterans to services and support from Veterans Affairs. We know from the documents associated at the time with developing this legislation that the intention of the 2014 Act was that these declarations of qualifying operational service could be made at any time before, during, or after deployments, and that’s how it has been interpreted ever since the 2014 Act was passed.
As a result since 2015 a number of deployments which hadn’t met the previous criteria have been reassessed and this has been done to make sure that all who served in high-risk deployments were treated equally and consistently and appropriately. It has now become clear, however, that section 9 does not explicitly authorise the Minister to make retrospective declarations, that is to say declarations about deployments that have already ceased or those that started before the new Act came into force. This omission, a drafting error, needs to be put right.
A total of 14 retrospective declarations have been made since 2015. These cover multiple missions and geographical areas. They affect approximately 675 veterans and their spouses and family members, including families of service personnel who were killed in action. If action is not taken to put right the drafting error in the Act the entitlements to veterans that resulted from these 14 declarations could be in jeopardy. Until this error is fixed the work of veterans affairs to look again at previous deployments that may be eligible for a declaration has had to be put on hold.
Veterans affairs are currently reassessing 39 deployments in three geographical areas. This work could result in declarations that would extend entitlements to around 1,600 veterans. There are further deployments that are also due to be examined and these are also likely to create entitlements for more veterans who aren’t currently covered by legislation. The bill which is now before the House is designed to make legal the retrospective declarations which have already been made in good faith by the previous minister, the Hon Craig Foss, and myself. That will give the responsible—these amendments will give the responsible Minister authority to make such declarations in the future and this will ensure that all those who serve New Zealand in situations where they were put at risk of serious harm are treated equitably and appropriately given the risks they faced. Thank you.
Hon MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I rise to speak to the first reading of the Veterans’ Support Amendment Bill. National supports this bill. The Minister’s outlined the reasons why this needs to occur and an unintended drafting error from the passage of the Veterans’ Support Act 2014 is the culprit.
It is a fairly substantial piece of work and the Hon Craig Foss ushered in a number of changes that really modernised much of the way that veterans were treated and their entitlements.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: No he didn’t. I did.
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: Oh, woops.
Many people have had a hand in this important legislation, including the Hon Michael Woodhouse. If there’s anyone else that would like to claim—well, who had a good part in where the shaping of the 2014 bill arrived at, then, please, feel free to alert me to that.
Right. Moving on, then. So the legislation in 2014 did a lot of really good work, and it was thorough and comprehensive. It went through what the working day meant. It was as valid and relevant to the armed forces of today, as it was to the people who had deployments and need to have—I call them entitlements—what they need to continue on in civilian life. I think that there is a very strong spirit and intent to ensure that veterans should not have to wait or have to go through legal processes that might be time-consuming, that some of these retrospective ones may even tarnish the entitlements that the veterans have been taking.
This morning, I heard about Vietnam veterans, some of whom are—and it was quoted from one of the vets—too proud to go forward and ask for help. I think that tidying up this legislation is an important signal that there is nothing we won’t do to ensure it’s as straightforward as possible. The people who served our nation, who put their lives at risk in overseas combat deserve the help and support that this bill intended to do in 2014—and apart from the unintended drafting error, it pretty much did suit the purpose.
The other body of work that is continuing on at the moment, that the Minister alluded to, is really important for veterans. They need to know and understand the modern meaning of the word “veteran”—how it’s defined, what it means, and what it comes with. It is really important that that piece of work continues on; and until this piece of legislation is passed, it cannot.
So I can think of no better reason than to keep my call brief tonight, but to say that the view of the National Party and I, as the spokesperson for veterans, is that we are very fortunate to have the calibre of people that serve in our armed forces today. Modernising the armed forces is not without its challenges, but I think it has been done and they are in good heart. Devonport is in my electorate, I know that the navy people who take a huge pride—
Chris Penk: That’s right.
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: —not only in what they do now, but also in the past. Oh yes, and I acknowledge Chris Penk, who was in the navy, and was one of those who, I don’t think probably drank the five-finger tot of rum for morning tea, but it—and those days are now gone of course.
Hon Member: You never know.
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: Yeah, well, a dark horse, that’s true; but we won’t dwell there. I think it is a really important and significant thing to acknowledge our veterans, to say that they do extraordinary work. Also at a time of reflection following on from Anzac, with Normandy Beach, the arrival of, if you like, the main events and battles of World War II—my father fought and my husband’s father as well—it’s a time and an opportunity to reflect on the courage of people who were at Monte Cassino, who risked their lives on a daily basis. So it is in the spirit of that tradition, that we support this bill and we commend it to the House and wish it well on its safe passage.
Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): Mr Speaker, talofa lava. I would endorse the previous speaker, Maggie Barry. It’s not a night, really, where we should be endorsing the other side, given what happened today, but never mind. This is a very, very serious kaupapa, and that type of kōrero is something that we, on this side, would all endorse. Our veterans are so precious to this country. I have to say, Mr Speaker, I enjoyed your speech during the Anzac time too, I think it was very special in terms of this country
SPEAKER: Order! Order! It might be a good time to interrupt too. The member will resume his seat. So two things: one, he shouldn’t bring me into the debate; and two, this is a very narrow debate. I’ve been very slack with both the Minister and the first speaker from the Opposition, but this is an exceptionally narrow bill; and that’s what we’ll be debating from now on.
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Thank you, Mr Speaker. In terms of this bill: obviously, we’re fixing up, I suppose, a drafting error from back in 2014. We have to get this bill right so that we can give our veterans all the support that they’re due—yes, absolutely. So that’s what we’re doing in terms of this. In fact, we’ve got, I think it’s 675 veterans who could be missing out if we’re unable to rectify this.
So this is a technical error, I suppose, back in 2014. We didn’t envisage that we’d have the type of problems that we’ve got now—a total of 14 retrospective declarations have been made since 2015. Our veterans, as the Minister said, are waiting for this to be rectified, waiting for this to be corrected, and this is something that we can support the other side in, support the Minister in, and get on with the business. So happy to endorse this bill, which makes illegal the retrospective declarations which already had been made, and to give the Minister the authority to make such declarations in the future. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Kia ora.
SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki): Very prescient of you, Mr Speaker, but pleased that you’re right. I’m pleased to take a call on the Veterans’ Support Amendment Bill. I’m disappointed that the Minister’s not choosing to send it to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee—we’d have loved it—but actually respect the work that you’re leading on this. I thank the good grace, if I might say, Minister, acknowledging the important work that has been done in the past around the Veterans’ Support Act but, indeed, acknowledging that an error has been made. That’s an unfortunate reflection on Parliament but equally these things happen and, again, in good grace, we’re looking to move this bill forward.
As the Minister and other speakers have noted the error, in effect, is the ability of a Minister, first and foremost, to decide what is a deployment or not. It’s too narrow. Secondly, retrospectivity is, effectively, not present. My understanding is that Ministers, including the current Minister, have attempted to look at this, particularly previous deployments. So, obviously, as I said, this Act came into force in 2014 and there was an opportunity post-then to look back and to make a series of decisions on deployments. I can imagine the likes of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) to East Timor and the like, deciding what was and what was not an act of service. In doing so, advice—from what I can understand—has come forward to say, actually, well, in effect, the current Act as it’s worded stops retrospectivity but it is also too narrow. Obviously, what comes out of that is that members of our defence forces, those who have served—and I assume probably in some of the wider areas too, outside of the Defence Force—ultimately cannot get recognition in terms of the entitlements that they are entitled to. I’d been interested to know—it’ll probably have to come through the select committee—whether it affects medals and recognition as well. It probably doesn’t under Veterans Affairs; the Minister’s nodding that it doesn’t so that’s good to clear that up.
So, fundamentally, two factors at play here: retrospectivity and the scope of what defines a deployment on behalf of a particular person. So, obviously, this Act, very small as it is, looks to fix that; it looks to enable the Minister to legally and rightly look back and make changes as necessary. I’d expect if this is supported by the House—and the feeling at the moment, of course, is that it is; this the side of the House supports it—that it will get to select committee. I don’t anticipate—again, not my select committee—a lot of issues being raised. From my own engagement with veterans they seem, well, they would be relatively happy. I mean, fundamentally, this is going to provide more entitlements for those who have rightly served the Realm. Again, I think it’s unfortunate that we’ve ended up with this situation. These things are not ideal but I think it behoves the House to act appropriately.
So on the last point that I’d make, I think the Minister has indicated at the start of his speech that this will be a sped-up or a truncated process. I have certainly railed Ministers in the House many a time against that; in fact, I’ve railed in this House against retrospective legislation. But as all great philosophers know—and I’m certainly not one of them so I’m going to be taking from others—that the exception sometimes can prove the rule, and I think this is one of the occasions that if there is accord across the House on the nature of what’s being done, which is very clear, very transparent, and, thirdly, in the service of those who serve the Realm, then that is a positive step forward. So I’ll leave it there as a courtesy for the next person who wishes to get ready to make a stand, but Minister, thank you, we look forward to progressing it through the House.
PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour): Talofa lava. It is with great pleasure—
Hon Member: For Samoan Language Week.
PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN: That’s right, for Samoan Language Week and happy Samoan Language Week. It’s with great pleasure, actually, that I rise to take what I suspect will be a very brief call on the Veterans’ Support Amendment Bill this evening because, actually, in terms of content this sits across both select committees that I sit on—of course, the Social Services and Community Committee that I suspect will be looking at this bill in more detail but also the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee that deals with other issues related to veterans’ affairs. This is, as previous members have said, a very technical bill that aims to correct a drafting error in section 9 of the Veterans Support Act 2014.
Here are the video streams which can also be accessed HERE