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Legal services

The Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) provides a range of legal and assurance services to the Minister, the Repatriation Commission, the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (MRCC) and other areas of the Veterans' Affairs portfolio.

Legislation program

During 2017–18, the Minister's legislation program included a number of important veteran-centric reform measures enacted via amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 and other portfolio legislation. Significantly, these included:

This Act created the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 (DRCA). The DRCA is a re-enacted version of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRCA), modified to apply only to members of the Australian Defence Force and their dependants. The Act received Royal Assent on 14 September 2017 and commenced on 12 October 2017.

This Act, introduced in the previous financial year, implemented several small but necessary amendments to veterans' affairs legislation to clarify, improve or streamline the operation of the law. The Act received Royal Assent on 30 November 2017.

This reform Act established the legislative framework for a number of new initiatives, including the family support payment, the veteran payment, the Coordinated Veterans' Care (CVC) Mental Health Pilot, and the provision of household and attendant care services for veterans with catastrophic injuries or disease. The Act received Royal Assent on 28 March 2018.

This second reform Act laid the legislative groundwork for further veteran-centric measures, including the Veteran Suicide Prevention pilot; an extension of eligibility for the Long Tan Bursary Scheme to include grandchildren of a veteran with operational service in Vietnam; and a measure to provide former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with incapacity payments at 100 per cent of their normal weekly earnings where they are studying full time as part of their approved rehabilitation plan. It received Royal Assent on 28 June 2018.

The Minister's legislation program for 2017–18 also included the following regulations made by the Federal Executive Council:

  • Veterans' Entitlements Amendment (Travel Expenses) Regulations 2017
  • Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation (Defence Force) Consequential Amendment Regulations 2018

In addition, a number of important veteran-centric reform measures were implemented by legislative instrument. These included the following instruments made by the Repatriation Commission or the MRCC:

  • Veterans' Entitlements (Provisional Access to Medical Treatment) Determination 2017
  • Military Rehabilitation and Compensation (Accelerated Access to Rehabilitation) Determination 2017
  • Military Rehabilitation and Compensation (Family Support) Instrument 2018
  • Veterans' Entitlements (Veteran Payment) Instrument 2018
  • Veterans' Entitlements (Expanded Access to Non-Liability Health Care for Mental Health Treatment) Determination 2018.

To assist with the legislative reform agenda, DVA hosted two legislation workshops during the year. The legislation workshops provide a mechanism for the Department to consult, discuss and prioritise future legislation with ex-service organisations and stakeholders with the aim of better understanding their priorities and the issues of concern in developing veteran legislation.

The first workshop, held on 9 November 2017, focused on the successful transition of veterans into civilian life and better promoting the full range of services to encourage the wellbeing of veterans. The second workshop, held on 7 March 2018, was designed to build on, refine and identify specific legislative reform proposals based on the key themes and issues that emerged from the first workshop.

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Legal services expenditure

The following information about legal services expenditure is required to be published under paragraph 11.1(ba) of the Legal Services Directions 2017 issued by the Attorney-General under section 55ZF of the Judiciary Act 1903.

In 2017–18, DVA spent a total of $13.26 million on legal services, compared to $10.27 million in 2016–17. Expenditure included external and internal legal services.

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External legal services

In 2017–18, DVA spent $9.44 million on external legal services, compared to $7.24 million in 2016–17. Included were disbursements and the engagement of counsel who advised on litigation, procurement, contracting and management issues.

In accordance with Guidance note 8 to the Legal Services Directions, Table 7 shows expenditure on total external legal services and details the number of male and female counsel briefed and the value of this work in 2017–18.

Table 7: External legal services expenditure (GST exclusive) and number of male and female counsel briefed 2017–18
Type Value ($m)
  1. Costs incurred for goods and services that are not counsel or professional fees (e.g. filing fees, costs for expert witnesses and costs of administrative tasks such as photocopying).
Solicitors   7.820
Counsel Female (27) 0.172
  Male (45) 0.315
  Total (72) 0.487
Other disbursements1   1.131
Total   9.438

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Internal legal services

DVA provides internal legal services in areas such as:

  • legislation administered by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs
  • management of the Minister's legislation program
  • drafting of legislative instruments and related documentation
  • legal advice on DVA's portfolio legislation
  • the conduct of all non-military compensation litigation at superior courts for matters involving claims under the VEA.

The VRB also has internal staff who provide services of a legal nature.

In 2017–18, the total direct salary and overhead cost for DVA internal legal services was $3.82 million, compared to $3.03 million in 2016–17.

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