31 May 2010

Defence Force remote locality leave travel entitlement review clarified

During this mornings Australian Senate Budget Estimates, Defence Minister Senator John Faulkner (ALP - NSW) discussed the scope of the review of the Remote Locality Leave Entitlement. This review will not be examining or proposing any changes to the District Allowance, nor any changes to the entitlement to additional annual leave days.

"The Government recognises the sacrifices made by ADF members when they are posted away from family and friends to distant locations across Australian like Darwin and Townsville without the facilities of a city like Sydney or Melbourne," said Faulkner in a press release this afternoon.

There are three components of the package of benefits provided to members posted to a remote location:
  1. the ADF District Allowance, which is an annual allowance paid to compensate members for living in a remote area;
  2. additional annual leave days; and
  3. a Remote Locality Leave Travel entitlement, which provides economy class travel to the nearest state capital that ADF members can use to visit family and friends or to access services unavailable in their remote location
Defence is only looking at the third component – remote locality leave benefit – and the objective will be to ensure that it meets the needs of our servicemen and women.

“The review will examine options to increase the flexibility of the current scheme. There will be no changes to the scheme that will adversely impact servicemen and women in remote locations,” said Faulkner.

A transcript of today's hearing can be viewed here.

Earlier this month The Daily Telegraph's Ian McPhedran wrote this article concerning the review.

30 May 2010

This week in Congress (31 May 2010)

The following legislative activities, which affect U.S. servicemembers and veterans or concern military justice issues, are occurring this week in the U.S. Congress:

Monday, 31 May 2010 - MEMORIAL DAY!

Congress is in recess until the week of 7 June 2010 - this week is considered a District Work week for Members of Congress.

___________________

For this week in military justice go to CAAFlog here.

Commission of Inquiry of HMAS Success to continue tomorrow

A public hearing of the HMAS Success Commission of Inquiry will continue tomorrow (Tuesday, 1 June 2010), 1000 hours AEST at Defence Plaza, Level 11, 270 Pitt Street in Sydney.

The Commission of Inquiry is examining alleged incidents of unacceptable behaviour of the crew on board the HMAS Success, that were brought to the attention of the commanding officer between March and May 2009. Issues associated with the subsequent management of such allegations and the personnel allegedly involved will also be examined.

I have previously discussed this topic here, here, here, and here. I will be in attendance at tomorrow's public hearing to cover it for the blog.

The Australian Defence Force previously made available to the public the instrument of appointment in the Commission of Inquiry into the HMAS Success. The seven page ADF document, dated 9 March 2010, can be found here.

A webpage has been setup by the Senate committee titled "Inquiry into an equity and diversity health check in the Royal Australian Navy - HMAS Success" which can be found here. The terms of reference for the Senate inquiry can be found here.

This week in Parliament, Courts and Tribunals (31 May 2010)

The following legislative activities, which affect Australian servicemembers, veterans or concern military justice issues, relate to freedom of information or national security, are occurring this week in the Parliament of Australia:

Monday 31 May 2010

The full House of Representatives will be debating Superannuation legislation at 1400 hours. (Item 10 on Daily Program.)

Budget Estimates on Defence continue in the Senate this week. To view the live webcast go here.

High Court of Australia

The High Court next sits in Canberra on 15 June 2010.

Federal Court of Australia (Full Court)

No cases involving the subject matter of this blog are being heard by the Full Court this week.

Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal

The Tribunal currently has no scheduled sittings for 2010.

Veterans' Review Board


For a full list of this week's cases in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney go here.

28 May 2010

Recap of House debate on Aussie Military Superannuation Pension

Earlier this week whilst I was attending the RSL (NSW) administration seminar and the Annual State Congress in Rooty Hill, the Australian House of Representatives debated the Military Superannuation Pension. (Fortunately this morning an RSL mate reminded me of this and had emailed the transcript of Monday's House debate. h/t Wally) The transcript can be found in a proof issue of the Hansard here (debate starts on page 147).

The issues debated were (1) should the Government consider increasing the Military Superannuation Pension twice annually by the greatest of either the Consumer Price Index, the Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index ("P&BLCI") or the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings ("MTAWE"); and (2) should the Government do this in recognition of the unique circumstances of military service compared to all others within the public service.

After perusing the transcript and reviewing other pertinent documents here's my take on the issue:

Currently the military superannuation is indexed by the Consumer Price Index, or CPI. Robert Oakeshott MP (Independent-Lyne, NSW) started the debate by arguing that the CPI is not a good indicator for cost-of-living measures and for purchasing power. I agree with Mr Oakeshott.

Chris Hayes MP (ALP - Werriwa, NSW) then chimed in citing the December 2008 Matthews Report (written by Trevor Matthews), which can be found here. Mr Hayes noted that Mr Oakeshott's motion essentially seeks that the military superannuation pension be increased in the same way of the age pension (yes, I agree it does). With that said, Mr Hayes then proceed to tell his colleagues that the Matthews Report did not consider it unfair that civil and military pensions be indexed on a different bases to the age and service related pensions. He further argues that the current package is highly competitive and attractive and concedes that there will be members of the veterans community in Australia (and yes, I'm one of those veterans) who do not agree with the Matthews Report and its recommendations.

Noting that the matter of military superannuation indexation is the single biggest issue affecting veterans and the most important, Bob Baldwin MP (Liberal - Patterson, NSW) proceeded to lambaste the Rudd Government for broken election promises, noting the Labor party's 2007 federal election promise was "to restore the value of compensation and prevent further erosion due to unfair indexation." (Good-on-ya Mr Baldwin, but I regress) In concluding his remarks, Mr Baldwin stated that he is committed to introducing a fair, equitable, financially responsible military superannuation system though he was less on specifics. (Smells like an election is coming up. I would have preferred Mr Baldwin to give specifics instead of innuendo.)

Next up, Shayne Neumann MP (ALP - Blair, QLD): Mr Neumann noted a heavy military and veterans presence in his home district of Blair. He agreed with the Matthews Report finding (again I don't) and stated that the Rudd Government acted "on the basis that the most appropriate purpose of the indexing an occupational superannuation pension is to protect purchasing power of those pensions from the effects of price inflation. And that is what happens overseas. . . We followed the independent advice of Mr Matthews, which was the appropriate thing in the circumstances to do." Mr Neumann also spoke a little bit about the 2007 Prodger review, which the Government originally didn't want to disclose to the public under the Howard Government but that Rudd Government has made it public and is now considering it.

Last but not least Stuart Robert MP (Liberal - Fadden, VIC), who is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Royal Military College Duntroon. Mr Robert spent 12 years as officer in the Australian Army. He noted that when the government released the Matthews report, which recommended that the indexation arrangements stay the same, the government grasped that and did nothing. Mr Robert noted that Minster of Veterans Affairs Alan Griffin stated that the government should clarify the military superannuation situation immediately, as the morale of current members is being seriously affected. . . Well the government has clarified it. It has said that this compact is not well regarded and that they will do nothing.

Sarcastically, Mr Robert said "the Labor side made comments to say that they would index the pension 25 per cent MTAWE. I am even led to believe that Mr Rudd, the Prime Minister, may have made such comments. If so, this is one more broken promise in the conga line of broken promises that so typifies this government. "

My thoughts are simple: The debate lacked specifics and Deputy Speaker Anna Burke MP (ALP - Chisholm, VIC) didn't afford enough time for serious and thoughtful debate - each member who spoke on the motion was afforded only five minutes and no rebuttal time. Disappointingly, no MP could say that either the CPI, P&BCLI or MATWE were the appropriate indexation together with precise arguments and as such I must say I'm disappointed with our elected officials. (Mr Robert sorta hinted the MATWE would be most appropriate but didn't exactly say that.)

SIGN SENATOR STEVE FIELDING'S PETITION FOR FAIR-GO FOR VETERANS

Senator Fielding has a petition on his website for a fair-go for veterans. Go here to sign the petition.

Personally, I support MATWE indexation for the military superannuation pension and think it is just, equitable and proper. The MATWE certainly stands out to be the more accurate indexation than that of the CPI or P&BCLI.

Full House and Senate Armed Services Committee pass repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; but opposition in full Senate expected

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed, 229 - 186, the National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 5136, which contained a provision to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell - a Clinton-era enacted policy which banned open gays from serving in America's armed forces.

In a press release issued this evening Army veteran and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ("SLDN") Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said “with today’s successful final passage vote on the defense budget bill, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ continues to move forward. We now look to the full senate to pass DADT repeal by mid-summer and bring the defense bill to the President’s desk by October 1."

"While the votes in the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee are historic, it is important for all gay and lesbian, active-duty service members, including those in the reserves and the national guard, to know they’re at risk. They must continue to serve in silence under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that remains on the books. Congress and the Pentagon need to stay on track to get repeal finalized, hopefully no later than first quarter 2011. We thank House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Patrick Murphy for their leadership and working to make sure we had a solid vote in the face of tough opposition," said Sarvis.

Yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a repeal to Don't Ask, Don't Tell and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) was quick to issue a press release indicating that he "deeply regret[s] that the Senate Armed Services Committee voted today to pass the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ amendment."

"This vote short circuits the ongoing Pentagon review of the policy and thereby denies our men and women in uniform a chance to have their voices heard on an important issue that affects them and their service. That is why all four Service Chiefs opposed legislative action at this time. The vote today is a de facto repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law, and I am concerned that the men and women of our military will view this preemptive political action as a deep sign of disrespect and unwillingness to consider their views,” said McCain.

I have previously discussed the Pentagon's review of DADT here and here.

NOT SO FAST - MURPHY AMENDMENT

Prior to today's passage, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.) offered an amendment to the repeal of DADT which passed by 234-194 on Thursday. The Murphy amendment dismantles the current DADT policy only after the Pentagon completes its review process and after Department of Defense leaders certify that repeal would not harm national security or military readiness.

H.AMDT 672 (aka: the Murphy Amendment) provides: "An amendment numbered 79 printed in House Report 111-498 to repeal Dont Ask Dont Tell only after: (1) receipt of the recommendations of the Pentagon's Comprehensive Review Working Group on how to implement a repeal of DADT (due December 1, 2010) and (2) a certification by the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and President that repeal is first, consistent with military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion & recruiting, and second, that the DoD has prepared the necessary policies and regulations to implement its repeal. It would also include a 60 day period after certification before the repeal took effect."

SLDN CAUTIONS NOT TO COME OUT YET

SLDN issued this warning to servicemembers indicating that DADT is still in effect and not to come out. Highlights of SLDN's statement are:
  • Do NOT come out.
  • "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" remains the law until this process is complete.
  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members are still being discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and they will continue to be discharged until this process is complete.
  • Continue to check with SLDN to learn about how the latest political developments will impact your ability to serve openly.
On Thursday American Forces Press Service reported here that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen is comfortable with impending repeal votes expected in the House and Senate.

The full Senate is due to take up the House passed H.R. 5136 next month where there is expected to be significant opposition by conservative lawmakers.

Defence Indigenous Development Program

Today Minster for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel Alan Griffin announced that the launch of the Defence Indigenous Development Program - Navy and the Defence Reconciliation Action Plan 2010 - 2014 during a ceremony today at HMAS Cairns.

The Defence Reconciliation Action Plan 2010-14 can be found here.

Mr Griffin said, “The Defence Indigenous Development Program - Navy is an important initiative that will prepare young Indigenous adults from Far North Queensland with literacy and numeracy training, life skills and the confidence to embark on a career in the Royal Australian Navy."

Senator Jan McLucas (QLD - ALP) said, “Thirty-four participants, aged between 17 and 25, have today completed a 10-week preparation course at the Djarrugun College Wilderness Centre in Gordonvale. The course was designed to help them achieve at least a ‘C’ grade pass in English, mathematics and science – mandatory requirements for entry into the Australian Defence Force."

“They will now start the next phase of the program – a five-month live-in course – which will include a navy ‘boot camp’ and induction training, a voyage in STS Young Endeavour from Townsville to Cairns, a sea ride onboard a naval warship from Sydney to Townsville, and attendance at the Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE to train in boat handling, first aid, Bronze Medallion (lifesaving) and teamwork,” she said.

27 May 2010

New Australian military court announced

Earlier this week Attorney General Robert McClelland and Minister for Defence Senator John Faulkner (NSW-ALP) announced a new military court under Chapter III of the Australian Constitution.

Last year, in Lane v. Morrison, the High Court struck down the Australian Military Court, or AMC, as unconstitutional. I have previously discussed the Lane case and the AMC here, here and here.

"Judicial officers appointed to the new Military Court of Australia will have the same independence and constitutional protections that apply in other federal courts,' said McClelland.

Faulkner said that "this new specialist court will deliver a system of military justice for ADF members that combines the necessary independence and constitutional protections for the judiciary, with an understanding of the vital importance of military discipline in the operations of our armed forces."

“Timely and fair trials in the new court will enhance military justice and promote discipline in the ADF, which in turn will contribute to improved morale and operational effectiveness. . . After last year’s High Court ruling that the Australian Military Court (AMC) established by the former government was unconstitutional, I announced that the Government would move quickly to put interim arrangements in place to ensure continuation of the military justice system, and that we would move to a Chapter III resolution for the military justice system,” Faulkner said.

The new AMC will form part of a restructured federal court system in which the Federal Magistrates Court will continue to hear general federal law matters. Existing Judges of the Federal Court and Federal Magistrates Courts with the requisite background may be offered dual commissions to the new military court.

“Under the new arrangements, a lower tier of the Family Court will be established and commissions offered to Federal Magistrates who undertake mainly family law work,” said McClelland.

The new structure is supposed to achieve a more integrated and efficient system in order to effectively deliver legal and justice services to both the civilian and defence community.

The Government has indicated that it will continue its consultations with the courts and the Law Council of Australia in finalising the restructure process.

It is anticipated that legislation to establish the new Military Court will be introduced this year, with a view to the new court commencing operation in late 2011. (When this occurs Nick, Sean and I will give our thoughts and analysis on the legislation.)

Here are the facts:

1. The Military Court of Australia will be established as a separate Court in accordance with Chapter III of the Constitution, which gives the Commonwealth Parliament power to create federal courts and set out the extent of their jurisdiction.

2. The new Court will have jurisdiction to try serious service offences.
  • Less serious offences, which comprise the vast majority of service offences, will continue to be heard by summary authorities at unit level.
3. Any Australian Defence Force member who is charged with a service offence, even at summary level, may elect to have the matter heard in the Military Court of Australia.

4. It will hear most matters in Australia (regardless of where they are committed) and will also be capable of deploying where necessary.
  • Where the Military Court of Australia determines that it would be inappropriate or impossible for the Court to deploy, Defence will arrange for the matter to be tried overseas by a court martial or Defence Force magistrate.
5. The Military Court of Australia will be administered by the Federal Court and will consist of separate upper and lower Divisions, comprising judicial officers at the level of Federal Court judge and Federal Magistrate respectively.
  • The upper Division of the Military Court of Australia will try very serious service offences (which will be defined in the Military Court of Australia Regulations), and hear appeals from decisions of the Military Court of Australia in the first instance and appeals from a decision of a Defence Force magistrate or court martial deployed overseas.
  • The lower Division of the Military Court of Australia will try serious service offences (as opposed to “very serious service offences”) and matters where an accused has made an up-front election or which have been referred by a summary authority.
6. Service offences will be tried by the Military Court of Australia other than on indictment, and therefore without a jury. Judicial officers of the Court will be required to have service experience or familiarity with the services, in addition to the usual criteria for appointment to a federal court.
  • They will be independent of the military chain of command.
  • They cannot be ADF permanent or reserve members.
7. Judicial officers of the Court may hold dual commissions with the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court, or be appointed only to the Military Court.

26 May 2010

Servicemembers reimbursement bill introduced in House for costs of hiring a civilian attorney

[Updated 30 May 2010 with correct links.]

Yesterday Rep. Kay Granger (R - Texas) introduced the Service Members Legal Relief Act, H.R. 5374, which is a bill "to provide for reimbursement of attorney fees incurred by a member of the Armed Forces who retains private counsel in response to certain charges brought against the member under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and is acquitted or has the charges dismissed or withdrawn." The bill, as of this evening, has thirty co-sponsors -- all Republican -- which are listed here on Thomas.

In introducing H.R. 5374, Rep. Granger, said that "soldiers who seek the best defense available and are subsequently acquitted, or the charges dropped, in cases relating to the handling of terrorists. Our warfighters face great personal risk every day on the front lines in the global war on terror. They are right to defend themselves in court against egregious claims from known terrorists."

"We need these men on the front lines to continue battling those who are actively trying to kill Americans at home and abroad. If a court finds that they have done nothing wrong and have simply executed their mission, we should repay their legal fees and get them back into action as quickly as possible. That’s exactly what my legislation does," said Rep. Granger. You can read Rep. Granger's floor remarks here.

The bill has been referred to the House Armed Services Committee and will most likely be referred to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. It will be interesting to see a Congressional Budget Office estimate on this bill. The bill is retroactive and if passed would cover the civilian attorney fees of the recently acquitted Navy SEALs.

24 May 2010

Off to RSL Congress . . .

Well this week Nick and I are off to the 94th Annual State Congress of the Returned & Services League of Australia (New South Wales Branch) at Rooty Hill. I'm representing North Bondi RSL as the Delegate and Nick is the Alternate Delegate.

I must confess I'm a bit frustrated. A fellow delegate and I designed a blog in order to post from Congress so that the 50,.000-plus members of the RSL NSW Branch could stay informed in real time - but it seems the powers-that-be don't like the idea. So I'm off to a retro 1960/70s week. (I was born in the early 70s and do like the music from that era.)

Whilst I enjoy the RSL and the mateship it provides as well as believe in the core values and principles of the RSL, at times I find it somewhat maddening because it seems we are stuck in a time-warp from the last century. Anyone have any ideas how we can get out of the time-warp?

This week in Congress (24 May 2010)

The following legislative activities, which affect U.S. servicemembers and veterans or concern military justice issues, are occurring this week in the U.S. Congress:

This week the full House of Representatives is most likely going to debate and vote on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell Clinton-era policy (most likely the vote will take place on Tuesday or Wednesday).

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee markups on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, 0900 - 1700 (most are closed hearings), room 222 Russell Senate Office Buidling.


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Roundtable on Veterans Employment, 1000 hours, room 345 Cannon House Office Building. To view the live webcast go here.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Health, Legislative Hearing on H.R. 4062, H.R. 4505, Draft Legislation on Outreach, and Pending Legislation, 1000 hours, room 334 Cannon House Office Building, To view the live webcast go here.

___________________

For this week in military justice go to CAAFlog here.

23 May 2010

This week in Parliament, Courts and Tribunals (24 May 2010)

The following legislative activities, which affect Australian servicemembers, veterans or concern military justice issues, relate to freedom of information or national security, are occurring this week in the Parliament of Australia:


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

House Petitions Committee, Inquiry into the work of the Petitions Committee, 1015 - 1145 hours, Canberra. Terms of Reference can be found here. Submissions can be found here.

High Court of Australia

The High Court hears special leave applications this week in Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth but none of these applications involve subject matters of this blog.

Federal Court of Australia (Full Court)

No cases involving the subject matter of this blog are being heard by the Full Court this week.

Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal

The Tribunal currently has no scheduled sittings for 2010.

Veterans' Review Board


For a full list of this week's cases in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney go here.

21 May 2010

Bienstein Freedom of Information appeal dismissed by Federal Court

Yesterday the full Federal Court of Australia issued a judgment in Bienstein v. Attorney General [2010] FCAFC 45 (20 May 2010) dismissing the Freedom of Information Act appeal and awarding costs to the Government.

Helen Bienstein attempted to argue that a decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ("AAT") involving the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) should be set aside because of an alleged bias. The court noted that Bienstein's submissions were based upon an erroneous contention that s 11(1)(a) conferred a right to insist upon a decision in response to her request for access to document. The court held that the right conferred by s 11(1)(a) is a right to obtain access and when an actual decision in response to a request is not made within the period of time permitted, s 56 of the FOI Act deems a decision refusing access to have been made and provides that the legally enforceable right of a person to obtain access may be facilitated through an application to the AAT. When such an application is made the AAT has the power to decide any matter in relations to the request that could have been decided by the agency or Minister.

The court noted that Bienstein's reliance upon s 15(5)(b) is misplaced because it is read and understood in the context of s 56 and in the light of the scheme of the FOI Act dealing with deemed refusals. However, this process is superseded by provisions provided in ss 55 and 56.

Claims that the trial judge didn't provide procedural fairness to Beinstein where not determined because the court held the trial judge's order was correct in the first instance.

20 May 2010

$228,688 given by Aussie DVA to honour veterans

The Australian Department of Veterans' Affairs has announced funding in the amount of $238,688 for various project honouring veterans. The funding will support 96 different projects which commemorate wartime history and honour those who have served, and continue to serve, Australia in wars, conflicts and peace operations.

The DVA press release can be found here.

17 May 2010

Veterans in Newcastle to receive $65,000 project aimed at wellbeing

Today Minister for Veterans' Affairs Alan Griffin announced that the Rudd Government is providing $65,000 to veterans in Newcastle, New South Wales, to tackle social isolation.

The money will be used to purchase a community bus to replace an existing one that is run by Newcastle Legacy. "This funding will benefit more than 2900 veterans in the Newcastle region and help reduce social isolation by ensuring veterans can get to commemorative events, have the opportunity to regularly meet with friends and get involved in activities they wouldn't normally do" said Griffin in a press release.

Local and community organisations interested in applying for funding are encouraged to visit the DVA's website here or contact their nearest DVA office on 133 254 (for metropolitan callers) or 1800 555 254 (for non-metropolitan callers).

16 May 2010

This week in Congress (17 May 2010)

The following legislative activities, which affect U.S. servicemembers and veterans or concern military justice issues, are occurring this week in the U.S. Congress:

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Hearing: Pending Legislation (it is presently unclear as to what pending legislation will be taken up), 0930 hours, 418 Russell Senate Office Building.

House Armed Services Committee, mark up to authorize appropriations for FY 2011 for military activities of the Department of Defense, to prescribe personnel strengths for fiscal year 2011, and for other purposes, 1000 hours, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building.

House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, hearing on Assessing Information Security at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1000 hours, room 334 Cannon House Office Building. To view the live webcast go here.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, Joint Hearing with Subcommittee on Health on Healing the Wounds: Evaluation Military Sexual Trauma Issues, 1000 hours, room 334 Cannon House Office Building, To view the live webcast go here.

House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, hearing on Loan Guaranty Program, 1300 hours, room 334 Cannon House Office Building. To view the live webcast go here.

___________________

For this week in military justice go to CAAFlog here.

Right to fair trial paper

Howard University School of Law's T. Nelson Collier recently published a paper, which can be found here, titled "An Unwavering Resolve for Right: Fair Trial Rights and the War on Terror." The Equal Justice for Our Military Act of 2009 is mentioned in the paper (at p. 12).

15 May 2010

This week in Parliament, Courts and Tribunals (17 May 2010)

The following legislative activities, which affect Australian servicemembers, veterans or concern military justice issues, relate to freedom of information or national security, are occurring this week in the Parliament of Australia:

Monday, 17 May 2010

Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Hearing on Suicide in Australia, 0800 - 1300 hours, Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. Terms of reference can be found here. Department of Veterans' Affairs submission can be found here in PDF. A complete list of submissions can be found here. [Note the deadline to submit and submission had been extended until 24 June 2010. Anyone seeking to make a submission can learn how to here.]

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Hearing on Suicide in Australia, 1000 - 1700 hours, Senate Committee room 2S1, Parliament House, Canberra.

Note: Department of Veterans' Affairs, Mr Shane Carmody, Deputy President of the Repatriation Commission and Mr Wayne Penninal, National Manager of Veterans' and Veterans Families' Counseling Service will be testifying between 1345 and 1545 hours.

Terms of reference can be found here. Department of Veterans' Affairs submission can be found here in PDF. A complete list of submissions can be found here. [Note the deadline to submit and submission had been extended until 24 June 2010. Anyone seeking to make a submission can learn how to here.]

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Hearing on Suicide in Australia, 0900 - 1415 hours, Committee room 1, Tasmania Parliament House, Hobart. Terms of reference can be found here. Department of Veterans' Affairs submission can be found here in PDF. A complete list of submissions can be found here. [Note the deadline to submit and submission had been extended until 24 June 2010. Anyone seeking to make a submission can learn how to here.]

Friday, 21 May 2010

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, hearing on National Security Amendment bill 2010, 0900 - 1600 hours, Cliftons Level, Level 1, 440 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria.

High Court of Australia

The High Court next sits this week in Canberra but none of the cases being heard this week involve subject matter of this blog. To view the list of cases for this week go here.

Federal Court of Australia (Full Court)

No cases involving the subject matter of this blog are being heard by the Full Court this week.

Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal

The Tribunal currently has no scheduled sittings for 2010.

Veterans' Review Board


For a full list of this week's cases in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney go here.

U.S. Army recalls 44,000 combat helmets

Yesterday the U.S. Army announced it initiated a recall of approximately 44,000 advanced combat helmets produced by ArmorSource LLC (formerly Rabintex USA LLC) which is based in Hebron, Ohio. The Army claims the helmets do not meet Army specifications.

Today ArmorSource's website had the following statement: "In response to news release published on May 14, 2010 by the U.S. Department of Defense (“Army Recalls 44,000 Combat Helmets”), ArmorSource was not informed of this recall before we saw the press release on Friday evening. We have not heard from the Government regarding the recall and have no additional information. ArmorSource is, and has always been, committed to providing products that meet or exceed the government's specifications. We intend to request additional information and to cooperate in whatever inquiries the government might have."

The 44,000 helmets represent about four percent of advanced combat helmets issued to soldiers. The Army says that sufficient helmets produced by other manufacturers which meet Army requirements are currently available in the Army’s inventory. The Army will immediately issue these helmets to soldiers worldwide serving in those units identified to have recalled helmets. Army Central Issue Facilities have been directed to remove all affected helmets from the inventory and to directly exchange noncompliant helmets turned in for helmets meeting Army specifications. The recalled helmets will be sent to the Defense Logistics Agency Defense Reutilization and Marketing Services for demilitarization.

The exact risk to soldiers wearing the recalled helmets is still being determined; however, sample testing from a quarantined inventory revealed that the helmets did not meet Army specifications.

According to this press release, the matter is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. It's not clear by the press release whether any of the affected helmets are currently being worn by troops in combat theatres.

14 May 2010

Aussie DVA delivers response to Clarke Review of veterans' entitlements

Today Minister of Veterans Affairs Alan Griffin issued a response to the recommendations of the 2003 Clarke Review of Veterans' Entitlements which can be found here.

Some of the highlights in which the DVA has accepted include:
  • Accepted the Clarke recommendation that participation by Australian Defence Force personnel in the British atomic tests be declared non-warlike hazardous and the Veterans’ Entitlements Act (VEA) will be amended to give effect to the recommendation (Funding: $24.2m).
  • Certain submarine special operations service between 1978 and 1992 will be reclassified as operational service and qualifying service, meaning veterans have improved access to benefits. This exceeds Clarke’s recommendation that this service be deemed non-warlike hazardous (Funding: $11.1m).
  • Changes to the domicile rules for British Commonwealth and Allied (BCAL) veterans. This fixes as an administrative anomaly which prevented some BCAL veterans from being considered as Australian veterans under the Veterans’ Entitlement Act.
  • Changes to the eligibility to claim for War Widow/ers pension to ensure equal treatment of those who enter de facto relationships with those who marry/remarry.
  • Affordable housing and access to tertiary scholarships.
  • Improved bereavement payments made to widows of veterans.
DVA did not accept 12 of the original Clarke recommendations, which include:
  • Proposed changes to the ‘incurred danger’ test for certain veterans’ entitlements: the Government cannot accept changes to such a fundamental standard.
  • Extension of qualifying service benefits to certain British Commonwealth and Allied veterans.
  • Extension of the definition of operational service.
  • Means testing of access to the DVA Gold Card in certain circumstances: the Government considers the Gold Card should not be means tested as it is provided in recognition of a person being placed in danger from an enemy.
  • Allowing War Widows living overseas to claim income support supplement: this is not supported as the Government believes it would create an anomaly in the social security system between the Social Security Act and the VEA.
“We looked extremely carefully at all the revisited recommendations and I stand behind our responses. What we have done is to provide access to benefits in a targeted and responsible manner,” said Griffin.

12 May 2010

2010-11 Australian Budget as it relates to Defence spending

Last night the 2010-11 Australian Budget was released, it can be found here. This morning at the National Press Club there was a Defence Budget Breakfast in which Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science Greg Combet discussed defence spending in the budget. Some of the highlights for ADF personnel and national security include:

Force Protection

The government has committed approximately $1.1 billion over the forward estimates, including $487.1 million in 2010-11, for enhanced force protection measures for ADF deployed troops.

This new investment in force protection capabilities and initiatives includes a range of measures that provide direct protection to Australian Defence Force members from small arms, improvised explosive devices and indirect fire, as well as improving intelligence and surveillance capabilities.

Australian forces in Afghanistan currently face a high risk from insurgent operations, including improvised explosive devices and indirect fire.

Other capabilities in force protection which are being funded in this budget include:
  • Improved route clearance capabilities;
  • Improved protection and firepower for Protected Mobility Vehicles;
  • New night-fighting equipment;
  • Improved body armour;
  • New weapons system for the Special Operations Task Group;
  • Additional military working dogs; and
  • Improved intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities
National Security

This year the government has increased national security spending from $29.4 billion to $30.8 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion from the last budget.

Over the 2010-11 budget year and the three forward estimates years, there will be a commitment of $122.7 billion to the defence of Australia.

This morning Minister Combet noted that new financial plan has two important elements: (1) New funding model promising substantial real growth and long term predictability of funding; and (2) Comprehensive program of reform and savings referred to as the Strategic Reform Program or SRP. The savings from the SRP will be reinvested back into Defence capabilities.

In total, this new financial plan results in an additional investment by the government of $146.1 billion to 2030. The Defence funding model, implemented as a part of the White Paper (which I have previously discussed here.), seems to be predicated on three elements:

3.0% average real growth to 2017-18;
2.2% average real growth from 2018-19 to 2029-30; and
2.5% fixed price indexation from 2009-10 to 2029-30.

Combet claims that what the SRP does is a redirection of funds to help ensure more, and greater, capability is delivered to the ADF. The SRP includes a comprehensive set of reforms that will overhaul Defence, produce efficiencies and generate savings of around $20 billion over the coming decade.

Overall I'm impressed with force protection increases and how that money will be used to properly protect our troops overseas. I'd like a bit more on specifics though and in the coming months hope Defence is forthcoming in this area.

11 May 2010

Aussie veterans encouraged to have their say on Pharmaceuticals review

Last week the Australian Government, through its Veterans' Affairs Minister Alan Griffin, encouraged veterans to have their say on the finding of the Consultation Paper for the Review of War Caused Disabilities and Pharmaceutical Costs.

The Review determined that it was not possible to meet the Government’s commitment to directly link veterans’ pharmaceutical use to their war caused disabilities.

“I encourage the veteran community to read the Consultation Paper and carefully consider its findings. It is important that veterans have their say on a preferred way forward and I encourage them to do so by making a submission,” said Griffin.

Submissions for individuals and ex-service organisations are currently open and will close on Friday, 18 June 2010.

Submissions can be made to:

Email: pharmacycopayreview@dva.gov.au

Post:

Pharmaceutical Costs Review
Department of Veterans' Affairs
GPO Box 9998
Canberra, ACT 2601

10 May 2010

U. S. veterans applying for VA health benefits online will have easier and faster time doing so

Last week the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs announced that it had upgraded its online application form for health benefits.

The revised online application provides enhanced navigation features that make it easier and faster for veterans to apply for their health care benefits. This new version also allows veterans to save a copy of the completed form for their personal records.

Most significantly veterans can now save their application to their local desktop and return to the application at any time without having to start over. Previously, veterans had to complete the form in a single session.

This updated online form, along with the revised VA Form 10-10EZ, reduces the collection of information from Veterans by eliminating some questions.

In addition, there are minor changes to simplify the wording of questions and provide clarity in the instructions. Further enhancements to the online application are expected to be delivered in increments throughout 2010.

Veterans may complete or download the 10-10EZ form at the VA health eligibility website which can be found here.

09 May 2010

This week in Congress (10 May 2010)

The following legislative activities, which affect U.S. servicemembers and veterans or concern military justice issues, are occurring this week in the U.S. Congress:

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Military Personnel, mark up for FY 2011 military activities of the Department of Defense, to prescribe personnel strengths for fiscal year 2011, and for other purposes, 0900 hours, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building.

Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Personnel, to receive testimony on Reserve component programs in review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY 2011 and Future Years Defense Program, 1000 hours, room SR-222, Russell Senate Office Building.

House Veterans' Affairs Committee, markup of HR 1017, HR 5145, and HR 3885, 1000 hours, room 334 Cannon House Office Building. To view the live webcast go here.

___________________

For this week in military justice go to CAAFlog here.

This week in Parliament, Courts and Tribunals (10 May 2010)

The following legislative activities, which affect Australian servicemembers, veterans or concern military justice issues, relate to freedom of information or national security, are occurring this week in the Parliament of Australia:

Parliament is sitting this week but there are no Committee hearings involving the subject matter of this blog.

BUDGET: The Australian Government will release its 2009-10 Budget at 1930 hours (Eastern Time) on Tuesday, 11 May 2010. To view the Budget go here. There is expected increases in defence spending.

High Court of Australia

The High Court next sits on 18 May 2010 in Canberra.

Federal Court of Australia (Full Court)

No cases involving the subject matter of this blog are being heard by the Full Court this week.

Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal

The Tribunal currently has no scheduled sittings for 2010.

Veterans' Review Board


For a full list of this week's cases in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney go here.

02 May 2010

Henry tax report is now available; not-for-profit veterans organisations could be affected

This afternoon the Australian Government made the Henry Report available to the public. The report can be found here. It does not appear that Australian Defence Force personnel will be adversely affected by the recommendations on the report. Additionally, it does not appear that veterans on Government pensions will be adversely affected.

Section B3 of the report titled "Tax concessions for not-for-profit organisations" could have an affect on tax exempt veterans organistation, like the Returned & Services League of Australia. These recommendations include:
  • Recommendation 41: Consistent with the recommendations of previous inquiries, a national charities commission should be established to monitor, regulate and provide advice to all not-for-profit (NFP) organisations (including private ancillary funds). The charities commission should be tasked with streamlining the NFP tax concessions (including the application process for gift deductibility), and modernising and codifying the definition of a charity.
  • Recommendation 42: Categories of NFP organisations that currently receive income tax or GST concessions should retain these concessions. NFP organisations should be permitted to apply their income tax concessions to their commercial activities.
  • Recommendation 43: NFP FBT concessions should be reconfigured.
  • The capped concessions should be phased out over ten years. In the transition period, the value of the caps would gradually be reduced. Reportable fringe benefits for affected employees (that is, those benefits that are easily valued and attributed) would be exempt from tax up to the relevant cap, and taxed at the employee's marginal tax rate above the cap. The market value of these benefits would be taken into account for transfer payment purposes. Non-reportable fringe benefits would be taxable for NFP employers.
  • The FBT concessions should be replaced with direct government funding, to be administered by relevant Australian government portfolio agencies or the charities commission. All NFP organisations eligible for tax concessions should be able to apply to the relevant body for funding for specific projects or for assistance with the costs of recruiting specialist staff.
  • Recommendation 44: Simple and efficient tax arrangements should be established for clubs with large trading activities in the fields of gaming, catering, entertainment and hospitality. One option is to apply a concessional rate of tax to total net income from these activities above a high threshold. For clubs below the threshold, no tax would be applied to income from these activities.

Nick, Sean and I will study the report more closely this week and will update this post with any relevant information and/or analysis.

[Disclaimer: The author of this post is a member of the RSL NSW Branch at North Bondi RSL sub-Branch.]

01 May 2010

This week in Congress (3 May 2010)

The following legislative activities, which affect U.S. servicemembers and veterans or concern military justice issues, are occurring this week in the U.S. Congress:

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Oversight Hearing: TBI - Progress in Treating the Signature Wound of the Current Conflicts, 0930 hours, 418 Russell Senate Office Building.

House Veterans Affairs Committee, Health Effects of the Vietnam War - The Aftermath, 1000 hours, room 334 Cannon House Office Building.


Thursday, 6 May 2010


House Veterans Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, 1000 hours, room 334 Cannon House Office Building. TO view the live webcast go here.

House Veterans Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, Quality vs Quantity: Examining the Veterans Benefits Administration's Employee Work Credit and Management Systems, 1400 hours, room 334 Cannon House Office Building. TO view the live webcast go here.
___________________

For this week in military justice go to CAAFlog here.

This week in Parliament, Courts and Tribunals (3 May 2010)

The following legislative activities, which affect Australian servicemembers, veterans or concern military justice issues, relate to freedom of information or national security, are occurring this week in the Parliament of Australia:

Parliament is in recess. Both the Senate and House will reconvene on 11 May 2010. There are still Committee hearings occurring this week during the recess but none involve issues pertaining to the subject matter of this blog.

High Court of Australia

The High Court next sits on 18 May 2010 in Canberra.

Federal Court of Australia (Full Court)

No cases involving the subject matter of this blog are being heard by the Full Court this week.

Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal

The Tribunal currently has no scheduled sittings for 2010.

Veterans' Review Board


For a full list of this week's cases in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney go here.