Minister wasn’t told of funding shortfall
By Deborah Cornwall – Defence
Former minister Andrew Gee says at first he wasn’t told the veterans’ department had a shortfall in staff required to process a backlog of compensation claims.
It took a report by an outside consulting group to identify the scale of dysfunction inside the Department of Veterans Affairs which at no point had complained about its funding problems, despite a massive backlog of compensation claims, a royal commission has heard.
Former veterans affairs minister Andrew Gee told the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide on Tuesday that when he took on the portfolio in July 2021 no-one at the department even raised the need for more funding.
Mr Gee said one of the first challenges he faced was managing an “enormous’ $430 million budget offset imposed on the DVA, which immediately scuttled the additional funding the department had received to help reduce the backlog of claims.
But at no point, he said, did the DVA chiefs ever alert him to “the issue of not having enough money to fund its departmental operations”.
Mr Gee said it wasn’t until the consultant group, McKinsey, delivered its first report in December 2021 that the shortfall in staff required to process the backlog of claims by defence members and veterans was revealed.
“No one was ever coming to me and saying, ‘We just haven’t got enough money to run the department here’,” Mr Gee said.
“It was only after McKinsey that that staffing issue for claims materialised.”
Questioned by counsel assisting Peter Gray about why he thought the department had failed to alert him its employment capacity was “so manifestly below what was required to do their job”, Mr Gee said he couldn’t explain it.
“I can only assume in the past that they weren’t given all the staff that they wanted,” Mr Gee said.
Mr Gee initially failed to get the $96 million needed to tackle the backlog of claims, prompting him to threaten to resign on the eve of the March federal budget if the money wasn’t found.
He told the inquiry he stood by his claim at the time that the DVA waiting times for claims were “a national disgrace”.
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