Retrospective legislation set to revoke access to administrative justice
By Mark Schroffel
Draft legislation prepared by the Department of Treasury is expected to be tabled in parliament in early September that is likely to disadvantage more than 10,000 veterans and former Commonwealth officers by changing the laws dealing with the taxation of their superannuation and compensation benefits.
For thousands of veterans, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Measures for a later sitting) Bill 2022: Taxation of military superannuation benefits is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The legislation has been dressed up and presented as a measure to ensure veterans will not be adversely impacted by the decision of the 2021 Douglas Federal Court Case, whereby three disabled and medically retired veterans (Douglas, Walker and Burns) argued that the invalidity benefits they received should be treated as “superannuation lump sum” payments rather than the more highly taxed “superannuation income stream” benefit.
It’s a complex matter with likely consequences that reach into all manner of issues that can be impacted by the classification of income, such as taxation, family law and eligibility for concessions and the like.
Some veterans, perhaps justifiably, believe that their human rights are being threatened by measures that retrospectively removes avenues of legal argument that would allow them to redress what they believe to be years of misadministration of their pensions and invalidity entitlements.
Veterans on invalidity pensions such as Peter Thornton and Bradly Campbell have been doing their best with limited resources to fight for their rights, and the rights of thousands of veterans and former Commonwealth employees in the same situation. Their ability to do so is about to be revoked with the seemingly benign changes to the law that are being lined up by departmental officials for the Governor General’s big rubber stamp.
The veterans who have taken this up are also struggling with illness and the disadvantage that comes with being on an invalidity pension. They have little chance against the machinery of mighty government bureaucracies such as the ATO and Department of Treasury.
Ian Lindgren from the Australian Peacekeepers and Peacemakers Association says that he is concerned that the legislation can be interpreted differently by every department that has to apply it. Lindgren explained that “this was a major issue to those who discussed it with Treasury and the Minister’s Office, however, all were advised that the interpretation issue was not in-scope of those drafting the legislation”
While Lindgren is offering to assist anyone who is able to prepare a ministerial brief on the issue, he is concerned that the complexity of the matter and the varying circumstances of each individual affected make it difficult to present a universal case.
Much like Robodebt, this legislative tidy-up serves to disempower already vulnerable people in an attempt to avoid the liabilities of the government’s past mistakes.
Will Minister Keogh take a second look at this legislation and gives these veterans a sporting chance to make their case? Or is the Albanese Government destined to repeat the history of similarly inspired ventures?
Mark Schroffel is the Editor-in-Chief of Australian Veteran News. Mark is a veteran and has a day-job as strategy consultant and researcher interested in veteran support policies and transition programs. He designed and led the Melbourne Legacy sponsored ShoutOUT research initiative to gather insights and stories about post-1991 veterans and their families. Mark can be followed on twitter @MarkSchroffel