Lambie votes to stop Government's plan to undermine Veterans’ legal appeal rights

Independent Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie used her vote and influence in the Senate last night to block a Liberal-National government plan to make veterans pay for all their legal costs before the AAT - even if a veteran’s legal challenge was successful. Senator Lambie told the chamber: Read speech here.

“Under the current system costs can be awarded to veterans should their appeal to the higher authority the AAT be successful. That right to access costs would have been taken away from our veterans should this legislation be passed in its original form, indeed in an amended form that was leaked to me. And it’s was there in black and white at Clause 9 B , which read on the version that found its way into my office:

After subsection 357 (6) Insert

(6A) if in any proceedings, the Tribunal varies or sets aside a reviewable determination made by the Board, the Tribunal must not make an order under subsection (2) or (4) in favour of a claimant in relation to the costs of those proceedings if:

  1. a) In the course of the review by the Tribunal, the claimant provided to the tribunal a document relevant to the review, and
  2. b) The tribunal is satisfied that, at the time when the Board made the reviewable determination, the Board did not have the document, nor was the document reasonably available to the Board; and
  3. c) The Tribunal is satisfied that, if the Board had the document at the time when the Board made the reviewable determination, the Board would have made a determination more favourable to the claimant than the reviewable determination.
Mr President,

Translating that legal speak to easily understood English – means that if the Veteran introduces to their legal process – new information as part of their appeal in the form of:

  • Doctor reports.
  • Supporting statements from former ADF colleagues.
  • Witness statements from family and friends.
  • Medical statements from GP’s outside the defense system.
  • Personnel files from defense.
  • Summons documents.
  • Psych documents.
Then that veteran would have had to pay for their legal costs – even if the veteran wins their case before the independent Appeal Tribunal! This provision was clearly designed to deter veterans from appealing decisions made by the VRB.

Who would appeal a bad decision if you would be forced to pay for the legal costs no matter what the outcome of the legal proceedings. Most fair-minded Australians would expect that if an independent judicial tribunal found in favor of a claim by one of our veterans – that veteran’s legal costs would be reimbursed.

It wasn’t the veterans fault that a wrong decision was made in the first place, so why should they be forced to pay extra for what was essentially a government mistake in the first place?

Without the amendment it would have made it significantly harder for the Veteran and their personal legal team to subject the VRB decision-making process to independent scrutiny.

And while the government likes to peddle the mistruth the VRB is a fair and independent body – the simple fact is veterans are not allowed to take their solicitors into those hearings.

And many of the members of the VRB are legally trained.

So we have a situation where often the veteran and his or her advocate, who don’t have official legal training, walk into a room full of government representatives who have official legal training.

And to rub salt into what has become a gaping wound, the public servants who serve on these government bodies - should they have a grievance and they want to appeal before the AAT – of course will be able to be awarded legal costs should their appealed be up held.

It’s a shocking example of where public servants are being treated better and given more legal rights than our veterans.”