Reply From The Minister
History Pages

The Minister for Veterans Affairs, the Honourable Bruce Billson MP, has replied to my letter of the 16th of August 2006, in which I asked him seven questions about the relationship between his department and Writeway Research.
The Minister has refused to answer my questions, and the best word I can think of to describe his reply to me is contemptuous.
Since I asked seven questions, and since the Minister's reply includes seven substantive paragraphs, I will reproduce the Minister's reply letter here with my seven questions juxtaposed ahead of each paragraph. That will illustrate how contemptuously the Minister has failed to answer the questions I asked.


Minister’s Reply


Dear Mr Irvine


Thank you for your letter of 16 August 2006 concerning the use of military researchers as part of the claims determination process under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA). I am aware that this issue is of concern to some among the veteran community.


Question 1.


In the year 2000, the Department of Veterans Affairs made the decision to switch the task of researching the historical facts in claims presented by veterans from the Australian Army History Unit to a private firm called Writeway Research. Was John Tilbrook, then of the Australian Army History Unit, involved in any of the discussions or correspondence that led to that decision?


My Department has an obligation under the VEA to thoroughly investigate claims for a disability pension. Military research reports are only requested when there is insufficient evidence to support the claims made by a veteran. These reports are required in less than one per cent of the total claims being assessed. Further, the company that you have singled out for comment is only one of a number of such individuals and companies employed by my Department.


Question 2.


At the time that it made the decision to allocate taxpayer-funded research work to Writeway, was your department aware of the involvement of John Tilbrook in both the Australian Army History Unit and Writeway Research?


As you may be aware, many of the researchers employed by my Department are former Defence Force personnel who possess a good understanding of Defence service and have expertise in locating relevant Defence service records. They use this expertise to consult published material and official records and may interview former military personnel with knowledge of the unit operations in which a veteran served. However, the researcher is limited to addressing only those specific service-related questions which are asked by my Department.


Question 3.


Did your department follow any tendering process when it made the decision to allocate taxpayer-funded research work to Writeway Research?


The researcher has no knowledge as to the nature of the claim, its purpose or the condition being investigated. Further, they have no role in the claims determination process. As such the research report is only one piece of evidence used by the decision-maker in determining a claim.


Question 4.


Given that at the time that your department made the decision to switch its research work to Writeway, the personnel at Writeway Research had no qualifications in historical research, no publication record, no teaching record, and in fact no track record of any kind in the Australian History profession, on what basis did your department decide that Writeway Research was a suitable organisation to receive taxpayer funding for historical research?


In addition, it is a condition of their engagement that all researchers comply with the Privacy Act 1988.


Question 5.


Given the standards of proof required in the Veterans Entitlements Act, the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act and their predecessors, what historical sources are considered by your department to be of a suitable standard to be used as evidence against claims made by veterans?


There are many veterans who have benefited from military research reports which have confirmed events and supported their claims. In cases where a veteran’s assertions may be clouded, these reports have helped focus attention on the issues that need to be addressed.


Question 6.


What independent analysis by suitably qualified professional researchers has your department sought, in order to monitor the standard of research provided by Writeway?


The procedures regarding the provision of research reports have been changed. Since 5 January 2004, a copy of the report is now provided to the claimant and their representative. This allows the veteran an opportunity to dispute the facts or the inferences quoted in a research report at the primary claims level. A veteran can also respond to a research report by pointing to other evidence or providing a witness to the events described.


Question 7.


Given that they are not eyewitnesses to the events on which they are commenting, and given that they lack any professional qualifications to give evidence as experts in historical research, what legal standing do the opinions of Writeway personnel have before the Veterans Review Board and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal?


My Department’s procedures provide every opportunity for this material to be presented to the primary level decision-maker so that it can be considered and taken into account.


I trust that this information is of assistance to you.


Yours sincerely,


Bruce Billson

24 Sep 2006.


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