Minister says stand-alone DVA will continue – but here’s some advice, just in case

We don’t quite know why he felt the need but Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac, Minister for Defence Personnel, and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security [pause for breath], Dan Tehan MP, has put out a media release insisting that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will remain as a separate entity. Specifically, there are no plans, the Minister says, to merge DVA with the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Twenty months ago, Honest History did some detailed analysis and suggested Dan Tehan’s predecessor, Stuart Robert MP, might have trouble in handling multiple roles. We looked at the possibility of DVA being chopped up and distributed to other departments, including DHS.

Minister Robert tweeted in response that he was quite capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Not long after that he lost his job (for other reasons).

In case Minister Tehan (or those concerned about DVA’s future) want to look further into machinery of government possibilities, we commend our analysis to them. It is worth noting that Minister Tehan’s workload is actually bigger than that of his insouciant gum-chewing predecessor though, of course, there are other considerations in play.

Here are some key paragraphs from our December 2015 piece (remember that the RSL pillar of DVA is weaker now, given its current governance travails):

Giving the Veterans’ Affairs minister another, potentially much larger role, may even foreshadow that Veterans’ Affairs has a limited future as a stand-alone operation. It is more than five decades since the then Minister for Repatriation Reg Swartz agreed that calling him ‘the Minister for the RSL’ was ‘a reasonable description’. But the RSL is a far less powerful organisation today than it was in 1963; rather than the RSL link, the staying power of Veterans’ Affairs officers is surely the main factor keeping DVA going today as a separate entity …

There are, on the other hand – and have been for many years – bureaucrats in the Departments of Health, Human Services and Social Services who would willingly take over pieces of DVA. There are also bureaucrats in the Department of Education who might like to take on DVA’s successful education funding model and extend it to other areas. Commonwealth funding of education in military history has long been an anomaly when compared with its funding of other strands of history education.

That would leave the commemoration functions of the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio to be redistributed. Defence does some commemoration work already and could do more. It could also take on the Office of Australian War Graves, since it has a role in creating the need for them. Under the same logic, the Australian War Memorial (staff around 300), in some respects the jewel in the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio crown, could go to Defence also. Alternatively, the Memorial could return to an arts portfolio, where it was thirty years ago. The portfolio location of the War Memorial ultimately depends on whether the government of the day sees it as part of the defence establishment (current and former) or as a cultural institution.

David Stephens

7 August 2017

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