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3.2.8 Material contribution

Last amended 
25 June 2015

3.2.8 Material Contribution

Paragraphs 27(d) and 28(1)(d) of the MRCA provides that an injury, disease, or death is to be taken to be a service injury, service disease or service death if the injury or disease (including an injury or disease from which a person died):

  • was sustained or contracted while the person was a member rendering defence service, but did not arise out of that service, or
  • was sustained or contracted before the commencement of a period of defence service rendered by the person while a member, but not while the person was rendering defence service, and
  • was contributed to in a material degree by any defence service rendered by the person while a member.

The meaning of ‘material contribution’ was given by the Federal Court in Repatriation Commission v Richard Edward Bendy [1989] FCA 170:

In each case, the reference to materiality serves to make it clear that the contribution required is a contribution of a causal nature, that a contribution which is de minimis, which did not influence the course of events or which is so tenuous as to be immaterial is to be ignored. The term "material" is here used not in the loose sense set out in definition 12 of the Macquarie dictionary, namely, "of substantial import or much consequence" but rather in its legal sense of "pertinent" or "likely to influence".

Thus for an incident or exposure to make a material contribution to an injury or disease, it must have been a contributing cause in a more than trivial sense. However, the causal contribution does not need to be of a substantial or significant nature.

Application of the material contribution test to Statements of Principles (SoPs)

The material contribution test is relevant to SoPs where there is a factor specifying a minimum accumulation of consumption or exposure over time. The application of the material contribution test to the SoP framework was clarified by the Federal Court in Kattenberg v Repatriation Commission [2002] FCA 412 (‘Kattenberg’).

The Kattenberg decision turned on the words 'related to' contained within the SoP framework and requiring that a SoP factor be 'related to' service.  If the minimum accumulation of consumption or exposure has been contributed to in a material degree by service then the injury or disease is considered to be 'related to' service.

For a claim relating to this type of SoP factor to succeed, it is necessary in the first instance for the minimum accumulation specified in a factor to be met (i.e. both service-caused and non-service-caused consumption or exposure).

Where service-caused consumption (e.g. smoking at least 15 pack years of cigarettes) or exposure (e.g. manually lifting at least 35 kilograms to a cumulative total of 168,000 kilograms within any 10 year period) meets the minimum accumulation by itself, the claim will succeed and there is no need to apply the material contribution test.

However, the Kattenberg decision clarified that it is not necessary for the entire consumption or exposure to be caused by service, rather the service-caused consumption or exposure only needs to make a material contribution.

If the service-caused consumption or exposure can be shown to be more than a trivial contribution to the entire accumulation, then it is a material contribution. Where the entire accumulation (both service caused and non-service caused) meets the minimum specified in the SoP and the service-caused consumption or exposure materially contributes to the injury or disease, then claim will succeed.

The threshold for what proportion of the SoP-specified minimum accumulation the service-caused consumption or exposure is required to be considered a material contribution will depend on a variety of factors relating to the relevant SoP and the specific case. Thus it is not possible to develop a formula that a contribution of X per cent or more is material in all cases.