Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Weekly Payments) Bill 2010
I rise to speak on the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Weekly Payments) Bill 2010. From the outset, Mr Deputy Speaker, can I say that, along with my Liberal and National party colleagues, I support the government’s bill. This bill will enable the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, upon the recommendation of the Repatriation Commission and/or the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission, to make payments to some veterans on a weekly basis rather than a fortnightly basis. I welcome this move and the coalition supports this bill. I would, however, note that to be eligible a veteran must either be homeless or at risk of homelessness. It is distressing that any veteran would actually be in this position, and I would caution that the criteria should be based on compassion and not rigid bureaucracy. This bill will ensure that veterans’ entitlements continue to be determined in a beneficial manner. Under the measures, a veteran’s usual fortnightly payment is halved, with one half being paid each week. Where the veteran’s payment is also subject to deductions, these deductions will also be halved. Half of the deduction will be removed from each payment so that the maximum benefit of weekly payments is passed on.
Any change to veterans’ entitlements which will ensure that veterans are better provided for is a worthwhile change. Whilst it may not be one that will impact on a lot of veterans, and the member for Fadden mentioned that the RSL in New South Wales advise that they have provided assistance to a small number of homeless veterans—fewer than 10—in the Sydney area, I do welcome this legislation and I emphasise that any improvements to this system have the support of the coalition. However, I think it would be a bit rich for the Gillard Labor government to be able to slide their way through this debate without their appalling track record in the vital policy area of veterans’ affairs being highlighted and condemned. On that note, can I say how proud I am to come from this side of the chamber, the Liberal-National side of politics, which has a strong record of standing up for and protecting our veterans since our party’s creation in 1944. It has always been and will continue to be the Liberal way to support veterans and their families and acknowledge their sacrifices and the contribution they have made and continue to make to the fabric of our nation. We must hold them in the highest regard, and the coalition does so.
As well, this legislative change, whilst a welcome one, will obviously not on its own deal with the serious issues surrounding homelessness in the community. The Gillard government cannot and must not see this as an easy way out when it comes to homelessness in this country, and I call on the government to put to one side their usual ideological games in this social policy area and get on with the job of actually addressing the problem and not just talking about it. The member for Blair had the temerity to criticise the Howard government and mentioned the Queensland government and the problems of homelessness. That is a state government which has sold off public housing. At a time of greatest need they have sold off homes that should have been there to be provided for the homeless in that state.
I would like to put on the record that the coalition remains committed to addressing the needs of DFRDB military superannuants. The Gillard Labor government continues to deny a problem in the area of DFRDB superannuation and that summarises and epitomises the Labor Party’s true thoughts on veterans and military personnel. As a member whose seat takes in the Gallipoli barracks at Enoggera and who has a substantial military personnel population in the electorate of Ryan, I am naturally concerned that the Labor government has a closed mind when it comes to this issue and I am concerned about their neglect of the veteran and military community. Once again only the coalition has a plan to address these issues and stand up for veterans and military personnel. It is also worth mentioning that the Gillard Labor government’s complex pharmaceutical cost reimbursement scheme will not provide any real relief to veterans until 2013. This is a great shame given that the coalition’s plan would have benefited almost 20,000 more veterans than Labor’s excuse for a plan and would have included all of our most disabled veterans and provided real relief from 2012.
It is totally shameful that in Senate estimates last week the shadow minister for veterans’ affairs, Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, confirmed with the War Memorial’s director that consideration was actually given, although not ultimately actioned, to close the memorial one day a week because of the Labor government’s funding cuts. This is yet another black mark and a poor reflection on the Labor government when it comes to veterans’ affairs. It is not unreasonable that Australians rightfully expect our war memorials around the country to be resourced by the government. Everyday Australians have an expectation of their elected representatives and government to ensure war memorials and veterans’ facilities are well maintained and are resourced and staffed appropriately so that Australians who have made the ultimate sacrifice and fought for their country, its people and our freedom can be remembered in the highest regard. It is fair to ask when will Labor give veterans the support that is their due.