Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading
As I was saying, the coalition will deliver this reform in our very first budget. This was a promise at the 2010 election, it will be a promise at the next election and we can give an ironclad guarantee that a coalition government will deliver this important reform.
At present, the average DFRDB pension is a meagre $24,386. In June 2012 veterans received the news that military superannuation pensions would increase by just 0.1 per cent, as opposed to the 0.9 per cent increase announced in March this year for age and service pensions. Many veterans received an increase of less than $1 per fortnight. This is at a time when cost of living is increasing and when we now have the world's only economy-wide carbon tax. And, for all Australians, the cost of electricity, gas, water, petrol and grocery prices keeps going up and up.
As another clear demonstration that the Gillard Labor government does not take the veteran community seriously, veterans on the DFRDB scheme will receive no additional assistance to compensate them for the increased costs they face associated with the toxic carbon tax. But, while members on the opposite side of the House clap and cheer and sing and dance at passing the world's biggest carbon tax and its flow-on costs to veterans, without compensation, they then come into this chamber and declare that fair indexation would be too expensive to implement. While veterans tell me—and they constantly tell the government—that they are struggling to make ends meet, Labor turns around and says to them that it does not care about their concerns and deliberately misleads the Australian community about how we can implement fair indexation.
I do of course acknowledge the undeniable fact that the Treasurer and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs cannot sit down and find $100 million over the forward estimates to support fair indexation, because of the gross incompetence and poor and reckless financial management by the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments. I acknowledge that, because of this incompetence and despite the constant pleas from the veterans' community, they increased military superannuation pensions by only 0.1 per cent. Labor's wasteful and reckless spending in so many other areas has left them unable to meet their commitment in 2007 and their now-broken promise to reform pensions and prevent erosion of pensions arising from unfair indexation.
In the context of increasing cost of living, the coalition will also propose an amendment to fix the deeply flawed and unfair Veterans' Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, to deliver fairness for disabled veterans with high pharmaceutical costs. At present, the Labor government's legislation has created two classes of disabled veterans: those with qualifying service and those without. My office has received inquiries from some of our most disabled veterans, who do not receive assistance under the scheme and are, as you can imagine, extremely frustrated and angry. Across the country up to 1,500 of our most disabled veterans slip through the cracks under Labor's scheme. This is because they receive the special rate of TPI but do not have appropriate qualifying service as defined by the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986.
The coalition has a plan to fix this situation, a plan we took to the 2010 election and a plan we will take to the next election. Under our election promise, more than 80,000 disabled veterans would be provided with financial relief under a comprehensive veterans' pharmaceutical reimbursement scheme. We identified the need to fix the situation such that there will no longer be two classes of veterans, and all veterans with a disability would have no out-of-pocket pharmaceutical related expenses. We proposed a scheme by which eligible veterans would pay for only 30 scripts per year—that is, once they reach the veterans' pharmaceutical safety net, veterans pay not a dollar more for their scripts. Such an approach also removes cumbersome requirements placed on eligible veterans with complicated reimbursements.
Our plan provides assurance to veterans such that they would no longer have to wait until the new year before they could again receive financial relief for the cost of pharmaceuticals. The coalition will therefore move amendments which would enable all special rate or TPI ex-servicemen to become eligible for the veterans' pharmaceutical reimbursement scheme. As I have mentioned, this means the coverage will be extended to all of the approximately 1,500 special rate pensioners who do not have qualifying service. These proposed amendments provide fairness, justice and peace of mind to all veterans.
This proposal, based on the government's advice about the average cost of reimbursement and the approximate number of 1,500 recipients of the special rate pensions, will cost up to $234,000. In the context of the full government scheme, which is budgeted to cost $30 million over the next four years, we are not talking about a lot of money. Yet we have a government so incompetent that it cannot implement a policy that will cost only $234,000 a year. However, one can never justify a policy based solely on cost; one justifies policies because they are the right thing to do. The coalition plans to repeal the carbon tax, and not just because it is a $9 billion a year carbon tax that pushes up electricity prices and increases cost-of-living pressures. We will repeal the carbon tax because it is the wrong policy approach that does nothing to benefit the environment.
The coalition opposes wasting more than $56 billion on the National Broadband Network not only because it is gross mismanagement of taxpayers' money but also because we know that it can be done faster, cheaper and more affordably.
Similarly, the coalition supports fair indexation of military superannuation pensions because people on those pensions are doing it tough and they deserve fair indexation. We support spending an extra $234,000 a year on disabled veterans because they deserve and need the funding. Not only will the next election be a referendum on the carbon tax; it will be an election on how the Australian government supports the veteran community. It will be an election to decide between the Labor Party, which constantly refuses to listen to the community, and the coalition, which has shown not only the ability to listen, to consult and to devise competent policy but also the ability to understand the needs of the veteran community. It will be an election to restore hope, reward and opportunity to Australian veterans and their families.