Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading
I rise today to speak on the Veterans Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 because I believe that the coalition's changes to this legislation are very important for veterans living in Macarthur. The reason that the coalition is pushing for its amendments is simple—we want fair and just treatment for our veterans and military superannuants. While we support the measures contained within the government's legislation, we simply believe that it could be made better. This is why we are seeking to include fair indexation as a requirement for the passing of this legislation. Then, once the bill is passed through the House, we will seek to make the Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme the fair system it should be.
It is no secret that my father, Reg, is a Vietnam veteran. He, like thousands of others across this country, deserves the utmost respect by the Australian people and this government. I know that there are many veterans in Macarthur who would like to see fairer arrangements for military superannuants. This was one of the issues raised recently by local veterans in Campbelltown when the shadow minister for veterans affairs, Michael Ronaldson, visited my electorate for a veterans' forum. I agree with their sentiments entirely—there is no reason that defence retirees should not enjoy the same indexation arrangements as other people who have retired. These veterans dedicated their working lives to defending our country. Some were physically injured as a result of their service; others still live with the mental scars. I find it absurd that our veterans do not receive the same treatment as civilian retirees. That is why I stand here today to support the coalition's push to introduce fair, just and equitable arrangements for military superannuants.
The coalition has been pushing for a fairer system for many years. We first announced our fair indexation commitment on 27 June 2010. This commitment extended fair indexation to superannuants aged 55 who are members of the DFRB and DFRDB schemes. Under a coalition government, their pensions will be indexed in the same manner as are aged and service pensions. We took our commitment to the 2010 election, and, despite losing that election, we introduced legislation to the Senate on 18 November 2010 to provide fair, just and equitable indexation for DFRB and DFRDB military superannuants. On 24 March 2011, the Greens and Labor called for a Senate inquiry into the legislation; the coalition, on the other hand, opposed yet another wasteful inquiry. There had already been more than half-a-dozen inquiries, all of which supported fair indexation. The Greens and Labor used the inquiry to oppose fair indexation. This was the first time that the parliament had ever opposed fair indexation. On 16 June 2011, the coalition's fair indexation legislation was defeated in the Senate.
Since then, we have remained committed to the introduction of fair indexation—and that is something which everybody on this side of the House can be proud of. In March this year we made a pledge, which we will honour, to our veterans. This pledge was met with great support at the Macarthur veterans' forum in Campbelltown recently. The pledge says:
A Coalition Government will deliver fair indexation to 57,000 military superannuants and their families.
The Coalition will ensure DFRB and DFRDB military superannuation pensions are indexed in the same way as aged and service pensions. All DFRB and DFRDB superannuants aged 55 and over will benefit.
A Coalition Government will deliver fair, just and equitable indexation for DFRB and DFRDB pensions.
Australia's veterans and their families will get the fair go they deserve.
I am proud to say that I support this pledge on behalf of all veterans in Macarthur. I do this because local veterans in my electorate who are DFRB and DFRDB military superannuants have proudly served their nation. There is no reason that we should not recognise the unique nature of military service and deliver fair pension indexation to these men and women and their families. That is why a coalition government will deliver this reform in our first budget. This reform is critical, and we will deliver it—unlike those opposite, who say that it will cost too much and that the cost of fair indexation is too high.
It is disappointing that our own Minister for Veterans' Affairs has said that a superannuant on $58,000 per year does not need fair indexation and that they are already well-off. However, what he has failed to acknowledge is that the average DFRDB military pension is just $24,386. That is 2½ times less than the figure he quoted in June. I have to ask the question: is the government deliberately misleading the public? If so, for what reason? In June this year, local veterans received an increase of less than $1 per fortnight in their pensions. This is not enough to help them cope with the rising cost of living.
I am always confused when I hear the government say that things will cost too much, especially when they are talking about something as important as looking after those who have proudly served our nation. If the government stopped wasting money on pink batts, school halls, set-top boxes, green loans and advertising their toxic carbon tax broken promise, we would be able to pay for fair indexation many times over. The cost of fair indexation in the first year is estimated to be $4 million, yet this year alone Labor will spend $36 million on carbon tax ads. I think that the government needs to take a good look at its priorities. The coalition will find the funds necessary to introduce fair indexation. At the last election, the coalition identified more than $50 billion in savings to specifically meet the costs of this commitment—so really there are no excuses.
The Australian Veterans and Defence Services Council has released to the government, the parliament and the Australian people the outcome of its case studies conducted over the past two years.
These case studies are evidence of the distress being experienced by military pensioners through the inadequacy of the current system of indexation. This issue is over the inadequacy of indexation, which ultimately draws more and more of the military superannuation community in their later years to the benchmark of poverty. If fair indexation is affordable for some 3.5 million age pensioners, why is it not affordable for military superannuation pensioners? Military pensioners need the government to change from its indifference to their plight. They served when and where their country needed them and are worthy of our full support.
Another issue I would like to raise is also an important matter for our veterans, and that is the Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme. Once this legislation passes the House of Representatives, the coalition will seek to amend the legislation to deliver fairness for disabled veterans with high pharmaceutical costs. We believe that the government's current scheme is unfair and the current pharmaceutical reimbursement scheme is flawed. Sadly, it has created two classes of disabled veterans—those with qualifying service and those without. Currently, up to 1,500 of our most disabled veterans receive no assistance from the scheme. These are our most disabled veterans, who are receiving the special rate, or TPI, pension but who do not have qualifying service as defined by the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986.
The coalition will implement a fairer system for veterans' pharmaceutical costs. At the last election we proposed a comprehensive veterans' pharmaceutical reimbursement scheme which delivered financial relief to more than 80,000 disabled veterans. It did not create two classes of veterans, and it ensured that all of our most disabled veterans had no out-of-pocket pharmaceutical expenses. Under the coalition's scheme, a veteran who qualified for the scheme would only pay for 30 scripts per year. Once they reached this reduced veterans' pharmaceutical safety net, they would pay no more for their scripts. This meant immediate financial relief for our veterans. The coalition's scheme does not require cumbersome reimbursement, yet Labor's scheme leaves veterans waiting for the new year before they receive any financial relief for the cost of pharmaceuticals. It is just not right.
In the Senate, the coalition will move amendments to extend eligibility for the Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme to include all special rate, or TPI, ex-service persons. Our amendments will extend the coverage of the scheme beyond those disability pensioners with qualifying service, to include all special rate pensioners as well. This amendment will bring fairness and justice to the current flawed and unfair scheme. These amendments will cost up to $234,000 per year, based on the government's own advice about the average cost of the reimbursement and the approximate number of 1,500 special rate pensioners without qualifying service. The government's scheme is budgeted to cost $30 million over the next four years, so an extra $234,000 is really a modest additional cost to provide the fairness disabled veterans deserve. It is a small price to pay to ensure our most disabled service personnel are not further disadvantaged by Labor's unfair pharmaceutical reimbursement scheme.
These changes are a big deal to Vietnam veterans living in Macarthur. As the cost of living continues to rise, we cannot continue to discriminate against the people who have proudly served our nation. All we are asking for is fairness and equality for all of our pensioners, be it in regard to fair indexation or the veterans pharmaceutical benefit scheme. I do not believe this is too much to ask, and I ask those opposite to support these changes and look after our veterans who have done so much for this wonderful country and its people.