Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill as the representative of many veterans and a strong supporter of causes that recognise the great role played by veterans in our nation's development and the need to provide strong social and financial support for veterans and their families. This bill implements a range of minor technical amendments to several pieces of legislation which affect veterans and their families. The coalition supports these measures, but we also believe that this legislation can be improved, and we will be seeking the government's support to work collaboratively to make these improvements. This includes an amendment that will defer this legislation in order to impose a fair indexation standard as a requirement for the passing of this legislation.
We do not move this amendment lightly. We believe the government should immediately introduce fair, just and equitable arrangements for military superannuants. By deferring passage of the bill until it includes fair indexation legislation, we are stating loud and clear that the time has come for this important development. Through my work at street stalls, at shopping centres and doorknocking, I have spoken to many Bennelong veterans who have implored me to fight for fair indexation. Through this amendment, I am honouring their service and delivering on my commitment to the Bennelong electorate.
In June 2010, prior to my entry into parliament, the coalition announced our fair indexation commitment. This extended fair indexation to superannuants aged 55 and over to members of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Scheme and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme. We have made a commitment to Australia's former warriors that under a coalition government their pensions will be indexed in the same manner as the age and service pensions. We took this commitment to the 2010 election and, despite returning to the opposition benches, introduced legislation to the Senate in November 2010 to provide fair, just and equitable indexation for DFRB and DFRDB military superannuants.
True to form, four months later the Labor-Greens alliance decided to refer this legislation to an inquiry. There have already been more than half-a-dozen inquiries, all of which supported fair indexation. The coalition just wants to get things done to support our veterans, and we therefore opposed yet another inquiry.
True to form, the Labor-Greens alliance set a new precedent by using the inquiry to oppose fair indexation.
Finally, on 16 June 2011, in a day of shame for the Australian Senate, the coalition's fair indexation legislation was defeated. Since then, the coalition has remained committed to the introduction of fair indexation. In September last year the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, told the RSL National Congress:
It has long been to me and my colleagues in the coalition verging on the scandalous that defence retirees do not enjoy the same indexation arrangements as other people who have retired.
The coalition committed to addressing the indexation arrangements going into the 2010 election. Sadly, we were not able to form a government after that election but we didn't let that stop us.
We brought private members legislation into the parliament for decent indexation for Defence Force retirees and, I regret to say, that that legislation was not supported.
This commitment was reiterated earlier this year when the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for veterans' affairs, Senator Michael Ronaldson, signed the coalition's pledge to deliver fair indexation. The pledge reads:
The Coalition's clear commitment to our veterans:
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.
Only a Coalition Government will deliver fair, just and equitable indexation for DFRB and DFRDB pensions.
With your support, Australia's veterans and their families will get the fair go they deserve.
For the veterans in Bennelong, and my fellow constituents who may not have served our nation but have the utmost respect for the actions and sacrifices of those who did, I am delighted to take this opportunity to support this pledge. This is not an idle promise; this is a critical reform. Unlike the Gillard government and their promises that there will be no carbon tax, this promise is locked in and will be delivered by an Abbott government in our first budget. Unfortunately for veterans, in Bennelong and across the nation, they are being punished twice. Not only has this government denied them fair indexation but they have also denied veterans any specific or direct compensation to assist with the increased costs associated with the carbon tax. Their excuse? It will cost too much. How much is a fair go worth for our veterans?
Amazingly, a few months ago, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Warren Snowdon, argued that a superannuant on $58,000 per year did not need fair indexation, saying that they were already well off. What the minister did not acknowledge is that the average DFRDB military pension is just $24,386—less than half the figure he quoted. It seems that Labor is continuing to play the politics of envy and to deliberately mislead the public.
Deceptive claims are being made that the coalition's scheme is not funded. It is estimated the coalition's policy will cost $100 million and yet we have identified more than $50 billion in savings to specifically meet the costs of these and other positive policies. It is clear to all Australians that, if this government stopped wasting money on pink batts, school halls, cash for clunkers and advertising their carbon tax broken promise, we would be able to pay for a fair go for veterans over and over again. For example, the cost of fair indexation in the first year is estimated to be $4 million, yet, in this year alone, Labor will spend $36 million—nine times more—just on carbon tax ads. Their priorities are simply all wrong.
Following the passage of this amended bill to implement fair indexation the coalition will be seeking to make the Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme the fair system that it should be and that our veterans, deserve and to deliver fairness for disabled veterans with high pharmaceutical costs. It has become clear that Labor's pharmaceutical reimbursement scheme is deeply flawed and is simply unfair. It has created two classes of disabled veterans—those with qualifying service and those without. As a result, up to 1,500 disabled veterans get no assistance through this scheme. These are our most disabled veterans, receiving the special rate, or TPI, pension but who do not have 'qualifying service' as defined by the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986.
The coalition's system for veterans' pharmaceutical costs is much fairer. At the last election we proposed a comprehensive veterans' pharmaceutical reimbursement scheme which delivered financial relief to more than 80,000 disabled veterans. Importantly, this did not create two classes of veterans, and ensured that all of our most disabled veterans had no out-of-pocket pharmaceutical expenses. The coalition's scheme was also immediate—no cumbersome reimbursements were needed, nor was there a need for technical amendments, as this legislation proposes, to ensure the scheme functioned properly.
Under the coalition's scheme, a veteran who qualified for the scheme would only pay for 30 prescriptions per year. Once they reached this reduced veterans' pharmaceutical safety net, they paid no more for their scripts. This means immediate financial relief for veterans. Significantly, the coalition's scheme did not require cumbersome reimbursements. Labor's scheme leaves veterans waiting for the calendar to tick over to a new year before they receive any financial relief for the cost of pharmaceuticals. The coalition's amendments will be presented in the other place and I look forward to being granted the chance to wholeheartedly support these fair and reasonable initiatives when they come to this House.
In conclusion, I urge the government to learn from their recent backflips in other policy areas and to embrace the coalition's policy that provides fairness for many of our great Australian heroes. Last Saturday we commemorated Vietnam Veterans' Day, and I take this opportunity today to argue that our veterans have given so much for our nation, it is time that we gave back.