Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading
I too rise to speak on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. This legislation, proposed by the government, makes a series of minor technical amendments to Veterans' Affairs portfolio legislation and to other acts that impact on veterans entitlements.
Most of the amendments, as my colleagues have said, are technical amendments which do not engage in any of the applicable rights of freedom. The amendments proposed are by no means controversial, and the coalition supports the measures being introduced. While it is a good start, the legislation can be made better, and that is what the coalition is seeking to do by proposing these amendments. The coalition seeks to legislate fair indexation as a requirement for the passing of this legislation. As the shadow minister, the member for Fadden, outlined, once passed through the House of Representatives the coalition will seek to make the Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme the fair system it deserves to be.
In March of this year I pledged my commitment to veterans. I joined my leader, Tony Abbott, and Senator Michael Ronaldson to pledge our commitment to our veterans. My pledge is here and I would like to seek leave to table my signed pledge.
Leave not granted.
That is disappointing. I informed my electorate that as the elected representative I would fight for a fairer system of indexation for the Defence Force Retirement Benefit, or the DFRB, and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefit, the DFRDB, military superannuation pensions. This is not a new platform. It is the same policy that the coalition have been pursuing for some time. In fact, at the 2010 election we committed to fair indexation. Despite the election outcome, the coalition did introduce legislation into the Senate to provide fairness, justice and equity. Unfortunately, the Greens and the Labor Party opposed this legislation. The coalition have remained committed to the introduction of fair indexation. On 20 September 2011 the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, told the RSL National Congress in Melbourne:
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.
As I indicated earlier, in March this year while in Bendigo the Leader of the Opposition, together with the shadow minister for veterans' affairs, Senator Michael Ronaldson, signed the coalition's pledge to deliver fair indexation, which is the same pledge that I tried to table. 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.
Only a coalition government will deliver fair, just and equitable indexation for DFRB and DFRDB pensions.
As I said, I support the pledge made, and through engagement with my local community they know where I stand on this issue. This is a promise I made and it is locked in, just like the other coalition members who have made similar pledges.
In this current period of Australian politics where those opposite are handing out cash left, right and centre, we on this side of the parliament pause to remember those who represented this country and who fought for this nation and those who lost loved ones while away fighting for Australia. Our veterans and their widows represent the fundamental bedrock of our Defence Force. Stop in any small town or major city and you will always find an RSL supported by a proud membership. In my electorate I have three RSLs, the Darwin RSL, the Darwin North RSL bowls club and the Palmerston RSL. All are very popular amongst the local community.
Veterans and those that remain must not be forgotten or stood aside by this government, because we will never forget but we will forever owe them a debt that cannot be paid with dollars and cents. We must do everything that we can, and what is being proposed by these amendments is just a start.
In my electorate of Solomon we have almost a thousand veterans, partners and dependants. Across Australia there are about 57,000 recipients of military superannuation pensions. The coalition's plan is to provide fair indexation to those people on the pensions. As many of you would remember, Labor has led people to believe that they would provide a fairer deal for ex-service men and women. Unfortunately, in all their time in government, the Rudd-Gillard government has not delivered. In fact, when the coalition's policy went to the Senate it was the Labor-Greens alliance waltzing together which blocked the legislation. It is an absolute shame.
I have been contacted by many veterans in my electorate seeking help because they are struggling to make ends meet. Bill Elliott of Malak recently came to one of my mobile offices to speak to me about the DFRB superannuation. He told me many veterans are feeling the pinch, particularly as they feel that turning their superannuation into a pension has disadvantaged them. Bill asked me several times: 'What have we done wrong? What is the government going to do?' And he said: 'This is unfair. Most men volunteered to serve their country.'
Another constituent from Northlakes in Darwin's northern suburbs who has asked to be referred to as Mr J wrote expressing his concern. He said he receives a DFRB pension from the Navy and he is disappointed that Labor is sticking to the CPI related increase to his pension, which he believes is unfair. Last week I received an email from Rick, who states:
I received $1.29 increase in my COM Super pension. I retired last December after paying 5% of my wage for the past 32 years 20 into COM SUPER thinking I would be able to survive. I won't be able to do it if that's the yearly CPI increase. I had worked for Defence for 38 years before pulling the pin.
Natasha, please make a stand on our behalf.
There are many more emails from people like Rick, Bill and Mr J who are pleading for help.
Along with these veterans, as recently as last weekend I was meeting with veterans in my electorate at the Vietnam Veterans Day memorial service where, after the service, I discussed these matters with the people there that will be directly impacted by this. These issues were also raised and echoed by many at the two veterans forums which I have held recently in Darwin, that were attended by the shadow minister for veterans' affairs, Senator Michael Ronaldson, who got to hear firsthand from the veterans in my electorate and take up their concerns.
He was quite concerned, and they were really pleased that Senator Ronaldson had actually taken the time, not once but twice, to come to Darwin to listen directly to their issues.
It is no longer acceptable that the Labor government continue to fiddle about the edges of policy while at the same time wholly dismissing the everyday concerns of veterans, ex-service personnel and their families. Local veterans who are DFRB and DFRDB military superannuants have proudly served their nation. It is time that the nation recognised the unique nature of military service and delivered fair pension indexation to these men and women, and their families.
Not only are our veterans facing unfair indexation, but they are facing the double whammy of the carbon tax, with no direct compensation to assist and offset the increased costs associated with this toxic tax. This is why I am speaking on this amendment. I am voicing the concerns of those Territorians who want fair indexation, who deserve fair indexation. They have made sacrifices and it is only fair that they receive fair indexation.
Not a week goes by that Territorians, in particular our veterans, do not raise with me the fact that they are struggling and veterans say to me that they want fair indexation. Electricity bills are starting to arrive in letterboxes, and households are beginning to feel the pressure of the extra costs which are directly related to the carbon tax. Yet, despite the clear cries of help from veterans struggling to make ends meet, Labor says the scheme is too expensive.
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—that they were already well off. He should know better. He lives in the Territory and he knows that $58,000 is not a lot of money when you live in a regional are like the Northern Territory. What Minister Snowdon failed to acknowledge is that the average DFRDB military superannuation pension is just $24,386—2½ times less than the figure he quoted in June. That same month, veterans were sent letters advising that they would receive a few cents extra per fortnight in their pensions. Many veterans received an increase of less than $1 per fortnight. This is just a disgrace. Then we had Penny Wong claiming that the coalition's costing of $100 million should actually be $1.7 billion, and that to fully implement the scheme will cost $4.5 billion. Factually, the cost to the Commonwealth for fair indexation over the next four years is not $1.7 billion, as claimed by Labor, but approximately $100 million.
Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, as you know, at the last election, the coalition identified more than $50 billion in savings necessary to meet the costs of our commitment. Following the election, the coalition identified more than $170 million in savings, which I can say were later adopted by the Gillard Labor government as savings of their own. We identified savings once to fund this important change, and we will again find the funds necessary to make this important change for our Defence people. If the Gillard Labor government could stop wasting money on poorly implemented initiatives such as pink batts, school halls and cash for clunkers, along with reducing the cost for advertising their toxic carbon tax, there may be some money around and fair indexation could be well and truly funded. 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 on advertising the carbon tax. It is clear Labor has its priorities in absolutely the wrong order.
In conclusion, the coalition does not move this amendment lightly—nor do I support these proposals lightly. The bill before the House makes a number of important legislative changes which I support. Members such as the member for Dobell and the member for Eden-Monaro claim that they support veterans. Well, if this is true, I urge them to get on board, to come over with their crossbencher mates to support the amendment moved by the shadow minister, the member for Fadden. I believe the government should now introduce fair, just and equitable arrangements for military superannuants. It is time for fair indexation for our veterans. It is time that the parliament delivered.
I honour the veterans in my electorate and I want them to know that I will continue to fight for fair, better indexation for DFRB and DFRDB superannuants, just as my coalition colleagues will. This is my pledge, along with the other coalition members. We support Defence personnel.