Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. We certainly owe a great debt to our veteran community. We sleep in our beds knowing that we can depend on the protection that our armed forces provide. It has been that way in Australia since Federation. Our armed forces have served this nation well, they have kept us safe, they have fought against the odds and they have always prevailed—and that is certainly something for which we owe them a great debt.
The legislation before the House tonight is largely procedural and makes a series of minor technical amendments to legislation that affects the veteran community. It is non-controversial in nature and the coalition support the measures contained within it. But this legislation can be made better and the coalition will seek to do so. Firstly, we will seek to legislate fair indexation as a requirement for the passing of this bill. Secondly, once the legislation is passed through the House of Representatives, the coalition will seek to make the Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme the fair system it deserves to be. We believe in fairness for our veteran community, a fairness that has yet to be achieved.
The coalition does not make this amendment lightly. The bill before the House makes a number of changes that the coalition supports. However, the coalition believes that the government should now introduce fair, just and equitable arrangements for military superannuants. By preventing the passage of the current bill through the House until fair indexation legislation is introduced, the coalition will be drawing a line in the sand. The time for fair indexation has come, and it is time for this parliament—this House of Representatives and our Senate—to deliver it.
The coalition announced our fair indexation commitment on 27 June 2010. Our commitment extended fair indexation to superannuants aged 55 years and over to DFRB and DFRDB scheme members.
Under a coalition government, their pensions will be indexed in the same manner as age and service pensions. We took that commitment to the 2010 election but, regrettably, the coalition was not elected. The Prime Minister was able to form a minority government with the support of the Greens and with the support of the Independents. To this date, fairness in military superannuation and taxation has not been achieved.
But, despite losing the election, we introduced legislation into the Senate on 18 November 2010 to provide fair, just and equitable indexation for those DFRB and DFRDB military superannuants. On 24 March 2011 the Greens and Labor called for a Senate inquiry into the legislation. The coalition opposed yet another inquiry. This matter has been the subject of so many inquiries that, I think, there is no need for further discussion. The need for equity is obvious and the coalition support equity. The Greens and Labor used that inquiry to oppose fair indexation, the first time the parliament has ever opposed fair indexation. On 16 June 2011, in a day of shame for the Senate, the coalition's fair indexation legislation was regrettably defeated.
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 are committed to addressing those indexation arrangements, and so they should. We have a pledge to commit to fair indexation arrangements for our veterans. They served our nation well in the Defence forces. The service by veterans is a unique form of service. It is unlike any other employment. It is a service in which you surrender many of the liberties we enjoy as citizens in this country in order to provide the degree of discipline and provide the degree of services that our military services must provide.
All we have had from Labor in this matter is excuses. We have had one excuse after another. This represents yet another broken promise by Labor. It is a broken promise that the coalition promise to redress. We promise that, on being elected to government, if these amendments fail that we should introduce fair indexation for military superannuants—something that is long overdue. I know that members of the veteran community in my electorate of Cowper have been campaigning long and hard to achieve appropriate indexation of military superannuation as the coalition is proposing. I have had many representations from people right across my electorate. From Kempsey in the south to Maclean in the north to Dorrigo in the west, I have had members of the veteran community say this is unfair. Military service is unique and it should not be discriminated against in the way that our superannuation is indexed. The coalition agree with this view. We are committed to making these changes and certainly look forward to achieving them. I certainly hope we can achieve it in this parliament. If that is not the case, the coalition would certainly, if elected as the next government of this country, pursue a fair and equitable system for veterans.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation. It has been a matter that has concerned the veteran community for too many years. The veteran community feels let down by the government's failure to address this issue. It has been an issue that has been too long in coming. The coalition is committed to achieving those changes and will certainly be pursuing that either through this parliament or when we are elected to government. I know that so many members of our veteran community are deeply concerned. They want the matter addressed and it is high time that occurred. I commend the proposed changes by the coalition to the House.