Wednesday, 25 October 2017
Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Omnibus) Bill 2017; Second Reading
It really is a privilege to follow the member for Herbert in speaking to the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Omnibus) Bill 2017. She is a fantastic advocate for her community up in Townsville and, like me, she really appreciates the work that our veterans have done in serving our country. I'm incredibly proud to rise today in solidarity with our veterans, who have already given so much to our nation. It is only fair that we, as their representatives, do whatever we can to support them. Whether it is supporting them to return to the workforce, helping them to live with a disability that they may now suffer from or even just helping them with the transition back to civilian life, it is important that we do what we can to support them. They deserve our support.
That is why I will continue to do what I can, and make sure the government does what it can, to provide Australia's veterans with the support they need in that transition to finding work or helping them in their community. I have been doing what I can already in my own electorate. I have been standing up for our veterans. Whether they live on Bribie Island, at Beachmere, in Caboolture, Morayfield, Narangba, Burpengary or Kallangur—we have wonderful communities of veterans throughout the electorate of Longman—I will always fight for our veterans and always support them. And, of course, I will always support legislation that helps them. I think it is fair to say that neither I nor Labor will ever stand in the way of good and sensible legislation.
I am standing here today agreeing to support the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Omnibus) Bill. By no means is this is a huge overhaul; the majority of the bill streamlines processes and makes things easier for veterans, which is what is fair, reasonable and should be expected. Most of all, for most of it, it is sensible and it is practical. I would like to speak on a number of the schedules to the bill. Schedule 1 will modernise and improve the operations of the Veterans' Review Board. This is a change that I welcome.
The Veterans' Review Board is a statutory authority whose role is to provide independent merits review of decisions about pensions and allowances under the Veterans' Entitlements Act as well as rehabilitation, compensation and other benefits under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004. The Veterans' Review Board is a body that serves a highly important function, so any changes that can be made to ensure it operates as effectively and efficiently as possible will always be welcomed by me on behalf of the veterans in my community. If these amendments ensure that the board pursues an objective of providing a mechanism of review that is fair, a mechanism that is accessible and just, a mechanism that is economical, informal and quick, a mechanism that helps to promote public trust and confidence in the decision-making of the board, then of course I will support these measures, as will my Labor colleagues.
These are sensible amendments, which is why I'm happy to support them, although I must point out it's no surprise to find that there was a proposal made by the government that apparently was suggested by the principal member of the Veterans' Review Board. I must commend the government for actually listening to suggestions. We all know that the only way for a government to formulate good policy is to listen and take heed of suggestions and to listen to those people who are affected, whether they be stakeholders or other organisations, or veterans or other people who live in the community. It is not possible to truly govern without listening to those who you represent, hearing what their needs and concerns are and listening to possible solutions or suggestions. It is just like hearing, I suppose, how many members of the ex-service community have expressed concerns with section 6 of schedule 1 of this bill.
I will go to section 6. It is understandable that this element has caused some angst in the community, as it gives the principal member of the Veterans' Review Board the ability to dismiss an application for review. Section 6 of schedule 1 of this bill effectively suppresses the voice of veterans who wish to stand up and represent themselves. The Veterans' Review Board is designed to be a less adversarial process than the AAT, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It is supposed to be less stressful, less painful and more accommodating to the needs of ex-service men and women. Lawyers won't be involved at this stage, which is welcome. This will be an opportunity for veterans to be heard, but I believe that making it so easy for the principal member of the board to dismiss an application for review puts this schedule at odds with the very principle of the process. It is not just me who thinks this—so do the Returned and Services League and my colleagues on this side of the House, in the Labor Party. Labor had prepared to seek amendments to this bill to remove that section in its entirety. We have been pressuring the government to do just the same.
Again, going against character today, I'm pleased to hear that the government has finally listened. I commend the government—twice in one speech!
Mr Byrne interjecting—
No, we won't. But when it is sensible, when it helps veterans in our community and right across Australia, of course we will commend and support the government on finally doing their job properly. We have been calling on them to listen to the RSL and other ex-service men and women for some time now, so it is fantastic that they have finally listened.
Schedule 4 stands out to me to be a very good move, one that I am happy to support and one that I think really will support and help the veterans in my community. Schedule 4 legislates Employer Incentive Scheme payments. These payments are effectively wage subsidies made to employers to encourage them to engage an injured veteran. I think this is important, and I really do welcome this. I have quite a lot of young veterans living in communities around Narangba and this is welcome for both the veterans and their families. We all know what the job market is like at the moment. It is a scant job market, a job market that is growing worse at an alarming rate. We as policymakers have a responsibility to do whatever we can to assist those who have served our country to find work post-service.
Some months ago, I hosted a visit by the shadow minister for defence, the honourable member for Corio, Mr Richard Marles, in my electorate of Longman. Along with the honourable member, we visited Remembrance House in Burpengary and spent quite a few hours sitting around the table talking to and listening to a group of returned service men and women.