Monday, 18 June 2018
Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 2) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise in support of the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 2) Bill 2018. I commend the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Personnel and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC, who has worked on this bill, which is all about ensuring that our veterans and their families have access to the support and services they need.
Every year, I'm advised, more than 5,000 service men and women will leave active duty to move on to the next chapter in their lives. We as a community and as a government must do all that we can to support our veterans and their families when they do move to the next stage in their lives, because these veterans have given so much to our country and it is only right that we support those who have made such incredible sacrifices for our nation.
But it's not always easy. At a regular veterans' round table I host with local veteran organisations, I hear too often about many of the challenges that they face. These include finding work and navigating through the transition to meaningful employment after their service. At these round tables, I also hear about the challenges faced by veteran support organisations, such as the paperwork, the time-consuming application forms and, of course, the need to access supportive mental health services. These are major challenges and they are not always easy.
On a local level, we're able to help out with activities around Veterans' Health Week, where organisations across my electorate of Robertson host events in support of veterans' health. This year from 22 September to 30 September, organisations across the electorate will take part in Veterans' Health Week, with this year's theme focusing on nutrition. For ex-service organisations in my electorate, there's funding available to assist with events for Veterans' Health Week. Applications are now open and close on 29 June, so I would encourage ex-service organisations across my electorate to apply. If they would like to do so, visit the website: dva.gov.au.
At this point, I'd also like to pay tribute to the incredible veterans' community on the Central Coast, which supports local ex-service men and women year round. We are lucky to have a number of ex-service organisations supporting more than 2,000 veterans in our community. Our veterans' organisations are led by some incredible men and women. I'd like to acknowledge the extraordinary individuals that lead these organisations locally: Vietnam Veterans Peacekeepers & Peacemakers Association of Australia Central Coast sub-branch led by Stephen Karsai; the Gosford RSL Sub Branch, led by President Greg Mawson; Peter White from the Terrigal Wamberal RSL Sub Branch; Mal Roberts from Veterans Plus; Gosford's 311 Squadron of the Australian Air Force Cadets, led by Neal Rogers; Brisbane Waters Legacy, led by Max Davis and Peter Lawley; the Central Coast Interactive War Exhibit, led by Andrew Church; the president of the Davistown RSL Sub Branch, Paul Osborn; Maureen Bland from the Partners of Veterans Association Central Coast sub-branch; and the New South Wales National Servicemen's Association & Affiliates Inc., led by Alf Hill. Each and every one of these organisations and individuals does an incredible job of supporting our local veterans. Whether it be through commemorative services and activities, advocacy and support services or through social activities, I'm proud to say that our local organisations do outstanding work in supporting our ex-service men and women.
This legislation helps implement initiatives to ensure that these veterans on the Central Coast are supported and have access to essential services as they make the transition to civilian life. This bill also builds on and continues the significant work the government is undertaking to better support our veterans in other ways as well. For example, earlier this year, in the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No.1) Act 2018, this government introduced a suite of eight measures relating to veterans' payments, family support payments and a new mental health pilot program, as well as measures to strengthen and streamline existing measures designed to ensure our veterans are supported.
These measures, along with those introduced earlier in the year, are in response to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee report—The constant battle: suicide by veterans. Schedule 1 of the bill will mean that a veteran studying full time as part of a return-to-work plan will be able to receive 100 per cent of their incapacity payments, up from 75 per cent after 45 weeks. This means that each year around 150 veterans will have financial certainty as they transition back into the workforce.
Schedule 2 of the bill relates to the new Veteran Suicide Prevention Pilot. This pilot will trial a suicide prevention service designed to provide support for our ex-service men and women who are at risk of suicide as a result of mental health or other challenges. Initially, the pilot will be rolled out across nine hospitals in Brisbane for members of the Australian Defence Force with at least one day of full-time service.
Schedule 3 will provide an increase to the amount of time wholly dependent partners eligible for compensation have to decide the way in which they would like to receive their compensation. This is obviously an incredibly difficult time for those who have lost a loved one, and this schedule will mean that no decision needs to be made for two years. This change means that in an incredibly tough time widowed partners can focus on what matters and take their time to make important decisions about the financial future of their family.
Schedule 4 will extend the Long Tan Bursary eligibility so that grandchildren of Vietnam veterans will now be able to receive a Long Tan Bursary. Schedule 5 will mean that a submariner's service between 1 July 1978 and 31 December 1992 will now be deemed 'operational', addressing some of the challenges associated with their making injury claims. In schedule 6, changes to the way in which veterans are able to make compensation claims are set to streamline the process. Veterans covered under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 will now be able to make claims for compensation verbally as well as in writing.
I'd like to focus on schedule 2 for a moment—the new Veteran Suicide Prevention Pilot. Mental health and suicide continues to be an incredibly serious issue in our community, particularly for ex-service men and women. It is an issue I take seriously. It is an issue that is raised with me almost every week by a member of our veteran community on the Central Coast. I am very pleased to see that this government is taking this issue seriously as well. We will establish a new veterans' suicide prevention pilot to deliver intensive and assertive management services to veterans following an attempted suicide or those at significant risk of suicide. This pilot is about linking non-government and government support services to support vulnerable veterans and their families. It will be offered at nine public and private hospitals in Brisbane. I look forward to following this pilot closely, with the hope that the program will be able to be accessed by veterans in my electorate in the near future. This is an issue that has previously been raised not only with me individually but also at roundtable discussions that I hold with veterans, and I know it is something our ex-service organisations on the Central Coast are very passionate about seeing addressed.
Trek 4 Vets is just one of those organisations that are committed to improving the lives of veterans across the nation. It was started a few years ago by Dean Luland and Andrew Papadopoulos. Trek 4 Vets is a non-profit organisation raising awareness and promoting suicide awareness within our community. Dean enlisted as a combat engineer with the Australian Defence Force back in 2006 and served for eight years until he was discharged in 2011. Since returning to civilian life, Dean has dedicated his life to raising awareness and supporting other returned service men and women. One of the incredible initiatives that has been run by Trek 4 Vets is their Midnight2Dawn March. The march starts at just before midnight on the night before Anzac Day, with trekkers assembled at the campground at Putty Beach in my electorate. The group then hikes for 20 kilometres through the Bouddi National Park, finishing about five hours later at Terrigal Beach just in time for the Anzac Day dawn service hosted by the Terrigal Wamberal RSL Sub Branch. The march is a chance for hikers, and indeed our whole community, to remember those who have served our nation and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Unfortunately, the walk wasn't able to take place this year. But I am advised that the Midnight2Dawn March will be back in 2019, with the aim of eventually having groups marching right across the nation.
To those in my electorate who have served our country so well, and to everyone in my community: if you are struggling, or someone you know is struggling, I urge you to reach out to one of the support services that are available. You can contact the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service on 1800011046, the Australian Defence Force support line on 1800628036 or Lifeline on 131114.
Finally, I would like to place on record my thanks and appreciation of all service men and women—those who have returned, those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who are currently serving. Our nation owes you a debt of gratitude and we thank you for your service. I support this bill and I will continue to work with local ex-service organisations and the member for Gippsland to ensure our veterans have access to all the support they need. I commend this bill to the House.