Thursday, 11 February 2010
I rise in my capacity as shadow minister for veterans’ affairs to speak on some issues that are affecting Australia’s veterans. It is a vital that entitlements and services for veterans and their families are not eroded. I take this opportunity to highlight the promises that have been made and those still awaiting delivery. I am also working hard to develop policies to improve the circumstances of Australia’s veterans both now and into the future. Nevertheless, it is necessary to ask the tough questions today and, more importantly, it is necessary that the decisions that require action are made.
Accountability is an important element of our political system. Prior to the last election the Australian Labor Party raised a number of expectations for action in certain areas that impact on the veteran community. Shortly after the election, it must be said, there was a flurry of activity as a number of promises were ticked off. Lately, however, we have seen stalling on larger and more costly items. Some might suggest that this has occurred where the tougher and more difficult decisions were required. This is deeply concerning. Last night in Senate estimates the government indicated that it had no time line on promises made, particularly with regard to a number of reviews that are currently being undertaken or have already been undertaken. The government stonewalled on a number of questions.
What concerns me is that there are too many unanswered reviews and too much reckless spending, putting at risk the delivery of expected outcomes. We have the outstanding recommendations of the review of the Clarke review—yes, a review of a review. That report has been sitting on the minister’s desk waiting for an outcome for 12 months. From opposition he promised priority would be given to outstanding issues around nuclear veterans and British Commonwealth Occupation Force veterans. To date, there has been no action and no decision. Promises have been made and expectations raised. Understandably, the delay is damaging trust. Understandably, veterans are disappointed. Also underway is a review of the military compensation arrangements. The veteran community and the coalition hope that this review, once completed, will be answered not just with talk but with action. There is a review into the pharmaceutical copayment, a key promise from Labor in opposition which is yet to be delivered. Similar to some other reviews, there is no timetable for delivery. The coalition awaits the delivery of this key promise from the last election which, according to the minister, was a key objective to be addressed in their first term of government. We are still waiting.
Last year, the parliament reported on the F111 deseal-reseal program. The committee’s report was extensive and I call on the minister to respond. Studies into the health and wellbeing of veterans are vital, and the coalition supports ongoing investigation into improved ways to deal with health concerns of veterans. Importantly, though, this is another area where action is required rather than talk.
I want to touch briefly on the cost of living pressures facing the veteran community. Prior to the last election Labor’s plan for veterans’ affairs committed Labor to ‘protecting veterans from rising costs of living.’ This promise has not been kept. What a great shame it is that this nation has gone from no government debt and money in the bank to a projected net debt of $153 billion by June 2014. Labor’s debt fuelled spending binge will impact heavily on all Australians, but particularly those who are on a fixed income. This is jeopardising the delivery of key election promises to Australia’s veteran community.
In conclusion, can I say to the veteran community in Australia that the coalition remains committed to a stand-alone Department of Veterans’ Affairs and to ongoing care for our veterans and their families.