House debates

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Constituency Statements

Holt Electorate

9:42 am

Photo of Anthony ByrneAnthony Byrne (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Casey Regional Veterans Welfare Centre and met with John Hopkins and Peter Godfrey to present the organisation with a $3,000 grant under the Building Excellence in Support and Training—with the acronym BEST—program. The BEST program is administered by the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and it provides support and resources to ex-service practitioners for pension and welfare work to assist veterans and war widows and widowers. The Casey Regional Veterans Welfare Centre is made up of a wonderful group of volunteers that include people like John Hopkins, Peter Godfrey, Terry Busk, Dennis Warnecke and David MacNamara. Each volunteer spends around one or two days a week at their office in Cranbourne, or driving around visiting veterans to assist them with getting support, and at times compensation, from the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Each volunteer benefits from training provided under the TIP program before they assist veterans. John Hopkins has said that the TIP training has been fantastic for volunteers who get welfare training, e-learning welfare training, compensation course training and advocacy training.

After completing the training, each volunteer is better able to assist veterans, serving and ex-serving members of the permanent reserve forces, cadets, officers of cadets, and other persons nominated by the Australian government, and their dependants, to access benefits and services from the Department of Veterans' Affairs. However, one of the things that John, Peter, and other local veterans have been concerned about is the recent changes to the Veterans' Access Network shopfront services, announced in April 2014, by the coalition government. In particular, local veterans were concerned about the Morwell VAN office now being co-located into the Department of Human Services in Morwell, and the Frankston and Bairnsdale VAN offices basically closing—with veteran information support services being provided from DHS service centres in Frankston and Morwell respectively. I appreciate the government's decision to consolidate its services. However—and I had a detailed conversation with one veteran in particular—a number in our veteran community experience PTSD. We know that with the new cohort coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq—Afghanistan in particular—accessing a specific VAN network shopfront is much easier for them than going into a DHS service. My view is that these people have sacrificed, or have been prepared to sacrifice, their life in defending of our country.

I think that we owe it to them, notwithstanding that we understand the Australian government's decision, as I said, to consolidate its service, to provide accessible shopfront services so members of our veterans community who have served our country so well in conflicts feel comfortable accessing these services. If I could, on behalf of the Casey Regional Veterans Welfare Centre, I respectfully ask the government to reconsider its decision. It is in the best interest of our veterans that it does so.