House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020


Defence Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

11:14 am

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

It's fitting that the first bill that parliament will be debating after discussing the resignation of Mike Kelly is a bill around veterans. I, too, want to associate myself with the fine remarks from the Leader of the Opposition and the minister, the member for Wright. I think it is a testament to Mike's service to his nation that there was such uniformity in respect and affection for him, and, I too, want to join in wish him the best in the next stage of his life, given the fact that his parliamentary career was cut short, sadly, due to his military service.

I'm pleased to speak on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020. At the outset, Labor recognises the unique nature of military service, the sacrifice of current and former ADF members and their families, and the outstanding contribution they make to our nation. Our Defence personnel, veterans and their families often have complex needs and require special support, and the Australian community has an expectation they'll be looked after.

Labor joins with the government in continuing to support our former, current and future Defence personnel. To that end, this bill includes two measures. The first measure will open up the Australian Defence Force Superannuation Scheme, ADF Super, so that members who have left the ADF and who provided at least 12 months of service can continue to make contributions to the fund. ADF Super is the current default superannuation fund for new ADF members and for the new eligible ADF members who have elected ADF Super as their fund of choice.

Military superannuation is a vital component of our ability to attract and retain talented ADF personnel, so Labor was happy to support the scheme when it was established in 2015. ADF Super introduced greater flexibility and portability than was available under the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme, also known as the MSB Scheme or military super—the previous seem, which applied to serving members of the ADF.

Currently when a member of the ADF Super leaves the permanent forces they must change to a new superannuation fund. The purpose of the amendments in this bill is to make it absolutely clear that ADF members can choose to continue to contribute to ADF Super when they separate from the ADF. These changes will align ADF Super with superannuation arrangements available in broad industry and public sector superannuation schemes, including the Public Sector Superannuation accumulation plan. The amendments will also require ADF super to obtain relevant insurance products for scheme members who are no longer serving in the ADF. These changes will not affect existing arrangements for the other now closed military superannuation schemes, namely the MSB Scheme or the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme, DFRDB.

The second measure in the bill expands access to the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme, DHOAS, for ex-ADF members or veterans after they've completed their service. Labor has always understood the importance of housing as a Defence recruitment and retention tool. The original Defence Home Owner Scheme, along with the establishment of Defence Housing Australia, were both Labor government initiates. DHOAS assists current and former ADF members and their families to own their own homes through access to housing and finance markets. At present, a former member must apply for a subsidy certificate within two years of leaving the ADF; although, there is discretion to extend this period if the member has a condition that led to their failure to apply for the subsidy within two years. The amendments will extend the time, after a member separates from the ADF, when they can apply for a subsidy certificate to five years. This will assist veterans transitioning to civilian life by giving them more time to look for suitable accommodation before applying and accessing their DHOAS and will allow veterans and their families to make the best choice for themselves. The intention is to ensure that all veterans will be able to carefully consider their options after leaving the ADF, without being rushed into purchasing a home for fear of losing their entitlement to their subsidy.

Labor has supported previous reforms to this scheme, and we will be supporting these improvements. Both measures in these bills are consistent with the broad aims of Project Suakin, an initiative of the former Labor government, but one which enjoys bipartisan support. This is about creating a more modern and flexible Defence workplace environment that reflects a mobile workforce and the changing circumstances and priorities of an individual ADF member's life over time. All up, these amendments will deliver better outcomes for our Defence personnel and veterans and their families, and Labor supports them.

While Labor supports this bill, I wish to take this opportunity to briefly raise our concerns with the government's failings in a number of areas affecting veterans. Firstly, while the measure on the ADF Super in this bill is to be commended, the same can't be said of the way the government has handled a number of other area of veteran superannuation and service pensions. Last year, just before the election, the government announced twin reviews into the commutation arrangements under the DFRDB I referred to earlier, as well as the above general rate component of the totally and permanently incapacitated, TPI, pension in response to longstanding concerns from the veterans community.

In December last year the Commonwealth Ombudsman released its inquiry into the DFRDB, which included the damning finding that some members had been given misleading and incorrect advice by Defence about their options under the scheme and this constituted defective administration. I'm pleased the government, through the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, and the Department of Defence apologised for the dodgy advice ADF personnel received and admitted this has caused a lot of confusion and distress for people over the years. However, the Ombudsman decided it was unlikely that members experienced a financial loss as a result of this bad advice and that therefore this did not warrant financial compensation. We know many veterans are unhappy with this finding and saw this as a cop-out. I understand a small number of veterans have applied for compensation through the government's Scheme for Compensation for Detriment caused by Defective Administration, and Labor encourages all members who believe they've suffered financial loss to do so.

While Labor welcomed this inquiry, given the government announced it just before the election, we suspect it was just a cynical ploy to placate veterans before the election and kick the can down the road, hoping they wouldn't have to deal with the issue. Also, the government has shown bad faith with Australia's 28,000 TPI pensioners, with its review of the TPI pension or special rate of disability pension, which seems to have been quietly shelved. This review, conducted by David Tune in the Prime Minister's department, was another marketing exercise announced before the election. But we know from Senate estimates that the Prime Minister received the review in August last year and has been sitting on it ever since. This is an absolute disgrace and an insult to the 28,000 TPI veterans across the country who deserve to know the outcomes of this inquiry. The Prime Minister needs to release the Tune review and the government's response immediately.

Moving on, it must be said that the measures in this bill that help boost home ownership for current and ex-service personnel stand in stark contrast to the government's complete failure and inaction when it comes to the plight of homeless veterans.

As the shadow minister for veterans' affairs and defence personnel has mentioned previously a number of reports released last year revealed alarming levels of homelessness among veterans. For example, an Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute report showed veterans are almost three times as likely to experience homelessness as the general population with 5.3 per cent of veterans homeless in any 12-month period compared to the national average of 1.9 per cent. That is a disgrace, an absolute disgrace.

We've also seen previous figures that one in 10 people sleeping rough is a veteran, while RSL NSW have noticed a 25 per cent increase in the number of veterans seeking their help. This is an indictment on the way we treat struggling veterans, many of whom find themselves living in poverty. The current pandemic has only highlighted the fact that far too many people are falling through the cracks and support services are failing some of our most vulnerable people. Now, more than ever, people need access to secure accommodation in order to keep themselves and the community safe. All homelessness where it exists is a national shame, and the government needs to do more to tackle this crisis.

This leads me to the issue of the government support for veterans and their families during the current coronavirus. Labor welcomes the health and financial assistance that has been provided already in response to the COVID-19 health emergency, including taking up Labor's proposals around telehealth and mental health coverage. However, more needs to be done to assist veterans and the ex-service organisations that support them, particularly in the case of older and vulnerable veterans who may be self-isolating at home and at greater risk of experiencing loneliness. ESOs and health professionals have been telling us that they are seeing very high levels of demand for allied and mental health services at this time and that more resources are needed for frontline mental health and welfare services. Stakeholders have told us one of the best things the government could do here is urgently increase the Department of Veterans' Affairs fee schedules for health services, including psychologists and psychiatrists, to reduce the long wait times for veterans seeing mental health professionals.

It's concerning too that the government's stimulus packages have not included more substantial support for charities and organisations as this could affect many smaller ESOs and their volunteers. We know many RSL sub-branches rely on fundraising from selling badges and pins through annual Anzac Day appeals. With the cancellation of Anzac Day services this year, many have been struggling to generate the income to fund vital welfare and advocacy services for local veterans. Many of the RSL and service clubs who support these sub-branches and other charities financially have had to close their doors due to the pandemic, resulting in a significant loss of revenue and thousands of staff being stood down, furthering impacting services. My electorate of Shortland is no stranger to this crisis and the experience being suffered by RSL sub-branches and the RSL clubs that support them. On top of this, while changes to the threshold of JobKeeper payments for registered charities are welcome, this is no use to many small ESOs and RSL sub-branches, which are mostly volunteer run and don't qualify for the payment.

Even before the coronavirus emergency, there were a number of initiatives affecting the veteran community that were well behind schedule. Last year the minister committed to provide a response to the July 2019 Productivity Commission report on the veteran support system as soon as possible. He also committed to deliver a new Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and National Action Plan by the end of last year. Then there was the much vaunted announcement of a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention. It's now May, and we've seen little or no progress on any of these fronts and no explanations for the delays. I remind the government they committed to deliver these initiatives well before the coronavirus started. All governments have a variety of responsibilities, and there is simply no excuse for further delay to these important announcements.

I can assure the House that Labor stands ready and willing to work with the government at this challenging time, but where there are gaps or where more needs to be done we'll continue to hold them to account and make constructive suggestions so we get the best possible care and support for veterans and their families. It was in this spirit that the shadow minister for veterans' affairs and defence personnel wrote to the minister to raise all these issues on 8 April—more than a month ago—but is yet to receive a reply. For the information of the House, I seek leave to table a copy of the letter the shadow minister sent to the minister.

Leave granted.

I thank the assistant minister. It is very disappointing that there has been no response, and I can only hope the minister will rectify this situation and respond as soon as possible.

So, in conclusion, we have a special obligation to help our veterans. We trained them. We asked them to put their lives at risk for us, and yet we find them sleeping rough and not receiving adequate support in their retirement. As I've said the government needs to do more to address a range of challenges affecting our service men and women, especially when it comes to superannuation, homelessness and mental health and wellbeing during the current coronavirus emergency and beyond. Notwithstanding this, the bill currently before the House will mean better outcomes for our Defence personnel and veterans and their families, and Labor supports it. I commend the bill.

11:28 am

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Serving your country in the Australian Defence Force is a great honour, but that honour comes at a cost. I think the retirement of the previous member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, has demonstrated that, and I want to join with speakers previously who have indicated their respect for Mike. The Australian Army values are courage, initiative, respect and teamwork. If you could sum up each of those four values into one word, it would be integrity. Mike Kelly, the former member for Eden-Monaro, demonstrates and encapsulates what it means to have integrity. There are probably not too many people that you could say that about in this place. Mike Kelly is a very good man, and I just want to acknowledge the service he has given to his country not just as an MP but to his country in uniform in places like East Timor, Somalia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Iraq. Mike finished his military career as a colonel and the director of the Australian army legal service. I wish him well and I wish his family well in his health recovery.

Thankfully only a small minority of those who serve in the ADF finish their service with injuries or worse. But all who have served in the ADF no doubt have made many sacrifices. During their service ADF personnel spend a great deal of time away from their homes and their families. Even when they're at home during their service they give up many choices and autonomy over where they live and their day-to-day lifestyles. Overseas the necessary privations can be much more severe.

The men and women of the ADF expect these sacrifices while they serve and they willingly accept them, but, unfortunately, in many cases veterans discover that even after leaving the Defence Force they still face challenges because of it. Transitioning ADF personnel have suffered disadvantages compared to their civilian counterparts in finding work, getting recognition for their prior learning, finding accommodation, gathering the references and documentation they need and reintegrating into their communities. The coalition government has worked hard since 2013 to improve these processes. We've instituted a policy of no discharge without documentation, for example. This ensures ADF members are prepared for civilian life and future employment with all the documents they need, including medical and training records, to make transition as seamless as possible.

To help further we've established individual professional career coaching for ADF members prior to, and up to 12 months following, separation from the ADF. We've delivered the Prime Minister's Veterans Employment Program to help veterans to identify employers who are likely to support them and give those employers awards for their commitment.

We've allocated more than $266 million to improving the systems of the Department of Veterans' Affairs and making it easier for veterans to get access to the services and information that they need. This is not to mention the additional funding the government has allocated to support veterans' higher education, mental health services and better access to rehabilitation.

Buying a house can be an important part of making this transition as successful as possible. Owning a home helps to embed all of us in a new community, as well as giving us greater financial security and a sense of belonging. This can be especially important for ADF veterans. That's why the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme assists current and former ADF members and their families by providing subsidised home loans through three nominated providers. However, it can take some time for newly transitioned former ADF members to find a place in civilian life for themselves and their families. It's hard to lay down roots until you've made major life decisions, like what career to pursue, which community to live in and what your future will in fact hold. Those decisions take time and access to information, especially for individuals whose exit from the ADF was not voluntary. They are decisions which cannot always be made whilst still serving.

As it stands veterans are eligible to make an application for a subsidised loan under this scheme for two years after they have left the ADF. But I'm sure all of us here would appreciate how quickly two years can pass. Anyone who has transitioned from a normal life to a life in this place will know how quickly the first two years passes and how long it can take to make those adjustments. The experience for veterans is even more marked as they attempt to systematically rebuild each aspect of their lives in a totally new setting. I know that the minister has spoken to many veterans about this issue and I know that he has been listening. Two years is simply not enough. We want veterans to be able to consider their options carefully. We want them to make the best possible choices for themselves and their families in every aspect of their lives before making that commitment. We don't want them to feel rushed into making the biggest financial decision that they're likely to ever make simply because the deadline for a government scheme is arising. This scheme is supposed to help veterans transition, not force them into making hasty decisions.

Schedule 1 of this bill extends the time after a member separates from the ADF during which they can apply for a subsidy certificate for their housing loan to five years. Initially this change will only benefit around 100 ADF members, but in the future some 5,500 transitioning veterans will have access every year. This will do a lot to make sure that veterans have the time they need to reintegrate into the housing market and find their place in the civilian world.

However, this bill goes further. It will also make a major contribution to ensuring that our veterans are not disadvantaged in the further critical area of superannuation. As it stands, when a member leaves the ADF they lose the right to continue to contribute to the ADF superannuation scheme. Throughout most of civilian life, including now in the public service superannuation accumulation plan, when an employee moves jobs we allow them to continue to contribute to the same super account with their new employer. In fact, we actively encourage them to do so to avoid worsening the $20 billion problem of lost and unclaimed super. Not being able to keep contributing to their super account risks ADF veterans facing higher fees, unnecessary duplication of insurances and lower incomes in retirement. Schedule 2 of this bill will avoid these poor outcomes for veterans by guaranteeing that ADF members can choose to remain contributory members of the ADF superannuation scheme when they leave the ADF.

Under this bill, from 1 May 2020 if you've served at least 12 months in the ADF you'll be able to keep contributing to the ADF superannuation scheme for life. We know that ADF members appreciate their super fund. Since the government introduced it in 2016 97 per cent of new members have chosen it and the scheme is growing every year. The ADF superannuation scheme provides unique benefits to servicemen and women above and beyond strong returns, including automatic insurance benefits, despite their hazardous occupation. I have no doubt that, once this bill is passed, a great many will take up this new option. These improvements to legislation are only the latest in a comprehensive package of measures—led by the current Minister for Veterans' Affairs and his predecessors; the Minister for Education; and the Deputy Prime Minister—to support veterans as they transition from the ADF into civilian life. We've seen these impacts nationally, in programs as diverse as free and immediate mental health treatment for all veterans; the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention; individual professional career coaching; and new veterans wellbeing centres being built all over this country.

Locally, in my electorate of Fisher we've also seen the impact of the government's focus on improving outcomes for former service men and women in the now completed renovations to the Glasshouse Country RSL. As part of the 2019-20 federal budget, the Morrison government delivered a grant of some $258,000 to this critical sub-branch in my community. The Glasshouse Country RSL is the only sub-branch in the hinterland of my electorate, helping cater to a region with one of the largest populations of veterans in Australia. This government's funding allowed President Brian Machin, Deputy President Dave Siebrecht and their fellow members to undertake a transformative program of improvements. This included upgrades and new equipment for the bar and dining areas, increased space for military heritage displays, safety and security improvements throughout, and a redesigned office area. I was proud to have the opportunity to visit the site earlier this year, before the current crisis, to officially open the completed new facilities. The welfare benefits that these improvements will bring when the sub-branch reopens will obviously result in a greater quality of life for those members of the Glasshouse Country RSL. The familiar RSL building was already home to community groups like Probus and the Orchid Society, but, with these new first-class facilities, I know there will be many more locals knocking on their front door. I've been advocating strongly in Canberra for the funding of the RSL since the beginning of last year, and I'm grateful to the community for helping me by showing their support at every stage.

Whether it be in relation to mental and physical health, pensions, employment, recognition or remembrance, this government is fully committed to improving the lives of former ADF service men and women in this country. You can see that commitment in the record $11 billion we are investing in their care each and every year. This bill will make a further modest but very important contribution in the vital areas of accommodation and superannuation. I commend the bill to the House.

11:40 am

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

At the heart of Australia's defence forces are the men and women who proudly wear the uniform, including my brother, who's serving in the Army in Timor-Leste at the moment. I send a cheerio to my brother Dan. Labor joins with the government in continuing to support all of our former and current defence personnel. In particular, I associate myself with the words that the Labor leader, the member for Grayndler, and the member for Wright said about my friend Mike Kelly, the former member for Eden-Monaro. Mike is a good man. Mike is a patriot and he will continue to work towards making our country more secure and more prosperous into the future. He's made a decision to do that outside of this place. I, for one, as a former serviceman, want to say thanks for your service, Mike. Thanks for your service in uniform and out of uniform, and I wish you well for the future, my friend.

Most of all, when it comes to looking after veterans, we're all in this together. We are supportive of the measures in the Defence Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020 because they will support our serving people. Transitioning out of the forces is a difficult time, and these superannuation and DHOAS, defence housing measures, will certainly aid in that transition. It will open up the superannuation scheme, ADF Super, so that ADF Super members who have left the ADF, if they have served for at least 12 months, can continue to use that super fund. We've all had that experience of trying to consolidate super funds. This will make it much easier for our serving people.

The purpose of the amendments in this bill is to make it absolutely clear that ADF members can choose to remain contributory members of ADF Super when they separate from the ADF. This change will be implemented through changes to the ADF Super trust deed which will take effect from 1 May 2020. I note the member for Shortland's comments about DFRDB and some of the issues there that we would like the government to have another look at. But this super change is a good one. When it comes to DHOAS, I know it has helped a lot of members of the Defence Force get into home ownership. This second measure in the bill expands access to DHOAS for members and veterans after they've completed their service. As I said, the transitionary period is an uncertain time. While former serving people may think they've stitched up some employment somewhere, that might change. Their family circumstances may change. So extending to five years the eligibility of those members is a very good thing. It will allow them to transition, to settle and to work out where they want to make that home ownership a reality, and it will allow the scheme to assist them and their family. The current two-year limitation is not always enough time to enable veterans and their families to make the best choices, so I support this measure.

As I said, transition to civilian life after the military can be quite difficult. I want to acknowledge the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, who is with us in the chamber, and the $5 million commitment to a wellbeing centre for Darwin and Palmerston. One of the things that centre will be able to do is assist members—whilst they're serving, as they transition and after they've completed their last day in uniform—to understand these bills and their effect on the policies of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. It will help with referrals to medical centres. It will provide information. It will connect people. It will provide a focus for our Top End community—a garrison town, as most members would know—to get the information that they need to access the support they need to make sure they are well and their families are well. I want to acknowledge that support, because we can't just hope that information on these changes to DHOAS and super is relayed to the soldier contemplating life after service; we need to be active. Through somewhere like the Darwin veteran wellbeing centre, that information will be imparted in a clear, supportive way, as will the range of services available to that young Australian.

I said that we and the government mostly see eye to eye. I want to draw the House's attention to something I learned overnight. A young Tasmanian man who signed up to serve our nation in World War II was in a naval vessel, HMAS Armidale, in the Timor Sea, north of Darwin. They were in the fight of their lives. Japanese aircraft were strafing the Armidale and had delivered bombs that would see the it go to the bottom of the Timor Sea. Teddy Sheean's mate was in the water. Teddy was wounded. He got up onto the deck of the Armidale and strapped himself into the gun. As the Japanese were flying overhead, firing at the Armidale and firing at his mates in the water, Teddy Sheean strapped himself into the gun and started taking down Japanese aircraft that were trying to kill his mates in the water. Teddy Sheean took his last breath and went down with the Armidale. Teddy Sheean, an 18-year-old young man from Tasmania, has a couple of times been considered by the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal for the Victoria Cross. The honours and awards appeals tribunal has recommended that the government recommend to the sovereign that Teddy Sheean be awarded the Victoria Cross.

I remember the first time that I saw the famous painting of Teddy Sheean strapped into the gun, fighting with his last breath to protect his mates. I was in the War Memorial. I'll never forget it, because what it said to me very clearly was that that young Tasmanian serviceman, 18 years old, was prepared to go down with the ship to protect his mates in the water. The appeals tribunal has recommended that Teddy Sheean receive the Victoria Cross. He quite literally gave his life for his mates. But the government, for whatever reason, has said no. Teddy Sheean gave his life, at 18 years of age, to save his mates but doesn't get a Victoria Cross. I would like to hear from the Prime Minister why that is so. Would it be any different if he had been from Sydney? He was from Tasmania. Would it be any different if he'd had a parent who was connected? Would it be any different if that young man had had a different upbringing, in a different place, in a different time? I think it's shameful that the government has decided Teddy Sheean should not receive the Victoria Cross, and I ask the Prime Minister to explain why that is the case.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the work of the Tasmanians—on both sides; it has bipartisan support—in the campaign to get Teddy Sheean properly recognised. I acknowledge Brian Mitchell, the member for Lyons, but, in a truly bipartisan way, I also want to acknowledge someone who is a former senator in the other place, the former Liberal senator Guy Barnett, for the work that he has done to get Teddy properly recognised. I hope all of that work doesn't go to waste and is not ignored, because this is an important issue. Let's think about those that we honour, and Teddy Sheean was certainly someone who deserved that honour.

11:51 am

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

Following the comments of the member for Solomon, I think I should just acknowledge for the record, in relation to Ordinary Seaman Edward (Teddy) Sheean, that while there may be some debate about the level of medallic recognition there is no debate whatsoever that Teddy Sheean is a Tasmanian hero, an Australian hero, and his service to our nation was extraordinary.

In that same vein, I want to acknowledge—as have the previous speakers, the member for Shortland, the member for Solomon and the member for Fisher—the service to this place of the member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly. He served our nation with distinction in two areas. He served as a member of the Australian Defence Force and also as a member of this place, and I regard him as a friend and an MP who just wanted to get stuff done while he was in this place. He goes with our best wishes, and we wish him good health for the future.

In summing up on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020 I'd like to acknowledge again all those members who spoke and the continued tradition of bipartisan support for the veteran community that has been demonstrated by those on this side of the House and those opposite. This government is absolutely committed to putting Australian Defence Force personnel, veterans and their families first, and one of our priorities is to ensure that our ADF personnel are appropriately supported when they transition back to civilian life. Over successive terms of government we have greatly improved the transition process for Australian Defence Force members.

Defence now takes a needs based approach to transition for the approximately 5½ thousand Australian Defence Force members who leave each year, including employment support for up to 12 months. We have progressed the Prime Minister's Veterans Employment Program, which now includes employee and employer information and a commitment from Australian businesses to hire veterans. We have delivered on our election commitment of providing $15 million for innovative programs to assist veterans to find meaningful employment. These programs will be delivered by Soldier On, Team Rubicon and the Returned and Services League of Australia.

All transitioning members automatically receive a DVA White Card, which provides free treatment for any mental health condition regardless of whether or not that condition was sustained in service. And Defence now provides career coaching and career planning, skills recognition, resume preparation, job search programs and financial literacy education. This includes tailored assistance to gain civilian employment for complex transitions through the Transition for Employment program. As a government we are also focused on ensuring that those at risk are well supported in the transition process.

I'd like to stress that, for the overwhelming majority of men and women who serve our nation in uniform, their service is an experience that leads them to the skills that assist them later in life—leadership skills, teamwork and resilience. But for some the transition process can be difficult. Earlier this year we announced an investment of $4.8 million for additional case coordinators to improve wellbeing outcomes for young and vulnerable veterans leaving the ADF in complex mental, physical, emotional and social circumstances. This will ensure that they are provided with comprehensive early-intervention support, which we know is critical to preventing worsening mental health conditions.

We also announced that the resources of the personalised career employment program will be boosted by $5.6 million. This will expand its eligibility each year to another 1,600 ADF members who are looking for career development and job placement support as they set up for civilian life. This will support early leavers from the Australian Defence Force between the ages of 17 and 30 who have served less than four years, providing them with greater opportunity for job placement within the civilian community.

These are just some of our government's achievements, and this bill further demonstrates our commitment to put veterans and their families first and to assist those transitioning from military to civilian life. As announced at the election, this bill will amend the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme Act 2008 and the Australian Defence Force Superannuation Act 2015. The Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme assists current and former ADF members and their families to achieve home ownership. It recognises the additional difficulties that ADF members and their families have in purchasing a home because of the nature of their service.

As the member for Fisher outlined, under the current arrangements a veteran generally has access to the scheme within two years of leaving the ADF. We recognise that transition from the ADF can be a time of significant change for many and that more time to make such an important financial decision may be required in some cases. While there is discretion to extend the two-year period in certain limited circumstances, the amendments in this bill will extend the time to apply for a subsidy certificate to five years after an ADF member has transitioned. And I agree with the member for Fisher that it is a sensible change which I think will benefit veterans in his community as well as right across Australia. This change seeks to ensure that veterans and their families carefully consider their options after leaving the ADF without being rushed into purchasing a home for fear of losing their entitlement to the subsidy. We expect that some 5½ thousand ADF members who leave each year will benefit from these changes.

The bill will also amend the Australian Defence Force Superannuation Act 2015 to clarify that when an ADF member transitions to civilian life they can continue to make contributions to the ADF's super account. Currently when a member of ADF Super leaves the permanent forces they must change to a new superannuation fund. This bill will clarify that ADF Super members who have left the ADF and who provide continuous full-time service for an uninterrupted period of at least 12 months can continue to make contributions to ADF Super. This is consistent with similar changes that have been made to the Public Sector Superannuation Accumulation Plan for Australian government employees. These changes will not affect the existing arrangements for the other now-closed military superannuation schemes. This change will be implemented through changes to the ADF Super trust deed. Minor consequential amendments will be made to the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 to require ADF Super to obtain relevant insurance products for ADF Super members who are no longer serving.

This bill moves to make some small, but we believe significant, changes to Defence legislation that will benefit veterans and their families now and into the future. I commend this bill.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation for the bill announced.