Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Enhanced Family Support) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I'm pleased to speak on behalf of the Labor Party on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Enhanced Family Support) Bill 2022. Labor supports this because we are backing veterans and their families. From the outset, I want to say families play a critical and fundamental role in supporting capability of our Defence Force and in the wellbeing of Defence Force members. We know on this side that if we want a strong and capable defence force operating at its best then we need the best possible care and support available for family members. The responsibility to care for the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, veterans and families currently rests with our generation. We must do everything we can to support them and to give them the care and treatment they deserve, and the best possible care and treatment our country can provide.
Labor joins with the government in recognising the unique challenges faced by these families. Supporting the partners and children of our defence personnel is an ongoing and evolving effort. This legislation responds to the recommendations of a final Senate report into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel—a constant battle—which was initiated by Labor and responds also to the Productivity Commission's inquiry into veteran support, which recommended better family engagement and support by agencies. We welcome that the government has finally responded, albeit on the eve of an election. I might add, for the benefit of those who might be listening, this is a budget measure from 2021 that we are debating after the 2022 budget was handed down, so I chastise and criticise the government for their failure to bring this on earlier.
This package will be available to more working-age veteran families through expanded eligibility. It synchronises in large part the family support package, which is akin to an NDIS package, for people under 65 years of age, widows and widowers of Defence Force personnel. It harmonises the MRCA, DRCA and VA legislation—acronyms which would be very familiar to those in the defence community. I support the legislation. It will help families of veterans, widows and widowers. It will make sure that they get assistance. The package and the support will kick in on 1 July this year. This bill makes sure that there is a legislative framework there. We in Labor trust the government will do the legislative instruments it has said it requires to do to implement the enhanced family support package. We trust the government to do the right thing.
On this side of the chamber, we are committed to supporting veterans and their families. We want to make sure that our servicemen and women, veterans and their families, know that this country is proud of them, that our country will always be there for them and that we will back them in every step of the way.
On behalf of the Labor Party, I say we will support the legislation. I do say the government is tardy in bringing it forward and needs to do better. They need to better not just with the way they conduct themselves in this chamber in bringing legislation on this late in the day but also in making sure that they do in budgetary requirements. I support the legislation.
I won't detain the House for long but I want to follow on from the shadow minister for veterans affairs and say that we have a bill before us in this place. We treat the bills on their own judgement and this is a good piece of legislation based on evidence, which is, of course, important. The practical support that comes for veterans out of this bill is welcome and that's why we want to get it through. We want to get it done. I just want to take a moment to say that we have to do a lot better by our veterans in this country. We have had six ministers for veterans affairs over nine years. That's an incredible turnover. In any other workplace, you might think that there were some significant problems, considering that this important portfolio has been handed around so often by those opposite. It shouldn't be a prize for factional battles. It should be of the utmost importance because it has real-world effects, including in my electorate, where there is still no proper wellbeing centre after I committed to one six years ago. Successive governments have failed to make sure that it was up and running, as promised, on time. We need to do a lot better, and I look forward to seeing a Labor government to make sure that that comes to pass.
I'd like to thank all members for their contributions to this debate. I'd also like to acknowledge the cooperation of the member for Blair and the whips on both sides of the aisle for ensuring that this bill could be dealt with in this place, and hopefully in the Senate, tonight. As the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, I've seen firsthand the critical and fundamental role that families play in supporting the capability of our defence force and the wellbeing of defence members.
The Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Enhanced Family Support) Bill 2022 demonstrates the Australian government's commitment to responding to recommendation 19 of the final report of the Senate inquiry into suicide by veterans, The constant battle: suicide by veterans, tabled in parliament on 15 August 2017. It also responds to the 2019 Productivity Commission report, A better way to support veterans, to ensure veterans and their families are supported to the best of our ability.
This bill expands the services available, and allows families greater choice in how they use services provided through the existing family support package introduced in 2018 in direct response to their feedback. The enhanced family support package will be available to more veteran families through expanded eligibility, benefiting approximately 900 veterans and their families in the first year of the program. Intensive support will become available for families to adjust to new or challenging life circumstances, complementing other Department of Veterans' Affairs and Australian government services.
The enhanced family support package will provide at-risk families of injured or ill veterans under 65 years of age with up to $12,500 over two years to spend on a range of services that meet their health and wellbeing needs. In addition, families with children will be able to access a further $10,000 per year for each child under school age, and $5,000 per year for each primary school aged child, until the child reaches high school age. Veterans will no longer require warlike service nor be undertaking a rehabilitation plan to be eligible. Under this initiative, the family support package will be expanded to support widows and widowers under all three acts that support veterans, where the veteran's death was due to their service. This package provides widowed partners under 65 years of age up to $27,835 each year for two years. Widowed partners with children will have access to the additional amounts each year to tailor support for their health and wellbeing needs.
Australia owes an enormous debt of gratitude to all of our veterans and their families. This bill provides vitally important new measures to better help and assist their wellbeing. We should always remember that the freedoms we exercise in this House, and which many so often take for granted, have for generations been protected and guarded by our men and women in uniform. These are patriotic Australians who've done their duty and love their country. May we never forget this, and may we—all of us—do everything within our power to support them and their families. I commend the bill to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.