Wednesday, 30 March 2022
My electorate of Blair in South-East Queensland has the largest veteran population in the region. It's home to 5,500 veterans and the largest Air Force base in the country. Two weeks ago the member for Gorton, the shadow minister for defence, and the member for Oxley and I announced that an Albanese Labor government would commit $5 million for a new veterans club in the Ipswich-Springfield area. Labor announced this positive initiative after the coalition made a commitment to do so in 2016 and reneged on that promise. And in 2019 they deliberately left out the Ipswich area in their election commitment to wellbeing hubs. Labor has a plan not just to do this but to fix the Department of Veterans' Affairs, rebuild the Public Service and give our veterans and their families the services they need.
Over the weekend the Minister for Veterans' Affairs attacked his government. He admitted that the coalition government had failed Australian veterans. He admitted that ex-service men and women have been waiting for years for compensation to be processed by our chronically understaffed and underresourced Department of Veterans' Affairs. There's a huge backlog of about 60,000 claims, which the minister described as 'a national disgrace'. He threatened to resign on the eve of the budget if he didn't lock in $96 million in extra funding for an extra 145 staff and IT upgrades in his department to clear the backlog by the middle of next year. The Prime Minister threw him under the bus by saying he was a new minister and had no idea what he was talking about, and suggested that there would be further funding in the contingency reserve down the track. Some of the minister's own National Party colleagues lined up in the media to slam him, saying he was grandstanding and using veterans as a political play thing.
When I asked the minister about this issue in question time yesterday, he doubled down on the comments he had made on the weekend. Lo and behold, when the budget was released last night, it revealed that only $22.8 million had been allocated for 90 new staff. So the minister has clearly failed his own test to lock in the funding he said he needed to reduce the backlog. He should follow through on his threat over the weekend and resign his commission today. The $22 million committed in the budget looked a bit like the short-term fix we saw in the last budget: it's really about getting through the election and not fixing the problems in the department.
Last year, the government trumpeted a budget boost for DVA that turned out to be a cruel hoax because the additional funding and the jobs lasted for two years only. Clearly, they had no effect on claim times. In the last 12 months, claim times have blown out to two years. That's the evidence that was given to a Senate inquiry and to the royal commission. The number of claims has increased from 55,000 to 60,000. Minister, do your job, carry through with your threat and resign today.