Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 September 2022


Defence, Veterans' and Families' Acute Support Package Bill 2022; Second Reading

5:53 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Government is committed to continuously improving and adapting to the needs of currently serving defence personnel, veterans and families.

Families play a pivotal role in supporting our current serving Australian Defence Force personnel and veterans. The nature of military life is unique, and families can also be deeply affected by military service.

For most veteran families, military service is a largely positive experience. However, some may need support to manage challenging life circumstances such as mental or physical health episodes or sudden, significant events such as loss of employment.

The Australian community has a clear expectation that veterans and their families will be well looked after. This is an important task and responsibility of government—a solemn commitment.

That's why it's disappointing the former Liberal-National Government did not deliver on its incarnation of this commitment, failing to get legislation passed in the 46th Parliament.

This legislation goes further than what was previously proposed.

It will enhance the existing program by expanding services available to families in times of crisis and allowing families greater choice in how they use those services.

It will better equip working age families to adjust to new or challenging life circumstances when they occur and also in the future.

This legislation will better improve support for families who are bereaved, and those who are in crisis—no matter the nature of that crisis.

We want to ensure supports are wrapped around families when they need it—and quickly.

I am pleased to be introducing this legislation today, as it demonstrates the new Australian Labor Government's commitment to addressing the veteran crisis, providing greater support to defence and veteran families and delivering a better future for veterans and families.

This Bill implements an initiative to expand the existing program that provides support for families of those who have provided service to our nation—their husbands, wives, partners, fathers, mothers and children.

It is support like gardening—to take the pressure off when families have bigger things to think about.

It's childcare—so families dealing with the loss of a family member have some back up.

Or indeed, to support parents with their caring responsibilities when one gets sick and can't care for their kids.

It's counselling, to expand access to support for family members when they need it.

Importantly, this support will not be dictated to families.

Every crisis is different and every family circumstance unique. We know that families deserve more than a cookie cutter approach, they deserve services personalised to their needs.

That's what this legislation allows.

49 widowed partners and their families, and 120 veterans and their families, have been assisted by the existing package over the program's lifetime. Approximately 430 families and 450 widowed partners are expected to benefit from the acute support package in the first year.

Families make a significant contribution to the health and wellbeing of our Australian Defence Force members throughout their careers, their transition from service, and their lives beyond the military.

The role of family can be especially important in the treatment and recovery of ill or injured individuals throughout their life. Families are also impacted by the unique nature of military service.

This Bill responds to Recommendation 19 of the Final Report of the Senate Inquiry into Suicide by Veterans and Ex-Service Personnel, The Constant Battle: Suicide by Veterans. It also responds to recommendation 19.2 of the Productivity Commission Report A Better Way to Support Veterans, going further than the recommendation to ensure veterans and their families are well supported.

This initiative enhances support to families by expanding the services available through the existing program, while allowing families greater choice in how they use the services provided.

If a family lives in a town house or apartment, they don't need gardening, but may need support for their child experiencing mental health concerns.

These supports will be tailored for families with different needs in special circumstances.

A young veteran living with his parents, experiencing mental health episodes that mean his mother has moved to part time work to provide more care for the veteran, can nominate his mother to receive support such as counselling or help around the home, to help her cope with her caring role.

The partner of a veteran who has left the relationship recently because of domestic violence will be eligible for support direct from the Department of Veterans' Affairs, without the veteran being notified or required to do anything, protecting her safety and supporting her to establish a new life.

The partner of a veteran who separated three years ago, whose children are now experiencing mental health issues will be eligible to get support for counselling, psychology or other wellbeing support for the children.

The partner of a 45 year old veteran who needs to return to work full time as the veteran's health has worsened and is now unable to work, can access child care support so she can increase her hours or attend a course to increase her skills.

A single parent veteran whose child is struggling at school academically and socially due to mental health concerns, can access tutoring support for the child and other counselling and wellbeing supports for the child and themselves to help them support their child.

A recently widowed partner of a veteran can access cleaning, gardening and meal preparation to assist them at a time when doing the day to day things seem impossible and they need to focus on themselves and their children.

This initiative demonstrates the commitment this Government has to families, and recognises the crucial role that they play in supporting their veterans.

The Defence, Veterans' and Families' Acute Support Package will also be available to more veteran families than before, through its expanded eligibility criteria.

While it is not a crisis service, it will allow families who have experienced crisis to access intensive support to adjust to new or challenging life circumstances, complementing other Department of Veterans' Affairs and government services.

This initiative will provide at-risk veteran families with access to a range of services that meet their health and wellbeing needs, up to a cap of $12,500 over two years.

Families will be able to access services to the value of $7,500 in the first year, and $5,000 in the second year.

In addition, families with children can access additional support services to the value of $10,000 a year for each child under school age and $5,000 a year for each primary school aged child, until the child reaches high school.

Also under this initiative, widowed partners can access support services to the value of $27,835 each year for two years, for services such as cleaning, gardening and other help around the home, to provide counselling for them and their children, and skills-based support such as mental health first aid and other practical support for the family's wellbeing.

They will also have access to the additional support for children under high school age.

The Bill will achieve this by amending the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004, the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 to establish the Defence, Veterans' and Families' Acute Support Package.

This Bill also includes review rights for decisions made under this program, something not previously proposed.

This Government is committed to supporting veterans and their families.

We want our service personnel, veterans, and veteran families to know that Australia is proud of them and that our country will always be there for them.

I commend the Bill.

Debate adjourned.