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Wednesday, 26 March 2003
Page: 13626


Mr CIOBO (1:16 PM) —It is appropriate that we should be discussing the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2002 in this current climate, at a time when Australia has its troops abroad again serving the national interest of this country and serving as liberators of people. It is high time that we also take this opportunity to consider and to reflect on the legislation that is before this chamber and its subsequent impact on veterans that have served their country previously. When you consider that Australia has some 2,000 troops in Iraq at the moment and in the vicinity of Iraq, and when you consider that most recently we had peacekeeping forces in East Timor, you recognise that veterans make a very important contribution.

As the youngest member of this parliament, I will never forget the very important contribution that veterans made to the history of our nation when they fought to ensure that Australia remains the free and democratic country that people from my generation have to enjoy each and every day. Not only did veterans make a contribution when they served their country and when they fought for freedom, but each and every veteran continues to make a very important contribution to their community as each day passes.

I am delighted also to represent the Gold Coast, specifically the seat of Moncrieff. The Gold Coast has the fourth-largest veteran population in Australia. In my electorate alone, there are just under 3,000 veterans that have either moved to the Gold Coast or who come from the Gold Coast originally. They are part of a broader conglomerate of veterans who call the Gold Coast home, some 16,500 of them. In fact, the Gold Coast has been a strong rallying point for veterans for many years now. I know that my predecessor, the Hon. Kathy Sullivan, had a very close relationship with the Gold Coast veteran community. I have enjoyed the warmth of spirit in the way that they have embraced me as their new member since my election in November 2001. I certainly have made sure that I have met with as many of my veterans as possible, to make sure that they understand the very strong interest that I have in their affairs. It certainly is the case that the veteran community on the Gold Coast is strong. They are a good-natured mob and they are a bunch of very noble people who I know make a very important difference to the Gold Coast's daily functioning.

Turning to the bill that we are discussing today, the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2002, I would highlight that this bill makes a number of minor amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. These amendments—and I am pleased to see the Labor Party supporting them—are universally recognised on both sides of the political divide as being necessary. They are amendments that address anomalies that exist within the current Veterans' Entitlements Act. The amendments that are proposed in this legislation amendment bill are beneficial because, as I said, they correct anomalies, but they also provide greater clarity to the policies that will apply through the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the policies put in place by this and previous governments.

The Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2002 also aligns the provisions of the Veterans' Entitlements Act with social security law. I have in the past met with a number of veterans who have indicated to me that they cannot fathom the rationale when there is an anomaly between social security law and the Veterans' Entitlements Act. It is certainly the case that this legislation will go a very long way towards addressing those anomalies.

When you look at the specifics of this bill, you see that it contains a number of provisions that go to the core of addressing these anomalies and providing clarity to the policies that will apply through the Department of Veterans' Affairs. In particular, the amendment provisions within the bill provide for the continued indexation of child related payments of income support that, unfortunately, are being received by a diminishing number of people. This is an important change and one that I know will be welcomed by the children of veterans and those who have a veteran in their family.

In addition, the bill makes amendments to the pension bonus scheme. Some amendments contained in this bill will enable persons who have become eligible for a Veterans' Entitlements Act pension and who have been members of the equivalent scheme under the social security system to have that period of membership counted for the purposes of their membership of the veterans' entitlements scheme. This is an important point to recognise. Historically it was the case that membership of the social security scheme was not counted. But, as a consequence of this bill, I know that a number of veterans will be glad to hear that that membership will now be counted as part of the Veterans' Entitlements Act scheme.

The amendments will also remove an anomaly that has prevented the backdating of claims for partner service pensions in circumstances where the claimant was the partner of the original claimant—that is, the veteran. You sometimes had the situation where a veteran had been granted a backdated disability pension at a special rate, yet their partner was ineligible to receive the back payment. As a consequence of this legislation, that anomaly will no longer exist. There are also provisions within this legislation that amend the compensation recovery provisions to align the treatment of multiple lump sums of compensation with the provisions of social security law. Again, this is important because it provides uniformity between the social security system and the Veterans' Entitlements Act.

In essence, the various amendments contained within the legislation do not have a major impact on veterans' lives insofar as they only address the few anomalies that existed. But, for veterans who were suffering as a result of those anomalies, this legislation will be very important because it will address the concerns they had as a consequence of the anomalies. All of these amendments further improve the repatriation system so that it continues to take into account more appropriately the individual circumstances and needs of particular veterans.

I reflect, too, on the way the veteran community is regarded. I take this opportunity to recognise that, over the past 18 months or so since I was elected, I have certainly enjoyed having the chance to meet hundreds of veterans who reside on the Gold Coast. On a number of the occasions I have met with veterans, they have indicated to me that there are a number of anomalies within the current legislation. As I said, this bill is an important step in addressing those anomalies. In addition to that, I want to reassure all veterans on the Gold Coast and elsewhere that this government—and I, as a member of this government—will continue to listen intently to what they say with regard to anomalies.

About two weeks ago the Minister for Veterans' Affairs was provided with the final report of the Clark review, which reviewed anomalies in the veterans system. The minister is currently having a look at that final report. The government will be making further announcements about ways it will be addressing the veterans' repatriation scheme to make sure that it continues to be even more equitable. I highlight and put on the record that other members of the government and I—and the opposition—will continue to listen very closely to what the veteran population has to say about the anomalies in the system. And there are anomalies; I recognise that.

As I said at the outset, the veteran population do a great deal in the community. They served their community very proudly in the various conflicts in which they fought and they continue to serve their community today. I am proud to have a strong association with—to name just a few—the Southport RSL, the Nerang RSL, the Surfers Paradise RSL as well as TPI associations, the Vietnam Veterans Federation and the Vietnam Veterans Association. These are only a small, select number of the groups with which I have had dealings. I raise them because each of them plays an important role in the community.

The Nerang RSL recently held a charity auction night to help raise funds for Gold Coast based victims of the Bali bombings. This goes to the core of what I was speaking about earlier, when I said that the veteran community continue to do what they can to help and to support their local community. Lloyd Yelland is an active member of the Nerang RSL. I specifically mention him as a person I have had very close dealings with over time. I look forward to working together with Lloyd and his cohorts at the Nerang RSL. Ralph Ind of the Surfers Paradise RSL is a gentleman whom I have had dealings with on a number of occasions and who I know has in his heart the best interests of the veteran community.

As a government I am most pleased to highlight and put on the Hansard record the fact that we are responsive to and address veterans' needs—not always totally successfully, but certainly with the best of motives and with true bona fides. For example, we recently provided the Southport RSL with $57,900 in funding for a community bus service. We have also provided the Vietnam Veterans Federation with $27,500 to put towards their club house and associated infrastructure in my suburb of Nerang. These are just a couple of examples, but they go to the core of what is important when it comes to veterans' affairs. What is important is not just providing money or saying, `We have listened to you,' and leaving it at that; it is about providing funding for associated support networks. It is recognised far and wide that the veteran community has a number of unique needs. One way of addressing these unique needs is to ensure that funding goes towards the community projects and community support that are necessary to ensure that veterans enjoy and get the best use out of what they are entitled to from this government.

I also acknowledge and put on the record the fact that the staff at the Department of Veterans' Affairs in Southport do an absolutely outstanding job. To Kathy and her team I say a very big thank you. They are a team of people who I know have the respect of the veterans community on the Gold Coast. They do an outstanding job. My staff and I would have a lot more work to do if it were not for the fact that the Department of Veterans' Affairs is so capable, prompt and efficient in the activities that they undertake.

I am pleased to commend this bill to the House. It is an important bill. It addresses a number of anomalies and, more importantly I hope, serves as a flag to demonstrate that as a government we work hard to ensure that the veteran community continues to be looked after. I provide the full weight of my support to the veteran community and commend this bill. I conclude by saying that I will always be a strong advocate for the Gold Coast veteran community and I am pleased to work closely with them.

Sitting suspended from 1.29 p.m. to 4 p.m.