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Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Page: 142

Ms HALL (7:15 PM) —I was interested to hear the previous speaker say that the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (2005 Budget Measure) Bill 2005 delivers to veterans. I would have to say that, instead, this bill fixes up a problem that the government made. This bill rights a wrong. This bill covers up the government’s ineptitude. This bill makes up for the fact that the government forgot about the veterans when it initially introduced this legislation. This is legislation that, on the face of it, you would assume would be fairly non-controversial. Everybody in this House would agree that self-funded veterans who are independently funded retirees should receive the $200 a year payment that other self-funded retirees receive.

Unfortunately for those self-funded retiree veterans, the government forgot about them when they drafted the legislation. They left them off. They did not give them the same attention that they gave to other self-funded retirees. This is very sad because the government went to the last election promising this $200 to all self-funded retirees. To think that they forgot our veterans—our veterans who fought for us and were prepared to give their lives for Australia. Here we are today, some six months later, discussing legislation to bring the treatment of the veterans into line with that of other self-funded retirees. Basically, the government failed them. The government went to the election with great promises, spraying dollars everywhere like confetti, and now they are finally getting around to delivering to our veterans.

I will go through the details of how the system works. Basically the seniors allowance is a non means tested giveaway to assist self-funded retirees to pay their power, gas and utility bills. This was what the government promised this group of people in the lead-up to the election: help with things like their car registration and water bills. Self-funded retirees were given an extra $100 because the government recognised that, unlike pensioners, they did not get many of the discounts. We believe that that was blatant electioneering by the government. We believe that this was part of the vote-buying spree that the government went on before the election.

This allowance is to be paid in two instalments, one in June and one in December. Because the veterans have missed out, they are not going to receive their allowance until December 2005. We are going to pass this legislation tonight, and then they will become eligible—but unfortunately this legislation is not retrospective. This legislation only goes half-way. It does not really recognise that our veterans deserve to be treated with dignity. They are not being treated in the same way as other self-funded retirees. I am afraid that this has really become the way of this government—it tends to forget and marginalise certain groups of people. I find it appalling that it has reached the point where it is doing that to veterans. So this rather non-controversial legislation which is going to extend an entitlement to veterans becomes quite controversial because in fact it treats veterans in a different way to other self-funded retirees—it actually treats them as lesser people. It treats them as lesser people and yet they were the people who were prepared to go and fight for Australia.

I have been very disappointed with the government’s performance in the area of veterans affairs. There have been a number of issues that have been raised with me by veterans. I think that it is about time that the government started doing more than building monuments and announcing celebrations. I listened to the previous speaker; she spent a great deal of time talking about celebrations. I have news for the government: the kinds of things that veterans need in the area that I represent—and it is an area that has a high veteran population—are services and financial assistance. They need some of the issues that were raised in the Clarke report to be dealt with and they need the government to be honest with them and not to adopt a smoke and mirrors approach to veterans affairs.

If you look at this year’s budget, you will notice that there is only $10 million for new budget measures in 2005-06. Compare that with the $52 million in savings that are going to be delivered, which come from flow-ons from the health portfolio. Apart from the long overdue increase in dental limits, there are no changes in entitlements whatsoever. There is a $411 million increase in the total budget of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, but most of that—$393 million—is due to normal cost increases in the delivery of existing services. The so-called initiatives for anaesthetists and allied health providers are part of those normal cost increases. When you add to that $393 million the $60 million that has been carried forward from the budgets of previous years, you will see that the government are giving less money to veterans. Savings have exceeded new spending. The government are trying to cheat, con and use smoke and mirrors to convince the veterans community that they care, that they are delivering to veterans. But that is not the case at all.

The previous speaker raised the issue of children and caring for children. It is an issue I raised earlier tonight in the Main Committee during the consideration in detail of the budget. The government is looking at cutting costs in the services offered by the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service to children of veterans, regardless of their age. The government is thinking of introducing a cut-off point of 36 years of age. All the studies and every report that I have read on this issue show that the government needs to proceed with great caution in this area. As we know, the rate of suicide for sons and daughters of Vietnam veterans is three times the national rate. For that reason alone we need to be very careful about taking away that counselling service for the children of veterans. You might ask why that is being done. The answer is simple: this government is more concerned with saving money than with delivering services to veterans. I need to place that on the record.

The other issue I wish to place on the record in talking about services and benefits to veterans is the failure of the government to reward the selfless care given to disabled veterans by their partners with the $1,000 bonus that was paid to people in receipt of the carers payment. Partners of veterans received the $600 payment, as did those in receipt of the carers allowance. But the partners of veterans do not receive the carers payment, so they are ineligible for that $1,000. These people do the same work as other carers. In some cases they care for the most disabled and sickest people in our community—people with enormous problems—yet the government has chosen to ignore their needs. Whilst the introduction of this legislation and the extension of the utility payment is very important, many other issues need to be taken up.

For instance, the government has not really dealt with the Clarke report. The Clarke report disappeared without a trace. We are wondering what has happened to the initiatives that were supposed to flow from that report. As I have already mentioned, the veterans that talk to me are concerned that we are having lots of celebrations but the nuts and bolts of the issues affecting their daily lives are not being dealt with. They do not want to see more savings in veterans affairs. They want to see a government that is 100 per cent committed to them. They appreciate the $200 that they will be given. Many of them have said to me that they thought that it was a case of the government trying to buy their vote, and they were very disappointed when they found out that they were not to receive that $200 immediately.

There are many challenges for the government in veterans affairs. There is such a need within the veterans community. People are still having problems with the Veterans Home Care program. They are still not getting the number of hours of care that they believe that they should be receiving. They are very disappointed that the government have chosen to move away from their responsibility in this area. They are waiting to see the outcome of the atomic-testing inquiries. They will accept the money that is being given to them by the government and we will support it. But we would implore the government to take this measure a step further, to reconsider their decision and to backdate this payment to bring these veterans into line with other self-funded retirees.