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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 55

Mr FAWCETT (12:42 PM) —I rise to speak to the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (Disability, War Widow and War Widower Pensions) Bill 2007. I wish to talk very briefly about the content of the bill, but I would like to talk a little bit more about the context of the bill and also the future. I will not go into the content in great detail, because I believe most people who are affected by this would by now be aware of the announcements that have been made and the changes to be made. I believe that these are welcomed by the broader ex-service community.

However, one comment I will make about the announcements around the indexation of pensions is that these have overshadowed another announcement that has been made this last week and that I believe is very important. That was the announcement about Operation Life, the program which is looking at increasing and consolidating efforts to work together to improve mental health and reduce the incidence of suicide in the veteran community. I think it is a very important area that we need to continue to invest in. We need to continue to make sure that veterans, their families and those who work with them are aware of programs such as Operation Life that seek to enhance the resilience and health of veterans, increase their understanding of their health issues and, most importantly, ensure their timely access to services. I mention that today because I believe it is something that has been overshadowed but is very important as we continue the fight to support those who have supported us and served their nation in the past.

In terms of context, I want to start by saying that I firmly believe in the obligation that we have as a nation, as a government, to support those people who have put their lives on the line to serve their country. We have encouraged them to join the armed forces; we have chosen to send them into harm’s way. We therefore have an obligation not only to look after their interests and the interests of their families while they are in service but also to help their transition back into civilian life and to support them in the ways that are required throughout the rest of their lives. I think that is an underlying obligation that this nation has.

The member for Cowan mentioned the wish for a more bipartisan approach and I agree with that. I am disappointed that both sides of politics, in terms of the main parties, have taken far too long to reach this point of actually making announcements and deciding to act on behalf of the veterans. It has taken a long time, and I do not resile from that statement.

There are a number of people who I believe do deserve recognition. Blue Ryan and the TPI Federation have certainly been highlighted. I have to say that, even in the three years that I have served in this parliament, I have been impressed by the tenacity and the willingness of a range of veterans groups to engage and to put before members of the government and members of the parliament the issues that are affecting them—the Vietnam Veterans Association, the RSL, Legacy, the National Servicemen’s Association, the RAAF Association and, particularly in Wakefield, the ex-military rehabilitation centre, the Peter Badcoe VC centre. People like Ron Coxon, Moose Dunlop, Denis Burge, Patch Campbell, Ian Jameson, Tony Flaherty, Rob Sandercock, Kerry Lampard and Greg Blyth, just to name a few, have engaged with me to highlight the ongoing needs and issues of the veterans community. If thanks is due for the outcome today it is due in large part to the range of ex-service organisations and their members who have not given up the fight, who have not been prepared to sit back but who have continued to raise the issues, the concerns and the very real needs of veterans.

This is a bit of a pause, a prop, in that activity, as we celebrate the announcement today, but I recognise the fact that the fight is not over and that there are still issues coming back to our obligations that we need to look at. I am aware that the veterans community continue to talk and be concerned about issues such as pharmaceuticals, DFRDB, recognition for people at Long Tan and Ubon and, importantly, the transition issues for people who are moving out of service into civilian life as they transition through the various stages of life beyond service in the military. I welcome some of the recent announcements by the minister towards boosting the whole-of-life approach to our defence service personnel. I welcome the fact that one of those announcements related to Wakefield. I have pushed very hard to make sure that we do put in place some infrastructure to assist that transition so that we really do help people as they move out of the service—and thank you, Minister, for your response.

In terms of the future, I would encourage the ESOs and veterans to continue to lobby members of parliament on both sides, because it is only through that lobbying that we get the information we need, and that we as backbenchers get the push that we need, to be able to work with our respective administrations to get outcomes.

I want to take this opportunity to recognise the work of the member for Cowan, Graham Edwards, not only in this place but for his service with the 7th Battalion during Vietnam. It is good that he has been able to come to South Australia for a couple of recent commemorations. It is also good that one of the new units that is being set up in South Australia will be the 7th battalion moving down from Darwin to South Australia. So there is a good ongoing link there, and I want to thank Graham for his work—as I do Jo Gash, on this side, for the work that she has done. As Graham indicated, she has worked hard to make sure that these things stay on the agenda.

As I talk about the future, though, one of the things that I have learnt as I have left the military and come into this place is that this is a democracy—and, after all, that is what people have served and in some cases fought to preserve—and that a democracy is about meeting a range of competing needs. I have had my eyes opened coming into this place at the needs that are in our community and the passionate way in which people bring those needs before the government. Despite the work of people such as Jo and Graham in advocating for the needs of the veterans community, they are working in an environment where we also have to take into account a range of other things such as health, education, the current defence of the nation, water. They have to be able to put that case forward passionately and convincingly, so there is that tension. We need the ongoing support of the ESOs to provide us with the information and with the evidence base to go forward and put the case convincingly that this is a priority—that, in view of the obligation I mentioned earlier, this is a priority for governments of whichever persuasion to make quicker decisions to support our veterans community. I thank again the ESOs, Blue Ryan in particular, for their support. I thank the minister and I commend the bill to the House.