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Tuesday, 25 March 2014
Page: 3079

Mr NIKOLIC (Bass) (17:55): A lot of questions were raised there by the member for Batman, but there certainly were no answers from him over the last six years when it came to redressing an issue of fundamental justice for our veterans. The Defence Force Retirement Benefits Legislation Amendment (Fair Indexation) Bill 2014 simply seeks to address issues of gross inequity and unfairness, and it exactly matches our election promise. I am mindful of the significant number of people on the coalition side who want to speak to this bill, so I will keep my remarks relatively short.

As an army veteran with over 31 years of service I confirm that this amendment bill is both important and urgent. If successful, its passage through this parliament will practically redress the single greatest veteran community grievance in current times. The extent of veteran angst and frustration over this longstanding omission is difficult, if not impossible, to overstate. Such feeling is not only legitimate and widely held, but reflects shamefully on this parliament's inaction to date. Further delays on this matter would add salt to an open wound, noting in particular that for this legislation to take effect from 1 July 2014 it must first receive royal assent by 30 June.

Indexation of DFRB and DFRDB pensions is currently linked to movements in the Consumer Price Index only. Under the proposed changes DFRB and DFRDB pensions will be indexed in a way that mirrors the approach used in calculating age and service pensions. The change to the method of indexation is for superannuants aged 55 and over. If Labor and the Greens support it in the Senate, it will take effect from 1 July 2014. The provisions will also apply to reversionary spouses. I am talking here about widows or widowers who are aged 55 and over on the date of the indexation. The provisions do not apply retrospectively.

I am proud to say that, in meeting our promise via this bill, I understand around 57,000 DFRB and DFRDB superannuants and their families will finally get the fair go they deserve. The bill does not and will not give veterans a financial leg-up over other Australians, nor do they as a group want such an advantage. What this bill will do is align the calculation of their financial entitlements with and to those of other Australians, a majority of whom have not risked their lives in the service of this nation. As I speak, all too many Australians live in poverty or eke out a bare existence. That many of these Australian citizens are also veterans or defence retirees, with a minimum of 20 years military service to and for this nation, is doubly galling and deeply wrong.

The member for Batman wants to put facts on the record. Well, let me reciprocate. In opposition, and now in government, the coalition has been unrelenting in its pursuit of justice for the men and women who have served our nation so honourably. We put a private members' bill to the Senate that was designed to deliver fair indexation, but the Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party voted it down. I understand the member for Batman was a senator at that time, and perhaps he should put on record how he voted in relation to that particular private members' bill.

Our motions to achieve justice in this House were also rejected by Labor and the Greens. Our mandate to make this change is abundantly clear. At the last federal election, veterans and their families were confronted with a choice between the government's long-held commitment to deliver fair indexation and Labor's eleventh-hour unfair and inferior indexation commitment. On the eve of the election, Labor backflipped on nearly six years of shameful and dishonourable opposition to military superannuation reform. They only offered to change indexation arrangements for superannuants aged 65 and over, which is 10 years higher than in our policy, but did not include a wage based indexation method, the key legislative element for which veterans and their families have so long fought. We intend to keep our promise and the trust of the veteran community. As my former boss and soon-to-be Governor-General, Peter Cosgrove, used to say, 'Trust and integrity are the glue that bind the leader and the led.'

This bill has a darker side, which should be, for all of us, a spur to action. This darker side runs along these lines. If a nation as fortunate as Australia—fortunate in part because of the peace and stability that was hard earned by our veterans—elects to ignore and shun the veteran community, then what element of Australian society is immune from parliamentary ingratitude and indifference? I call on the Australian Labor Party and the Greens to put their previous opposition to this issue aside and pass this legislation immediately. Let it commence on 1 July—a promise that our veterans deserve and that the Australian people expect you to endorse. I commend this honourable and long overdue bill to the House.