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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 455

Senator RONALDSON (12:53 PM) —In some 50 minutes on Tuesday the veterans barely rated a mention in the government’s speech delivered by the Governor-General. In a couple of quick words today I want to say how much I am looking forward to serving as the shadow minister for veterans’ affairs. It is clearly a complex policy area and it is a vital area of government policy. It was in the pursuit of government policy that we sent and still send our countrymen and country women to fight and wear our uniform. As a nation we have a special responsibility to those people who serve and who served our nation in times of war and relative peace.

I note with some pride that my son completed the ADF Gap Year program a couple of years ago and my grandfather was a decorated soldier of the Royal Horse Artillery in the British Army during the First World War. My son’s service was in stark contrast to mine, as I achieved the lowly rank of signal sergeant in the school cadet corps. But it was a great honour for me to be co-chair of the Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat, which is a magnificent structure dedicated to some 38,000 Australian PoWs, of which some 8,000 died.

At the last election the coalition released a comprehensive policy document focused on veterans and their families. I pay tribute to the former shadow minister for veterans’ affairs, the present member for Macquarie in the other place, Louise Markus. Louise’s efforts have been loudly championed by the people I have already spoken to in the area of veterans’ affairs. Her dedication is manifested in the election commitments made by the coalition. I look forward to building on her good work in so many areas.

The coalition government’s objectives for veterans’ affairs can be summed up as follows: military superannuation reform, reform of pharmaceuticals for disabled veterans, an increased focus on veterans’ widows and wives through the establishment of online re-sour-ces, enhanced family support for ADF personnel and new veterans especially during the transition phase from the ADF into civilian life, the provision of additional funding to support the absolutely pivotal and critical workers of our largely volunteer veteran advocates and welfare and pension officers; and, finally, a commitment to the review of military compensation. I do not propose to discuss each of these in any great length today, but I think it is important to place on record the clear differences which still exist between the coalition and the new, compromised government in the area of veterans policy.

In contrast to the coalition, the Gillard Labor government’s commitments in veterans’ affairs were a major let-down. Labor’s key commitment was to finally deliver on a promise made at the 2007 election in relation to pharmaceuticals, but even this has not done enough and is not widely supported by the veteran community. The government has also committed to a review of aged care for veterans, bringing the total number of reviews in this portfolio to 12 since the Australian Labor Party won the 2007 election. There were 12 reviews, but delayed responses left the veteran community wondering whether they were just stalling mechanisms rather than a means of achieving change.

In relation to military superannuation, the coalition is the only party in this place committed to affordable reform of military superannuation. On 27 June this year the Leader of the Opposition announced a plan to change the method of indexation for superannuants who are members of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme or the DFRDB. Under the proposed changes, from 1 July 2011 DFRDB superannuants aged 55 and over would have had their pensions indexed at the rate of the consumer price index, the male total average weekly earnings or the pension and beneficiary living cost index, whichever was the greater. It was our intention to bring these in-creases in these pensions into line with the way other Australian government pensions were indexed. This change represented a major turning point in the debate about military superannuation. It represented an important first step in the reform of military superannuation.

The previous coalition government commissioned Andrew Podger to inquire into the military superannuation scheme. I concede that the findings were given to the previous government ahead of the 2007 election and not released publicly. However, after releasing the report on Christmas Eve 2007, the Rudd-Gillard Labor government did nothing on military superannuation for 2½ years. It took the coalition to do what this Labor government promised to do—take action on military superannuation.

Not surprisingly, after being gazumped by the coalition on this issue, the Labor Party tried to trash our costings during the recent election campaign. The Treasurer and the former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs tried to claim the coalition was leaving an $8 billion black hole for the future. The shamelessness of this claim was simply breathtaking. Labor’s claim, first and foremost, was based on inaccurate numbers. They deliberately misused advice from the Government Actuary to misrepresent what the coalition had committed to. I can also confirm that the coalition will seek to use any measure available to us to force this government into making the change so loudly called for in the veteran community on the issue of DFRDB superannuation.

I will now turn to pharmaceuticals. The coalition’s pharmaceutical reform for disabled veterans would have assisted more than 87,000 disabled veterans to access pharmaceuticals with no out-of-pocket expenses from 1 January 2012. Under the coalition’s plan, disabled veterans in receipt of a disability pension paid at or above 50 per cent of the general rate would be eligible to have the pharmaceutical safety net threshold reduced from 60 to 30. This means that eligible veterans would pay for 30 scripts per year, and from the 31st script onwards would not pay any more for their medications. This reform, fully-costed, would have provided real relief for 87,343 disabled veterans. It was, once again, widely welcomed in the veteran community as a positive step that would have provided real relief to veterans.

I again contrast this with Labor’s late scheme. It is a stark contrast. Labor promised action in this area during their first term, and failed. They held a review, issued a paper, and forgot about it until the election. Labor’s plan would only benefit up to, in the government’s own words, 70,000 disabled veterans. And the government’s scheme requires disabled veterans to have qualifying service to be eligible. This excludes over 800 of our most severely disabled veterans, those who are totally and permanently incapacitated, who are on the special rate, but who do not have ‘qualifying service’.

The government’s scheme is also administratively complex. Under the government’s proposal, out-of-pocket expenses will be reimbursed to the veteran, meaning they will still have to forego the expense during the year and wait for a cheque from the government some time in the following year. Veterans will find themselves keeping their receipts and scripts as proof of purchase, in case the reimbursement does not arrive.

In conclusion, I would like to briefly address the Review of Military Compensation Arrangements, which is presently underway. The review is important, and I restate the coalition’s commitment made during the election to consult widely with the veteran and ex-service community on the recommendations which are included in it. We have to get this right. I call on the new Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, who is in the other place, to be upfront with the veteran community about the timeline for the release of the review. It was due out earlier this year ahead of the election; now in the countdown to the end of the year and Christmas I hope that we have it in enough time to give consideration to it before the end of the year. I am looking forward to the opportunity to serve in this portfolio. I say to the veteran and ex-service community, ‘I will be a forceful advocate for you in this place, and I will always do my best to be honest with you about the coalition’s position on veteran matters.’

I turn now to the Governor-General’s speech on Tuesday. It was 50 minutes of pure rhetoric. That is not a reflection on the Governor-General but it is a reflection on the government. I have had my issues with some of the activities of the Governor-General. Honourable senators would be aware that during Senate estimates there has been considerable discussion about the Governor-General’s trip in relation to the desire to secure a position on the Security Council. This was affectionately known as ‘the trip to Africa’—not the trip out of Africa!—or ‘the African safari’. Half a million dollars-plus was spent by the Rudd-Gillard government to get the Governor-General to do their political work for them. That was completely against all tradition.

The Governor-General’s office initially tried to deny that the reason for the trip was that she was courting these African nations to vote for Australia’s position on the Security Council. That is why she was there; she was doing the government’s political work. It was absolutely and totally inappropriate. Half a million dollars of taxpayer funds were spent on the Governor-General in getting her to do the government’s work for them. I hope that the fact that that has been exposed will mean that we will no longer see that sort of behaviour.

I want to talk about this Labor government. It is, at best, a compromise government. It has been cobbled together with no vision. It was defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives, yesterday. That is almost unprecedented. It has been some 40 or 50 years—I think that is right, Senator Bushby, isn’t it?—since that has occurred. This is a compromise government cobbled together with the Australian Greens.

I would like to talk about my colleague Senator Humphries, who was taken on by the Greens and by the utterly duplicitous group known as GetUp! I can assure honourable senators that GetUp! float around this place and act as if they were the honest broker. Well, Senator Humphries knows that GetUp! are no honest broker. As Senator Humphries has said, they are a complete and utter front for the Australian Greens and the ALP. But what Senator Humphries did not refer to was the fact that they are a complete and utter front for the Australian union movement. They have no legitimacy in this process. They are not an honest broker; they never have been and they never will be.

We have a government without authority and without integrity. We have a government without the support of the Australian people. Quite frankly, it is a government that does not deserve to serve a full term. The so-called ‘new paradigm’ is another example of the sort of spin that you would expect from the Australian Labor Party. Expressions such as ‘the new paradigm’ are expressions of the Rudd-Gillard government. They are expressions of spin. They are the expressions of the focus groups that a former prime minister, Prime Minister Keating, has had a lot to say about and has attacked his own party over.

We have the remarkable claims from this government that it is a government of stability and of integrity. We all know full well that two of the cabinet ministers in this ‘stable government’ said to the Prime Minister: ‘You sack me, and I will not be in the House of Representatives. You can have a couple of by-elections and take your chances then, Prime Minister.’ So what did the Prime Minister do? She kept them there. Former Senator Richardson—so ably quoted and referred to by Senator Cash earlier on in her terrific contribution to this place—made it quite clear that one of those people was probably the member for Kingsford Smith, Mr Garrett—Mr Garrett, for goodness sake! Mr Garrett was responsible for the failed Home Insulation Program, the Green Loans Program—the latter of which was the subject of an Auditor-General’s report which was an absolutely damning indictment of the activities of the minister and the government.

So when you threaten the Prime Minister with a by-election because you are hanging on by a thread and relying on a collection of Independents to survive, when you threaten to leave, you end up staying there and getting rewarded. Senator Feeney is in the chamber. He got rewarded because he is responsible for getting rid of Mr Rudd. I suppose that is politics, and that is fine. But should Mr Garrett get rewarded for the pink batts debacle that is still going on—a debacle that cost the lives of four young Australians? There are still houses that are electrified around this country, and he got promoted for that! He got promoted for a Green Loans Program that the Auditor-General has condemned.

The other matter I want to refer to is the carbon tax. I would have thought that a ‘new paradigm’ would involve keeping election promises—that would not be a bad start for a new paradigm—and being honest with the Australian people. While the majority of Australian people did not actually support Prime Minister Gillard, she still has a responsibility to them. Everyone in this chamber knows that, prior to the election, the Prime Minister ruled out a carbon tax. I will tell those in the gallery—and a warm welcome to you—why the Prime Minister ruled out a carbon tax. The Prime Minister ruled out a carbon tax because every one of you under a carbon tax would pay between 26 and 48 per cent more for electricity. The Prime Minister did not want you to know that before the election, so she ruled out the carbon tax. No sooner had the re-elected Prime Minister’s feet touched the ground than the carbon tax commitment was off and running and back on the agenda. I promise you, ladies and gentlemen in the gallery: that is what will occur in this country with a carbon tax.

I will tell you why that will happen. I suspect a very grubby deal has been done between the Australian Labor Party and the Greens. What I find of great interest is that the Australian Greens refused to acknowledge that one of their key platforms is the reintroduction of death duties. There will be people listening to this today or reading these speeches later who will remember the diabolical outcomes of death taxes. People, like me and Madam Acting Deputy President Troeth, who have spent the bulk of their lives outside metropolitan Melbourne know exactly what the outcome of death duties was—it ripped the heart out of Australian rural families. It destroyed many rural families. Some 30 or 40 years after that, we have a political party that will have more members from 1 July next year who will be running this compromised ALP government.

I put Senator Feeney and the Australian Labor Party on notice: if you do a dirty, grubby deal with the Australian Greens in relation to the reintroduction of death taxes, it will be on for young and old.

Senator Feeney interjecting—

Senator McEwen interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —You have my absolute commitment to that, Senator Feeney—if you try and do a dirty deal with the Australian Greens to reintroduce death taxes, it will be on for young and old. I tell you: you will not be able to get in and out of this place because every farmer and every small business owner in this country will be out the front of this place to make sure that this does not occur. (Time expired)