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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2388


Mr VAN MANEN (FordeGovernment Whip) (16:02): It is my great pleasure to rise in the House today to speak in support of the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 1) Bill 2018. I'd like to take this opportunity to commend my colleagues the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Michael McCormack, as well as his predecessor, Dan Tehan, for the tremendous work they've done to ensure that our government is providing the support and the services our veterans and their families deserve. This bill contains eight schedules which will introduce several new initiatives to deliver a range of services for the veterans' community and their families.

In my electorate of Forde, I'm very proud to support our local veterans, and veterans' support services, because they have done so much to protect our country. It is important that we as a government, and, I think, in fairness, all of us in this chamber, recognise and support and attempt to do our best to protect our veterans and look after their best interests.

One of the great local services in my community is the Beenleigh RSL sub-branch, which runs a range of fantastic veterans' support programs and services. I always enjoy dropping in to the Beenleigh RSL's fortnightly Diggers Day to share a beer and have a few laughs with the members. But you never walk away from Diggers Day without understanding what they truly think about a range of issues.

I'm also proud to support the neighbouring RSL sub-branch of Greenbank, as well as the North Gold Coast RSL sub-branch in Upper Coomera. Every year we see our local service clubs go above and beyond to mark important anniversaries in our nation's history—the anniversaries of battles that have won our freedom; battles, sadly, of tragic loss; and battles that have forged the mateship and camaraderie that define Australia. Their commemorative services are a constant reminder of the service and sacrifice of our men and women, past and present, in peacetime and in conflict, in Australia and abroad. These services keep the spirit of national pride at the forefront of our minds and seek to teach our future generations the importance of remembrance.

RSLs around Australia play such an important role in providing a voice at state and national levels for the service and ex-service community. They maintain the lasting ties of mateship that perpetuate the spirit of Anzac, and their community spirit spreads so much further than the commemorative services; they also provide much-needed support to those who have served the nation and their families. When a current or ex-service person is sick or down on their luck, our local RSL sub-branches are there to help. Their arms of support stretch out to provide help with pensions, welfare, medical attention, finding accommodation or housing and even suitable employment. Our RSLs provide a strong voice for those who have served our nation so bravely, many of whom, sadly, made the ultimate sacrifice. They advocate for a strong Defence Force to protect our country and encourage the best possible conditions for current Defence Force personnel and ex-service members. The team at the Beenleigh RSL sub-branch are very proactive and always looking for ways they can best utilise what the federal government has to offer in grants to improve the range of services and facilities they can provide to the ex-service community and those members still serving today. I have enormous respect for the work they do, and I'm pleased that with the schedules in this bill we can continue to build on the support that has been provided to veterans over many years.

The eight schedules and the new initiatives in this bill before the House will help more than 300,000 Australians who have served in Australia's defence forces. Every year more than 5,000 members of our defence forces leave service. How we help these men and women and their families reintegrate into general society is a vital component of our commitment to supporting our veterans. Schedule 1 of this bill will introduce a range of measures aimed specifically at providing family support to veterans and their families. Families, as we in this place know well, provide an important role in supporting current and ex-serving Defence Force members. In particular they make an enormous and significant contribution to their health and wellbeing. To build on the existing support an additional $7.1 million over four years will help extend the support available to families of veterans. This includes greater access to child care, home care and counselling, and will also help families maintain connections to the community and employment. While our veterans give so much to our country, the families who stand behind them sacrifice so much to help them. It is only right for this government to do all it can to support those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Schedule 2 will create a new veteran income support payment to provide vulnerable veterans with interim financial support until their claims for liability for mental health conditions are determined. The veteran payment will support around 830 veterans and 690 partners into the 2018-19 financial year. Schedule 3 of the bill will enable selected white card holders to participate in a new Coordinated Veterans' Care Mental Health Pilot, a program for veterans with mild to moderate anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or comorbid physical health problems. This pilot program was allocated $3.6 million in the 2017-18 budget. Schedule 4 will make amendments to ensure veterans with catastrophic injury or disease receive at least the same entitlements as civilian employees. Schedule 5 will enable the automation of a qualifying service determination prior to or at the time a veteran engages with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, or before the veteran makes an application for any service pension. This measure removes a step in the process a veteran currently needs to undertake in order to make an application for a service pension. Schedule 6 makes some minor technical amendments to ensure that the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 is a military specific act. Schedules 7 and 8 also relate to a number of technical and minor amendments.

In 2016, the Turnbull coalition government made a commitment to ensure that current and future veterans and their families had the support they needed. I believe this bill provides some important changes that will better support veterans and their families. I'm proud to support these measures and help the coalition government deliver these important initiatives. These measures assist not only those who have served our nation but also their husbands, their wives, their partners, their fathers, their mothers and, importantly, their children. Each set of amendments seeks to mean better outcomes for veterans across Australia. I commend this bill to the House.