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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11719


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (11:15): Along with my colleagues, I support the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Participants in British Nuclear Tests) Bill 2011 before us today, which will enable further support for our veterans by legislating more eligibility criteria for British nuclear test defence servicemen under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 and nuclear test participation under the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act 2006. I am proud to be a member of the Liberal-National side of politics, which has a strong record for standing up for and protecting our veterans, and has done so since our party's creation in 1944. It has always been, and will continue to be, the Liberal way to hold veterans and their families in the highest regard, and support them for the service, sacrifice and contribution they have made to our nation.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Australian defence personnel were involved in the testing of nuclear weapons by the British government in the outback of South Australia and off the coast of Western Australia. Since their service there have been a number of claims by veterans that their involvement in these tests as part of their service has left them incapacitated. These claims must be taken seriously, and in 2006 the parliament passed legislation to provide these ex-service personnel, and indeed other civilians, including members of the Australian Federal Police, who worked at these nuclear testing sites, with assistance for treatment of all cancers through a white card issued by the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Support for veterans who were involved in these nuclear testing situations was increased again in 2010 with the establishment of a new classification of service under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 known as 'British nuclear test defence service'. This provides a classification equivalent to hazardous non-warlike operational service to ex-service personnel involved in nuclear testing. To be eligible for compensation under this classification, an ex-service member must be able to prove a link between any incapacity and their defence service. The repatriation committee then determines a claim based on the relevant links between the cause and effects of an ex-service member's disease with their service. Once this process has occurred, eligible ex-service personnel will receive a disability pension and gold card. If their death is related to their service, an ex-service personnel's widow may also receive a war widows pension and gold card. These changes were supported by both sides of the House in 2010.

The legislation before us today makes minor amendments to the class of persons eligible under the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act 2006 to allow the repatriation committee to broaden the definition of 'eligible persons' to incorporate not only personnel immediately involved on the nuclear test sites but also those such as RAAF pilots and ground crews involved in the testing but based outside the immediate testing area. The Department of Veterans' Affairs has found that approximately 10 people have been identified as potential beneficiaries of the amendments before us today.

Whilst I am pleased to support the amendment today, which provides further support for our veterans, it remains hugely disappointing that this Labor government will not introduce fair indexation for DFRDB payments, and earlier this year once again voted this proposal down when it was moved by the coalition in the Senate. I would like to take this opportunity whilst we are discussing support for veterans to put on the record yet again that the coalition is committed to addressing the needs of DFRDB superannuants. Despite the amendments today, affecting approximately 10 veterans, this Labor government continues to deny a problem in the area of DFRDB superannuation, and I believe that it is this stance that truly epitomises the value that the Labor government places on our veterans.

My electorate of Ryan takes in the Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera and like most electorates around the nation is home to many active returned and services leagues who continue to support and advocate for our returned and currently serving defence personnel. I know these service men and women, I know these veterans, and I know the issue of fair indexation for DFRDB payments is of vital importance to them. I also believe that all members of this House would be in a similar position: they would also know service men and women in their electorates and veterans in their electorates. That is why it shocks me that this Labor government continues to approach this issue with such a closed mind and continues to neglect the men and women who have served their country and deserve to be treated fairly.

Our veterans deserve fair indexation of DFRDB superannuation. Our veterans are a vital part of the fabric of our nation, a nation built on the legend of Gallipoli and the bravery of our Anzacs. Our veterans deserve our support. The bill before us today is one step in providing some of that support, but I take this opportunity to call on the government to take the more important step of the fair indexation of DFRDB.