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Thursday, 31 August 2000
Page: 19856


Mr BRUCE SCOTT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) (1:25 PM) —I thank members on both sides who have made a contribution to the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2000. This bill introduces a number of initiatives that will directly and indirectly benefit veterans and their families. The government is improving the repatriation system, not only through direct measures but also through the better management and organisation of matters under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 and the Defence Service Homes Act 1918.

The overall management of veterans' affairs will be enhanced by the removal of redundant provisions in the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, the increased flexibility in access to assistance and the streamlining of service delivery. The bill will enable the exclusion of certain additional compensation payments from the offsetting provision in the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. This will increase benefits to seriously injured members of the Australian Defence Force and the families of those members who have lost their lives in defence service.

Other veterans to directly benefit from this bill are those who may be given an extended period within which they may claim reimbursement for travelling expenses incurred when obtaining treatment. The bill will also benefit the recently bereaved by ensuring they have ready access to bereavement payments. The changes to the Defence Service Homes Act 1918 will allow the delivery of home support advances through the most suitable arrangements established by public tender. These advances will assist many veterans and their dependants with home maintenance, modifications and repairs. Overall, the bill is a continuation of this government's commitment to veterans and their families and it ensures that the veteran community continues to enjoy a high standard of compensation and care through access to generous benefits and quality health care services.

In conclusion I would like to refer to some of the comments that were made. I recognise the validity of the comments of the member for Reid on the proposed reforms to the military compensation. Noel Tanzer also recognised that it is important for bipartisan support to be given to these matters. I thank him for those comments. I look forward to working with the member for Reid in further consideration of these matters.

I thank the member for Gilmore for her support in this bill. She does a tremendous amount of work in her electorate in representing the views of the veterans in the electorate of Gilmore. She also does a great job on our backbench committee, and I want to thank her for that because she is a fierce advocate of issues relating to veterans, not only in her electorate but also broadly across Australia. She recognises the need to streamline the delivery of services in the community and recognises the benefits that will flow from that. As she said, it is really about actions and not words and I endorse her comments.

The member for Lowe made an invaluable contribution and I thank him for that. I also want to recognise the depth of knowledge he has of the repatriation system. I acknowledge as well the great empathy that he has for veterans because of his past experience. I am sure the story of his own father is very difficult for him to tell. It just reminds us all of the extent of the pain of those who have served our country and the effects of war on the mind and the body; and, too, how that can have an effect on families that will linger and last long after the experience of war and the immediate experience of war.

I want to thank the member for Mallee for his contribution. Coming from a rural area, as he does, in western Victoria, he spoke of the great significance of the return of service men and women to his electorate, which was settled after the First World War, in many instances with soldier settlement blocks. I remember going to a very large reunion dinner in his electorate a couple of years ago. It was a celebration of the early soldier settlements and of course the success—and in other areas the failures—of some of those early soldier settlement schemes. I also recognise the difficulty that he had in making remarks about his father. I know that it is difficult in this House for members to speak of their personal experience within their own families, as the member for Mallee did when speaking of how war service affected his father and also his family. I am sure those sorts of sentiments could be expressed by many people in this parliament, and I thank the member for Mallee for those comments and acknowledge him also for his very kind personal remarks in relation to me. I must just say to the House that I am here to do my job and I will always give it my best shot. But I thank him for those very kind personal remarks.

I acknowledge, too, the remarks made by the member for Oxley, the final speaker from the other side of the House, and of course the comments he made in relation to Legacy Week. Of course, it is terribly important and I can only endorse those comments and ask all members of the House to encourage people in their own communities to get behind Legacy's fundraising effort and not lose focus on the work it does. I often think that the work of the Legacy people is done so quietly, and they never look for accolades—they just do a good job. It is important that we in this parliament encourage others to give generously in Legacy Week.

I also want to say something in relation to the VVCS and the outreach into rural areas. The member suggested that perhaps there has been some cutting of funding in this area that will see a diminution of this service in rural areas. I said in debate on the previous bill that this is not the case. I am not quite sure where these comments are coming from, but let me assure the member for Oxley that access to the Vietnam Veterans' Counselling Service is available and that is not going to be cut. In fact, this bill extends the service of the Vietnam Veterans' Counselling Service to a broader range of service people. I am sure that he and all members of this House would accept that that is a very good thing and something that we should all be behind because it will help current serving members of the Australian Defence Force, in particular those who may have been in Bougainville, Rwanda, Somalia, Cambodia and, of course, also those currently serving in East Timor. So it is an invaluable service and once again I thank the Vietnam veterans who originally put governments on both sides of the parliament on notice so long ago to have this service established to meet the needs of those who have served our country. I am sure that, as it is extended into other areas of service within the ADF, the Vietnam veterans too will gain a great sense of achievement and pride that what they established is benefiting others which is, I think, in the spirit of all those who have served our country.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.