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Thursday, 1 March 2001
Page: 24857

Mr QUICK (10:48 AM) —I compliment the member for Stirling on her speech on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill 2000. This short and somewhat dry piece of legislation, which brings all Commonwealth departments into line to ensure that all Commonwealth offences have standard formulation of the elements of intention, fault, burden of proof and penalty, gives me an opportunity to speak in general terms about veterans' issues that concern the constituents not only of my electorate but across the length and breadth of Australia.

All federal members would be cognisant of the fact that we have veterans in our community. They are one of the things that bind us all together. We are of different persuasions but when it comes to veterans' issues there is a commonality and a purpose. We will soon see the 86th anniversary of the original Anzac Day. As a son of an original Anzac, I consider it a special time. It always has been, ever since as a young child, for the first time, I saw my father march in Ballarat.

The good thing about veterans' affairs is the bipartisan nature of this whole issue. The veterans of the First World War are diminishing in number—I tried to get the number of veterans from the minister's office before I came; I know we only have two Anzac veterans still alive. In the past couple of days, we have seen the death of one of Australia's great icons, Sir Donald Bradman. There has been a huge outpouring of grief and memories. When he is buried next Wednesday in Adelaide, the streets will be lined with tens of thousands of people to mourn his passing.

I wonder what we as a nation are going to do when our last Anzac dies? In Australia we do not have an Arlington Cemetery as they do in America where, with great pomp and ceremony, we could bury the last of the original Anzacs. I think Con Sciacca mentioned the phrase—it might have been Paul Keating: `national treasures'. As I get older—and I am at the end of my fifties—I still think I am young. Looking at the ages of our Second World War veterans, I recall that today is the birthday of a friend of mine, David Howard, who served in the Second World War. He was born in 1924 and is 77. I think he would consider himself to be rather young. He is one of the youngest of the Second World War veterans—most of them are in their 80s, some in their 90s.

The DVA are doing a fantastic job. One of the things that worries me—it is the same with all departments—is that they are somewhat lacking in understanding—I do not know whether that is the right phrase. In my mind, there is a need for more flexibility and greater understanding by departmental officers. One of my colleagues next door to me worked for the DVA for 20-odd years, and I know that he would have done his utmost to look after the veterans. I had to intervene on David Howard's behalf. He lives in Adelaide, and his daughter lives in Kingston in Tasmania. David was one of those proud veterans who never really accessed any of his entitlements. He was fit and healthy and then suddenly, without warning, was hospitalised. Even though he went to the old repatriation hospital in Adelaide, he had trouble getting a bed, staying overnight and getting proper treatment. How does he go about proving that the illnesses are war related when, as I said, David is having his 77th birthday today? He is one example of many of the World War II veterans that I know. They have to face the paperwork and the bureaucracy—the subsections and the paragraphs in the Veterans' Entitlements Actwhen they have done the hard yards. As the member for Stirling said, they have endured hardships that we can never really imagine.

One of the good things that I have managed to do since I have been in this place is visit El Alamein and see the terrible conditions that they must have experienced when they were fighting there. I have been to New Guinea and most of the Pacific Islands where the Pacific war was conducted. I could not imagine being a young person there, spending years and years trying to fight your way through the jungle and stay alive, let alone defeat the enemy. I have trudged up the hills and I have waded across Anzac Cove, as my father did. I have been to Lone Pine, The Neck and Shrapnel Gully. I have read his diaries and tried to experience in some small way what he did as an 18 year old.

I have visited the Western Front and the lovely little French town of Fromelles where my father was machine-gunned on 19 July 1916. He came home and had to battle Veterans' Affairs in those days. The member for Cowan mentioned TPIs. I well remember the inordinate bureaucratic battle that my father had to go through to get the TPI, because he was very healthy and looked after himself. But despite suffering horrendous war wounds on the Western Front, he was not granted the TPI until very late in his life.

As we come towards the 86th anniversary of Anzac Day, I think it is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that the needs of the veterans and their spouses take paramount importance in what we do. Governments of all persuasions say the words but I wonder whether there is that flexibility and real understanding of the needs of veterans, especially as there are very few World War I veterans left. Every day, you read in the newspaper of the passing of our World War II veterans. Our Korean veterans are ageing as well, and most of our Vietnam veterans are approaching 60 years of age.

One of the other issues that I would like to mention here today is that there are lots of little country towns in my neck of the woods in Tasmania, like most country towns throughout Australia, where services are disappearing. When Commonwealth departments look at distances, they usually relate them to Melbourne and Sydney. From Footscray to Dandenong does not appear to be a great distance in Melbourne terms, nor does North Sydney to Liverpool in Sydney terms—it is just across town. But in Tasmania, with narrow roads and lots of mountains, there are little country towns that are isolated in Tasmanian terms. When it comes to Commonwealth legislation, bureaucrats might say: `Why can't they access them because they are only 60 or 70 kilometres away?' But those 60 or 70 kilometres are hundreds in mainland terms.

My mother lives in a little country town called Nhill in the Mallee in Victoria. As a war widow and the wife of an ex-TPI, she has access to services in the hostel in which she lives in Nhill. I must pay a compliment to the DVA office in Melbourne because they have looked after my mother since 1984 when my father passed away and they have done a wonderful job. My mother is 84 years of age and is at a stage in her life when she needs to access a wide range of services. The repatriation people in DVA in Melbourne are doing a fantastic job. I would like to compliment them and the medical practitioners who look after her and many other war widows in that neck of the woods.

One issue that I would like to raise—it is a pretty contentious one and most of us try to duck away and think, `Oh God, no'—is gold cards. If we are going to be fair dinkum, I would imagine that each of us, if we look closely at our electorate, have hundreds and hundreds of veterans from the allied forces living in our electorates who were demobbed and consequently have spent most of their lives in this country. Their children and their grandchildren have contributed to this great Australian society.

The first comment one could make is to say, `We can't afford it; it's going to cost tens of millions of dollars.' In all honesty, I think we can find it if we are fair dinkum about looking after them. Recently, we suddenly plucked out a whole heap of money, $1.5 billion, for road funding. We changed the trusts rule and $600 million disappeared. I do not know whether anyone has quantified the actual amount involved in the provision of gold cards to allied veterans, but they have spent more years in this country and have contributed more to this country than they ever did to their country of origin. They fought alongside us. They shared the misery, the sacrifice and the hardship. They have contributed in many ways to Australian society. It is incumbent upon all of us to look at the issue of gold cards. I know this is an election year and people will be trying to figure out how they are going to get around a rather thorny issue.

Another issue that I would like to raise is the fact that there are still grey areas regarding the issue of entitlements—whether there actually was a war, whether we had actually declared war, whether it was a war zone, whether the region fits into what is in a certain subsection, clause and paragraph. Danna Vale, the member for Hughes, mentioned the situation of people waiting 55 years for entitlements. One of my constituents, Alan Reid, served in the Indonesian conflict. There was great turmoil at the end of the war before the establishment of the Indonesian republic. There was involvement of Australian personnel in that rather hairy situation. If the department has not declared it a zone of war or whatever the terminology is, despite putting your life on the line, enduring hardship and doing the hard yards, if it is not on the piece of paper and in the subsection, you do not get the entitlement. I would like the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to look at that issue because it is one of the last issues that still needs to be resolved.

I also raise the issue of the plight of the TPIs. Some of them are really doing it tough. The issue raised by the honourable member for Cowan needs to be looked at. Knowing the commitment of the minister, I think he will resolve it. I raise two other small issues. I noticed recently that the department has spent some money on refurbishing the headstones at Gallipoli. I would like to thank the minister for his involvement in that. Those of us who have visited Anzac Cove and the other battle zones on the peninsula realise that something needs to be done to enable family and friends to read the headstones. Congratulations to the department for doing that. Finally, I would like to endorse the wonderful role played by the RSL clubs in my electorate. They are doing a fantastic job not only in providing a place for camaraderie and fellowship but also by being heavily involved in the community. The office bearers in each and every one of my RSL clubs are working tirelessly, despite their increasing age, to ensure that not only their members and families but the general community are provided with services, especially in the small country towns. I commend the bill to the House. I, like all other members, welcome the opportunity to speak on the issue of veterans' affairs.