Save Search

Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 7 August 2001
Page: 29321


Mr EDWARDS (5:07 PM) —I join with previous speakers in supporting the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (2001 Budget Measures) Bill 2001, though I must admit that I have some interest in how the government arrived at its priorities. I know that the broader veteran community support these measures, but they too have some interest in how the government arrived at its priorities. For instance, I have received a letter from Zev Ben-Avi, an advocate for the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club, who says:

John Howard stated at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday 3 August that the use of the term Diggers by the athletics team was inappropriate. “That expression has effectively sacred status in Australia, it should not be used by others.”

In a document entitled - “The Liberal and National Parties' commitment to Australia's Veterans”, dated 5 Feb 96 in a paper covering the then Opposition under John Howard, the cover was emblazoned with - “LEST WE FORGET” at the top and - “The Coalition believes in both honouring the dead and fighting like hell for the living.”

“Lest We Forget” is far more “sacred” than the term “Digger”, yet the then Coalition chose to use it on a political document for it's own political reasons. One of the promises within that document was the correction of the “apparent anomaly” of a veteran's disability pension being counted as income under the Social Security Act. Five and half years later and there is no action on this “apparent anomaly” from the Coalition.

“Honour the Dead and Fight Like Hell For The Living” is the copyright of the Vietnam Veterans' Assoc of Aust (VVAA) and was not used with any permission by the VVAA nor was it attributed - it was stolen. That is bad enough but the Coalition in power has at least honoured the dead but it most certainly has NOT “fought like hell for the living”.

For nearly three years there has been a campaign to have the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) rate increased and benchmarked. TPI's have not had a benchmark since 1976 and have only had CPI increases since that time. The benchmark that has applied to other pensions (25% of MTAWE)—

that is, male total average weekly earnings—

has never been applied to TPI. In the last ten years, MTAWE has increased by 39% whilst CPI has only increased by 19%, effectively TPI's have lost $100 per week in real terms.

TPI's have no access to increases like - arbitration, review boards, unions, courts of law etc like any other Australians. TPI's can only go direct to government with submissions. In the nearly three years of the Fair Go for TPI's campaign, we have been ignored.

“Fight like Hell for the Living”? I think not. “Lest We Forget”? The Coalition has already forgotten that it has forgotten. “That expression (Diggers) has effectively sacred status ...”, said John Howard. He needs to get his priorities right.

(signed)

Zev Ben-Avi.

That touches on a bit of the anger in some sections of the veteran community. There was reference in that letter to the recent controversy we have had about the use of the word `diggers' by Athletics Australia. I see a bit of hypocrisy here from the government. A little while ago we had the Minister for Veterans' Affairs going to farewell the Australian cricket team. He presented each of the team members with a slouch hat and he asked them to wear the slouch hats at Gallipoli, which they did. It is interesting that when a photograph appeared in the daily papers around Australia of the cricket team wearing the slouch hats there was quite a bit of comment, and this was followed up by the Australian athletics team wanting to use the word `diggers'. The minister initiated something with one sporting team, but then criticised another for doing something similar.

I heard the Minister for Sport and Tourism on the ABC last Friday going crook about Athletics Australia using the word `diggers'. She claimed it was the misuse of a word that has some sacred meanings in Australia. It is interesting, then, to read today an article in the Penrith Star, under the heading `MP's credit faking slip', which said:

Lindsay MP Jackie Kelly has been embarrassed ... and accused of staging a “publicity stunt” by taking credit for the restoration of war memorials.

In fact the memorials at Penrith's Memory Park and at Castlereagh were restored by Emu Plains' Mark Mikschl, who finished cleaning and waterproofing them on January 9.

He was “surprised and shocked” when hearing about Ms Kelly taking credit for the restorations.

The article also says:

Mr Mikschl, who did not want to any accolades for his work, had already restored two of the memorials with materials bought by Penrith RSL Club from his waterproofing company, Spike's Waterproofing.

It further says:

A friend of Mr Mikschl, who read parts of the press release in local papers, said she was hurt to see Ms Kelly taking credit for Mr Mikschl's work.

“It was Mark's idea and he approached the RSL who agreed to pay for the materials,” she said. “He did it out of the goodness of his heart, to give something back to the community.

“He did not want a big fuss made but he could not stand by and let a politician take credit for his and the RSL's hard work.

Penrith RSL president Laurie Tucker confirmed Mr Mikschl did the work and the RSL paid for the materials.

The article also says:

Mr Tucker said it was not the RSL's duty to inform Ms Kelly of the work done by Mr Mikschl.

“She should of known or found out the full story before saying anything. We just wanted the money. She turned it into a publicity stunt because it is an election year.”

If we are going to be critical of, say, teams like Athletics Australia for using the word `diggers', I think we ought to look in our own backyard first. This is hypocrisy of the highest degree. And it is hypocrisy which hurts the veteran community, because they are cynical enough of members of parliament and when they see issues like this used for what they consider to be electoral purposes they become even more cynical and understandably upset.

I met Zev Ben-Avi on a couple of occasions. Zev is a very robust, direct and straightforward character, a well respected senior NCO during the Vietnam War. He had a very good reputation for looking after his diggers and fighting for them, and he continues to do that to this day. It is just a bit unfortunate that sometimes he treads on a few toes and upsets people. I guess he would say that, if that is the penalty you pay for being honest and direct and saying the things that you feel and for being prepared to stand up for your dig, he is prepared to cop that.

There is a lot of anger in the veteran community at the moment, much of it coming from within the ranks of TPIs. As Zev said in his letter, he feels that they have been passed over. A lot of TPIs are doing it very tough. There are a lot of young men who have nothing to look forward to but the rest of their lives on a TPI pension: young men who served in the Gulf War; young men who served in our Special Air Services Regiment on counter-terrorist duty; young men who have children and young families; and young men who want to secure a future for themselves but who cannot because of the level of remuneration of TPI pension.

I looked up some legislative history. Back in 1985 the TPI was described as follows:

The special or TPI rate pension was designed for severely disabled veterans of a relatively young age who could never go back to work and could never hope to support themselves or their families or put away money for their old age.

I guess the truth is that some people have a strange and jaundiced view about what TPIs are. I was very pleased, therefore, to receive a profile provided by Mr Derek Phillips JP from Western Australia, a profile of the totally and permanently incapacitated Australian veteran. It says:

This person is a member of a very unique group within the Australian community.

This person incurred disabilities and/or injuries during war or warlike qualifying service for the country.

This person was in the prime of life at that time.

This person when discharged, attempted to forge a career in the community for the benefit of his family etc. In many cases this career was impeded by the person's disabilities/injuries causing family problems as well as financial difficulties.

This person eventually became T.P.I. and was compensated with the T.P.I. Special Rate.

This person is not of any special age group. Some are young [Gulf & Timor], some are in their early 50s and some are older.

When first classed as a T.P.I. this person in most cases, tends to withdraw from society, some are afraid to mention to family and friends that they are T.P.I. some are shunned by their family and peers, others feel useless and unwanted, others lack motivation and objectives. There are many other difficulties in life that have an effect on this person.

THIS PERSON NEEDS HELP. WHERE IS THIS HELP?

This help is provided by the T.P.I. Community to State and Territory Associations and Social Welfare Clubs within each state and territory.

THE T.P.I COMMUNITY IS NOT A BUNCH OF BLUDGERS.

When a person is assessed as T.P.I. that person is strongly encouraged to join his local state or territory association where for a small fee is granted membership and the Federation Badge, access to the facilities and assistance of management in many areas. Most associations have a monthly or quarterly magazine which is prepared and published by volunteers.

Once the person is a member they are encouraged to take part in welfare and social activities and networking among their peers as well as many other activities.

HOW WE HELP T.P.Is

The T.P.I community through the state and territory associations have for many years provided much assistance for T.P.I's, War Widows, other veterans and the community in general. The T.P.I community, voluntarily and at minimal cost to the Government and the taxpayer, participate in and provide the following services and infrastructure:

Retirement Villages both equity share and rental

Aged Care Hospitals

Day Care Centres

Welfare Units—Accommodation for country T.P.I's for medicals etc

Holiday Accommodation

Social Centres and Club Rooms

Commuter Buses together with wheelchair facilities

Commemoration and Memorials.

The management both financial and administration of the above.

T.P.Is are also extremely involved in other services across Australia, for instance:

Advocacy Services

Hospital Visitors

Welfare Officers

Social Club Management

Fund Raising

Participate with Legacy [War Widows and Wards]

Justices of the Peace

Bus Drivers

Day Care Coordinators

Hospital Canteen Volunteers

Busy Bee organisers and participants, painting/gardening etc

Concession officers

Computer Training

Participating with other E.S.Os in the above capacities

Representing T.P.Is and E.S.Os on various Federal & State committees re Health, Welfare etc

Social outing coordinators

Personal Advisers—re Health Welfare & Financial Legal assistance & advice

Hospital Transport

Financial assistance

Museums & Memorabilia.

While the T.P.I involvement can be seen to be therapeutic it is still very costly to the individual participant.

Some of the costs absorbed by the T.P.I volunteer are:

Petrol and Vehicle maintenance and other transport costs

Telephone and Fax

Computer equipment [private]

Computer consumables

Stationery

Meals

Accommodation

Clothes

etc. etc.

In addition the T.P.I community donate many hours of their time in voluntary activities and many of their wives & families also participate in these activities to the benefit of all T.P.Is and their families and widows.

T.P.Is despite their disabilities and within their limitations, are responsible for massive cost savings to the Australian community and by their voluntary participation are RETURNING A SUBSTANTIAL DIVIDEND TO THE GOVERNMENT OF THE DAY.

THE T.P.I COMMUNITY IS NOT A BUNCH OF BLUDGERS.

THIS IS THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE VOLUNTEER.

I thought that it was important to read that into the Hansard because I am sure that some TPI veterans feel that people do not fully consider them as making a contribution to the community. Many people forget how a lot of these veterans came by their injuries and their wounds. Many people forget that they came by these wounds or injuries in the course of service to their country.

The other thing is that on some days TPI veterans might be on top of the world, but usually that does not last for long. I have many good friends who you could look at and think, `There's nothing wrong with that bloke,' but see him a couple of days later and you can see a man who is suffering, battling and finding it difficult just to cope with the day-to-day things that a person needs to do in their life. It needs to be emphasised that TPI people are fighting for what they see to be a just and reasonable remuneration, particularly as many of them have come onto the TPI pension at a very early age and many of them have never had the opportunity to secure a strong financial base or a strong financial future for themselves or their families. I feel that we have to look at this whole question of TPI, and we have to look at how we can give particularly these younger TPI veterans a better chance to secure the sorts of things that they feel are important in their life.

It is unfortunate that a number of these veterans have felt compelled to organise a march on Parliament House sometime next month, such is the anger and such is the way that they feel they have been treated by government. That is why I said I was interested as to how the government came about its priorities in this most recent budget. While I certainly support the extension of the benefits that have been dealt with in this entitlement act today, we should recognise that there is a lot of work that is yet to be done and that there are a lot of veterans out there who do feel extremely angry and who do feel let down, particularly by this minister.

I am very disappointed in the way the minister is playing wedge politics with this veterans group— using one ESO against another and indeed trying to drive a wedge between the TPI association members themselves. I do not think that is an appropriate way for a minister of the Crown to act. In my view he could be doing a heck of a lot more to assist these TPI veterans, many of them sick veterans, to pull their own submission together. He could assist them, through the resources of his department and his office, to come to some conclusions about what they want and how they want to achieve it. One of the reasons they are angry is that they feel they have been lied to and let down. I do not support everything the TPI community want, because on the one hand I do not think it is affordable and on the other I do not think some of the things they are claiming are necessary. They are entitled to be treated properly, to be treated honestly and to be treated fairly. They are simply not getting that at the moment.

In conclusion, there is just one other thing that I am concerned about, and that is the recent Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision in re McPhee and Repatriation Commission, decision No. 447 of 25 May 2001. It found against Mr McPhee's claim for a special rate pension because he was undertaking voluntary work for an ex-service organisation. The departmental representative submitted that there was no distinction between paid and volunteer work. I want to say that there is a distinction between volunteer and paid work, particularly in the context of the TPI community.

In a letter to the then Australian Federation of Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Ex-Servicemen and Women, Con Sciacca, the previous minister, actually put in writing on 3 April 1995 his very strong view that:

There is no bar to a T&PI pensioner undertaking such voluntary work. As long as it remains voluntary there will be no effect on the T&PI pension.

I think it would be a great shame if ever a TPI pensioner was to either not have a TPI granted because of a capacity to do voluntary work or, after having been granted a TPI pension, be penalised for the voluntary work that he or she was doing. The veteran community needs this voluntary work. It is dependent on the voluntary work. I ask the minister if he could do what the previous minister Con Sciacca did and write to the TPI community and support those volunteer ethics. (Time expired)