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Thursday, 22 August 2002
Page: 5538

Mr BALDWIN (10:08 AM) —I am particularly pleased that I am able to speak on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2002 because it deals with a group of people in the community who are very dear to my heart. The Australian veteran community deserves generous support, care and compensation through a simple, fair and responsive system unique to their needs. It is vital that the service of our veterans continues to be honoured publicly and proudly by their fellow Australians, particularly by the generations who have never known or witnessed the harrowing experience of war. Never before have we had so much support for our veteran community, with record numbers of people coming out to support our veterans on occasions such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.

Just last week, 10 World War II veterans were guests of honour at a ceremony in Papua New Guinea to mark the 60th anniversary of the battle of the Kokoda Track. There the Prime Minister unveiled a new memorial at Isurava, which overlooks the Kokoda valley and the site where the Australian forces dug in to face the Japanese invasion. The memorial features four sentinel stones engraved with the words `courage', `endurance', `sacrifice' and `mateship'. The words have a special significance to our national identity and have been embraced by young and old.

Still on matters overseas, I take this opportunity to mention how pleased I am by the recent decision by the French government to abandon plans for an international airport in the Somme region. The proposed site for the new airport included an area which contained war cemeteries containing the war graves of 61 Australians killed during the two world wars. It is a credit not only to federal ministers from this government who made personal representations on this matter but also to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

This year we have also seen the passing of a number of fine veterans. Australia's last Light Horseman, Albert Whitmore, passed away at the age of 102. World War I veteran of the Royal Australian Navy Lesley Sykes passed away at the age of 103. World War I digger and Australia's oldest man, Jack Lockett, passed away at the age of 111. World War I veteran Raymond Durston passed away at the age of 102. World War II veteran and Victoria Cross recipient Sir Arthur Roden Cutler passed away at the age of 85. In the last year, we have also seen the passing of the last known ANZAC, Alec Campbell. These men are to be honoured.

Before I speak on the various amendments to this bill, I may take the opportunity to recognise those in my electorate whom I caught up with at recent ceremonies for veterans. Last Sunday was Vietnam Veterans Day and the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. The Great Lake Vietnam Veterans Association had planned to march on the day but, when I spoke to them, they were struck by the problem of affording public liability insurance. The association was told they could not march unless they increased their insurance cover, which was a sum too high for the association to afford. Spiralling premium increases have affected so many in our community, and I was appalled that an association like the Vietnam Veterans would be facing a problem like this that threatened to leave them out of the march. Thankfully, the matter was sorted out before the Sunday march, but it certainly brings home the impact that the insurance problem is having on our community—and it needs a quick resolution.

I met with the association to present them with a cheque from the government's Building Excellence in Support and Training program, and I caught up with members, including Robbie Campbell, Bill Olson, Peter Craig and Robert Allport. On the same day, I also presented a cheque to Forster Tuncurry Legacy, which is one of the biggest in the region, where I caught up with Lyn Middleton, Alan Dreyer, Joe Dawson, Brian Lennon and Geoff Yarnold. I was also able to meet with some of the members of the East Maitland RSL sub-branch recently when I presented them with a cheque for $1,500. I met with Peter Harvey, Fred Goddard and Harold Jackson. This money was used to assist the branch with the regilding of letters on the honour roll of the cenotaph. The cenotaph itself was dedicated in 1923 and, over time, some of the names on the roll have weathered. It is important that we honour these people and keep their names in the public eye. I also presented a cheque to Ted Gurry from Karuah RSL sub-branch, because that sub-branch also needed to clean up their war memorial after years of weathering. I have been in contact with residents in Morpeth community, including Pam Misner, who is now working to bring a war memorial to this historic town. For years, the residents in Morpeth have had to travel to other towns or simply go without a memorial during Anzac and other commemoration ceremonies. I am happy to be able to assist them and work with the community to try and bring a memorial to life in their town.

This bill will assist veterans in my electorate. It contains a number of minor measures to clarify the legislation and to correct a number of anomalies in the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. These measures include the removal of the inequity in the way in which various compensation recovery provisions of the act operate. The removal of this inequity will ensure all vet pensioners subject to the recovery provisions are treated fairly. The measures will also ensure that the pension of the partner of the person receiving lump sum compensation payments will not be taken into account in determining the amount to be recovered directly from a compensation payer or insurer. It will prevent the misuse of the provisions relating to the payment of entry contributions to retirement villages or for the purposes of obtaining rent assistance. It will provide for pensioners who operate a mobile telephone instead of a fixed telephone line, such as those living in caravan parks. They will be eligible for telephone assistance.

It will align eligibility for rent assistance for veteran pensioners receiving family tax benefits with that of social security pensioners in similar circumstances. It will extend the eligibility for the Pension Loans Scheme to persons who are not veterans or the partners of veterans. This extension will mainly benefit persons eligible for, or in receipt of, the income support supplement. The measure will also enable persons eligible for, or in receipt of, the income support supplement to be eligible for the Pension Loans Scheme from qualifying age rather than from pension age. It will also enable war widows and war widowers to be eligible for the Commonwealth seniors health card from qualifying age rather than from pension age.

Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, as you would know from your own electorate, all of these measures demonstrate a strong commitment to our veteran community and the need to provide the best system of support possible. That commitment to making sure that government gets it right when it comes to veterans pensions and other benefits is clear. When the Minister for Veterans' Affairs announced the independent inquiry into anomalies in the system earlier this year, there was an overwhelming response to this inquiry from veterans, including from those in my electorate. Some travelled to Newcastle when the inquiry was on and spent a day in the area, just for the opportunity to put their views forward. I am looking forward to the results of this inquiry and I hope that any changes that are proposed to streamline and iron out any problems with the system are quickly implemented by this government. Our service personnel, our veterans, the people who laid it on the line for our country—for your freedom and mine—deserve the best that this country can possibly afford to give them. These are fine men and women and they deserve simply the best.