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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17266

Mr WILKIE (9:00 PM) —I would like the opportunity tonight to talk about totally and permanently incapacitated ex-service men and women—TPIs. Last week, I am sure that many in this place would have noticed that there was a large number of frustrated and angry veterans from previous wars and conflicts outside this parliament. They were disabled veterans from all over the country. They were here from early on 16 June until 4 p.m. on 19 June. I took the opportunity to meet the veterans, and I noticed that there was a very strong contingent of people from the west—some of whom I have had the pleasure of working with in my previous careers.

The people from the west had travelled a long way, and we should remember that many of them are ill and are among those who are least able to afford the trip to Canberra. However, they felt compelled to support their colleagues, and many were here not for themselves but to ensure that younger veterans get a better deal. They made the point that they are angry that this government would be taking all the media opportunities later in the week when we as a nation were honouring our service men and women who were returning from their recent deployment to Iraq.

This government has made great political mileage from the outstanding performance of our defence personnel in East Timor, during the Tampacrisis, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs have grabbed every photo opportunity to be seen with the troops and to bask in the glow of their superb accomplishments. However, the government has sold them out. This government has ignored the plight of the TPI veterans in the 2003 budget.

Mrs Vale —Didn't you want to welcome them home?

Mr WILKIE —I hear the drivel opposite. If I had been invited to attend a ceremony in Perth I would have been there; but I was not invited. TPIs were protesting because of government inaction on the following: the protection of the special rate of compensation payment by appropriate indexation, the special rate benchmarked to 75 per cent of average weekly earnings, the honouring of a 1996 election promise to remove an anomaly whereby the special rate of compensation is included as income when calculating income support for TPIs without qualifying service, and the fact that some 26,500 ex-service personnel receive TPI payment as compensation for disabilities which prevent them from undertaking paid employment for more than eight hours per week. Once granted, this payment is paid for life and is indexed against the CPI.

There is general acceptance that payments made to people as compensation for the effects a disabling injury has on their lives, whether from a road accident or from a workplace injury, are not income. Such payments are strictly compensation for pain and suffering and loss of lifestyle. At present, the Veterans' Entitlements Act exempts all disability pensions in its means test for the service pension, including all the special rate. For those without qualifying service, who therefore must go to Centrelink for income support—through the age pension, Newstart or the disability support pension—their entire disability pension is treated as income. This is completely unfair; but the government has refused, on a number of occasions in recent years, to amend the law to remove the discrimination—despite the efforts of the ALP and the Democrats, who have seen Senate amendments rejected by the government in this House.

I am particularly concerned that, for TPIs, the gold card is counted as income, even though this card is issued to many veterans who enjoy good health and gainful employment. If the value of a Medicare card is never counted as an income component for others in society, why then should the provision of a gold card be seen as income? The same applies for the pharmaceutical allowance. This allowance is paid to all pensioners and to many clients of Centrelink. To count it as income means that TPIs are not compensated for treatment of their war-caused ill health. They are paying from their own pockets for the treatment of their disabilities. The telephone allowance of $74.40 per year tax free is another benefit counted as income, but this once again is not a benefit peculiar to disabled veterans, as it is paid to many healthy Centrelink pensioners.

I would like to remind people that the original intention of this country's repatriation legislation was to ensure that citizens who became disabled defending our nation would be provided with free medical treatment for those disabilities and would be compensated for their inability to earn an income equal to the average wage. TPIs should never have to rely on welfare.

Before I close, I would like to bring some figures to the attention of the House. The maximum disposable income a partnered TPI can receive from the Department of Veterans' Affairs is $1,126.09 a fortnight. The maximum income a single TPI can receive from the DVA is $1,198.86 a fortnight. Only 32 per cent of TPI recipients under the age of 65 are in receipt of the maximum welfare income supplement per fortnight. Therefore, 68 per cent of TPI recipients under the age of 65 receive either less than the maximum income supplement or no income supplement at all. Only 959 TPIs without qualifying service receive any income support. Only Labor will ensure that veterans get a fair go. (Time expired)