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Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Page: 141

Mrs VALE (7:08 PM) —I received leave to continue my remarks on the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (2005 Budget Measure) Bill 2005. The budget includes $4.6 billion for health care, an increase of $203 million from the 2004-05 budget, and $6.1 billion for compensation and income support, up from $6 billion last financial year. Included in the veterans’ health measures is $30.4 million over four years to increase fees paid to anaesthetists providing services to eligible veterans; $30.5 million over four years to increase fees for dentists providing services to the veteran community and to increase the annual monetary limit for high-cost dental services; and a further $18.2 million over four years to increase fees for a range of allied health professionals providing services to members of the veteran community. Eligible veterans will also continue to benefit from concessional rates on prescription medicines and from the payment of the DVA pharmaceutical allowance. Over the last nine years under this government, more than $86 billion has been committed in recognition of the special needs of veterans and war widows. This funding has risen from $6.5 billion in 1996 to more than $10.8 billion in the last budget, an average annual increase of 5.8 per cent.

It is worth while, especially after the comments from the member for Cowan, to have a look at what the government was promising at the last election for our veterans and our war widows. Labor’s plan for veterans offered a paltry range of initiatives, and it continues to reflect their lack of understanding of the real needs of veterans and war widows. Labor’s plan had promised only $17.8 million of new funding over four years, compared to the $82.4 million under the coalition. Labor failed to address the issues of most concern to our older veterans and war widows—namely, secure health care services and practical help in the home.

Labor failed to make any commitment to maintaining the 15 per cent premium paid to general practitioners to treat the 300,000 eligible white and gold card holders under Veterans’ Affairs arrangements rather than Medicare. Under Labor’s changes to Medicare, general practitioners would have had little financial incentive to maintain separate billing arrangements for white and gold card holders, which was a great concern to members of the veteran community. Labor failed to make any commitment to Veterans Home Care, which could have seen over 60,000 eligible veterans and war widows lose this valuable service. Labor failed and continues to fail to acknowledge the valuable contribution made by ex-service organisations to the welfare of veterans, and offered nothing to assist ex-service organisations with their work. Labor failed to offer anything further to assist the spouses of our most disabled veterans following their deaths. Labor continues to fail our veterans and our war widows.

This bill provides clear evidence that the Howard government continues to deliver to our veterans, our war widows and our ex-service community. The measures in this bill are another strong government achievement. In fact, since this government was returned to office in 1996, there have been a number of very significant measures in support of veterans and war widows. Our veterans with disabilities are financially much better off. Our service pensioners, war widows and war widowers are better off financially. Health care for gold card and white card holders has been expanded. There is provision of extra care for our former prisoners of war, and the government has delivered on practical support for Vietnam veterans and their families, most especially for the children of Vietnam veterans. The government has also provided greater flexibility for younger veterans and our serving personnel.

We have encouraged the respect and reverence due to our veterans and war widows by encouraging the recognition of and pride in Australia’s military heritage and by providing a further $11 million in the 2004-05 budget to expand the excellent Australian War Memorial. This last point is very significant because this year, during 2005, a number of significant wartime anniversaries have occurred and will continue to occur. There has been the much publicised 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, which occurred, of course, in April. There are also many 60th anniversaries occurring this year, one of which is the anniversary of the landing at Labuan in Borneo, to which we recently sent a commemorative mission of 11 veterans. Significant campaigns in Papua New Guinea will also be commemorated this year by a return of old diggers to pay respects to the mates they left behind in that rugged and unforgiving terrain. Australian veterans and war widows also attended the 60th commemoration in Paris earlier this year to recognise Victory in Europe Day, otherwise known as VE Day.

The government is planning appropriate commemorations here in Australia to recognise the 60th anniversary of the Victory in the Pacific. Such plans will be announced at the appropriate time by the minister. I take this opportunity to congratulate the minister for ensuring that our veterans, war widows and ex-service personnel continue to receive the respect and affection of a grateful nation. I join with them in eagerly awaiting the minister’s announcement on Australia’s activities to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Victory in the Pacific.

The 2005-06 budget builds on a lot of hard work by the Howard government to ensure that our veterans, war widows and ex-service community receive the care that they need and the support that is truly important to this group of Australians. I welcome this legislation and commend it to the House.