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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 8

Mr BALDWIN (9:31 AM) —I rise today to speak on the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (2005 Budget Measure) Bill 2005. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Veterans’ Entitlements Act to give effect to the announcements and decisions in our 2005 budget measures to extend eligibility for the seniors concession allowance to persons who are gold card holders over veteran pension age and who are not otherwise eligible for the seniors concession allowance or the utilities allowance. It is important to note that the seniors concession allowance was introduced in December 2004.

The effect of this bill is great news to the over 44,000 veterans and war widows and widowers who will benefit from a 2005-06 federal budget initiative to extend the Australian government’s seniors concession allowance to older veterans who have a gold card. This is a commitment by our government of $27.7 million over a four-year period to assist gold card holders in meeting the cost of energy, rates, water, sewerage and motor vehicle registration. As I said, this initiative will ensure that an additional 44,000 gold card holders—adding to the more than 290,000 Commonwealth senior health card holders who have already benefited from the allowances—over veteran pension age who do not already receive the seniors concession allowance or the twice yearly pensioners utilities allowance will now get the support that they desperately need. This seniors concession allowance is a non-taxable payment of $200 paid in two instalments, on 1 June and 1 December each year. The annual rate of the allowance is indexed twice yearly. It is important to note that it will keep up with the increase in the cost of energy, rates, water, sewerage and motor vehicle registration.

A gold card holder, a person of veteran pension age, who is receiving an income support payment under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act and is therefore eligible for utilities allowance, is not eligible for the seniors concession allowance under these new provisions. However, a gold card holder between veteran pension age and age pension age who is receiving an income support payment under the social security law, and is ineligible for the utilities allowance under social security law, is eligible for seniors concession allowance under these new provisions. In addition, a person of veteran pension age who has a gold card and a CSHC will not be able to receive two instalments of seniors concession allowance for the one test day. Furthermore, a person who has a gold card and is eligible for the utilities allowance cannot elect to not receive the utilities allowance instalment and instead receive an instalment of seniors concession allowance.

It is important to understand that as a matter of clarification, but it is also important to understand what a gold card is. Gold card is the commonly used term for the repatriation health card for all conditions. Persons who hold a gold card are entitled to treatment under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act in accordance with the treatment principles prepared under section 90 of the Veterans’ Entitlements Act or under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004, known as the MRCA, in accordance with the determination made under section 286 of the MRCA for any injury suffered or disease contracted. For further clarification and understanding, the veteran pension age is 60 for men and currently 57.5 for women. The veteran pension age for women is being raised by six months every two years so that by July 2013 the veteran pension age for both men and women will be 60. These measures are important because they bring about balance. It is about recognising the efforts of those who served our country and providing to them the necessary benefits to keep up with the costs in today’s times.

I would also like to expand on the efforts of this government in supporting our veteran community. On 14 June I announced a grant of $43,100 to the Gresford RSL sub-branch on behalf of the Hunter District Council of RSL sub-branches. The work of the Gresford RSL sub-branch will be representative of the work of the 41 sub-branches that make up the Hunter District Council in establishing and delivering eight memory and ageing seminars for our veteran community and two dementia training sessions for RSL pension and welfare officers. This is part of an investment of more than $2.8 million in funding that was available for veterans and community grants in 2004-05. It is important that we invest in these projects to support our veteran community.

Also on 6 June I was fortunate enough to announce a grant of $3,100 to the Hunter Legacy Appeals Fund. The Hunter Legacy Appeals Fund supports and represents the widows and dependants of veterans who died during, or as a result of, their military service. The money will be used to help buy a printer and storage cupboard to assist with the production of its newsletter, because providing communication for the 700 Legacy widows is very important to keep those widows up-to-date with changes and what is available to them.

Under our Saluting Their Service program we were fortunate enough, on 31 May, to announce a $2,000 grant to the Karuah and District RSL Sub Branch to erect a new memorial outside the Karuah RSL. Saluting Their Service projects encourage our communities to come together to remember and honour the contribution made by those fine Australians who have served in wars, conflicts and peace operations since Federation. This is one for the Karuah RSL. Last year I was fortunate enough to achieve funding through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs under these programs for the Vacy Sportsground Committee, which was granted $4,000 to establish a new war memorial. I was there recently with the schoolchildren of Vacy Public School on a very proud day at the establishment of this memorial. Now the community of Vacy can pay their respects in their own community; they do not need to travel to another town to gather and to pay their respects and give remembrance to those who served our country.

Last year I was also able to achieve funding of $3,789 under the Saluting Their Service program for the Nelson Bay and District Branch of the National Service and Combined Forces Association to assist with the construction of a memorial at Apex Park. As well, the Coomba Park Ex-Services Memorial Association received $4,000 to establish the concrete slab at the base of their memorial. Our funding for memorials is important in recognising the efforts of those national service men and women in World War I, World War II, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam and other theatres of operation that Australia has been involved in.

I am proud to have been able, through the Saluting Their Service or Their Service Our Heritage programs, to have helped establish, upgrade or repair memorials at Myall Lakes, Tea Gardens, Forster, Dungog, Gresford, Coomba Park, Raymond Terrace, Nelson Bay, Tilligerry Peninsula, Clarence Town, Maitland and Karuah to name but a few. These have been important on days like Anzac Day and at other gatherings of remembrance for our communities. It is important to provide our communities the opportunity to have a place to gather to pay our respects.

I was fortunate enough this year to be invited to the dawn service at Tea Gardens at the memorial that we invested in with our community. They had to put a large amount of money in to build the memorial, and our grant was $4,000. Standing there at the dawn service and listening to the bugler as the sun was coming up across the beach made for a morning that will take a long time to forget. From there I moved up to Forster for the Anzac Day march in the morning and to another new memorial that has been established with the support of this government. It provided an opportunity for over 500 people to come together to pay respects to those who have served our country.

I was also fortunate on 18 August last year on Long Tan Day to be invited by Brian Ferguson to give an address at the Great Lakes Sub-Branch Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day Ceremony. As we gathered at the surf club kiosk at Main Beach Forster for the march down Little Street, the band turned up. They turned up with the bass drum but unfortunately without the drummer. On that day I learned very quickly about Army volunteers. I was the biggest, so they figured I was the only one who would be able to carry the bass drum down Little Street. I did explain to them that I had absolutely no experience. So in about 20 seconds they taught me how to hold the stick and how to strap the drum on and we marched down Little Street. I have to say this about my community and the band: I was the only one who was in tune—the band was out of tune—and I was the only one who was in step! However, despite my extremely poor performance as a drummer—I have not been invited back since to play the drum; I have for other things, but not to play the drum—it was a very respectful day, a remembering day and a day of celebration and of mateship.

In 1998 the Reserve Forces Day was established to recognise the service of our citizen soldiers, sailors and airmen and airwomen as well as to recognise the essential support of families and civilian employers. On 26 June, the Reserve Forces Day Forster Regional Council will celebrate the efforts of those who served our country with a march through the main streets of Forster-Tuncurry. I would like to congratulate the efforts of the Reserve Forces Day committee, in particular Chairman Keith McNeill, Secretary Bob Russell and their team of Peter Morison, Bill Chandler, Roy McQuire, Jeff Hardy and Mrs Kim Dwyer.

On 2 July, the Newcastle Reserve Forces Day Committee has organised an event at Camp Shortland near Nobbys Head. I would like to congratulate their Reserve Forces Day organiser, Major (Ret.) Peter Toms, for his work and dedication to this day. It will be a very proud day for me because my two sons, David and Robbie, as part of training ship Tobruk will be a part of the march in their naval uniforms. I am very much looking forward to that.

I would also recognise the efforts of Sonny ‘Maurice’ Morris in helping me further understand the issues surrounding all veterans. He has been a driving force in the National Servicemen’s Association in our area and a strong advocate for the needs of all veterans.

On 15 August we will recognise the efforts of those who served in the Pacific through Victory in the Pacific Day. I understand a medal is being struck which will be presented to those who served and to the families of those who served but who are no longer with us. I will have more to say on Victory in the Pacific Day when the parliament resumes after the winter break.

Recognising the efforts of those who gave and those who were prepared to give the ultimate sacrifice for their country is critically important—acknowledging that their efforts were not in vain, respecting and comforting those that have been left behind to deal with the trauma. That is the Australia and the Australians than I am extremely proud of. I commend all those who help to celebrate, to respect and to pay great homage to those who have served our country. I commend this bill to the House. These measures are important and only a very small token of the appreciation due to these people.