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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 198

Mr HAYES (12:52 PM) —I am happy to rise on the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (2007 Measures No. 1) Bill 2007. Firstly, I indicate that I support the bill. However, in doing so, I reserve the right to make some criticisms of the way it appears that administration of certain claims relating to a departmental undertaking relating to veterans has occurred, particularly when looking at the clients of that department. The clients of that department are people who have served this country well. They have taken upon themselves the security of this nation, in a range of different capacities, in various theatres overseas. I think veterans expect probably no more or no less than to be treated decently.

It is of concern when we find that, under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, the processing of veterans claims is taking in the order of 106 days, with the target position being 65 days. That is a difference of about 40 per cent between the targeted time for processing and the actual time taken. For most businesses, that would be of concern. However, in a business that is there to service the veterans of this nation, I think it is not simply a concern; it is unjust. Without putting too fine a point on it or weighing that criticism, I think that is one of those things we need to do better for the people who have performed such a wonderful task for this country.

By the way, it is not just veterans who have served in the armed forces overseas. Do not forget that, since 1964, something like 2,000 police officers have served in peacekeeping operations overseas, starting with operations in Cyprus and more recently those in East Timor and other locations. Having been seconded from the police forces of the various states, territories and, indeed, the Commonwealth and serving in those theatres, those officers were also covered by the Veterans’ Entitlements Act for their period of operations while overseas. So it is not just military people who are only too deserving of being treated appropriately under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act but also those police officers who have served this country well, as they have taken a lead role in many respects in peacekeeping operations.

From my discussions with Vietnam vets from my electorate, the Ingleburn RSL sub-branch and Mr Max Chin from Dredges Cottage in Campbelltown, you would not class veterans as whingers. They are people who are there to support their colleagues—they are very collegiate in the way they approach that. They are very forthright and no doubt the department will recall how forthright these guys can be but, quite frankly, they stick up for one another as they probably did in times of hostilities. They are not whingers. They simply want a fair go and they want to be treated with respect and dignity. One of the things they have laboured is the delays in processing claims by the department and that concerns not only them in terms of the operations they provide locally but the support mechanism they afford to their members in those respective locations.

I take it that most people are across the fact that last night the government announced that there will be an increase in the TPI rate, the special rate and the intermediate rate for veteran disability of $50 and $25 per fortnight respectively. I have to say that is welcome. I also draw the attention of the chamber to the fact that the pension entitlement for these people has not been indexed; it has been eroded and, as a consequence, has very much affected the purchasing power—to use a crude term—of these veterans. It is something that they have been quite critical of. Bear in mind that I am speaking of people who have served this country in the Second World War, the Korean War, the Malayan and the Vietnam engagements, the Gulf War, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to be sensitive to this.

When veterans go on a veterans entitlement pension, they should not be seen as out of sight, out of mind. They are people who deserve the highest respect that we can give them as a consequence of the service they have provided, and it is only proper that we reward them appropriately. That is why Labor have announced only very recently that, from our first budget, we will be indexing the pension entitlement for these people, which will make sure that their pensions are not eroded and that they are treated with dignity and respect. I think that is something that should stay very much at the front and centre of the mind of the legislature when we are talking about making laws affecting people who have already committed themselves rather heavily for this country.

It pains me to report that in 1997, for instance, the special rate for a disability pension represented 46.3 per cent of the total average male weekly earnings. Now a person on that same pension is earning only 42.9 per cent of the total average male weekly earnings. It has regrettably been allowed to simply fade away—out of sight, out of mind. Whilst I welcome what occurred in the budget last night to make some redress to that, this must be taken into the future and must be subject to indexation. I support the initiatives taken by Kevin Rudd and Alan Griffin, the shadow minister for veterans’ affairs, in committing Labor to a position of restoring that fundamental aspect of dignity and respect for the veterans of this nation.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Bronwyn Bishop) adjourned.