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Wednesday, 23 May 2007
Page: 159

Mr QUICK (10:01 AM) —As a member of the Speaker’s panel I have the privilege of listening to many speeches, both here in the Main Committee and also in the House. Whilst some of them are less than interesting, I had the privilege of being here in the Main Committee to hear an absolutely amazing speech by the member for Cowan, Graham Edwards—his speech on this bill. I would recommend it to all members and to the wider public. The Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (2007 Measures No. 1) Bill 2007 is not an exceptional bill. It is one where there are minor changes to the veterans affairs act, but it does give those of us who are really interested in veterans affairs an opportunity to speak on issues that we see as relevant to the veteran community. As most of us would know, we have recently had a budget and there have been announcements made in the budget by this government affecting veterans of all ages and of all services. Like all other members and senators, I imagine, I have been bombarded by emails about just how effective these budget measures are and whether they go far enough to actually address some of the concerns.

I think it is incumbent on us who serve in this place to keep veterans issues front and centre and not just raise them at Anzac Day or Remembrance Day on 11 November. I am the oldest member of the Australian Labor Party and I am probably 21 sitting days away from leaving this place. I think sadly the links between politicians and active war service are almost nonexistent. Graham Edwards, as I said, the member for Cowan, soon to depart the House, is I think the only former serviceman in the place. The PM and I are the only members of the House who had fathers who served at Gallipoli and we are joined by Stewart McArthur, the member for Corangamite, as the only members of this place to have fathers also serve on the Western Front. I am not sure how many members of the House had parents serving in subsequent campaigns. They certainly are not all that keen to acknowledge it and raise it in debates on veterans issues. I know I am proudly espousing Dad’s service and what the veterans department has done for him and also Mum, who was a war widow.

I brought along today my photo album, which is rather unusual. Seeing that I am really interested in Dad’s service in the First World War, especially the battle of Fromelles, I was over there on 19 July 2006 for the 90th anniversary, and I visited the cemeteries. As you tour around the Somme area in northern France you see all these little wonderful cemeteries—Rue Petillon, Le Trou Aid Post Cemetery, VC Corner cemetery in the Fromelles area. At the entrance to all these cemeteries there is engraved on a stone plinth: ‘Their name liveth forevermore’. We do pay homage to them. But, once they get home, sadly, they tend to be forgotten. I say that most sincerely.

I would imagine that most members in this place have their share of DVA veterans giving them a bit of a hard time. The ministers whom I have worked with since I have been here include Danna Vale, Bruce Billson, De-Anne Kelly, Con Sciacca—and who can ever forget his Australia Remembers effort in 1995.

Mr Neville —A great program.

Mr QUICK —It was a great program. Sadly, the momentum has not continued. I want to mention three people. The first one is a war widow, Maree Brownlie. She is my second mum. When my parents left Tasmania to wander around Australia with Dad’s work, Maree was a second mum to me. Her husband, Bob, served in the Second World War as a pilot. Her family is spread around Australia, as many of our families are. Occasionally I get phone calls from her elder son, John, asking, ‘Can you check up on Mum?’  I recently received a phone call saying that Maree had moved out of her house and that she needed extra care. She had moved into a complex; she bought a unit there. She expected DVA to look after her as a war widow. Sadly, DVA have tendered out services for widows, and an organisation in Tasmania called OneCare now have that tender. When I spoke to Helen Watling in DVA in Tasmania, who does a wonderful job, she used the term ‘no liability’. She said: ‘The department don’t have a liability. They have tendered it out to OneCare and it is OneCare’s responsibility.’

The reason John Brownlie rang me about his mum, Maree, was that OneCare had provided some home care for her in her unit and, sadly, this person somehow got her credit card and PIN, went to the south Hobart post office and withdrew some money. Then, foolishly, this person went to the Caltex service station opposite and used the card, not knowing that there was a surveillance camera. I rang DVA and said: ‘Maree, a war widow, has lost $600. What can we do to recompense her? It is a fair amount of money. She is in her eighties. Maybe through some carelessness on her part, she has lost it.’ The response was, ‘No liability; it is OneCare’s problem.’ So I rang OneCare, and asked, ‘What are we going to do?’ OneCare said: ‘She let the person into her house. It is her responsibility.’ So I said to them: ‘There’s an easy way and a hard way. I would hate to stand up in front of a television camera and give you guys a hard time. Think about recompensing Maree that $600.’  And, to their credit, they did. I think it shows that, in some way, ‘their name shall liveth forevermore’ rings a bit hollow.

Jack Sheppard, 94, captured at Crete, was a German POW. Bruce Scott as the minister went to Crete and unveiled a wonderful monument. He made all these effusive statements about how wonderful the service was by Australian servicemen over there, and how tragic it was that so many of them were captured. Jack was a German POW and lived in appalling conditions. Ten years later he has finally got his $25,000. I congratulate the government, but I could not understand—Japanese POWs got it, I think the 13 Korean POWs got it, but we had to wait until this year to give Jack his $25,000.

Mrs Gash —It took a Liberal government to do it.

Mr QUICK —I know—it is an indictment on us. I apportion the blame to all governments. At 94 what is he going to do with $25,000, suffering from dementia? This next one is a doozey. They had to get a special toilet seat for him and someone in DVA said that his wife cannot use it; it is just for him. This is ridiculous.

Mr Neville —You’re kidding.

Mr QUICK —No, I am not—I am serious. I say it as it is. I brought my cabcharge card in today. I reckon all veterans should get one of these. I imagine the departmental people sitting opposite listening to this and hopefully taking some notes have one. We have them. There is a monthly management thing where there has to be a reconciliation, but Jack still has to get these travel vouchers and get them signed by the doctor. Occasionally you do go to the doctor, who is busy as all get-out and forgets to sign it. So you have to go back to the doctor again to get him to sign it—something as simple as this.

One of the retrograde steps was getting rid of our repat hospitals. I honestly believe that we ought to look seriously at that. They used to get gold-class service when they went to a repat hospital. I know from firsthand experience with Mum and Dad and Dad’s associated colleagues. We now are at the stage where the gold card is worthless. Lots of doctors will not recognise it, which I think is an indictment on the medical profession. Where is the ethos of the Weary Dunlop doctors—service to others before service to self?

Now, sadly, too many veterans are forced to queue with others at the accident and emergency departments in the hospitals. It is 68 years since 1939 and, assuming these guys were 20, they are getting old and their wives are getting old. As I said at the outset, there are not many members of the House who have really close links to these service men and women. It is okay for us on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day to honour them but, as I said, I have given you two examples. I have an even sadder one, a Gulf War veteran, 35, gold card TPI at 31, went to the first Gulf War at 17. He came into my office with associated drug problems because of his medical condition. He told me that the day before he came in to see me his 14-year-old daughter had to drag him off the Midland Highway between Hobart and Launceston because he wanted to get hit by a truck, because it was all too hard for DVA, drug and alcohol and the mental health people in Hobart.

We send these people away with great flag waving and fervour, but when they come back it is very hard. This bloke pulled up his sleeve and there were the slashes on his arm, saying, ‘This is how desperate I am, Harry, for someone to take responsibility.’ He came into my office the day before Easter. So, in my anger I rang up DVA, drug and alcohol and the mental health people in Hobart and they said, ‘We’re all going to have a holiday for five days.’ The world closes down. They hand all the problems back to everybody. But this guy wanted help that day. This was at half past nine in the morning. I feared for his life—not only his but whomever else he might get angry with, because he was angry. He brought his diary in and there were about 30 pages of foolscap where he had written down all the problems he faced. I finally got someone to assume responsibility for this bloke.

I cannot name him because tragically, just after Easter, he was forced to commit four armed robberies to get what he needed in order to survive. I will not say anymore because I have had to make a statement and I will probably be called to the court case. But here we have three: Maree Brownlie, in her 80s; Jack Sheppard, in his mid-90s; and this poor young fellow, aged 35, gold card TPI. They are falling through the hole. I know DVA do wonderful things, but there are some mechanisms that are needed. I cut a bit out of the paper: it is a list of all the seats where the government, in its wisdom, is pouring $249.77 million into road infrastructure. We can find that, but we cannot find some basic money to ensure that not one veteran, not one war widow, falls through the hole. Their name liveth forevermore.

I have been lucky since I have been in this place to be able to visit just about every battlefield. I have been to PNG—Lae, Wewak and Madang. I have made two visits to Gallipoli, where Dad was, and I have been to the Western Front, to Villers, Hamel, Fromelles and Albert. I have been to the Kuwait-Iraq border and seen the mess that was the first Gulf War. Most people here have seen my Iraqi helmet. I have been to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and seen how hard it is up there. I have been to North Africa. I have been to the Marshall Islands; my American uncle, Uncle Bill, served at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.

As I said at the outset, these insignificant little bills give us an opportunity to put on the public record some of our concerns. Our party is just as much to blame as the other side. We have had some wonderful ministers. In 2009 it will be 70 years since the last big conflagration. In the year 2007 I just wish that Australia Remembers continues. I know that in all our hearts and minds we honour our veterans, but we have to do it each and every day and find the necessary resources. If I were the minister I would make all the Second World War guys TPIs. I know how hard it was for my dad to get it. He basically wanted it for Mum because he was 20 years older than her and he wanted her to be looked after, because he knew how good the system was when we had repatriation hospitals and they lived in the country, hundreds of kilometres from Melbourne. So I remind people to read Graham’s speech. He said he had the visible scars of war—he has lost his legs. But lots of these people look like, and are, ordinary people who have given exceptional service, and they expect exceptional service to be given back to them. I thank the chamber.