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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 49

Mr GRIFFIN (12:19 PM) —I am very pleased today to speak to the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (Disability, War Widow and War Widower Pensions) Bill 2007. I want to begin by pointing out that this will be a short debate, by agreement, to ensure that the legislation goes through the parliament. I want to sincerely thank the minister for his efforts in bringing this matter to fruition before we break for the coming election. I will say a bit more about the minister with respect to the bill later on, but I want to put that point on the record at this stage. There is no doubt that the veterans community is keen to see this matter enshrined in legislation. This will ensure that the agreement is not only understood but that it is also enshrined in legislation. On that basis, I think this legislation is a very good thing.

I would like to acknowledge representatives of the TPI Federation who are in the gallery. They have had an abiding interest in this issue over many years, and I am very pleased to see them here. I would also like to acknowledge a number of other people a little later on with respect to this matter. I would also like to make it clear to those who are interested in this debate that it is going to be short to ensure that we get this matter to the Senate—the other place—and passed before the parliament rises. Members who are speaking on this debate will not be using the entire time that they could have used and there will be many members on both sides of the House who would have wished to contribute to this debate but will not have the opportunity to do so. The fact that the debate will be short—and I hope largely sweet—is more to do with our need to see this legislation go ahead than with making points that we could do at some other time or that we have already made in other places.

Having said that, I think this is good news for the veterans community, and I congratulate the government for taking these actions. I particularly congratulate Minister Billson. It is a tough job being the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. It is a demanding constituency. Although we have our problems and our fights, and we will continue to do so, I want to stress that I still have a fair bit of time, most of the time, for this minister. I generally think that he does the best he can, given what he has got to work with and the circumstances he has inherited.

Having said that, there are a couple of points that I want to make about this issue at this time. The main point that is addressed by this legislation is the question of the indexation system that is employed with respect to above general rate pensions and disability pensions. I will not go through the history of that other than to say that this matter has been outstanding for a long time—it goes back the best part of 10 years. We can argue the toss about whether the erosion has occurred over this time or that time, but this has certainly been a real and abiding running sore for the veteran community. To have it addressed today means that is a very good day for this parliament. I know people out there in the community will be very pleased to see this now finally taking place.

I could make a whole range of points regarding this, but on this occasion I am not going to. I am going to stay positive and constructive because this is good news. It is good news for disability pensioners and war widow pensioners out there. It is a significant amount of money and it goes to the heart of dealing with some long-term grievances.

I want to say to the ex-service community: congratulations and well done. Many have fought for a long time to have governments recognise the injustice with respect to this issue. They can rightly be proud of what they have done. They have certainly made sure that I have understood this issue. I am sure they have also made sure that the minister understands the issue. That has helped us in our endeavours to address issues within our own organisations in order to have this matter come before the parliament today.

I particularly want to mention a couple of people who, to my mind—I can only speak with respect to the contact that I have had—have particularly assisted me to understand these issues. Those people are Blue Ryan, the National President of the TPI Federation, and Graham Walker and Tim McCombe from the Vietnam Veterans Federation. I do not for one minute want anyone to think that these are the only people who have raised these issues, but I can say that they have been the most committed with respect to dealings with me on these issues. I want to thank them for that.

I also want to thank the member for Cowan, who is also present today and will contribute to the debate a bit later on. The member for Cowan, Graham Edwards, has been a great source of information and understanding for me over the last couple of years in an area where, I am the first to admit—and the minister would confirm this for me—I have a lot to learn. The member for Cowan has helped me to a great extent. I am going to miss him terribly after the election. I wish him all the very best. I am pretty sure I will not get rid of him; I am sure he will be hanging around. I am sure he will still be there when I need him. He had better be, because I will need him. Graham has really helped to get an understanding of these issues within the Labor Party, and has progressed them within the confines of our party. I want to thank him for that.

Beyond that, I would like to say that I think this is an important occasion for the parliament because it addresses a long-term concern. We are in the lead-up to an election and there is a lot of money flowing around, but I have to say that on this occasion these are reforms which are deserving and overdue. This minister can be proud that they have been resolved on his watch. I want to acknowledge that, in speaking today. I have to say, though, that it has taken longer than it should. This is a matter that should have been addressed some years ago. With regard to issues concerning veterans affairs it often takes too long for the parliament to come to grips with longstanding concerns. I think that is a shame, but I hope in the future we will be in a situation where it will happen to a much lesser extent than it has over the last decade.

The legislation is good and it is something that we can all be very proud of. I am keen to see this legislation go through. I am also keen to get back to a meeting with the department head, who is upstairs. I need to be at that meeting because I am the only one who is allowed to talk to him at the moment. I want to assure you that the fact that I will be leaving the chamber as soon as I sit down is not in any respect a comment on the debate or the importance of the legislation. I intend to come back down if I can for the minister’s summation, to ensure that this goes ahead as he has planned, as I have been very pleased to support it. I want to thank all those who have been involved in this issue over the years for their work. I look forward to seeing this legislation off to another place very soon.