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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 56

Ms KING (12:49 PM) —This is a good day for veterans. I say to those veterans listening to this broadcast and to those who are in the gallery today: well done. Well done on a hard fight. Well done on your tenacity. This issue was a just cause and you did not waver in your support for making sure that veterans got what they were entitled to and that they got justice on this issue.

In speaking on the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (Disability, War Widow and War Widower Pensions) Bill 2007 I want to acknowledge the incredible work of the shadow minister, Alan Griffin, who made a contribution here today as well. Veterans issues are something that are passionate to my heart, something that I have learnt a great deal about since becoming the member for Ballarat, and I really do want to congratulate Alan for listening.

This bill allows for the indexation of the general rate, the five per cent increase on the base of the general rate, the $15 payment for the EDAs and a much-needed adjustment to the war widows pension. I am pleased that the government has taken the decision to introduce the legislation before this parliament concludes. This issue is too important for us to continue to play politics with. And it is essential that veterans have certainty on the issue of indexation of their pensions prior to the election.

In my contribution I also want to acknowledge again the hard work of the veterans community on this issue. The veterans community have been absolutely tireless in their advocacy on this issue. I again acknowledge the presence of representatives of the TPI Association in the gallery today and the many veterans who are listening via broadcast.

The shadow minister has recognised those veterans such as Blue Ryan, Graham Walker and the many others who have been tireless on this issue. I would like to pay particular recognition to the contribution of the many veterans in my electorate who have carried the fight, particularly via email, to the government and the opposition—from their attendance at the rally here in Canberra in 2003 to their constant messages to me about this issue. Ballarat veterans like Bill Dobell, John Hevey, Ray Mende, Charlie Mackenzie and the many at the Ballarat Vietnam Veterans Association have been committed and passionate advocates for this cause. I see from the minister’s face that he knows these names well!

After I was elected, Bill Dobell was one of the first of my constituents to come knocking on my door to take up the issue of pensions indexation with me. Since that time I have spent many hours down at the Vietnam veterans drop in centre in Sebastopol with Bill and other veterans learning about and discussing these issues. When Alan Griffin was made shadow minister for veterans’ affairs, one of the first things I did was take him down to the Sebastopol drop in centre to meet local veterans. The discussions were candid and wide ranging and, while we did not always see eye to eye on some issues, everyone was impressed with the fact that Alan was prepared to listen to them.

It is important to acknowledge the part that Labor’s shadow minister has played in today’s announcement. In my view, we would not be here debating this legislation if Labor had not taken the first step. I congratulate him and I also congratulate the member for Cowan for listening to and acting on veterans’ and community concerns. I also thank the member for Cowan for the support he has given me and the lessons he has taught me since I became a member of parliament. This place is going to be much poorer for his absence. But I know that he will continue to advocate on these issues long after he leaves this place. I also want to congratulate the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Bruce Billson, for working through this issue and convincing his party that it had to be addressed. I know that it has not been an easy task. Many of us have seen the sorts of emails and comments that go around on this issue and I know that it has been a very difficult issue for Minister Billson to address. I thank him for listening to the veteran community and for his contribution towards ensuring that this legislation became reality. I know that it has not been an easy task.

The Vietnam veterans community have put out a very good letter—I think Graham Edwards referred to it in his contribution—about the history of this issue. There will probably be some debate about that as well. I think that it particularly distils the issues and history around indexation. There will be different views but I think it will be a useful document for anyone who is studying this debate in years to come.

Veterans in our community have seen the cost of living skyrocket while their pensions have lagged behind. Some of the veterans still have to support young families and deal with significant medical costs. There is no doubt that these measures will be warmly welcomed by veterans and their families. They are very much needed.

I welcome this legislation but I acknowledge that there are some outstanding issues. I have no doubt that veterans in my electorate will constantly remind me about them. People such as Sue and Geoff Parker, who have fought long and hard for the establishment of the Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Study Inc., should be congratulated for their work. We want to ensure that the study engages with the issues that are necessary for understanding the very real health concerns that Vietnam veterans have about their children, particularly mental health issues. I know that the minister has had many discussions about the COVVH study and I encourage him to ensure that there is thorough and proper consultation with the many people who have worked so hard on the issue. I also want to acknowledge the outstanding issue of medals for those who participated in the battle of Long Tan. It is an issue of concern to veterans in my community.

This week as part of the activities of the Eureka Probus Club, Bill Akell was here in Canberra, in Parliament House, and I had lunch with him yesterday. He again took the opportunity to raise this issue with me. I understand that Harry Smith is not as well as we would like him to be and I would love to see this issue resolved for him soon.

I conclude by reiterating what I said at the start: this is a good day for veterans. We want this debate to be as short as possible. We want this legislation to get through this House and the Senate before we rise, perhaps for the last time in the life of this parliament. That is not in my hands. We want to conclude this debate so that there is absolutely no doubt that the just cause of indexation of veterans’ pensions is well and truly settled, leaving no uncertainty about it as we head into the election.

Congratulations to all of those veterans involved in what has been a long, hard fight—but it was a fight that was absolutely worth having. I congratulate the minister and the shadow minister for their work on this issue.