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Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Page: 2808

Mr HUNT (11:08 AM) —I wish to rise in support of the Veterans’ Entitlements Legislation Amendment (2007 Election Commitments) Bill 2008. However, I wish to do so against the background of what I believe is a unique, unparalleled and unjustifiable attack on the spouses of veterans which was brought down in last night’s budget. Let me start with this attack in last night’s budget—and there are two measures which, by all accounts and under all circumstances, are utterly unjustifiable. The first point is this: whilst this bill brings forward welcome additional support in line with the sorts of things which we brought in in government of about $20.7 million over four years rising to $7.1 million in the fourth year, all of these benefits are effectively taken away with a $35 million attack on the spouses of veterans, as was introduced in last night’s budget. This is one of those hidden measures with a practical human cost.

Who are the people who suffer that result? As of 1 July 2008, the Rudd government will launch an attack on veterans’ spouses by increasing the pension age eligibility for partners of veterans from 50 to 58½ years. In one stroke of the pen, with virtually no warning, the age of eligibility to receive the appropriate benefits for the wives of our long-serving veterans will increase 8½ years. The impact that will have on families will be real and dramatic and will be seen in the terms of a $35 million slug to veterans’ wives over the next four years. I repeat: for the wives of veterans in Rosebud, Rye, Dromana, Hastings, Kooweerup, Baxter, Cowes and San Remo this real money will come from that which they would otherwise have received. It will have a real and profound impact on their ability to operate and also on their standing and sense of worth. They will feel that they have been gypped by a government that is giving with one hand but taking away a lot more with the other, hurting spouses of veterans who have served their country with honour and dignity and had just the slightest expectation that their families would be cared for in the years to come.

The second of the measures from last night’s budget which undercuts the measures in this bill is that, as of 1 January 2009, access to the service pension will cease 12 months after separation or from the beginning of a new marriage for the former spouse of a veteran. In other words, if the spouse of a veteran is separated from the veteran but they are still married, and they are not certain whether they can reconcile—in any event, there is no recognition of that lifetime service given by a spouse—the spouse will lose that entitlement. This is a cruel measure which, I believe, utterly undervalues the support given to our service men and women by their spouses. They might have been a partner and spouse for 20 years, but if they then separate for 12 months they lose all recognition of the service they have given indirectly by supporting the men and women who are part of our armed forces. This government should be condemned for taking away the security of our veterans’ spouses now and in cases where they may face the real human challenge which is inevitable in relationships. That is what I want to say as to why this bill ultimately fatally undercuts benefits.

We think the measures are good. They recognise the magnificent service of our veterans on the Mornington Peninsula. The measures, which amount to about $20.7 million, do things entirely in line with the path set down under previous veterans’ affairs ministers such as the member for Mackellar and the member for Dunkley. What I do not accept is that these measures are completely undercut by what I think is a quite draconian, dramatic, unfair and ultimately disrespectful movement overnight in the age at which veterans’ spouses can qualify for their pensions and the disregard for a lifetime’s marriage and support of our veterans, which is now about to be made Holy Writ through legislation denying spouses of veterans benefits if they happen to separate for a period of 12 months or more. That I think is unfair, unreasonable, unjustifiable and ultimately disrespectful. So, whilst I support the bill, I utterly condemn these attacks upon veterans’ spouses, which were handed down in the budget last night. It is disrespectful to our veterans, it is disrespectful to the spouses and I believe it undercuts the magnificent work that veterans groups in areas such as the Mornington Peninsula, Westernport and the Bass Coast area give to our people.