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Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Page: 2809

Ms NEAL (11:15 AM) —It is with pleasure that I rise to speak on the Veterans’ Entitlements Legislation Amendment (2007 Election Commitments) Bill 2008, because of course this government, unlike many former governments, is delivering on its commitments. The bill makes three changes to the veterans entitlements legislation and delivers on promises, as I have said, by the Labor government in last year’s election. These have been dealt with by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon. Alan Griffin, and other honourable members in this House. The first change is the automatic grant of the war widows or widowers pension to the partners of deceased veterans who at that time were in receipt of totally and temporarily incapacitated disability pension. Previously, this pension was generally granted to the widow or widower on application, but this amendment makes it automatic. It removes an element of uncertainty and therefore stress at the time when that person is already facing the stress of losing a loved partner. The second amendment to the veterans entitlements legislation contained in the bill is to extend the income support supplement to all war widows without their having to satisfy a range of additional provisions. This change will benefit 1,400 war widows and widowers. The final change is the extension of the bereavement payment to the estates of single disabled veterans who pass away in poor financial circumstances.

This bill is of particular interest to me as the member for Robertson. I understand that the Central Coast, of which my electorate forms a major part, has one of the highest percentages of veterans in Australia. In Robertson, my office is a regular contact for approximately 20 ex-service organisations, and in fact we print a number of their newsletters. According to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs website, at September 2007 the Gosford local government area had approximately 5,745 DVA pensioners. My electorate office makes regular representations for our veteran community, and I have recently spoken to the Pensioners and Welfare Officers Network about the Rudd Labor government’s new suite of policy initiatives, including veterans entitlements.

A very short time ago, I was very proud to present the new Australian Defence Medal to 18 ex-service personnel at an official function at Gosford RSL club. This was certainly a wonderful occasion. I have to say that on every occasion where I meet with veterans and talk to them, both at my office and at functions outside, the veterans community is extremely happy with the direction of this government and very happy that, in a large number of areas where they had difficulties and where they had been ignored for very many years, this Labor minister has very quickly remedied those problems and has been very responsive to their needs. I feel great pride in being part of a government that acknowledges the contribution of our veteran community and is able to go out on a very personal level and meet with them and respond to their requirements.

I would like to talk a little about the recipients that I presented ADMs to at that function at the Gosford RSL, because I think they are representative of the type of person who receives these medals. It is worth while noting on the public record some of their contributions. I would particularly like to mention Bronwyn Scully, who presently lives at Woy Woy, who joined the Australian Defence Force in the 1970s, when women’s involvement in military life was fairly novel and a pioneering career choice. Brownyn Scully rose to the rank of lance corporal. By sheer chance, she joined the same unit, the Royal Australian Corps of Signals, as her father, Kenrick Scully—a journalist with the old Gosford Star, which is now obsolete but which I can still recall. He wrote a book called Every Man for Himself about the evacuation of New Guinea in the face of the Japanese invasion during World War II. In that book, Kenrick Scully says:

My time in the Corps gave me the work ethic that set me up for the rest of my life.

Bronwyn was very pleased about receiving her medal, and she said:

This medal is a nice way for the nation to say thanks.

I really think that is what is important about not only the presentation of those medals but also the policy of this government overall: our veterans policy is very much guided by the principle that we do acknowledge the contribution of our veterans and we are saying at every stage ‘thank you for that contribution’ and the sacrifices they made.

Another person presented with a medal on that occasion was 80-year-old Edwin ‘Ted’ Meyer, of Point Clare. He was a young articled clerk when he tried to enlist in the final months of World War II. He served three years in the Citizens Military Force during the Korean War, rising to the rank of lance corporal. His father was an interpreter for the French army in World War I, and he never collected his medals, so Tuesday’s ceremony had special meaning for Ted. He was wearing his father’s interpreter corps badge when he received his own medal. He was very thrilled to be there and to be acknowledged in that way. He is actively involved in the association of the 17th Battalion, and Ted values the skills he learned during his military service. He said on receiving his medal that he did not expect the honour, but that the Australian Defence Medal is a record of his service to his country and he very much appreciated it.

I am particularly pleased that the veterans’ entitlement bill proposes a number of significant changes, as I have said. It really does acknowledge the contribution of our veterans. I understand from listening in to some of the earlier contributions, particularly those from the other side, that there seems to be some complaint or a suggestion that somehow this government is not appropriately acknowledging the contribution of our veterans in the way they should be. I completely reject that assertion. I find it quite extraordinary that after 11 years the now opposition—the previous government—can come along and start complaining about what has been done in one budget and claiming that things should be done in that budget that they failed to do for 11 years. It is quite extraordinary, but not uncommon, not only in this particular portfolio but in virtually every portfolio in this government, that the opposition now claims that things they did not do for 11 years we should miraculously do in one budget. Frankly, that smacks of an incredible hypocrisy.

In the 2008-09 budget the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin, provide additional funding for the Australian veterans community to $11.59 billion. That is not something to sneeze at; it is not a small, paltry amount. It is a huge contribution and it acknowledges our veterans’ contributions. I am thrilled to see it and I am certain the veterans in my electorate, and I assume Australia wide, will be very excited about it as well. This includes $6.34 billion for compensation income support pensions and $4.87 billion for health and health services. Also, ex-service organisations will be able to access additional funding, namely $14.9 billion over four years, including in 2007-08, through the Building Excellence in Support and Training—known as BEST—and the Training Information Program. This includes $6.9 million over three years to restore lapsed funding. These funding arrangements introduced by the Rudd Labor government—not any previous coalition government—a total of $11.59 billion, represent record spending in the veterans’ affairs portfolio.

As I said, I am absolutely thrilled to be part of a government that is putting forward those sorts of priorities in terms of our veteran community. This is the strongest possible commitment yet to the veteran community of this nation. The contribution of carers has also been recognised, with bonuses of $600 being paid to anyone in receipt of carer allowance, $1,000 for those who receive carer payment or carer service pension and $1,600 in bonuses to those who receive both carer allowance and partner service pension or carer service pension. In addition, service pensioners and gold card holders who are over veteran pension age on 13 May 2008 will receive a $500 senior Australians bonus in recognition of the costs they face and the contribution they have made to building Australia.

I am proud to be part of this government. I congratulate the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs on a great budget and I am thrilled that this is the acknowledgement we are giving our veteran community.