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Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Page: 21

Mr NEUMANN (10:28 AM) —Our thoughts and prayers are with those people who suffered so terribly and, of course, with their families. All of us who come to this place come not in isolation but with the aspirations, the thoughts, the love and the affection of our families and communities. We feel deeply that at these times we need put aside our partisan differences and work together. It is a great thing to travel through South-East Asia and to see the faces of young Australian tourists. Australians are beloved across the world for their sense of adventure, as the shadow minister for foreign affairs said, as well as for their sense of egalitarianism and mateship and for the friendship they show people from other countries. That is why we are a great country: we have accepted people from so many different walks of life. Many of us here come from families who, a generation or so ago, were of a non-Anglo background or are people whose parents were born overseas. My family comes from Germany. With a name like Neumann, you expect that, but just a few generations ago they came across in boats seeking a new life. Our thoughts and prayers are with those families who are suffering at the moment, who are wondering and who have a great deal of anxiety.

On the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2009, the bill we are dealing with here today, there are many people in our community who are concerned about the issues that I have just raised. For example, 130 submissions were made to the subcommittee chaired by the honourable member for Brisbane, there were six public hearings and 18 recommendations were made. I would urge the government to respond to the F111 deseal-reseal report tabled in parliament on 25 June 2009 as quickly as possible so there becomes certainty in terms of health, support and financial assistance to affected communities. There are people in my community who have seen me in relation to their concerns about those Australians who participated in the British nuclear tests and the Australian members of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force after World War II who were exposed to the effects of radiation. I would urge the government, who received 472 submissions in relation to the review of the Clarke review and recommendations, to look into this issue and expedite the response.

In its 2009-10 budget, the government provided a million dollars for a review of military rehabilitation compensation arrangements and a review into costs of pharmaceuticals for war caused disabilities. That funding will of course deliver on two commitments. The legislation that is before the House has three components, in particular. The first component deals with veterans affairs beneficiaries who live permanently overseas and have their veterans affairs payments paid into an Australian bank account. This can result in unusually high bank fees to transfer money internationally, and those of us who have transferred money internationally know how costly that can be. So the reform is a sensible suggestion allowing the monies to be paid into other bank accounts, in reliable banking systems overseas, to ensure that veterans do not suffer financial hardship or disadvantage in any way at all. In 2008 the Prime Minister made a commitment to review this injustice. The veterans communities living overseas warmly welcomed the funding, and I know the RSL and veterans communities locally in my electorate also warmly welcome that.

The second change that is in this particular budget measure is an interesting one but also an important one. I have spoken to personnel at the RAAF base at Amberley, and they have told me that what the government is doing in terms of the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme has been of tremendous assistance to them. In fact, I remember speaking to one particular fellow inside a C17 as we were flying down to Adelaide. He was telling me that simply the government’s reforms with respect to the assistance through the defence homeowners scheme was what prompted him to stay in the military for an extra few years. This scheme provides eligible Australian Defence Force members with access to subsidies on interest incurred on their home loans.

Eighty thousand children move across borders every year because their parents move across borders. In my electorate, which has about 3,500 RAAF and other military personnel—including personnel from 9FSB, the Army unit—at the RAAF base at Amberley, there are many children, spouses and partners who come with those military personnel to live in the Ipswich community. As they move to different postings around Australia and overseas it becomes difficult, if not problematic, for them to find a location to purchase a home. It is not always easy, and any form of assistance we can give, not just to permanent members of the ADF of but also to reservists, is good—I know that it is appreciated. It is important for recruitment and retention that we provide this.

ADF members can be eligible for assistance under one of three subsidy tiers, and I know that they appreciate very much the assistance we have given. This scheme was introduced in 1991, by a Labor government, to assist eligible members and ex-members of the ADF to purchase their homes by providing a subsidy on interest of a home loan borrowed from an approved lender. In those circumstances, that was the National Australia Bank. What this section of the bill does is to extend the insurance that can be provided to that scheme. It is important that the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme be provided in terms of assistance also to defence personnel.

The third aspect of this particular piece of legislation deals with closing off what really is quite an antiquated system of an outdated dependant pension, and paying a lump sum equivalent to three years of pension. Under previous repatriation legislation there were arrangements that payments could be a maximum of $8.42 for partners and widows, and $2.86 for children. The minimum payments were 84 cents and 29 cents, respectively. This pension was virtually frozen and no new grants have been made since 1985—it started in 1964—and what is happening here is simply a one-off payment equivalent to three years pension. I am pleased that it has bipartisan support. Entitlement under the old scheme will cease on 22 September 2009 and it is anticipated that the new lump sum will be paid on 24 September 2009. In the circumstances, this is a sensible budget measure and, along with a number of other budget measures it is undertaking, the government takes the view that savings of $4.2 million over four years can be sought and received by the Australian taxpayer, through better coordination and administrative efficiencies across programs and enhancements to service delivery.

These three changes in this legislation are important and they are sensible. I am glad they have got bipartisan support and I know that the 7,500 ADF and reserve members will benefit from the change with respect to insurance, which is a very popular measure. I know that it will go down well in my constituency of Blair, in southeast Queensland.

I think what the government has done in the veterans budget this year is really a demonstration of the government’s empathy towards the veterans community. What they have done with respect to the Clarke recommendations and the deseal-reseal parliamentary inquiry is a recognition of the health, family support and counselling needs of veterans and military personnel The government is really showing that it understands the needs of veterans and their families and is also showing a commitment to the personnel of the ADF.

I commend also the white paper and look forward to the 24 Super Hornets coming to RAAF Base Amberley in March 2010 and also the Joint Strike Fighters, of which the white paper recommends we purchase 100. The development of RAAF Base Amberley is important for the Ipswich community and certainly for the federal electorate of Blair. The reforms to the pension that were announced by the government on budget night and also in the legislation that the minister spoke about this morning are very important. In the circumstances, the 320,000 veterans and their spouses, widows and widowers will appreciate the support of the federal government. I commend the legislation to the House.