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Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Page: 40

Mr SIMPKINS (12:34 PM) —I am taking this opportunity today to speak on the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2009 so that I can reflect on the circumstances facing Australian veterans. The coalition supports this bill, and I support this bill because these amendments are effective and appropriate changes. As a former major in the Australian Army I welcome the changes, which assist veterans and recognise the role veterans have played in this nation’s past and the important role veterans continue to play in our community. This bill will achieve changes in three areas: firstly, regarding the use of foreign bank accounts by veterans; secondly, providing further insurance options for certain veterans; and, finally, updating matters relating to the dependant pensions scheme.

Within Cowan there are two Returned and Services League sub-branches. There is the Wanneroo-Joondalup RSL and the Ballajura RSL. I would also make mention of the North Perth Naval Association, which operates in Cowan as well as Moore. Before moving on to the specifics of this bill, I would like to pay tribute to the work the RSLs and the Naval Association undertake and the effort the executives put into those branches.

Everyone knows that the service clubs and associations are responsible for the commemorations which take place in the community. While those commemorative services take long hours and great commitment to organise, that is not all of the job; the clubs have other very important functions. Apart from the regular meetings and providing fellowship between veterans, there are also the important welfare and advocacy roles performed by members. Veterans take each others’ health and welfare very seriously; therefore, if a member is in hospital, regular visits will be arranged. No-one is forgotten, and it is easy to appreciate that the values learnt in times of conflict are not easily forgotten or put aside. In speaking to this bill today, it is somewhat disappointing that there are not also some more substantial elements to the veterans’ affairs legislation that we are debating or supporting. I will come to that later.

The essence of this bill has been conveyed to the Ballajura RSL, and they welcome the amendments. The sub-branch is ably overseen by Mike Gilmour, the President; Scotty Alcorn, the Secretary; Barry Burling as Treasurer; Brian Rose as Warden; and Les De Bonde as Pensions Officer. It has been my privilege to have worked with the Ballajura RSL since my election as the member for Cowan, and I observe that the work they undertake, as with all sub-branches, is done with enormous commitment and care for their members.

The Wanneroo-Joondalup RSL, which I am honoured to call the branch of my own membership, has John Xuereb as President, Ron Privilege as Immediate Past President, Wendy Tuffen as Junior Vice President, Rob Frencham as Secretary, John Duffy as Welfare Officer and John O’Keefe as Pensions Officer. Many other committed members who make up the team of hardworking veterans of this sub-branch also welcome the amendments in this bill for the additional support and recognition of veterans both here and overseas. The Perth North subsection of the Naval Association is led by Jack Le Cras, who is also president of the state section of the Naval Association. Doug Valeriani, likewise, is the secretary of both the state section and the Perth North subsection. Both are constituents of mine, I am very proud to say, and both are very busy and dedicated men working for veterans in our state of Western Australia.

I will now address the legislation in some detail. Firstly, the bill changes the law so that veterans pensions and allowances can be paid into overseas bank accounts. I welcome this change, and I know the veterans community also welcomes this change. I understand that this will bring payments from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs into line with other government agencies such as Centrelink. It is a point worth making that veterans served this country, and that service to our nation’s future can never be put aside. If they move to a different country, that does not and should not in any way limit our gratitude or obligation for their service. It is certainly my view that veterans, above all others, should have this form of consideration. I say that this change is good and appropriate. The second significant part of this bill is where those serving and eligible former service men and women who are able to receive the subsidised loan under the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme Act 2008 will be able to access home insurance. I understand it is estimated that opening up the system to a greater number of serving and former service men and women will generate, over four years, $1 million through the receipt of premiums in excess of payouts for insurance claims.

Finally, the third element of this bill will see the cessation of the majority of dependants pensions. Under previous repatriation legislation, if a veteran or member was receiving a disability pension for incapacity, in certain circumstances the veteran or member’s dependants were also eligible for a dependants pension in respect of the veteran or member. Amendments to the Repatriation Legislation Amendment Act 1985 changed aspects of dependants pensions. For example, previously, upon the death of a veteran, certain dependants other than a partner or child may have been eligible for a dependants pension—sometimes the dependent could be a family member such as a parent, sibling or even grandparent—but the changes to the legislation many years ago meant that future grants of dependants pensions would be made only to an eligible partner or child of a deceased veteran or member.

Of course, those already in receipt of the entitlement retained that entitlement. But changes to the act mentioned above, and other amendments, have meant that there have not been any new grants of this pension since 1985, nor have there been any rate increases for partners since 1964 and for children since 1952. It is a small payment being received by the recipients—for example, the maximum payment has been $8.42 per fortnight for a partner and widows and $2.86 per fortnight for children, with the minimum payments being 84c per fortnight and 29c per fortnight. Clearly it is not efficient or financially sensible to continue to administer this pension, and therefore the coalition supports the move to provide those people still in receipt of this dependants pension with a lump sum. This will be equivalent to three years worth of pensions, or 78 fortnights, and will be exempt from income tax.

While the coalition supports these amendments and this bill, it is unfortunate that there are in reality few new announcements which can be conveyed to our veterans, as I mentioned at the start of my speech, or even promises simply honoured. Even 20 months into its term the Rudd Labor government’s reckless spending has impacted on veterans by delivering few new announcements. What happened to the election promises? Twenty months is a very long time to keep reviewing the reviews. But that is what we have come to expect from this government. Having spoken to the veterans in my electorate of Cowan, I can say that amongst some of them there was an expectation raised by Labor when they said they would deliver on a number of reviews important to the veterans community. Two reviews remain outstanding. Instead of the extreme profligacy exercised by this government, it might have been more appropriate for them to have devoted some attention to the promises they made to veterans. I make reference to the Clarke review and the review into military superannuation. The Clarke review and the review into military superannuation have been undertaken, but no announcements have been made to date. In fact, what we are wondering on this side, and indeed what many veterans are wondering, is whether further consideration of the Clarke review has actually been completed, or whether it is just sitting somewhere, with some minister perhaps, waiting for some attention.

The government knows there is not going to be any money left. They are busy frittering away the money, putting up walls so that plaques can be put on them. The legacy of the coalition’s $22 billion surplus is well and truly spent. But time frames are being extended further and further for government action, so they do not have to admit they cannot deliver to our veterans—or worse, they are not approaching with an appropriate sense of urgency the reviews which have been undertaken and which require attention, consideration and announcements. Labor should pay more attention to the men and women who served this country in our defence forces, and they and should stop this embarrassing charade of ignoring important reviews and allowing lengthy delays for their conclusion, flying in the face of the promises that were made at the last election. I am extremely concerned that veterans will be another casualty of this most recent era of Labor’s reckless spending and the return to Labor basics—a big debt government—and there will simply not be any money available. While I support the bill before the House today and the three amendments which will provide some little assistance and benefit to veterans, I remain concerned that any big issues of concern to them will remain unaddressed in the foreseeable future under this government.