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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 8307


Mr TUCKEY (11:53 AM) —The Veterans’ Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Pension Reform) Bill 2009 is important legislation. We have a new group of veterans coming into a period in which they will require the sort of support that is proposed in this legislation. They are the Vietnam veterans, and I am just wondering where the member for Shortland was when they came home and were treated with absolute contempt.


Dr Emerson —Oh, come on!


Mr Hale —That’s a live one!


Mr TUCKEY —Well, let’s get something straight. It is amazing how you can rewrite history in this place. I can see Tom Uren and the others marching in the street and giving our soldiers a hard time. For your information, I am a nasho. I did not go to Vietnam but I do know what it is all about.

Putting that aside, the fact is that this legislation, as it applies to veterans, is virtually a replica of what Brendan Nelson put to this House, and he was treated with contempt when the government failed to address these matters in its first budget. Let’s get a few things on the record. When Brendan Nelson brought forward a proposal that primarily recognised the relative needs of single pensioners he was attacked because he did not mention everybody—at a time when the government was supporting nobody. They are the facts of the matter. They are clearly recorded. The member for Shortland carries on about it being a good idea, but it was acted on very slowly.

Pensioners who voted for this government were promised reduced grocery prices and fuel prices. Of course, any reduction in the cost of groceries and fuel is the same as an increase in the pension. How were those promises delivered? There was GroceryWatch, which the minister at the table, the Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, had the good sense to cancel after it had cost about $8 million or thereabouts. That was absolute tokenism. And of course it took the good sense of the opposition to stop the government from—


Dr Emerson —Why aren’t you designing the coalition’s emissions trading scheme?


Mr TUCKEY —I will get to that, because you have given me an opportunity within the legislation. Let’s just talk about the fact that it was the opposition that prevented the government from knocking off another $8 million, $10 million, $20 million, $30 million—whatever—on a Fuelwatch scheme that by any measure is not working in Western Australia. It was implemented over there by a Liberal government, under Richard Court, but that does not stop me being even-handed. I do not always cast my vote on the basis of my loyalty to my party; I have a loyalty to my constituents. It is a silly scheme and, what is more, that was all the pensioners got from the Rudd promises in the election campaign—tokenism.

That, of course, can be added to the plethora of broken promises that are materialising from this government. Don’t you think veterans are concerned about the intentions of the government with regard to the health insurance rebate? Be they wealthy veterans or otherwise, they all went and fought for us. Some of them are on military pensions. Why should they be denied the rebate? That was a solemn promise made by the government and negated. I note that there are people in the Senate who have not been voted in as Liberals or Nationals who are taking a similar view, and they are entitled to. The Senate has a responsibility to see the government keeps its promises.

This legislation is belated but it is welcome. Above all, it recognises what the former Leader of the Opposition brought to this parliament by way of a private member’s bill to start this debate and eventually embarrass the government into doing something. Again, there are issues. It is a fact that I wrote the Howard government’s veterans affairs policy as the shadow minister leading up to the 1996 election. Whilst I did not serve in that role, the member for Maranoa, Bruce Scott, certainly implemented many of those measures dealing with issues which the previous government had failed to address and yet were of grave importance to people.

During that period the Keating government, to its credit, implemented Australia Remembers and I, as the shadow minister, gave it full endorsement. It was an appropriate recognition of our veterans and the contribution they have made. What is more, it refocused the Australian people’s attention on that contribution and on the issue of defence. Since then we have seen an ever-increasing number of people attending dawn services, parades et cetera.

In the present debate, it is interesting to note that up to that point the Commonwealth government actually ran some hospitals. They were called ‘repatriation hospitals’. There was one in every state. And they were run so badly that the response of the Keating government was to dispose of them. In absolute foolishness, I thought, New South Wales and Victoria—one under a Labor government and one under a Liberal government—took over those hospitals. The premiers of Queensland and Western Australia declined the offer; a private health firm called Ramsay Health Care took those hospitals over. I can tell you that there was grave disquiet and concern within the veterans community and the RSL that the hospitals were coming from under the umbrella of government ownership. The veterans really worried how their future would be managed by the private sector. About two months into its ownership, they came to me and said, ‘Wilson, this is the best thing since sliced bread. We don’t want you to make any criticism that this has gone to the private sector. For instance, we no longer, as veterans, get frozen TV dinners served up to us, because Ramsay has reopened the hospitals’ kitchens and are serving cooked, hot meals delivered within the premises.’

And then, of course, at that time there was a 10-month waiting list for elective surgery. That was eliminated over a three-month period. How did Ramsay do that? They opened the operating theatres on Saturdays and cleaned it up. Yet we have this government telling the states that it is going to run hospitals better than the states are. When it had the opportunity, it ran crummy hospitals. There is nothing in this legislation, I hope, that is going to alter that arrangement in Western Australia, where the veterans have got some of the best conditions—brand-new sections of the hospital built and invested in.

Fundamental to all this is that Ramsay gets paid by the Commonwealth for delivering the service. That is the only way you will fix the entire health system. When you give public hospitals budgets, you make a patient a liability. Ramsay had an incentive to get rid of waiting lists because every service it provided it got paid for. That is not the way we function in the public hospital sector. You wonder why, as health professionals will tell you, waiting lists are part of the management process. The pity of it is that, as one highly ranked hospital representative said at a conference I attended as shadow minister for health, whilst waiting lists are a necessary part, there are problems with the administration of the waiting lists. This lady, very high ranking, complained about the administration of the waiting lists. We saw that in Canberra when a former Treasurer’s wife had gallstones and needed an elective operation. It was done in a private hospital by the specialist of choice, notwithstanding that the then Treasurer boasted of not having private health insurance.

There are other issues in this legislation worthy of comment. I give considerable credit to the government on the issue of initiating a ‘pensioner CPI’, if you like. It was by coincidence that I raised that matter the other day in relation to some other veterans legislation. I have long had the view that the standard CPI does not represent the cost structures of retirees. The government can be commended for investigating that. I am surprised that it is going to cost $18 million, but I still think such an approach is worth it. And I endorse the decisions they have made in shifting the percentage of MTI to a pensioner couple rate—41.76 per cent of the MTAWE rate. I endorse the fact that the veterans community now has three options, virtually, and they will always be provided with a pension increase relevant to the highest of those three. Yet, at the same time, the government are increasing the taper clawback from 40c in the dollar to 50c, and I criticise that.

I welcome the initiative regarding personal exertion, which is my choice of words, where people remain in the workforce or continue in the workforce. They deliver an economic benefit, in my view. If they are fit and well, they will have a personal benefit over and above the extra remuneration. It is at least a reasonable proposal that, were they to earn in excess of $500 a week—or a fortnight, I think it might be—they will be credited with 50 per cent of it. If it is an amount less than $500 then they will be able to earn all of it without loss of benefit. That is a good move. I am sorry that the government, nevertheless, has in this legislation taken the Harmer criticism to heart and removed the bonus that people who chose to continue working past 65 could get if they took their working age to 70. Harmer said it was complex and not understood. That was true, but that was not an excuse to remove it. Pensioners and persons approaching that age were never properly informed. Some discovered it after the event. They had decided to retire and then found that they really should not have, but it was too late. Every person approaching 64 years of age should have been properly notified as to their options in that regard, particularly in the past few years, when there was a grave shortage of reliable labour.

But there are other measures within this bill. One of which I am highly critical is that the government is choosing to set the price increase that is going to arise in a veteran’s budget from the emissions trading scheme. To suggest that an increase of one per cent in 2011 and an increase of 1.8 per cent in 2012 will be the ceiling for assistance is a joke. Yesterday the major representative groups in the retail food industry said the price increase will be seven per cent. Furthermore, as I have asked in this House previously, what does that provision tell us? It tells us that, for instance, electricity generators are not going to lower their pollution. It makes a farce of the label ‘carbon pollution reduction scheme’ because the government admits openly—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order!


Mr TUCKEY —No. This is in the legislation. It is in there. There is a provision here for an increase in the pension in response to the government’s misnamed CPRS, so please do not tell me it is not part of my opportunity to speak on this matter. I am making the point that the government, by their process of giving people compensation, are making an admission that the electrical coal fired generating system is not going to reduce pollution. They are going to pay the price. Because they have a reasonably captive market, they are going to send it on to consumers and homeowners.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order!


Mr TUCKEY —The irony arises when you compensate people for that cost and expect they will respond to the market signal and actually use less energy. I have never seen anything like it.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I ask the member to come back to the bill.


Mr TUCKEY —I am on the bill.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I ask the member to come back to the Veterans’ Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Pension Reform) Bill 2009.


Mr TUCKEY —No. You cannot instruct me not to talk about segments of the bill. This is quite clear in the bill. I will quote you the section. You will cost me time in making a very relevant point. I copied out the section. When you assume control of the House, it is not a bad idea to be cognisant of the legislation.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Do not reflect on the chair. I ask the member to speak to the bill before the chair.


Mr TUCKEY —The bill before the chair makes provision for a one per cent increase in the pension in 2011 as a result of the CPRS, and it makes another provision for 1.8 per cent as of 2012. I am saying that that identifies the fact that the government admits that there is going to be no reduction in pollution at coal fired power generators because they are going to pay for certificates, some of which Treasury says they can buy from China. They are going to pay for them and pass the costs on to veterans. The veterans are going to get some compensation but over in the supermarket the cost arising from the ETS is going to be seven per cent, not one per cent. That is the point that arises in this particular situation, and I can assure you that it is to be found in the legislation. I have made that point. To prevent a member from addressing actual issues in this place would be a great pity.

The reality is that this is a very important aspect of the bill of which veterans should be aware. There are veterans in various income groups and some of them will say, ‘I am prepared to pay a price to reduce pollution,’ when in fact they will be paying a price to maintain pollution. That is why I constantly argue for renewables—and they are available in your state, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams—that would reduce emissions and reduce the price of electricity if they were properly applied. There is the difference. This is an admission contained in this legislation.

Now let me talk about other things. I have touched on the pension bonus, and I think that is a pity. The reality is that these are belated measures. Some are positive for veterans and some are not. I am happy that I have had the opportunity to address both sides of that. You will note that I gave credit where credit is due and criticism where I believe the veterans community is not being properly assisted through this legislation.