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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3411


Mr LINDSAY (4:25 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, it is my honour to make this contribution in your presence, you being one of Australia’s former veterans’ affairs ministers—you did a great job and you are very highly respected in the veterans’ community. I begin by informing the House that there are more of tomorrow’s veterans in my electorate than in any other electorate in Australia. Of course the reason for that is that Townsville is the home of the ready deployment force of the Australian Defence Force. Lavarack Barracks and RAAF Townsville make up the biggest centre of gravity for defence people at the sharp end in the whole of the country. They are also the most modern Army and Air Force bases in our country. It is these people who go on deployment to the Middle East Area of Operations, to Afghanistan and to Timor Leste. It was the people from Lavarack Barracks who first went into Timor Leste when the balloon went up back in 1999—our people from the 2nd Battalion, RAR.

I well remember the evening when the troops were about to deploy. I was at Lavarack Barracks with the Prime Minister and we shared a meal with the battalion. It was a very sombre evening, because nobody knew what would happen the next day when the 2nd Battalion went to Timor. To have that kind of experience as a member of parliament is something that you never forget. It is these people who go on operations now who become tomorrow’s veterans. It is these people, having given their service to our country, to whom our country owes an obligation to give service in return. That is what this Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (Income Support Measures) Bill 2010 is about—in some small ways improving that particular situation.

It is not widely understood that there are areas of operations other than Afghanistan, Timor, the Solomons and the Middle East. We have people right now in the UAE. We have people in Qatar, probably. We have people in Israel, in Syria and in Lebanon serving with the United Nations. There is the MFO, which is an organisation that keeps the peace between Israel and Egypt. They are all out there—they are Australians. It is really mighty to be able to report that these Australians, working alongside the members of defence organisations from other countries, are the most highly regarded in the world. The professionalism of our ADF people, who are the future veterans of our country, is much admired by other countries. In the UN operation in Israel, Lebanon and Syria, there are 27 defence forces represented. We are head and shoulders above any other defence force in the way we operate, how careful we are, our professionalism, how we get the job done and how the people of those countries admire so much how we are trying to keep the peace in the region. It is a great story and one that I will always continue to tell, because all Australians should be mightily proud of the men and women of the ADF.

I am reminded, if I might digress for a moment, that when I was in Syria our officer there was a female major. She had extraordinary peacekeeping capabilities and she was extraordinarily well liked, but she was also the best shopper in the old souk in Damascus I have ever seen. It is just great to see that our people immerse themselves in the culture of the countries they go to.

I too have participated in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program over many years now. I have done many deployments. I did one—the parachute arrangements—with the Army, which was with ADFA. I have done Navy and Air Force deployments on a number of occasions. It is a terrific experience for a member of parliament to be able to mix with Australia’s future veterans.

I congratulate Colonel JJ Frewen, who is in the United States. JJ was the commander of the 2nd Battalion when it went into Timor Leste. He is currently a full colonel. On 12 June he will be promoted to brigadier. He really deserves that; he is a fine commander. He will be going to work for General Morrison at Victoria Barracks in Sydney. General Morrison is also a former commander of the 3rd Brigade in Townsville. General Morrison’s dad was also a general. It is all incestuous in the ADF. He is a very hard taskmaster but he knows what needs to be done and he gets the job done. It is terrific. My colleague sitting next to me, you were in Western Australia in the Army weren’t you?


Mr Simpkins —Yes and a lot of other places over 15 years.


Mr LINDSAY —Western Australians in the Defence Force are quite lesser people when you compare them to the 3rd Brigade. You will have your right of reply later on. In relation to this bill, however, we do have to provide the right support for Australia’s veterans. This bill makes five changes to the Veterans’ Entitlement Act 1986. The changes will better align veterans’ entitlements with the Social Security Act and that is important to provide the most equitable system that we can. Firstly, the bill removes references to benevolent homes. There have been no benevolent homes since 1994 and the term is no longer used so it is time for the legislation to be updated accordingly.

Secondly, it exempts payments for expenses made under the labour market program. Under the present system, any payment for an expense incurred during part-time work experience is included in the income test. These payments may be reimbursement for items such as work, uniform or equipment that is required to complete the program. Similar social security provisions do not include such payments in the income test and the same should apply to veterans’ entitlements. It is a no-brainer. This is reflected in the bill, which will ensure veterans who are undertaking this kind of work experience are not financially disadvantaged.

Thirdly, the bill changes the requirements for a veteran’s partner in claiming a foreign pension. Under the existing law, a partner is not required to claim a foreign pension even if they are entitled to it. Again, this is different to the rules of the Social Security Act so the bill introduces uniformity in this area as veterans’ partners will now be required to claim an equivalent foreign pension where eligible. In the long run this will mean that, as a couple, they will be receiving more income and support.

Another change to this area is the way in which the payment of arrears of a foreign pension is assessed. The bill makes sure these payments are treated in the same manner as other similar pension arrears payments under the Social Security Act.

The final amendment explains the treatment of superannuation under the assets test and the income rules. Some superannuation interest is able to be disregarded. However, in some circumstances, the value of superannuation cannot be disregarded under the asset deprivation rules and will be subject to the income rules.

The coalition supports the amendments this bill makes. They are straightforward. Veterans are entitled to fair and equitable treatment and it is therefore important to standardise the treatment of pensions and benefits in Australia. A part of this is achieved by bringing veterans’ entitlements into line with the Social Security Act. I support the bill.