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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3413


Mr HAYES (4:35 PM) —I join with other members and colleagues in supporting the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (Income Support Measures) Bill 2010. The government and the Australian community are justifiably proud of our ex-service men and women. The measures in this bill will go some way towards improving the wellbeing of Australian veterans and the wider ex-service community. Like most members in this place, I joined with local veterans, their families and the community to mark Anzac Day only a few weeks ago. Despite the rain and the very cold weather in Ingleburn, which was a bit unseasonable for April, I was very proud to be in attendance. In embracing the spirit of Anzac Day, it was great to see so many young people in particular taking the time to pause and reflect on the contributions that have been made by service men and women and what has been achieved on their behalf. It was great to see the number of young people attending. At Ingleburn, where we go to the dawn service, I would say that the number of young people who attend has grown considerably over the last five years. Obviously something is having an impact. It could be that the education system is educating young people more about what the contribution is or it could be that innate sense of wanting to grapple with part of our future. I think it is quite significant.

I would like to commend Don Keefe, President of the Ingleburn RSL sub-branch, and Richard Moore, its secretary, for organising the moving service which recognised and commemorated the contributions of all the veterans, particularly those who attended that day. Furthermore, I would like to acknowledge that the Ingleburn RSL sub-branch received in February of this year a $4,000 contribution from the federal government to undertake an important project to honour and remember the contributions made by Australians in times of war and conflict, as part of the Saluting Their Service commemorations grants program. This $4,000 has gone to help the Ingleburn RSL sub-branch replace the gates of the Ingleburn RSL memorial park, to improve the safety and accessibility. I am advised that that government support has made it more accessible for people who want to attend the services. As we heard from previous speakers, the Saluting Their Service program is making a genuine contribution to servicemen and service organisations around the country. I am very proud to be part of the government which oversees that program.

I would also like to take this opportunity to indicate that recently, on 30 April, I attended a vigil at Hyde Park in Sydney organised by the Vietnamese community, the New South Wales chapter of the VCA. I paid my respects and marked the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. This time each year holds a very special significance for Vietnamese Australians. The vigil this year marked the 35th year since the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese communists. It was a very sad moment for all Vietnamese people, especially for those who believe in liberty, freedom and democracy. The event was an opportunity for all those present to pause and honour the lives and memories of the many fine Australian and Vietnamese service men and women who had their lives tragically cut short in the Vietnam War.

Our involvement was at a cost of 521 Australian servicemen, with more than 3,000 significantly injured. Regrettably, as every member of this House would know, a number of their wounds, were they were physical or otherwise, sometimes have a chilling aspect in terms of their effects in later life. That is why a number of our veteran organisations advocate for and support those people in looking after their long-term welfare. The contribution in Vietnamese lives to that conflict was also chilling, with 1.3 million deaths. That is one of the significant reasons to recognise the contribution of Vietnamese servicemen in that conflict. I would like to pay my respects and acknowledge Thanh Nguyen, the President of the Vietnamese Community of Australia, New South Wales Chapter, and the countless volunteers for organising this highly successful vigil and for their ongoing commitment to advancing the interests of the Vietnamese community, particularly in south-western Sydney. I also acknowledge the efforts they made to acknowledge the support of the ADF for their cause when they were in need. I appreciate the significant lengths they went to in acknowledging those contributions, particularly of the 521 young Australians who gave their lives in support of that conflict.

Like other members, I participated this year—it was my fourth or fifth time—in the ADF Parliamentary Program. This year I had the opportunity to visit operations in the Middle East region. It was a 10-day deployment which had a number of MPs fly out from Sydney and land at Al Minhad airbase in the UAE. During the time there I had the opportunity to visit all areas of our joint force operations out of Al Minhad. That included being allocated to fly on a mission with the Australian Air Force in their P3 Orion. Our Air Force plays a very crucial role not simply in terms of the military operations there but also, in coordination with the Navy, being tasked to detect activities from people-smuggling off the coast of Somalia through to drug running. As you would appreciate, Mr Deputy Speaker, Afghanistan is one of the largest heroin suppliers to the world and our Air Force is playing a crucial role together with the Navy in doing something about that drug trade. When we were there we were not able to visit our Navy’s ship because they were doing a ship changeover. HMAS Parramatta is now on station and is undertaking a role in the gulf region as we speak.

I also got to see and work with the people loading the C130 Hercules aircraft. It was great to see these young men and women, and the professionalism out there was absolutely extraordinary. At Al Minhad the average temperature is about 40 degrees and you are surrounded by sand which is much finer than the sand on our beach in Bondi, so it was not the most pleasant place to be. Yet that was the staging ground for our troops as they prepared to go into other areas of operation, particularly Afghanistan. I am not sure how it is arranged, but every member of the ADF going into Afghanistan or on to other deployments must undertake a four-day military course at Al Minhad, which unfortunately means you have to kit up in full military gear, including bulletproof vests laden with all the components that go with it to make it even heavier, and spend four days out there doing various things and learning to look for things such as improvised explosive devices. These are things that, as a parliamentarian, I somewhat take for granted. I was absolutely astounded by the professionalism of all the personnel, whether in the company stores or in the Air Force organising the flying of missions or arranging the stacking of C17s with vehicles. We have people there with a great degree of professionalism and commitment and incredible determination.

As previous speakers have said, I could not have felt more deeply that the people we were working with and observing were the people who will be our veterans in the future. We owe it to them to ensure that we do everything we can to look after their long-term interests. I would very much encourage members of parliament to participate in the ADF Parliamentary Program when they get the opportunity to do so. It is an opportunity to see up close and personal what our young men and women do on our behalf. I think it is only fair that we acknowledge, whenever possible, their contributions. You cannot really say what they do is a job, but what they do is incredibly important to this country and we should at every opportunity let them know that they have and will always have our full support.

The bill before us today demonstrates the government’s commitment to the Australian veterans community and comes at a special time in Australia’s wartime history. This year marks some very significant anniversaries including the 95th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, the 65th anniversary of the victory in the Pacific, 50 years since the end of the Malayan Emergency and 60 years since the start of the Korean War. I understand there will be various special ceremonies throughout the year marking these occasions. I know a number of those will take place in my electorate and in many other electorates as well. I look forward to the opportunity to pay my respects at those ceremonies.

This bill introduces a number of minor technical amendments to the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986. This amendment bill further aligns veterans’ entitlements law with social security law and has a negligible financial impact. The changes will provide for greater certainty in the administration of veterans’ entitlements acts. It will remove redundant provisions and it will correct an anomaly whereby pensioners paid under social security law are, in some cases, receiving more favourable pension outcomes than service pensioners and income support recipients. Under the government’s provisions the veterans’ community can expect our persistent efforts to address a range of issues around veterans’ entitlements and services which go to addressing the wellbeing and certainly the recognition of our people. We are justifiably proud of our veterans and our ex-service men and women. This was demonstrated in last night’s budget.

The government is delivering on some key election promises for veterans in this budget by providing a $246.4 million package of new initiatives. Among those initiatives are commitments of providing greater access to compensation and income support; preventing unnecessary hospital admissions for members of the veterans’ community by expanding the community based health services; acting on the recommendations of the Clarke review; and one specific commitment, which has been raised on many occasions by both sides of this House, better access to health care and compensation for F111 workers. In relation to that I am referring to the cleaning of the fuel tanks of the F111 which impacted extremely seriously on the health of a number of those Air Force personnel. These budget measures clearly demonstrate that the government is serious about looking after veterans’ communities and their families.

Before I conclude I will also indicate the role that our veterans’ communities undertake in our respective areas. I would like to mention a couple of people before I conclude. Mr Ron Brown is the New South Wales branch president of the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia. Anyone in a Sydney based seat would see Ron around most weekends. I have to say that I am very fortunate that he is one of my constituents, so I get to see him more than most.


Mr Katter —Keith Payne is another one.


Mr HAYES —Yes. For these people, who put in extraordinary hours, it is not a matter of pay, it is not a matter of kudos; they do it because they are so passionate in their belief in looking after their colleagues. Some of the cases they have to deal with on behalf of their constituents are very, very sad. To Ron, I say not only am I very grateful for his friendship but also I am extremely grateful on behalf of the defence community in my area.

Similarly, Ken Foster of the Macarthur Veterans Information Service, despite his own ill health and hospitalisation, has been an extraordinary contributor to veterans services throughout the whole Macarthur region. There is also my good friend Max Chinn and his wife, Olive. Max is the President of the Campbelltown Veterans Recreation Centre, Dredges Cottage, where all the veterans can meet. There are various veterans associations, and this is one of those things that we do as a community.

It is always a privilege for me to be associated with anything to do with our veterans community, as I grew up in an area where we understood what these people did on our behalf and what they were able to achieve. It is extraordinary to see these old men going about their tasks these days, mainly supported by their wives, and motivated only to do well by their peers. I think we have an obligation to do anything that we can ever do to assist these people in the way they go about their business of looking after veterans. Thank you.