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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3416

Mr WINDSOR (4:52 PM) —While the member for Werriwa is still in the chamber, I would like to ask him to pass on my regards to Ron Brown. Ron and his wife come to a little place called Bingara in my electorate and have been there on a number of occasions. I have run into Ron at other national service events, in Inverell and other places. There are 300 or 400 national service people who get together at Bingara each year and have a weekend of events, and Ron is one of the people who have been very supportive of them. So please pass on my personal regards, but I would also like to recognise him and his work in this chamber.

I am particularly pleased that you, Deputy Speaker Scott, are in the chair for this debate, because I think that you were a very good Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. One of the sad things that happened with my entry into this building was that the numbers changed within the National Party, and I believe I was partly at fault for your loss of the ministry. I do apologise if I had any consequence in relation to that. I remember you as minister and I know you were very highly regarded in that role, and I think you still have a very positive influence to this day on the current minister and others who are involved in veterans affairs.

This Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (Income Support Measures) Bill 2010 is really about some housekeeping in terms of veterans affairs, and I guess everybody will support the legislation, as I will. But I do intend to make a second reading amendment, which the member for Kennedy will be seconding, and I do intend to have the bill returned to the main chamber, where I will call a division. I am fully aware of the consequences of the amendment—in a sense, the issue is with money bills—but I feel so strongly about the amendment that I think it needs a division in the House to gauge the feelings of the members towards what the amendment is actually addressing.

I have raised this issue over a number of years—and I think the first time was in 2002; I only came into this place in 2001—particularly in relation to Second World War veterans who did not achieve what is called qualifying service. Qualifying service essentially is serving in a theatre of war where an angry shot was fired. But they did serve their nation. Back in 2002 I used the example of my father. He has been dead a long time, but he served in the Middle East. If he had lived beyond the 1950s, he would have had qualifying service. Many other people—people in all of our electorates—joined up to defend the nation and were ordered to go either overseas or to Townsville, to Western Australia, to Singleton or to various other places within Australia not only to be trained but to be ready to be sent wherever they were ordered to go. In many cases, some of those people served for five years but did not leave Australia. As a consequence, they did not have what is called qualifying service. If they did have qualifying service, they are now entitled to the gold card. Most of those people are now well into their 80s and would not be enjoying the best of health. Obviously, they are being treated by the health system differently from those people who did have qualifying service and served overseas.

I will move this amendment. I will read it, if I may, because it encapsulates not only those people in the Second World War but people over 70. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words “while supporting the Bill, the House is of the opinion that the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA) should be amended so that the full repatriation benefit, including the health entitlement Gold Card, applies to Australian veterans who are aged 70 years or over, irrespective of whether those veterans have been in danger from hostile forces of the enemy as the current legislation and proposed amendment bill demands”.

It is essentially to recognise those people who were prepared to defend the nation, to carry out the orders of their superiors and to go wherever it was demanded they go. On the example I used a moment ago, of my father being in the Middle East: if the Japanese had defeated the Australian forces in New Guinea, for instance, my father and his comrades would have been absolutely useless in defending Australia. The very people that did not go overseas and receive qualifying service—and receive health benefits now—would have been the ones that would have defended the nation they represented. They would have been in Australia. Obviously, the powers that be at the time would have been making decisions based on how many troops they needed to leave in Australia just in case the Japanese did in fact break through and come to the Australian continent.

I think it is an absolute disgrace that we have particularly Second World War veterans—and they are dying at the rate of about 800 a month at the moment—that are being treated as second-class soldiers. They are people who gave up four and five years of their lives to train to serve this nation in any capacity where they were ordered, and they are being treated differently from those who went overseas. There are many people—and I am sure we all have within our electorates examples of men in their 80s who were in their 20s then and trained as paratroopers or tank operators or whatever and received injuries just in the training processes. Now they are in their 70s and 80s, it obviously would be coming against them in their health. They deserve the recognition and the respect of this nation and should get the entitlement to additional healthcare assistance through the gold card.

As I said earlier, I recognise that this amendment relates to money, so in a sense it can be treated as an invalid amendment. I am not demanding—particularly since it is the day after the budget—that the government suddenly find additional money tomorrow for this issue, but it is important that those veterans who are still alive actually feel that respect from parliamentarians. They deserve that respect.

If we are serious about encouraging young people into the armed services to defend those of us who do not serve—and I listened to the member for Werriwa talking about our young people in Afghanistan and Iraq et cetera—we have to make sure that, if something goes wrong with them, if their health does suffer because of their service or associated with their service, they have special regard.

There can be no-one more special than someone who was prepared to die for this country in the Second World War, and yet we are still treating some of those people as second-class citizens. As I said a moment ago, Second World War veterans are dying at the rate of 800 a month. It is not an exponential cost to the nation to treat these people the same as their comrades who did serve overseas or happened to be travelling through Darwin when Darwin was bombed or happened to be in Townsville when various incidents occurred in that area. They were going where they were ordered to go. So I ask the Main Committee and the House—when the bill does get back to the House—to look seriously at this, to look past the absolute money requirements and to look into their hearts about this. This is about recognition of people who were prepared to die for us. It is something that we should look seriously at.

In concluding, I want to reflect on a recent trip that I did to South Korea with a delegation. It was amazing the recognition that remains in that nation of the Australian forces in the Korean conflict. It was very, very touching that both elderly and young Korean people, when they found out we were Australians, said thank you for what our veterans of the Korean War—in a sense, a forgotten war—did for them. We were the first cab off the rank. It was a United Nations force at the time, but Australia was there first. We were one of those nations that said, ‘Yes, we’ll defend the rights of these people to have their freedoms rather than be taken over by the North Koreans and the Chinese.’ Australians were there first. That has not left the minds of those people.

It is an incredible nation now. In a lot of ways, this history is an advantage we have over other nations in the way in which we deal with them, either diplomatically or in a trade sense. So I just pass on to the House the good wishes of many people—from the Prime Minister to the foreign minister through to people in the street—who wanted it to be conveyed to the Australian people that they remember what our forebears did for them. Those men would be over 70 now too. Those who served in Korea obviously would be in receipt of a gold card, but there would be many others who were prepared to go or would have been on the next plane or boat. They received the same training and had the same capacities but do not receive the same benefits in terms of their health care.

I would urge all members to really think about this particular amendment. Normally I do not support second reading amendments because, in a sense, they are meaningless. But this is not meaningless in relation to the way in which we have regard for these people. I think that, at the rate at which they are dying, it is about time that we showed them that we do consider them to be all the same—not as one class of soldier and another class of soldier. It has obviously been done in the past—and I am not blaming any government for this—because of the sheer numbers and the multiplication of costs. But, as they are dying out at a very rapid rate, I think the least we can do is recognise their contribution and look after their comrades who are still here to this day. I am very pleased that the member for Kennedy is going to second this motion.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr RE Ramsey)—Is the motion seconded?