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Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Page: 1923

Mr NEUMANN (10:42 AM) —I rise to speak in support of the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Weekly Payments) Bill 2010. It is always interesting following the member for Fadden, as I have on many occasions—he has spoken after me and I have spoken after him. One of the things that the member for Fadden failed to elucidate for the House was the fact that the coalition did nothing with respect to the issues concerning veterans. If you speak to people in the veterans community, they know very well that, with respect to the DFRDB and indexation, the coalition’s record was not in the light that the member for Fadden claimed—and their announcing a policy before the election, which we do not believe they would ever implement if they had a chance, is simply not good enough.

In relation to Podger, the coalition did nothing in relation to the issues raised in that during 11½ years as well. And with respect to homelessness, which this bill seeks to address in a small way, the coalition’s record in the area was simply appalling. The privatisation of public housing and social housing across my state of Queensland was the norm. You only had to speak to state minister Robert Schwarten about the issues in relation to that. In my electorate alone we are putting $66.5 million into social housing and defence housing, simply to make up for the culpable failure of the Howard coalition government with respect to social housing and defence housing, particularly in Ipswich and the West Moreton region.

The bill that is before the House is a minor one, but we think it goes a long way to assisting disadvantaged people who may have difficulties managing their finances and their funds and who may, indeed, spend them too quickly. So payments on a weekly rather than fortnightly basis can make a difference in the budgets of veterans, to make sure they do not fall into homelessness.

No-one in our country, as wealthy as we are, should be homeless. The white paper on homelessness, The Road Home, identified the responsibilities that we as a country have in addressing issues of homelessness. The government have responded to that white paper. We have set ambitious targets for what we will do in relation to homelessness. We have set addressing those issues of homelessness as a national priority. We have committed to halving homelessness and providing accommodation for rough sleepers—some of whom, sadly and tragically, are veterans.

We want to make sure we invest money to address the issue of homelessness. We have committed $4.9 billion in new funding to address homelessness, with an additional $400 million coming from the states and territories. We have increased funding to homelessness services by 55 per cent and committed to building more than 80,000 affordable homes across the country. This includes almost 20,000 built through the nation building and economic stimulus plan, which I addressed. The sum of $66.5 million in my electorate alone which I referred to earlier includes that.

Reducing homelessness is a shared responsibility that must encompass not just government at a state and territory level but federal government, business, charities and the community. In February this year we saw the coalition walk away from a bipartisan approach to homelessness by refusing to support the white paper targets. The member for Fadden did not say that. The former coalition government could not even find a minister to address the issue of homelessness and housing. They did not even have one allocated for that purpose. They did nothing to help the homeless in my community. All they thought they could do was privatise public housing. There are simply too many kids in this country, some in veterans’ families, who grow up without a roof over their head. It is a national disgrace. We should have determination, a commitment and real vigour to attack this problem.

The legislation before this place is minor. It is technical. Most veteran recipients of money use it wisely and well. It does accord with what we did earlier this year in replicating the Centrelink arrangements and aligning veterans’ affairs legislation with social security law. That is sensible. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs administers payments to veterans, members and former members and their dependents under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, the Veterans’ Entitlements Act and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. As I said, those payments are made fortnightly. The amendment here will enable compensation and income support pensions and other payments under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act to be paid weekly instead of fortnightly in certain circumstances. It is voluntary. In other words, if a veteran wants to get paid the money voluntarily they can. It may assist them if they have fallen on hard times. People at risk of homelessness need money urgently. That is why many approach organisations like Lifeline and Centrelink. It is to get the kind of assistance they need urgently.

We are acting in the area of homelessness. The National Affordable Housing Agreement will deliver longer term housing for Australians who are currently homeless, and we are partnering with the states and territories to do that. I think the aspiration is noble and the commitment to halving overall homelessness by 2020 is sure.

Supported accommodation is particularly important for rough sleepers. When I was much younger I was the secretary of a church committee that ran a homeless shelter for what many years ago people would have described as delinquent teenage boys. We kept many out of jail and away from trouble during those times. I saw firsthand the challenges of young teenage fellows, some of them a little younger than me. It changed your life when you saw how they could fall into a life of crime, how they could lose their self-esteem and how their employment skills could be diminished because of illiteracy and lack of ability in numeracy. This is a big challenge for this country, and we need to take a very broad-brush and committed approach to funding. The cycle of violence and abuse which many people suffer from can lead to homelessness. We must be sure to tackle this.

In my community, the Ipswich and West Moreton community, we have the fantastic Ipswich RSL Services Club. I want to pay tribute to a number of people there who do a lot of work in the community, particularly looking after veterans and their dependents. I am sure that they will warmly welcome the funding that we have provided. Certainly they would warmly welcome the arrangements whereby veterans can get the money on a weekly basis. I pay tribute to: Phil Gilbert, the president of the Ipswich sub-branch of the RSL; the railway sub-branch president, Ray Watherston; and Donna Reggett, who is the pension and welfare officer of Ipswich RSL. Donna is on the Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Ex-Service Matters. She is the partner of a long-serving RAAF veteran who served as a peacekeeper in Somalia. She is also the daughter of a RAN veteran who served in Vietnam. She is a member of the Operational Working Party. She has undertaken studies in counselling and mediation at Southern Cross University and has trained under the department’s training and information program as a level three advocate. She is actively involved in the Ipswich community and in the veteran and ex-service community as a pensions and welfare advocate. She has been a tremendous supporter of RSL Ipswich, both the railway and Ipswich sub-branches, and has also fought for the rights of veterans and stood up for their dependents.

Anything we can do to help veterans, whether it is by way of financial support or simply these arrangements whereby we make sure that the payments are made weekly rather than fortnightly, will assist to avoid the risk of homelessness, to help veterans and to provide for their families to make sure that their children and particularly those young fellows at the home I talked about earlier—which we called Baldwin House—no longer fall into a life of criminality, despair and destitution. We want to make sure that they get provided for and make sure that veterans and their dependents and also all those associated with the RSL are looked after in the Ipswich and West Moreton area.