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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 3390


Mr CIOBO (11:45 PM) —I am pleased to rise to speak to the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (MRCA Supplement) Bill 2011 that is before this chamber and indicate, as others have in this debate, that the coalition will support this bill. It is noncontroversial; in fact, it goes some way towards making sure that we do not have an unintended consequence continue. The bill effectively clarifies arrangements under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act relating to payment of certain allowances to war widows. This bill is necessary because of an unintended consequence arising from the government’s changes to pensions as part of the Harmer review in 2009. I am pleased that both sides of politics were able to come together to ensure that we do not have a situation arise where eligible war widows are inadvertently receiving benefits they are not properly entitled to and which would result in a debt being owed to the Commonwealth.

The veterans community, both war widows and more broadly, is a crucial part of the fabric of the community in my seat of Moncrieff. Gold Coast city has one of the larger veterans populations in Australia. I am certainly very pleased and proud to be a strong advocate for my veterans community in doing what I can to be both an ambassador and a representative for them in this chamber. There is an array of issues for the veterans community that, although not a central part of this bill, remain ongoing issues of concern to them.

Over the years I have been honoured to work very closely with so many fine advocates from the veterans community. I think immediately of groups such as the TPI Association, Gold Coast Legacy, the Vietnam Veterans Federation and the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, and of course the work that is done by the three RSL clubs in my electorate—at Nerang, Southport and Surfers Paradise—and the advocates in each of those clubs. More broadly, there are other community groups, such as the Korean Veterans Association and those who represent the strong work that was done by the British Occupation Forces. Each of those groups—and I have named just some of them—play a crucial role as advocates, and as conduits for veterans and their loved ones with respect to the entitlements that are available to them and the way in which those entitlements are handled.

One of the best things I have done, if I might put it that way, was to start a veterans kitchen cabinet. I hold a roundtable discussion with representatives of the ex-service organisations in my electorate about every six months or so. It is a chance for us all to come together and speak about what can be done with respect to veterans’ entitlements and issues such as military rehabilitation and compensation available to members of the military. In that vein, I see it as a central part of my role to represent them and their needs and to be an advocate for them in this parliament. I have been pleased to work with the coalition minister when we were in government and with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, now that we are in opposition, in a proactive way and in the best interests of the veterans community.

There are a number of veterans’ projects with significance, both in their symbolic value and also their impact on the livelihoods of veterans and their loved ones, that are taking place in my electorate of Moncrieff on the Gold Coast. I welcome the amazing efforts that George Friend and the Rotary clubs on the Gold Coast have been making with respect to the Kokoda memorial at Cascade Gardens. I supported very strongly their push to have that memorial recognised as a memorial of national significance, working alongside the Gold Coast City Council and others to make sure that that has the support and backing of the local community. Unfortunately on this occasion for veterans, it was not deemed to be of a scale, design and standard appropriate for a memorial of national significance, so it was not accepted. But I intend to keep being an advocate and keep pushing on behalf of my veterans community for it to be recognised as a memorial of national significance.

Very shortly, the Korean Veterans Association will also be looking at putting a memorial alongside the Kokoda memorial in the Cascade Gardens. I know the work that is being undertaken by Paul Findlay from the Gold Coast’s TPI Association, who are looking at transferring their facility and meeting place to Cascade Gardens. We are developing a real epicentre of veterans work and veterans groups at Cascade Gardens, at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast. In this respect as well, I want to work alongside them to achieve the outcomes they are after.

More broadly, I am mindful that the government currently has the Campbell Review of military compensation arrangements before it. I welcome the government’s release of the review’s findings on Friday, 18 March, not that long ago. I note that the review is some 12 months late; notwithstanding that, it is a significant review. I am committed to liaising with my veterans groups to hear their thoughts as a result of the review, take on board their feedback and work constructively with them, and then feed that back through both the shadow minister and the minister to make sure that, over the period of consultation between now and 30 June this year, we are able to improve military compensation arrangements for the benefit of not only those who have made tremendous sacrifices for us by putting themselves in harm’s way but also their loved ones.

This bill before us, although a modest bill in terms of its effect, is an important bill and it has the coalition’s support. When it comes to veterans matters, I want to ensure that there remains a strong sense of bipartisanship, because all of us as representatives in this chamber recognise that our veterans are the ones who have ultimately been at the front end, at the pointy end, of upholding the values and freedoms that we all enjoy as Australians. In that sense, as an ambassador for them I look forward to working with my veterans community and making sure that, when it comes to military rehabilitation and compensation matters, we always keep the needs of the veterans community front of mind.