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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 3392

Mrs GRIGGS (11:52 AM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (MRCA Supplement) Bill 2011. The primary purpose of this bill is to amend the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004, relating to the payment of certain allowances to war widows. This is necessary due to unintended consequences of the government’s changes to pensions as part of the Harmer review which amended legislation in 2009. The act provides compensation for and other benefits to current and former members of the Australian Defence Force who suffered an injury or disease due to service on or after 1 July 2004. It also provides for the dependants of members whose deaths were the result of an injury or disease due to service on or after 1 July 2004. The bill ensures that wholly dependent partners of a deceased Defence Force member or former member will be eligible to receive the MRCA supplement, while preventing duplicate payments of the MRCA supplement to persons who are entitled to equivalent payments under a different act.

I acknowledge that this bill could potentially affect 105 war widow pensioners in my electorate of Solomon who are current clients of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs—as of 1 October 2010. However, it is important to note that, while this is largely a housekeeping bill, it will ensure that the benefits are not paid to those who are not entitled to them under this act and who, as a result, will no longer have the potential to be in debt to the Commonwealth.

Another veterans affairs issue that the parliament is debating at the moment—it is currently before the Senate—is the coalition’s military superannuation reform legislation, the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Amendment (Fair Indexation) Bill 2010. The bill will improve the indexation of Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits, DFRDB, Scheme superannuation pensions from 1 July this year. I am pleased to say that this means that eligible superannuants aged 55 and over on 1 July 2011 will have their military superannuation pensions indexed in the same way as Australian government income support pensions such as the service pension. This is the single biggest issue in the veterans and ex-service community. It has long been called for, and it has the full support of the ex-service community. I remind other members here today that the coalition remains the only party in the parliament committed to military superannuation reform. I take this opportunity to call on all parties in this parliament and, in particular, the Labor Party to support this legislation when it is debated in the House.

The coalition welcomes the release of the review of the military compensation arrangements, which were publicly released on 18 March. It should be noted, however, that this review is some 12 months late. Nevertheless, this is a significant review into a new and complex piece of legislation.

The coalition is committed to an extensive consultation on the review’s findings and is pleased that the Gillard Labor government has agreed to a period of consultation until 30 June 2011. During this consultation, the coalition will endeavour to liaise with key stakeholders in the service, ex-service and veteran community about the recommendations in the review of the military compensation arrangements.

Finally, with Anzac Day—a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand to commemorate the lives lost and honour those members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought at Gallipoli and Turkey during World War I—under five weeks away, it is a very timely welcome to the eleventh-hour rescue package for the Australian War Memorial. This is despite the fact that the government had to be dragged kicking and screaming into making an announcement, which is an absolute utter disgrace.

Mr Snowdon —Ha ha ha!

Mrs GRIGGS —You may laugh, Member for Lingiari, but we know what was going on behind the scenes. The $25 million commitment from the coalition to refurbish the World War I galleries is yet to be matched by the Gillard Labor government. As members of this place should be aware, the Australian War Memorial combines a shrine, a world-class museum and an extensive archive. The memorial’s purpose is to commemorate the sacrifice of those Australians who have died in war. Its mission is to assist Australians to remember, interpret and understand the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on Australian society. This is a very important part of our history. The coalition will therefore be looking for a firm financial commitment from this government in this year’s budget to complete the redevelopment ahead of the ANZAC centenary in 2015.

I have earlier this year in the House mentioned the commemorative services held to mark the 69th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin. The bombings are a significant part of the history of Darwin, the Northern Territory and, indeed, Australia. Like Anzac Day, these commemorations have enormous significance for those who were in Darwin during the air raids, today’s Territorians and Australian Defence Force personnel past and present. I hope that this government will ensure that there is appropriate funding in the budget for the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin. It would also be useful if this event were included in our national curriculum, as it is an important historical event that all students should be aware of.

The seat of Solomon encompasses a number of Australian Defence Force military bases. With many personnel currently serving overseas, I feel that these issues are very important to my constituents, as one day these defence personnel will be veterans themselves. The Larrakeyah Barracks, which incorporates HMAS Coonawarra, is the main base for the Australian Defence Force in the Northern Territory. HMAS Coonawarra is a Royal Australian Navy base which is home to 12 fleet units of the Royal Australian Navy and located in the city of Darwin itself. RAAF Base Darwin, the Royal Australian Air Force base, shares its runway with the Darwin international airport. Robertson Barracks is one of the major Australian Army bases and is located in the outer suburb of Holtze. It is home to the 1st Brigade and the 1st Aviation Regiment. I remind you and those members here that many of my defence constituents are currently serving overseas and so it is important that this government ensure that it looks after these defence personnel both during their service and also after their service to this wonderful country.

In conclusion, the coalition supports this bill. As my colleague the member for Fadden mentioned earlier in this place, the coalition is committed to Australian veterans. This commitment is unlike that of the current Labor government, who in 2007 and again in 2010 committed to fair indexation of taxes and also committed to Australian veterans.