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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 3394

Mr SNOWDON (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (11:59 AM) —I firstly acknowledge the contributions to this debate by the members for Fadden, Eden-Monaro, Mitchell, Dawson, Moncrieff and Solomon. I am not so sure about the gratuitous advice which has come from some members of the opposition, and I am a bit concerned about their lack of knowledge about what actually goes on in government and their lack of knowledge of the history of the portfolio of veterans’ affairs.

I heard the member for Fadden being critical of the fact that I hold a number of portfolios. The member for Fadden, for whom I have some respect, should know better than most the significant benefits of having a veterans’ affairs minister and Defence personnel minister in the same portfolio. I say this because he should know that the coalition did it for at least the last four years that they were in office. The member for Fadden needs to reacquaint himself with what happened under the Howard government. Bruce Billson, the member for Dunkley, was the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister assisting the Minister for Defence. Dee-Anne Kelly, a former member of this place, was the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs from October 2004 to January 2007 and was also the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence.

We know, and they know, that the veteran community was also supportive of combining the veterans’ affairs and Defence personnel portfolios for the very obvious reason that ultimately we are dealing with the same group of people. Defence personnel who are currently serving members, serving this nation of ours in Afghanistan, will at some point become veterans, and some may be veterans already in the context of their service. Some may even be receiving entitlements under the veterans’ affairs portfolio as a result of their service, and we need to understand that that relationship between the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Defence is a crucial one. To have the Defence personnel side of the portfolio married to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in ministerial arrangements is good for both portfolios. I would have thought that the member for Fadden would have appreciated that, so I think that the sort of gratuitous advice and comments he made were quite unwarranted.

I might also make observations about the contributions by the members for Mitchell and Moncrieff that widows will have to repay significant amounts of money. That is just factually incorrect. No-one will have a debt as a result of this legislation. No payments will be required to be paid back and this bill simply ensures that widows get their correct entitlements. I would hope that these ill-informed members undertake to go into their communities and tell the truth, not mislead people by making comments which are palpably false. We are used to this from the opposition, because clearly they are not engaged in constructive discussion with government or indeed the community about what is good for this country. They are quite critical of us, and sometimes that might well be warranted, but in this particular instance it is not at all warranted. I would say to them: understand the facts of the matter and make sure that when you espouse your views about legislation such as this you actually deliver the correct interpretation of what the legislation delivers.

I am also a little bit bemused by comments made by members of the opposition about this government’s performance within the veterans’ affairs portfolio. We know that in the 12 years prior to 2007 the former Howard government—the government that these erstwhile members of a potential future government say they have some respect for—did almost nothing in veterans’ affairs. Since 2007 this government has delivered on a wide range of initiatives that benefit the veteran and Defence communities.

The opposition has criticised the government for the so-called delays on releasing the military compensation review. Again—and I know that butter would not melt in their mouths—the truth of it is that this is just an extraordinary comment from a party who refused to even consider reviewing the legislation prior to the 2007 election. Let us be clear: they refused to undertake a review of the legislation prior to the 2007 election. So it is passing cute that they should come into this place and criticise the government for undertaking a review and providing the capacity for people to comment on that review once we have released it, which was done last week.

I say to the opposition: if you think you are running government from the opposition, I have news for you. You are like a pimple on the elephant’s bum. Your impact upon us in terms of this portfolio is zero. We have made successive decisions, including the ones around the War Memorial, which were based on good public policy decision-making processes, including advice from the War Memorial and our own public service, not based on some comments—often hysterical—made by opposition members, including their spokesman on veterans’ affairs. We deliberated clearly on the need to ensure that the War Memorial was appropriately funded. We had discussions with our local members, one of whom is, astoundingly, sitting here next to me and I thank her for being here. It is her duty of course—not to be here with me, but the fact she is here.

Ms Brodtmann —It’s for you.

Mr SNOWDON —Oh, please! But I am absolutely very proud of the more than $8 million that has been made available to the War Memorial on an annual basis to increase its funding base. That is an increase of almost 25 per cent. Let us understand what we have done here. We have provided an increase of around 25 per cent, if not more, to the baseline funding of the Australian War Memorial. Ask yourselves this, members of the opposition: what did you do in that space? I am quite proud of the decision which has been made by this government, driven in this instance by the Prime Minister, who said to us—me and the Minister for Finance, Senator Wong—last October, ‘I want you to undertake a review of the financial arrangements of the Australian War Memorial and come back and give advice to cabinet.’ Which we did. On the leadership of the Prime Minister, that was acted upon and the result was the increased funding to the War Memorial. So let us not have any of this—I am not quite sure how you would describe it—‘view’ that is being expressed. I was very careful—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Vamvakinou)—I am conscious of the minister’s very flamboyant expressions. I appreciate them very well, and I am very thankful that he is being very careful.

Mr SNOWDON —Very careful! And to suggest that somehow or another this funding increase was a result of pressure from the opposition is just laughable. Absolutely laughable. As is the suggestion that we are putting the MRCA review recommendations out for public consultation because of pressure from them. What do they think we do in this place? We undertook the review. It was always behoven on us to make sure that that review was published and, of course, at the same time released for comment to inform the government of what people involved—the ex-service community organisations and other people with an interest in the area—thought of the issues involved in the MRCA review and to provide feedback to us prior to us making any final decisions on the outcome. Good public policy practice. Not something that came about as a result of any pressure or words from the opposition. So let us appreciate this. We have a very good Department of Veterans’ Affairs; we have very good, high-quality advice from that department. I have very good, high-quality staff and I do not need the sideline comments coming from opposition members who should be better informed of what goes on in government. I want to say to them: understand that when you are in government you accept responsibilities, and one of the responsibilities you have is to listen to advice. And that is what we do; we seek advice and I am pleased that we do so.

I conclude on this bill, which of course is what we are here for. This bill is not as it has been described by the opposition. This is a normal process of refining and reviewing legislation. That is it. Governments of both political persuasions have historically reviewed legislation and made minor amendments when required. There is nothing unusual about this. I know you would appreciate this, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I know you well and you know me well—probably unfortunately from your point of view. There is nothing unusual and the opposition is really clutching at straws to suggest otherwise. The changes to the MRCA supplement were as a result of significant income support reforms implemented by the government in 2009 and I am very pleased to be here summing up on this legislation. I thank all of the members who have contributed, even if some of their contributions were ill informed and wrongly based.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.