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Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Page: 9423

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (18:46): In speaking on the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 and the coalition's amendment, I seek to represent those in my electorate who have served in this country's armed forces, those who continue to serve in the armed forces and all the people in my electorate who honour and respect our veterans. Sadly, honouring and respecting our veterans is not unanimous in this country, and I feel it is not unanimous in this parliament either.

While this bill makes a number of important legislative changes that the Liberal-National coalition supports, there is still something missing. Fair treatment of our veterans is missing. The coalition has long recognised that this particular element was missing and has moved on numerous occasions to correct the situation. I speak of course of fair indexation. In 2010, the Liberal-National coalition announced a commitment to fair indexation, but this government has repeatedly signalled that it does not want that particular type of fairness for our veterans. The government has blocked every move to make the treatment of veterans fair. The coalition's commitment included fair indexation for veterans who are superannuants under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Scheme and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme, or the DFRB and the DFRDB.

The reason the coalition made this commitment is that we believe our veterans deserves a fair go. Without fair indexation, the level at which our veterans are looked after declines. It will decline this year. It will decline further next year. It will continue to decline as long as the real cost of living keeps increasing faster and further than the indexation.

I would like to use a specific example here to illustrate my point. I have received numerous letters from veterans who tell me that they are being ripped off by this unfair indexation. I spoke with John Markham, in my electorate, about the advice he was given about DFRDB at the end of last financial year. He was told, in a letter:

… the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has recently announced an upward movement in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the past six month period from September 2011 to March 2012. As a result your DFRDB pension will increase by 0.1% on 12 July 2012.

The letter then goes on to advise that the increase means an extra $1.03 in his gross fortnightly pension—that is a mere $1.03 added to his gross fortnightly pension. But, because the Australian Taxation Office changed the way they withhold tax, his net fortnightly pension actually went down by $30.97. Does that sound like fair indexation—an extra dollar a fortnight that is gobbled up by a $32 a fortnight tax take by this government? What can this veteran splurge on with those extra funds from that indexation rate of 0.1 per cent! As another veteran pointed out to me, during the same six months the ABS statistics for expenses paid by a pensioner increased as follows: transport costs went up 1.1 per cent, or 11 times the DFRDB rate; insurance costs, up 1.6 per cent; rents, up two per cent; and health costs, up 3.2 per cent, 32 times the DFRDB rate. But these are national figures, of course, and in North Queensland we can only dream of cost increases like that! The cost of body corporate insurance for the kinds of units and apartments that many veterans live in has increased by 200, 500 and as much as 1,000 per cent throughout North Queensland, so you cannot tell me the cost of living has gone up just 0.1 per cent in my neck of the woods.

The very least anyone with any respect for our veterans could do is vote for fair indexation. I am left wondering what it is that this government has against our retired Defence Force personnel. They seem to have this thing against our Defence forces and other good Australians who work in the Defence forces. Maybe the government would prefer these people just went away. Perhaps the Greens are controlling their puppet government on defence matters as well, because it is after all Greens policy that they want a reduction in Australian and global military expenditure. At least they are upfront about it. Their belief, according to their stated principles, is:

… genuine security rests on cooperation, fair economic and social development, environmental sustainability, and respect for human rights, rather than on military capabilities.

I suppose fairies and mushrooms can be thrown into that as well! The Labor government demonstrated with their budget in May that they do not even want to maintain the existing Defence Force. In fact, I spoke in the debate on the appropriation bills about how this government is worse for our Defence forces than the Taliban. How much respect can the government have for defence and our Defence personnel when they are slashing—

Mr Shorten: Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, on a point of order: I do not mind if the member for Dawson strays from the subject and is not relevant, but to impugn the motives of the government as being akin to those of the Taliban is disrespectful to our Australian soldiers fighting there. It certainly impugns the motives of the government. You might not like what we do, but to make that insinuation is unworthy.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! If the honourable member made that remark, I ask him to withdraw.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: I withdraw.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable member will speak to the bill before the House.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: How much respect does a government have for Defence and our defence personnel if they slash $5½ billion from the defence budget? That is a 10.5 per cent cut to the budget—cutting to the lowest level, as a percentage of GDP, since the eve of World War II. But so deep does this loathing of defence seem to run through the Labor Party that fair indexation has been rejected time and time again.

The coalition took our commitment to fair indexation to the 2010 election and have since worked to promote the issue in parliament. The coalition introduced appropriate legislation to the Senate on 18 November 2010 so that DFRB and DFRDB superannuants would have fair, just and equitable indexation. In March last year, the Greens and Labor called for a Senate inquiry to look into this legislation. Given that more than a dozen inquiries have already supported fair indexation, calling for any more inquiries can only been seen as a stalling tactic—stalling because it is something the government does not want to do, something that probably most of the Labor Party does not want to do.

It can be hard to work out who really wants fair indexation and who does not. Even the Greens do not know whether they support it or not. I visited a local RSL sub-branch whose members told me that they were most upset by the government and the Greens not supporting fair indexation, and when I posted a comment about that on Facebook I received an email from the recently endorsed Greens candidate for Dawson, Jonathon Dykyj, who said:

I noticed on your Facebook page that you are claiming that the Greens oppose Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefit Pensions indexed to the age pension.

Here is a policy initiative from the 2010 election and it was nothing new for us then either.

He provided the link and then said:

I kindly ask that you do the decent thing and correct the record on your page.

So I had a look at the document Mr Dykyj sent me, the Australian Greens policy initiative Fair indexation for Commonwealth and Defence Force superannuation pensions, which says—this is the Greens policy:

In a long-running campaign, current and former federal public servants and defence force personnel have been pushing to ensure their superannuation pensions are indexed fairly and appropriately. It is a campaign the Australian Greens support wholeheartedly.

That sounds encouraging, but it goes on:

The government went to the last election with a promise to address the indexation issue. Instead it commissioned the Matthews Review, and subsequently decided against changing the indexation measure. Australian Greens leader, Bob Brown—

it is a little bit old—

wrote to Minister Tanner earlier this year to urge him to re-consider the government's response to the Matthews' review and revise the indexation for Defence Force superannuation pensions. We strongly believe that the government should now act to provide wage-based indexation on the same terms as the aged pension for all Commonwealth and defence force superannuation pensions. The cost for ensuring fair and appropriate wages-linked indexation for Commonwealth public servant superannuation pensions is estimated by the Matthews Review to be around $42 million in 2010-11, increasing in following years. However, the actual cost will be lower when the tax implications are taken into account. The Australia Greens believe these costs are outweighed by the longer term benefits and principle of fairness.

When you read that, you would think that we were onto a winner, that they would back fairness for our veterans—that is, until it comes to the crunch, to decision making. On Thursday, 16 July 2011, between the time when the Greens took that policy to the election and the time when they were telling me to do 'the decent thing and correct the record' about what I said about them—there votes are recorded here. So, as the Greens candidate in my area says, I will 'do the right thing' and I 'correct the record'.

The Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Amendment (Fair Indexation) Bill 2010 third reading majority was zero. It was a tied vote of 34 to 34. Listed under the no voters—to correct the record—are Senator Bob Brown, Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Milne. So, yes, I am doing the right thing and correcting the record! Not only are the Greens opposed to fair indexation for veterans but they lie about their opposition so they do not lose votes. They lied at the election and they are lying still. The only time the truth comes out is at the time it matters. And, if it were not for the Greens saying one thing and doing another, it would seem the Labor Party alone is against fair indexation for veteran pensioners because the Independents are on board. The member for Lyne believes:

There are many who are frustrated that government, report after report, seems to get the concerns about a lack of purchasing power within the current military superannuation scheme, yet, when it comes to actually doing something about it, the arguments of cost and difficulty in making those changes seem to be directed towards those who have done military service.

So he is on board—but, when it comes to actually voting, doing the real thing, will he be bought off like the Greens were and back the government again? The member for New England, in 2010, asked the former finance minister if he would:

… consider introducing a fairer indexation method for military superannuation pension in line with that used to calculate age and welfare pensions.

He is another one on board—unless he can find someone who will sell their backside. No wonder we are going broke. We have a government that is determined not to do the right thing by veterans.

But let's go back to the Labor Party's position on fair indexation. Even the member for Dobell, now free of the shackles of toeing the party line, even though I see him wandering near the Labor whip's office all the time, may be seeking divine redemption by doing the right thing on this matter. He was reported in the Central Coast Express Advocate as saying he was more than happy to support the veterans' campaign. But if you go a little closer to the other side, a little closer to the cliff face of political oblivion where those opposite reside, you will see a little row of fingernails along the edge. They are all dangling over the pit of obscurity but desperately clinging on.

Perhaps the member for Blair is thinking about what is coming here, as he has his electorate breathing down his neck. He told the Minister for Finance and Deregulation:

It is ridiculous to expect people to accept a 0.1 per cent increase. That is unviable, given the cost of living. It is too meagre and it needs to change.

That is probably the smartest thing that the member for Blair has said. Even the Member for Eden-Monaro, who just spoke here and whom I recognise as one of our veterans, and Senator Kate Lundy have written in support of fair indexation. So it appears that the whole of this country—and certainly the veterans movement—and the parliament, if it were allowed to vote freely, is in favour of fairness. All of this country is in favour of fairness, that is, except for one faction—albeit a large faction—of the Labor Party.

We can hold all the inquiries we like and introduce all the legislation we want on military superannuation pensions, but to create real equality we need either an election or to wait for the faceless men to perform another hatchet job. The coalition and veterans have had enough of waiting; the time for fairness is now. Must we wait four years, just like we did on border protection, for the government to finally concede that the Liberal-National coalition is right once again? We are right—veterans must be fairly recognised through fair indexation.