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Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Page: 9429

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (19:10): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 tonight, because it was just on Saturday that the commemoration of Vietnam Veterans Day took place. I had the honour of attending two ceremonies in Perth. First there was the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia WA Branch's ceremony at the very impressive Vietnam War memorial in Kings Park. The service was very well attended. There were veterans of the Vietnam War and friends and relatives of those who gave their lives for a good cause. There was also the Premier's representative, Mr Michael Sutherland MLA. Although a list said that the opposition leader of WA would attend, he was not actually there. I was there. In fact, as it turned out I was the only representative from federal parliament at that event, which I think is a little bit sad. But I think that, as I talk about this bill tonight and the amendment from the member for Fadden, possibly we can see why the federal government was not represented at that event. But it was a very good event. It was a service that ran well. I would also pay tribute to Major General John Hartley AO (Retired), the National President of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam Association. Major General Hartley spoke very well about the realities of the war that took place with Australian involvement between 1962 and 1973. Major General Hartley spoke about what happened in the war and how it is important to keep the support of the public—otherwise wars can be lost.

The second event that I went to to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day was later in the afternoon, at the Ballajura RSL. The Ballajura RSL is based at Ballajura Community College, which includes the Ballajura War Memorial and Peace Park, a park and place of reflection and commemoration that was paid for in significant part by the Howard government through a couple of different grants. I thank President Mike Gilmour, Scotty Alcorn, Barry Burley and Brian Rose, and the members, families and friends of the Ballajura sub-branch of the RSL. I thank them for the opportunity to speak at that commemoration.

This bill—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): I think the honourable member ought to come back to the bill.

Mr SIMPKINS: We are certainly getting back to the bill now, Mr Deputy Speaker. We know that the intent of the bill involves a number of fairly procedural matters, but the part of the bill that I would like to speak to is, of course, the amendment put forward by the member for Fadden. I am very well aware that the issue of fair indexation for DFRDB and DFRB superannuants is a big issue—certainly in recent times. Many constituents have asked me about this. Of course, Terry 'Mad Dog' Malligan is very active in this space, and I fully support Terry. Don Horsley, Bill Bekendam and Daniel Armour have all contacted me in fairly recent times to talk to me about it. As we know, there is an issue in this country at the moment about 57,000 military superannuants and their families and the need to have their military superannuation pensions indexed in the same way as the age pension and the service pensions for those aged 55 and over.

It is important that we remember that, as part of the 2010 election campaign—and before that as well—the coalition was very clear on this. The Leader of the Opposition has signed a pledge, and we have all given our commitment to our veterans and these military superannuants that the coalition parties will be backing them at the earliest opportunity. Although some might think the earliest opportunity will be after the next election, I would say that this is an excellent opportunity right now to provide fair indexation. I know that, within this chamber, the Independents seem to be on the record for supporting fair indexation. The member for Lyne certainly should, when the time comes for a vote, stand with us on the coalition side. The member for New England should also be there as well, certainly given the fact that the, albeit a reserve unit, has a great history and I believe is based within his electorate. And, obviously, the member for Denison as well—someone who has a background in the Army—should also be in support of fair indexation.

Of course, we can always rely on the Greens to never support anything that supports our veterans. They are always self-serving in the first degree, and always against anything to do with the armed forces that this country needs and depends upon. But it is shaping up, in my view, as a great opportunity to provide the fair indexation at the earliest opportunity—and the earliest opportunity may well be tonight, or at least tomorrow, when this bill comes to a vote. I certainly join with that member for Fadden and my other colleagues for their advocacy on behalf of this worthy and just venture.

The government loves to speak about scare campaigns—and Minister Wong is on the record for the claim, ridiculously and, no doubt, to coin the favourite phrase of one of the ministers: mendacious—that our plan of indexation would cost $1.7 billion to begin and $4.5 billion to fully implement. But the reality is that we are really talking, across the forward estimates, of between $100 million and $150 million to implement, to take this fair indexation to where it should be.

So it is the case that, as I said before, the earliest opportunity to provide the long-awaited and fully justified fair indexation is upon us now in this House. It is an opportunity for those who claim to stand for the interests of veterans to stand very clearly and vote—rather to sit, really, on the side of this amendment from the member for Fadden—and put their money where their mouth is. It is the opportunity for everyone to be on the record and to finally be counted.

I know that, particularly in Western Australia—and probably around the rest of the country as well—we have seen a number of picket lines put up outside Labor senators' and members' offices to talk about fair indexation. Particularly, just days after Vietnam Veterans Day, it is a time—as I said before, 57,000 veterans and family members—when everyone is extremely focused on this matter. We have very clearly made the commitment. The leader, Tony Abbott, has made the pledge. The team stands absolutely behind Tony—which is something we at least can say in this House: that we stand behind our leader—and it does provide us with that opportunity now to be counted.

So I call upon the Independents, when they come back to the chamber, to remember who they stand for and whether they wish to just continue in lock-step with the government or whether they want to be counted on the side of veterans. It will be an opportunity where the veteran community will get a very clear and salient message about who is on whose side—and at this point it is not looking good for the government. But it does provide the opportunity for the government, in the hours ahead of this debate, to redeem themselves and come back and do the right thing. So the opportunity to do the right thing is upon us. It does not need to wait for the next election. I hope it does not have to wait for next election. But, in any case, we are about to vote for the right thing, and it is just a shame that those on the other side in the Labor Party will not be.