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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3388

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (11:49): I rise to speak on the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Military Compensation Review and Other Measures) Bill 2013. This bill is a further step in implementing the recommendations of the Campbell review of military compensation agreements. It has taken two terms of this Labor government to conclude. That review was commissioned to investigate compensation arrangements under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004. The last coalition government tabled the legislation as a measure to improve previous legislation that covered military compensation—namely, the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, the VEA; and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. The then coalition government consulted extensively about the legislation, which was tabled in parliament in 2003. At the time of its introduction, former veterans' affairs minister Danna Vale said that the new bill combined the very elements of the older Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. The new legislation placed a heavy focus on rehabilitation, encouraging those able to do so to re-enter the workforce following acceptance of conditions under the legislation.

The most recent review process began in 2008 and has been very slow. In February 2011, the government was handed the outcome but did not respond formally until the May 2012 budget. I understand that the total package of amendments is worth over $39 million over the forward estimates, with a net cost to the Commonwealth of $17.4 million. This bill contains 16 schedules, 13 of which deal directly with the 13 recommendations of the review that require legislative amendment.

I have spoken several times before in this House on many issues that affect the veteran community. Although today's bill comprises mainly minor amendments, it is worthy of our consideration. I note that this particular bill was only introduced on 20 March 2013 and the coalition initiated a Senate inquiry to ensure that the veteran and ex-service community and the wider community had an opportunity to comment on the legislation.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the many constituents in my electorate who work tirelessly with ex-service organisations to get a better deal for veterans. This has been an ongoing issue for the veteran community across several ministers. For more than 12 years, Roderic Thompson in my electorate has held voluntary positions within both the RSL and the Veterans Support and Advocacy Service Australia. He has been a level 4 practicing advocate and has held the national executive position of National Entitlements Officer for the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association.

One important measure is the adoption of recommendation 25.1 of the Campbell review regarding the extension of non-liability mental health care treatment to veterans and ex-service people, which will not be available until 1 July next year. In relation to today's bill, I know that Rod continues to have concerns about how we treat veterans who may fall under different versions of veterans compensation legislation—for example, whether a service man or service woman falls under MEA, SRCA or MRCA. This relates to recommendation 25.1 regarding the consideration of providing non-liability health cover under MRCA for certain psychiatric conditions to all former members of the ADF and part-time reservists.

Today I want to reaffirm my commitment and that of the coalition to fair indexation. The Leader of the Opposition first announced our commitment to fair indexation on 27 July 2010, more than two years ago and prior to the last election. Since then, the coalition in the Senate has introduced legislation so that we could finally and effectively deal with this issue. That was on 18 November 2010. On 16 June 2011, in what can only be called a day of disgrace for the Senate, the Labor Party and the Greens combined to vote down the coalition's fair indexation legislation. On that day, the Australian Labor Party and the Greens demonstrated that they do not care about the lives of military superannuants and their families.

Since then, the coalition has maintained its strong commitment to fair indexation. Last year, I signed the coalition's pledge to deliver fair indexation. This pledge has also been signed by the Leader of the Opposition on two occasions, the shadow minister for veterans affairs and many other members of the coalition, including my colleagues here today. That pledge says: 'The coalition will ensure DFRB and DFRDB military superannuation pensions are indexed in the same way as age and service pensions. All DFRB and DFRDB superannuants aged 55 and over will benefit.' This a firm coalition commitment and will occur in the first term of any incoming coalition government. The coalition will support the passage of this legislation through the House of Representatives. It will then go to the Senate and be further considered at the end of June. The coalition does not seek to hold up the passage of this legislation because it provides benefits to veterans, ex-service people and their families. I therefore commend the legislation.