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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 6469


Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (17:44): I rise to speak on the Veterans' Entitlements Amendment Bill 2011. This bill gives effect to a number of veterans' affairs 2011 budget measures: firstly, it will create a prisoner-of-war recognition supplement, providing a $500 fortnightly payment to former Australian prisoners of war; secondly, it will clarify and affirm the original intention of the compensation-offsetting policy in respect of pensions payable under parts 2 and 4 of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986; and, thirdly, schedule 3 rationalises temporary incapacity allowances for veterans.

Reviewing the measures in more detail, specifically schedule 1, the prisoner-of-war recognition supplement, under this measure from 20 September this year former Australian prisoners of war will receive a $500 payment each fortnight from the Australian government. This payment will be made to former military personnel and civilians alike who were interned as prisoners of war during either World War II or the Korean War. These supplement payments will not be taxable and will not affect a former prisoner of war's present access to income support via the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 and the Social Security Act, or compensation payments under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986.

There are over 900 Australians known to the Department of Veterans' Affairs as ex-prisoners of war. All of them will automatically receive the payment from 6 October.

The coalition has a strong record of providing assistance to Australia's ex-prisoners of war. In 2001, all former Japanese POWs received a $25,000 tax-free ex gratia payment from the Australian government. In 2003, former Korean POWs received similar payments, as did former German and Italian POWs in 2007.

This additional supplement payment is welcomed by the 900 Australian ex-POWs and their families who are eligible. As I indicated earlier, schedule 2 of this bill seeks to clarify the operation of compensation provisions under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. Compensation offsetting is a longstanding principle under Australia's repatriation system. The fundamental principle to this system is that payments of compensation are for incapacity. The coalition believes that the changes proposed by this schedule should be investigated by a Senate committee. We will seek to refer the bill so that the ex-service community will have the opportunity to have a say and provide input into the proposed changes.

Finally, schedule 3 of the bill rationalises the manner in which incapacity payments are to be paid in accordance with the act.

The changes provided by this bill remove the temporary incapacity allowance. In place of receiving this payment, a veteran will be entitled to seek access to the loss-of-earnings allowance or LOE, an allowance paid where the veteran accrues an actual loss of earnings as a result of hospitalisation or treatment of accepted disabilities or illnesses. The coalition is not opposed to this rationalisation and calls on the government to ensure the changes are appropriately and effectively communicated to the veterans and ex-service community.

A further issue I address, relevant to this bill, is that of the Anzac centenary. Unfortunately, no money was provided in the budget for the commemoration of the Anzac centenary, a point I find deeply disappointing. So I ask: when will this government make a firm financial commitment to the Anzac centenary in 2015? The significance of this centenary cannot be understated. Communities looking forward and beginning to plan for this most important national commemorative event require certainty in terms of funding and the level of federal support.

I have on a number of occasions this year in the House mentioned the commemorative services held to mark the 69th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin during World War II. The bombings are a very significant event in the history of Darwin, the Northern Territory and Australia. Commemoration of this event has enormous significance for those who were present in Darwin during the air raids. Furthermore, the significance of this commemoration retains its importance to today's Territorians and to past and present personnel of the Australian Defence Force.

Planning is well underway for next year's 70th anniversary of the bombing-of-Darwin commemorations. Earlier this year, Senator Crossin called for the bombing of Darwin to be marked by a public holiday. I understand the sentiment; however, I am not here advocating for a public holiday; I am here asking that the government appropriately acknowledge this event as one of national significance and that some funding be provided for commemoration of this important historical event.

While the coalition welcomes the government's belated funding increase to the Australian War Memorial, the coalition remains concerned that no funding to redevelop the World War I galleries has been identified. The coalition has committed funds towards this work to facilitate its completion ahead of the 2015 Anzac centenary commemorations. It is very disappointing that the Gillard Labor government acted to increase the Australian War Memorial funding only after significant pressure from the community and from the coalition.

I have been contacted by the president of my local branch of the National Servicemen's Association of Australia, Mr Ivan Walsh, who wrote to the Department of Veterans' Affairs over seven months ago requesting permission to erect a permanent flagpole at the Adelaide River War Cemetery. It is extremely disappointing that these men who served our country are yet to receive a response from the department regarding a simple request for permission to erect a flagpole as a permanent feature for ongoing commemorative services at the Adelaide River War Cemetery. I seek leave to table the letter.

Leave granted.

Mrs GRIGGS: I ask if the minister could please look into this issue, as the Adelaide River War Cemetery is a very significant commemorative area and it is also in his electorate. As the years have gone by, there seems to be more focus on Adelaide River War Cemetery for commemorative events. They are asking permission to have the flagpole installed before the national Remembrance Day in November. I would really appreciate it if the minister could investigate this and provide an answer to the committee. Another matter of disapp­ointment is that the Gillard Labor government will cut $8 million from grassroots veterans advocacy funding over the forward estimates. I know that a review of the advocacy funding, released 12 months ago, did not recommend a cut in funding, which makes this recent announcement even harder to understand. Veterans services provided by volunteers from within our local community, particularly services to those new veterans returning from recent conflicts and their families, will definitely be impacted. My electorate represents Defence Force constituents who have served overseas, are still serving overseas or are due to be deployed. From the perspective of the electorate of Solomon, the issues relevant to veterans are of significant concern. This government must ensure that it looks after our defence personnel both during and after their service to this wonderful country of ours. The ex-servicemen community had no warning that cuts to advocacy funding were likely or about the impact of having to compete for a smaller funding pool. It is not good enough. This cut could also jeopardise the provision of assistance to younger veterans and their families, who may seek advice from volunteer veteran pension and welfare officers about claims for compensation. As I mentioned earlier this year in this place, the coalition remains the only party in the parliament committed to military superannuation reform.

I take this opportunity to touch on Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits and DFRB fair indexation. The Labor Party and the Greens stand condemned for their failure to support the coalition's bill to provide fair indexation to DFRDB and DFRB superannuants. This is simply not good enough. The coalition believes the current indexation arrangements are unfair. The opposition of the Labor-Greens alliance means that the only way to deliver these reforms is through the election of a coalition government. I reaffirm comments made earlier by my colleagues in this place that the coalition is committed to Australian veterans.