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Thursday, 16 June 2011
Page: 6350

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (12:46): The Veterans' Entitlements Amendment Bill 2011, which we have before us today, is legislation that I am sure every member of this parliament would support. We all support our veterans and we all acknowledge the enormous contribution they have made to our country.

In Shortland electorate we have a very large and strong veterans community. Its strength is epitomised by the fact that they all provide support for each other. There was camaraderie when they fought together in the wars and that camaraderie still exists today. As our veterans get older we still need to recognise the issues that are important to them.

The bill that we have before us today will have effect in a number of ways. The Veterans' Affairs 2011 budget measures will create a prisoners of war recognition supplement, clarify the original intention of the compensation-offsetting policy in relation to disability pension and rationalise temporary incapacity allowance and loss of earning allowance. This legislation will impact on Australian prisoners of war from the Second World War and Korea, whose numbers are in excess of 30,000. Over 22,000 Australians became prisoners of war of the Japanese in South-East Asia and, during the Korean War, 30 servicemen were interned by North Korean forces.

As part of the 2011-12 budget, the government announced that a POWR supplement of $500 will be made fortnightly to surviving former Australian prisoners of war. (Quorum formed)

Before my contribution was interrupted I was expressing my respect for the veterans not only in Shortland electorate but throughout Australia. I was acknowledging the enormous contribution that they have made to our nation. For the benefit of the House I would particularly like to acknowledge the ex-service community and the subbranches within Shortland electorate. There is the Belmont subbranch and the Pelican subbranch, which is a very strong subbranch with a large number of members. Many of them are World War II and Korean War veterans. There is the Swansea subbranch, which is also a very strong subbranch, a community with strong camaraderie where the ex-servicemen work together, stay together and maintain that common bond.

The Doyalson-Wyee subbranch is an enormous subbranch. That is on the Central Coast. Those members are very supportive of each other. It was only two weekends ago that they had the 54th anniversary of their subbranch, which was a fantastic event where all the ex-service community gathered. They were joined by other ex-service communities. There is also Catherine Hill Bay, which is just a tiny little hamlet but still has its own subbranch that operates out of the surf-lifesaving and bowling club in the area. Then there is the Toukley subbranch, which is outside Shortland electorate, but many residents of the Shortland electorate are members of that subbranch. That is one of the truly strong subbranches on the Central Coast. I must not forget the Adamstown subbranch, which is just outside Shortland electorate, in the electorate of the member for Newcastle. Many of the members there live in Shortland electorate and it provides support to the veterans of our community in Shortland. I really want to put on the record very strongly my support for those veterans and for the work that they do.

In relation to prisoners of war, I remember an occasion when I visited Toukley subbranch. When Toukley was in Shortland electorate, I used to visit there once a month and meet with people. They would come and tell me if they had an issue. On this particular day, an ex-serviceman who had been a prisoner of war came to talk to me about a problem he had. At the conclusion of that conversation he spent some time telling me about his experience as a prisoner of war. There were some fun things that they did to while away the hours, but there were some pretty horrendous things that happened. He told me that he still wakes at night in a cold sweat because he can remember what it was like. He broke down and cried, and this was many, many years after he had been a prisoner of war in Germany.

When you hear stories such as this and the stories that have been told by other members in parliament today, you can understand why the government has decided to implement the POWR supplement. It will be tax-free, exempt income for the purposes of the veterans entitlements and social security income test and will be indexed annually in line with the CPI. That will benefit those veterans who are entitled to it. Aged-care fees will not be affected by the POWR supplement, and that is an important aspect of this legislation. The supplement will apply to all former Australian prisoners of war of Japan and Europe from the Second World War, including civilian prisoners of war, and former POWs from the Korean War.

I recently attended a book launch in the Hunter for a book about the role that nurses have played in conflicts. It dealt with nurses from the Hunter. Reading about the experiences of many of those nurses and other nurses working overseas, tending to soldiers right there at the battlefront and being interned as prisoners of war, makes you realise that our involvement in conflict has many layers. It is really important that legislation that we put before the parliament recognises the fact that not only our service men and women were prisoners of war; there were many civilians. I find that a very important aspect of this legislation.

Prisoners of war known to the Department of Veterans' Affairs will be paid from 20 September. The first payment will be made on 6 October. This will only be made to prisoners of war, not to war widows or widowers, because they already have access to the ex-gratia payment. In addition to benefits available to other veterans, there have been many benefits provided to prisoners of war. They were recognised by the Howard government and have been recognised by this government. These benefits include the ex gratia payment of $25,000, the DVA payment of residential aged-care fees in both low- and high-care facilities, the DVA payment of fees for community aged-care packages which provide care similar to low-care residential facilities in a veterans' home, and the Extended Aged Care at Home and Extended Aged Care at Home Dementia packages, the automatic gold card and funeral benefits and the automatic granting of war widow pensions to the partner upon the death of a prisoner of war. All of these are very important aspects of what the government provides to prisoners of war. We recognise the fact that prisoners of war made an even greater contribution than some other people who were involved in war. To be interned in a foreign country in the worst kind of conditions adds another dimension to their service.

This legislation also amends the compensation offsetting provisions in the Veterans' Entitlements Act. The purpose of these proposed amendments is to clarify and affirm existing practices. No veteran payment is affected by them. We often hear the suggestion that legislation is not clear, and wherever there is uncertainty the government should clear it up. I think these amendments are important because they do give clarity. The other aspect of the amendments is the rationalisation of the temporary incapacity allowance, which improves the targeting of the allowance for veterans and members who lose wages during a period of short incapacity. The legislation before us is worthy of support. I know that members on both sides of the House will join together and support the legislation.