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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2385

Mr HARTSUYKER (CowperAssistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) (12:25): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important legislation, the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 1) Bill 2018. It is our obligation to look after our veterans who have served us well, and our Defence Forces are very much part of what defines this country. Their deeds over 100 years now have been very much part of what it is to be Australian. The debate today is particularly poignant given that 2018 is the year of the Centenary of Armistice—100 years since the guns fell silent at 11.00 am on the 11th day of the 11th month 1918.

One of the most challenging issues facing our current veterans is certainly one that this bill seeks to address—ongoing mental health. Between 2001 and 2015, the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing figures state that some 325 veterans took their own lives. One suicide is one too many and, unfortunately, we have seen this number rising in recent years. The government is working on this important issue in a range of ways. In 2015, a mobile app was launched, Operation Life, which was developed to specifically assist those with unique challenges and circumstances that military service can present.

This legislation is part of the significant work the government is undertaking to make things better for our veterans and implements a number of specific initiatives announced by the government in October last in response to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee report—The Constant Battle: Suicide by Veterans. The government has provided an additional $31 million to support veterans' mental health as part of its response to the report, which comes on top of $58.6 million that was provided in the last budget for veterans' mental health. The bill also makes a number of other initiatives including simplifying the determination of qualifying service and extending gold card eligibility to Australian Defence Force members who served in Japan at the end of World War II before the establishment of BCOF and it makes a number of minor technical amendments.

Schedule 1 of the bill relates to family support. This measure delivers improved family support to veterans in receipt of incapacity payments and includes key psychological interventions such as greater access to child care and counselling to enable the family unit to maintain its connection to the community, employment and social interaction. Financial advice is also available. Schedule 2 introduces a new income support payment for veterans who have lodged a compensation claim for a mental health condition and are currently incapacitated for work, ensuring that those who are financially vulnerable can receive immediate financial assistance while their compensation claims are being determined.

Schedule 3 relates to the CBC mental health pilot, which will include up to 250 veterans with mild to moderate anxiety or depression and physical health problems. The pilot will be embedded in the existing Department of Veterans' Affairs CBC program, which uses a team based model of care led by a general practitioner and supported by a practice nurse. Schedule 4 relates to compensation for household attendant care services where there is catastrophic injury. This measure will provide a range of household and attendant care services for veterans who have a catastrophic injury or disease and aligns how catastrophic injuries are compensated under the equivalent legislation dealing with public servants.

Schedule 5 relates to qualifying service and this schedule enables the determination of qualifying service to be automated, removing the requirement for a veteran to make an application for determination. The provisions of schedule 6 are technical in nature and relate solely to the administrative arrangements under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988. Schedule 7 also is basically technical in nature.

Schedule 8 relates to the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests and British Commonwealth Occupation Force (Treatment) Act 2006, to extend gold card eligibility to Australian Defence Force members who served in Japan as Australian Defence Force members after the cessation of hostilities and before the formation of BCOF. This is very much a further welcome improvement. It's an important piece of legislation that I think provides important additional assistance to address the issue of veterans' mental health.

I'd like to refer to some of the great work that's done by ex-services organisations in my electorate. They do a great job in ensuring that the memory of the sacrifice and service of our veterans continues. We see our Anzac Day services growing larger and larger every year. I think it is in no small part due to the huge effort by our local ex-services organisations, who do such a great job not only in looking after the interests of veterans but also in ensuring that the memory of the service of veterans is maintained. I'd like to single out two particular ex-servicemen in my contribution today. One is Greg Laird, from RSL Port Macquarie Sub Branch, and the other is Bob Denner, from Dorrigo RSL sub-branch. Both were awarded OAMs in this year's honours list; a very fine tribute to two great men who make a huge contribution to their communities. I think that they were united in saying that they were accepting their awards on the basis of the broader contribution by the ex-services community more generally. I have a range of sub-branches across my electorate: Kempsey Macleay, South West Rocks, Macksville, Taylors Arm, Urunga, Coffs Harbour and Nambucca Heads.

On 18 February I was honoured to be able to attend the National Servicemen's Association Nambucca Valley branch commemoration of National Servicemen's Day at Nambucca Heads, a great service that that branch puts on every year to recognise the particular contribution of our national servicemen, who went where they were asked when they were asked. On the next day, 19 February, I had the opportunity to take Senator Molan on one of his first visits to a regional electorate as an elected senator in this parliament. We got to inspect the military museum at Bowraville, a fantastic local facility run by volunteers. I'd like to commend Blue Manning, Jim Cameron and their great band of volunteers, who do such a great job in the running and the improvement of the Bowraville military museum.

It is a great little military museum. It has a range of exhibits and a very strong focus on the Vietnam War period, given that most of the volunteers involved are, in fact, Vietnam vets. They have a vast range of equipment and memorabilia on show and a fantastic collection of early model military vehicles, from Bren gun carriers to Bofors guns and various blitz trucks to various jeeps, lovingly restored by the volunteers. Jim Cameron in particular is an incredible craftsman and has an incredible ability to do very impressive restorations on vehicles and military equipment. I commend this legislation to the House, but I more greatly commend the huge amount of work that is done by our ex-services organisations to support our veterans and to ensure that the sacrifices of our service personnel are never forgotten.