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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2387

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (12:33): I rise to support the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 1) Bill 2018 and give my wholehearted support for the bill's extension of additional support services for veterans and their families and the establishment of the interim income support veteran payment. I'd like to give particular mention to schedule 8 of the bill. At the time of passage of the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2017 I was unable to speak, and therefore would welcome the opportunity to set down some of my words of support on the parliamentary record.

Former Senator Xenophon has long campaigned for the civilian and veteran victims of the Maralinga, Montebello and Emu Field nuclear tests, as well as for those veterans who served in the post-World War II occupation forces in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Schedule 8 of the bill extends the provisions which provide a Department of Veterans' Affairs gold card to those victims, obtained in negotiations with the government as a direct result of the tireless advocacy of former senators Xenophon and Skye Kakoschke-Moore, who was a tremendous supporter of defence personnel and veterans. Both of them were from the Nick Xenophon Team. These veterans and civilians have long suffered and have had very long struggles to convince the Department of Veterans' Affairs that their claims for redress and medical support were of merit.

Finally the burden of proof has been reversed for these veterans, who have struggled for so long against this in order to pay their medical bills. These changes are long overdue. Of the approximately 17,000 people affected by the British nuclear tests in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, approximately 1,100 survivors remain. Mr Yami Lester, a South Australian Aboriginal man, an elder, was blinded by the atomic fallout from a test site. That was reported on National Indigenous Television, or NITV. He said this has come 60 years too late:

Most of our people have passed away. They were young ones then, now they're older ones now, a few of them still living now today.

Sadly, Mr Lester died before the original Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill was passed. This is not ungratefulness; this is reality. I believe that successive Australian governments have utterly failed these victims of exposure to nuclear radiation. We cannot right this wrong. However, we can publicly recognise that the wrong took place, we can acknowledge Australia's collective failure and we can do what we can to provide meaningful relief to those who are still alive.

There is one additional matter that I would like to raise with the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and the government. I have Australian citizens in my electorate who have been Australian citizens for many decades and who served with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. However, they were Commonwealth citizens at the time of their service—for example, they were British citizens. I would urge the minister to carefully consider extending the operation of this bill to those few, those very few, allied soldiers who served in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force and now call Australia home.

In conclusion, I would like to personally thank former senator Nick Xenophon for not giving up the fight for the much-deserving civilians and veterans who were exposed to nuclear radiation. A Department of Veterans' Affairs gold card makes a lasting and meaningful difference to those remaining survivors.

Finally, I would like to say a few wonderful words about my RSLs. My RSLs don't have pokies. They are safe, welcoming places for veterans and their families, and they have warmly welcomed me into their places. They never forget the birthday of a member and they never forget a member that they've lost. They are community venues, places of mateship and places of warmth and friendship. They have local museums and they host many events in my community commemorating many fields of war and of course Remembrance Day and Anzac Day. Most importantly, beyond all of the event work that they do and the mateship that they have between themselves, they are connecting with the next generation and making sure that our schoolchildren are aware of the sacrifices of the generations that have gone before them. So I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to the RSLs in my community. You do a wonderful job, and it is my great privilege to support you.

Sitting suspended from 12:39 to 16:02