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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4618

Mr SIMPKINS (6:22 PM) —In the many years before I came to this place, I served for 15 as an officer in the Army and, before that, for the better part of two years within the Australian Federal Police. So I felt this was a good opportunity today to come here and speak on the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (International Agreements and Other Measures) Bill 2008. I do think that my background is unique in this place and, because this bill covers the circumstances of defence veterans and former members of the AFP and what we used to call the COMPOL, or Commonwealth Police, I felt this was a good opportunity.

Like the last couple of speakers, during this week I did a bit of thinking about this bill and looked forward to the debate, both sides of which looked like they were going to add a great deal of value. But in sitting here and listening I have become greatly concerned about some of the changes, which we have found out about through various means, that are delaying access to pensions by partners of veterans for 8½ years. That part of this bill only surfaced through the release of a document that we managed to come in contact with.

Mr Griffin —That’s not part of the bill, mate. You’re in the wrong bill.

Mr SIMPKINS —Okay. I wonder what the Partners of Veterans Association in Western Australia would say about these changes—whether they are in this bill or in another one. They should certainly be concerned about that. In Western Australia we have a very strong Partners of Veterans Association, and a lot of people have done great work in setting that up. Recently I attended the opening of the new drop-in and resource centre. For their work, I congratulate: the patron, Mrs Judith Parker AM; the president, Sandra Cross; the vice-presidents, Gayle Yates, Judy Firth and Lyn Boreham; the secretary, Kerryn McDonnell; and the treasurer, Sally Warner. I look forward to returning to Perth on Friday and taking the opportunity to consult with them on matters that they should be aware of, if they are not currently.

Of concern is the plan of the government to downwardly pro rata the compensation payments to injured reservists. In Perth we have 13 Brigade, a reservist brigade. In amongst that brigade, as I would hope those present who would want to talk about these matters would know, there is the 16 Battalion and the 11/28 Battalion—two fine reserve battalions with great histories from the wars that Australia has participated in.

Due to the high tempo that the Australian Defence Force is currently operating under while doing their great work around the world, the Defence Force has relied a lot more in recent times on the efforts of the reservists. There are many reservists who have gone overseas and served this country in a variety of roles, whether it is in combat or ready for combat, and, obviously, there are plenty of police that have also gone overseas for law enforcement. I am greatly concerned that the plans to undertake a pro rata payment of compensation to reservists really undervalues the great work these men and women do. Again, I look forward to returning to Perth, where I can consult with some of the service organisations and some of these units to see how they feel about these changes.

Within the electorate of Cowan there are a number of organisations that undertake great advocacy work. Again, I look forward to consulting with these organisations about some of these matters. In the suburb of Kingsley we are fortunate enough to host the North Perth branch of the Naval Association of Australia. The president of that sub-branch is Jack La Cras. He is also supported by the secretary, Doug Valeriani, who has done some great work with the Naval Association. Doug Valeriani also does some work for the Wanneroo war memorial. He has undertaken to raise and lower the Australian flag and the other flags at that war memorial every day, and he does a great job.

Also within the electorate of Cowan is the Ballajura sub-branch of the RSL, which is ably run by President, Roy Daniels, and his secretary, Scottie Alcorn. They have done some excellent work there. They work well with the local school—Ballajura Community College—and its principal, Dr Steffan Silcox. Ballajura is a great community that was due to receive a large funding grant from the previous government under Regional Partnerships—$125,000 was granted to the City of Swan to help build a war memorial and peace park. Although that project has not been maligned by the government, I can assure them that there is nothing wrong there and it had great support.

Another fine organisation is the Wanneroo-Joondalup sub-branch of the RSL, of which Ron Privilege is the president. Apart from the advocacy services that they undertake for veterans, they run the great dawn service at Joondalup war memorial and the district commemoration service at Wanneroo war memorial later that morning. That sub-branch does great work.

I undertook to be fairly quick tonight. I would like to reiterate some of the points that previous speakers have made. It should be abundantly clear to those on the other side that veterans do not see their pension or payments as welfare support. I received a number of very agitated phone calls in recent weeks about veterans having to line up with welfare recipients in Centrelink offices. Veterans very much appreciate their direct involvement with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. I would like to see that close relationship, that direct relationship with DVA, continue, although with 196 fewer staff within DVA I worry about the services that veterans will be provided with. It is important that we do not have veterans standing in line at Centrelink offices. It is important that these pensions and other forms of payments for veterans are not classified as welfare support, because the work these people have done for their nation is not deserving of that characterisation. We owe them a debt of service. We should ensure that they are particularly well looked after and that we do not have petty little changes—mean changes that will damage their entitlements due to them because of the work they have done and the sacrifices they and their families have made throughout the history of this country.