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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6453

Mr GRIFFIN (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) (5:10 PM) —Being conscious of the time, let me briefly address the pharmaceuticals issue. This, again, is a commitment I made again in opposition as the shadow minister. It was always a commitment to be fulfilled later in the first term because there are complex issues around the question of how one actually deals with these issues. The commitment relates to addressing the costs of pharmaceuticals for war-caused or service-caused disabilities, and that relates particularly to the impacts of service.

On the question of how it will be done, the shadow minister is correct: there has been some money allocated in the budget. There is a little initial work going on within the department around the parameters of how these matters can be considered. There will need to be consultation in the wider ex-service community, as well as consultation within government with organisations like the Department of Health and Ageing, and Medicare. The intention is to work that through in the second half of this calendar year, when the funding comes into effect.

How long will it take? That is an interesting question. I do not think it will take an exorbitantly long period of time. I would certainly hope to be in a situation whereby, early next year, we have some idea of where we are up to with respect to that. I have been encouraging ex-service organisations to get their thinking caps on about how we might try and address these sorts of issues, and I am committed to working these issues through, in terms of that particular commitment.

In the mental health area, I wish to make a couple of points. The issue of the $9.5 million, and the requirement thereof, basically was—and this is not unusual—a situation where recommendations came from that review. The department considered those recommendations and what they meant with respect to what needed to be done to address them from an administrative and policy point of view. I am working off departmental advice with respect to what is required. The core of the funding, though, will go to case workers and social workers, to ensure we have people to deal with complex cases in a holistic manner—in some circumstances people have very difficult problems to deal with. I am happy to provide the shadow minister with further details by letter or by briefing.

I am advised that the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health (ACPMH) study—which was mentioned around the question of services provided by the department—is due to commence in the next few weeks. We do not have a definite time line on it, in terms of its completion, but we would expect to have a result probably later this year or early next year. Certainly, I have always maintained the view that we should be as open as we can with respect to these sorts of issues.

I would like to quickly pick up on a couple of other things, as well, while I have the attention of the House. The shadow minister made a couple of comments in relation to a bill which has just gone through the House, I think. She questioned moves surrounding veterans payments, as well as a continuing move to align veterans with the Social Security Act. This is a line which the opposition has run for some time; the previous shadow minister ran it as well. The problem we have, though, is that almost every single example that they have raised has actually been either quoting from wordings that we have used—which are exactly the same as the words used by the previous government in the context of bills that they have passed to amend legislation—or effectively endorsing decisions that they held over the entire time they were in office.

For example, let us look at the issue of non-veterans under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act and their pension age increasing in the same manner as the qualifying age for the age pension. This is because they are not service-pension qualified; they do not qualify for the service pension at the earlier age. They are in a situation—as it has been all along—where they are, in fact, veterans who get the age pension. They are not veterans in the context of the act; therefore, they were already accessing payments under the Social Security Act.

The issue of TPIs was also raised by the shadow minister in these terms:

It would seem, however, that there are no increases, no provisions made, for Australia’s TPI pensioners.

I want to get this on the record: somewhere in the region of just over 80 per cent of TPIs actually receive income support payments under the current system as part of their entitlements, being a service pension of various types. They receive all the advantages of the (Extension of time granted) government’s reforms as people in the general community. I note that the shadow minister mentioned further into her speech:

Last year the coalition tried to secure an increase for pensioners but this was bitterly opposed by the Rudd Labor government.

That increase for pensioners explicitly excluded TPIs—it explicitly excluded people on disability pensions under the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The very people that she speaks about in her speech were in fact excluded by the proposed legislation that her party brought forward. In fact, the initial commitment that they made, as some will recall, actually even excluded veterans and service pensioners. It was only their second option that included those points. So, frankly, I think it is a bit rich to call upon the government to take action around these issues when the position of the coalition was in fact to ignore them as well. The shadow minister also said:

When the coalition was in government we closed the gap by increasing all veterans’ affairs disability pensions and introduced indexation for payments to veterans with reference to both the consumer price index and the male total average weekly earnings.

You did after 10 years, after being the ones who created the break in the nexus between the rate in the first place and only after the opposition had a policy commitment to do that action when in government. In fact, when you talk to the TPI Association and other ESOs they will make it very clear that this was an issue, an initiative, that took a long time coming under the previous government and was in fact a policy catch-up as a result of the actions of the then opposition.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DS Vale)—The time allotted for this consideration has expired. I will put the question that the proposed expenditure for the Defence portfolio be agreed to.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Resources, Energy and Tourism Portfolio

Proposed expenditure, $1,252,649,000