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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5599


Mr HARTSUYKER (7:30 PM) —This evening I am tabling a petition with over 4,500 signatures supporting my private member’s bill which would extend emergency powers to the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts to relocate species where there is public health risk. This petition was launched because of the existence of thousands of flying foxes around the Maclean High School, the TAFE and the surrounding residential area. After endless bureaucratic buck-passing on this issue, nothing was being done to have the bats relocated. The stench, defecating and noise of these creatures were severely impacting the school community and local residents.

The interests of the bats were clearly being put ahead of the welfare of the people. The bureaucratic inaction was made worse by the refusal of the federal member for Page, Janelle Saffin, to support the removal of the bats. First the member for Page said it was not her problem because the school was not in her electorate. She ignored the fact that half of the school community lives in the electorate of Page. Then the member for Page said she supported coexistence with the bats. And finally she suggested moving the school as a solution—clearly, a ludicrous situation.

The reality was that the voice of the people was not being heard, and that is why I drafted a private member’s bill and launched a petition which focused on empowering the minister to intervene because of a public health risk. Since the first petition was signed, people power has come into play. All of a sudden an application was lodged to remove the bats. Mitigation measures have commenced to reduce the impact. We even had the member for Page backing away from supporting the bats coexisting with the school. Whilst these actions are a step in the right direction, they fall well short of what is required in Maclean. They are tinkering on the edges and we will not see the bats removed from the town any time soon.

The reality is that, whilst some bats have moved on, thousands will return later this year. The school and the residential community will once again be exposed to this health hazard. That is why we must give the minister for the environment the necessary emergency powers when there is a public health risk. That is why the minister for the environment must now acknowledge the importance of this issue and respect the overwhelming view of the community. As I said, some 4,500 people signed the petition and it is worth noting that 60 per cent of these people live outside the electorate I represent. The government must accept the will of the people and act now so that students, teachers and residents do not have to continue to live with this public health risk so close to them.

The second issue I would like to raise in this adjournment debate relates to the indexation of military superannuation and the management of military superannuation. These are very complex issues but they are also matters which every member of the House should be familiar with. The service of those who join our armed forces cannot be overstated and should not be undervalued. I have had meetings with representatives of the local veteran community in the Cowper electorate and I would like to acknowledge Mr Peter Millett and Mr Keith Hendley for their time, commitment and advice on a number of very important issues. Both these gentlemen served in the Australian Army for 25 years and are Vietnam veterans. They are a credit to their community. I have known Mr Millett for many years and I value his honesty, directness and strong advocacy for the veteran community. Whilst we have discussed a range of issues, Peter and Keith have identified two substantial matters.

The first matter relates to indexation of military superannuation pensions. Members will be aware that, whilst the age pension and other welfare pensions are indexed according to male total average weekly earnings, military superannuation pensions are indexed to the CPI. This has meant that, in percentage terms, military superannuation pensions have not increased by the same amount as other pensions. The second issue relates to erosion of retirement benefits through longer life expectancy and, as Peter and Keith have noted, the failure to amend the act relating to the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme to reflect the revised data on demographics. Essentially we are talking about equity here—or the lack of it—for military personnel.

I know these issues have been the topic of debate for some time and I understand there are other issues relating to health care for ex-service men and women. There are different views as to the costs of these changes and the implications that would have for the Rudd government’s existing budget deficit, which already stands at $57 billion. However, I welcome the statement by the shadow minister for defence, science and personnel, the member for Paterson, in which he has assured the veteran community that the coalition remains committed to introducing a fair, equitable and financially responsible military superannuation system and that he will pursue these reforms when in government. We need to do more for ex-military personnel, but it is only through strong economic management that we will be able to deliver. Bringing the nation’s accounts into line and ensuring that we have a budget surplus is an important way of ensuring that we can deliver for our all-important veteran community.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

This petition of concerned citizens draws to the attention of the House of Representatives how the health of local communities is being placed at risk because of the existence of species such as flying foxes. We therefore ask the House of Representatives to support the Private Members Bill proposed by Luke Hartsuyker MP which aims to provide emergency powers to the Federal Minister for the Environment to relocate species which pose a risk to public health.

from 4,598 citizens

Petition received.