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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9311

Ms PRICE (Durack) (17:23): I am pleased to speak on the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill, which is important within my very large electorate of Durack and throughout our nation, where men and women from communities small, large and far-flung have served the citizens of Australia as well the citizens of the world in operational theatres of war, in peacekeeping missions and in peacetime defence service. Today I acknowledge the 100-year anniversary of World War I, all Australians who served in that war and all other wars, and peacetime defence services.

The legislation before us will benefit members and former members of the Australian Defence Force and relates to transitional permanent impairment compensation. The compensation payable under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act is assessed taking account of conditions accepted under the Veterans' Entitlements Act and/or the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act to ensure that any compensation paid is assessed on a whole-of-person basis. This compensation is referred to as transitional permanent impairment compensation.

The bill will enable the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission to retrospectively apply new methodology that will maintain or increase transitional permanent impairment compensation payable to persons with a condition accepted under the Veterans' Entitlements Act and/or the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, where permanent impairment compensation resulted from a review by the Veterans' Review Board or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or from consideration by the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission.

The amendments in this bill are an example of the ongoing fine tuning and continuous improvement that is necessary to ensure that the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act continues to serve the needs of those who serve. Importantly, the amendments will result in beneficial or neutral outcomes only. No person will be disadvantaged by the retrospective application of a new methodology to calculate compensation. Where the application of the new methodology would result in a lower amount of permanent impairment compensation, the existing amount of permanent impairment compensation will continue to apply until a new determination results in a change in the amount of compensation payable.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the RSL in supporting those injured while serving their country. The Returned and Services League of Australia, more commonly known as the RSL, evolved as a direct result of the camaraderie, concern and mateship shown by the diggers for the welfare of their mates during and after the First World War. In June 1916, the Conference of Returned Soldiers Association recommended the formation of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, and in September 1916 the first RSSILA Congress was formed, with delegates from Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria attending. New South Wales was admitted to the league in 1917, followed by WA in 1918. And 1927 saw the formation of the ACT branch. After several name changes over the years, September 1990 saw the league adopt the name the Returned and Services League of Australia Limited, and the ideals and objectives which categorised the initiation of the first state associations in 1916 were correlated and finally adopted as the aims and objectives of the league.

The RSL has the motto 'The price of liberty is eternal vigilance'. It aims to uphold loyalty to the nation and its sovereign and to uphold the Westminster system of government and the Constitution of the nation. The RSL has an expectation that the Australian government will provide compensation, income support, where necessary, medical treatment and rehabilitation to all members and ex-members of the Australian Defence Force whose service has been the cause of disablement. The RSL maintains that income support should be provided on the basis of age to qualified veterans, regardless of disablement. Bearing in mind the nature of military service, the RSL seeks for the government to maintain the present policy of ensuring that veterans' benefits are more generous than those granted to civilian employees. I think that all of us in this House would agree with that.

The RSL and the service women and men of Durack continue to be extremely active and innovative, providing invaluable services to the community. Geraldton, in the seat of Durack, is the largest centre. It is a port city, around 400 kilometres north of Perth. According to a local Geraldton web-based media outlet called Everything Geraldton, a Geraldton ex-servicemen is among the first group of WA military motorcycle riders to complete veterans' welfare counselling training. After completing the course conducted by Legacy and funded by the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the counsellors will assist veterans with basic welfare needs.

Greg 'Doc' Smith, a veteran of East Timor in 2001, said that during a casual chat with the Geraldton RSL he discovered that they did not have a welfare officer. He had recently moved from Perth to Geraldton and transferred to the local RSL. He mentioned that he was doing the course and they secured his services straight away. His role is to provide initial support for veterans who need help with welfare issues. That mostly involves putting them in touch with the right service that can assist them, whether it is medical, financial or perhaps emotional.

Those completing the veterans' welfare counselling training are in the community to provide assistance to veterans, which is a big step to ensuring their welfare. The club's new counsellors will be spread around Western Australia, with one in Kununurra in the Kimberley, which is also in the electorate of Durack.

I commend those who have completed and those who are completing the veterans' welfare counselling training. I believe the counselling services provided will be an important tool in the lives of many veterans.

When next in Geraldton, you will be able to visit the 11th Battalion AIF and the recreation of a Gallipoli trench. The 11th Battalion was the first unit in Western Australia to be trained at Helena Vale camp, and, on 25 April 1915, was the first battalion to hit Anzac Cove. The 11th Battalion AIF is a living and commemorative group that is researching and representing Western Australia's first battalion and, as they claim, finest battalion. Quoting from their web site:

The group is also embarking on a major project, recreating a living Gallipoli Trench complete with sound systems, actors and all the paraphernalia of war to make the experience for visitors as real as possible. Planned to be completed in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great War and Australia's almost legendary entry into it on 25th April 1915, the trench will be an authentic replica of a captured Turkish trench as taken by the 11th on the night of 31st July 1915 and named for the commander who led the attack, Capt R. L. Leane.

As described by the group, it was what the Anzacs called a 'please shoot me' stunt:

On the night of 31st July/1st August 1915 200 men of the 11th Battalion waited for a series of explosions from mines laid by the engineers to detonate … before charging over the dark void to engage in brutal hand to hand combat. In a tit for tat engagement of bombs and bayonets, blinded by dust and choked by incendiaries, weary and suffering from dysentery and food shortages, the men of the 11th finally secured the trench, soon christened Leane's Trench after the commander of the attack, Capt R L Leane, and were relieved at 1400hrs by the 12th.

24 hours later the 11th were back in the front line and on 6th August were again engaged in extremely heavy fighting when the Turks launched a counter attack. The 11th held on, suffering 154 casualties in the process. And there they remained in continual battle with a tenacious Turkish army until 16 November 1915 when they disembarked for Mudros, never to return.

Leane's Trench was an obvious choice for recreation. It is intrinsically linked to the 11th Battalion and therefore Western Australia. When completed, it will be 120 metres long and two metres deep, filled with the equipment and the noise of the battle, introducing the visitor to a world that only their grandfathers and great-grandfathers knew.

They are seeking donations and funding to complete this project, and are always looking for volunteers to help to man the trench once it is completed. Well done to members Stuart Adamson, Tim Rust, Chris Cox and the rest of the team for progress so far on this very exciting and worthwhile project.

In closing, and having provided examples to highlight the exemplary qualities of our veterans, I reiterate my support for the bill, which will enable the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission to retrospectively apply new methodology that will maintain or increase transitional permanent impairment compensation payable for person with a condition accepted under the Veterans' Entitlements Act or the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. I commend the bill to the House.