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Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Page: 14249

Mr DRUM (MurrayNationals Whip) (17:16): I want to congratulate a couple of people with regard to this legislation that is going through the House today. Firstly I'd like to congratulate Bob Elworthy, who heads up the Vietnam Veterans' Association in Victoria. A few months ago I attended the annual meeting of the Vietnam Veterans' Association's Victorian chapter. They actually held it over the river, in Mulwala, on the border of Yarrawonga-Mulwala. However, the message from the Victorian chapter of the Vietnam Veterans' Association was very, very simple: 'If you can do anything to help us, we want to help our SEATO nurses and doctors. All the other things we can squabble about—our pensions, our crook backs, our bung knees, a few of our members who need a bit of additional help and all of that—but give our SEATO doctors and nurses the same benefits that we enjoy, primarily the gold card access to medical assistance. That's our No. 1 ask.' And I'm sure other states were just as vocal about wanting these benefits for their colleagues, who might not have been signed up to the military of the day but were just as important. They were helping in that conflict in Vietnam in every way, just as much as our people who were part of the Defence Force.

It was only after the conflict was well established that Australia realised that we didn't have the medical expertise that we needed to support our troops in Vietnam. It was only sometime well into the conflict, which started in 1962, that we realised we were going to be short on support. The whole concept of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization enabled the civilian medical teams to arrive, and certainly what they were able to achieve was quite amazing. There's a whole list here, with the legislation, of what looks to be some 30 or more specialists that were over there helping our troops. As I said, many of these health specialists were over there for a long period of time. They saved an enormous number of lives and helped so many of our troops when they were injured. They helped to nurse them back to health. They assisted them in every way. Yet, as it turned out, once they returned back here, whilst they were acknowledged, respected and appreciated, they weren't given the same assistance as our troops were given to get on with their lives.

Having thanked the Victorian chapter of the Vietnam veterans, I now want to give special thanks to the minister here in the chamber, because Minister Chester picked this issue up and ran with it, with genuine fervour, so that we could achieve this in a very short time frame, before the upcoming election. He was very keen to knock over this issue. I also want to thank Minister Chester for what he is doing in relation to the covenant, the lapel pins and making the card available to all of our troops who have served overseas. All of our troops who are proud veterans will now be able to wear a very stylish lapel pin. It's subtle. There is no big-noting about this. It is just a subtle acknowledgement that says, 'Yes, I have served my country; yes, I have served overseas.' It is a great initiative. I think it's going to be really well received. As we know, most of our military troops, our returned servicemen, do not want to talk or brag or even enter into talking about their service too much, but I think most of them really do appreciate the fact that Australians hold them very, very dear. Australians do appreciate their service. We are becoming much more relaxed about acknowledging our servicemen and thanking them for their service.

We have about 200 surviving members who will benefit from this measure. We understand that the conditions which they were working in at the time were appalling. The injuries which they had to deal with would have been significant, yet they were able to work miracles with the work that they did. When they came home, some of them would have suffered exactly the same injuries and illnesses that many of our troops suffered, yet they weren't eligible for the same treatment as our troops. With the Treatment Benefits (Special Access) Bill 2019 and the Treatment Benefits (Special Access) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2019, they will be able to get the treatment that they need.

If you receive a gold card following your service overseas, it entitles you, the holder, to DVA funding for all necessary clinical healthcare needs and for all health conditions, whether they are related to war service or not. This is going to be very much appreciated by these professionals, most of whom, I would imagine, would be well and truly retired. Hopefully, this is now going to help them. Most of them would be in their 70s by now and looking to get some of their ailments treated into the future. Medical consultations and procedures covered by the Medicare Benefit Schedule, medical services and surgical procedures listed on the MBS in public and private hospitals and day surgery facilities, medical specialist services listed on the MBS, as well as medication reviews, will all be covered under the services that are delivered through the gold card.

It is a fantastic story and, again, I just want to acknowledge the advocates who have been pushing for this reform for a number of years. It's great to think they have had their voices heard. For the 200-odd professionals who are now going to be able to receive the medical attention that they need, it must be fantastic for them to know that it wasn't just their own lone voices but also the entire weight of the Vietnam veterans pushing this cause on their behalf.

I want to again acknowledge those advocates who have worked hard for this. I want to acknowledge the minister, who has gone above and beyond, not just for this reform which is going to pay acknowledgement to a special and select group but also for the work he is doing in relation to ensuring that the respect and, I suppose, self-esteem that our returned servicemen would have had privately is now going to be able to be shared by all Australians as we acknowledge our returned servicemen in the way they always should have been.