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Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Page: 14254


Mr CHESTER (GippslandMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Personnel, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Deputy Leader of the House) (17:37): In summing up, I'd like to thank all members who've contributed to the debate on these bills and to acknowledge the continued tradition of bipartisan support for veterans' issues demonstrated by both the opposition and the crossbench. These bills will fast-track access to medical treatment to eligible members of the Australian surgical and medical teams who worked in South Vietnam from October 1964 to December 1972 under the Commonwealth government's Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, or SEATO, aid program. Members of the Australian surgical and medical teams included about 210 nurses and 240 doctors and a small number of administrative, technical and support personnel.

During the Vietnam War, the Australian surgical and medical teams worked under the Commonwealth government's SEATO aid program to provide medical aid, training and treatment to local Vietnamese people in South Vietnam. These people played a vital role during the conflict, providing much-needed medical assistance and training, and treating thousands of Vietnamese civilian casualties. They provided this support at a time when Vietnamese medical facilities and capability had dramatically diminished as a result of the war.

The bills recognise the valuable contribution of these teams engaged by the Australian government. While not engaged in combat, members of these teams were exposed to hazards and dangers similar to those experienced by veterans. The Department of Veterans' Affairs estimates that there are approximately 200 surviving members of these Australian surgical and medical teams, who, under these bills, will benefit from immediate access to medical treatment from 1 July 2019.

The passage of these bills through parliament would expand the level of medical assistance available to these team members to a DVA gold card, extending medical treatment to any injury or disease. This includes injuries, illnesses or diseases unrelated to their work performed in South Vietnam. These bills also provide for a pharmaceutical supplement and payment for travel costs related to receiving medical treatment. The bills do not provide compensation, as this is already available for these men and women and other civilians through Comcare.

The Treatment Benefits (Special Access) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2019 is equally as important as the Treatment Benefits (Special Access) Bill 2019 to ensure we can make the necessary amendments and transitional provisions to other legislation required to be able to implement this measure.

Our government has listened and brought this measure forward to ensure that Australian surgical and medical team members can access the health care that they need from 1 July 2019.

I would like to acknowledge the contributions of members to the debate on these bills, including the shadow minister for veterans' affairs, Amanda Rishworth, who recounted the personal stories, as others have, of nurses, including Janet Glasson and Dot Angell, and confirmed Labor's commitment to pass these bills through parliament. I'd also like to thank the member for Boothby, Nicolle Flint, who's had a very keen interest in this measure. She spoke passionately today about this issue, and she's been an outstanding advocate on the topic on behalf of the SEATO medical teams. I also thank the member for Bennelong, the member for Moreton, the member for Batman and the member for Murray. I'd also like to acknowledge the support of the Treasurer, who, while he didn't speak on the bills, has been outstanding in his advocacy on behalf of the SEATO teams and whose ongoing interest in and contribution to Veterans' Affairs issues should be recognised in this place. I commend these bills.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.