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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8861

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (17:31): I had the great honour today to join the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and many dignitaries to see the recipient of—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Ronaldson. The time clocks were not set. You now have five minutes.

Senator RONALDSON: Thank you. Today I was fortunate to be at Government House, where our 99th recipient of the Victoria Cross was awarded same by the Governor-General. Corporal Daniel Keighran VC was awarded the nation's highest military honour. I will not go through the citation but I would encourage all honourable senators and indeed all Australians to read the citation about this remarkable young man. The stories that were told today, as is always the case, I suspect, with a citation, did not actually reflect the extraordinary contribution of this young man to the event for which he was awarded the VC, and I suspect words can never accurately cover such deeds of extraordinary heroism. This is a young man to whom this country owes an enormous debt of gratitude. He is the 99th recipient of the Victoria Cross, and the Hall of Valour in the Australian War Memorial will commemorate his fine deeds and commemorate forever his sacrifice for this country.

I would very briefly like to say that there have been some changes at the Australian War Memorial. Major General Steve Gower has retired. Major General Gower suffered a dreadful loss this year, with the loss of his wife, Heather. I am sure I speak for everyone when I say that our thoughts are with him. The new director, who will be known to many in this chamber, will take up his position in December, and that is Brendan Nelson, a former member of the other place.

I also want to talk about several other matters in the time left to me, and I will talk about this a bit later on. The Department of Veterans' Affairs annual report for 2011-12 gave us a stark reminder of the rapid demise of those men who fought for this country during the Second World War. There are only 69,200 combat veterans remaining. Over the last 12 months, 12,000 of these men have passed away, at an average of more than 30 every day. Indeed, that is the changing face in this country in relation to the veterans community. More than half of all DVA clients are aged 80 and over and one-third of DVA clients are women—war widows, in fact. By 2020, DVA projects that the number of VEA beneficiaries will fall from 330,621 this year to 207,300, a decline of more than one-third. By 2020, I suspect that we will be talking about World War II veterans in their hundreds and not in their tens of thousands. By 2020, our war widow population is expected to fall to about half the number today.

However, I think it is important to note--and this is the point of this contribution—that, by 2020, the number of veterans eligible for benefits under the SRCA, the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, and the MRCA, the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, will rise as a result of the last 20 years of increased deployment frequency. As is probably not widely known, there have been more than 60,000 young Australians, young men and women, who have served this nation overseas in the last 20 years—a number which is consistent, remarkably, with those who served in Vietnam. It is a very large number of young men and women who have served this country.

Whilst the government has slashed advocacy funding and support to those best placed to help these men and women, the veterans community will do what it has always done, which is to step up and help those in need. I do want to talk about this in my last 24 seconds, and if I get chance I will refer to it later on. We owe these young men and women more than we gave to those who returned from Vietnam. What we did to those young men returning from Vietnam is a dark stain on this nation's history. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.