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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1548


Senator FIFIELD (Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (7:07 PM) —I rise this evening to reflect on several matters. Firstly, I want to acknowledge Dr Danny Lamm, who is stepping down as president of the Zionist Council of Victoria after an unprecedented eight years. For those colleagues who are not aware, the Zionist Council of Victoria leads and encourages Jewish and Zionist activity and expression within Victoria. It seeks to represent the Jewish community and to promote and communicate Israel’s interests within the broader Victorian community and to promote Victoria’s relationship with Israel. The Zionist Council is one of the great community organisations in Victoria, and Dr Lamm’s tenure as president has been an outstanding success.

I was very fortunate to be at the Zionist Council of Victoria annual general meeting the other week, at which more than 250 people paid tribute to Dr Lamm, including my colleague from the other place Christopher Pyne, the member for Sturt, who gave a terrific tribute to Dr Lamm. I would also like to acknowledge Leon Kempler OAM, who was awarded the Jerusalem Prize at the same function in acknowledgement of his tireless efforts as national and Victorian chairman of the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce.

With a number of senators and colleagues from the other place I am going to visit Israel in mid-December as part of the Australia Israel Leadership Forum. This is a body which has been established through the vision and initiative of Albert Dadon, who is a great individual seeking to help build and strengthen the bilateral relationship between Australia and Israel. Senator Ryan, who was just in the chamber, and Kelly O’Dwyer, the member for Higgins, will also be part of the delegation, which I understand will be the largest delegation of Australian parliamentarians to visit Israel.

It will be my fourth visit to Israel, and as I approach this visit it is timely to pause and reflect on my last visit to Israel in 2009, where I was very fortunate to spend the best part of two weeks in Israel as a nab Yachad Scholar. The nab Yachad Scholarship offers a pretty unique opportunity to be immersed in Israeli civil society and to be exposed to some of that nation’s innovative policy and thinking. It was a terrific opportunity to establish links and to bring back ideas in the disability and not-for-profit sectors that otherwise would not have been possible. This knowledge has been of significant assistance to me in my role as the shadow minister for disabilities, carers and the voluntary sector.

There were three particular areas of study for that scholarship. They were Israeli NGO programs and projects which seek to assist people with a disability, their families and carers; NGO programs for children at risk and the use of music, sport and other informal education to raise self-esteem and to promote normative behaviour; and women in the military—active duty and the glass ceiling—how the Israeli approach and attitude differs from Australia’s and how Australia can introduce attitudinal change.

In the area of disability it was very interesting to contrast the Australian approach to disability with that of Israel. As many in this chamber—Senator McLucas particularly—would appreciate, approximately 20 per cent of Australians have a disability and many of these people face significant challenges in participating in work, in family life and community life. Most Australians pay their taxes and they assume that because they do that people with a disability get the support they need. They do not. It is pretty much a lucky dip or lottery in Australia, where the manner in which you acquired your disability to a large extent determines the level of long-term care that you get.

Unlike Australia, Israel follows a national insurance model for health and social security support for all of their citizens, including those with a disability. This is overseen by the National Insurance Institute of Israel. The institute was founded under the National Insurance Law of 1953, making it one of the oldest pillars of Israeli social policy. Its charter is to ensure financial support for what are deemed—and perhaps this term for their charter does not translate from the Hebrew into English quite the way we might express it—weak populations and families. Eligibility for benefits is conditional on payment of a national insurance contribution according to income. For people with a disability, there is income support akin to the Australian disability support pension and a short-term accident-injury payment for non-traffic and non-work injuries of 75 per cent of income, for which there is probably not a ready Australian equivalent. Unlike Australia, there are also benefits, grants and rehabilitation for victims of hostilities, and there is also a benefit for children with disabilities up to 18 years of age. A mobility allowance is also payable, as is an attendance allowance equivalent to the Commonwealth carer allowance. Support for veterans with disability in Israel is handled separately, as is appropriate to the unique situations for that nation. So there are indeed some examples and lessons that we can look to Israel to learn from.

Also while in Israel, I looked at the area of children at risk. There are myriad reasons why children find themselves at risk in Israel: lack of appropriate education, lack of support at home, undiagnosed or unsupported disability and being part of migrant committees with difficulty in integrating. There were a number of organisations that I visited, such as Festival Beshekel, an organisation that goes into disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Jerusalem and supports local youth to produce their own rock concerts. It is a terrific initiative and it had some synergies, I think, with the Australian organisation The Song Room, which seeks to show schools in disadvantaged areas how to set up their own school music programs.

The third area of study during my visit was women in the military. In Australia we know that we have an increased operational tempo, and with a relatively strong labour market the ADF finds itself stretched as it seeks to retain and recruit personnel. In the ADF, over time, 87 per cent, possibly higher now, of occupational categories are open to women. There a few categories which are no longer available, and there are typical reasons we often hear put forward as to why women should not fulfil these roles. They are assumed to physically incapable of some roles, and it is also sometimes argued that combat operations could be jeopardised by men being overtly concerned about the welfare of their female colleagues.

The Israeli Defence Force, in the face of existential threats to the State of Israel, has had to adopt a much more practical approach. Women were a fully integrated component of the IDF at its inception in 1948 and in its predecessors. The Office of the Adviser to the Chief of the General Staff on Women’s Issues has been established as a sort of in-house lobbying post to further the utilisation of women and their skills in the IDF. The office also produces independent and provocative research papers. It is a very different situation in Israel for women: around 90 per cent of occupational categories are open to women, and the Security Service Law, since the year 2000, has stated that ‘every woman is entitled to the same rights as a man to fulfil whatever position in the military service’. It is a very different situation. There are things we can learn from Israel in relation to women in the military, and it is my intention to share some of these with the Chief of the Defence Force so that there might be greater opportunity for women in Australia to serve.