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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 53

Mr EDWARDS (12:34 PM) —I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (Disability, War Widow and War Widower Pensions) Bill 2007. I thought I had finished speaking in the House as I already made my valedictory speech some weeks ago. But I am very pleased to be able to come into the House today and speak in support of this bill introduced by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. I congratulate the government on their recent efforts in relation to catching up with the demands and needs of the veteran community. I want to compliment the previous speaker, the member for Gilmore, on her contribution and on the work that she has done for veterans. Jo and I have had a couple of blues about things but generally we have had a fair amount of respect for each other. I know that she has been a great champion of veterans issues within her party room. Having spoken to a number of veterans from within her electorate, I know that they have a great deal of respect for her and for the work that she has done, and that really is the way it ought to be in veterans issues. She said that I should have been the shadow minister. I think that would have been dreaming. Perhaps, however, she could have been the minister. Perhaps if she had been, a number of these issues would have been resolved before today. I take the opportunity to return the compliment and wish her all the best for the future. Jo, you have done a good job in terms of veterans.

I also want to say what a delight it has been from my point of view to have the opportunity to work with the shadow minister over the past 18 months or so. He had a lot of ground to make up in terms of the opposition and he did that by getting out into the veteran community, listening to them, getting an understanding of the issues and the problems, and responding to them by way of putting forward good, solid policies. I could say that with this bill the government is playing catch-up, because Alan Griffin has really set the scene and has forced the government, in my view, to respond to his policy initiatives and the real needs of the veteran community.

But I do not want to get into tit-for-tat politics. I agree with the Vietnam Veterans Federation on what they had to say in their document of 16 September this year, a document entitled The great achievement, which I tabled with the support of the government in parliament yesterday. In it they give a history of how the falling value of our disability pensions was halted and they tell in a number of pages the whole story. They say:

You will no doubt know by now that both political parties are committed to indexing the TPI, Intermediate, EDA and General Rate pensions so that they increase in line with increases in the average wage as well as the cost of living.

…     …         …

This will ensure that these pensions cease losing value compared with other government pensions and that they keep pace with increases in Australia’s rising standard of living.

That is what the veteran community have been fighting for over these past 11 years. They have waged a reasonable, balanced and appropriate war on the government over that period.

I well remember when, a few years ago, there was a protest out the front of Parliament House by TPI veterans, their wives, their supporters and members of the PVA. It was a protest strongly supported by local veterans from Canberra, who supplied tucker to the people who were out there for a couple of days; they did a great job in supporting them. I think we have come a long way, in terms of comparing today with that time. I know that the then Minister for Veterans’ Affairs refused to go out and speak to those protesting veterans. I know that the Prime Minister refused to go out and speak to those veterans. I know, too, that those protesting veterans were not supported by all ex-service organisations. Perhaps if they had been better supported, these issues would have been resolved some time ago.

This is a good day for the veteran community. They have worked hard to get here. They have brought both political parties to the table and they have done so because their demands were just; their demands were fair. You cannot continue to deny fair and just demands, particularly on the eve of an election and particularly from the government’s point of view, when it has read the winds and come to terms with the anger and the dissatisfaction of the veteran community.

I do not want to delay this legislation by speaking any longer. I know that the member for Ballarat is going to speak on this bill. I know, too, that she is a passionate, committed supporter of the veteran community not just in her electorate of Ballarat but across the board. I will listen intently to the contribution that she will make.

I congratulate the government again on the introduction of this bill. We certainly changed our attitude in the past few weeks, because I remember the debate that took place in here just a while ago when Kevin Rudd moved a motion in the House which went a long way towards seeing this bill here today. I look forward to a time in Australia when we can get back to a bipartisan approach to veterans’ issues. They deserve no less. People who say that we have a world-class service for veterans in this country ought to be reminded that the service the veteran community gave to Australia through many wars and many conflicts has itself been first-class. Veterans deserve no less than the same sort of treatment from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, from governments and from oppositions. I support the legislation.