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Friday, 10 November 2000
Page: 19721

Senator CHRIS EVANS (2:37 PM) —I want to make a short contribution to this debate on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2000 to indicate that this bill has been the subject of an inquiry which I think has raised some very serious issues which were contained in the committee's report on the bill. I know there is a great deal of interest in the veteran nursing community in the outcome of this bill. They have been campaigning for some time for recognition of their participation in Australia's war efforts and have been concerned to make sure that veteran medical staff and nursing staff receive the same sort of recognition as others who have served in the defence of Australia. Those groups have made a number of submissions to the inquiry and generally to senators who take an interest in veterans' issues to try and ensure that there is some recognition of their role and that their role is not given less significance than that of our serving personnel.

I know that creates a range of very difficult issues for the government and for the opposition generally in the sense that any extension of entitlements always comes at a great cost to the taxpayer and one has to be conscious of that cost when considering any extensions of entitlements. But I think there are issues that are well worth the Senate treating very seriously in relation to those personnel. It is not good enough to just suggest that their claims ought to be dismissed solely on the basis of cost. We have to have a very serious look at the issues involved and try and work our way through what principles are at stake and how we can move forward on those issues. I know the committee spent a great deal of time attempting to do that, and I think their report is well worth all senators reading in the context of this debate. I am sure senators would have seen the submissions from the various nursing organisations and others that have been circulated. I was particularly impressed, as I say, by some of the submissions from the war nurses. I have been most moved by their submissions.

I know Senator Schacht is keen to explore those issues in more detail and has a closer understanding of the subject than I have, even if his punctuality is sometimes in question. With those remarks, I will allow Senator Schacht to explore those issues in much greater detail.