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Thursday, 31 May 2018
Page: 5142

Mr WALLACE (Fisher) (12:29): It is extremely unfortunate that those opposite continue to play petty party political games on an issue that is so important to Australia, and that is the care of our veterans. Shame on you! Shame on you! I thank this side of the House for encouraging and supporting me in an extension of time to talk on this important issue.

As I was saying, currently, if a veteran is unable to work or has a reduced capacity to work as a result of an injury or illness which is related to their service, they are eligible to receive incapacity payments from the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Where relevant, these individuals are placed into a rehabilitation plan to help them to increase their capability to return to paid employment. For some, this rehabilitation plan includes payment from the DVA to complete a tertiary education course to help with their transition to a new, now more suitable career. However, at present, veterans' incapacity payments step down to 75 per cent of their normal earnings after a period of 45 weeks in receipt of the payment. Tertiary education courses, Mr Deputy Speaker, as you well know, often take substantially longer than 45 weeks to complete. As such, some veterans who are studying full time can face a large decrease in their income while their courses are still ongoing. This can be stressful in itself, especially where veterans have a family to support, but it also risks a higher rate of non-completion of these Commonwealth-supported courses.

Schedule 2 changes this incapacity payments regime such that eligible veterans participating in a DVA rehabilitation plan and studying full time as part of their plan will receive incapacity payments at 100 per cent of their normal earnings without the step-down at 45 weeks. This will directly benefit around 150 veterans per year, but the flow-on effects in completed courses, improved employment prospects and mental health outcomes will be significant. I look forward to finding out what lies ahead for the veterans who complete courses under this bill when enacted. I'm also excited to see what possibilities their successors will suggest for broadened access to Commonwealth-supported tertiary education for veterans.

As a nation, we owe it to our veterans to see them not as broken men and women but as remarkable, highly skilled individuals who have served our nation with distinction and who can offer private industry and public life a great deal. That is what I saw when I visited the ADF in Afghanistan last year with the ADF Parliamentary Program, and it is what I have seen with the young veteran Justin Sehmish, who has been working in my own office. It is what will inspire me to continue to work with the minister to find ways to improve veterans' prospects in civilian life throughout my time as a parliamentarian. This bill before us is an important step in the right direction, and I commend it to the House.