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Wednesday, 20 March 2002
Page: 1651


Mr WINDSOR (11:59 AM) —I rise to speak in the cognate debate on the Veterans' Entitlements Amendment (Gold Card Extension) Bill 2002 and the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Further Budget 2000 and Other Measures) Bill 2002. When we examine bills of this sort we reflect on our families' involvement in the armed services over many years. If I could spend a moment reflecting on my family history, my grandfather served in the Boer War—events in that area have always been of interest to me—my father served in the Second World War; and I was fortunate or unfortunate enough to be conscripted in the late sixties, only to have my conscription deferred until I finished my university degree. The year that I finished my university degree happened to be 1972. Towards the end of 1972 an election was called—I think it was on 11 November—and I learnt that I was not required to participate in a conscripted army. I have had some family involvement in service to our community through military service. Anzac Day brings home to all of us—and most importantly to the younger people of Australia—the importance of those who served in the past and what they created for us as a community, particularly with a relatively small population and a large island mass. From time to time in history, again recently with the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin and with the possibility of future threats, we have seen the need to have people who are capable and who want to defend our country. I would like to recognise all those who have served in the defence of Australia over many wars.

In relation to the gold card, there has been something of a misunderstanding within the electorate of the promise that was made prior to the election as to qualifying eligibility. A number of members have reflected on that already. There was a degree of misunderstanding in the community about what the promise entailed and who would be eligible. I will spend some time later in my address on that issue. I am pleased that there is to be an independent review of the eligibility and qualifying criteria that revolve around the gold card. Justice Clarke's committee will report by November this year. That will be an important stepping stone in relation to some of the debatable issues that are still out in the community, particularly, as I have said, the degree of misunderstanding during the election period as to who would be eligible. This issue has been alive for some time, as most members would be aware. I would like to read into Hansard a letter to the former member for New England from January 1999. It shows that a few years ago there were concerns about eligibility. The letter allows me to indicate the concern in the broader community, and other speakers may refer to some examples later. The letter to the former member for New England states:

Thank you for your letter of December 1998 including correspondence from the Minister for Veteran Affairs, replying to my request for entitlement of the Gold Card to all servicemen and women who volunteered for service anywhere Australians were ordered to serve.

Many gave 4/5 years of service and whilst the Minister in his letter recognises they made a `valuable contribution' to the war effort they are not worthy of further acknowledgement, unless one happens to have seen overseas service or be in Newcastle, Townsville or elsewhere at a particular time.

I especially like that part of the Minister's letter where he says, `There are many deserving groups who are seeking access to the Gold Card, however any further extension of the Card would need to be considered by the Government in a budget context, having regard to its commitments and priorities in the V.A. portfolio.'

... this sort of Ministerial statement riles me especially when I hear of the `handouts' given to so many less deserving cases, including those associated with ex-politicians, sporting bodies, illegal immigrants, unmarried mothers etc, etc. Yet, these veterans who served and in many instances risked their lives, anywhere they were ordered to serve, did no more than make a `valuable contribution', with the Minister quite happy that they should continue to be unworthy of recognition when responsibility and appreciation is considered. It's very obvious from the Minister's letter of reply, 4th December 1998 that the `yes Minister' style of government is still alive and well in our Federal Parliamentary system, especially when he sees fit to refer to my personal inability pension.

That last reference has no relevance to the gold card debate. I read part of that letter because this issue has been alive for quite some time in terms of who is eligible and what is the qualifying eligibility. It is a little disappointing, even though I am very pleased that the government has made such a move, to see that we are now initiating another review of the eligibility criteria. I recognise that there are some other aspects of TPI pensions and things that will be reviewed as well, but we have essentially come from 1998 until now and we are going to have an inquiry into the eligibility criteria. A letter that I received on 13 February this year from the current minister states:

Thank you for your representation of 12 February 2002 on behalf of several of your constituents, concerning the criteria for qualifying service for the provision of a Gold Card.

Qualifying service generally means service while in danger from hostile forces of the enemy. Qualifying service during the period of hostilities in World War II is presently defined in section 7A of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 as:

`... service ... at sea, in the field or in the air in naval, military or aerial operations against the enemy in an area, or on an aircraft or ship of war, at a time when the person incurred danger from hostile forces of the enemy in that area or on that aircraft or ship'.

Most World War II veterans and mariners have qualifying service as a result of their service overseas during the period of hostilities from 3 September 1939 to 29 October 1945. However, service in some areas within Australia and around the coastal waters during certain periods may also be regarded as qualifying service because of the known existence of danger from hostile forces at those times. For instance, a veteran may be regarded as having qualifying service during World War II if he or she served in the Northern Territory north of parallel 14.5 degrees south latitude (which runs through Katherine) for three consecutive months between 19 February 1942 and 13 November 1943. These dates correspond to the first and last known enemy air attacks in that area. Veterans who served in Townsville are generally only regarded as having been in danger from hostile enemy forces if they were present during the enemy air raids which occurred between 26 and 29 July 1942. Those World War II ex-servicewomen who were granted full medical treatment in 1987 were required to have qualifying service during the period 3 September 1939 and 29 October 1945.

You may be interested to know ...

and this is the continuation of the letter from the current minister—

that I have established a high profile and independent review, chaired by the Hon John Clarke QC, a former judge of the NSW Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, to consider the current eligibility criteria for veterans' entitlements. I have attached a copy of my media release ...

And on it goes. This indicates that the debate about eligibility and the need for another review has been ongoing for some years. I appreciate what the current minister is doing in relation to the particular extension that this bill allows, but I think this highlights the fact that there are many people out there, as the member for Parkes indicated, who have concerns as to eligibility. I think most people have regard for the budgetary context that obviously the government faces in relation to this matter, but it is something that needs closer examination for a number of reasons.

I will refer briefly to a few cases involving people in my electorate. A veteran of the Second World War served for four years in Australia as a paratrooper. He was quite willing to serve anywhere that he may have been ordered to go. He was injured quite badly—a back injury—during some parachute jumps and he has incurred some medical problems as he has moved into his 70s. His is the sort of case that I think is worthy of reconsideration. There are appeal processes that he is entitled to go through and other aspects that mean he may well be able to gain some assistance, but I think his case highlights the point that here was a man who volunteered to defend his country, who was quite willing to defend his country, and I do not believe that he should be penalised just because the powers that be at that particular time decided that the best form of defence in terms of his involvement was to keep a certain number of people in Australia on standby just in case they were required. He gave up a number of years of his life and was willing—as most of those men were—to give up his life if he was called upon to do so.

I draw attention to another case, that involving a 74-year-old resident of Emmaville, which is in the north of my electorate. This man served with the Navy in the waters around New Guinea on a minesweeper for quite some time but, under the current act, he was not deemed to have been involved in active service where there was some prospect of hostility directed towards him. Anybody in their right mind would know that a person floating around on the water off New Guinea during that period would have been wondering whether there was going to be some sort of submerged or aerial attack. A whole range of these stories have been mentioned by various members and I think some of the other speakers will be doing the same.

I will be supporting the bill, but I move an amendment to the Veterans' Entitlements Amendment (Gold Card Extension) Bill 2002 in the following terms:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“while supporting the Bill, the House is of the opinion that the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA) should extend full repatriation health entitlement (Gold Card) to Australian veterans who are aged 70 years or over, irrespective of whether those veterans have been in danger from hostile forces of the enemy as the current legislation and proposed amendment Bill demands”.

That amendment, I believe, will be seconded by the member for Calare. If passed, the amendment will not bind the Treasury, or the government, to having to find instantaneously the money to finance the bill. I am well aware of the procedures in relation to money bills and private members bills. What the amendment does do is give members of this chamber the capacity to send a very clear message from their constituents—among whom this has been raised as an issue—through to the review committee headed up by Justice Clarke. I would urge members to consider the amendment and the spirit of the people who did volunteer, who are now in their later years and who are asking that the society that they helped create and mould and were quite prepared to fight for should repay them in some form.

This is an excellent opportunity for members of this parliament, not to pass a money bill but to recognise the concerns of the older people in their community who have given up time to serve their community. I do not see returned servicemen, whether they fought overseas or were involved in overseas combat—as my father was—or were sent overseas and did not see any conflict, but possibly could have been involved in conflict, as being significantly different from someone who volunteered and trained in Australia, who did all the training required, but did not actually face a hostile enemy. The fact that we have servicemen who were prepared to volunteer, be trained and stay in Australia was a very significant deterrent to some of the activity that may well have been planned. We, as a parliament, should give recognition to those people who have given that commitment. They gave up a period of their lives for us.

Some people may well argue, `Why should we give special treatment to someone who has given up a period of time for the service of others?' As parliamentarians, I would urge you to look at the special treatment we give ourselves for the service—limited service it may be in some of our cases—that we give for the greater good of our communities. I can think of no other group more deserving than those people—those ex-servicemen, those veterans—who are in their 70s now, who have created a future for the very people we are, who live in freedom and who serve our community now.

It sends another message in terms of the future. If we are serious about defending Australia into the future, we have to encourage people into the armed forces—and I do not see a problem in creating an incentive, such as the gold card, for any of those who are prepared to go into the armed forces. They will see that, when they get to the age of 70, there are some special benefits created for them. I think it is something that we should build into the future for young people going into the armed services, because there is no doubt that we are going to need an Army that is made up of volunteers and people who want to be in there, and I think they deserve special treatment. In conclusion, I hope members in the parliament who are concerned about this issue and the eligibility criteria will support my amendment and send a very clear message not only to the government, but also to the review committee and particularly to Justice Clarke.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lindsay)—Is the amendment seconded?


Mr Andren —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.