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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 12

Mrs ELLIOT (9:44 AM) —I rise to speak in support of the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (2005 Budget Measure) Bill 2005. This bill contains important equity measures that veterans in my electorate have been calling for, so I am very pleased to support it here today. However, this bill does not come before its time. Essentially, it corrects yet another government bungle—made either out of neglect or to intentionally exclude our veterans. The government’s election commitment to give self-funded retirees the $200 a year seniors concession allowance was restricted to those people who carry a seniors health card. As a consequence, gold card carrying veterans and war widows were effectively excluded from receiving this benefit. This is because gold card holders have no need for a seniors health card. The measures contained in this legislation will extend the seniors concession allowance to 44,000 gold card holders, including many who live in Richmond.

Whichever way you look at it, local self-funded veterans have indeed been missing out. While other self-funded retirees were getting assistance with their phone, electricity and gas bills, self-funded veterans were left out in the cold. The government has either been negligent or dismissive of the needs of self-funded veterans, many of whom are doing it very tough. This assistance will eventually bring welcome relief for local self-funded veterans. But it is disappointing that these benefits will not reach local veterans until December this year. While other self-funded retirees will have received benefits both in December last year and in June this year, gold card holders will again have to wait. Whether it is through negligence or a deliberate cost-cutting measure, it is self-funded veterans in my electorate who have been treated unfairly by this government. There will be no retrospective payments, not even an apology for what I am sure the minister will call a ‘departmental oversight’. But this is typical of this government and its ministers. Instead of taking responsibility for their blunders, the members of this government blame their bureaucrats. Indeed, the depth of their arrogance never ceases to amaze me. At the very least, the minister should offer veterans an apology. I think that veterans in my local community deserve such an apology. It is not good enough for the government to say to them, ‘You can have the same benefits as other self-funded retirees but you’ll just have to wait.’ They have waited long enough. They have listened to the government pay lip-service to their sacrifices without delivering any real support.

Take, for example, the F111 compensation debacle. The government has failed to announce any details of the compensation for those suffering from toxic exposure to F111 chemicals. This is despite the government publicly admitting liability for the suffering of ex-military personnel, civilian staff and their families caused by the F111 toxic chemical exposures at the RAAF Amberley base from 1975 to 2000. This matter has caused not only financial stresses for those involved but also ongoing emotional distress for them and their families.

The government continues to fail to recognise the need to properly index the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme. Although this is indeed a very complex and difficult issue, the age tables and mode of indexation cause unfairness in calculating these benefits. Veterans accessing TPI benefits suffer a similar situation. The problems with TPI payments arise because the government indexes them only partially to male average weekly earnings. Other pensions and payments are indexed fully. This means that people receiving an age pension or unemployment benefits are in a sense better off than our veterans. These veterans are some of the most ill people within our community. They are the ones who were injured so badly in defending our nation that they can no longer work or make themselves a living. It is only right and fair that the government provides adequately for them. This is an issue that many people in my electorate have raised on so many different occasions. This latest debacle is just one in a litany of examples of the government taking veterans for granted. In this case, they simply forgot or did not think that self-funded veterans deserved the benefit. Either way, it is important that this inequity will be rectified. Our veterans have served our nation with distinction and they definitely deserve support from this government.

I meet with many of the veterans within my community every day that I am there, and I am very proud to do so. I meet them on many different occasions, either at RSLs or individually, and hear first-hand their issues and concerns and the problems they have with this government in the way that veterans have been treated. I was proud and honoured to attend the dawn service at Murwillumbah on Anzac Day and later the major service at Twin Towns, and I was proud to be able to march with them and wear the medals of my grandfather Victor Perkins on that day. As I say, I am very proud and honoured to represent those veterans, and I will keep doing that in this parliament when there are so many issues that need to be brought up and addressed by this government.