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Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Page: 172

Mr SLIPPER (10:42 AM) —Allow me to take this opportunity, Mr Deputy Speaker Secker, to congratulate you on your elevation to the position of Deputy Speaker and to be able to address the chamber during your maiden appearance as Deputy Speaker in the Main Committee. Your elevation of course is a tribute to your experience in and contribution to the parliament, and I know that the rulings we will get from you will be entirely straight down the line and fair, as one would expect from such an open-minded individual who will very carefully observe the standing orders of the parliament.

I am pleased to participate in the discussion on the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Statements of Principles and Other Measures) Bill 2006. I listened very carefully to the honourable member who just concluded his contribution, the shadow minister, and I certainly would not support any delay in processing of applications for veterans. I think that, given the stage of life that many of our veterans are currently at, they are entitled to an expeditious resolution of a claim that may be made under the veterans’ entitlements legislation. I would be concerned if that were not happening. I would hope that the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in his summing up would be able to advise the parliament what is in fact the situation because I must say that in my own office I have not had the experience that the member opposite has had with respect to delays in dealing with applications for entitlements by veterans. I would have thought that if there was an endemic problem I would have been aware of it, given the fact that in my electorate of Fisher, based on the Sunshine Coast, we have some 10,000 veterans and I regularly interact with the veteran community.

While I am not saying that there are not complaints about the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, I have to say that our local office seems to be well regarded by the veteran community and appears to be delivering on what needs to be done. Therefore, I was concerned to hear the comments made by the honourable member who spoke previously, and I want to state to the House that, while we do get complaints in relation to veterans’ entitlements, I am certainly not aware of what appears to be, according to the honourable member, an endemic problem with the processing of applications resulting in quite extraordinary and unacceptable delays. I think it should be a bipartisan matter in this parliament that we all recognise that members of our veteran community are entitled to the greatest recognition that a grateful society is able to afford. After all, the ex-service men and women of Australia, particularly the returned service men and women, are people who risked everything in times of conflict to ensure that as a nation we continue to enjoy the freedom, the stability and way of life that we have which has made us the envy of people around the world.

I am pleased to be able to support this legislation, which introduces a number of changes to the various pieces of legislation that govern the allocation and distribution of pensions to returned service men and women. These changes are regarded as relatively minor. I am pleased that they enjoy the support of the opposition in addition to the support of the government. Although these changes are minor, they will help to streamline the administration of government pensions for veterans, they will correct anomalies and oversights in the legislation and also clarify some of the more complicated elements of the legislation.

Our veterans are held in high regard for their service to this country and their willingness to give up so much to secure our wonderful lifestyle. As the member for an area with 10,000 veterans, as one would imagine, I do get many opportunities to interact with the ex-service community. Only last Saturday, in fact, I attended the 76th anniversary reunion luncheon of the RSL sub-branch at Maleny in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. That was a wonderful event, with about 170 veterans and their wives or partners—or husbands as the case may be—present, representing a whole range of sub-branches of the Returned and Services League right across the Sunshine Coast area. It is a wonderful chance for people to get together to exchange experiences, to talk about problems and to, in effect, reinforce the wonderful values that the Returned and Services League has represented during the very many years of its existence.

I would like to commend Captain Paul Gilmore-Walsh and his wife, Mrs Helen Gilmore-Walsh, for the role that they have played in the RSL on the Sunshine Coast. In particular, I refer to Captain Gilmore-Walsh’s role in setting up the Sunshine Coast district of the RSL. While not all sub-branches on the Sunshine Coast have as yet elected to join that district, some having chosen to remain part of the south-eastern district of the RSL, there is a wonderful sense of fellowship. Captain Paul Gilmore-Walsh was the inaugural president of the Sunshine Coast district of the RSL and he has now progressed to become a state vice-president of the RSL. Mrs Helen Gilmore-Walsh is the president of the local Maleny RSL sub-branch. They, along with all of the people they work with, make the lives of our veterans so much easier. They make sure that our community appreciates how valued they are. Of course, they also help to ensure that the entire community holds veterans up as the role models that they are, particularly for young Australians. This brings me to the fact that the Maleny naval cadets were also present at that event and they were recognised by their seniors.

This legislation is non-controversial. Even the shadow minister, who spoke on behalf of the opposition, could not find it in his heart to criticise the legislation, except to say, as is his wont, that the legislation perhaps did not go as far as he would like it to go. This is important legislation. I am pleased that it is being supported by the opposition. I am not suggesting that it will fix every problem that members of the ex-service community have, but it certainly will improve the lot of our veterans, and it is legislation that I am particularly pleased to be able to commend to the House.