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Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Page: 176

Mr HARDGRAVE (11:01 AM) —At the outset can I just say I am delighted as it is the first time I have been able to appear before you, Mr Deputy Speaker Secker, and I thought I would get in early in case there is a reason to rebuke me at a later point in my contribution.

I say to the member for Cowan that we on this side greatly respect the points he has just made. I am no longer a member of the executive, so I can be quite open and say I agree with the sentiment he has expressed about the ambition to make sure that those who need assistance get it, that there is a timely approach to the processing of claims and that they are listened to. But I would hesitate automatically, and not just because he is in the chamber, because my good friend the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs is setting a very high standard of interaction with our veteran community. He is a demonstration of this government’s commitment to listening to the veteran community and working with them to try to facilitate the best possible outcome in a personal sense for each and every one of our veterans.

I listened to what the member for Cowan said and he essentially could not disagree with the proposition I have just put to the chamber—that is, we have a very fine Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, and if the shadow minister for veterans’ affairs is doing a good job it is only because he is trying to reach the standard set by the member for Dunkley.

The government is working to streamline the system and to put a little more sense of understanding, and systemic support for that understanding, of individual needs through this bill, which is being agreed to by the opposition. To work with the RSL and to work with welfare officers, to work with those who work at the grassroots of our local community is very much at the heart of it. The key thing to remember is that government does so much. The system of veterans’ affairs—repatriation—that we have in this country is agreed to be the world’s best practice. I, for one, as a private member or as a member of the Howard government executive, have never been afraid to stand very strongly in favour of improving what is already a damn good system.

Having talked to local RSLs and to welfare officers at the various centres of great excellence in and around my electorate of Moreton—the people who work for the south-eastern districts, at Greenslopes hospital, and people who have worked with veterans from Vietnam and other conflicts—I can see just how far we have come from those early days post World War I when people like my great-grandfather came back. He fought in the battle of Polygon Wood in September 1917, an enormous shemozzle of a battle on the Western Front. He suffered trench fever; psychologically he was enormously damaged. Charlie McKinnon was his name. He served again in the Second World War, but I make the point that he was one of those veterans who came back completely traumatised by all that had happened to him, completely unsupported by the government of the day, until things such as the repatriation legislation, which we are attempting to amend today, came into effect and until the RSL commenced its work on behalf of veterans. Until the RSL and other organisations gave voice to their concerns, my great-grandfather was completely on his own. In fact, he ended up destroying his medals from World War I by chopping them up with an axe. I suspect that he was a committer of family violence as a result of the trauma and torment that he suffered during his service on behalf of Australia in the First World War. So I do understand, without having lived through it myself, fortunately.

When I was a kid and the Vietnam War was declared over, I breathed a sigh of relief because I was a few years too young to serve. I have an enormous personal understanding based on what my own grandfather, mother and others have told me about what went on in my family. I have an understanding about what the member for Cowan and others have said about the torment and hurt to people who have served. That is why this government is very determined, perhaps too slowly for some, to continue in a sensible, incremental way to listen to and work with the veterans in the returned service community to make sure that they are fully consulted so that these measures are progressing change and to make certain that this particular style of approach has occurred.

While acknowledging the government’s role, I want to take a few moments to acknowledge the role of people within my local community because I think it is important that we pay tribute to them. On Australia Day, apart from the four different Australian citizenship ceremonies that I conducted with the Lions Clubs of Moorooka, Griffith University and Brisbane Macgregor, and the Rotary Club of Archerfield, I also handed out my Moreton community service awards for the seventh year. Yet again, an enormous number of people from the veteran community featured. I want to tell the House a little bit about some of these local heroes and the difference they have made.

Lochie Anderson from Runcorn has worked for the past seven years as an advanced pension and welfare officer for veterans and pensioners through the RSL south-east districts at Greenslopes Private Hospital. He is highly regarded for his work by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Queensland Treatment Monitoring Committee. His dedication to this committee has in fact affected his own health on a number of occasions. He is a proud Vietnam veteran, but Lochie has put his own health concerns aside to advocate for the rights, ambitions and needs of other veterans. He is one of the people—and the minister is nodding—who are making a difference and the minister is listening to them, noting all the things that they do.

To talk about some of the great injustices that have existed in the system, Padre Roy Wakeling was in fact in Darwin when bombs were dropping but not for enough days to qualify for the full raft of metals which he should have received. I feel frustrated for Roy. Here we are 64 years after he served Australia in Darwin and he continues to offer pastoral care through Stephens sub-branch of the RSL and is highly respected. He is an older gentleman now, but he puts himself behind the needs of others.

Rob Ekeberg of Annerley has been active with Stephens sub-branch for over 40 years. He has been senior and junior vice-president for decades. He has been the organiser and president of the sub-branch sports club. He has brought together people who have been united by their sense of service for Australia in times of war to reminisce and remember, but also through being an active seller of Anzac Day and Remembrance Day badges he has raised enormous amounts of funds for the local RSL—enormous by their standards but small by the amount that is voted through the minister’s control to the work that the government does. Rob is a stalwart of Stephens RSL.

Ron Viles, from Salisbury, has been the secretary of the Stephens RSL sub-branch for the past three years. He has made sure that local schools have taken full advantage of the Australian government’s program of remembrance, through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. New shrines have been installed, including at Rocklea State School. That is a very small school, with only about 70 or 80 students, but Ron has made sure that they have not missed out on having a memorial for special days.

I also want to tell the House about Colin Jones of Parkinson. For 38 years, Colin has been a volunteer bugler at the Salisbury RSL sub-branch. He has done that since he was a teenager in the Boys Brigade—his mum roped him in—and Colin does the best last post I have heard anywhere. For 38 years he has been practising, and everyone stands a little straighter when he plays it.

These are people who make a difference in my local area and give a sense of dignity and a sense of commemoration to the local veterans. And they keep the pressure on me, as the local member, to make sure that we deliver things as well. Minister Billson is here; I have referred to him a few times. I was delighted to host him in the electorate of Moreton last year at the Carrington RSL home. He is very well aware of the work that is being done by Sunnybank RSL. Robert Lippiatt, who is the president there, is a younger bloke and he is bringing a lot of dynamic to that RSL. They have adopted 20 or more schools in the local area, and they have made sure that they have access to the DVA memorial money and so forth. They are building a new monument, because the Sunnybank event is attended by about 5,000 people on Anzac Day. It is huge. What Robert has done, which I think is great, is to ask Sunnybank High School to provide part of the infrastructure for seating so the local community can safely stand and remember on Anzac Day.

One of the great things that Robert has done, which is worth recording in this place, is to ensure that the next generation of Australians understand our obligations, as a parliament, as a government and as a nation, to our veteran community. He has involved students from St Thomas More Catholic College and Runcorn High School, to name just two, and he has encouraged kids to put an afternoon a week into a pastoral care program at local RSL war service homes. It means that young people have gone to those homes and they have dealt with the mortality issues—the reality of growing older. They have adopted veterans and the veterans have got to know them, and I think it has put a bit of extra arc and spark into the life of each of those veterans.

One of the things that I am ambitious to do, as the member for Moreton, is to make sure that those kids also get a training credential, an outcome, for the work they are doing, because they are actually doing the sort of work that you would need to do at a certificate I or II level in aged-care training. There is a bit of work to be done by Minister Robb and Minister Santoro to make that happen, and I am sure that Minister Billson would very much support me in my ambitions to recognise those kids.

I have taken time to acknowledge these local heroes because I think that, as local members, this day-to-day interaction and working with people makes us want to champion these good causes. As a member of a generation that was not required, because of some urgency or government direction, to put on a uniform and to stand the line in defence of freedom and democracy, I will continue to pledge myself to do all I can to make sure that those who have done so gain the respect and assistance they deserve. We have the sixth oldest continuous democracy in the world in this country. It would not be possible to make that claim if not for those who served. Whether those wars ever made sense at the time—or, in fact, since—I think we owe an enormous vote of thanks and gratitude to those people, and we need to put all the resources we possibly can towards the task of looking after those in need, because they have served this country. I commend this bill to the House.