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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 12054

Mr NEUMANN (7:05 PM) —I commend the member for Maranoa for bringing to the chamber issues related to veterans. My electorate of Blair in Queensland has many veterans. We have the largest military base in the country, at Amberley. It interesting to note we have a net total of 3,574 beneficiaries—people on DVA pensions and treatment card holders in my electorate—as of 28 June 2008, and that includes 873 veterans, 704 service pensioners and their partners, 1,045 gold card holder veterans and 706 independents. So my electorate is very much affected by motions like this. I think it had its genesis, as the member for Maranoa said, in his time as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, when I am sure he came across many people in terrible circumstances who did not know they were entitled to assistance for their service on behalf of all of us in Australia. Whether or not one agreed with the Vietnam War, their service on behalf of the people of Australia and the government of Australia at the time should be honoured. As I have said on numerous occasions in my electorate, their service was of invaluable assistance to this country. We cannot enjoy the freedoms, the liberty and the lifestyle that we have in this country without honouring them.

I had a look at the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986, and it is section 5I(1)(b) which is the actual provision. I am happy to mention that to the member for Maranoa because that is the section that he is talking about. He made a determination back then that the act applies to, or in relation to, any member of the Australian Defence Force who, while not rendering continuous full-time service, was rendering service as a member who was, or as a member of a unit of the Defence Force that was, allotted for duty or taken to have been allotted for duty in an operational area—described in schedule 2 of the act as being any time during the period from and including 31 July 1962 to and including 11 January 1973—or was a member of a unit of the Defence Force attached to the Far East Strategic Reserve between 2 July 1955 and 27 May 1963. That is what the provision is about. The member for Maranoa had the foresight to do that, and I thank him for it because it was good work on behalf of the veterans.

I looked into the history of the Citizen Military Forces, and it is really quite strange that we do not teach enough about this matter in our schools. We should. Our young people should know about this. Prior to World War I, the defence forces consisted of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth—of course, there were not many planes in those days, so we did not have an air force—and the military forces were divided into the permanent forces and the citizen forces. On 18 February 1943 the Defence (Citizens Military Forces) Act 1943 was passed, which provided for the first time that members of the CMF might be required to be sent outside Australia or its territories. So they were sent overseas to defend our shores and to defend us. The areas were limited to the south-west Pacific zone. You can imagine that would have been the case, because we were fighting the war in the Pacific at the time. The act was to continue in force until six months after the cessation of hostilities.

Since 1949, compensation in respect of death or incapacity of servicemen in times of peace has been covered by successive Commonwealth employees compensation acts. The new phase was entered in 1973, when the Repatriation Act applied to peacetime services of members of the permanent military forces where qualified. The provisions of that act had not been applied to members of the CMF. By decisions of various war cabinets, some repatriation-style cover was applied to the part-time members. There are only two provisions in the actual legislation that deal with members of the CMF.

Service by members of the CMF, whether during the Second World War or any other conflict, is considered under the VEA based on their individual circumstances and whether they meet the relevant criteria for whatever benefit they are seeking. For service in Vietnam, CMF members can be determined, under the ministerial instrument that the member for Maranoa was talking about, to be covered by the VEA as if they had rendered continuous full-time service.

I had a look at the motion, and I spoke to the minister’s office. We do not have any plans to change the definition of ‘veterans’ or to stop applying ‘continuous military service’. There is no suggestion that we will not continue the policy of the previous government with respect to the definition. It is a bit hard to actually find the definition of what a veteran is. It can be applied to a Commonwealth or an Allied veteran, a mariner or a member of a peacekeeping force. But members of the CMF can be excluded. I commend the then Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the member for Maranoa, for what his work did in 1998. I just want to assure him that the minister has assured me that there is no plan to change the definition in that regard.

The second part of the member for Maranoa’s motion is:

That the House endorses … the ‘Continuous full-time service determination’ …

I am assured also that we do not have any plans to change that provision. I hope we never do, because I think that is a very innovative way to look at it and is the right thing to do by the veterans. As I said, there are 3,574 DVA pensioners and treatment card holders in my electorate. Many of them are veterans, and I think that they would agree with the member for Maranoa in that regard. I think the member for Maranoa has a point in respect of the need to encourage the department to publicise this to the veterans community.

I am concerned about the idea of the retrospective payments. I am always concerned about that aspect. I think that the veterans affairs legislation—I have had a bit of a look at it—does not provide for the idea of a grant of pension retrospectively. If a veteran thinks their case has been incorrectly determined, there are avenues for redress that they can undertake. The department determines all claims based on information provided.

The member for Maranoa has a point insofar as the department needs to make sure that all forms of publicity should be undertaken, whether it is through Veterans’ Affairs newsletters, publicity or correspondence that needs to be sent out. We need to make sure that anyone who might be a CMF member who might come within the determination knows about that so that they are in a position where they can come forward if they qualify in terms of their service, if they have served in Vietnam, and get that application into the department. I think the department ought to take appropriate steps. I have contacted the minister’s office in relation to that. They assure me that they do send out information and they do publicise this matter to veterans, but I am sure that the members who are veterans in my community would want me to say that we need to do everything we possibly can to ensure that they know about their eligibility.

In the final minute I have, I want to pay tribute to the veterans in my community who may be affected by this motion and by the veterans entitlements legislation. I have met many veterans, and all of us who are members of the House would take part in activities on Anzac Day and the 11th of the 11th. We meet fine men and women who have given their service and who have been affected by that service. I have met plenty of people who are just a little bit older than me and who served in places like Vietnam. I freely say that when I was a kid my folks were very much against the Vietnam War. I grew up in that sort of household. But those men could not determine where they went. They signed up to serve the country and they did that to the best of their ability. They did it honourably and with valour, and we recognise that. You can see the valour of the VC members who fought in South Vietnam. You can see that in, say, the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. You can see the people who have served their country with distinction. Keith Pennell is a veteran in my community. He was Citizen of the Year in Ipswich. He has spent the rest of his life serving my local community. It is people like him we should commend. I thank the member for Maranoa for bringing this motion before the House.