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Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Page: 3245

Mr CHESTER (GippslandDeputy Leader of the House, Minister for Defence Personnel and Minister for Veterans' Affairs) (11:15): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today I present to the House legislation that is designed to improve the wellbeing of veterans and their families.

The Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Supporting the Wellbeing of Veterans and Their Families) Bill 2020 addresses three key elements. It implements the government's commitment to create a Veteran Family Advocate, announced by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence, me and the member for Herbert, Phil Thompson, on 5 February this year; it provides changes to better support the transition from ADF service to civilian employment; and, finally, it ensures all recipients of the gold card are treated equally in terms of their benefits.

Earlier this year, the government announced two key roles—the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, which will be complemented by the Veteran Family Advocate.

The government intends to bring forward legislation to establish the national commissioner later this year, while the wellbeing bill will establish the Veteran Family Advocate as a new commissioner to work as part of the Repatriation Commission and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission.

These commissions are responsible for supporting the administration of veterans' legislation and providing advice to the minister and government in relation to these acts.

The Veteran Family Advocate will work with veterans' families to build our understanding of risk and protective factors relating to the wellbeing of veterans and their families, particularly during their transition from the Australian Defence Force.

They will be responsible for directly engaging with the families of veterans, to help shape policy, improve the design of all veteran programs and services, including mental health support and services.

In addition to performing the statutory function of representing the perspectives of veterans' families within the commissions, they will:

consult with the families of veterans to hear their insights and experience about how we can ease the burden facing veterans' families in supporting their loved one,

work with ex-service organisations which represent families of veterans across Australia, and

participate in key bodies such as the Council for Women and Families United by Defence Service, and the Female Veterans and Veterans' Families Policy Forum.

The Veteran Family Advocate will support the Department of Veterans' Affairs in implementing the government's commitment to enhance the health and wellbeing of the veteran community.

They will do this by ensuring that every part of our veteran support system is focused on veterans' mental health and suicide prevention.

Only families can understand how a veteran feels at a particular moment and the nature of the particular problems their loved ones face.

The government cannot solve the complex problems faced by veterans without the assistance of their families.

It is the start of a partnership between these commissions and the families of veterans.

We all want to support veterans to the best of our ability, whether we are family or government.

By working together we believe we can achieve better results for our veterans.

Schedule 2 of the bill facilitates flexibility in the way programs can be designed to assist the transition from the ADF to the civilian workforce.

This will allow for the establishment of new programs, such as the Support for Employment Program through the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Regulations 2020.

The regulations will contain the details of the employment assistance or benefits, as well as who they will be provided to and in what circumstances they can be provided.

Once established through the regulations, this program will provide eligible veterans with both pre- and post-employment assistance.

This includes career advice, coaching, assistance with skills translation, resume and interview preparation, and coaching to adapt to the structure and styles of communication in civilian employment.

This will ensure similar employment support is available to recently transitioned veterans as is currently available to transitioning Australian Defence Force members.

Schedule 3 of this bill rectifies an unintended omission that has meant that the energy supplement has not been payable to some gold card holders because they are covered under different legislation.

It extends the provision of the energy supplement to Australian participants in the British nuclear tests and British Commonwealth Occupation Force and Australian residents who worked as part of Australian surgical medical teams in Vietnam, ensuring that all gold card holders are treated consistently.

Our veterans were prepared to make great sacrifices when we needed them. As the Australian Defence Veterans' Covenant states: 'For what they have done, this we will do.'

This bill supports the wellbeing of veterans, their families and the wider veteran community.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.