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Thursday, 19 August 1993
Page: 416

Senator REID (10.30 p.m.) —I raise a matter that I would have liked to have asked the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Faulkner) during question time this week but did not have the opportunity to do so. I do so now in the confident belief that Senator Sherry, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, who is present in the chamber, will convey this matter to Senator Faulkner. I shall be brief.

  I refer to the review being undertaken in Senator Faulkner's department of the Veterans' Entitlements Act. I want to ask him why he is not allowing the Vietnam veterans family support link to be consulted in relation to the review that is being undertaken. I remind Senator Faulkner that when speaking to the New South Wales RSL congress not long ago he said, `I am committed to consultation with ex-service organisations'.

  The people that I am talking about are those women who are the carers of veterans suffering as a consequence of their involvement in the Vietnam war. Those women are the mothers and wives of returned veterans and have the responsibility of caring for those on Department of Veterans' Affairs pensions who need, in many instances, 24-hour a day, seven-day a week care. These people really need their families to look after them. They are not permanently in hospital but are at home sick and are being cared for by their families. It is very much a full-time job for the carers.

  I believe that Senator Faulkner is consulting quite widely and his intentions are probably quite honourable when he says that he wants to consult quite widely. But I fail to understand why he does not appreciate that the carers ought to be consulted and their needs and experiences recognised.

  The group that I have referred to has 1,500 members Australia-wide, but this really represents only a small proportion of the total number of people involved. Many of them do not have the time, in addition to the role that they play of looking after their family member, to take part in an organisation such as this. Luckily, there are some who have the time and energy to be spokespersons for the Vietnam veterans family support link line. Without them, many would have nobody to talk to and nobody that they can share their experiences with. For some reason they are not included in the review of the Veterans' Entitlements Act. I cannot understand why that should be the case because the Department of Veterans' Affairs should be very conscious of the unpaid role that is played by the carers of veterans who need pretty intensive care from their family members.

  War widows are involved—and so they should be—and are being consulted by the department in the review of the act. It is my view that this group of women ought to be consulted. I fail to understand why, presumably, somebody is advising the minister that they not be included. I ask the Minister why he will not consult with the Vietnam veterans family support link line. Why is the minister not prepared to listen to the stories that they have to tell about the role that they play in caring for Vietnam veterans?