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Speech at the 2003 Congress of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia.

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The Hon. Danna Vale MP Minister for Veterans' Affairs Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence


23 May 2003

The Hon Danna Vale MP Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence

At the 2003 Congress of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia


I do appreciate the opportunity to be here and to speak with you about recent developments in our portfolio, and apart from that it is really great to come along and renew old friendships.

I know that you want to hear about last week’s Budget, the Military Compensation Scheme, the Clarke Review and broader initiatives to support Vietnam veterans.

The Howard Government’s eighth Federal Budget, presented last week, continues our commitment to those who serve our nation in wars, conflicts and in peace operations.

Let me say, this was a tight budget. We had to take into account the war in Iraq and the drought, and the Government went into the process determined not to spend beyond our means.

I firmly believe that the two most important priorities for veterans and their families are:

● firstly, the Australian economy is to be placed on a firm footing

and it is to be a strong economy; and ● secondly, our national security to be reinforced and


The 2003-04 Budget delivered an extra $2.1 billion over five years for Defence, bringing the total Defence Budget to more than $15 billion.

Key initiatives of the Budget include:

● An extra $645 million to meet the costs of Operation Catalyst -

Australia’s commitment to the coalition to disarm Iraq and for stabilisation and recovery operations ● An extra $102.8 million over three years to accelerate growth

and to increase personnel in our Defence Force. ● More than $3 billion for major capital projects plus $358 million

planned for new projects and phases ● New air-to-air refuellers and electronic warfare protection for

aircraft ● And an extra $100 million for high priority personnel issues,

such as improving accommodation, childcare, spouse employment assistance, injury prevention and education.

And in recognition of the importance of Western Australia to our national security and Defence capability, more than $14 million will be allocated for Defence facilities in this state this year.

This spending in Western Australia includes:

● upgrading wharf services at HMAS Stirling to support ships and

submarines based or visiting this important facility, ● building additional laboratories at the Defence Science and

Technology Organisation at HMAS Stirling, ● providing special purpose working accommodation for the

newly raised 4 Signal Troop, 152 Signal Squadron at Campbell Barracks; and ● the provision of a Static Frequency Converter to provide power

to ships at HMAS Stirling.

I am pleased to say that this Budget also delivered Veterans’ Affairs record funding of $10 billion. This is up from $6.4 billion when we first came to Government in 1996.

Funding for the health and well-being of our veterans and war widows has increased to $4.1 billion, up from $1.4 billion in 1996. Compensation funding is up from $4.6 billion in 1996, to $5.8 billion.

The focus of this budget is meeting the health care needs of veterans, and the implementation of a new Local Medical Officer agreement, at a cost of $61.7 million over four years.

GPs registered under the LMO scheme will be eligible for a veteran access fee of $3 paid for each service to Gold and White Card holders.

This is in addition to the 100 per cent of the Medicare Benefit

Schedule currently paid for these services.

In practical terms, nothing will change for eligible members of the veteran community - you will continue to access your doctor’s services simply by presenting your Gold or White Card.

The implementation of the new LMO agreement was considered by the Government -and the ex-service community to be the highest funding priority this year, and this will ensure continued veteran access to free, comprehensive, total, quality health care.

This commitment is also reflected in the provision in 2003-04 of an extra $183.6 million for hospital services, the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Veterans’ Home Care services to meet expected growth in demand as the veteran population ages and requires greater care and support.

In recognition that effective health care is as much about health promotion as treatment, we have also allocated $6.2 million to continue the Community Care Grants program, which supports projects to increase access to community services, to promote healthy lifestyles, to reduce social isolation and to provide support for carers.

The commemoration of those who have served in the defence of Australia also remains a priority for us in 2003.

The Office of Australian War Graves will receive an extra $6.8 million over four years to meet its increased responsibilities for the ongoing maintenance of overseas memorials, the construction of new war memorials in Malaysia and New Zealand and the organisation of Anzac Day services at Gallipoli.

$1 million has been earmarked for the dedication of the new Australian Memorial in London.

This memorial at Hyde Park Corner will commemorate the Australian men and women who have served, suffered and died alongside British forces in the defence of freedom during two world wars, providing a commemorative focus for future Anzac Day services in London, for the many thousands of Australians who visit over there each year.

Clarke Review of Veterans’ Entitlements On the Review of Veterans’ Entitlements, I know that some of you will be disappointed that the response to the Clarke Report has not been finalised.

However, it is important that we take the time to give the report proper consideration in the context of the priorities of the veteran community and the Government’s broader policies. But I want to say

to you that the Review is just that. It is not Government policy. It is a review of Government policy.

And in the months since the Review was handed down, there have been some changes in the realities of the Defence of Australia, such as the increasing awareness we have of terrorist threats all over the world. And indeed, one of the recommendations of the Clarke Review is that the training of our SAS not be identified as hazardous service. When you think that because of our new situation we have now established a fourth command, a command for Special Operations, and that we do face in Australia today a challenging strategic environment, I think we may have to revisit this issue in response to the realities of today.

However it is important that you are aware that as the recommendations cover some very complex issues, and the ex-service community opinion is divided on some of the report’s recommendations, especially the Report’s advice regarding the T&PI payment, that as promised, we are continuing to consult the ex-service community about an appropriate response to detailed recommendations on a range of issues covering eligibility criteria for the repatriation system and the level of benefits and support for veteran disability pension recipients.

This year the repatriation system is 85 years old - an institution that is highly regarded internationally for the care and support that it provides to those who serve in the defence of our nation. I understand that it is just this year that Great Britain has established a Repatriation Department to look after Veterans’ Affairs.

I intend to see that the response to the Clarke Review is framed appropriately, with proper consideration of the views of our veteran community and in line with the Government’s commitment to maintain the high standing of the repatriation system.

Military Compensation Scheme At this point, I would like to briefly report on the progress in developing the new Military Compensation Scheme.

I am aware of strong interest from many Vietnam veterans in the development of the new scheme, reflected in their concerns for the future welfare of the Australian Defence Force members who have been serving in Iraq.

I commend you all for the support you have shown to those who are following in your footsteps by serving the nation. It highlights the camaraderie which for last 30 years has been the strength of the Vietnam veteran community, and the very special understanding amongst our Vietnam veterans of the vital importance of a warm welcome home.

We, as a nation, have learned a lot in the 30 years since Vietnam. This is one of the interesting things that I think is so important. I often used to think that the predominant response from the general community was the major concern. But today I realise that it was also the rejection from some of the major ex-service organisations and the way they treated our Vietnam veterans. So it is just so important to stretch out that hand of friendship to the returning young sailors, soldiers and airmen from Iraq. And I thank you all for doing that.

I can report that the Government will shortly release draft legislation which will draw together elements of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act and the Veterans’ Entitlements Act to create the new scheme.

This scheme will provide an appropriate mix of compensation and rehabilitation to meet the needs of any Australian Defence Force member who is injured in the course of their service.

Subject to the passage of the legislation, the new scheme will apply to Australian Defence Force members who are injured during military service or on deployment after the date of commencement of the new legislation.

You may be aware that there was no provision in the Budget for the net impact of the new scheme.

The reason is that Budget provision for the estimated effect of the new legislation will wait on the result of a period of further consultation with the ex-service and veteran community on the detail of the legislation.

Any additional budgetary effects of the new Military Compensation scheme will principally arise in years beyond the forward estimates period.

Mortality Study Let me turn now from planned initiatives to two important projects already under way for the benefit of the Vietnam veteran community.

When I attended your 2002 Congress I foreshadowed the start of the Third Vietnam Veterans’ Mortality study, which is following up the recommendations of the 1997 reports on the mortality of Vietnam veterans and National Service Vietnam veterans.

The study is examining emerging trends of mortality rates and cancer incidence in Vietnam veterans up to December 2001.

It will also compare the mortality and cancer incidence between national servicemen who served in Vietnam, national servicemen and regular army who served in Australia, and the Australian male

population of the same age cohort.

The Scientific Advisory Committee and the consultative forum representing Vietnam veterans have met on several occasions, finalising the study protocol and the literature review for the project.

Important approvals for the study have also been obtained from DVA’s Ethics Committee, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and various State Ethics Committees.

Discussions have also been occurring in recent months to engage the Institute to assist in compiling the study data and detailed analysis to be conducted for the report.

As part of the study, the Vietnam Veterans Nominal Roll is being updated against archival records to further improve its accuracy.

I expect to receive the study report by mid-2004.

Time Out program Another important initiative is the Crisis Accommodation, or Time Out program, which was trialed in the second half of last year.

The program was designed to arrange short-term accommodation for Vietnam veterans in situations where their family faced the risk of breaking up.

The trial was conducted in selected areas around Australia with large Vietnam veteran populations. The Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service assisted 19 veterans, giving them and their family members much-needed respite in situations where the family might otherwise have collapsed.

The trial demonstrated the potential of the Time Out program to provide valuable support for Vietnam veteran families. So I am pleased to announce today that this program has now been extended Australia-wide for all Vietnam veterans in areas where suitable accommodation is available.

This provides another level of support for Vietnam veterans, to help them manage serious family problems that could end up hurting the veteran, their partner and their children.

The success of this trial is due in no small part to the support of the VVAA and other ex-service organisations. I would like to express the Government’s appreciation for the strong support it has received from the veteran community in implementing this important initiative.

Long Tan Bursary The Federal Government is committed to ensuring that Vietnam

veterans and their families have access to practical support and care services.

In addition to important initiatives such as the Time Out and Sons and Daughters programs, the Government assists the children of Vietnam veterans through the Long Tan Bursary.

The Bursary was established in August 2000 in response to the findings of the Vietnam Veterans’ Health Study, which highlighted the importance of providing educational assistance to the children of Vietnam veterans.

I am pleased to say that this year we have more than doubled the amount of Long Tan Bursaries available to 30. These bursaries, of $6000 each, are designed to assist recipients to meet the costs of entering tertiary study.

It gives me great pleasure today to present Long Tan Bursaries to this year's four Western Australian recipients.

● Shankar Krishnar Muthu comes from East Perth. He is studying

for a certificate in Information Technology in Software Applications at TAFE. His father served in Vietnam with 12 Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery. ● Amanda Dove is from Padbury. She is studying for a Bachelor

of Communication at Edith Cowan University. Her ambition is to work in marketing and public relations. Her father served in Vietnam with the Divisional Locating Battery. ● Lisa Smith comes from Australind. She is studying for a

Bachelor of Medical Radiation and Nuclear Medical Technology at the University of South Australia. Lisa cannot be here today as she is in Adelaide. Her father, Mr Ronald Smith, who served with the RAN in Vietnam on HMAS Hobart, Yarra and Sydney, is accepting the bursary on her behalf. ● Peter Hannay is from Geraldton. He is studying for a Certificate

in Information Technology at the Central West TAFE. His goal is to become a computer network administrator. His late stepfather served in Vietnam with 2nd Field Ambulance. Regrettable, Peter is unable to be here today.

Centenary Medal presentation Before closing, I feel privileged to have the opportunity to make a special presentation.

As you know, the Federal Government commissioned a special Medal to mark the Centenary of Australia’s Federation, our first one hundred years as a democracy.

The Centenary Medal has been awarded to Australians from all walks of life in recognition of their contribution to our community.

Many of the medal recipients are members of the veteran community, including Vietnam veterans.

Some of them are here today, including your president, Brian McKenzie. But right now, I would like to ask Mr Rob Cox to step forward.

Rob Cox has been awarded the medal for his tireless service to the Vietnam veteran community, in recognition of his efforts as a Welfare Officer and his work for the past 10 years as the VVAA’s representative on the National Treatment Monitoring Committee.

Rob, it is my honour to present you with this medal, and to thank you, on behalf of Vietnam veterans, the veteran community and all Australians.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your time this morning. It is now my great pleasure to declare this Congress officially open.