Mr RAMSEY (Grey–Government Whip) (12:00): I rise to speak in support of the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2017. I am proud to be part of a government which supports our veteran Australians. The government has invested an additional $350 million in this year’s budget to support our veterans. More than 300,000 Australians rely on the government through support from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. These veterans, their families, dependents, widows and children, are a community that is growing younger, which sounds a little counterintuitive. As our World War II vets and even our Korean war vets pass away, the new point of focus is increasingly on those who have served in the Middle East.
Our service men and women put their lives on the line for the nation in the defence of our values. They have served their country with the belief that democracy and freedom are ideals to be upheld around the world. The sacrifices made by veterans and their willingness to fight in defence of our nation merit our deep respect and praise, and they deserve the very best Australia can offer in benefits and medical care. Often veterans return from service with wounds that are not obvious-wounds that we cannot see. Young men and women who are damaged by their experiences need support. Our older veterans struggling with psychological issues as a result of war experiences also need support, as do their families.
The coalition is committed to providing veterans with the mental health care services they deserve and need, and the coalition will continue to support the mental health of our veterans. Our deepest gratitude and unparalleled respect must go to the men and women who keep us safe. Sometimes, unfortunately in the past, we have failed at repaying them in the ways they need when they most need it. It is the commitment of the coalition government that we ensure that we have a better understanding of the difficult mental and physical health issues that veterans face each day and help these men and women and their families face the battles they fight when they get home. Too often those emotional scars of service and resultant mental health issues can contribute to veteran homelessness or place veterans at the risk of homelessness.
We have committed to mental health services for veterans to help them get back on their feet by making treatment for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and drug and alcohol misuse free for everyone who has served a day in the full-time Australian Defence Force. The coalition are committed to ensuring that current and future veterans and their families have the support they need, and we have a strong record in supporting veterans by ensuring more financial support and services to individuals than ever before. This bill will help this happen, but it is just part of a raft measures that we have provided to veterans over the last 12 months.
The government has already created a significant legacy of achievements, including veteran mental healthcare treatment on a non-liability basis, gold cards for the British nuclear test veterans and the British Commonwealth Occupational Force veterans and, most importantly, delivering fair indexation for military superannuation. These measures focus on both the physical and the mental health of the veteran community and their future. We have assisted thousands as they have dealt with these difficulties.
The government is providing more than $11 billion a year to support veterans, including through healthcare, income support pensions and allowances, by providing: $9.8 million to pilot new approaches to suicide prevention and improve care support available to veterans; $2.7 million to get veterans into the workforce through the Veterans’ Employment Program, launched in November last year; $166 million to be provided in this year’s budget to implement and modernise the Department of Veterans’ Affairs antiquated ICT systems to provide easier access through DVA services; $18 million as part of the government’s energy for the future package so that more than 235,000 DVA clients will receive one-off payments for energy bills; $9.1 million for accelerated access to rehabilitation services, incapacity payments and improved access to totally and permanently incapacitated disability pension for veterans working past the age of 65; $1.2 million to continue the income support bonus for DVA clients receiving an education allowance under either the Veterans’ Children Education Scheme or the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act Education and Training Scheme; and $5 million for the Australian War Memorial to examine ways to provide additional exhibition space.
In my electorate of Grey, we have a veteran community that strongly supports veterans. It is, I think, very poignant that in these bills we are recognising those who served in those British atomic tests, whether they be military or not. They were, of course, largely conducted in my electorate at Maralinga and Emu Field and other places. These tests have long been a mark of perhaps misdemeanours-things that we did not understand at the time-and it is right that we should move to help those who were most affected.
We are blessed to have strong, outstanding members of the veterans community in my electorate, like Vietnam vet Haydn Madigan of Port Pirie, who has supported and helped his fellow veterans for decades. He served in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. He has been local pension and welfare officer since 2005 and he is a TIP trained to level 4. Haydn spent nine years as president of the Port Pirie RSL sub-branch and three years on the SA state board. He knows his veteran community. He recently told me just how much his community has benefitted from the coalition’s veterans policy. He congratulated the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Dan Tehan, for improving the accessibility of mental health support to all veterans. He said:
This has previously been a traumatic process for the Veterans to go through and not all veterans have been able to access it at all. It finally recognises that veterans can be affected by their service.
Haydn said the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service has been of great benefit to veterans and their families and that its continued government support will benefit veterans and their families. He said:
Veterans find it difficult to seek employment outside the Services. The proposed ‘Employment Programme’ will greatly help their prospects of finding employment.
And he has welcomed the adjustment to schedule 2, which removes one of the major tension points in veterans applying for intermediate and special pensions.
Haydn said once you are part of DVA they are terrific, but the process of being accessed is a terrible painful process and it stops a lot of veterans applying for a disability pension. In his words, ‘This was an archaic requirement and caused many veterans great hardships when applying for a pension.’
So, in conclusion, I support this bill. I am confident that the combined efforts of our veteran support networks and the coalition government will ensure the best outcomes for those who have given selflessly to the service of their nation. I end this contribution by quoting John F Kennedy:
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.