Supporting Our Veterans

30 November 2021

Thanks, Deputy Speaker.


I want to join the Member for Monash in reminding all honourable members in this house that we are indeed, as this parliament draws to a close, at a special and particular time in the history of this parliament, with the Member for Lingiari leaving.


And I was reminded of his father yesterday, who served in the independent companies in World War Two, with the passing of Jim Ellwood.


Jim was one of the very last, certainly the last veteran from the island of Timor during World War Two.


He served with the 4th independent company, and from this we remember a couple of things.


One is that the Department of Veterans Affairs is providing services to veterans of that war, the Second World War, and through the generations to the current day to a young Australian soldier, sailor, aviator who's injured or who needs some support, who's in service as we speak.


So I just want to thank my friend, the Member for Lingiari for all of those lives of veterans that he made better during his service as a Veterans Affairs Minister, whether it was here in Australia or overseas, he represented us with distinction.


I know so many people whose lives he made better because of his work with the Department and the ex-service organisations, getting good results.


Just one example from my electorate is someone who's a big character in the Northern Territory, who served with the Department of Defence at Maralinga, who was left to cover all of his own medical bills as he fought cancer and had different procedures.


For him to then receive that acknowledgement and that gold card made all the difference to him.


So thanks, Waz, for all that you did for the veterans community, for all those families, and I just 100 per cent support that sentiment that making life better for our veterans and their families is the focus and that should never be lost in the back and forth of this place.


Up front, I want to say that I support the intent of this bill, and we are supporting it.


Mr Deputy Speaker, I'm glad that the Government has responded to the calls of veterans, their families, certainly from Federal Labor, to see the implementations of the measures that were first announced in the 2021 Budget and due to commence in September this year.


Now that time frame, as I understand, has been brought forward, in particular around rent assistance.


Key elements of the measure contained in this bill will commence on the 1st of January next year.


This is positive news, and Labor, of course, is supporting this, particularly as there is some urgency, to get this legislation passed so that we can start on the 1st of January.


As the Member for Lingiari mentioned, of course, there are those who have been speaking up loudly.


Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) veterans would prefer an increase in the TPI payment, and the federation has been campaigning for that.


The Prime Minister did commission the June review just before the last election, and I hope that he hasn't raised the TPI federation's expectations about an increase in that payment by telling them they had a compelling case and then not be willing to follow through with that.


I guess we'll see in the coming months.


Some TPIs are obviously seeing it as a as a breach of trust, saying that their wishes have been ignored.


But it is why Labor, in its want to make sure that our veterans do have that accountability held to the Government, set up an independent Senate inquiry, and that inquiry found that the federation did indeed make a compelling case and recommended an increase in the TPI payment.


I would point those opposite to the comments of even some of their own members, such as former General Jim Molan, who's also supporting the TPI case.


On top of this, we heard in Senate estimates recently that the Department is struggling to deal with a huge backlog of veteran claims, with 68 per cent of disability pension claims yet to be finalized as of April this year.


I can tell you that a wife of a currently serving member has contacted me and I'll be writing to the Minister in that after in excess of 530 days he still hasn't had someone allocated to his case, and he's obviously still waiting for a determination as he transitions.


And that period of transition is really important.

I think we're going to hear out of the royal commission story after story about how some of our veterans declined in terms of their mental health through the long periods of waiting.


Let me make it clear that when I say this, I'm not taking anything away from the passion and hard work of the members, the employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs.


Not at all.


But governments make decisions about resource allocation, and obviously what needs to happen is that resources are allocated so that we're dealing with these cases of our veterans much quicker than we currently are, and that there's more support.


The chair of the royal commission has also called out the Government for pre-empting and duplicating the work and recommendations of the royal commission with this latest review by McKinsey.


So I just encourage the Minister to ensure that we're not duplicating effort there, that we're not retraumatizing people.


And I call on the Minister and the Government to make sure that there's 24-hour human resources, mental health resources counsellors available for those families and veterans involved in the royal commission to access if they need to.


Often what we find is after-hours is when the black dog can visit, so I think it's important during these hearings that there is 24-hour care.


But as I said, Mr Deputy Speaker, Labor supports this legislation.


We do believe that our veterans and their families deserve the best support.


And I want to again thank all of those who are working on this very important royal commission because it will, I'm sure, identify trends where those patriotic men and women of the Defence Force that have slipped through the cracks.


And we’ll look at how that happened so that we can in a systematic way make those changes that mean that we will give them what the Member for Lingiari said during his speech, which is that what we do makes life better for our veterans and their families.