Veterans Affairs

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09 November 2022

Of the many responsibilities that come with being a representative in this place, I'm particularly proud to represent the interests of members of the Australian Defence Force, both active and retired. As the member for Eden-Monaro, I've had the privilege of representing a significant number of people from the defence community. And, I am particularly proud of my late grandfather's service in the Navy.

Those that are called to serve our nation deserve our deepest gratitude and respect, and I'm pleased to represent them here in parliament. As we approach Remembrance Day this week, we prepare to once again honour those that have served and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We will pause and remember the cost paid by the many that died in the service of our country—them and their families. Our community knows that we must always support our defence forces and their families and the extended communities around them.

Today I am pleased to speak on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2022, an important amendment, particularly for those who have served and suffered either physical or mental health consequences as a result of their service. As a government we recognise that these injuries have consequences to their lives outside of the Defence Force. Those who have suffered disability because of injuries while serving in the defence forces our entitled to a higher rate of pension to reflect the person's inability to work due to these injuries.

This amendment seeks to provide a modest recognition of those that wear the scars of their service. It's honouring an election commitment made by Labor to permanently increase the totally and permanently incapacitated payment for eligible disabled veterans. The commitment was made by Labor after the previous government failed to act on the recommendations made by the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. The committee, at Labor's insistence, conducted an inquiry during the last parliament into the totally and permanently incapacitated payment, and recommendation No. 1 was for a modest increase to that payment. This amendment honours Labor's commitment to act on the recommendation and will, from 1 January 2023, make an annual increase of a thousand dollars to the TPI payment. This increase will go some way to address the decline in the relative value of the payment over time, and it will help ensure that our TPI veterans and their families are provided greater financial support, recognising the impacts of their ADF service.

This is not the only measure that the Albanese government is taking to improve the welfare of veterans and their families. We've already moved to employ additional staff at the Department of Veterans' Affairs to address the disgraceful backlog of claims which was allowed to develop under the previous government. In addition, the departmental staffing cap, which has prevented the DVA from increasing the number of well-trained and permanent staff, will be abolished. I've been shocked and saddened by stories of veterans in my electorate who have had their claims delayed, who have had to make multiple claims, who have had to tell their stories multiple times, and the suffering that has caused them and their families whilst they wait for their claim to be dealt with. It's bewildering that we can hear those stories from people who have served our nation, whilst they wait for answers—and that might continue for some time. Our government's commitment to improve claim-processing times is of vital importance in showing our respect and commitment to those who've served.

The Albanese government has also committed to opening a network of veterans hubs across Australia, located in areas with significant defence and veteran communities, and I am beyond proud that Queanbeyan, in my electorate, will host one of the veterans wellbeing hubs. It has one of the largest communities of both serving and retired members of the Australian defence forces.

I've seen the anticipation of the veterans community for these hubs. I've held round tables, and I thank the Minister for Veterans' Affairs for coming along to one of those round tables in Queanbeyan and speaking to both contemporary veterans and those who have served in conflicts well past. The fact that we have a veterans' affairs minister who's prepared to talk to people on the ground about what will work and what we know won't work in our community is refreshing. These wellbeing hubs will be a one-stop shop for health and mental health services, for wellbeing support, for advocacy services, for employment and housing services, and for the all-important social connections that this initiative promises.

I've heard, time and time again, from veterans in my community, that sometimes the social connections are the things that matter most, and I want to give a shout-out to the Veterans Motorcycle Club, which has its clubhouse in Queanbeyan. It's a fantastic organisation that does just that—provides social connection to former serving personnel and their families. It's something that doesn't mean that they have to talk about what's happened; it's somewhere where they can connect over the issues they were having with DVA; it's somewhere where people can come together just for a laugh and know that they've got a shared history and connection.

Other initiatives that are being developed by the Albanese Labor government for the veterans community are housing and employment programs and increasing levels of support for defence families. We know that defence families play a crucial role in getting our veterans integrated back into communities, but they also play a significant role for serving members of the Defence Force. And, so often, those families have to be home alone, without their loved one, as they serve in the Defence Force, whether here or abroad.

We are committed to continuing to meet the challenges being investigated by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. This measure demonstrates that the government is listening to the needs of veterans and their families.

I commend the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2022 to the House. Those who serve and permanently suffer from injuries resulting from their service deserve our deepest respect and continuing gratitude and the modest recognition that this measure provides.