| September 12, 2018

Veterans' Entitlements Amendment Bill 2018

 It's a great opportunity to be able to rise and talk to the Veterans' Entitlements Amendment Bill 2018. It's very positive that in the House this afternoon the Labor Party has chosen to support this bill and support the continued assistance that we are giving to veterans. This bill is largely an accounting mechanism to enable the Department of Veterans' Affairs to best look after families where, for one reason or another, there has been an overpayment. This generally happens around the time of a death of a veteran who had been receiving a pension and the pension continues to flow for a few weeks after that death. Reconciliation needs to take place. These reconciliations have been going on for as long as military pensions have been paid out. A little reconciliation needs to take place, with a slight overpayment being fixed up by the fact that there is always a bereavement payment.

We've identified the fact that some administrative changes made in 1995 have effectively meant that this ongoing work, this practice that we see happening each and every day, may not be quite kosher. This piece of legislation addresses that so the common practice can continue in a way that is going to be least intrusive to families when they are going through a period of grief.

So, as I said earlier, we believe that this is not going to alter the current practice. It's going to enable the current practice to take place in a manner that is fully agreeable to all those involved. This practice also happens in relation to Centrelink pensioner payments. The main reason we are bringing this bill forward is to give transparency to the ex-service organisations, who also need to know exactly what this bill is going to bring about—to maintain the status quo, to ensure that these adjustments are made in that one single administrative process. That's hopefully going to be a good outcome for people that are in this position. As I said, this inadvertent issue relates to a provision that was removed way back in 1995, and whilst the practice has continued since that time, we have to acknowledge that we have to clean this up. That's why we are doing this.

I think it also gives us an opportunity to touch on the lot of our veterans. Everybody in the House makes sure every time they get the opportunity to say how proud we are of our veterans, and I want to add my voice to that growing number of parliamentarians. We don't understand—I'm sure we think we do, but we don't understand—exactly the sacrifice and the service that many of our military servicemen afford this country. We also need to acknowledge how tough it must be for these servicemen and women when they try and assimilate back into civilian life. Having spent a large portion of their time away from their families, moving back into the family on a full-time basis might not necessarily be as easy as everybody thinks it will be. They may be moving into civilian employment, where maybe respect for each other isn't what they've expected over the previous period of time in the armed services, in the military. Their ability needs to be given a fair amount of empathy because the work that has to take place on behalf of these servicemen and women is incredibly difficult.

I might add that these are the people who have come back in 100 per cent good shape—in fantastic shape physically and in 100 per cent shape mentally. It is still an incredibly difficult task for them to assimilate back into civilian life without the feeling that it is incredibly difficult. Sometimes we need to acknowledge that. Then, of course, there needs to be additional support given to those men and women who may be, in one way or another, seriously affected by the service that they've given in the military.

It's really a worthwhile point for us all to ponder: what more we can do. In fact, we have far too many suicides by the people who have returned from combat in our recent skirmishes, in our recent combats. For our veterans to be obviously affected by post-traumatic stress and then to struggle to find the support that they need is something that we need to give continued and growing support towards as best we possibly can.

I'm very proud of the work that we are doing as a government to try and assist the veterans with the counselling that they need and the counselling that their families may need. When I was the veterans' affairs minister in Victoria, we were able to build accommodation facilities in the city to provide medium- to long-term accommodation and support services in a whole range of health areas. We were able to do that in conjunction with the RSL of Victoria. We were the main funders, but the RSL are still are the operators of that facility. It's located in Richmond, close to public transport and close to a lot of amenities. It's located in an area that can offer single accommodation, husband-and-wife accommodation and also accommodation for a full family. As I say, it was the RSL going back to the government and saying, 'This is the area that we think is currently being missed. It might take somebody approximately six weeks to three months to sort out the mess that they are in. They highlighted that they needed that type of support to be added to the myriad supports that are available for our veterans.

As has been spoken about this afternoon, we've got support for our Veterans' Children Education Scheme and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act Education and Training Scheme to try to assist the children of our veterans with their education and the supports that they need as well. The supports that they need are extremely many and varied. I want to congratulate the minister for bringing this legislation forward. Hopefully, we can sort this issue out. Hopefully, we can make sure that we continue the practice of having minimal impact on these families as they go through their time of loss and grief, we can make the accounting procedures as simple as possible and we can continue to raise the need for government to be in lock-step with our veterans when they return—for all those who are in good health, all those who are struggling at various stages, all those who are struggling every day, and all those somewhere in between, because the lot of our veterans is a mixed and varied lot and they have varying degrees of capacity to live a full and wholesome life. What has to be acknowledged is the respect that the community of Australia has towards our veterans. We need to make sure that they know that they have that respect from each and every one of us.

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