Constituency Statement - Veterans and ADF
Mr PITT (Hinkler) (09:45): During the parliamentary break I had the absolute pleasure of meeting with some of Hinkler's veterans at numerous events and announcements across the electorate. I joined members of the Bundaberg & District Ex Servicewomen's Association to inspect progress on an Australian service nurses memorial wall that is being constructed in the existing memorial park opposite the Bundaberg hospital. The federal government has provided two grants for the project through the Centenary of Anzac and Saluting Their Service programs. The association, led by Jenny Waldron and Leone Wilson, is to be congratulated for its tireless efforts in ensuring that the remarkable women who nursed our soldiers both on the battlefield and upon their return to Australia are never forgotten.
I visited the Bundaberg & District Vietnam Veterans Association, where I announced BEST grants for three Hinkler organisations to continue providing invaluable support to our veterans. At the Vietnam Veterans Day memorial service in Hervey Bay I stole a quiet moment and shared a joke on a park bench with Buddy Lea. Those who have met Uncle Buddy know he is never short of a joke, but he also has a softer side and is a real charmer with the ladies. He introduced me to Spike Jones, who was the first bloke Buddy saw when the armoured personnel carriers arrived at the battle of Long Tan. Buddy was badly wounded, lying on the ground. In Buddy's own words, Spike told him, 'Stop lying around; we've got work to do'. I am deeply saddened to report that Buddy has been diagnosed with lung cancer. I wish Buddy and his family well as they go through this very difficult time.
Just as our World War I and II veterans are declining in number, our Vietnam veterans are also ageing. That is why it is so important that we continue to honour them and never forget their sacrifices. My electorate has a larger than average veteran community. The Department of Veterans Affairs currently provides direct financial support to about 3,400 Hinkler residents. Additionally, 556 Hinkler residents receive Defence Force retirement and/or death benefit pensions. I was interested to learn recently that a number of young people in my electorate who are applying to join the Australian Defence Force has increased significantly. In the 2012-13 financial year, 575 Hinkler residents applied, compared with 744 in the 2013-14 financial year. So far, 48 people have applied for the coalition's reinstated ADF Gap Year program.
In a bid to better understand the daily demands placed on our Defence personnel, I spent four days on the Australian Navy's frigate HMAS Newcastle as part of the federal parliamentary exchange program. For much of the time they conducted work-up exercises under the supervision of the Navy Sea Training Group. I had access to all operations—a flight on 'Fatcat',the ship's helicopter support; boarding parties; damage control; and the general life of our Navy personnel. I would like to thank the crew of HMAS Newcastle: the Captain, the XO, and the Sea Training Group. What they all do in the service of their nation is nothing short of extraordinary. I would especially like to thank the ship's Warrant Officer, Vaughn Heath, who I bunked in with. I wish the crew of HMAS Newcastle a safe deployment and thank them and our veterans for their service to our country.