Extremely Disabled War Veterans National Conference
I’m delighted to be here, at the annual conference for the National Association of Disabled War Veterans.
And I’m so pleased you chose Hervey Bay as the location for this year’s event.
The amazing climate and many natural assets, make it an ideal place to retire. The wisdom, local knowledge and life experience veterans bring to our community is invaluable.
The Federal Electorate of Hinkler is fortunate to have a very strong and active veteran population, one that is much larger than the average.
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.
As some of you may be aware, The Coalition promised DFRB and DFRDB veterans a fair go before the 2010 and 2013 elections and we have delivered on that promise.
Military superannuates will now have their pensions indexed in the same way as age and service pensions.
The fair indexation provisions will also extend to reversionary (widow) pensioners aged 55 and over.
It was a long fought campaign for equity, justice and fairness by the Australian veteran community.
The changes we’ve made recognise he unique nature of military service and the sacrifices military personnel and their families make on behalf of all Australians.
In recent months I’ve had the absolute pleasure of announcing funding for several local veterans groups, to undertake bus tours to reduce social isolation, restore memorials and to provide support and advice to veterans and their families.
Three Hinkler veterans groups received a total of $87,000 in Round 16 of the Federal Government’s Building Excellence in Support and Training (BEST) grants.
The BEST program, administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, provides support and resources for welfare officers, pensions officers and advocates within ex-service organisations.
At the 2013 election, the Coalition promised to restore BEST funding to 2010 levels to ensure veterans get support where and when they need it. In our first Budget, we increased the funding by $1 million, bringing the total grant money available nationally for Round 16 to $3.7 million.
In May, I announced the Federal Government will contribute $50,000 towards the expansion of the Freedom Park war memorial in Hervey Bay, under the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program.
The Hervey Bay RSL Sub-Branch has used the funds to help purchase a bronze statue of a light horseman.
The memorial is simply breathtaking, and an inspiring example of what can be achieved when community and Government work together.
The memorial will include a granite wall, with Anzac Centenary 1915-2015 etched in gold. The light horseman will depict the jumping of the trenches.
Before now, Freedom Park could only accommodate about 2,000 people on Anzac Day.
I commend the Hervey Bay RSL Sub-Branch for its commitment to redeveloping the memorial at Freedom Park, to ensure more people can attend Anzac services comfortably and safely.
And I very much look forward to attending its opening next month.
At the northern end of my electorate, I’ve announced $10,000 for the Woodgate RSL Sub-Branch to build a memorial on the esplanade.
Childers Military and Memorabilia Museum has been granted $3000 to purchase cabinets to display and preserve the pieces for the thousands of tourists, locals and school children who visit the museum each year.
Bundaberg Regional Council has received $44,941 to build a memorial on the Bargara esplanade in time for 100th anniversary commemorations in 2015.
And the Bundaberg & District Ex-Service Women’s Association has received $1668 to commemorate when the first contingent of Australian Army Nursing Sisters departed for Gallipoli.
These Memorials will be a lasting legacy, a place to pay our respects, and will play an important part in educating future generations about the sacrifices you all made.
I was interested to learn recently that a number of young people in this 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 am extremely grateful to 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.
It is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to facilitate the rehabilitation of those who are injured whilst on duty, and to help them transition into post-service employment. Just last week, Minister for Veterans Affairs Michael Ronaldson announced a new trial initiative that will help wounded, injured or ill veterans achieve employment as part of their recovery.
Those who have served in the ADF, have a lot to offer potential employers and the community.
That’s another reason why we’ve announced three major initiatives to expand existing mental health services for veterans and their families.
Eligible veterans will have access to drug and alcohol counselling, and will be able to obtain treatment for certain conditions without needing to lodge a claim for compensation. Counselling services will be expanded to more families, and include treatment for conditions not related to their period of service.
Minister Ronaldson has also announced a new Prime Ministerial Advisory Council, with a renewed focus on mental health, comprised of several very senior defence personnel.
Before I officially open this Conference, I would like to pass on my deepest condolences to the family, friends and comrades of Buddy Lea.
For those of you who are not locals, Buddy was one of our best known veterans who unfortunately passed away last Friday.
Buddy was one of the Heroes of Long Tan, a member of Delta Company, who was badly wounded. A proud Australian South Sea Islander who worked very closely with the local community; with local schools and was always available for pretty much anything you asked of him.
At the Vietnam Veterans Day Memorials I had an opportunity to have a chat with Buddy, and I would like to convey one of the stories which I heard about, I wasn’t there for, but I think it epitomises, not only Buddy, but all Australian servicemen:
Buddy was a gentleman who used to crutches to get around in his later years because of his injuries. At the playing of the Last Post he stood up with his crutches and a gentleman on a park bench next to him didn’t stand. So Buddy suggested it might be a good idea to stand for the Last Post. Apparently this gentleman mustn’t have known who Buddy was and not only refused, but said a few inappropriate things. According to all reports, Buddy dropped both crutches, threw a short right hook, and then suggested that maybe he should lay around and think about what it is that these people had done for the Nation.
With that in mind, I’d like to welcome you all here, and once again, thank you for hosting your annual national conference here in Hervey Bay.
(followed by a minute silence for Buddy Lea)