Local program helping our Veterans
It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak in support of the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 1) Bill 2018.
Our ADF personnel put their lives on hold in service of our nation. They take risks, they make sacrifices and they commit their lives and wellbeing to the protection of this country, to the protection of our way of life, to the protection of our nation's security and to the protection of our wellbeing. Upon return, the scars these men and women bear are not always visible. In these circumstances, we as a nation have a duty of care both to our returned service personnel and to their families—and I want to underscore that. This is as much about the veterans as it is about their families. I know of my late father-in-law's experience and my late mother-in-law's experience. My late father-in-law was a Vietnam vet and my late mother-in-law always said that she got a different man back from the war. So this is as much about the families, Mr Deputy Speaker, as it is about the veterans, and, as you know, it's not just the partner or the spouse of the serving member; it's also the children. We hear of those stories of intergenerational PTSD as a result of the trauma—the post-traumatic stress that has emanated from conflict and from serving in really difficult circumstances, including disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. It potentially has a significant knock-on effect down the generations. So it is our duty as a nation to care for those returned service personnel and their families and children to ensure that they receive the support they need to live full and productive lives.
That's why the Senate inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel was so important. It allowed us to explore the issues facing our ex-service men and women and identify ways we can improve outcomes for our veterans and their families. The report made 24 recommendations and the bill addresses two of those recommendations. It establishes an interim incapacity payment for mental health and increasing support for families. Support for veterans' families has been an issue that Labor has been pursuing, particularly the member for Kingston, who is the shadow minister. She's been an active advocate on this issue. She has pursued this issue relentlessly, particularly through the Family Engagement and Support Strategy for Defence Personnel and Veterans. I am delighted that Labor has committed to developing this strategy if elected. The bill is comprehensive in its amendments, with eight different schedules covering a variety of areas, including family support, as I mentioned, veteran payments, compensation for catastrophic injury, a coordinated veteran care mental health pilot, qualifying service and the Specialist Medical Review Council—a range of areas are covered by this bill.
I want to go into a number of those schedules. The previous speaker went into all eight and I do want to cover them off for the purposes of the record. Schedule 1, as he mentioned, seeks to provide additional support for current and former members and the families of current and former members, including deceased members, by providing additional childcare arrangements, counselling, household services and attendant care. This schedule is in direct response to recommendation 19 of the Senate inquiry, which called for a review of the support available to partners of veterans to identify avenues of assistance. As I mentioned, it is not just the veterans who experience trauma and feel the effects of conflict sometimes many years after the actual event; it's also the families that bear the brunt of that, which is why it's so important that as much support is provided for them as is for the veterans.
Schedule 2 establishes the veteran payment, which is an interim income support payment for those waiting for their mental health claims to be determined. These payments are subject to satisfying an assets and income test and require individuals to engage in vocational and psychosocial rehabilitation including financial counselling. Partners of veterans may also be eligible for a payment. This new payment is also in response to the Senate inquiry and the outcomes of the inquiry into the tragic suicide of Jesse Bird.
Schedule 3 amends the MRCA and the Veteran Entitlement Act to create a new pilot program to improve mental health support available in rural and regional areas. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, coming from a regional area, a number of our defence bases are in regional and rural areas like your own and that of the member for Herbert, who is here speaking on this bill. There is a number of regional areas that house huge populations of the Australian Defence Force and proudly do that, with the ADF knowing very much that they have a social contract with these communities and that there is a mutual respect between both the ADF and the host community, so to speak. There's a number of Defence bases in regional areas, so it's vitally important that we provide those mental health support services in those regional and rural areas where sometimes finding the expertise, the staff and the skills can be challenging. I know that the member for Herbert, who is a professional in this space and has been an active advocate of mental health for decades, will be discussing this issue in more detail in her contribution. And I commend and thank the member for Herbert for her contribution to the mental health of her community for, as I said, not just a few years but decades across a broad range of areas. I look forward to hearing the member's discussion on that later.
Schedule 4 will amend the existing provisions in relation to compensation for household and attendant care services where an ADF member sustains a catastrophic injury or disease under the MRCA. The new provisions will enable the commission to specify the conditions for the purposes of the definition of 'catastrophic injury'. The provisions will allow the commission to approve weekly amounts of compensation for household and attendant care services—so vital in support for those who are doing it tough—and those services will be provided in circumstances that are considered reasonable.
Schedule 5 is the first legislative amendment supporting the implementation of veterans-centric reform and is part of the broader improvement strategy designed to ease the transition process for veterans.
Schedule 6 makes a number of technical amendments to the DRCA which will remove redundant references to Comcare and other bodies and repeal provisions not related to providing compensation and rehabilitation to current and former ADF members and eligible persons.
Schedule 7 makes a number of consequential amendments related to the veterans' affairs omnibus act of last year. A number of references are made to 'the council', which will now change to a uniform reference of 'the review council'.
Schedule 8 makes a number of amendments and the first to the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests and British Commonwealth Occupation Force (Treatment) Act 2006. It will enable a person who was a member of the ADF and who served in Japan at any time from 16 August 1945 to the end of 30 January 1946 to be eligible for the gold card. This amendment is intended to extend the gold card eligibility to those members of the ADF who served in Japan just prior to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force and subsequently missed out on the changes that came about last year. The second change aligns the pension age in the VEA with the DRCA and MRCA. That's it for the schedules. I thought there was one more!
That gives you a very brief overview of the detail that is in this bill that provides support to veterans and their families across a broad range of areas and addresses a number of glitches that weren't anticipated in reforms of the past. But specifically, in closing, I just want to spend some time talking about a fantastic veterans program in my own community.
Everyone is familiar with Soldier On and the great work that they do. They had a launch just this week, at Parliament House, of their latest program of employing their veterans in a range of programs across Australia. But there's a very special program that's very quietly operating in my electorate, up at Tharwa. I visited there just recently to go and talk to the owner of this program about the great work that he's doing in providing some sort of therapy and healing for veterans, as well as easing the transition for those veterans who are leaving the ADF and going into civilian life. As you know from your experience, Deputy Speaker Buchholz, and from the experience of those members here, it can be quite traumatic leaving that sense of mission that people have from wearing a uniform and serving their nation through the ADF to go into a civilian life.
I want to give a shout-out to Karim and Mark at the Tharwa Valley Forge. Through Karim and Mark's efforts, they've developed a wonderful knife-making program—beautiful knives, Deputy Speaker; I'd love to take you out there. The knife-making program has been developed for veterans and retiring defence personnel. Mark and Karim developed a series of courses for veterans and their families that will assist them to reintegrate and reconnect following their military service. Fortunately, they managed to secure a grant of $58,000 under the Veterans and Community Grants program. Through that, they're now providing 64 veterans with 16 courses, and that will give them this wonderful opportunity to engage in making knives through this forge.
The Tharwa Valley Forge is not just a forge. They've got the knife-making program where they're focusing on veterans and easing that transition for veterans and helping in the healing, but they've also got blacksmithing. They've got a blacksmithing operation out the back of the forge. And Karim and Mark and his partners have got big plans for a range of programs for veterans in the future. What is so terrific about the forge is the fact that they use a model based on sustainable altruism. It's already been providing real benefits to veterans, and it will do so in the future. It was just terrific to visit and see these beautiful knives and the work that's being done but also to talk to the veterans and see the impact that it has on them. There were a number of veterans.
One veteran was there with his girlfriend because he wanted to do something in partnership with her. He wanted to have a hobby, a craft, in partnership with her. Through serving, he was constantly leaving her behind, and in going through rehabilitation and healing and transitioning he was constantly leaving her behind. He doesn't want to leave her behind anymore. He wants her to be part of this journey through this healing, through this wellbeing, through this transition, so he was there with his girlfriend. He said to me: 'Look, there are all these terrific programs that Soldier On runs. There are all these other terrific programs where other outfits—Mates4Mates and a range of other really great organisations—are doing great work. But there's a lot of yoga; it's a lot of art therapy—it's a lot of activities that I traditionally wouldn't be interested in.' What he loves about the forge and the work that Karim and Mark are doing is that he gets to make knives and to create beautiful things out of metal through blacksmithing. Over the course of the three days of the course, the participants start by forging their own steel. They shape and sharpen their own blades, they make the handles out of wood and handcraft the wood, and then they piece it all together, the end product being a beautiful, magnificent piece of art.
Finally, I will talk about Mark. He took a circuitous to knife-making. He enlisted in the army at 17, served for 13 years and saw active service in East Timor and Iraq. As a result of his service, he was medically discharged in 2009 and faced a difficult road to recovery. Fortunately, thanks to the work that he's doing with the knife-making and forging—which he gained an interest in through a gift voucher from his wife—he's now actively engaged in creating this amazing transition for veterans: healing them, helping with their transition and really delivering great benefit. I commend the work of the Tharwa Valley Forge.