Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Commonwealth Government CrestThe Honourable Danna Vale MP

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Minister for Veterans' Affairs - Media Releases
The Hon. Danna Vale MP

Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Speech
Saturday 3 July 2004   

 

The Hon Danna Vale MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
South Australian RSL Congress
3 July 2004

It is my privilege and honour to join you today and to address the South Australian RSL Congress.

It has been a pleasure to be able to attend RSL congresses in Tasmania, NSW, Queensland, ACT and Victoria over recent weeks.

The opportunity to talk to veterans and their families over morning tea, at lunch, or at your formal dinners is of great assistance to me.

It helps keep me in touch with grassroots issues, to understand what is important from an individual perspective and to gauge what is working and where there may be room for improvement.

Before I start discussing the busy and successful year we’ve had so far in Veterans’ Affairs I would like to pay tribute to outgoing South Australian RSL President Mr John Bailey, and of course Mrs Gladys Bailey.

Mr Bailey has for 40 years served the welfare needs of ex-servicemen and women and has been a respected spokesman for South Australian veterans as the President of the South Australian RSL.

He should be very satisfied and proud of his efforts to secure the lease over the Drill Hall at Torrens Parade Ground and I wish Mr Bailey well in his future endeavours.

I’m sure veterans’ issues will always remain close to his heart.

I would now like to take the opportunity to welcome Vietnam veteran Jock Statton, as the new President of the South Australian RSL. I look forward to working with you in the future.

It is timely while welcoming the new President of the South Australian RSL to take a moment to acknowledge the strong working relationship between the Government and ex-service organisations.

Since the Howard Government came to office in 1996 we have been listening to the concerns of the veteran community and have been acting on the issues raised. A strong bond has been formed and a constructive working relationship exists which is continually getting stronger.

As a result, our Repatriation system in Australia is mature, efficient and effective - and the envy of the world.

Recently, the Government and ex-service organisations have been working together on the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Scheme and the Clarke Report. In both cases, the positive working relationship has produced beneficial results for members of the veteran community.

Before I discuss these two developments, I would like to tell you more about the 2004-05 Budget for Veterans’ Affairs, which will have a positive impact on veterans.

In May, it was with much personal satisfaction I delivered a number of significant Budget measures resulting in record spending on the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio with funding of $10.6 billion for 2004-05 – a huge increase on the $6.5 billion allocated in 1996-97 Budget.

This was the ninth consecutive increase for the portfolio and an average annual increase of 6.1 per cent since our Government came into office in 1996.

For veterans, the Budget included $328.9 million for new policies, $289 million over five years for the response to Clarke Report and $44.8 million for the new Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Scheme.

This Budget reaffirms our Government’s commitment to the Australian veteran community.

I am certain that the Government’s initiatives will have a positive impact on those members of the veteran community who have greatest need.

The initiatives include:

  • increased fees for specialist medical services;
  • significant commitments to aged care;
  • support for veterans returning home from hospital;
  • continued support for Vietnam veterans’ children;
  • improved management of veterans’ health services;
  • renewed funding for commemorative activities; and
  • measures to ensure consistency between income support arrangements at Centrelink and DVA.

I would like to explain some of these to you in more detail.

Veterans’ access to free, comprehensive medical care will be assured with an additional $158 million over four years to increase fees for medical specialists. Since the announcement of this initiative President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Bill Glasson, has shown his support for this initiative.

The specialist fees will be increased by between 15 and 20 per cent to ensure eligible Gold and White Card holders can access quality specialist care across Australia.

This follows on the huge success of last year’s Budget initiative which has seen an additional 2200 General Practitioners sign up to work as Local Medical Officers across Australia. Bringing the total of LMO’s to 15,700.

The Government’s support for Vietnam veterans and their children was a crucial part of the Budget with just under one million dollars allocated for the continuation of the Vietnam Veterans’ Children Support Program.

This program has been transferred from the Department of Health and Ageing to Veterans’ Affairs as part of the Government’s commitment to provide ease of service and access for Vietnam veterans and their families.

The children’s program was first funded in 2000 as part of the Government’s response to the Vietnam Veterans’ Health Study. All other programs that were announced as part of the package are continuing as part of on-going funding to assist Vietnam veterans and their families.

While we are discussing Vietnam veterans and their health, I would like to give you an update on other examples of the Government’s commitments to Vietnam veterans – the Third Vietnam Veterans’ Mortality Study and the Cancer Incidence in Vietnam Veterans Study.

These studies will update the mortality figures for Vietnam veterans, which were last published in 1997, and investigate cancer incidence in Vietnam veterans. This is the first time cancer incidence has been investigated for all Service branches.

We are currently working with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare analysing preliminary cancer incidence data and expect the report to be completed later this year. The mortality study will be finalised shortly thereafter.

While we’re on the subject of health studies - I previously announced that our Government would undertake a general health survey of surviving Korean War veterans in response to findings of the cancer incidence study that was released last year.

The questionnaires for this study have been sent out progressively since March and response rates have been very positive.

Another program I am proud to be associated with is Veterans' MATES.

Yesterday I was pleased to announce that DVA has signed a major contract with the University of South Australia to deliver a new program to support and promote the correct prescribing and use of medicines in the veteran community.

Through Veterans’ Medicines Advice and Therapeutic Education Services — more simply known as Veterans’ MATES – we hope to improve quality of life and health outcomes for veterans.

The University of South Australia has an impressive reputation for excellence in pharmaceutical research and I am confident that this program will be successful within the veteran community.

Returning to the Budget – commemorative activities are once again a small but special component of the Budget.

The popular Saluting Their Service Commemorations program has been extended for four years at a cost of $15.1 million.

Community groups and schools have welcomed the program as it provides funding for projects such as the refurbishment and establishment of community memorials, and education resources on Australia’s wartime history.

One aspect of the commemorations Budget is the major redevelopment of the post-1945 galleries at the Australian War Memorial.

An amount of $11.6 million will be provided to construct a new building for staff and storage space displaced by the redevelopment and expansion of the Australian War Memorial’s exhibitions of post-1945 conflicts.

The expansion of these exhibitions will better reflect the service and sacrifice of those Australians who participated in those operations. The operations covered by the redeveloped exhibitions will include Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq and peacekeeping commitments.
The last year has also seen the reinstallation of G for George at the Memorial. It has been a very busy year for the Memorial and with the additional Budget funding we can look forward to seeing more great things from the Memorial.

Recently, we all took time to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day – South Australian veteran Robert Cowper, was one of the veterans chosen to receive France’s highest honour, the Legion of Honour on behalf of all the Australian veterans who served in the D-Day Operations and ensuing Battle for Normandy.

As you would be aware 2005 will be a busy year for World War II commemorative anniversaries. The Government has provided $4.5 million for the commemoration of significant wartime anniversaries including Victory in Europe (VE) Day, Victory in Pacific (VP) Day and the anniversary of major campaigns in Papua New Guinea and Borneo.

Under commemorative funding the Government has also allocated $4.5 million over four years to maintain war graves and significant overseas memorials.

I was also pleased to see that five South Australian organisations recently received Veteran & Community Grants totally more than $60,000, for projects including a health program and hosting the National RSL Lawn Bowls Carnival.

I would now like to tell you more about the Government’s commitment of $289 million in response to the Clarke Report.

The Clarke Report funding complements the initiatives in the Budget and has delivered a fair and responsible outcome for veterans and war widows with areas of need and concern targeted.

Legislation for the Clarke Report has now passed through Parliament paving the way for implementation of a number of initiatives including:

  • the new indexation arrangements for the Above General Rate component of TPI pension, benefiting more than 45,000 veterans, to be paid on the payday of 22 July 04 and backdated to 20 March 04;
  • the new Defence Force Income Support Allowance, benefiting some 19,000 veterans and partners who receive their income support from Centrelink, to begin on 20 September 04 and to be paid on the first payday thereafter;
  • increased rent assistance from January 2005 for some 11,000 war widows receiving the income support supplement; and
  • an increase in the maximum funeral contribution benefit from $572 to $1000, to take effect from 1 July 2004.

The new Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Scheme is one of our most important achievements in a year which has had many milestones.

The scheme will meet the needs of the current and future generations of ADF members and their families and came into this week on 1 July.

The scheme does not affect existing veterans, however, I would like to take this opportunity to extend the Government’s gratitude to ex-service organisations and individual veterans who played an important role in developing the scheme.

Australia will, for the first time, provide a single compensation scheme to meet the needs of serving members including veterans and families in the event of injury or death.

The new scheme is a major achievement for the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio.

I take great pride in the achievements of this Government for the veteran community and I have very much enjoyed sharing with you today some of the achievements in the area of Veterans’ Affairs.

I spoke earlier of the strong relationship the Government has developed with ex-service organisations like yours, and look forward to strengthening this partnership for the benefit of the veteran community.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your time, wish you well with your discussions, and I look forward to learning of the results of your deliberations.

ENDS

 
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