Speech to the Australian Peacekeepers & Peacemaker Veterans Association National Conference, 21st October 2011 - Brisbane

Good morning its great to be with you for the Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans Association National Conference.

I would like to acknowledge, The President of your association Mr Allan Thomas, other members of your executive, Vice-president Dale Potter, Secretary Paul Copeland, Treasurer Rhonda Copeland. Members of you national committee, Chris Chatterton, Michael Quinn, Glenn Keyte. Air commodore Cameron Stewart representing Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshall Geoff Brown. Captain Peter Leavy, representing the Chief of the Navy Admiral Ray Griggs.

Other current serving personal. Assistant Commissioner Paul Doyle, Shane Carmody, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Peacekeepers and peacemakers, ladies and gentleman. I am honoured to have been asked to open your National Conference.

My presence here was to represent the Coalition, particularly my colleagues within the Defence portfolios, Senator David Johnston, Senator Michael Ronaldson, Senator Gary Humphries and Mr Stuart Robert MP, and of course our Leader Tony Abbott.

Australia has a proud history of service in global humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, protecting those in need of help and assistance. Our involvement in such operations first began with three personnel deployed to Indonesia in 1947 as part of the United Nations Good Offices Commission to Indonesia. Since then, as you are all well aware, our nation has been involved in peacekeeping operations right across the globe.

Peacekeepers uphold and defend the basic principles of humanity. The men and women who have served our nation as peacekeepers have done so diligently and with integrity. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans Association for the hard work they put in representing their members, an effort that is made more noteworthy when you consider the broad base from which your membership is drawn - veterans who served in Namibia in the late 1980s and Kuwait, Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzogovnia, the Balkans, East Timor, the Solomons, Afghanistan and Iraq since then.

The effort that goes into providing advocacy and support services in locations right up and down the country, in cities like the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Townsville, Sydney, Albury/Wodonga, Melbourne, Geelong, Torquay, Adelaide, Darwin and Tasmania, is worthy of acknowledgement and I would like it if you would join with me now in congratulating the executive members who are with us today for what they do on behalf of members.

I was pleased last week to meet with your president Allan and Secretary Paul in Canberra. Our meeting was to discuss the submissions made by the APPVA to the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal on a number of inquiries, including an inquiry into recognition for personnel who served in Somalia, Papua New Guinea, Rhodesia and also the inquiry into the creation of a Peacekeepers medal. Each of the submissions that were made by the APPVA were comprehensive, included detailed research and presented passionate arguments to support the recommendations contained within them. I am pleased to say that some of the recommendations made by the APPVA were indeed accepted by the Tribunal in their reports to Government. We were also able to discuss the Contention Paper produced by the APPVA which discussed a number of perceived issues with the structure, procedure and standards of the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal.

The Coalition supports the concept of an independent tribunal to review and decide on matters relating to recognition of defence honours. It is vitally important to maintain the integrity of our defence honours system. However for the Honours and Awards Tribunal to be most effective, it must also have the confidence of the men and women who are most impacted by its decisions, that is defence personnel past and present, all of whom make sacrifices on behalf of their country.

Further to my meeting with Mr Thomas and Mr Copeland I can assure you all today, that the Coalition has heard your concerns and that they have been taken very seriously. The information passed on to me in the Contention Paper and in my meeting Mr Thomas and Mr Copeland will be considered as the Coalition develops policies regarding the way in which we investigate and review decisions related to defence honours.

The Coalition will of course conduct further consultation with stakeholders in the policy area and we welcome the continued involvement of the APPVA. I know the APPVA have disagreed with a number of the recommendations made by the tribunal which were subsequently accepted by the Government. The Tribunal, at its core, is an authority which conducts inquiries on issues referred to it by Government and makes recommendations based on these inquires. While the current Government has indicated that they will usually follow Tribunal recommendations, they are in no way bound to do so.

If the APPVA is unhappy with a recommendation of the Tribunal, there is no facility to appeal these recommendations directly. However if the Government accepts the recommendation there appears scope to appeal these Government decisions to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, as you could any other Government decision.

I thank your organisation for briefing me on the matters which will be considered as the Coalition continues to work on policies relating to defence honours. I will also take this opportunity to touch on a couple of other issues relevant to members of the APPVA. Firstly, the Campbell Review into military compensation. Most of you will be aware that in 2009 a review was announced into the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004.

The Coalition supported the review and keenly awaited its recommendations. Although the review was released in March, seven months ago, we are still awaiting on the Governments response. The report will have long-term consequences for veterans and their families and the Gillard Governments delay is unacceptable. Public consultation into the findings of the review were completed in June, we are now in October. The Government needs to speed up their decision making process and take a position. Prior to the last election, the Coalition committed to extensive consultation on the Reviews findings. My colleague Senator Ronaldson has honoured this commitment. The outcomes from these consultations will be considered when we develop our response to the Governments position. Unfortunately the delay in responding to the findings of the Campbell review is representative of the indecisiveness that is plaguing the defence ministers office.

Some of you may be aware of the huge bow wave that is being generated in defence procurement as deadlines and delivery dates are constantly being pushed to the right. Secondly, I know that you will be concerned by the Governments decision to cut veterans advocacy funding. The terrible waste and massive cost blow-outs that have come to typify this Government means that funding for grass-roots veterans advocacy has become a victim to Wayne Swans political campaign for a budget surplus; a surplus that I am confident wont be delivered. The decision to tear away millions from veterans has come at a time when the Government is spending $4000 dollars a day on cigarettes for asylum seekers, thats just part of the $709million that taxpayers will fork out this year to try and contain the disaster that is the Gillard-Brown border protection policy. Labors decision to cut funding from this vital area has the potential to jeopardise the implementation of recommendations from the Advocacy Funding Review released earlier this year. Moreover, younger veterans making claims for assistance, and veterans in regional areas will particularly suffer from these cutbacks. In contrast, at the last election the Coalition committed to cut wasteful Government spending and provide an extra $7.5million to veterans advocacy funding.

This extra funding was promised in recognition of the workload pressures that grass-roots veterans advocacy programs are under every day. We know that workloads are remaining constant and that these grants provide essential assistance to enable these organisations to do their work. The Coalition is aware of the position of the APPVA regarding veterans advocacy funding and will have more to say closer to the next election.

Finally, an issue which would be important to many of your older members, those who entered the ADF prior to September 1991 and are members of the DFRDB scheme, and that is the issue of indexation. For many years, DFRDB recipients have campaigned for fairer indexation of the scheme. They havent been calling for outrageous increases, just enough to keep up with the cost of living, something the existing scheme struggles to do and a situation that will be made worse when the full effects of the carbon tax are felt. Despite promising to fix the indexation of the DFRDB during the 2007 election, subsequent federal Labor Governments have been more interested in pink batts, dodgy school halls contracts and $900 handouts than supporting 57,000 DFRDB recipients. In an attempt to deliver a fair go for veterans the Coalition introduced a bill into the Senate to rectify the situation. Labor, making an art form of breaking election promises, misrepresented Treasury costings and called in the support of their Greens coalition partners to block the legislation.

This was a terrible outcome for veterans and demonstrated the utter lack of respect the current Government has for the veteran community. The Coalition is committed to reforming the indexation arrangements for DFRDB recipients. I am mindful of the busy schedule that you have in front of you today and dont wish to exceed my speaking time however I would like to reinforce the Coalitions commitment to veterans. We will listen to the concerns of stakeholders, like the APPVA, regarding the systems in place for reviewing defence honours and awards. We will be decisive and timely with decision making so that veterans are not left wondering about their futures. We understand the importance of grass-roots veterans advocacy groups and will do what ever we can to ensure they can reach out and assist those who need it most. And we will ensure that DFRDB pensions are indexed so that veterans are not unfairly affected by rising costs of living. Finally I would like to again congratulate the APPVA and particularly your executive for their dedicated and tireless efforts representing the interests of members and providing an inclusive and supportive community for veterans who have been involved in peacekeeping and peacemaking operations; well done. With that I officially open your conference. I wish you well in your deliberations today and good luck for the future.

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