Bills - Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment (Defence Force) Bill 2017 - Third Reading

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:17): I wasn't intending to take part in this debate, but I get sick and tired of certain politicians, particularly Senator Lambie, coming into this chamber and throwing one-liners away about how awful the Department of Veterans' Affairs is and how it's a shambles and how the veterans aren't well looked after by the government and the Australian taxpayer. I want to put on record that the Department of Veterans' Affairs does a magnificent job in looking after our veterans and the people who've done so much for Australia in years gone by. The minister, Mr Tehan, is approachable. He's very understanding and he will do everything in his power to help all of those for whom he has responsibility as the Minister for Veterans' Affairs.

I'm not well-versed in the detail of veterans affairs matters, but often people approach me, as a senator for Queensland, with problems. Do you know what I do? Rather than going to my local newspaper or television station and getting a headline about thumping the desk about how awful this one individual case is, I actually get in touch with the minister's office. If it's possible to resolve the matter, I will work quietly with the minister and the department to get a resolution. No headlines, no politics, no seeking votes, no wanting to be known in the community because I make these outrageous claims as political pointscoring—I get in and do the job, and I know that most parliamentarians do the same. Whilst the Department of Veterans' Affairs are not perfect—none of us are—they will try their best to help out, and they do.

It's not only the department. The department and the minister and the minister's office work with the RSL communities around Australia, with the advocates for veterans, and do their very best to help. I have members of my own family who receive assistance from the Department of Veterans' Affairs—magnificent assistance. In fact, at times I'm overwhelmed by the support my aged sister, who is the widow of a veteran, actually gets. I don't want to prolong this debate but I do get very sick and tired of these one-liners—unsubstantiated usually—about how awful the department, the public officials, the minister, the RSL clubs and all those trying to help veterans are. I urge senators who do get genuine complaints to speak with the minister and speak with the department. Try and resolve the matter—don't use it to score political points.

As recently as last Friday I was at Lavarack Barracks, Australia's largest Army base. I was farewelling, on my own behalf and on behalf of the minister for the Army, the latest task force group going to the Middle East. I met a lot of the troops there. One particular soldier I spoke to had his grandparents there. The grandfather was in a wheelchair and, while I was there, he approached me about this. He had a complaint about his wheelchair and his mobile walker. I said to him: 'Look, here's my card. Please get in touch with my office. We can't talk about the problem here, but I'm very happy to try and help you resolve the issue you're having. It may not be possible, but I'll try and help you.' That's what senators should do. We shouldn't be making veterans affairs an issue for political pointscoring that achieves nothing.

I urge senators, if they are genuinely interested in our veterans, to actually deal with the minister's office on the issues that veterans have. The minister, I know, is so approachable. His office is very, very good. The department is good and understanding. They can't help 100 per cent of the time, but they'll always try. Where they can't, those of us who have elected positions in this parliament can always try to either amend the rules or amend the legislation. But these cheap, throwaway lines about the department being a shambles are simply not correct. Ninety-eight per cent of the time they do a wonderful job and can resolve issues that come forward. In deference to the great work of the minister, his office, the department, the RSL clubs, the advocates, the other service organisations, such as Vietnam veterans—all of whom do so much work to help the veterans whom we all owe enormous gratitude—I think we should be celebrating what they all do and not using cheap, throwaway lines for political pointscoring.

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