Coalition committed to helping Forrest veterans

I rise to support the amendment moved by the member for Fadden to the second reading of the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2012.

I hope that there are people in the south-west who are watching this debate this evening. I acknowledge them as I acknowledge all of the veterans not only in the south-west but all around Australia.

I have very great respect for them and I believe that the indexation of military superannuation pensions is worthy of support by all in this parliament, and so is the amendment before the House.

The coalition has a very proud record of supporting our ADF veterans and ex-service personnel.

The coalition announced a fair indexation commitment to superannuants aged 55 and over under the DFRB and DFRDB schemes in June 2010. We took this commitment to the 2010 election and we have not given up ever since. We have not given up. We are still working on your behalf.

We introduced legislation to the Senate in November 2010 to provide fair, just and equitable indexation for DFRB and DFRDB military superannuants. In March 2011 the Greens and Labor called for a Senate inquiry into the legislation and then simply used that inquiry to oppose fair indexation—the first time the parliament has ever opposed fair indexation.

What an indictment of this government and the Greens, that they oppose fair indexation for our military personnel. On 16 June 2011 the coalition’s fair indexation legislation was defeated by that Labor-Greens alliance.

Fair indexation remains our policy and our commitment. On 5 March this year the Leader of the Opposition together with the shadow minister for veterans affairs, Senator Michael Ronaldson, signed the coalition’s pledge to deliver fair indexation, and we will.

A coalition government will deliver fair indexation to the 57,000 military superannuants and their families. And do not forget those families. The coalition will ensure that military superannuation pensions are indexed in the same way as age and service pensions.

All DFRB and DFRDB superannuants aged 55 and over will benefit.

Last week we acknowledged and showed respect for Vietnam Veterans Day and recognised, as we should, the sacrifice and the contribution made by our veterans, who were so shabbily and badly treated when they returned.

I attended a very moving ceremony at the Diggers Club in Waterloo in the south-west to honour and show respect for the local men and women who served in Vietnam. The Australian Army sent 42,407 troops to Vietnam between 1962 and 1973. The Royal Australian Air Force sent 4,443 personnel the and the Royal Australian Navy 13,500 personnel.

Of the nearly 60,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1972, 521 were killed in action and more than 3,000 were wounded in action.

This year is particularly important because we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first Australian troops in Vietnam, in 1962.

The first group in were the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, who were sent to South Vietnam in July 1962 to provide support and training to South Vietnamese troops. Training Team Vietnam was a vital component of Australia’s war effort. As well as being the first in they were the last out at the end of the campaign. Their work was absolutely outstanding.

I would like to recognise one person in particular: Warrant Officer LD ‘Aussie’ Osbourn. He was raised in Warner Glen in my electorate. He volunteered for the team in 1964 and completed three tours, finishing in 1971. Aussie spent almost the entire war period in Vietnam as a part of the Australian war effort. Although he has now passed on, he is far from forgotten.

I would also like to recognise Major Vin Murphy, now of Bethany Village, who is another of our Vietnam vets in the Forrest electorate.

The battle of Long Tan is remembered as a classic Australian struggle against massive odds. The 108 men of D Company 6RAR fought against an estimated 2,000 enemy soldiers.

They are nationally and internationally recognised for their tenacity, their courage and their bravery under fire. Bill Wood of Australind was there that day. Bill was originally a farmer from Greenbushes, which was up until recently in the Forrest electorate. He is a local legend.

Other battles deserve no lesser recognition, although Long Tan sits high in our national conscience. All of our veterans and their families deserve respect and our support and acknowledgement for their sacrifice and commitment.

I acknowledge all of the RSLs and our ADF returned servicemen and servicewomen in the south-west and around Australia. I call on all members in this House to show that same level of respect to all of our veterans.

Support the coalition’s amendment and support the fair indexation of the DFRB and the DFRDB legislation that we have before us.

I would suggest that I would be one of a few people in this place who would know directly about the sacrifice made by our servicemen and servicewomen and their families, because I am the daughter of a war widow.

I know very well the sacrifice that my mother and my two older sisters made, as did the families of the other 16 men from the Brunswick and Harvey areas who lost their lives during the war.

It is where I live and where my mother’s husband lived and worked. I know what it did to our family. And I know what it did to the broader community every time Brunswick or Harvey lost another one of its sons. The whole community felt it.

We ask for an incredible commitment from our ADF people. Every time I go out on one of the Defence Force Parliamentary Program tours, I am again reminded of the incredible commitment and the sacrifice that our men and women make.

But I equally understand and respect the sacrifice their families make. I saw my mother make the ultimate sacrifice, as her husband did. He lost his life on the banks of the Busu River in New Guinea in 1943.

I saw what it did not only to my mother, in her later life, but to my sisters for all of their lives. One of them, my sister Judy, did not have any memories of her father because she was so young when he went to war. He went because Australia was under real threat at the time.

Darwin had been bombed, Japanese submarines had entered Sydney Harbour, and it looked like we in this country were going to be overrun. Jack Leonard was one of the oldest people to enlist. He was 43.

He volunteered and went off to New Guinea. He spent his last night in a little dugout hole on the beach. He and his mate, who was only 19, had to dig out enough of a hole to be able to lie in it and keep their heads down. They were in the 2nd/28th and they were the forward patrol.

There was gunfire across their heads for most of the night, so they had to keep their heads down. It was raining incessantly and they had to try to keep their noses out of the water but keep their heads beneath the gunfire.

The next day Jack lost his life. He was surrounded by a ring of six dead Japanese soldiers, whom he had had to deal with in hand-to-hand combat. He lost his life as a result of a sniper shot.

This story is replicated right around Australia, and that is why we know what it is that we ask of our ADF men and women when we ask them to take on the missions this parliament decides that they should.

They go there knowing exactly what they are there to do. Yes, they are exceptionally well trained. And, yes, they do the job we ask of them very well.

Recently I was in East Timor, and last year I had the absolute privilege of being in Afghanistan with our men and women. We know the sacrifice that we ask of them. And we know, because some of them will see five or seven tours of duty, the risk that is involved and the amount of commitment that they display as well as what their families give up.

In recognising some of that, we see before the parliament an opportunity for everybody in this place to show the level of respect that these men and women have earned, not only by what they have done for us but by what they continue to do. We owe it to them to never, ever not show respect for what we ask them to do. We have, in this place, that moral obligation.

I tell you right now, if my mother—that war widow—was alive, she would be saying, ‘Nola, this is something that everybody in this place should do.’ So I am asking you on the other side, for my mother and for everybody else who has suffered and is suffering, and all of those Vietnam vets and all of those who are really asking for our support: please, please give it.

For this one measure that we have in our amendments, please show the respect that our ADF men and women deserve. I believe we really need to honour their service.

This is not a big ask. To all the military service men and women out there, I say that we on this side understand exactly what you have done for this country. That is why the amendments we propose have such a great influence on us and why we take this so seriously.

We are incredibly committed to this, and I personally will have great pleasure in signing the pledge that this is what we will do.

I say to the other side that I am very disappointed, as the daughter of a war widow, that there are not more of you who are choosing to speak on this matter and recognise just what we ask of our people when they go overseas, or even when they are here in Australia, and the enormous commitment they make on our nation’s behalf.

I hope you think really seriously about this. This impacts on people’s lives every day. We owe it to the people who have gone out there and put their lives on the line, as they did. They did exactly what we asked of them as a nation.

They did it exceptionally well, and they made incredible sacrifices on our behalf.

To all the veterans out there, no matter where you are in Australia, I will stand up for you, and I know that my side of politics will stand up for you. I of all people understand exactly what it is that you have done, are doing and will do for this nation. I thank you and I show great respect.

And I say to those on the other side: please, please support the amendment that has been moved by the member for Fadden.