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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12304

Veterans' Affairs Policy Launch, Epping, Sydney

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/10/2001

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 12304


Well thank you very much Bruce, to my other parliamentary colleagues, Senator Bill Heffernan, Senator Maurice Payne, senators from New South Wales, Kerry Chikarovski the leader of the New South Wales opposition, Andrew Tink the shadow minister for police and correctional services and the member for Epping, and Brian Pezutti a member of the New South Wales upper house. Can I also again thank Charles Brown and Peter Strachan of the Epping RSL club for making this magnificent facility available for this launch. I really do appreciate it very much.

The Epping RSL club in the tradition of all RSL clubs in Australia is a great community organisation and makes it facilities available to all shades of political and community opinion. And it is a great credit to its leadership and to its membership.

I am particularly pleased to be able to launch this veterans’ affairs policy of the Coalition here in my own electorate. I do so with a great deal of pride and a great deal of conviction. And may I say how particularly pleased I am to launch this policy in front of a flag for which I have always had unwavering support.

It has always been the policy of my party and always will be, without qualification, without bowing to temporary fad or fashion to support the retention of the Australian flag as a proper expression both of the history, the contemporary experience and the future of our nation. I’m also conscious that I launch this policy at a time when inevitably our thoughts may well turn to people who in the not too distant future might become on behalf of our country and in the name of freedom, veterans of military combat and military participation. It is therefore an especially poignant time to be launching a veterans affairs policy. It is an opportunity for me again to record my admiration and respect and gratitude for my generation on behalf of all of those of earlier generations and of future generations who served their country and put their lives on the line to preserve the freedom that we enjoy.

The world does face an enormous challenge at present. The fight against terrorism is difficult, it is new, it is unprecedented in its scale and the future is difficult to know with certainty. But one thing we can be certain about and that is this, that history tells us if we turn away from threats in the vain hope that they will disappear of their own volition, we will be sadly mistaken. And as the generation I look out on and that is the generation of World War II, knew and learnt far better than any generation in the history of Australia, indeed the history of the world. It was the refusal of free peoples and free men and women to recognise the nature of the challenge in the 1930s that bought about the terrible events with such awful consequences of World War II.

Now although the circumstances and the scale is different, the principle involved is the same. We must and we will stand with our American allies and our American friends in defence of the things that we hold so dear and we hold in common. And we think at a time like this not only of people who were veterans of World War I and World War II, of Korea, of Vietnam, of Malaya, but also those that in more recent times have served with such great distinction in places such as Bougainville and East Timor. We think also of the magnificent service under very difficult circumstances of the men and women of the Royal Australian Navy who have served on vessels such as HMAS Manoora which has taken some of the illegal asylum seekers to Nauru. We think of those who are serving on HMAS Adelaide and all the other vessels and we think particularly of those who may at some time in the not too distant future be asked to serve the cause of liberty, the cause of freedom and the cause and the defence of their own country as part of allied activity against terrorism.

We are very proud of the policy launched today, entitled “Supporting Those Who Served”. Because what this policy does is to build on five and a half years of improvements to the support available to our veterans and to our war widows. And it also commits the Coalition to further extending recognition health care and compensation to these Australians who have a very special place, not only in our community but in our hearts. And at a time when Australia has once again committed itself to international efforts against aggression we are reminded of the contributions of earlier generations. And it is the acknowledgment of this proud tradition by a grateful Australian community since World War I that has ensured that we have the most comprehensive and best repatriation system in the world.

Over the last five and a half years there have been a number of initiatives of the Coalition Government. And in recording these initiates let me also pay tribute to initiatives of earlier governments of both sides of politics that have contributed to looking after the veterans of Australia. As many of you will know I have always endeavoured as far as it is possible in the nature of political combat and political rivalry to ensure that attitudes towards benefits for veterans is kept on as bipartisan a basis as possible in accordance with the very proud bipartisan traditions of returned service men and women all around Australia.

Over the last five and a half years the Gold Card has been extended to provide comprehensive free health coverage to a further 38,000 Australian veterans aged over 70 with World War II qualifying service.   In the last budget the Coalition provided a $25,000 tax free cash payment to Australian service personnel and civilians held prisoner of war by the Japanese during World War II and to their surviving widows. The Coalition Government legislated to link the service and war widows pensions to 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings when consumer price index increases failed to maintain that benchmark. We also restored the pension rights of thousands of war widows who had their pensions cancelled when they chose to remarry. And can I on a personal note say that it was in the boardroom of this very club some six or seven months ago that I met two constituents of mine representing the interests of that category of Australian war widows and it was that conversation that in the end proved conclusively to me that this was a priority that ought to be dealt with in the last budget.

In the area of health, $3.2 million has been provided to support Vietnam veterans and their families addressing the validated findings of the Vietnam veterans health study. We’ve also spent over $391 million since 1996 to help older veterans stay in the family home through initiatives like veterans home care. For the 150,000 veterans living in remote and regional areas of Australia we have spent over $40 million in health and counselling initiatives and opened more than 70 veterans affairs regional offices. In the last budget we extended the repatriation pharmaceutical benefits scheme to up to 47,000 British, Commonwealth and allied veterans who are aged 70 or over, have qualifying service from World War II and have lived in Australia for more than ten years.

In the area of commemoration this government has of course has been an active and generous supporter of the Australian National War Memorial and I was especially touched and proud when some eight weeks ago during the Ausmin talks attended on behalf of the United States by the Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld and the Commander-in-Chief of the American Forces in the Pacific Admiral Blair, we had dinner at The Lodge with them as our guests and my two ministerial colleagues Alexander Downer and Peter Reith. Admiral Blair and the Secretary for Defence remarked to me how tremendously impressed they had been with our War Memorial. In fact Admiral Blair said it is without doubt the best War Memorial in the world and one for which Australians should be particularly proud.

Now we will continue our generous support of plans to expand the War Memorial. I recently opened the commemorative ANZAC Hall and I expect to have discussions with the Chairman of the Council of the War Memorial and also with the Director to discuss further plans for the development and expansion of what remains the outstanding point of attraction for Australians who visit our national capital. We also funded the $5 million documentary series Australians at War. We provided $1.2 million for the new ANZAC commemorative site at Gallipoli which I opened along with the Prime Minister of New Zealand on ANZAC day in the year 2000 and $6 million for a new memorial to Australian servicemen and women which is scheduled to be opened in London on ANZAC day in the year 2003 and it will be the first permanent and significant memorial in the United Kingdom to those tens upon tens of thousand who put their lives on the line in the defence of Great Britain particularly during World War II. Those are the things that we have done and they are an earnest of our commitment to the support of the veterans’ community in Australia.

I am very pleased to announce three new initiatives that will be implemented by the Coalition Government if it is returned to office at the election on the 10th of November. We are of course particularly concerned to meet the health needs of veterans within our community and therefore this policy commits the Coalition to extending the Gold Card to Australian veterans of Post World War II conflicts who are 70 years of age or over and who have the necessary qualifying service.

Secondly and of equal importance the Coalition will also ensure that our war widows receive more appropriate compensation. We therefore intend to unfreeze the income support supplement that was frozen in 1986 and to index the payment to increases in male total average weekly earnings or the Consumer Price Index which ever is the greater. This measure, which will cost some $70 million over four years will directly benefit about
85 000 war widows in Australia.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Coalition is also aware that some groups of ex-servicemen and women may have a claim to entitlements under the Veterans Entitlement Act but are currently denied access to benefits because of perceived anomalies and injustices in the definition of qualifying service. These groups include some World War II veterans currently without qualifying service. Veterans of the British Commonwealth Occupation forces of Japan, participants of British atomic testing in Australia and servicemen engaged in counter terrorist and special recovery training. The Coalition is committed to a high profile and independent review to consider anomalies within the current eligibility criteria for veterans’ entitlements. This review will be conducted in the early New Year and in close consultation with the ex-service community. It will seek to focus on perceived anomalies and injustices in the current provisions determining access to veterans’ benefits. We’ll continue ladies and gentlemen to encourage younger Australians to learn more about and commemorate the sacrifices made by Australians of earlier generations who secured for the young of today the freedoms they now enjoy and I know to all of us whether we are veterans or not, one of the most pleasing things about the evolution of Australians’ attitudes towards this country and its history and its past and its achievements is the way in which the young are taking to themselves an understanding and an affection for what the men and women of earlier years did in the defence of this country.

I have said before and it is appropriate that I repeat it again this morning that probably as moving a day as I have had in the five and half years that I have been Prime Minister of this country was on ANZAC day last year when Janette and I attended along with the Prime Minister of New Zealand and her husband, the ANZAC Commemoration on ANZAC Cove and opened the new commemoration site. It was a very moving service, it was a magnificent day made absolutely unforgettable by the 12 000 to 15 000 young Australians and New Zealanders who packed the shores of ANZAC in a robustly Australian but always totally respectful commemoration of what those deeds long ago meant to them and meant to our country. It has almost become to that generation a rite of passage as an Australian young man or woman. It was moving, it was different and it was something a generation ago I don’t think many of us would have thought was likely to come about. And it is a reminder of the great affection in which a generation of Australians that the great body of his room represent. It is a reminder of the great affection in which you are held by your fellow Australians and I hope the repatriation programs that have been put in place by successive Australian Governments of both sides of politics and I hope these policies which I have announced today if the Australian people re-elect us and we therefore have the opportunity of implementing them. I hope that they will be part of a long continuum of the never ending gratitude that Australians feel for those who put their lives on the line. Many of those lives were lost, thankfully so many were not, and the least we can do is to honour their service for the rest of their lives.

So again to you Charles thank you for making Epping RSL Club available. I commend this policy to the Veteran community. I reaffirm my strong personal support for you, my great respect for what you have done and the ongoing desire of the Government to help you. And very finally can I think Bruce Scott for the tremendous job that he has done as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. Bruce is a very good friend. Bruce is a very good friend to veterans and I know and I can assure you he is a powerful advocate for your cause.

Thank you very much.


Transcript 12304