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Previous Ministers' releases and speeches - Senator The Hon. Michael Ronaldson

Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State

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Thursday, 20 March 2014

Parliament House, Canberra

Topics: Fair indexation of military superannuation

MICHAEL RONALDSON: I’m pleased to be here today with Stuart Robert, the Assistant Defence Minister. This morning the government introduced, in to the House of Representatives, legislation to finally address a great inequity for those who have served this nation. The DFRDB/ DFRB schemes have been indexed only on CPI. That’s completely different to the aged pension, to service pensions.

The Coalition in Opposition, and now in Government, has been pursuing justice for these men and women for at least four years. We tried in the Senate to bring in a fair indexation bill and the Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party voted that down.

We tried to move motions, my colleagues tried to move a motion in the House of Representatives again to bring this matter on for debate, and that was rejected.

Finally, after a long time, the key issue for the veterans’ community has been addressed today. The great challenge now is for the Australian Labor Party and the Greens to pass this legislation and pass it quickly. No equivocation, no amendments, let it through and let justice be done as it should be and I’ll hand to Stuart to talk further about it.

STUART ROBERT: Well today of course Senator Ronaldson and I implemented one of the key election commitments of the Abbott Government. An election commitment we took in 2010, a commitment we subsequently put in to the Senate in the form of a private member’s bill, a commitment we took to the 2013 election.

And all of that is about justice. It’s about saying to our men and women who’ve served so hard and so long that ‘your service is unique’, we recognise that, and we recognise that not only with how you served and when you served, but also when your latter years of service are done, and when your pension begins to take account.

So it’s an incredibly pleasing day for Senator Ronaldson and myself to be able to deliver a fundamental piece of justice and I believe the Labor Party should, quickly move to support it. We have introduced the bill now in March to give plenty of time for review, prior to the budget and of course our strong expectation is this degree of justice will start on the first of July this year.

JOURNALIST: How much will this cost?

MINISTER: The cost is $162 million over four years. This is an indication of how important this government sees this matter of fair indexation. Even in incredibly tight financial times we are meeting a commitment which we have made to the veterans’ community on several occasions. We are in government, we are implementing it. We make no apologies at all for spending that money. You cannot treat people who have served this nation differently to other groups, such as aged pensioners. Fair indexation has been required. This government has finally delivered it.

JOURNALIST: Why do you say it only costs $162 million when the Coalition’s own election costings document puts it at $780 million over three years?

MINISTER: This is through the MYEFO, the top up on the MYEFO last year and it’s fully costed, it’s $162m.

JOURNALIST: But didn’t Treasury say in 2010 this would cost almost $8 billion over the decade to [inaudible].

MINISTER: No, you’re looking at accrual and cash arguments. The cost is $162m over four years.

JOURNALIST: Are you able to give us an explanation of, an example for instance, what somebody receiving so much now will be getting as a consequence of these changes?

MINISTER: Well that depends of course of course on what level, whether they were officers, or what level they were and so it will vary quite differently per person. So it’s really impossible to give you a specific example, it will depend, it will be varied by what level they were at, what salary they were at.

JOURNALIST: Obviously we can ask Labor and the Greens whether they will support it but have you had any indication at this point?

MINISTER: Well, I’m very pleased, I spoke to Senator Nick Xenophon this morning who gave me an absolute passionate commitment to supporting this legislation. I thank Nick most sincerely for that.

It is now incumbent upon the Labor Party and the Australian Greens, the Greens political party, to let this legislation go through, and go through quickly.

This is a very, very big test for both of them. The Australian Labor Party, who for years refused to support fair indexation, came through 10 days out from the last election trying to save Mike Kelly’s boodle, and that didn’t work, with a half-baked and totally inappropriate policy which they called fair-indexation and we described it and Peter Hendy described it as unfair indexation and that failed.

JOURNALIST: Veterans are obviously happy with this news but there has been some criticism of those income support payments, the plans to repeal those. Clive Palmer said he won’t support repealing the mining tax while they’re linked to that. Does that give you any cause for concern or any cause to reconsider that?

MINISTER: Regrettably there has been a lot of misinformation in relation to this payment. Can I perhaps clear up some of those misapprehensions?

This was a payment of $210 per annum, not per fortnight, per annum, tied to the mining tax. We made it quite clear prior to the last election that the School Kids Bonus and other payments such as these would not be paid and would be withdrawn because the mining tax itself failed to raise any funds.

Those veterans and students, or veterans, families of students, and orphans, still receive up to $13 000 per annum in allowances. They will still receive special payments of up to $4000. They will still receive tuition allowances up to $2000. We have made absolutely no changes whatsoever to those programs that quite rightly support the children of veterans and quite rightly support orphans. No change whatsoever.

And the Australian Labor Party has been running around trying to cause real problems and real issues with veterans and their families by saying that these programs have been removed. They have not been removed. We’ve made no changes whatsoever. What we have done, as we did with the School Kids Bonus, was to say that the mining tax to which this was tied has not delivered any funds and therefore it’s unfunded and we can’t continue with it.

JOURNALIST: Will you seek to meet with Clive Palmer and explain that to him? Do you think that will make a difference?

MINISTER: Well of course I’m happy to speak to Clive about it and I only heard about this before I came down here so of course I’m happy to speak to Clive about it but can I just make it clear that the government has made no changes whatsoever to the two education programs that support the children of veterans and orphans.

Up to $13 000 per annum plus other allowances. There are no change to those whatsoever.

JOURNALIST: Will you split this from the mining tax repeal legislation so it’s not under threat?

MINISTER: This was part of the government’s pre-election commitments. We were quite upfront about what we were going to do. We are entirely different from the Australian Labor Party who is not upfront about what they want to do with these things. We made it quite clear, the School Kids Bonus and other matters tied to, programs tied to the mining tax, could not be proceeded with because the mining tax itself was an abysmal failure. It failed to raise any money and it is a quite cynical exercise for the Australian Labor Party to be using school kids and the children of veterans as a pawn in this cheap political game prior to the last election.

JOURNALIST: It may only be [inaudible] per year but it is still causing a political headache, though isn’t it, for the Abbott Government. Is there any consideration of finding the money from elsewhere to fund this?

MINISTER: Can I just again repeat that this is not part of the two programs that support veterans’ children and orphans. We have made no changes to those whatsoever, we are deeply committed to both of those programs.

What we have said is that a bonus, which was tied to the mining tax, $210 per annum, cannot be proceeded with as we made quite clear prior to the last election. This is not a surprise. We have made it quite clear, we were quite upfront with the Australian people before the last election that the mining tax, the failed mining tax, had not provided the funds it was apparently going to do and therefore anything tied to it could not be proceeded with.

Quite upfront, and we were quite open with the Australian people about programs tied to the mining tax.

JOURNALIST: Stuart Robert can you just give us an update on Caner Temel, does Defence know anything more about when he travelled overseas, and what his background is?

MINISTER ROBERT: Keeping in mind Mr Temel was a very junior soldier, he joined in February 2009, he went absent without leave in July 2010, and of course if we can’t find you generally after 28 days you are discharged. And so he was discharged in September 2010. He left the country on 1 July 2013. He left the country three years after he left the military. So Mr Temel was quite clearly a civilian for three years and then left the country then to go to Syria and then join insurgent forces as a civilian.

Now the government’s incredibly concerned about quite a number of Australian citizens who are in Syria and who are actually fighting with the insurgent groups. But Mr Temel was not a soldier fighting in Syria, he hadn’t been a soldier for at least three years, and of course once you cease being a soldier it’s very difficult for the military to keep tabs on you.

JOURNALIST: And Minister do you have an update on the three soldiers who were injured yesterday in Queensland with that [inaudible].

MINISTER ROBERT: Two are still in hospital and there are some serious conditions attached to them and I certainly join with the rest of the nation in praying for our Diggers. It was a training accident, it was a freak accident and unfortunately these things happen when we train for war. My hope and prayer is that they will recover well and come back and soldier and that is certainly our hope and prayer for them.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of coming back can Arthur Sinodinos come back or is he finished?

MINISTER: As Special Minister of State I have some involvement in what Arthur is going to do. Now Arthur Sinodinos has stood down. Arthur Sinodinos as of today will not be receiving a ministerial salary or any ministerial benefits, as is absolutely appropriate and that’s been initiated by Senator Sinodinos himself. He’s stood down until the outcome of the ICAC inquiry and I have nothing further to say about that.

But can I just repeat please what a great day this is for military superannuants? This is a promise that is being delivered, they have been waiting for a long, long time for this to happen and both Stuart and I and the Prime Minister are very, very proud that the legislation today addresses one of the great inequities in this nation and that is being done today and thank you all most sincerely.

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) and Veterans Line can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free and confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046

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