Labor's Plan For Veterans Affairs

Respecting Our Veterans

Labor’s commitment to putting people first embraces those who have served our nation in the Australian Defence Force.

They represent the finest traditions of the ADF, and have protected our country and its interests during times of conflict and peace, often at immense personal cost to themselves and their families.

There is no more important duty of a government than to keep its people safe, and with that comes the responsibility to care for and support those we task with ensuring that safety.

As Prime Minister Curtin told the Canadian Parliament in June 1944:

“When the war is over, the obligations to the fighting men will not have ceased.

The burdens which governments will carry will be dual burdens—to rebuild the resources of the country so that the arts of peace may flourish, but at the same time to satisfy that solemn debt of honour which all governments owe to the fighting men, and to their dependants, for having stood between the enemy and those at home and enabled those at home to sleep comfortably.”

Australia has a good record of looking after our veterans — but not a perfect one. There has been some disjunction in how we care for those who have served our nation, particularly in relation to the transition from service to civilian life.

More needs to be done.

Benefits, Payments And Entitlements

Labor believes in the robust provision of entitlements, services and support to our veterans and their families as a sincere gesture of thanks for the service and sacrifice they have provided our nation.

We recognise that traditional policies and programs for veterans’ have evolved slowly over almost a century and, in some instances, may no longer be consistent with the needs of veterans and their families in a modern society.

Veterans are entitled to a package of financial support that provides for an equitable standard of living and medical support that really meets the physical, mental and social needs of our former service personnel.

In the 2013 Budget, Labor provided over $12.5 billion in funding for the veterans’ community including some $6.8 billion in pensions and income support and $5.6 billion in health services. The former Labor Government also initiated and completed a review of compensation and rehabilitation arrangements under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

Fighting the Liberals’ cuts

Labor vehemently opposed the Liberals’ proposal to cut pensions through the imposition of CPI-only indexation. CPI is rarely the highest indexation factor and this measure would have left over 280,000 veterans, war widows and widowers as much as $80 a week worse off within a decade.

Thankfully, as a result of Labor’s opposition and the tireless advocacy of veterans’ and seniors’ organisations, the Abbott Government abandoned this plan. However, in its place, the Turnbull Government has pushed through changes to the assets test which will leave thousands of pensioners, including veterans, worse off.

This is not in the best interests of pensioners and veterans, or the sustainability of the system as a whole.

But we cannot fix all of the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s problems overnight.

They have tripled the deficit. The Budget we will inherit when we come to government is fragile.

Labor wants to ensure that Australia’s pension system continues to provide strong incentives to save, so it remains affordable whilst at the same time providing an adequate income to those pensioners and veterans who rely on it.

That is why Labor will commission a comprehensive review of the pension assets test to make sure that it is as well designed as it can be to meet its aims.

Labor’s independent review into the pension assets test will examine:

  1. The current interaction between the pension and superannuation systems, and how the pension system might be improved to more effectively encourage superannuation and other savings now and into the future.
  2. Current means testing arrangements, including for veterans, regarding the impact of recent changes to the pension assets test, and how those arrangements might be improved to ensure an adequate retirement income for existing and future seniors and veterans.
  3. Current disincentives to save for retirement and how those disincentives might be mitigated now and into the future.

Labor also fought the Liberal Government’s plans to axe disability pension backdating for new recipients, recognising the accumulation of costs to veterans that can occur due to disability. We therefore welcome the Government’s announcement that they have abandoned their plans to go ahead with this measure. This was a win for all the veterans, as the Liberals’ plans would have seen new recipients lose between $3,000 and $8,405.

We have been deeply concerned by the Liberals’ decision to close a number of Veterans' Access Network offices, particularly in regional areas. We are not convinced that outreach and co-locating with Centrelink offices retains the level of contact and expertise necessary to provide the quality of service required.

While Labor acknowledges the importance of improving the DVA’s online capabilities, we understand that face-to-face contact remains important.

Changing needs

The needs of veterans have evolved over time, with different cohorts having different requirements. This must be reflected in policy, and it is critical that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs responds effectively to those changes.

Labor recognises that mental health is a serious and prevalent challenge in the veterans’ community, as is homelessness. We are committed to ensuring that our policies and the administrative management of DVA do not exacerbate or act as the root cause of hardship for veterans.

We are therefore committed to ensuring that ADF members and veterans who suffer PTSD are not left behind. Labor is committed to providing full support and treatment, including through early intervention and treatment.

Ensuring DVA delivers for veterans

When grave concerns are raised about the administration, governance and processes within Veterans’ Affairs, we must act.

Serious instances of processing delays, disclosure of veterans’ private information, overpayment of entitlements and continued high levels of complaints have undermined the veteran community’s confidence in the delivery of government services.

A Shorten Labor Government will commission a First Principles Review of Veterans’ Affairs. This end-to-end holistic review will be based on the outcomes required of the Department and focused on agreed upon first-principles.

A First Principles Review will:

  • Rectify administrative, governance and process failings.
  • Ensure the Department is structured in a way that allows it to meet existing and future challenges efficiently.
  • Secure the trust of the veterans’ community.

This is not an attack on DVA employees, or their commitment to the important work they do.

This is about putting people first. It is about making sure the system we have in place work for the people who need it most.

This is about making sure the foundations of our veterans’ affairs system is strong.

Labor will also continue to support the modernisation of DVA’s ICT system and the full digitisation of their records as a critical element of departmental reform.

Labor remains committed to a streamlined, fair and balanced process that minimises delays as the best way of ensuring positive outcomes for veterans within the appeals system.

A Shorten Labor Government will make the passage of this legislation implementing a single appeals pathway a priority so veterans can access a streamlined process as soon as possible.

Homelessness and suicide: Counting the Cost

About 10 per cent of Australians experiencing homelessness are from the veteran community — a shocking statistic. Yet there is no comprehensive system to collect data that would allow the DVA, ex-service organisations and frontline homelessness services to identify and connect veterans experiencing homelessness.

To redress this, a Shorten Labor Government will fund a comprehensive study into veterans’ homelessness to identify members of the veteran community who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The study will make recommendations to address factors that increase the risk of homelessness and solutions on how to better connect homeless veterans with appropriate support services.

We will also work with the States and Territories to include an ‘ADF flag’ within the existing Specialist Homelessness Service Collection that accumulates data from frontline homelessness services based on a national minimum data set.

The rate of veterans’ suicide and the way in which it is recorded is justly concerning for the veterans’ community and the general public.

As part of its mental health policy, a Shorten Labor Government will work with the States and Territories to build an accurate picture of deaths by suicide and suicide attempts and agree to a national minimum data set for suicide prevention.

We will ensure the inclusion of an ‘ADF flag’ within this data set, to allow governments to identify if an individual had previously served in the ADF or was a partner or child of an individual who had served in the ADF.

The Australian National Veterans Arts Centre in Melbourne

A Shorten Labor Government will establish an Australian National Veterans Arts Centre (ANVAC) at 310 St Kilda Road, Melbourne.

Currently derelict, the St Kilda Road facility was formerly a repatriation centre used by World War I veterans as the Repatriation Commission Outpatient Clinic.

Labor will not proceed with the sale of this heritage listed site. Instead, following the remediation and restoration of the site by the Department of Defence, the building will be returned to its original purpose as a caring centre for veterans. The facility is superbly located for this purpose, being proximate to the Shrine of Remembrance, Victoria Barracks, public transport links and the Melbourne CBD.

ANVAC will host veterans’ groups, programs and initiatives for a new generation of veterans seeking support for mental health and PTSD, including through arts therapy.

Veterans have long engaged in the arts for a range of reasons including for rehabilitation from wounds, injury or illness, or as a form of therapy to capture their lived experience and to stimulate morale within peer groups.

Commemoration And Recognition

Labor is committed to honouring and memorialising those Australians who have served our country, through official education, recognition and commemoration.

We recognise the significance, importance and sacred nature of battlefields where our troops have lost their lives. A Shorten Labor Government will actively work with foreign governments and other parties to protect and preserve the integrity of significant battlefields where Australian troops have served.

Labor has a strong record of supporting the commemoration of Australia’s military history.

The Keating Government managed the successful Australia Remembers campaign in 1994–95, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Second World War.

In 1987, following the Welcome Home Parade, Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced that the 18th of August, previously Long Tan Day, would be known as Vietnam Veterans Day — and the day has subsequently been commemorated each year. Labor is pleased that this year a national commemorative event will take place to mark the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan to honour all Vietnam veterans.

Further, we have supported the Government’s successful efforts to repatriate the remains of deceased Vietnam veterans buried at the Terendak Military Cemetery, in Malaysia, and the Kranji War Cemetery, in Singapore.

In July 2008, Labor proclaimed Merchant Navy Day for 3 September, giving merchant mariners the prominence in Australia’s wartime history that they deserved. A month earlier the Battle for Australia Day was proclaimed for the first Wednesday in September, ensuring that Australia’s commemorative events better recognised sacrifices of those on the home front during the Second World War.

The proclamation of these days did not distract from the importance of Australia's two most significant days of commemoration — ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day—on which we remember all Australians who served and died in wars, conflicts and peace operations.

Labor also established the National Commission on the Commemoration of the ANZAC Centenary in 2010 and, over the life of the Rudd-Gillard Government, provided more than $140 million for the centenary commemoration program.

Labor supports a bipartisan approach to commemorative activity, with a concentration on educative programs under the aegis of the Australian War Memorial. ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day will continue to be the central focus of commemorative commitments.

The Bendigo Soldiers Memorial Institute Revitalisation Project

The Bendigo Soldiers Memorial Institute is the largest and most significant institution of its kind in regional Victoria. It was constructed in 1921 as a permanent memorial to all those from Bendigo who served in the First World War.

Today it houses one of Australia’s most significant military history museums outside Canberra.

The building requires maintenance, renewal and upgrade works, as it no longer meets current standards, universal accessibility requirements and visitor expectations.

The purpose of the revitalisation project is to better accommodate museum operations, ensuring it continues into the 21st century as a viable, vibrant and relevant cultural institution. Labor’s funding will help preserve the Institute’s Military Museum collection.

A Shorten Labor Government will provide $1.7 million to support the renewal and upgrade of the Bendigo Soldiers Memorial Institute. The funding will help pay for an upgrade of the existing building and an expansion of the facility involving the construction of a new exhibition gallery and workshop space for curation.

Coloured Digger Commemoration

A Shorten Labor Government will provide $15,000 so next year’s Coloured Digger commemoration can go ahead in Redfern.

The commemoration recognises the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans to Australia’s war effort.  It pays tribute to their service, and to the service of current personnel and their families.

The Coloured Digger commemoration was started by the Babana Aboriginal Men’s Group.  It has been held every Anzac Day since 2007, with a march followed by a service at the Cenotaph in Redfern Park.

It has been fantastic to see the number of people taking part in commemorations grow over the years.  This year around 5,000 people attended.  Labor wants to see the event continue and grow.

In the past, the organisers of the Coloured Digger commemorations have struggled to secure in-kind assistance from local government.

Labor’s $15,000 commitment will ensure this important event can go ahead next year.