05 June 2024

Veterans in Macquarie

My electorate of Macquarie has an active veterans community, and we have both Richmond and Glenbrook RAAF bases. This budget provides around $30 million for additional airfield maintenance work at the Richmond base, which will be home to the growing fleet of Hercs following our announcement last year of the $9.8 billion program to purchase 20 new C-130J Hercs in coming years. In the meantime, I welcome the funding for deeper maintenance and planned upgrades to existing aircraft that will sustain them until the first new Herc arrives.

Because so many Defence personnel have their work in my electorate it means so many retired personnel also call it home. I'm proud to have more than 2,000 DVA clients in my electorate. Earlier this year I welcomed the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to Richmond, where he announced funding for the Veterans' and Families' Hub, delivering on a commitment I made in the run-up to the 2022 election. This will make it easier for veterans in Macquarie and across north-west Sydney, and their families, to access the practical support that they deserve.

The Albanese Labor government is continuing to invest in veteran support with an additional $477 million in this budget for the Department of Veterans' Affairs to support the more than 340,000 veterans and their dependents around the country. We're delivering on our commitment to simplified and harmonised veteran compensation legislation, which was the first recommendation of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide. This is important reform.

And as well as the simplifying and harmonising of the legislative framework for veterans compensation and rehabilitation, we're reducing the complexity of the system, speeding up the time taken to process claims, meeting the continued growth in claims and addressing other service delivery pressures. There is investment to address critical gaps in our IT systems to help reduce the time veterans and families have to wait to receive support and services, and improvements in accessing benefits and supports.

The 2024-25 budget includes $222 million of additional funding for veteran and family entitlements and supports that have been made available through this new simplified veteran compensation legislation, ensuring veterans and their families can better understand and access the supports that they are entitled to much faster. The budget will boost veterans homecare and community nursing programs with an additional $48.4 million in funding, so there are no gaps in service delivery.

The royal commission has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver meaningful and long-lasting change to the way we support our veteran communities, and this government is committed to addressing its recommendations. Investments in this budget ensure funding for DVA remains at a record high. It's now better funded than it has been in 30 years, and it means we will improve the experience of veterans and families who reach out to DVA for assistance.

Recent years have seen substantial growth in the demand for DVA services, which has resulted in a backlog of unallocated claims and significant delays in claims processing across a range of benefits and services, and those opposite knew about that. I was horrified to learn, when we came to government in 2022, that there were 42,000 claims that had not even been looked at.

Minister Keogh has explained that there were a large number of labour hire staff and there was a high degree of churn in that workforce, and it takes a long time to get them trained. So that's why, in recognising the important role that the Public Service plays in delivering services for Australians, we've invested nearly $234 million to engage 500 new frontline staff at DVA, to eliminate the veteran compensation claims backlog, in our very first budget in October 2022. Now all of those claims have been assessed or are currently being assessed, and we've brought down the time it takes to do those assessments. Compared to this time last year, we're now doing those two months faster than they used to be done, and we're continuing to try and bring this down. We've converted a large labour hire workforce into actual public servants, properly trained, so we're able to deliver to veterans and their families the services that they deserve.