REGULATIONS AND DETERMINATIONS;Veterans’ Children Education Scheme (Income Support Bonus) Repeal Instrument 2014, Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act Education and Training Scheme (Income Support Bonus) Repeal Determination 2014;Disallowance – 25 Mar 2014

I rise tonight in support of this disallowance motion. This disallowance motion aims to keep in place income support bonus payments to the children of war veterans, which the government has so callously and mean-spiritedly determined to cut. This disallowance motion will void the repeal of those payments to the children of veterans, some of whom are homeless or do not live at home and some of whom are orphans.

I do so because, quite frankly, I think those on the other side are probably not allowed to, but I am sure there are those on the other side who would seek to support this motion as well, because I cannot for a moment believe they are all so mean-spirited and callous to deny veterans’ children the total of just over $215 a year—not a month, not a week, not a day, but a year. I have been absolutely astounded by this fact, because the yearly income support bonus goes to the children of injured and killed diggers, and, as I said, some are actually orphans. As has been said by previous speakers, over a year, it is a mere total of about $254,000.

In my home state of Tasmania, there are children who will be affected by the scrapping of this payment. I have recently employed on my staff and ex-Defence veteran who has had some conversations about this precise issue. He is very concerned about some of the children of his colleagues from when he was in the Defence Force in regard to this matter. I am not going to take too long, but I really want to stand up and speak about this

As I was saying, the cost of providing assistance is a total of around $254,000 a year, and that is less than 0.005 per cent of Mr Abbott’s universally derided Paid Parental Leave scheme for millionaires. That is also much more than some people get paid for being on the board of a water company and only doing a couple of weeks work. Let me point that out: you might be on the board of a water company and only have to do a couple of weeks work and you could receive just about the same amount. So it is a sad day, I think, when the government puts the savings of a measly amount of money ahead of the welfare of children.

Everybody in this place knows that I have a longstanding interest in the welfare of children. Be it just over $200 a year or be it $20,000 a year to children who deserve it, it is a very important issue to me, and I know it is to a number of other people as well. Prior to the election, Mr Abbott said the government would promise to repeal the MRRT and the benefits it was intending to fund, but I think he was very sneaky. I do not think he actually pointed out to anyone that veterans’ children who receive assistance under the Veterans’ Children Education Scheme and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act Education and Training Scheme would lose their annual payment of about $215 a year. I do not think they knocked on anyone’s door and said, ‘If you’re a child of veteran, you will lose this money.’ So I think there has been a sleight of hand and a bit of sneakiness going on in regard to this issue.

I think Mr Abbott needs to explain why he is doing this and why he is cutting these payments. As I said, it contrasts quite a lot with a number of other issues—certainly with the government’s willingness to pursue a generous paid parental leave scheme offering payments up to $75,000. The annual cost of payments to veterans’ children is less than the cost of providing four high-income earners with paid parental leave under Mr Abbott’s proposed scheme. Why does the Prime Minister thinks that four women on higher salaries are more important and more worthy than 1,200 children of war veterans? I just do not get it. I think there are a lot on the other side who are probably embarrassed by this. I can tell you that, if I were on that side and my government had done something like this, I would be more than embarrassed; I would be taking it up to the leader and getting them to change their mind on it.

A number of people have made comment in regard to it. The Executive Director of the Defence Force Welfare Association, Mr Alf Jaugietis, said—and I quote—that he ‘was “bloody stunned” and would seek clarification from the minister’s office over the decision’. He also said:

… to target kids, and only about 1,200 of them, over something that costs so little, seems … petty to us …

Even that interesting person over in the other place, the member for Fairfax, Mr Clive Palmer, ‘foreshadowed an obstacle to the government’s repeal of the mining tax’, declaring that it will not come at the expense of income support to orphan children or war veterans. The payment to veterans’ children—which has an overall price tag for the government, as I said, of $250,000, give or take a few dollars—is to be one of the casualties, I think, of the mining tax repeal package. Mr Palmer ‘threatened to block the repeal if the payments are axed’, so he was very serious about it. He told Radio National on Thursday:

They’ll just have to take it out or they won’t have any change …

Mr Palmer also said that he thought scrapping the payment was ‘a crazy thing to do’. The New South Wales RSL president, Don Rowe, also publicly stated his absolute disgust with the decision. He described it as ‘mean-spirited’ and ‘a mean penny-pinching exercise’.

This is a callous act from the Abbott government; there are no two ways about it. I think coalition MPs and senators need to decide whether they will support the children of ADF veterans or they will back Tony Abbott’s callous cuts to the assistance these children so richly deserve. They need to be, as I said, standing up to Tony Abbott on behalf of the children of war veterans, not voting to cut their payments.

In summing up today, I am so flabbergasted by this that I really find it a bit hard to put into words what I really feel because I know I probably need to watch my language, and it might get away from me if I do not contain myself. It is unexplainable to me why the government would go down this road. It is completely incomprehensible—

Senator Urquhart interjecting

 Senator BILYK: Thank you, Senator Urquhart, it is. It is completely incomprehensible. It is mean. It is nasty. It is callous. The adjectives could go on, and I probably would never end the adjectives about what I think about this case, but I strongly believe that the families of our veterans deserve the respect and gratitude that we should give them. I do not think they should be insulted by callous acts like this. I also firmly believe that we have the responsibility to support those children.

To anyone in this room, I would imagine that $215 a year is probably not that much money. I am sure someone on that side will probably say how many milkshakes or cups of coffee you could buy with it, because that has been known to be said before about the cutting of funding. It is not that much money. This issue has been so callously brought on, and Mr Abbott is so firm and so determined not to backtrack, because he made this promise to repeal the MRRT. Well, Mr Abbott, you are going to have to do something. It is not on. This is not what Australia is about. This is not the Australian way.

I think we all have the responsibility to support those children, whose fathers and mothers have given their lives for our country, so I urge those on the other side to really take it up to Mr Abbott. I am not sure when their next caucus with him is, but I would be getting on the phone if I were some of those people on the other side. I know they are not all hard hearted and callous on the other side. I have worked for six years with most of those on the other side, and I have spent a lot of time with some of them. Some of those on the other side I can get on quite well with. So I know they are not—

Senator Farrell interjecting

 Senator BILYK: Did you say ‘name them’, Senator Farrell? No, I will not do that because it might put them—

Senator Kroger interjecting

Senator BILYK: Oh, Senator Kroger wants to be named! Senator Kroger, if you want to be named, you go and take this up to Mr Abbott and you get him to change his mind, because I think it is really, really important that those on your side who do have a heart point out the minuscule amount of money involved, which is such a help to those children and those families. I will end it there, but I really did just want to get up—I have said more than a few words—and participate in this discussion because to me it is so important.