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Speech: Constituency Statement - Veterans Affairs 21.03.2017

23 May 2017

Federation Chamber 21.03.2017- CONSTITUENCY STATEMENTS - Herbert Electorate: Veterans Affairs 

Questioner :

Answer :

Speaker : O'Toole, Cathy, MP (Herbert) (16:24)

I rise in this place today to tell the Turnbull government to back off on any thoughts, actions or processes currently underway to close the Townsville Department of Veterans' Affairs office. Over the 24 last hours, I have been inundated with phone calls, emails and Facebook messages from deeply concerned veterans and their families regarding reports of the Turnbull government's plans to close the DVA office in Townsville. The Turnbull government has been very devious and sneaky in how it has gone about this activity.

At the start of last year, there were nine staff working at the Townsville DVA office in the incapacity, rehabilitation and compensation sections. I believe that this government has verbally offered those nine staff either a relocation to Brisbane or a redundancy. All of those staff will relocate or take a redundancy, with the last leaving in April 2017. After April, there will only be the Veterans' Access Network staff, three of them, at the DVA office and two at Lavarack base. But do not worry because the Turnbull government has not forgotten them. It now appears that this government is discussing the relocation of the three VAN staff to the Centrelink office. Do they have any idea of this stress this will add to our veterans, not to mention the stress this will add to an already overcrowded Centrelink office? This government is responsible for cramming the Medicare office into the Centrelink office and now they want to add the DVA. What is next—the Australian tax office?

We have all heard the government spruiking their jobs and growth mantra but it is very clear that they do not mean in regional Queensland where I come from. This is a joke. This is evidence of this government's complete and utter disregard for jobs in the regions.

The Turnbull government's complete disregard for Townsville veterans is astonishing. This government announced a review into veteran suicide and Townsville is to be a trial site. I welcome this announcement. Sadly, I thought we would see some action on veteran suicide but how wrong was I? Seven months on, the Townsville veterans and their families are still waiting. This government cannot further punish our veterans and their families—too many lives are at risk. Our veterans deserve better and they certainly deserve better than a government that does not appear to care.

If this government think that they can deliberately run DVA into the ground and stop access to front-line services for thousands and thousands of Townsville veterans then they have got another thing coming. Whilst I am the member for Herbert, it will not happen. Today I wrote to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the honourable Dan Tehan, demanding clarification on exactly what was to happen: will the staff be relocated; will the office be closed; and, if the office is closing, when? Townsville is the largest garrison city in Australia, and we need to be strengthening our Department of Veterans' Affairs, not ripping it apart.

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