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Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister for Defence Personnel, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Deputy Leader of the House) (14:55): I thank the member for Flynn for his question. He’s a real champion—a bulldog, in fact—for veterans in his community. This government is committed to putting veterans first—in fact, to putting veterans and their families first. I’d like to acknowledge that all this week in the parliament there will be 22 men and women from the Navy, the Army and the Air Force taking part in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program. They’re in the gallery here today, and we certainly welcome them here. I say to you all, as I said to you this morning: thank you for your service and the work you do for our nation; we do greatly appreciate what you do to help keep us safe in a challenging world. The ADFPP is where MPs are exposed to life in the military. We might get the opportunity, as members of parliament, to spend some time in a patrol boat off Darwin or a PC-9 at East Sale RAAF base or a Bushmaster in Kabul or a Globemaster coming into Baghdad—and they get to come to question time. I might need to look at commissioning a medal for services beyond the call of duty!

The member for Flynn asked me about our older veterans. There are 1,500 veterans and war widows living in his electorate. Many are aged in their late 60s or early 70s, and sometimes they’re much older than that. We have a responsibility as a grateful nation to make sure that we look after veterans and their families in their later years. And we’re doing that. We’re doing that through the work of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The veterans and their families actually represent a very significant proportion of our aged population across the nation. Twelve per cent of all Australians aged over 85 are either veterans or war widows, with the average age across the veteran population being around 71. As a grateful nation, we provide in excess of $11 billion per year to support our veterans once they leave the Australian Defence Force.

We know that for our older veterans often the best place to be, as it is for the broader community, is in their own homes as they age. There are around 55,000 veterans who receive some form of home based support each year. This can take many different forms, as I’m sure members opposite and on this side would realise. It can be in the form of respite care for loved ones, home based nursing aids to support independent living or even modifications to the family home to allow the aged veteran to remain in place for a longer period of time.
Government support is critical for our older veterans, but the support provided by ex-service organisations is very important as well. Our communities right across the nation do a great deal of charitable work to support veterans in their homes, whether that’s through visiting veterans in their local aged-care facility or perhaps taking them out on excursions or advocating on their behalf within the broader community. The vast majority of elderly veterans and their families are satisfied with the support provided by DVA. We know there’s always room for improvement, and we’re working as a government to make sure that veterans are properly recognised, properly respected and properly supported in their later years.

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