Labor unveils $118m package for veterans

Bill Shorten has promised a Labor government will do more to honour the country's war veterans.
Bill Shorten has promised a Labor government will do more to honour the country's war veterans.

Labor is promising all Australian veterans the same funeral benefits, regardless of the conflict in which they served.

In a $118 million package announced days out from Anzac Day, the federal opposition is also offering local communities cash to upgrade their war memorials.

"It's about honouring Australia's oldest promise, that at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them," Bill Shorten said on Saturday night.

"This is about ensuring all our veterans are rightly honoured."

Some diggers who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam are currently only entitled to $2000 to assist in funeral costs.

Labor is pledging to boost this benefit by more than $10,000 to bring them in line with other veterans.

The funeral expense offering - which would cost $90.4 million - is by far the biggest chunk of Labor's package for veterans and their families.

The major parties tend to offer each other bipartisan support towards defence and veterans' initiatives.

And so instead of attacking the package outright, the coalition government is instead likely to claim Labor will pay for the measures by raising taxes.

In one major political manoeuvre, Mr Shorten has promised to keep the Department of Veterans' Affairs in tact.

In a recent draft report, the Productivity Commission recommended the department be dismantled, in what would be its biggest shake-up since World War II.

Instead, a new ministry would be created, with a separate commission established to offer veterans support.

Some veterans groups are nervous the idea could backfire, leading Mr Shorten to rule it out.

"In stark contrast, Scott Morrison and the minister have not done the same, leaving more than 280,000 veterans and clients of DVA in limbo," he said.

Labor is committing $20 million towards local war memorials, ensuring all soldiers are venerated to the same degree as those who served in the two world wars.

Labor is also proposing to develop art therapy programs for veterans, and promising money towards retreats for those who look after them.

A future Labor government would also boost funding for research into veterans' mental health.

"If we can better understand the wellbeing of our current and ex-serving members, we can better understand how to support them" Mr Shorten said.

The package also includes $2 million to develop a Kokoda Trail master plan to conserve it.

Australian Associated Press