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Thursday, 16 May 2002
Page: 2372

Mr JOHNSON (3:26 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Would the minister advise the House of the benefits Tuesday night's budget will bring to the veterans in our community?

Mrs VALE (Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) —I thank the member for Ryan for his question. I know that he values and supports the veterans in his community, especially the veterans at the Kenmore-Moggill RSL and the Sherwood RSL sub-branches. I am grateful for the opportunity to explain and highlight the benefits and good news of the budget and how it provides for our veterans and our war widows. The seventh Howard government budget provides record funding of $9.2 billion for the veterans' affairs portfolio.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mrs VALE —Yes, that is $9.2 billion—a record amount. It is up, in our veterans' affairs portfolio, from $8.9 billion last year. Since coming to government in 1996, the coalition has increased funding for the care, support and commemoration of our veterans and war widows by over 40 per cent. That is up from $6.2 billion to $9.2 billion. That is real care and commitment. Many members would appreciate that the vast proportion of veterans are approaching their elderly years and their health needs are becoming most pressing.

In response, the Treasurer has announced in the budget the extension of comprehensive free health care through the gold card to all Australian Defence Force veterans over the age of 70 with qualifying service. This is full, comprehensive, free health care for life. As of 1 July, this is good news for 4,000 veterans who will immediately become eligible for the gold card. This will be the first time some of those veterans have received government benefits in recognition of their war service. These are veterans from the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, the Far East Strategic Reserve, the Indonesian Confrontation and the Vietnam War.

Importantly, this initiative takes a caring, long-term view, providing to these veterans, as they reach the age of 70, automatic access to the gold card for service in the Gulf War, in East Timor and in the international coalition war against terrorism. This measure will ensure that these veterans, when they reach their 70th birthday, will have the security of knowing that they have access for the rest of their lives to comprehensive health care when they most need it.

This is also good news for our war widows. This shows great respect to our war widows because this government has addressed the injustice that was bestowed on our war widows by the former Labor government. In 1986, they froze the income support supplement. The income support supplement provides financial assistance for our war widows who need it most when they have limited means to support themselves. In 2002, the budget removed the Labor freeze—

Mrs Irwin —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order: this is definitely a ministerial statement.

The SPEAKER —The member for Fowler will resume her seat. The minister was asked a question and is responding to the question.

Mrs VALE —This is an opportunity to explain a very important budget measure. In September 2002, our budget will remove the Labor Party freeze. This will enable the future indexation of our income support supplement by the same measures as our service pensions. This initiative will provide an additional benefit of $84.7 million over four years to Australia's war widows. Like the previous Howard government budget measure which restored war widows' pensions to those who had remarried before 1984, this initiative will end a longstanding iniquity against our war widows. Also, this government is committed to providing long-term fair compensation and health care to our veterans and war widows. Once again, the coalition has extended entitlements to these special Australians. We will continue to address the anomalies and the cold-hearted indifference of the Labor Party. This is a good news budget, this is a caring budget, and it pays respect to our veterans and war widows. It was promised by the Howard coalition government and it has delivered in spades.