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Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Page: 26721


Mr ANTHONY (Minister for Community Services) (8:12 PM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill, the Family and Community Services and Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Further Assistance for Older Australians) Bill 2001, forms part of a package of measures that further demonstrates the appreciation and acknowledgment of the government and the community for the contribution older Australians have made and continue to make to society.

This bill recognises the effort many older Australians have made to provide for themselves in retirement.

This bill directs special attention towards those who, while on low or modest incomes, do not qualify for age pension.

Previously, the Howard government extended access to the Commonwealth seniors health card by increasing the income limits under which a person could qualify.

This bill goes further by increasing the income limits to $50,000 for singles and $80,000 for couples, from 1 September 2001.

The government has found that not all those qualified for what is a valuable concession have taken up the card. The government will undertake a special publicity campaign to encourage take-up.

This bill provides even more incentive for older Australians to take up the seniors health card.

The bill provides for the extension of telephone allowance to holders of a seniors health card. Until now, only pensioners and some beneficiaries could qualify.

In making telephone allowance to holders of a seniors health card, the government is recognising that being able to communicate by telephone with families and the wider community is vital for the participation of older Australians in society and for the wellbeing of society as a whole.

From 1 September 2001, holders of a seniors health card who claim telephone allowance will be paid a quarterly payment—currently $17.20 for both single people and couples—in January, March, July and September each year.

The government's package of measures for older Australians also demonstrates its determination to assist those older Australians who through no fault of their own are particularly vulnerable to long-term unemployment.

As a result of the consultative process of welfare reform and of the deliberations of the House of Representatives committee which inquired into mature age unemployment, and produced the Nelson report, the government is taking a number of steps to give this group a better deal.

As part of this package, superannuation will be exempt from the social security means test until people reach age pension age. This will encourage people not to give up and consider themselves `retired' at an early age, and will help people preserve their superannuation savings for a better retirement in the long run.

This bill gives effect to this measure.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr McMullan) adjourned.