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Thursday, 14 March 2002
Page: 1303

Mrs VALE (Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) (10:02 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

It is my delight to present the Veterans' Entitlements Amendment (Gold Card Extension) Bill 2002 to the House. This bill implements a key commitment made by this government to the Australian veteran community during the federal election.

Since taking office, our government has given a high priority to providing appropriate recognition for the service and sacrifice of Australians in times of war and conflict.

The health and wellbeing of our veterans and war widows has been of prime concern. Our veteran population is ageing and their health care needs are changing as they grow older.

On 1 January 1999, our government extended eligibility for the repatriation gold card to include Australian veterans and merchant mariners who have qualifying service from World War II and are over the age of 70.

As a result, some 38,000 World War II veterans and mariners became eligible for the top level of health care under the repatriation system.

There are now almost 282,000 members of the veteran community with a gold card.

However, we recognise that it is not only our World War II veterans who are growing older.

Many Australians who served in post-World War II conflicts are approaching or are over the age of 70.

These veterans already are facing an increased need for health care, and others will in years to come.

This bill will further extend eligibility for the gold card to include all Australian Defence Force veterans who are over the age of 70 and have qualifying service.

This will make the gold card available to older veterans of conflicts, including the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, the Indonesian Confrontation and the Vietnam War.

This initiative is proposed to take effect from 1 July 2002.

Many eligible veterans will not need to submit an application for a gold card.

I am pleased to be able to introduce this important legislation earlier rather than later to enable my department to ensure that the application process provides every opportunity for eligible veterans to receive their gold card entitlement by 1 July this year. I trust that the ALP and the Democrats will support this important legislation.

My department will be able to identify from its records many veterans who will qualify by virtue of their age and qualifying service. These veterans will automatically be sent a gold card so that they can access their entitlements from 1 July.

Veterans not readily identifiable to the department will be able to complete a new application form for the gold card.

If the Repatriation Commission has not already made a determination about whether or not the veteran has qualifying service, then a determination will be made as a result of this application.

Eligible veterans who apply before 1 July will be able to access their entitlements from 1 July.

Veterans who apply after 1 July will be eligible from the date their written application is received by the department.

Veterans with qualifying service who turn 70 after 1 July can apply in advance for the gold card—their eligibility will commence on the date they turn 70.

This bill continues the coalition government's commitment to advancing the welfare and interests of the veteran community.

It carries out Australia's duty of care to those who serve our country in wartime.

Importantly, this initiative also takes the longer view, providing for access to the gold card in years to come by veterans with qualifying service from later conflicts, such as the Gulf War, East Timor and Australia's current deployment in the coalition war against terror.

Our government, by this important legislation, has legislated to ensure that, regardless of which conflict our older veterans have served in, they will receive the care they need and the care they deserve.

Our government, by this important legislation, has etched our commitment to our veterans in gold.

I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill.