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Thursday, 27 June 2002
Page: 4543

Mrs VALE (Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) (10:51 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill makes a number of amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 to address minor anomalies, make consequential amendments and clarify policy. These changes are designed to further improve the operation of the repatriation system.

The bill will make amendments to the operation of the compensation recovery provisions; firstly, to remove an anomaly so that civilian compensation payments that are offset against disability pension are not also counted as income for the purposes of the income test; and, secondly, to correctly reflect arrangements for the direct recovery of debts from compensation payers and insurers in respect of the partner of a person who received lump sum compensation.

The bill will also clarify policy in relation to telephone allowance to make it clear that eligible persons with a mobile telephone service, and no traditional fixed line telephone service, may receive telephone allowance.

The bill will also amend provisions of the VEA relating to rent assistance. These amendments will align the eligibility provisions for rent assistance for veteran pensioners who receive a base rate family tax benefit with those of the Social Security Act 1991. The amendments will ensure that rent assistance is available under the VEA to eligible persons receiving family tax benefit with no rent component. Other amendments will address the issue of retirement village entry contribution payments and access to rent assistance and will align the VEA with the Social Security Act 1991.

Furthermore, the bill will extend the eligibility criteria for the Pension Loans Scheme, which provides income support to eligible persons in the form of a loan. The changes will extend the eligibility criteria to include certain persons who are not a veteran or the partner of a veteran and will enable eligible income support supplement recipients to be eligible for the scheme from `qualifying age' rather than `pension age'. `Qualifying age' is five years earlier than `pension age' and is the age at which war widows and war widowers may be eligible for income support supplement and a number of other related benefits under the VEA.

Similarly, amendments to the eligibility criteria for the Commonwealth seniors health card will enable war widows and war widowers to be eligible for the Commonwealth seniors health card from `qualifying age' rather than `pension age'.

The bill also contains other minor technical amendments to clarify provisions in the VEA.

This bill continues the government's ongoing commitment to improving the repatriation system to benefit and provide equitable assistance to our veteran community, to whom we owe so much.

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

Debate (on motion by Mr Edwards) adjourned.