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Thursday, 22 August 2002
Page: 5537

Mrs GASH (10:03 AM) —Last Sunday, I joined a number of veterans to celebrate Vietnam Veterans Day, formerly called Long Tan Day.

Mr Edwards —And a great day it was.

Mrs GASH —It was, wasn't it? In fact, I try to involve myself in the veteran community as much as I can because you meet so many of our very special people. Many are down to earth and you feel that you can talk plainly and honestly with them and get an honest answer in return. Because veterans have seen some of the most unpleasant things in life, which many of us have not, they have a different perspective of the world. That is why I have so much time for the veteran community, their families and carers and why I think they deserve all that we can give them.

The Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2002 is a reflection of this government's continuing commitment to veterans and that is why I gladly support the provisions. Whilst the provisions are certainly not dramatic or headline grabbing, they are nevertheless important in terms of the cumulative effects towards benefits. Each provision and amendment means something to someone and as such has to be addressed. The evolving and changing needs of the veteran community mean that we, as a government, need to keep abreast of changes to ensure that we do not inadvertently create a disadvantage. For instance, the provision to rectify the compensation recovery provisions of the act means that veterans will not be treated unfairly but in line with community expectations. It is not acceptable that situations should exist where certain pensioners are treated differently from others in similar circumstances. Although a small number of veterans will benefit, it is nevertheless an anomaly that we have corrected—as is the provision for addressing the issue of a partner's lump sum compensation payment impacting on the other partner's pension.

I also welcome the amendment concerning the entry contributions to retirement villages so as to prevent the misuse of provisions to obtain rent assistance. Whilst this has no direct impact on anyone personally, it is an aspect that needed to be tidied up to make sure veterans are not brought into disrepute. The provision also brings the legislation into line with the Social Security Act, again ensuring equity with the rest of the community.

As part of the process of keeping up with modern developments, I note that mobile phones have been recognised for the purpose of eligibility for telephone allowance. A number of veterans prefer this option because of their choice of lifestyle mobility. Such a choice should not disadvantage them and this amendment seeks to prevent this. The provision clarifies policy to ensure a disadvantage is not introduced because of a vagueness of language. I know of cases where individuals have missed out on entitlements because they were not certain of provisions and therefore did not apply. It is not always possible to get to those caught in that situation so we have to make the law as understandable as it can be. The government has introduced a number of initiatives in this direction to ensure that information is accessible in terms of being understandable and readable.

Recently, veteran groups in the Shoalhaven have been given a grant to buy computer equipment to make veterans' services information more accessible. These grants were well received, as was the service by the primary users, the welfare officers. I know of two hardworking veterans' welfare officers in my area that are thrilled with the acquisition because it helps them with their work, and I would like to mention them today to acknowledge their contribution. They are Mr Rod Simpson of Jervis Bay and Mr Neal Gage of Nowra. Mr Simpson and Mr Gage would welcome the news that this bill will also advantage veteran pensioners receiving family tax benefit with no rent assistance component. The provision will bring them into line with other social security recipients to make sure veterans pensions are treated equitably.

Lastly, the extension of the eligibility criteria for the pensions loans scheme to certain persons who are not a veteran or the partners of a veteran will assist by allowing access from the time of qualifying age rather than pension age. It benefits those who might be on income support but have not yet reached pension age, because the definition of qualifying age is five years earlier. It will benefit war widows and widowers particularly. It will also enable war widows and widowers early eligibility for the Commonwealth seniors health care card. These provisions, although seemingly small, are nevertheless important and I applaud the government's initiative in introducing them. There are still a number of issues to be worked through, and we will continue to explore them under this government. The electorate of Gilmore has a proportionally large veteran community, who take an active interest in issues affecting Australia, particularly in respect of our commitments overseas. Having two naval bases means we see veterans of modern conflicts passing through our doors. Despite the age differences between veterans, they hold similar values and outlooks because of the common bond that service to Australia has brought them. I look forward to further initiatives from this government to benefit the veteran community.