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Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Page: 126


Mrs VALE (6:10 PM) —I welcome the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (2005 Budget Measure) Bill 2005. I note the comments of the member for Cowan and I take the time to point out that he well knows that the 2003 legislation is no hoax. It is sound legislation. If the member for Cowan has a problem with its enforcement, he should address that to the appropriate minister.


Mr Edwards —You’re the one who made the commitments in the House.


Mrs VALE —The commitments were sound. As the member for Cowan is well aware, that legislation is sound legislation, and it stands.

The Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (2005 Budget Measure) Bill 2005 is welcome legislation for our veterans and war widows. I appreciate having the opportunity to speak on the bill, which further strengthens this government’s 2004 election commitment to recognise senior Australians, their needs and their carers. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 to give effect to the 2005 budget measure to extend eligibility for the seniors concession allowance to persons who are gold card holders over veteran pension age and who are not otherwise eligible for the seniors concession allowance or the utilities allowance.

The seniors concession allowance is an ongoing payment of $200 a year paid in two instalments, in June and December, that is indexed twice yearly. This payment is being made because state and territory governments have refused to accept this government’s offer to extend important concessions to those Australians we call self-funded retirees.

The seniors concession allowance was introduced for Commonwealth seniors health card holders in December 2004, in line with our government’s election commitment to help self-funded retirees maintain the lifestyle for which they have worked all their lives. More than 44,000 veterans and war widows will benefit from the provisions in the 2005-06 federal budget, with this government’s welcome initiative to extend the Australian government’s seniors concession allowance to older veterans who hold a gold card. This government has committed $27.7 million to this initiative over four years to assist our gold card holders. This is on top of an estimated $282.6 million originally committed for the seniors concession allowance. More than 290,000 Commonwealth senior health card holders have already benefited from this allowance. The new initiative will ensure that an additional 44,000 gold card holders over veteran pension age who do not already receive the seniors concession allowance or the twice-yearly pensioners utility allowance will now get this extra support.

The Howard government has already delivered on a 2001 election promise and has extended the gold card to all veterans over the age of 70 with qualifying service from any conflict, in recognition of their special and unique needs that increase as they grow older. This commitment by our government further recognises the special needs of gold card holders by way of extending the eligibility of those who have already served our nation to the seniors concession allowance. It ensures that all gold card holders over veteran pension age are able to receive some form of payment and/or concession through either the seniors concession allowance or the utilities allowance to assist in meeting their energy, rates and water bills.

The seniors concession allowance is paid at a higher rate than the utilities allowance in recognition that those eligible for utilities allowances also hold a pension concession card and receive concessions from various state, territory and local governments that are not generally available to Commonwealth senior health card holders. This government considers that the hardworking self-funded retirees should not miss out. This budget measure complements a range of other measures in this year’s budget for veterans, especially in the health care area. The 2005-06 budget increased further funding for the care of veteran and Defence Force communities to more than $10.8 billion, a rise of $278 million on the previous year. I seek leave to continue my remarks on this bill at a later time.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.