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Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Page: 2820

Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (12:04 PM) —It is my pleasure to rise in this place today to speak to the Veterans’ Entitlements Legislation Amendment (2007 Election Commitments) Bill 2008. The bill contains three measures, which were key policy initiatives in the area of veterans’ affairs for the Labor Party at the election late last year. Among other things, the bill will extend the income support supplement to war widows and widowers under the qualifying age without dependants, extend disability pension bereavement payments in respect of single veterans or members in receipt of special rate or extreme disablement adjustment disability pension who die without sufficient assets to pay for a funeral and automatically grant a war widows or widowers pension to widows or widowers of veterans or members in receipt of temporary special rate or intermediate rate disability pension immediately before their death.

Extending the income support supplement to all war widows and widowers will effectively remove the qualifying age for the income support supplement for war widows or widowers without dependants. Currently the qualifying age is 60 years for men and 58.5 for women. This change will result in existing and future war widows and widowers under these qualifying ages becoming eligible for the income support supplement on and from 1 July 2008. I understand this change will assist approximately 1,400 war widows or widowers and wholly dependent partners who are under pension age and not currently entitled to income support. This measure is particularly relevant given that we have brave men and women from Australia’s defence forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and in recent times have sadly seen the loss of life of members of the defence forces. The partners of defence personnel killed in action should not have to wait until pension age to receive this payment, and now I am very proud to say they will not have to wait.

Payment of the income support supplement on the grounds of permanent incapacity will be retained so that incapacitated war widows or widowers and wholly dependent partners who are under the pension age continue to receive their income support supplement as a tax-free payment. The current maximum rate for the income support supplement is $163.20 per fortnight, and I am sure that the extension of this benefit will be welcomed by war widows and widowers and the veterans community as a whole.

The extension of the disability pension bereavement payments to the estates of single veterans who have died in indigent circumstances is a great step forward, providing dignity for deceased veterans. Our veterans have served their country with honour and dignity in life, and this measure will ensure that we treat them accordingly after their passing. This measure will apply to the estate of single recipients of the special rate and extreme disablement adjustment rate of disability pension. A person will be considered to have died in indigent circumstances if the value of the person’s estate is not sufficient to cover all liabilities, including funeral costs. This one-off payment will provide 12 weeks disability pension payment to the estate of the deceased veteran or Defence Force member. This payment is in addition to a funeral benefit, which is also payable to indigent veterans or members and is a contribution towards funeral costs and will be payable in respect of deaths that occur on or after 1 July 2008. As well as assisting the families of veterans, this measure will also take some financial pressure off ex-service organisations and their members, who often put their hands in their pockets to ensure that one of their members has a dignified burial. Currently this payment is only available to the widow or widower of the deceased veteran or defence member.

The extension of the automatic grant of war widow or war widower pension is another initiative that we took to the last election. This measure will automatically grant the war widow or widower pension to the partner of a veteran or member where that veteran or member was in receipt of the intermediate rate or temporary special rate disability pension. This measure will commence on 1 July 2008.

All of these measures were fully funded in last night’s budget. It is another example of the Rudd government delivering on every single one of its election commitments. Unlike those opposite, we do not have ‘non-core promises’ as part of our language—things to be quickly forgotten after the writs have been returned, as has been the case in the past. The veterans affairs budget from the Rudd government provides a record $11.59 billion spend on veterans and their families. This record spend is occurring against a quite rapidly declining population in the veteran community. For veterans and their families, as well as the rest of the Australian community, this budget provides certainty in relation to the range of payments to older veterans and particularly those with caring responsibilities.

These changes are long overdue. Our veterans community deserves the very best service and care government can offer. These fine men and women have served our nation in times of war and in times of peace, putting their bodies and their lives on the line in the name of service to their country. As a Labor member of this place, I am very proud of the policies that we took to the last election, particularly in relation to our veterans. There is no-one more deserving of our support and the support of government generally.

No matter where they have served, in war or in peace, our veterans have made great sacrifices to build and protect the nation that we have today. Veterans’ families have also had to make sacrifices: having a member of their family away for long periods of time, and helping that family member readjust to life after deployment and, often, later to civilian life. The families of our veterans are unsung heroes and they give support and care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is correct for me to reflect on words that the Prime Minister used in the House of Representatives yesterday. He said, ‘Sadly, sometimes it is the families that are actually making the greatest contribution when there is a loss of life.’

It is quite appropriate and long overdue, in my opinion, that we extend better entitlements to veterans and their families, as this bill does. Labor promised these improved benefits during the election campaign and here we are delivering on our promise early in the term of this new parliament. We could reflect on the 12 years that we have had in the past to move the sorts of actions contained in this bill; I am just glad that we have them in hand and are doing them. The Rudd Labor government have acted quickly to implement these much needed initiatives to improve the support that we provide to our veterans, our ADF members and their families. It is indeed a pleasure to commend the bill to the House.