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Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Page: 2835

Mr GRIFFIN (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) (4:12 PM) —in reply—I would like to thank all members who have contributed to the debate on the Veterans’ Entitlements Legislation Amendment (2007 Election Commitments) Bill 2008. Later on I will say a bit more on what was said by a number of speakers. This bill delivers a number of election commitments to the ex-service community and is a significant step in meeting this government’s undertaking to deliver better services to Australia’s veterans and their dependants. Firstly, the bill extends the automatic grant of war widow, widower or orphan pension to the widows, widowers and eligible children of veterans and members who, immediately before their death, were in receipt of the temporary special rate or intermediate rate disability pension. This measure also extends gold card eligibility to the dependants of these veterans and members. The dependants will become entitled to free health care for all conditions.

Secondly, the bill extends eligibility for the income support supplement to all war widows and widowers. The measure removes the previous requirements that a war widow or widower be over qualifying age and have a dependent child, be permanently incapacitated or be the partner of a person receiving an income support pension. From 1 July 2008 all war widows and widowers will, subject to the means test, have access to additional income support in the form of the income support supplement. To ensure that no war widow or widower is disadvantaged by this change, the payment of the income support supplement on the grounds of permanent incapacity will be retained. This will mean that, for those war widows or widowers who are incapacitated and who are under the age pension age, the income support supplement will continue to be a tax-free payment.

Finally, the bill extends in respect of certain single disability pension recipients the disability pension bereavement payment. Currently this payment is only payable in respect of partnered disability pension recipients. Under this measure, disability pension bereavement payments will be payable in respect of single recipients of the special rate and extreme disablement adjustment rate of disability pensions who die in indigent circumstances. The bereavement payment is a one-off payment equivalent to 12 weeks of the special rate or extreme disablement adjustment rate of the disability pension. The bereavement payment will help the families of veterans and members to meet the cost of the funeral. The measures in this bill clearly demonstrate that the government is serious about its pre-election commitments to better look after the veteran community and their families.

I note that this bill has been supported by all speakers. It is interesting, though, to note that, while the bill has been supported by each member of the opposition who has spoken, the opposition had nearly 12 years in government to act on these particular issues and they chose not to. That is interesting. I applaud and welcome the fact that now, when they are no longer in government, they have actually agreed to, and support the fact that we are taking, these actions. But I would add that these are not matters which were raised during the death knell before the last election. They were matters which were on the public record as a matter of public concern for years beforehand, and the previous government at that time chose to do nothing about it.

It is also interesting to note the member for Gilmore’s comments regarding the report with respect to post-armistice Korean veterans. As the member for Eden Monaro has said, we are currently in the process of dealing between departments to ensure that the recommendations from that review are supported. But the member for Gilmore was part of a government which rejected most of the recommendations of that review. She was part of a government that had the opportunity to act on these matters and actually refused to do so. I want to assure her that we are in discussions with the post-armistice Korean veterans. We have met with them since the election, we are in the process of working through these issues and we will act with respect to this matter—unlike the government of which she was part.

Many members took the opportunity as part of this debate, as is not unusual with amending legislation, to raise a number of issues with respect to the budget or various aspects of what they believe to be the impact of the budget. I will not spend much time on those issues now because I know there will be other occasions in this place where we will have the opportunity to debate them in more detail. I will welcome those opportunities to discuss some of the measures in the budget and any concerns people might have with respect to their operation and impact on members of the veterans community. But what I will say very briefly is this: this is a record budget with respect to expenditure on veterans affairs. The principal reason for that is, frankly, the implementation of changes which were passed by the previous government, with the support of the then opposition, but came about as a result of pressure put by the ex-service community and by the opposition in the period leading up to the last election.

There are many members here—and I note the member for Fadden is not one of them—who know that before the last election the then opposition, the Labor Party, campaigned long and hard on the issue of indexation, particularly in relation to special rate pensioners. And there were many members—and, I might add, a number of them are not here anymore—who were very belated in terms of their support for that position and who went out publicly and opposed it over quite a period of time. The previous government, who had had this issue raised with them over a 10-year period, did on numerous occasions take a position to not support those calls for a fairer indexation system. I give credit where credit is due: to the previous Minister for Veterans’ Affairs for being able to convince his government to finally act on this issue late last year. I give him credit for doing that. But I note once again that it took 10 years for the government of the day to move, and then only in the context of an election being called and only in a situation where they were fully aware of the fact that they were in grave danger of defeat. And, as we know, that is exactly what the Australian people meted out to them.

The bottom line for members of the opposition is that it is all very well to come along here and be critical of this government implementing its election commitments, as it has done with this legislation or with respect to the budget, when in fact they are glossing over what their record was in this area when they were in government. There was 10 years of basic neglect, only acted upon in the last 18 months. And, in those circumstances, the veterans community of this country were aware of that, understood it and many of them, at the ballot box, acted accordingly.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.