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Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Page: 39


Ms CAMPBELL (12:25 PM) —There are many indicators on which a just and civil society can and, indeed, should be judged. One of those surely has to be how we assist our veterans and their families. We ask a great service of them and, in turn, we owe them a great debt. That is why I am pleased to rise today to add my voice to that of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Hon. Alan Griffin, in support of the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2009. Minister Griffin is indeed a friend to the veteran community. This legislation highlights the level of attention and consideration he has paid to veterans and their families since assuming his current role. This attention and consideration is in stark contrast to those opposite who had more than a decade in office, during which time they ignored repeated calls to enact the seemingly minor changes this legislation sees made.

The Rudd government’s second budget saw a number of measures put in place to assist our veterans. Just this week, Minister Griffin informed the House about the detail and impact of the Veterans’ Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Pension Reform) Bill 2009. That bill increases various income support and war widows pension rates; enacts structural reforms with a new pension supplement, a new seniors supplement and a new veteran supplement to replace a variety of current allowances; introduces revised pension income test arrangements, revised pension indexation and benchmarking arrangements using in part a new pensioner and beneficiary living cost index to complement the consumer price index; introduces transitional arrangements to ensure pensioners affected by the pension income test changes are not worse off; and closes the pension bonus scheme to new applicants, sees changes to advance payments and increases the pension age for non-veterans. This legislation—the Veterans Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2009—complements these initiatives and gives effect to three portfolio budget measures of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. These are the extension of the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme to persons eligible under the Defence Force Home Ownership Assistance Scheme Act 2008, the cessation of dependants’ pensions and the payment of pensions and allowances into overseas bank accounts.

Under the Defence Service Homes Act 1918, eligible persons may obtain building insurance through the Defence Service Homes (DSH) Insurance Scheme for their home, right of residence in a retirement village, land, building materials and home improvements. Home contents insurance is also available. Currently, persons eligible to access the DSH Insurance Scheme are Australian veterans, serving members or peace keepers or widows or widowers of any of these persons. Under the proposed amendment to the Defence Service Homes Act, Australian Defence Force members who are eligible for the new scheme will also be able to access discounted insurance products offered through the DSH Insurance Scheme. The extension of the scheme is a positive initiative that will provide ADF members who are eligible under the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme with an additional benefit. The initiative complements Defence’s new home loan subsidy scheme and creates an attractive package for ADF members.

There are currently about 80,000 building and contents insurance policyholders under the DSH Insurance Scheme. These numbers are reducing at around four percent a year. In 2007, a review of the DSH Insurance Scheme found the scheme should continue for the benefit of its policyholders but recommended an expansion of the scheme’s eligibility and product range to improve its longer term viability. It is expected the additional client numbers and premium revenue generated from amending the Defence Service Homes Act 1918 will enhance the sustainability of the DSH Insurance Scheme.

An estimated 7½ thousand Australian Defence Force and Reserve members will benefit from cost-effective home insurance. The extension of the DSH Insurance Scheme will be self-funding through premiums. This is good policy which will benefit those hardworking men and women of the Defence Force.

The cessation of dependants pensions will see the majority of existing payments of dependants pension cease and a lump sum equal to three years worth of the payment paid to each recipient. Around 26,000 people will receive a lump sum payment of up to $656.76. The dependants pension has not increased since 1952 for children and 1964 for wives, except for a small one-off increase for GST compensation in July 2000. The real value of these pensions has diminished over time and will continue to erode. The lump sum payment is scheduled to be made in September 2009 and will be of more benefit to most recipients than the small fortnightly payment.

The purpose of the payment, when it was introduced in 1914, was to provide financial support to the dependants of veterans. Other government programs, such as income support, available through the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 and the Social Security Act 1991, provide this more effectively.

The minister and the government also announced the initiative to provide payments to an overseas financial institution where the recipient of a payment under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 is residing overseas. At the moment, payments provided to a VEA recipient residing overseas have to be made into a bank account in an Australian financial institution. Then the individual has to arrange the transfer of the funds to themselves overseas. By comparison, most Centrelink pensioners who live overseas in countries with reliable banking systems can receive their pension directly into an overseas bank account.

This measure delivers on a promise by the Prime Minister in 2008 to review the payment arrangements for Australian veterans and war widowers living overseas. This government is a friend to the veterans community and I would again take this opportunity to commend the minister on his legislative agenda and to thank him for his continued support of the veterans community in Northern Tasmania.

I had the pleasure of hosting the minister in Scottsdale, where he unveiled a carved statue of Anzac icon Simpson and his donkey. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the President of the Scottsdale RSL, Mr Bruce Scott, for his organisation and assistance on the day. I would like to pay a particular tribute to Mr Eddie Freeman for his superb craftsmanship of Simpson and his donkey, which he handcrafted out of macrocarpa, which is a fine timber.

The government is committed to maintaining and enhancing services and support to Australia’s ex-service community. As Minister Griffin has said, this legislation continues the progression we have made since coming to government to ensure that the support available through the veterans’ affairs portfolio is effective and equitable. I commend the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2009 to the House.