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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 8304


Ms HALL (11:37 AM) —I rise to speak on the Veterans’ Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Pension Reform) Bill 2009. At the commencement of my contribution to the debate I inform the member for Paterson that that is the legislation that we are debating—


Mr Baldwin —So you don’t count service personnel?


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Thank you. You have had your say.


Ms HALL —and it would be highly inappropriate—


Mr Baldwin —That’s never stopped you before.


Ms HALL —for the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to come down here to give his response—


Mr Baldwin —Then do a ministerial statement.


Ms HALL —to the report on military compensation. Mr Deputy Speaker, I find it highly offensive that the member for Paterson is allowed to continually interject on my contribution to this debate.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Shortland should continue her speech now.


Ms HALL —I suppose that gives the member for Paterson open slather to interject during my contribution to the debate.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I will decide that; you continue to speak.


Ms HALL —The minister at the table, Dr Emerson, asked the member for Paterson what his policy was. I would have to say the answer is easy: he does not have a policy. They do not have a policy. They have never had a policy. He weaves, he ducks, he goes around in circles, but when it comes to giving an answer the answer is no policy. The member for Paterson could be asked what the Howard government’s policy was when they were in power.


Mr Baldwin —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Do I take that—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —That is not a point of order. Sit down, thank you.


Mr Baldwin —The point of order is on relevance. The member should address the legislation that is before the House.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Your point has been made. Sit down, thank you.


Ms HALL —I say to the member for Paterson that when the Howard government was in power the coalition had no policy. And when then Minister Abbott took to cabinet a request for a $30 per week increase in the pension, the Howard government cabinet said no, they were not interested in looking after pensions. That is in stark contrast to the Rudd government, who have always had the interests of pensioners and veterans at heart.

I acknowledge the enormous contribution that veterans have made to our community here in Australia. Without their contribution, Australia would not be the country it is today. At the weekend I attended two ceremonies that recognised the contribution of Vietnam veterans to Australia and that also celebrated the victory in the Pacific. In that context, it really brings home to me the importance of looking after our service men and women. And that is exactly what the Rudd government has done. They conducted a review into pensions and veterans entitlements, and coming from that review are this legislation and commitments that were made in the budget. This legislation implements key elements of the Rudd government’s secure and sustainable pension reform package for the veterans community. We have already had legislation through this House that has done exactly the same thing for pensioners. This legislation covers veterans. The increases and the changes included in this legislation will come into effect next month along with the changes for pensioners.

The measures are not at all dissimilar to those reforms already enacted for social security pensions. The variation in this bill just reflects the difference between the repatriation and the general social security pensions system, and I think it also acknowledges the importance of the contribution that veterans have made to our community. This bill delivers on the government’s strong—I emphasise strong—commitment to the service community, providing certainty for so many in such an uncertain time. What this legislation does is show our genuine concern for veterans. It does this not only with words but by putting in place the right sort of system so they get the right sorts of payments. It is what the Howard government failed to do in the time that they were in power. They totally ignored the needs of ex-service men and women and of pensioners.

The Rudd government do not do that. We have put in place substantial increases, as you will see as I continue with my contribution to this debate. The bill, as part of the pension reform package, prepares Australia to meet future challenges, and the reforms provide a long-term, sustainable, more responsive, fairer and simpler pension system. Pensioners will also benefit from improved indexation and can receive more concessional treatment for the first $500 of wages income a fortnight, encouraging older Australians to join the workforce. So half of the first $500 of income earned will be discounted, and that will act as an incentive for ex-servicemen and pensioners to work that little bit longer. For those who are currently working, it will also benefit them enormously. They are good changes. They are changes that really benefit our veterans. They are changes that this government have embraced because we believe in our veterans and we believe in the contributions they have made to our community.

From 20 September this year, the full single service pension will increase by $65 a fortnight. That is a very significant increase. Partnered service pensions will rise by $20.30 combined a fortnight. Those single service pensioners on part pensions because of other income will still receive an increase of not less than $20.20 a fortnight. These increases are on top of regular indexation due in September. The regular indexation will come through and then on top will be the $65, the $20.30 and the $20.20. The normal September indexation will be calculated and applied to the pension. War widows will receive an extra $60 a fortnight and there will be an increase to the income support supplement of an extra $5 a fortnight.

I should at this point acknowledge that the member for Paterson wholeheartedly supported this legislation. He acknowledged the fact that the Rudd government had prepared outstanding legislation, that the legislation will deliver to veterans and pensioners. It is a pity that when the member for Paterson was part of the previous government he did not encourage them to develop similar legislation.

Another important aspect of this legislation is the changes to the pension supplement. The pharmaceutical allowance, the utilities allowance, telephone allowance and the GST supplement will be replaced by a pension supplement to be paid with the pension each fortnight. It will be a little higher for those who receive a supplement for the internet. The current supplement system is a bit of a mish-mash. Bringing together all these supplements and paying them fortnightly I think will provide certainty for our veterans. Pensioners have already had this change made to the way their supplements will be paid. The supplement will provide a payment of up to $56.10 a fortnight for singles and $84.60 combined for couples. Each and every fortnight they will receive that supplement. I think that gives them a greater ability to manage their income. Pensioners who would like to take half of this payment as a quarterly lump sum will be able to do that from 2010. In that way they will benefit from the flexibility within the legislation. They can still have the certainty of half the supplement being paid to them fortnightly and then get the lump sum to help them with the big bills that come in from time to time.

War widows, widowers and income supplement recipients will have their former allowance added to their base rate of pension. For veterans, members and dependants who will not benefit from another supplement, the bill also establishes two new supplements that replace pharmaceutical and telephone allowances. These are the veterans supplement for those under the Veterans’ Entitlement Act and the MRCA supplement for those under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. Self-funded retirees or pensioners of qualifying age who are holders of the Commonwealth seniors card or the repatriation gold card will also receive the new seniors supplement. The seniors supplement will be a quarterly payment of $196.30 for singles and $296.40 combined for couples. They are good changes; they are sensible changes. It is workable legislation streamlining the payment system and providing more certainty and more income.

One of the major reforms is the changes to the indexation and benchmarking of income support pensions. New indexation arrangements will better reflect cost of living increases for pensioners and the ABS will calculate the new pensioner and beneficiary living cost index, which will be known as the PBLCI. This index has been designed to better reflect the cost of living and the costs incurred by pensioners and veterans. From 20 September, the maximum basic rate of relevant veterans pensions will be adjusted in line with the PBLCI or the consumer index, whichever is the highest. No matter what happens, our veterans will not lose. Pension rates will also continue to be benchmarked to the male average weekly earnings.

This is really good legislation. It delivers an increase to our veterans and a change to the way veterans pensions and veterans affairs payments are made, and it delivers those things in a way that ensures veterans will receive more income. It is legislation that combines the supplements and provides them on a fortnightly and quarterly basis from July 2010. It is legislation that implements a new work bonus scheme, which I talked about earlier; it is legislation that delivers transparency; and it is legislation that will benefit our veterans.

I wholeheartedly support this legislation and, in doing so, acknowledge the enormous commitment of the Rudd government and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to our veterans. We know that their service to this country is immeasurable, we know that their service has benefited all Australians and we know that it is our role to ensure that they have strong income support. We recognised the fact that they needed an increase in their payments—an increase that had been needed for some considerable time. It is an increase which the Howard government failed to deliver, but the Rudd government listened and we have delivered to our veterans community.