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Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Page: 2096

Mr GRIFFIN (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) (9:02 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present legislation addressing minor but necessary measures that will remove anomalies between veterans’ entitlements law and social security law.

These amendments are a demonstration of the government’s commitment to continually review, update and improve the services and support we provide to our current and former military personnel.

They remove anomalies between related laws that might otherwise frustrate veterans and their families through inconsistent treatment of income and assets in certain circumstances.

The bill includes amendments that will exempt, from the veterans’ entitlements income test, payments associated with part-time work experience under a labour market program.

This measure aligns the veterans’ entitlements law with the social security law and ensures the consistent treatment of these types of payments across both acts.

The bill will also amend the Veterans’ Entitlements Act so that the partner of a service pension or income support supplement claimant or recipient, will be required to claim a comparable foreign pension if the partner is entitled to such a pension.

This provides consistency between the veterans’ entitlements law and the social security law and can result in a pensioner couple receiving more income overall.

For those persons currently receiving a service pension or income support supplement, their partners, where entitled to a comparable foreign pension, will be given six months to claim the pension.

The bill will also change the income test treatment of arrears payments of comparable foreign pensions so that the treatment of such arrears payments parallels that under the social security law.

This treatment generally provides a better result for the pensioner and will close a potential loophole in the legislation.

Instead of treating the arrears payment as income in the 12-month period from the date of grant of the comparable foreign pension, these amendments will mean that the arrears payment is treated as periodical payments for the period of the arrears.

The majority of cases will benefit from this change and the amendments will remove the opportunity for pensioners to change to a social security pension to potentially avoid the income test in relation to the arrears payment.

The bill will repeal from the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, all references to benevolent homes.

The provisions have become redundant as benevolent homes no longer exist and there are no longer any Veterans’ Affairs beneficiaries who are affected by these provisions.

Finally, the bill will clarify that the value of certain superannuation investments specified in a determination by the minister to be disregarded for the purposes of the assets test, are not disregarded for the purposes of the deemed income rules and the asset deprivation rules.

The exceptions will ensure that the veterans’ entitlements means test will continue to operate so that those most in need will receive the most benefit from our repatriation pension system.

These corrections to the legislation will protect the integrity of the means test and the pension system by ensuring that specified superannuation investments are treated as originally intended and are counted as financial assets when calculating deemed income and will continue to be regarded as assets if the asset has been disposed of for less than adequate or no consideration.

This bill continues the government’s ongoing commitment to supporting Australia’s veteran community and their families and ensuring their wellbeing now and into the future.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.