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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4134


Mr GRIFFIN (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel) (10:40 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present legislation introducing measures announced in the 2010-11 federal budget that will increase access to repatriation pensions and benefits and align eligibility for war widow or widower pension.

As a result of this government’s reconsideration of the recommendations of the Clarke review of veterans entitlements, two periods of service will be reclassified resulting in repatriation benefits or improved repatriation benefits becoming available for this service under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act.

Firstly, from 1 July 2010, service by former Australian Defence Force members involved in the British nuclear tests will be recognised under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act with benefits equivalent to those available for non-warlike or hazardous service.

A new category of service will be created under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, to be known as British nuclear test defence service. British nuclear test defence service will provide eligible former members or their dependants with access to disability and war widow or widower pensions, treatment and a number of other associated benefits and allowances for incapacity or deaths that are accepted as related to that service.

The creation of this new category of service eligibility under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act recognises the unique nature of this peacetime defence service and will provide recognition of that service and appropriate repatriation benefits.

In addition, pension claims relating to British nuclear test defence service will be determined using the reasonable hypothesis standard, being the more generous reverse criminal standard of proof.

In further recognition of the service undertaken by our Defence Force members, certain submarine special operations between 1978 and 1992 will be reclassified as operational and qualifying service under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act with effect from 1 July 2010. During this period, some Royal Australian Navy submarines were fitted with special intelligence equipment and were deployed regularly in areas to the north and west of Australia.

Eligible members under this measure will be those whose service on submarine special operations between 1978 and 1992, resulted in their being awarded, or being eligible to be awarded, the Australian Service Medal with Clasp Special Ops and includes those members who would have been eligible for the Australian Service Medal with Clasp Special Ops if they had not already received it for another period of service.

The reclassification of this service will provide eligible members with access to all pensions and associated benefits under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act and will provide access to subsidised home loans under the Defence Service Homes Act.

As a result of the reclassification to operational service, eligible members will gain access to disability pension and will be able to receive healthcare services for their accepted disabilities.

Disability pension claims relating to relevant submarine special operations service will also be determined using the reasonable hypothesis standard, being the more generous reverse criminal standard of proof.

As a result of the reclassification to qualifying service, eligible members will qualify for a gold card at age 70 and they and their partners will have access to service pension.

This budget continues this government’s commitment to ensure that appropriate repatriation benefits are provided based on the nature of service rendered, by reclassifying as qualifying service, certain service in Ubon in Thailand.

From 1 July 2010, service in Ubon in Thailand between 31 May 1962 and 27 July 1962 will be reclassified, under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, as qualifying service. During this period, Australian Defence Force personnel in Ubon were on an operational footing to counter the level of imminent threat at the time.

Qualifying service for this period will provide eligible members and their partners with access to service pensions. Eligible members will also qualify for a gold card at age 70.

The last two measures in the bill also relate to this government’s reconsideration of the Clarke review.

Firstly, for the purposes of the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, the age of domicile of choice will be lowered from 21 to 18 years of age for veterans who served with British Commonwealth or allied forces during World War II.

Before the concept of Australian citizenship, for a member of a British Commonwealth or allied force to be considered an Australian veteran for the purposes of the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, the person must have been domiciled in Australia immediately before the outbreak of war.

This measure will enable a small number of veterans of British Commonwealth or allied defence forces to gain access to pensions and benefits available under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act. Other common-law rules relating to domicile will continue to apply. This measure will commence on 1 July 2010.

The final measure will align eligibility for the war widow or widower pension for widows or widowers who enter into a de facto relationship with that of widows or widowers who marry or remarry.

From 1 October 2010, a widow or widower of a veteran or member who enters into a de facto relationship with another person before claiming the war widow or widower pension will be ineligible for the pension.

I want to make it clear that this measure will not affect any war widow’s or widower’s existing pension, nor will it affect eligibility if the widow or widower enters into a de facto relationship after claiming the war widow or widower pension.

This measure will result in the equal treatment of widows or widowers regardless of whether the new relationship is a marriage or a de facto relationship.

These changes will ensure more veterans and members are recognised for their service to Australia and will deliver almost immediate benefits and entitlements.

This bill continues this government’s ongoing commitment to supporting Australia’s current and former service personnel and their families, ensuring their wellbeing now and into the future. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Gash) adjourned.