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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 8155


Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of ANZAC) (09:46):

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present legislation that will give effect to a number of measures that will improve or clarify services and benefits to the veteran and Defence Force community and make various amendments to update veterans affairs and related legislation.

Benefiting the veteran and Defence Force community are amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act that will exempt from income tax, payments made under the new Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme.

The scheme commenced on 1 January 2012 and the first payments will be made in the first quarter of 2013.

The scheme provides for the reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses incurred by eligible veterans and members in the purchase of pharmaceuticals.

The implementation of this scheme has been achieved through amendments to the legislative instruments that govern the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme under the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the MRCA Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

Amendments are required to the Income Tax Assessment Act to grant payments under the Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme the necessary income tax exempt status.

These amendments have the added benefit of also clarifying the income tax exempt status of other reimbursements that may be made under the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the MRCA Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

It is expected that approximately 50,000 veterans and members will benefit from the Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme.

Further amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act will make it clear that treatment costs reimbursed under the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act are income tax exempt.

The Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act provides treatment and testing for cancer for eligible nuclear test participants.

In some circumstances, treatment costs incurred by an eligible participant may be reimbursed.

Changes in the bill to veterans affairs legislation will clarify the approval and authorisation arrangements for travel for treatment for eligible persons and attendants under the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act.

In 2010-11 the department processed over 155,000 claims for reimbursement for travel expenses for treatment purposes.

Travel expenses can include costs for transport, meals and accommodation for eligible persons and where necessary an attendant to accompany the eligible person.

Amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act will make it clear that Repatriation Commission approval or authorisation for such travel may be given before or after the travel has been undertaken.

Further beneficial amendments in the bill will enable special assistance under the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act to be delivered in a more timely manner.

This will be achieved by enabling special assistance to be provided by legislative instrument instead of by regulation.

The result will be a more streamlined and therefore speedier process for providing special assistance to veterans, members, former members and their dependants.

The remaining amendments in the bill will make minor changes to clarify and update veterans affairs legislation and further align the Veterans' Entitlements Act with the social security law.

These changes are part of the government's ongoing commitment to continually review, update and improve the services and administration of benefits to our current and former military personnel and their families. I commend the bill the House.

Debate adjourned.