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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Page: 5471

Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (09:01): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present legislation that delivers on the government’s budget measures to help support our veteran community. These measures further improve the operation of Australia’s repatriation system and provide special recognition to those Australians who were prisoners of war. The 2011-12 budget reflects the government’s ongoing commitment to more than 360,000 veterans and their families.

The bill will introduce a new payment for surviving Australian prisoners of war (POWs) recognising the hardships these men and women endured. More than 30,000 Australians became prisoners during the Second World War and the Korean War.

We have all heard of the hardships these men and women endured during captivity.

Subject to extremely harsh conditions and deprivation, many have lived with physical and psychological scars for decades. All in the service of their country. It is expected that around 900 former POWs will benefit from the payment. This bill introduces a new payment of $500 per fortnight which will be known as the prisoner of war recognition supplement. The supplement will be payable from 20 September 2011 with the first payment being made on 6 October 2011. Payments will begin automatically for former POWs known to the department. The supplement will be payable in addition to any existing benefits the person receives from the Commonwealth. It will be exempt income for the purposes of income tax and for the purposes of the veterans entitlements and social security income tests.

Further amendments in the bill will affirm the longstanding arrangements under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act for compensation offsetting. Offsetting is intended to prevent double payments of compensation. This can happen when a veteran or member is eligible for compensation for the same incapacity under different schemes.

This bill will clarify the longstanding compensation offsetting arrangements that have been in place in the repatriation system since 1973. This follows a full Federal Court decision which highlighted the need to clarify the legislation. It does not vary the disability pension for any veteran.

Finally, the bill will rationalise and better target payments for veterans and members who are undergoing treatment for war or defence caused injuries or diseases. There is currently an overlap in the allowances paid to veterans and members who are unable to work due to episodes of medical treatment and recuperation for war or defence caused injuries or diseases. This bill will better target payments through the loss of earnings allowance. Abolishing the temporary incapacity allowance ensures individuals are recompensed where there is actual loss of income. It has no impact on a veteran or member’s existing disability payment. From 20 September 2011, all eligible veterans and members in this situation will be assessed consistently against the criteria for the loss of earnings allowance.

This government is committed to streamlining and enhancing the services and support that our veterans, members and their families so rightly deserve.

Debate adjourned.