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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1605


Senator REYNOLDS —My question, which I direct to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, relates to an article in the Courier-Mail which quoted the Mayor of Brisbane as saying that it was the Federal Government's fault, in introducing the assets test on age and service pensions, that up to 3,500 Queensland pensioners would lose their Brisbane City Council rate concession discounts. How is it that apparently only Brisbane ratepayers seem to have this problem? Can the Minister explain why this problem seems to be unique to Queensland?


Senator GIETZELT —All honourable senators would be aware that fringe benefits are an important ingredient for many millions of citizens in Australia and that they are the subject of many representations from time to time. The Commonwealth's involvement in fringe benefits as far as veterans are concerned is restricted largely to telephone subsidies and travel on Australian National railways. Senator Reynolds referred specifically to an article in the Courier-Mail that suggests that the Lord Mayor of Brisbane stated that the Commonwealth was somehow responsible for the difficulties that war widows and pensioners in that State face in qualifying for a subsidy on local government rates. The Senate would be aware that subsidies for rates-they are called rebates-are matters for the State or local authorities. For example, in my State of New South Wales each local government body has the responsibility of determining its policies. In some cases it gives no subsidies and in others it gives a 50 per cent subsidy. In my municipality or shire persons eligible for a rebate receive 100 per cent rebate; in other cases it is limited to a certain fixed sum by decision of the local authority.

However, in Queensland, ratepayers are probably the worst off of any in Australia as a result of being led by the National Party of Australia. This particularly applies to local government discounts to pensioners, or to city government discounts for the residents of Brisbane. For a start there is no legislation in Queensland to safeguard pensioners' fringe benefits as there is in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia which, incidentally, are all Labor States. Queensland's policy in respect of local government rebates is laid down by the State Government in a document entitled `Guidelines to Administration of Schemes for a Subsidy of Rates and Charges to Local Authorities for Approved Pensioners'. When I first read the article I took the view that responsibility for this matter rested with the Brisbane City Council. However, that is not the case. This matter was a feature story in the Brisbane Courier-Mail, I think yesterday, and as it particularly affected war widows I asked my office to establish the areas of responsibility.

In Brisbane war widows are specifically excluded by the guidelines provided, not by the Brisbane City Council but by the National Government in Queensland. I compare the differences that exist between the National Party's policy on this matter and that of the other States. Western Australia has a 50 per cent discount with no ceiling at all and war widows are included subject to a means test. In New South Wales a 50 per cent rebate is provided up to $300 and there is a possibility, which is a variable determined by the local government authority, of receiving up to a 100 per cent rebate for all those who are eligible for fringe benefits. In Victoria a 50 per cent rebate is given up to a maximum of $135 for those eligible for fringe benefits but in Queensland the situation is entirely different-it is the opposite. Concessions are available only to those who apply and who are receiving the maximum rate of service pension. Concessions do not apply to war widows so to that extent Senator Reynolds's interest in this matter is similar to mine. The Queensland Government's policy does discriminate against war widows.