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Thursday, 24 May 2001
Page: 24295

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) (11:15 AM) —I would like to thank senators for their contributions to the debate and thank them for the indications of support. Senator Bartlett said there were some questions put down by Senator Schacht, and I would like to briefly answer them. He asked first why the money for this measure had to be paid out this year. The answer is: to make the payments as soon as possible. He asked what the position would be if after many years a POW divorced his wife then remarried perhaps only for a short period. Is it the last wife who gets the $25,000 payment? The answer to that is fairly simple: a divorcee is not a widower. Divorcees are not eligible. He pointed out that the government establishes a precedent in having a stand-alone bill to pay non-veterans, and why couldn't the government use the same method to pay 400 civilian doctors and medical staff who were in Vietnam, as apparently the ALP have sought earlier. The answer to that is that the factual circumstances were totally different. There were no deaths amongst SEATO medical staff.

He then asked: how do we confirm that a person was a civilian internee; do they have to have been in Australia at the time of internment—for example, if the husband was an interned British citizen but the wife Australian? The answer is that Australian citizenship did not exist in 1949. The test in the bill is based on domicile in Australia immediately before internment. The domicile test is well known. It is based on an intention to remain indefinitely at a place. He also asked why the payment was applying only to POWs of the Japanese. They experienced a particular hardship. Those people suffered fairly unique ordeals, and that is clearly shown by the difference in death rates. The POWs that were interned in Japan had a death rate of 36 per cent, whereas those that were interned in Europe had a rate of three per cent. A dramatically different treatment was endured by the POWs in Japan, resulting in 36 per cent dying in captivity, whereas that rate was three per cent in Europe.

His last question was: why not exempt the payment from deeming? The answer to that is that the payment of the $25,000 will not be counted under the income and assets test. The investment of the $25,000 will be counted under normal rules in relation to the income earned from that investment, and that is the same treatment that has been given to other types of exempt income and assets, including other compensation payments under this legislation.

Coming back to the point of Senator Schacht's about the measures being delivered now, I repeat that of course we want the benefits to go out as soon as possible. This budget delivered the fifth consecutive cash surplus—the longest run of cash surpluses in about 30 years—and that enables us to make these payments. I am very pleased that opposition members support the passage of these bills.

Briefly, on the matter of the new tax system, the government had a number of measures to assist older Australians, such as real increases in pensions and allowances; lower income tax rates; lower capital gains tax rates; one-off non-taxable bonuses of up to, depending on your position, $3,000; and refunds of excess imputation credits. That stands in stark contrast to the behaviour of the previous government who, when they increased wholesale sales taxes—usually after elections and without announcements—did not pay any compensation or assistance to pensioners and self-funded retirees.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McKiernan)—The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Bartlett be agreed to.

Question resolved in the negative.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bills read a second time.