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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 25909


Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (4:21 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows

Since taking office, this Government has given a high priority to providing appropriate recognition for the service and sacrifice of veterans and addressing anomalies that have deprived some members of the veteran community of their rightful entitlements.

With its latest budget, the Government has again demonstrated its commitment to the veteran community, with initiatives to benefit former prisoners-of-war held by Japan; war widows who lost their pensions upon remarriage and Commonwealth and allied veterans who served alongside Australians during the two world wars.

This bill will give effect to key initiatives in the Veterans' Affairs Budget. It will amend the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 to restore entitlements to war widows who remarried before 1984 and had their pensions cancelled.

The war widow's pension was established to compensate Australian women whose husband died on active duty or from war-caused injuries or illness following their return from service. However, if they chose to remarry, they were no longer entitled to that compensation.

The introduction of the Veterans' Entitlements Act in 1986 recognised the unfairness of this situation and ensured that war widows who remarried in the future would keep their entitlements. However, the decision to limit the change to widows who remarried after May 1984 has meant that for almost two decades there have been two classes of war widows.

These amendments will ensure that widows whose partners have died for their country will be treated equally under the repatriation system.

Other amendments will recognise the service of allied veterans who served during World War I and World War II, by granting them eligibility for the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Eligibility will be extended to Commonwealth and allied veterans who are over the age of 70, have qualifying service from either of the world wars and who have been resident in Australia for 10 years or more.

Like their Australian comrades, allied veterans of these conflicts have an increasing need for medication as they grow older. This initiative will give them access at concessional rates to the full range of medicines and pharmaceutical items available through the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, including a number of items that are not available to the wider community under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

These newly eligible allied veterans will also be eligible for a pharmaceutical allowance, if they do not already receive it as a service or age pensioner.

Finally, this bill will amend the treatment of superannuation assets for those over 55 years of age but under the pension age.

As announced in the Budget, the Government will not include in the income test for social security pensions any money withdrawn from superannuation assets by this age group.

This Bill makes similar changes to the income testing of payments under the Veterans' Entitlements Act to ensure that affected members of the veteran community receive fair and consistent treatment.

This bill will further advance the interests of the Australian veteran community and provide a stronger and fairer repatriation system.

Debate (on motion by Senator Denman) adjourned.