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Thursday, 27 March 2003
Page: 10339

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (10:23 AM) —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

This bill makes a series of amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 to address a number of minor anomalies, to clarify aspects of the act and to align provisions of the act with social security law. These changes are designed to further improve the operation of the repatriation system and to ensure it is consistent with the social security system.

The bill includes amendments to provide for the continued indexation of the child-related income support payments being received by a small number of persons in receipt of a service pension or income support supplement.

In 1998, responsibility for the payment of child-related income support was transferred from the Veterans' Entitlements Act to the Social Security Act 1991.

The amendments made in 1998 included a savings provision that preserved the payment of the child-related payments to a small number of families who would have been financially disadvantaged by the transfer.

The government's introduction of the family tax benefit in July 2000 and the associated repeal of the family payment provisions of the Social Security Act has resulted in the rate of the `saved' child-related payments to Veterans' Affairs pensioners being frozen.

This bill will provide for the ongoing indexation of the saved child-related payments in line with increases in the rate of family tax benefit. It will also give those recipients of the saved child-related payments the opportunity to discontinue receiving the saved payments, if they would prefer to receive the family tax benefit instead.

Other amendments made by this bill provide for the payment of certain partner service pensions from a date earlier than the date on which the claims are lodged.

The amendments are a consequence of earlier changes that have made the partner of a veteran not eligible to receive a partner service pension unless the partner of the veteran has reached 50 years of age, or has a dependent child when the claim is made. An exception is made in the circumstances where the person is the partner of a veteran receiving the special rate of disability pension.

If a veteran's claim for special rate is initially turned down, the partner's claim will also be refused. If the special rate claim is later accepted on review, the amendments provide that the subsequent claim for partner service pension may be backdated to the date that the veteran becomes eligible for the special rate of disability pension.

The bill also includes amendments that are aimed at preventing the misuse of commutation provisions relating to the means testing of income streams for income support pensions. They strengthen and further clarify changes made in the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Further Budget 2000 and Other Measures) Act 2002.

These amendments will prevent the potential misuse of the commutation provisions where there is a succession of commutations of asset-test exempt income streams. Any overpayment of pension will be calculated from the commencement date of the initial asset-test exempt income stream purchased by the person.

This bill removes an unintended anomaly in the government's pension bonus scheme. The amendments will enable certain persons who move from the social security system to the repatriation system, to carry over their periods of membership of the pension bonus scheme under social security law, to the scheme under the Veterans' Entitlements Act.

A number of consequential and technical amendments are also included to ensure that the calculation of pension bonus accurately reflects the various circumstances that may apply to a person during their time in the scheme.

Finally, the bill will align the compensation recovery provisions applied to multiple lump sums of compensation with those that apply under the Social Security Act.

Following the receipt of lump sum compensation there is the determination of the `lump sum preclusion period' during which a person's pension will not be payable. The amendments ensure a consistent approach in the calculation of the lump sum preclusion period where a person receives a compensation payment in the form of more than two lump sums.

This bill reflects an ongoing process of legislative improvement in the repatriation system under this government, with the aim of providing a system that operates effectively, consistently and fairly, to the benefit of the Australian veteran community.

Debate (on motion by Senator Mackay) adjourned.

Ordered that resumption of the debate on the bill be made an order of the day for a later hour.