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Thursday, 13 May 2004
Page: 23200


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) (9:45 AM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

VETERANS' ENTITLEMENTS (CLARKE REVIEW) BILL 2004

I am pleased to present legislation giving effect to the Government's response to the findings of the Review of Veterans' Entitlements—the Clarke Report.

This Bill is the culmination of the Government's commitment to review anomalies in veterans' entitlements and concerns about the level of benefits and support provided to disabled veterans.

This bill is the culmination of an important and comprehensive process by which we asked for input from the Australian veteran community during the Review. We received over 3,000 submissions, then again asked for veterans' feedback on the report's recommendations before we gave our government response. I am proud that the government's response to the Clarke Review delivers even more for veterans and war widows across Australia.

The Clarke Committee made 109 recommendations, more than half of which called for no change to current arrangements, and the Government has accepted these.

This Bill implements the changes announced on 2 March 2004 including addressing benefits for disability pension recipients; making an ex gratia payment to former prisoners of the Korean War; increasing assistance for war widows and widowers and extending operational service to minesweeping personnel.

Importantly, the Bill implements two significant measures to address key issues for veterans in receipt of the disability pension.

First, new indexation arrangements will mean that our most disabled veterans will have that portion of their disability pension paid above 100 per cent of the General Rate indexed by the same proportion as the service pension and the war widow's and widower's pension—that is, with reference to movements in the Consumer Price Index and Male Total Average Weekly Earnings.

Swift passage of these amendments will allow an early back-payment of the increased indexation to 20 March 2004, benefiting more than 45,000 disability pensioners.

Second, from September 2004 the Government will introduce the Defence Force Income Support Allowance (DFISA). This measure addresses a key issue of concern regarding the inclusion of the disability pension as income for pensions and benefits paid to recipients and their partners under social security law.

The amount of DFISA will be equal to the difference between the amount of income support a person receives under social security law, and the amount the person would receive if the disability pension was not counted as income in the assessment of their social security payment, and a disability pension income test for rent assistance was applicable.

The new allowance will be paid to eligible persons receiving a range of Centrelink payments including the age pension, disability support pension, carer payment, Newstart allowance and parenting payment.

As recommended by the Clarke Committee, the Government will make an ex gratia payment of $25,000 to former Australian prisoners of war held during the Korean War, or their surviving widows, who were alive on 1 July 2003.

The payment will be made in the same way as the payment to former prisoners of war held by Japan during World War II, in recognition of the extremely inhumane conditions endured by Australian PoWs during the Korean War.

This is a beneficial measure which is aimed to ensure that the largest possible number of former prisoners of the Korean War, or their surviving spouse, will be able to receive the payment.

In relation to war widows and widowers, the Government will pay rent assistance, in addition to the ceiling rate of the income support supplement, to some 11,000 war widows and widowers who are renting private accommodation. Currently rent assistance is paid within the ceiling rate of the income support supplement.

A small number of war widows who are also veterans in their own right, receiving the ceiling rate of service pension and renting privately, will also benefit from increased rent assistance under this measure.

This initiative reflects the finding of the Clarke Report that war widows and widowers renting in the private market are in need of additional assistance. Rent assistance is not available to those renting Government-owned properties, as their rent is already subsidised.

War widows and widowers receiving their income support payment from Centrelink will continue to have their rent assistance counted towards the income support ceiling rate. However they will be able to transfer to DVA for payment of their income support, thereby benefiting from this initiative, and I would encourage them to do so.

The increase in war widow and widower's rent assistance will require significant administrative changes by my Department. However, I have directed that the changes be accelerated and the increases will take effect from 1 January 2005, several months earlier than originally thought possible, at an additional cost of $5 million.

In line with another recommendation of the Clarke Report, the maximum funeral benefit will be increased from $572 to $1000.

The funeral benefit is intended to reduce the funeral expenses for eligible veterans and certain dependants, including former prisoners of war and recipients of the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated pension and the Extreme Disablement Adjustment rate. The increase in the maximum funeral benefit will take effect from 1 July 2004.

Finally, this Bill will extend operational service to personnel involved in minesweeping and bomb clearance operations after World War II who have qualifying service. This addresses an anomaly where a small number of personnel received the medal necessary to be eligible for qualifying service, but are not veterans because their service fell outside the operational service periods specified in the Veterans' Entitlements Act.

The Government's response to the Clarke Committee delivers a generous and responsible package of measures to enhance the benefits and support available to veterans and war widows.

Again, I thank the members the veteran community who participated in this important Review process. I would also like to acknowledge our defence and veterans' affairs committee, chaired ably by the member for Gilmore, and members of that committee, notably the members for Blair, McPherson, McEwen, Cowper, Deakin, Riverina, Hinkler and Herbert, who are all passionate advocates for veterans in their electorates. The Government's response to the Clarke Report will deliver significant and enduring benefits to veterans and war widows across Australia. It is this government that has increased spending on veterans' issues by a massive $4 billion since 1996. This financial year we allocated over a massive $10 billion to the needs of war widows and veterans. This government has a strong track record and our response to Clarke and the new Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Bill 2003 continues that strong commitment to our veterans and war widows.

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BANKRUPTCY (ESTATE CHARGES) AMENDMENT BILL 2004

The Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Amendment Bill 2004 (the Bill) will make a number of minor changes to the Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Act 1997.

These changes are necessary only to reflect the repeal of the three types of administrations and the proposed introduction of personal insolvency agreements under Part X of the Bankruptcy Act 1966.

The amendments to Part X are contained in the Bankruptcy Legislation Amendment Bill 2004.

The amendments proposed by this Bill will ensure that the interest charge and realisations charge apply to amounts received by trustees of personal insolvency agreements and represent no change in policy.

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HEALTH LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (PODIATRIC SURGERY AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2004

This Bill amends the Health Insurance Act 1973 regarding podiatric surgeons and Hospital Casemix Protocol data provision arrangements. It also amends the National Health Act 1953 regarding deceased pharmacists and makes minor technical amendments to two other pieces of legislation within the Health portfolio.

Amendments to the Health Insurance Act 1973 will enable private health insurance funds to pay accommodation and nursing costs from their hospital tables associated with foot surgery performed on admitted patients by accredited podiatric surgeons.

The aim of this amendment is to enhance the value of private health insurance and increase choice for consumers. Currently private patients can only receive rebates for foot surgery from health funds' hospital tables performed by medical practitioners. Only limited benefits are available from funds' ancillary tables for surgery performed by podiatric surgeons and members can incur considerable out-of-pocket costs.

While this Bill enables funds to pay for hospital costs, it does not extend to enabling funds to pay benefits for the accredited podiatric surgeon's or associated anaesthetist's fees. There is no Medicare Benefits Schedule item for these fees and this Bill will not change this situation.

The amendment will not change clinical practice in any way. It will permit funds to pay benefits for accommodation and nursing costs associated with foot surgery performed on admitted patients by accredited podiatric surgeons. This will alleviate some of the cost burden for privately insured consumers.

The Bill also clarifies existing Hospital Casemix Protocol data provision arrangements under the Health Insurance Act 1973.

Currently the Health Insurance Act 1973 requires private hospitals to supply patient de-identified data to a data bureau. The data bureau was disbanded in 2002 and the data is now collected and analysed from within the Department of Health and Ageing. The amendment reflects this change in arrangements.

While private hospitals have been required to provide Hospital Casemix Protocol data to the Department of Health and Ageing and private health insurance funds under the Health Insurance Act 1973, an equivalent obligation has never been imposed on day hospital facilities. This creates a potential gap in the range of data that is supplied to health funds and the Department of Health and Ageing. An amendment to the National Health Act 1953 will correct this anomaly.

This Bill also amends the National Health Act 1953 to ensure that the community will continue to have access to pharmaceutical benefits in the event of the death of a pharmacist who had been approved under this Act to supply pharmaceutical benefits

Currently, under the National Health Act 1953, pharmaceutical benefits can only be supplied by a pharmacist approved to supply such benefits. Once approved, a pharmacist is entitled to be paid by the Commonwealth for the supply of pharmaceutical benefits.

The National Health Act 1953 currently provides for legal personal representatives of deceased approved pharmacists to apply for approval to supply pharmaceutical benefits. However, this provision has been found to be deficient in a number of respects. In some cases, the time period involved in obtaining an approval to supply pharmaceutical benefits is lengthy. This is particularly so in situations where it is only viable for a legal personal representative to apply for approval after probate or letters of administration are granted.

In some instances, the legal personal representative requests an act of grace payment be made to the estate of the deceased approved pharmacist. This payment is for pharmaceutical benefits supplied during the period following the death of the pharmacist and before the grant of a new approval. In some cases the amount claimed is large, and the ongoing viability of a pharmacy has been jeopardised by having to carry this financial burden.

The amendments will enable a person who is, or is likely to become, an executor or administrator of a deceased approved pharmacist's estate, to be granted permission to supply pharmaceutical benefits to the community, and to receive payment for that supply.

Finally, the Bill makes minor amendments to the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Act 1995 and the Health Insurance Amendment (Diagnostic Imaging, Radiation Oncology and Other Measures) Act 2003 to correct drafting errors.

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AGRICULTURAL AND VETERINARY CHEMICALS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (NAME CHANGE) BILL 2004

The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Name Change) Bill 2004 (the bill) amends a suite of legislation:

to change the name of the National Registration Authority for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority; and

to introduce measures to protect the logo of the APVMA and its name from inappropriate use.

The National Registration Authority for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals, or NRA, is the authority responsible for the national system of approvals and registrations underpinning the national agricultural and veterinary chemicals regime.

For some time, the NRA has expressed views that the title of the organisation does not adequately reflect its purpose, nor is it consistent with international nomenclature practised by other international chemical regulators and within the OECD, which sets the international standards and benchmarks for chemicals management.

In addition, a survey in 1998/99 demonstrated that the name of the organisation was not well known beyond chemical manufacturers and was often confused with the National Rifleman's Association in the USA.

Finally, the proposed amendments include provisions in the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994 for the protection of the name of the APVMA, its initials, and its symbol (that is, the APVMA logo).

The APVMA may give consent in writing to the use of its name, its initials or its symbol.

The proposal mirrors the protection given under the Trade Marks Act 1995 suitably adapted to the APVMA circumstances.

This is a very simple bill that will assist in this Government's multiple-pronged approach to generating greater awareness of responsible chemical use amongst not only the user community but also the manufacturing industry.

Debate (on motion by Senator Mackay) adjourned.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.