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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 114


Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (4:09 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—

VETERANS’ ENTITLEMENTS AMENDMENT (2005 BUDGET MEASURE) BILL 2005

I am pleased to present legislation to give effect to a Federal Budget initiative that will benefit up to 44,000 Australian veterans, war widows and widowers.

This bill will amend the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 to extend eligibility for the Australian Government’s seniors concession allowance to holders of the Gold Card who are over veteran pension age and who are not otherwise eligible for the seniors concession allowance or the utilities allowance.

The seniors concession allowance was introduced by this Government in December 2004, carrying through an election commitment to assist self-funded retirees in paying the costs of water, sewerage, electricity, rates and motor vehicle registration.

The allowance is currently available to DVA and Centrelink Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders as a non-taxable payment of $200, paid in two instalments in June and December each year. The amount of seniors concession allowance is indexed twice yearly.

The bill also provides for the seniors concession allowance to be paid to eligible Gold Card holders if they are temporarily absent from Australia for no more than 13 weeks.

With passage of this bill, the first payment of seniors concession allowance to eligible Gold Card holders will take place in December 2005.

This legislation broadens the Government’s support for our older veterans. In 1999, we extended the Gold Card to Australian veterans and mariners aged 70 or over with qualifying service from World War II.

In 2002, we further extended eligibility for the Gold Card to include all Australian veterans aged 70 or over with qualifying service from any conflict.

This year’s Budget increases funding for the care of the veteran and defence force communities to more than $10.8 billion, a rise of $278 million on 2004-05.

The 2005-2006 Budget includes $4.6 billion for health care—an increase of $203 million on 2004-05—and $6.1 billion for compensation and income support, up from $6 billion last financial year.

Veterans’ Affairs funding has risen under this Government from $6.5 billion in 1996 to more than $10.8 billion in this Budget—an average annual increase of 5.8 per cent.

Over a decade, the Government has committed more than $86 billion dollars in recognition of the special needs of our veterans and war widows.

Through our commitment to working with the ex-service and defence communities to identify and address key priorities, the Government has delivered a repatriation system that continues to be highly regarded around the world.

The 2005-06 Budget builds on our hard work, to ensure that our veterans, whether they served in the world wars or in more recent deployments, will receive the care they need and the support the community expects for this important group of Australians.

This initiative recognises the needs of our older Gold Card recipients and continues this Government’s strong commitment to the Australian veteran community.

Debate (on motion by Senator Coonan) adjourned.

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