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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 187

Senator MARK BISHOP (10:37 PM) —The incorporated speech read as follows—

This Bill extends the seniors’ concession allowance of $200 per year to holders of the veterans’ Gold Card.

This therefore is a small additional benefit to 44,000 veterans and war widows who are self funded retirees.

One would normally have described the bill as non controversial.

But in fact, as I’ll point out, this Bill corrects a dirty deed by the Howard Government.

In essence it gives to self funded retiree veterans what all other self funded retirees received last year.

It’s also equivalent to the $200 a year utilities allowance paid to age and service pensioners.

These allowances were election promises made by the Prime Minister as he sprayed billions of dollars around like confetti before the election.

Basically the seniors allowance is a non means tested benefit to assist self funded retirees.

Its purpose is to help pay their power and gas bills, their car registration, and their water bills.

In effect it’s a political trade off for the utilities allowance given to pensioners.

We don’t begrudge anyone these benefits of course, but we do note the blatant electioneering this allowance represents.

This allowance which was first introduced in December 2004, is paid in two instalments each year in June and December.

The utilities allowance paid to pensioners is also paid in two instalments in March and September.

For Gold Card holders already in receipt of the Service pension or the Income Support Supplement, the utilities allowance was paid along with the rest of the pensioner population.

Previously, to be eligible for the seniors concession allowance a person must hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC).

Consistent with other veteran entitlements, it’s available at age 60, compared with the 65 age limit for other retirees.

But Gold Card holders have no need of the CSHC because all their health care needs are taken care of.

As a result, those veterans and war widows who are classed as self funded retirees—that is, not in payment of the Service Pension or the Income Support Supplement, missed out.

This was either a negligent oversight or a deliberate ploy to save money.

Either way, self funded retiree veterans were denied what normal self funded retirees were given—but without any reason or explanation.

If it was a negligent oversight the Government should be condemned for its carelessness in ignoring 44,000 people.

They were effectively discriminated against.

If it was deliberate, the same applies.

Perhaps some explanation and apology should be given. These circumstances can only be described as totally silly.

Simply because those veterans and widows were eligible for a CSHC and only had to apply.

As I understand some in fact did so.

In that way, the oversight or omission was got around.

And may I add, this matter was first raised with me by the War Widows’ Guild.

They were concerned on behalf of war widows who did not have a CSHC.

The matter doesn’t end there though.

A sizeable portion of the population has been effectively cheated.

In these cases payments ought to be made in arrears. Not so in this case.

In fact it’s worse.

The first payment to self funded veteran retirees will not be made until December this year.

That means a loss of two payments of $100 at least.

Yet of course, the gloss put on this as usual is one of extreme generosity and kindness.

In fact the Minister’s deceptive spin in her budget press release was just that.

It was the centrepiece of the entire veterans’ budget.

Veterans and war widows need to know it’s nothing of the kind. They have in fact been short changed.

This is a benefit provided to everyone else late last year.

Mr Acting Deputy President, this is typical of the duplicity and fudging for which this Minister is a specialist.

Indeed when we look at the entire veterans’ budget this year, it’s a non event.

If this Bill constitutes the centrepiece, and it’s effectively a fraud, then the whole budget package is a fraud too.

Let’s look at the detail.

Putting aside all the spin and rhetoric, there’s only $10 million for new budget measures alone in 2005/06.

Against these there are savings of $52 million—which flow on from the Health portfolio.

Apart from the long overdue increase in dental limits, there’s no change in entitlements.

As for the $411 million increase in DVA’s total budget, most of that’s due to normal cost increases

$393 million in fact.

In the budget papers these are described as

  • ‘parameter adjustments’,
  • ‘variation in rates and fees’,
  • ‘growth in numbers and or usage rates’,
  • or ‘movements between low cost and high cost services’.

The so called initiatives for anaesthetists and allied health providers are part of those normal increases.

To this $393 million should be added $60 million carried over from previous years’ budgets.

So essentially in terms of government policy initiatives for veterans, the Government has gone backwards.

The savings exceed new spending—it’s as simple as that.

So Mr Acting Deputy President, that’s all there is to this paltry measure.

Veterans have been conned again, and cheated.

In fact I challenge the Minister to make good and make this bill retrospective to December 2004.

Only in that way can the honourable thing be done.

Nevertheless we support the bill.