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Thursday, 25 March 2004
Page: 27215

Mrs VALE (Minister for Veterans' Affairs) (9:20 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill gives effect to a number of minor policy measures that will enhance services to veterans and their dependants, continuing this government's commitment to improving the repatriation system to ensure it operates as effectively as possible in meeting the needs of the Australian veteran community.

Notably, amendments in this legislation will:

enable recipients of the veteran disability pension and war widow's/widower's pension to arrange direct deduction payments;

increase the Victoria Cross allowance and commence indexation of this special benefit by the consumer price index;

introduce automatic eligibility for the war widow's/widower's income support supplement to partners who received their social security age pension or wife pension through the Department of Veterans' Affairs; and

ensure eligibility for the partner service pension includes certain partners of veterans living on Norfolk Island.

Other amendments will correct minor policy flaws in relation to the calculation of disability pension arrears and rent assistance, and the recovery of certain overpayments. Parts of this bill will also align the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 with social security law in relation to the deeming of certain income and assets, the income and assets treatment of superannuation benefits and compensation recovery provisions.

Currently, direct deduction arrangements are available for recipients of the service pension or the war widow's/widower's income support supplement. Such arrangements allow veterans and war widows/widowers to have deductions made from their benefits for regular payments such as rent to state housing authorities.

These arrangements are not currently available for disability pensions or the war widow's/widower's pension. This bill will extend the direct deduction provisions to allow these pensioners to arrange such deductions from their fortnightly payments.

This bill will enhance the allowance paid to our two surviving recipients of the Victoria Cross. The Victoria Cross allowance is currently $2,808 per year and is paid annually in advance. Under these amendments, the allowance will be increased by 15 per cent to $3,230 per year, and it will be subject to annual indexation in line with movements in the consumer price index. These amendments reflect changes in the allowance provided to British VC recipients by the British government and recognise the special place held by Australia's Victoria Cross winners. The amendments will also make minor reforms to the provisions for decoration allowance.

Amendments in this bill will enhance support for veterans' partners who received the social security age pension or wife pension through my department.

On the death of a veteran, where the veterans' death is accepted as being related to their service, the partner becomes eligible for the war widow's/widower's pension. However, they currently are required to lodge a formal claim to receive the war widow's/widower's income support supplement.

This bill will provide automatic eligibility for partners in these circumstances to receive the income support supplement, removing an administrative burden from widows/widowers coming to terms with the loss of their partner.

In a further measure of support for veterans' partners, the bill will ensure eligibility for the partner service pension includes certain partners who are resident in Norfolk Island. These amendments correct an anomaly in the provisions that meant certain partners resident in Norfolk Island were not eligible for the partner service pension.

Many of these amendments represent relatively small changes to our repatriation legislation. However, this `finetuning' of the Veterans' Entitlements Act is important to those members of the veteran community who will benefit from these changes, and the government sees this legislation as continuing to deliver on its commitment to those who serve in the defence of our nation.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stephen Smith) adjourned.