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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31471

Mrs VALE (Minister for Veterans' Affairs) (10:35 AM) —I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

Agreement to these amendments will complete the progress of the Veterans' Entitlements (Clarke Review) Bill 2004 through our parliament. They are technical amendments. One amendment slightly changes the long title of the bill; the other refines its commencement provisions. The House agreed to two requests from the Senate on Tuesday, and the bill received a third reading in the Senate yesterday.

The bill complements the government's response to the Clarke committee's review of veterans' entitlements. It implements two significant changes for persons in receipt of disability pensions. First, the portion of disability pension paid above the general rate will be indexed with respect to both the consumer price index and the male total average weekly earnings, backdated to 20 March 2004. Second, it introduces the Defence Force income support allowance, otherwise known as DFISA, from 20 September 2004. This allowance offsets the loss of income resulting from inclusion of the disability pension in the income test for social security pensions and benefits.

The bill enables the payment of rent assistance as well as the ceiling rate of income support supplement or service pension to war widows and widowers and increases the maximum funeral benefit from $572 to $1,000. It also enables former prisoners of war of the North Koreans or their surviving spouses to receive a one-off payment of $25,000 in recognition of the inhuman conditions that they endured. Finally, the bill extends operational service to personnel who were involved in minesweeping and bomb clearance operations after World War II who have the appropriate qualifying service medals.

The measures of this bill demonstrate the government's commitment to ensuring that Australia's repatriation system meets the needs of its veterans and their families and remains one of the best in the world. Again, I thank members of the Clarke committee, those individual veterans and the ex-service organisations who participated in the inquiry and my parliamentary colleagues who took such a keen interest in the government's response to the committee's report—in particular, the members for Gilmore, Blair, Dunkley, McEwen, Riverina, Eden-Monaro, Herbert, McPherson, Dickson, Cowper, Macarthur and Moncrieff. I also pay tribute to those officers in my department who have worked hard and long to bring this legislation through to the parliament.

On a personal note, this is the second major piece of legislation of benefit to veterans and their families which this government has been able to bring into the parliament in the space of six months. The first was the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, which passed the parliament in March this year. This landmark legislation provides a generous and responsible military specific rehabilitation and compensation scheme for Australia's Defence personnel and their families—indeed, the future veterans of our nation. Being part of the Howard coalition government and delivering on our strong commitment to veterans, ex-service personnel, war widows and their families and being the minister responsible for the carriage of both pieces of legislation has been of immense personal satisfaction to me—indeed, an immense personal privilege. I commend the amendments to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. D.G.H. Adams)—The question is that the amendments be agreed to.

Question agreed to.