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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5676

Mrs MARKUS (6:27 PM) —The government raised a great number of expectations before the last election, and it is not the first time I have said that. I note that the government intend to issue further discussion papers on reviews of advocacy funding in the veterans community and that this will follow a discussion paper on pharmaceutical costs for war-caused disabilities. There seems to be a lack of action by the government with regard to these issues. While consultation is important, the government do appear to be delaying making any hard decisions on matters that they indicated would be addressed before or close to the next election.

I would like to read something the current Minister for Veterans’ Affairs said in 2006, which was basically what he thought of the then minister:

Decision making in veterans’ affairs should be as free of politics as you can make it. That will not always be possible but it ought to be an objective we strive for. But independent reviews are rarely an answer in themselves. You have to be prepared to accept their recommendations or have good and clear reasons not to. … At times governments have used independent reviews as a mechanism to divert criticism and to try to put a hold on things while they cool off politically.

Veterans on disability pensions were deeply disappointed when, after the Treasurer said on Brisbane radio on 12 September 2008 that disability pensions would be considered in the Harmer review, that did not eventuate.

Minister, as you would be aware, there is also concern in the veterans community that legislation supported by the Labor Party in opposition in 2007 was later undone by the Labor government. The government legislation which was passed by the parliament last year—specifically, legislation enacted to increase some veterans pensions—did not deal with veterans who were disability pensioners. The legislation explicitly broke the link between the pension MBR factor established by legislation of the previous, coalition government, which you supported and which was passed last year.

Veteran disability pensioners are concerned that they are going backwards and are now worse off under this government than they were under the previous government. The explanatory memorandum accompanying the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (Disability, War Widow and War Widower Pensions) Bill 2007 stated:

The changes contained in this Bill will also increase the general rate of disability pension and introduce a new method of indexation for general rate disability pension. The 5 per cent increase to general rate disability pension will increase the rate to $338.94 per fortnight with effect from 20 March 2008. General rate disability will then be indexed immediately with reference to both CPI and MTAWE with effect from 20 March 2008. This will be achieved by indexing general rate disability pension by applying the pension MBR factor, which is the same proportional or percentage increase as applies to service pension. This figure is obtained by dividing the newly indexed maximum basic rate of single service pension by the previous maximum basic rate of single service pension. This methodology is the same as that used to index above general rate disability pensions in accordance with subsection 198(5E) of the VEA.

However, the explanatory memorandum accompanying the Rudd Labor government’s Veterans’ Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Pension Reform) Bill 2009 says:

Step 1 of the Method statement requires that the amount substituted under section 59LA for the amount specified in point SCH6-A4 of Schedule 6 on 20 September 2009, be worked out as usual. It should be noted that the operation of 5 section 59LA on 20 September 2009 is also affected by item 7 of Schedule 2. Item 7 is a transitional provision to ensure that the pension MBR factor is calculated as if the amendments made by Part 1 of the Schedule had not been made. The effect of this is that the pension MBR factor determined under section 59LA will not be distorted by the statutory increase to the maximum basic rate of single pension. That is, for the purposes of section 59LA on 20 September 2009, the “current single pension MBR amount” is to be calculated as if the statutory increase of $1,560 provided for under new subsection 198FB, had not occurred. (Extension of time granted)

It appears from these two statements that the intent of the Rudd Labor government’s 2009 legislation was to undo the previous, coalition government’s legislation passed with Labor’s support in 2007. I note in this regard that material the minister is providing to promote the government’s efforts in veterans affairs takes credit for passing on pension increases which were legislated for by the coalition government just prior to the 2007 election. I note that, were it not for changes enacted by the coalition government, disability pensioners receiving a special rate would not have received anywhere near the $44 increase they received this year.

Madam Deputy Speaker, through you I ask the minister to justify the breaking of the nexus of the pensioner MBR factor for all veteran disability pensioners legislated by the previous government. Further, I ask the minister to explain the cost provided by the department this month that re-establishing the nexus would cost $583 million over four years. How is this cost broken down? What are the costs per year? How many people will be affected? Thank you for the extra time.