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Thursday, 22 August 2002
Page: 5536

Mr EDWARDS (9:59 AM) —The Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2002 includes a number of amendments necessary to make some minor improvements to the operation of the Veterans' Entitlements Act. For the record, I will quickly summarise the changes, all of which are supported by the Labor Party. Part 1 of the bill corrects a minor anomaly where a small number of veteran pensioners in receipt of the age pension are in double jeopardy, to the extent that compensation for physical injury from a third party is taken to offset both the veterans' disability pension as well as their income support payment where it is currently being treated as ordinary income. This drafting oversight has resulted in an unfair outcome. In short, compensation for pain and suffering should only be offset against like compensation for the same injury. Where an element of economic compensation is involved, an offset against income support is justified. But this is not the subject of this provision. This amendment removes the element of double counting of third-party compensation and is, therefore, supported.

The amendment in part 2 is also a minor one. In brief, amendments were made in 1997 to prevent lump sum settlements to the partner of a veteran being applied to the means test of the veterans themselves. It seems that at the time the operative date was not made clear. Hence, we have the clarification here that the previous amendment applies only to lump sums paid after 20 March 1997.

Part 3 contains a more substantial amendment as it seeks to close a loophole which has been exploited by some who have succeeded in having retirement village entry contributions in excess of the threshold treated as rent. Hence, they qualify for taxpayer funded rent assistance. The amendment necessary to close this loophole created by a Federal Court decision has already been made to the Social Security Act but, as usual, it seems the Veterans' Entitlements Act lags behind.

Part 4 simply extends the facility of telephone allowances to be available for mobile phones as well as fixed telephones. This is a practical amendment needed to make the benefit relevant. Part 5 is more complicated. Currently, a person cannot be paid rent assistance under the Veterans' Entitlements Act where there is a child for whom the family tax benefit is payable. This is because FTB already has included in it an element of rent assistance, but not for everybody. Those who have a right to receive maintenance for that child—if he or she is over 16, still at school and not in receipt of Youth Allowance—only get the base rate FTB which does not include rent assistance. This amendment will allow the latter class of people to claim rent assistance and so remove the unfairness of the current provision. It is understood that very few people are affected but, nevertheless, the amendment is worthwhile.

Part 6 of the bill seeks to correct an error in the provision of the Pension Loans Scheme to those who inadvertently became eligible at the time when provision was made for those on the income support supplement—namely, a small number of people on a partner pension. This oversight is corrected and is accordingly supported.

Part 7 relates to the provision of a Commonwealth seniors health card to war widows and widowers between the ages of 57 and 62 who are currently not eligible due to a lack of provision for their lower age eligibility. This has not been an issue until recently, as the benefits of the CSHC were not of significance to widows. Additions to the CSHC, however, such as discounts on Great Southern Railway, have created a demand for the card and, hence, the need to remove this unintended limitation.

Finally, part 8 of the bill contains a simple change to clarify the definition of a non-illness separated spouse, which to date has assumed that such a person is a veteran; whereas, in fact, it could also be the veteran partner. This has some flow-on consequences such as the telephone allowance. Mr Deputy Speaker, we support the bill.