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Wednesday, 16 February 2022
Page: 850


Mr GEE (CalareMinister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel) (10:40): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

One of the great privileges of being the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel is having the opportunity to meet, and get to know, so many of the men and women who serve and have served this nation and their incredible, supportive families. Representing them is simply an honour.

I've seen first-hand the critical and fundamental role that families play in supporting the capability of our Defence Force and the wellbeing of defence members.

If we want a strong Defence Force—operating at its best—then we need to have the best possible support available for family members.

The responsibility to care for the men and women of the ADF, veterans and their families currently rests with our generation, and we have to do everything we can to give them the care and treatment they deserve, the best possible care and treatment our country can provide.

The Australian government recognises the unique challenges faced by these families.

Supporting the partners and children of our service personnel must be an ongoing and evolving effort.

This legislation that I am introducing today will expand the existing family support package first introduced by the Australian government in 2018.

This bill demonstrates the government's ongoing commitment to its response to recommendation 19 of the final report of the Senate inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel, The Constant Battle: Suicide by Veterans,tabled in parliament on 15 August 2017.

It also responds to recommendation 19.2 of the Productivity Commission report, A Better Way to Support Veterans, to ensure veterans and their families are supported to the best of our ability.

Important new support to veterans in this bill goes beyond a 2021-22 budget measure and commences on 1 July 2022.

This initiative builds on and enhances the existing family support package by expanding the services available and allowing families greater choice in how they use services provided through the program.

The Enhanced Family Support Package will also be available to more working-age veteran families through expanded eligibility.

Intensive support will become available to families—at, or in crisis—to adjust to new or challenging life circumstances, complementing other Department of Veterans' Affairs and Australian government services.

This initiative will provide families of veterans under 65 years that are in—or at risk of, being in—crisis with up to $12,500 over two years.

This support can be spent on a range of services that meet their health and wellbeing needs.

This includes household services such as cleaning, gardening, counselling for family members and a range of other practical support.

Families will be able to access up to $7,500 of support in the first year, and up to $5,000 in the second year.

In addition, families with children will be able to access a further $10,000 a year for each child under school age and $5,000 a year for each primary school-aged child, until the child reaches high-school age.

We know that widows and widowers are particularly vulnerable following the death of their veteran partners.

Under this initiative, the family support package for widows and widowers will be expanded to all three acts that support veterans.

This package provides widowed partners under 65 years old up to $27,835 each year for two years.

This equates to $514.12 per week.

This support will help meet the cost of help around the home such as cleaning, gardening, maintenance and other practical services to support the wellbeing of family members.

Widows and widowers will also have access to the additional childcare assistance until their child reaches high-school age.

To implement the Australian government's Enhanced Family Support Package, schedule 1 of the bill will amend the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 to expand the family support package.

It will also introduce a legislative framework to establish the Family Support Package in the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988.

The bill also provides that family support payments for veterans and their families are exempt from income tax and from being assessed income for the purposes of the Social Security Act 1991.

The Australian government is deeply committed to supporting veterans and their families.

We want our service men and women, veterans and their families to know that Australia is proud of them and that our country will always be there for them.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.