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Thursday, 13 May 1993
Page: 504


Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Science and Personnel) (10.12 a.m.) —I move:

  That these Bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

  The speeches read as follows—

TELECOMMUNICATIONS AMENDMENT BILL 1993

The purpose of this Bill is to extend to the three public mobile carriers the benefit of land access powers.

The general carriers, Telstra Corporation Limited (formerly AOTC) and Optus Networks Pty Limited (a subsidiary of Optus Communications Pty Limited) have certain powers under the Telecommunications Act 1991 to enter privately owned land in order to inspect, evaluate and to install or construct telecommunications facilities for the provision of general telecommunications services.

The Act currently does not provide for mobile telecommunications carriers to have the same statutory land access rights in relation to inspection, evaluation, installation or construction of telecommunications facilities for the provision of mobile services. The companies which hold licences as mobile carriers are Telstra Corporation Limited, Optus Mobile Pty Limited and Vodafone Pty Limited.

The provision of competition has been a central focus of the Government's telecommunications reforms. Lack of statutory rights to enter land could adversely affect the ability of the public mobile carriers to provide viable competition in relation to mobile telecommunications services.

The Government has therefore decided to extend to the three public mobile carriers powers to enter land and do things necessary to land for purposes connected with the supply of mobile telecommunications services. The carriers are to exercise these powers as authorised by and consistent with their licence conditions.

In addition to extending land access powers to the mobile carriers, the amendments also impose the same obligations on the mobile carriers that currently apply to the general carriers. These obligations require the giving of reasonable written notice to the owner of land, and in certain cases, to the owner and occupier of land, that the carrier is intending to exercise its powers.

The amendments also include new provisions for a Land Access Code to regulate the use of the powers to enter land in relation to both general and mobile carriers. The Land Access Code is also intended to safeguard the interests of property owners. New provisions are also included in the amendments to make the Code binding on the carriers, to provide AUSTEL, the Australian Telecommunications Authority, with the power to issue written directions to carriers about how they are to comply with the Code and to ensure that such directions are enforceable.

The measures in this Bill are not expected to have a significant impact on Commonwealth expenditure or revenue.

I commend this Bill to the Senate and I present the explanatory memorandum to this Bill.

SOCIAL SECURITY AMENDMENT BILL 1993

  On Saturday, 13 March 1993, the Australian people clearly indicated that they shared the Government's belief that this nation must advance together. By advancing together, not only will we build a strong economy, but a fairer society that pays particular attention to the special needs of groups such as the aged and the unemployed.

The cornerstone of the Government's retirement incomes policy is, and remains, an adequate age pension for those most in need. But that doesn't mean that we can't do more.

First, the Government recently extended full Commonwealth fringe benefits to all pensioners and older long-term allowees and agreed to compensate the States in 1992-93 for the cost of extending verified State concessions to this group. We have also introduced the Superannuation Guarantee Charge to improve access to higher private income in retirement.

Secondly, as part of its commitment to a fairer Australia, the Government announced in `Building On Strength' that it would improve the position of low income retirees by easing the pensions assets test. The Government recognised that although some retirees have suffered from a reduction in their nominal income due to recent falls in interest rates that would entitle them, under the income test, to either a pension or a higher rate of pension, they would still not receive this because of their relatively high level of assets and the effect of the pension assets withdrawal rate.

The Social Security Amendment Bill 1993 gives effect to this initiative.

From 20 September 1993, the pensions assets test set out in the Social Security Act 1991 will be adjusted so that if a person has assets in excess of the assets test threshold applicable to them, the person's pension will be reduced by $19.50 rather than $26 for every $250 above the threshold. This means that many retirees will either get more pension or qualify for a pension for the first time.

For example, a single person currently receiving age pension who has assets of $230,000, no source of income apart from the pension and lives in rented accommodation will receive an additional $37.00 per fortnight. A retired married couple with assets of $300,000 apart from their principal residence will each now receive an age pension of $52.90 per fortnight provided that they satisfy the qualification rules and their combined income is less than $922 a fortnight.

In `Building On Strength' the Government reaffirmed that its overriding priority for the next three years is jobs.

In `Investing In The Nation' the Government noted that many people seeking full time work are currently holding part time jobs that continued to grow during the recession. An increasing proportion of job search allowance and newstart allowance recipients are reporting income from casual and part-time work. The Government indicated its support for this trend given that as well as providing an additional source of income, such employment assists job seekers to maintain their skills and their informal network of contacts that can be so important in finding a full time job. To further encourage the trend the Government announced a range of measures that would both improve the financial return from undertaking part-time or casual employment and reduce client uncertainty about the effects of such employment on future entitlements.

This Bill introduces two of those measures.

The Social Security Act will be amended from 20 September 1993 so as to introduce an additional free area for earned income of $30 per fortnight for single recipients of job search allowance, newstart allowance and sickness allowance and to increase the free earned income area applicable to a partnered allowance from $30 to $50 per fortnight for earned income.

The Social Security Act will also be amended from that date to replace a number of differing provisions for exemption from the ordinary waiting period for these allowances with one simple provision. Under the new arrangements, claimants of job search allowance, newstart allowance or sickness allowance will not have to serve an ordinary one week waiting period if they have been in receipt of income support within the previous 13 weeks. This provision will be much simpler for clients to understand and for departmental staff to administer.

There are a number of common terms used in social security and migration laws. As a result of recent amendments to the Migration Regulations from 1 February 1993, there is a need to make a number of minor technical amendments to the Social Security Act so as to ensure ongoing consistency in terminology. This Bill effects those amendments.

I commend the Bill to the House.

VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1993

  This Bill proposes amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act to implement the Government's election promise to reduce the assets test withdrawal rate from $104 to $78 per annum for each $1000 of assets above the assets test threshold. This change, which takes effect from 20 September 1993, provides for greater equity in the assessment of pensions under the assets test. The Government's promise to make this change is a positive response to the adverse impact falling interest rates have on pensioners in some circumstances and it has been welcomed by pensioner groups and non-pensioner retirees as a positive and well targeted measure. It will particularly benefit retirees in rural and remote areas who own farming properties.

The Bill also proposes three changes as a result of Government decisions to commit Australian Defence Force personnel to serve with United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in a number of areas.

The first of these relates to Cambodia. The Veterans' Entitlements Act was amended in 1992 to designate Cambodia as an operational area. This allowed for the extension of benefits under the Act to members of the Australian Defence Force serving with United Nations Forces as part of the peacekeeping efforts in Cambodia.

Advice has recently been received by the Government from the Chief of the Defence Force that some members of the Australian Defence Force have been engaged in United Nations operations across the Cambodian border in Laos and Thailand. Accordingly, the Government has decided to amend Schedule 2 to the Act to extend the operational area of Cambodia to include areas in Laos and Thailand that are not more than fifty kilometres from the border with Cambodia. This amendment takes effect from 20 October 1991, the same date that Cambodia was declared an operational area. It will ensure that any Australian Defence Force personnel who cross the Cambodian border into either Laos or Thailand, will continue to be covered for benefits under the Act in respect of that service.

The second change arises from the Government's decision to extend benefits under the Act to members of the small Australian Defence Force contingent serving with United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in the former Yugoslavia. In view of the significant additional risks associated with such service, the Bill proposes that the area comprising the former Yugoslavia be designated as an `operational area'. This change will take effect on and from 12 January 1992, that being the first date on which Australian Defence Force personnel commenced serving in the area.

The third change is an amendment to give effect to the Government's decision, announced in December last year, to provide benefits under the Veterans' Entitlements Act to members of the Australian Defence Force serving with the United Nations in Somalia as part of Australia's contribution to operation RESTORE HOPE and the United Nations Operation Somalia. This amendment will take effect from 20 October 1992.

The effect of declaring both the former Yugoslavia and Somalia as operational areas is that it will allow for any claims for disability pension, due to injury or death in respect of such service, to be determined on the more generous standard of proof provisions in the Veterans' Entitlements Act.

Service in each of these areas is also to be regarded as `qualifying service'. This will allow access to service pension provided the other conditions relating to age, income and assets are also met. The Bill proposes the necessary amendments to give effect to this decision. It also contains some minor consequential amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act and the Public Service Act to ensure that they recognise the newly proposed operational areas for the purposes of the benefits available under those Acts.

Complex legislative and administrative problems arise on each occasion Australia is asked to contribute to international peacekeeping obligations. It is in no small measure due to the linking of the portfolio responsibilities of Veterans' Affairs and Defence Science and Personnel, that each of these legislative changes can be implemented so soon after the Government has announced its commitment, or in the case of Cambodia, after the Government considered the need for change in the light of new circumstances.

The changes underline the importance the Government attaches to the continuing welfare of veterans and their families.

I commend the Bill to the Senate and present the explanatory memorandum to the Bill.

  Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.

  Motion (by Senator Faulkner) agreed to:

  That the Telecommunications Amendment Bill 1993 be listed on the Notice Paper as a separate order of the day.