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Wednesday, 20 August 1980
Page: 499


Mr ADERMANN (Fisher) (Minister for Veterans' Affairs) - by leave - Pursuant to the commitment that the Treasurer (Mr Howard) made last evening I make this statement.

The Treasurer in his speech to the House last night mentioned briefly certain decisions taken by the Government in respect to benefits affecting Australian veterans and also in some respects persons still serving in the Australian Defence Force. I propose, for the information of honourable members, to mention more details of these measures, which I believe represent a further very real advance in the welfare and care of our veterans and their dependants. As honourable members are aware, during the first two or three years in office, the Government found it had to exercise the greatest possible financial restraint. It was not possible then to improve benefits for veterans by any marked degree, although, being very much aware of the deleterious effect which inflation has upon the living standards of persons on fixed incomes such as pensions, the Government acted in its first Budget to introduce indexation of the main repatriation pensions. We have continued to do so since then. I am sure that this firm action taken then to protect the purchasing power of our veterans and their dependants is greatly appreciated in the ex-service community. As I announced on 31 July this year, there will be increases in these main repatriation pensions as from 13 November this year, in line with the movement in the consumer price index over the six months to 30 June.

In last year's Budget, we were able to make substantial increases in the value of a wide range of the minor repatriation benefits. These included the funeral benefit, which was increased by $200 to a new figure of $300, the orphan's pension, the attendant's allowance for the severely handicapped, recreation transport allowance, allowance for maintenance of gift cars, clothing allowance, and allowances for subsistence and car travel for veterans required to attend for treatment, pension or review purposes. At the same time all rail travel for departmental purposes was made first class. These increases last year were of particular benefit to the more severely handicapped veterans. Last year, also, eligibility for the Service pension, which is like the Department of Social Security's age pension, was extended to allied veterans on a similar basis to that applying to British Commonwealth veterans, and this new provision came into effect on 7 February this year. Over 1,000 allied veterans applied for this benefit in the first six months of its operation. In this year's Budget our objective has been to build upon last year's improvements. For instance, from 13 November, there will be further increases in the orphan's pension, clothing allowance, attendant's allowance, recreation transport allowance and gift car maintenance allowance to offset the effects of inflation since they were increased in last year's Budget. In addition, in respect of a benefit which was not changed last year, there are to be substantial increases in the additions to pension payable to veterans who have had amputations or suffer a loss of vision.

The Government Has decided that the access which veterans receiving the Service pension have to fringe benefits provided by my Department should be improved. As from 1 January next year, half of any disability pension will be disregarded when considering a Service pensioner's income for the purpose of determining entitlement to fringe benefits. This means that an estimated 5,000 additional veterans will receive free treatment for all disabilities, whether service-related or not, through the Department of Veterans' Affairs. The Government has decided to extend eligibility for free medical treatment to new classes of veterans. These are Australian merchant mariners who were captured and detained by the enemy and also veterans and mariners with service-related amputation or loss of vision in one eye, who do not qualify on other grounds. From 1 3 November they will be eligible to free treatment, subject to some exceptions, for all conditions, whether or not related to the veteran's service or, in the case of Australian mariners, to a war injury.

The Government has taken a very important initiative in respect of veterans who are temporarily incapacitated. From 1 November this year, a veteran whose stay in hospital, together with posthospital convalescence or other treatment on a full time basis after hospitalisation, has been for the purpose of treatment for a service-related disability which in total exceeds 28 days, will be entitled to receive a temporary incapacity allowance. The maximum rate of this allowance will be equal to the special rate pension - commonly known as the TPI pension - less any disability pension being received by the veteran. Pensions for Papua New Guinea veterans and their dependants, will be increased as from the first payday in November. These increases will bring the total incapacity pension for Papua New Guinea veterans up to the related secondary urban wage in their country.

The Government has been aware for some time that the maximum loan available under the Defence Service Homes Scheme has not been adequate in terms of its contribution towards purchasing a home at today's prices. The Government has reviewed this matter each year but until now, because of financial restraints, has not been able to increase the maximum amount of loan available to veterans and certain serving members of the Defence Force. As mentioned by the Treasurer last night the maximum loan of $1 5,000 is to be increased to $25,000. The rates of interest on the first $ 1 2,000 and the next $3,000 of the loan remain unchanged at 3.75 per cent and 7.25 per cent respectively. The new addition of $1 0,000 will carry the concessional interest rate of 1 0 per cent. The effective interest rate on a loan of $25,000 will, in round figures, be only 7 per cent per annum, which I am sure honourable members will agree, is a very favourable rate compared with rates on loans available from commercial lenders. Legislation to amend the Defence Service Homes Act to provide these benefits will be introduced as soon as possible. In addition the waiting period of 1 4 months for a loan to purchase a new or previously occupied home has been reduced immediately to 10 months.

As I said initially the objective behind this year's Budget measures affecting Australian veterans and their dependants and, in some cases some serving members of the defence forces, has been to build upon last year's achievements. They represent very real advances in many areas of veterans' affairs. It will be clear to honourable members that the increases in the allowances which I have mentioned can be expected to take care of inflationary effects. More people than ever are now included in benefits provided by my Department. There have been tremendous improvements in the defence service homes area, and I am particularly pleased that we, as a Government, have been able to give substantial assistance to eligible veterans and serving members seeking to achieve home ownership.

I might just add that the above measures were decided upon after considering proposals put to the Government by the major ex-service organisations. I might stress that there has been the closest consultation between the representatives of these organisations and the Government in reaching these decisions. We have not been able to grant all that has been requested of us, but I feel that in the economic circumstances still facing Australia we have been able to act very positively to continue the good work on behalf of veterans and their dependants which the Government has attempted to do throughout its period in office. Finally, I have not given details of the new measures down to the last dollar and cent. These details are set out in a one-page summary which has been prepared by my Department. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a copy of the summary.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows -

VETERANS' AFFAIRS BENEFITS INCREASED, EXTENDED

The following changes in a number of benefits available to veterans and other eligible members and former members of the Defence Force have been approved in the 1980-81 Budget.

Defence Service Homes Loans

Legislation will be introduced as soon as practicable to increase the maximum Defence Service H lines loan from SI 5,000 to $25,000.

The rate of interest on loan amounts above $1 5,000 will be 10 per cent per annum. The present rates of 3.75 per cent per annum on the first $12,000 of a loan and 7.25 per cent per annum on the next $3,000 will be retained.

Applications for loans in excess of $15,000 may be lodged immediately with the Defence Service Homes Corporation but cannot be settled until the amending legislation is enacted.

Provided the normal requirements of the Act are met, persons who applied for a $1 5,000 loan before the announcement of the Budget decision to increase the loan and whose loans are settled after the amending legislation has been enacted, will be able to take advantage of the higher lending limit of $25,000.

The waiting time for a loan to buy a home has been reduced from 1 4 months to 1 0 months. The reduction applies to applications already lodged as well as to new applications.

Repatriation Benefits

Disregarding of disability pension for fringe benefit entitlement purposes

From 1 January 1981, half of any disability pension will be disregarded for the purpose of determining entitlement for fringe benefits. This new provision will bring assessment procedures for fringe benefits into line with that for Service Pension assessment.

Provision of free medical treatment for Australian mariners who were prisoners-of-war and veterans with service-related amputation or loss of vision in one eye

From 13 November 1980, Australian mariners who were prisoners-of-war and veterans with the above disabilities who do not currently qualify on other grounds, will be eligible for medical treatment at Departmental expense, subject to certain qualifications, for all conditions whether or not they are related to the veteran's service or, in the case of an Australian mariner, to a 'war injury'.

Temporary Incapacity Allowance

From 1 November 1980, a veteran whose stay in hospital together with post-hospital convalescence or other treatment on a full-time basis after hospitalisation for a service-related disability which in total exceeds 28 days, will be entitled to a Temporary Incapacity Allowance.

The maximum rate of this allowance is equivalent to the Special (T. & P.I.) Rate pension less any disability pension being received by the veteran.

Increase in pension rates for Papua New Guinea pensioners and their dependants

From the first payday in November, monthly pension rates will be increased to the following:

This increase will bring the total incapacity pension up to the relevant secondary urban wage in Papua New Guinea.

Increased Repatriation Pension Rates

In addition to the changes announced in the Budget Speech, increases in the main Repatriation pensions, announced on 31 July 1980, will apply from 13 November 1980. They flow from the 5.0 per cent rise in the Consumer Price Index in the six months to 30 June. The pensions affected, the increases and the new weekly rates are:

Other Benefit Increases

Other Repatriation benefits will be increased from the dates shown below.

Additions to pension for amputation or loss of vision (From 13 November 1980)

The minimum addition to pension for these purposes will be $3.95 (increase $1.40) and the maximum $25.80 (increase $9.20).

 

I present the following paper:

Benefits: Australian Veterans- Ministerial Statement, 20 August 1980.

Motion (by Mr Fife) proposed:

That the House take note of the paper.







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