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Wednesday, 30 June 1999
Page: 7963

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (Veterans' Affairs; Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) (5:04 PM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The initiatives foreshadowed for the Veterans' Affairs portfolio in this year's budget build on our commitment to provide generous compensation and assistance recognising the special standing of the veteran community.

My portfolio is responsible for providing income support and health care to one in four Australians over the age of 75. This government has given priority to programs designed to help ageing veterans live independently in their own homes, if this is their wish. This year the government has also focused the National Healthy Ageing Strategy on the International Year of Older Persons.

My department's main initiative during the International Year of Older Persons is Homefront—an initiative designed to reduce falls and accidents in and around veterans' homes.

This initiative provides eligible veterans and war widows with a free home assessment and up to $150 in financial assistance towards recommended aids and minor home modifications per year.

Homefront also provides a range of information and helps link veterans and war widows to other support programs and services for which they may be eligible.

Homefront is currently available to all gold health care card holders. This bill will allow Homefront to be available to all white health care card holders as well—bringing the total eligible to approximately 340,000 members of the veteran community.

Complementing this extension, the bill will allow the government to introduce the Home Support Loan Scheme, which was foreshadowed in the budget. It will provide low interest loans of up to $10,000 for home modifications and essential maintenance.

Loans under the scheme will be available to certain persons eligible under the Defence Service Homes Act who have an outstanding loan of less than $10,000. Eligibility for the loan scheme will be extended beyond those eligible for a defence service home advance. This new loan will be available to Australian veterans, members of the Defence Force and members of a peacekeeping force covered by the Veterans' Entitlements Act, and to their widows or widowers.

The student children of older veterans who receive an extreme disablement adjustment will also benefit under this bill.

Currently only children of deceased, extreme disablement adjustment veterans are entitled to assistance under the Veterans' Children Education Scheme. This bill will ensure that the children of living extreme disablement adjustment veterans become eligible for such assistance as well, providing these student children with full access to all of the benefits available under the scheme—including financial assistance, educational guidance and counselling.

Further, this bill provides a mechanism for setting out the specific circumstances and criteria for determining whether a person is permanently incapacitated for work for the purposes of an invalidity service pension and income support supplement on the grounds of invalidity.

Currently the criterion for permanent incapacity for work purposes does not specify the assessment methodology to be used in determining the degree of incapacity. The current test lacks reference to objective criteria and is susceptible to subjectivity in its application.

From 1 January 2000, there will be three measures of permanent incapacity for service pension purposes:

. blindness;

. the receipt of the special rate disability pension for total and permanent incapacity; and

. an objective assessment of the person's impairment, combined with the person's capacity to work.

The impairment assessment will be made by reference to the Guide to the Assessment of Rates of Veterans' Pensions , so bringing consistency with an existing test that is widely known and accepted within the veteran community.

I assure the House that veterans found not to be permanently incapacitated as measured by these new criteria will continue to have access to Australia's extensive income support safety net, including disability support pension, sickness allowance and Newstart allowance.

A further provision of this bill will allow the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to declare, by gazettal, the deployment of non-Australian Defence Force personnel as a peacekeeping force for the purposes of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Swan) adjourned.