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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 6338

Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for International Development and the Pacific) (13:16): I, too, stand to make a contribution on the Veterans' Entitlements Amendment Bill 2018. The importance of family cannot be underestimated in the support they provide to both our serving personnel and our veterans. This government is committed to supporting veterans and their families, and this bill will maintain the current practice for veterans' families when a beloved member dies. The current entitlements to bereavement payments are not changing. The government recognises that these are important payments for our veterans' families during this difficult time. The payment is a one-off, non-taxable payment of 98 days, or 14 weeks, of service pension and is paid to the surviving partner. It is designed to assist the surviving partner with costs following the death of their partner and to provide a period in which to adjust their finances following the cessation of the deceased partner's payments. The bereavement payment is paid automatically once the family notifies the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Prior to their death, a veteran may have been receiving an income support pension under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. Generally, there is a small period of time after someone has died before the family notifies DVA and this may result in an overpayment of a pension, usually somewhere between $500 and $1,000. The practice when an overpayment occurs is that DVA adjusts this amount from the bereavement payment. For example, if a veteran dies on 7 June 2017 and his pension continues to be paid at the rate of $622.80 per fortnight, including the final payment on 22 June for the period 6 to 19 June, and DVA is advised of the death on 30 June, the veteran was not entitled to $578.31, being the amount paid for 13 days of the final payment period. A bereavement payment is the equivalent of 98 days of the difference between the service pension rates payable to the surviving partner before and after the death of a deceased partner. A service pension totalling $2,935.80 is payable to the partner. The amount of $578.31 is recovered from the bereavement payment, meaning a payment of $2,357.49 is payable from DVA to the partner's account. This ensures that the adjustment is made in a single administrative process rather than through a number of more-formal debt recovery processes. This avoids the need to recover debts from the deceased estate and it avoids disturbing the family during the grieving period. This is a compassionate, sympathetic and unobtrusive response.

The bill will provide legislative certainty for past and future recoveries of pension overpayments from bereavement payments and, out of respect to veterans' families mourning their loss, will maintain the current discreet practices. I understand that the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee wrote to the minister today requesting a response to concerns relating to the retrospectivity of this bill and whether it will adversely affect people. A revised explanatory memorandum is currently being drafted and will be tabled once finalised. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.