House of Representatives

Social Security and Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (One-off Payments and Other 2007 Budget Measures) Bill 2007

Second Reading Speech

Mr Farmer (Macarthur - Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Science and Training)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The measures in this bill are a further demonstration of the government's commitment to older Australians and carers. These changes ensure that the people of Australia share in the economic prosperity that they have helped to create. In addition, several of the measures will enhance the quality of life for many ageing veterans, especially those with a disability, or their war widows or widowers.

As with past bonus payments, these new payments will be paid in the majority of cases before the end of the financial year. These payments are possible because of the government's record budget surpluses, which have delivered this capacity to give extra support to these members of the Australian community.

The first payment provided by this bill will go to older Australians. A 2007 one-off payment of $500 will be made to each person of age pension age who is qualified for utilities allowance or seniors concession allowance on 8 May 2007. Recipients at that date of mature age allowance, partner allowance or widow allowance will also attract the one-off payment.

Older Australians not actually receiving the stipulated payment on budget night will still get the bonus if they had made a claim by that date and subsequently have their payment backdated to cover that date.

Self-funded retirees will not miss out on the bonus payment - they will receive $500 per person if they are, on that same date, qualified for seniors concession allowance.

Carers are the second group targeted by this bill.

Carers receiving carer income support on 8 May 2007 in the form of a social security carer payment or carer service pension under the Veterans' Entitlements Act will be paid a $1,000 one-off payment. Carers who receive the non-means tested social security income supplement known as carer allowance in addition to either wife pension or a partner service pension under the Veterans' Entitlements Act will also be paid a $1,000 one-off payment. Any carer receiving carer allowance will be paid a separate $600 one-off payment for each eligible care receiver. Carers who have claimed the targeted payments on or shortly before 8 May 2007 and are subsequently granted those payments, with effect from 8 May 2007 or earlier, will receive the one-off payments.

Carers whose children qualify for a carer allowance health care card only will not be eligible for bonus payments of $600. Carers who claim carer allowance after 8 May 2007 and whose payment is backdated due to the application of the carer allowance backdating provisions will not be eligible for the bonus payment, even though the backdated period will have included payment for 8 May 2007.

Neither of the special one-off payments provided by this bill will be subject to income tax, nor will either count as income for social security, veterans' entitlements or family assistance purposes.

The third group assisted by the measures in this bill are veterans and war widows and widowers.

The bill provides for a once-only compensation payment to veteran and civilian prisoners of war interned by enemy forces in Europe during World War II, or their surviving widows or widowers. The government has previously made once-only compensation payments to persons interned by the Japanese and the North Koreans. Prisoners of war of enemy forces in Europe also experienced extreme brutality and starvation, and suffered from some of the same diseases that affected prisoners of war of the Japanese. These payments are in addition to the special level of benefits POWs and their widows already receive, including automatic eligibility for a gold card and eligibility to receive a war widow's pension.

The bill will also amend the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 to increase the maximum amount of funeral benefit payable from $1,000 to $2,000. By doubling the benefit we are making a greater contribution towards the cost of funerals.

In addition, the bill will increase the amount of the intermediate rate disability rate paid under the Veterans' Entitlements Act by $25 per fortnight and the amount of special rate disability pension by $50 per fortnight. More than 29,000 veterans with a disability who receive special and intermediate rate pensions will benefit from increases to their fortnightly payments. The pension increase will provide a substantial boost to the ability of disability pension recipients to manage their day-to-day challenges.

Finally, the bill will also extend the maximum period for backdating of war widow or widower pension from three to six months in certain circumstances. For those eligible war widows and widowers who claim within six months of the death of their veteran partner, the war widow or widower pension will be backdated to the day after the date of death of the veteran. The extension of time to the permissible backdating period will allow those dependants of veterans who are not automatically eligible for the war widow or widower pension more time in which to lodge a claim for the pension and will ensure that they are not financially disadvantaged during such a difficult time.

Debate (on motion by Mr Crean ) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.