Thursday, 14 November 2019
Defence Service Homes Amendment Bill 2019; Second Reading
I'm pleased to speak on the Defence Service Homes Amendment Bill 2019. The bill will amend the Defence Service Homes Act 1918 to expand eligibility for the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme to all current and former members of the Australian Defence Force who have at least one day's continuous service from 1 January 2020. This is a consequence of recent changes to the definition of a veteran to cover anyone who has served one day of full-time service. This will ensure that all current and former members of the ADF are eligible for concessional home building insurance under the scheme, regardless of the type of service they have undertaken. Reservists, peacekeepers, widows and widowers will all be eligible under the scheme. This will help ease cost-of-living pressures faced by ADF members, veterans and their families and provide greater peace of mind for deploying members, and for their remaining spouse and family, should an adverse event occur and an insurance claim is warranted.
This is particularly important in regional and northern Australia, where many of our ADF personnel are posted. As we know, from experience and the climate science, northern Australia is generally more disaster-prone, with a greater exposure to and frequency of adverse weather and other natural events like cyclones, tropical storms and floods. Also, as we know from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's northern Australia insurance inquiry, consumers in the north face significantly higher home insurance premiums and can often be underinsured when natural disasters hit. It's commendable that the government is addressing this issue for our defence personnel and veterans, but it needs to respond to the ACCC's recommendations and act now to urgently fix the wider problems of access and affordability of insurance for all consumers in northern Australia.
In any case, these recommendations before us today will mean better outcomes for our defence personnel, veterans and their families, especially in the regions, and Labor supports them. I commend the bill.
This bill, the Defence Service Homes Amendment Bill 2019, amends the Defence Service Homes Act 1918 to expand eligibility to the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme to all current and former members of the ADF who have at least one day of continuous service. As the Minister for Defence, I understand that the Australian community, rightly, has a clear expectation that veterans and members of the Defence Force and their families will be well looked after, and of course, as a government, we are absolutely committed to recognising their service.
On 24 April 2019, this government announced that expanded eligibility under the scheme would commence from 1 January next year. Expansion of eligibility under the scheme will close existing gaps in eligibility for ADF members and also for veterans and will ensure that all current and former members of the ADF are eligible for home building insurance under the scheme, regardless of the type of service to our nation that they have undertaken. The bill will ensure that reservists and also peacekeepers, currently ineligible to participate in the scheme, will have access to the scheme. Widows and widowers will also be eligible under the scheme.
The amendments will align the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme to the Australian government's policy of supporting all veterans who have served, regardless of their type or length of service, in recognition of their sacrifice and service to our nation. These amendments will mean better outcomes for defence members and veterans and for their families. I thank senators for their contribution to this bill, and I commend it to the Senate.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.