Older Australians will benefit from a range of 2008-09 Budget initiatives including bonus payments, national transport concessions, free internet kiosks, and portability of concession cards when travelling overseas.
This comes on top of our $5.6 billion commitment over five years to increase the Utilities Allowance and Seniors Concessions Allowance to $500, and increase the Telephone Allowance to $132 for those with home internet access. The first quarterly instalments were paid in March with the next instalment due in July.
The Rudd Government is delivering on its package of election commitments - Helping Seniors Make Ends Meet - to provide more support to older Australians.
The Government understands that the rising cost of living is putting older Australians under increasing financial pressure. These measures are aimed at providing financial support and also improving the services that seniors need.
The Australian Government will spend $1.4 billion to deliver its commitment to pay a $500 one-off bonus to 2.7 million older Australians.
Bonus payments will be made automatically before the end of June 2008.
People receiving the payment include:
To be eligible, a person must be receiving a qualifying payment, or have made a claim for the payment, on or before Budget night, 13 May 2008. The person must be in Australia or temporarily absent from Australia for not more than 13 weeks.
The bonus payment will not be taxable for income tax purposes nor treated as income for social security or veterans' affairs purposes.
The Rudd Government understands that many seniors, particularly maximum rate and single pensioners, are under financial pressure. That is why the tax review the Government has announced will examine how Australia's social support system, including for older Australians, provides for their future economic security.
To expand older Australians' access to internet services, the Government has committed $15 million to establish free internet kiosks in community centres and clubs used by seniors, such as senior citizens' centres.
Around 2,000 organisations which support seniors will be eligible to receive up to $10,000 each to buy desktop computers, a three-year broadband internet connection and fund regular internet workshops.
Only one in five Australians over the age of 65 years currently use the internet. The Government wants more older Australians to use the internet to stay in touch with family and friends and to access information and services.
This comes in addition to the recent increases to the Telephone Allowance to $132 a year for seniors with a home internet connection.
The Australian Government is providing $50 million over four years to implement a national plan to help seniors with their travel costs. The Government is working with state and territory governments to provide funding to ensure Seniors Card holders can access travel concessions on public transport anywhere in Australia.
Reciprocal transport concessions will help older Australians who like to travel to visit their families and see the country.
Currently, when many state government Seniors Card holders travel interstate they cannot access local public transport concessions because their home state card is not recognised.
The Government recognises the frustrations experienced by older Australians and does not believe that transport concession entitlements should stop at state borders.
These national reciprocal transport arrangements are expected to be in place by 1 January 2009 subject to agreement by the state and territory governments.
In another important measure, Australian Government concession cards will now remain valid during short-term overseas travel from 1 July 2008.
Under this new change, concession cards will no longer be cancelled when card holders leave Australia for holidays or other short-term absences.
This will apply to holders of the Pensioner Concession Card, Health Care Card and Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.
Presently people cannot retain a concession card issued by the Australian Government while overseas. Cards are cancelled from the date the card holder leaves Australia and have to be renewed upon return.
Introducing portability of concession cards will reduce the administrative burden for customers and the cost attached to cancelling and reissuing cards.
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