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Monday, 17 June 2002
Page: 3425

Ms ROXON (1:39 PM) —by leave—I would like to pick up where the member for Holt finished off in talking about representations that have been made to the government by the ambassador. Whilst I am very pleased that the two speakers on the government side have been supportive of the general thrust of the motion, we are, as I said in my first comments, really at the point where we are tiring of assurances that people will look favourably at this, as they do not take any action. I understand the important distinction that both government members have made: we need to be confident that the people receiving these payments are receiving compensation for the suffering rather than some sort of income support.

I would like to read some details of a letter dated 11 July 2001—nearly 12 months ago—from the ambassador, who answered those very questions specifically in writing to the Minister for Family and Community Services to assure her about, and set out in quite a lot of detail, the circumstances in which these payments are made. It seems to me that we really are at the point where we now should act. We should not be continuing to say, `We need a little bit more information,' when really we are just shuffling papers around for a little bit longer. In the meantime, these people who are receiving compensation payments because of their drastic suffering at the hands of the Pinochet regime are being penalised by the Australian government because they receive that payment. This should not continue. I would like to read some excerpts from the ambassador's letter to the minister in which he is answering these very questions:

These Pensions of Mercy without Contribution, as its name implies, are not taxed in Chile, nor are they affected by any reductions of any kind since it deals with a compensation for damages and detriments received.

In this respect, I can inform you that having carried out the appropriate consultations in the Ministry of Interior of our country and the Attorney General of the Republic, this latter authority has advised us of the following: “The Pensions of Mercy without Contribution are based on a different assumption than those conceived in the regular systems of social security, for their nature is eminently compensatory.” The quoted judgement of the Attorney General that “...intention of the Legislator was to grant such exemptions independently from others that the beneficiaries may be entitled to.” In other words, the Compensatory Pensions or Pensions of Mercy without Contribution, do not result from the affiliation to any social security system; therefore, it does not constitute a profit for the beneficiaries and for the same reason it does not represent an increase in their resources, since this kind of pension are only aimed at repairing somehow, in part, the damage suffered by relatives of the victims.

In the same way, the Superintendence of Social Security has issued a statement immediately following our consultation: “... this Pension of Mercy without Contribution is absolutely compatible with the social security benefit of the minimum pension guaranteed by the State, therefore, it is inappropriate to consider the amount of the Pension of Mercy without Contribution within the concept of Income in order to grant the minimum pension from the State”.

... Minister, it is clear that from the point of view of Chile, the true meaning and nature of the Pensions of Mercy without Contribution is that they are a compensatory benefit and its only objective is to compensate for the damage caused to the victims of human right violations and political violence.

Our main concern is to compensate those people of Chilean origin who are living in this country, particularly those who have been acknowledged as Politically Exonerated and who are receiving these Pensions of Mercy without Contribution.

It is very clear that these assurances—the clarification of the terms of the legislation and how these pensions of mercy apply—have been before the government for nearly a year. It would seem appropriate that the government now act. This motion is aimed at encouraging the government to act, and the House has moved with the support of the speakers from the government that that should be done. It seems to me that it is really very mean and actually quite niggly of the government to not be prepared to look at a claim that will probably affect, at most, 500 people. These people were victims in their own country of the most outrageous and abhorrent human rights violations. They are receiving compensation from that country as a result of those violations and really should be treated with much more compassion by this government. We urge that they do so now as a matter of some urgency.

The ACTING SPEAKER —Order! It being 1.45 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.