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Wednesday, 25 November 1959

Mr HAROLD HOLT (Higgins) (Treasurer) . - I shall not detain the House for long. The Opposition has moved an amendment to provide, in effect, that the Government should give retrospective effect to this legislation back to 1st July. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) and the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), who spoke for the Opposition on the bill, have both paid a tribute to the work of the Allison committee on this subject. They both commended what the honorable member for Werriwa described as the clear and just manner of determination by the committee. But they have both sought to vary the Government's decision to the extent of the amendment proposed.

Mr Whitlam - The committee did not stipulate that the date should be 14th December.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - I am not suggesting that it did. I am suggesting that you are seeking to vary what the Government has prescribed although you have seen fit to commend the committee's own deliberations and findings. I am putting out of the area of controversy what the committee itself has recommended. We are all agreed that the committee dealt fairly, thoroughly, clearly and to the satisfaction, it transpires, of all sections of this Parliament, with the problem as the committee saw it. So the argument revolves around whether or not the very considerable benefits of this legislation should operate from 14th December as prescribed in the legislation or from 1st July as recommended by the Opposition in its amendment.

Mr Whitlam - And supported by the only Government speaker.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - It has been supported by the only speaker from the Government benches, other than myself, who has addressed himself to this measure. But I think that I can safely assure the honorable member for Werriwa that although my followers are silent they are still supporters. He does not always enjoy the same happy experience. Frequently he finds that his alleged supporters are vocal, but not necessarily followers.

Mr Bryant - In the Labour Party we are not followers. We are all in front.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - It is difficult to know where the centre of power resides at any point of time. However, I am contesting the words of my articulate friend from Parkes, who has given us a very clear and graciously worded account of the attitude of the Opposition on this matter. In a relatively short space of time he apparently absorbed, without too much difficulty, the intricacies of the legislation. I content myself with dealing with the one major point of substance raised for the Opposition which is that the benefits of this measure should date back to 1st July. I can assure the House that the problem is very much more complex than that proposition, on the face of it, would suggest.

It is not merely a matter of finding a few thousand pounds extra, as the honorable member for Werriwa has indicated to the House. The Government has not shown itself to be niggardly in its approach to this problem, nor has anybody on the other side sought to make out a case that the benefits proposed under the legislation are unreasonably low. They have been commended as satisfactory. Therefore, if we do not accept the recommendation from the Opposition it cannot be held against us that we reject it because of parsimony.

The fact of the matter is that, in any scheme of pension or superannuation payments or, as we call it here, retirement benefits, any date that is selected will not be a happy selection for some people. Wherever you select your date, whether you take it from the time at which the Allison committee began its consideration of the matter, the time at which the committee presented its report, the time at which the Government adopted the report, or the time at which the draftsmen applied themselves to the task of producing a draft bill - one of the most complex tasks in all their experience - there will be some people who are so close to that point that they will feel that you might have gone a little further back along the line. In other words, as I said in talking about the superannuation measure which preceded this one, whatever date we select we merely move the boundary of discontent from one point to another.

Whatever date we had chosen for the operation of the measure, there would have been advocates, particularly from the other side, for a date somewhat earlier. That is one problem - the selection of a date which is supportable in terms of logic and of justice. In the case of a contributory pensions scheme it becomes all the more important that the date selected will enable contributions to be made and to be continued. I suppose that it is not beyond the bounds of human capacity to chase after people who have retired in order to recover from them contributions which would necessarily be very substantial and which I believe would have to be lump sum contributions, so that they may qualify for higher pension benefits. But nobody has deprived these people of anything which they expected to get. They were in the forces contributing to a retirement fund and were aware of its details. They have gone out of the forces at a time prior to that at which some supplementary plan or some scheme with better benefits has been produced. They have not been deprived of anything to which they were entitled under the schemes which applied earlier.

We say that the only sensible and practical course is to fix the date in a contributory scheme and make the benefits apply from then onwards in return for contributions which are made. We recognize that it would be unreasonable to expect people who will retire in a short time to make contributions out of their current earnings proportionate to the benefit that they will get. Provision has been made in the bill to meet that kind of situation. A lump sum can be paid out of the retirement benefit as it becomes due.

Taking the whole problem into consideration, we feel that this is a sound and practical course. It is, in essence, similar to that which the House of Representatives has already adopted in relation to the superannuation scheme. I suggest that it is the course which should now be followed by the House in relation to this measure. I do not want to detain the House further. I merely say that, for these reasons, the Government does not find itself able to accept the proposed amendment.

Question put -

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Haylen's amendment) stand part of the question.

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