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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1685


Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLE(6.14) —I wish the Senate to take note of this paper because I believe there will be opportunities later for debate. I simply make a few remarks following the Statement that was made yesterday by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) with regard to the negotiations that have proceeded for a reciprocal agreement on social security payments with Italy and possibly other countries. It interested me to read of the progress that has been made by the Minister because I think it is well known that this matter has been under consideration by successive social security Ministers over a number of years. We have always had difficulty in reconciling our system of paying social security entitlements with the contributory systems that exist in most of the overseas countries that have an interest in having a reciprocal agreement with us. I note that the Minister has stated that as yet an agreement has not been signed. However, he has outlined the arrangements that would be likely to be the basis of an agreement. He said that both countries will be making progress towards such an agreement and ultimately legislation will enact the agreement in our social security system.

I want to comment on a couple of matters. I know it is early in the discussions to do so but I draw attention to the fact that what has been outlined by the Minister for Social Security does bring fairly substantial changes to the generous portability arrangements that were introduced by the Whitlam Government in, I think, 1974 or 1975. The portability arrangements that exist for transferring social security entitlements to whichever country a person chooses to go are unique in the sense that it is a non-contributory scheme. People having attained an entitlement to a pension in this country are able to take it and live elsewhere for the remainder of their life if they choose to do so. The outline given by the Minister yesterday certainly changes that in the sense that we had a system under which a person became entitled to a full age pension on, say, a residential requirement of some 10 years whereas on my reading of the Minister's statement yesterday we will be looking more at a 35-year period to be the residential requirement in order for a person to receive the full pension. We will be working more on the lines that European countries work on. They look at a 40-year working life span in their contributory systems. What occurs with people who come from European countries to Australia is that they have an entitlement for some years. If they return to their own country before becoming entitled to our pensions or under any other circumstances there is a gap in their entitlement for a full pension in the country to which they choose to return. There may be some concern by people who are resident in this country who, under existing arrangements, become entitled to a pension under certain conditions. They will find that these conditions have been changed and the changes are not to the advantage of those who are looking for a full pension after either the short residential period of 10 years or, in cases of other pensions, when the full entitlement is achieved, and that could be in a short time-say, for a widow's pension or an invalidity pension, or whatever.

I note that the Minister referred to the residential requirement of a period of years in this country and a period of years on a reciprocal arrangement. These changes are something that will need to be given very close scrutiny. I will be interested to see the reaction of ethnic community groups and those who study our social security system when they look at the arrangements which have been outlined by the Minister. Let us work effectively to understand what he has in mind and what will be the basis of the agreement that might be achieved with Italy and with as many other countries as possible in similar circumstances. I hope that we will have an opportunity to debate these matters at appropriate times but I wanted to take this opportunity to make a brief comment.

Question resolved in the affirmative.