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Tuesday, 25 November 1941

Mr RYAN (Flinders) . - I congratulate the Government on having brought in this measure'.' It "is only right that service pensions should be adjusted in the same way as invalid and old-age pensions have been adjusted. I agree with the provision which makes South African veterans eligible for repatriation benefits, but T regret that South African veteran.? who served with the Imperial forces, and are now resident in. Australia, have been omitted. I know some such men who are resident in my own electorate. They have been residents of Australia for more than 30 years, and have become, to all intents and purposes, Australian. Most of them are in somewhat straightened circumstances, but they will not be eligible to receive a pension. I realize that by bringing them under the provisions of the act, we might be opening the way for similar claims from ex-members of the Imperial forces who served in the last war, and that_the granting of such claims might strain our resources, but this difficulty could be overcome by imposing a residential qualification of, say, 25 years, which would bring in the older mcn. We have a somewhat similar provision in regard to invalid mid old-age pensions.

I regard this bill as an interim measure pending a thorough investigation of repatriation legislation. It is clear that the time has come to replan the whole of our repatriation policy. Men who are discharged from the forces after having served overseas in this war are entitled to receive a pension for a period of three months. In the case of a man with a wife and two children, the pension amounts to £4 2s. 6d. a week. I regard that as quite reasonable, though I have heard it argued that the rate should be raised to the level of the basic wage. I do not agree that it should be so high, because the effect would be to discourage men from seeking employment,' I believe, however, that the period during which the pension is payable might be extended from three months to six months. It is quite possible that, at a later time, when employment is more difficult to obtain, a man might take more than three months to find a job.

I know that the department and the Minister have given careful consideration to the rate of pension paid to soldiers' widows, but it seems to me that something in the nature of an injustice is being perpetrated. Recently, a woman with two children lost her husband, who was killed in action in Tobruk. Before her husband's death she was receiving £4 10s. a week, 1m t now she receives, as a widow, only £2 19s. 6d. a week. She had lived up to her former income, but now, on the death of her husband, which in itself was naturally a great blow to her, she has suffered a reduction of income to just below £3 a week. The present rate of pension for widows, irrespective of allowances to children, corresponds very nearly to that laid down in 1920, and its buying value is practically the same as it was then. However, since then we have raised the soldiers' pay by a small, but, at any rate, appreciable amount, and in these times we are rather more thoughtful of the dependants of soldiers than we were, perhaps, in 1920. In the circumstances, there is a reasonable case for a small increase of widows' pensions. I do not say that it ought to be large, but an increase of a few shillings a week is warranted.

I hope that, when repatriation matters are again under consideration, some attention will be given to vocational training.

Mr SPEAKER - That subject is outside the scope of the bill.

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