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Tuesday, 30 October 1956

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) .- by leave - 1 move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

Stated briefly, the purpose of this bill is to provide for a scheme of pensions and other associated repatriation benefits in respect of members of the Australian forces who are serving in Malaya as part of, or in connexion with, the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve, and who suffer an incapacity or die during or as a result of that service. The basis of eligibility for pension and the classes of persons who will be eligible for pension as dependants of a member are broadly the same as those found in the Repatriation Act, but some variations have been made having regard to the nature of the service these members of the forces are performing and their present conditions of service. The bill deals with members of the Commonwealth defence forces who serve in Malaya or Singapore as part of the Australian contingent of the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve or who are serving in those areas in connexion with that Strategic Reserve. It makes provision for the payment of pensions and, by way of regulation, for other benefits to members of the defence forces who serve in Malaya. The conditions of service which will qualify a member and his dependants for these benefits follow closely those which were inserted in the Repatriation Act in 1950 in respect of service in the Korea and Malaya operations. This means that the service which will qualify a member, or his dependants, will be his period of service with, or in connexion with, the Strategic Reserve, commencing from the time he leaves the last port of call in Australia, if he was in Australia when allotted for that service, or from the time he was so allotted if he happened to be outside Australia at the time of the allotment, and terminating when he returns to Australia, or arrives in some area outside Australia, after having been allotted from service in Malaya to service in that area outside Australia. The rates of pension which will apply in cases of death and incapacity will be the rates of war pension applicable to a " member of the Forces " or a dependant, as the case may be, under the Repatriation Act.

The provisions of the Repatriation Act were designed to meet the conditions of service in a full-scale war where most of the serving members of the forces were volunteers who had volunteered to serve in connexion with that particular war only. The circumstances under which the members of the forces dealt with in this bill are serving are entirely different. Ail personnel serving with, or in connexion with, the Strategic Reserve are members of the permanent forces. They are persons who have chosen service in the forces as a career, and who have enlisted for various terms of years. Normally, their service is performed under peace-time conditions, including rates of pay and general conditions which are comparable with those offering in civilian occupations. In the case of the Strategic Reserve, however, its members have, in their antibandit operations in Malaya, been exposed to an additional operational risk. Although that risk is not so great as it was in either of the two world wars, or in Korea, the Government felt that it merited the provision of a scheme of pensions based on that for war pensions under the Repatriation Act. Accordingly, clause 6 of this bill provides that, with certain minor exceptions which I will explain later, the provisions relating to the payment of war pensions under the Repatriation Act will, with such modifications as to time and place of service as' are necessary, apply to the members of the Australian contingent of the strategic reserve.

At this juncture I should like to point out that these members already have the cover of the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act. The basic principle of this bill is therefore that eligibility for pension should stem from an occurrence, including the contracting of a disease, that happened during a member's Malayan service. Accordingly, the provisions of sub-sections (3.) and (4.) of section 37 of the Repatriation Act, which gave to members who had served in a theatre of war an entitlement for pulmonary tuberculosis not attributable to their war service, are not being extended in respect of service with the strategic reserve. In respect of Malayan service, incapacity or death from tuberculosis will, of course, be pensionable if it is attributable to that service. In relation to pensions payable to de facto wives, responsibility will be accepted only where the relationship upon which the claim is based subsisted at the time the member commenced his Malayan service. Likewise, a pension will be paid to the illegitimate child of a male member of the forces only if the child was born before or within nine months of the commencement of the member's Malayan service. The procedures for determining claims for pensions under this bill will be exactly the same as those which apply under the Repatriation Act. The Repatriation Commission will administer the new act and the repatriation boards and the entitlement and assessment appeal tribunals will have jurisdiction in determining claims. Division 5 of Part III. of the Repatriation Act is not being extended in this bill and, accordingly, service pensions will not be payable in respect of Malayan service. The bill contains a provision in clause 13 enabling the Governor-General to make regulations, including regulations for the granting of assistance and benefits to members of the forces and their dependants. Regulations will be made covering such matters as the provision of medical treatment, the payment of medical sustenance, the provision of benefits under the soldiers' children education scheme and under the disabled members and widows training scheme. Such provisions will follow the similar ones already in operation under the repatriation regulations.

To sum up, this bill provides that members of the Australian forces who serve with, or in connexion with, the strategic reserve in Malaya, and the dependants of these members, will receive pensions in respect of death or incapacity attributable to that service at rates equivalent to those payable to war pensioners under the Repatriation Act. It also provides for the making of regulations to confer such other benefits as are appropriate. Any further information which may be required concerning the details of the bill can be given at the committee stage.

The passage of this measure calls for a number of consequential amendments to be made to other acts. Bills which are to follow this measure will amend the Broad- casting and Television Act, the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act, the Estate Duty Assessment Act. the National Health Act, the Re-establishment and Employment Act, the Repatriation Act, and the

Social Services Act. A consequential amendment of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act is to be dealt with separately. The Broadcasting and Television Bill (No. 3) 1956 will amend the Broadcasting and Television Act to provide for a broadcast listener's licence or a television viewer's licence to be available to certain pensioners under the proposed Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Act at the same concession rates as apply to similar classes of war pensioners under the Repatriation Act. The Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act is to be amended to provide that compensation will not be payable under that act in respect of injuries or disease for which pensions will be payable under the proposed Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Act. A similar provision already exists in the compensation act in relation to war pensions payable under the Repatriation Act. The Estate Duty Assessment Bill 1956 will amend section nine of the Estate Duty Assessment Act to extend the concessional deduction applicable to members of the forces who died as a result of service in the 1939-45 war or the Korea or Malaya warlike operations to which the Repatriation Act applies to members who die as a result of " Malayan Service " to which this bill applies. The National Health Bill 1956 will amend the National Health Act to provide that Commonwealth benefit under that act for medical expenses will not be payable where medical services are rendered free of charge under the provisions of this bill.

So that a pension payable under the provisions of this bill will not be taken into account as income in determining the rate of a business re-establishment allowance under section 101 of the Re-establishment and Employment Act, the Re-establishment and Employment Bill 1956 will amend that section to include a reference to a pension payable under this bill.

There are three consequential amendments to the Repatriation Act. The Repatriation Bill (No. 2) 1956 will amend sections 50. 83, and 86 of the Repatriation Act. Section 50 provides that where a child is in receipt of a pension by virtue of being a child of a member of the forces, and also becomes eligible for a pension by virtue of being a child of another member of the forces, fct example, by adoption, only one pension is payable. The proposed amend ment of that section is to ensure that it will apply in relation to a member of the Forces as defined in the proposed Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Act.

The proposed amendment of section 83 will exclude from income, for the purpose of the provisions of the Repatriation Act relating to service pensions, an attendant's allowance payable to a member of the forces under the Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) legislation.

Section 86 includes a provision disentitling a widow to receive both a war pension in respect of her husband's death and a service pension. The proposed amendment of that section will provide that a pension under the Repatriation (Far Eas Strategic Reserve) Act will be treated as a war pension for the purposes of thai provision.

Finally, the Social Services Bill (No. 2.i will amend sections 6, 28, 81, 106 and 143a of the Social Services Act. The general effect of these amendments is to extend the meaning of the expressions. " member of the Forces ", " Repatriation Act ", and " war pension " wherever occurring in the Social Services Act, to include respectively members of the forces as defined in this bill, the Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Act 1956, and pensions to be granted under the last-mentioned act.

Any further details of this bill or the consequential bills which may be required can be explained during the committee stage This bill confers substantial benefits on members of the forces, and I commend ii to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.

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