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Wednesday, 25 November 1959


Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- I suppose it is a compliment to Opposition members that this bill should have been brought in at this late stage in the session. It is a complicated bill, and I assume that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) introduced it at this time because he was confident that Opposition members had the ability to handle it without a good deal of time for study being allowed. Perhaps he is regretful that honorable members on his own side have not this ability.


Mr Harold Holt - The honorable member for Parkes has shown that it can be done.


Mr BRYANT - That is so, but he is a man of great experience. He has obviously caught up to and passed all members of the Government.

This is an especially complicated bill, and it approaches in a new way the problem with which it deals. This may overcome the difficulties that have bedevilled the act since it was first introduced. The foot-note on the first page of the bill shows that the principal act has been amended each year. I have no doubt that this bill will not be able to cope with all the problems of the future, but at least it will make fair progress towards doing so. The complications of the legislation can be gauged by an examination of the schedules. Servicemen and women are divided into some 116 categories and benefits are provided for people with ages ranging from 40 years to 60 years. Accordingly, the schedules look very complicated at first sight. However, they give a serviceman an opportunity to estimate exactly how much he will pay and how much he will receive. I agree with the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) that this is a very important contribution to efforts to improve the recruiting rate and will give service men and women the feeling that they are taking up a professional career and that the nation is prepared to accept responsibility for them. The complicated nature of the bill can be seen from some of its provisions. Clause 55 (3.) provides -

The amount of pension per annum payable in pursuance of the last preceding sub-section is an amount ascertained in accordance with the following formula, that is to say

 

where -

A is the amount of pension per annum that, but for this section, would be payable under the Principal Act as amended by this Act to or in respect of the contributor;

That clause shows the difficulties that face honorable members in attempting to give proper consideration to the measure. One thing that is essential - perhaps even more essential than giving immediate justice - in this kind of measure is that honorable members should be able to give it proper consideration. I suggest to the Treasurer that in the New Year he bring to the planning of the activities of the Parliament some of the zest that he brought to the discharge of his duties when he took over from his predecessor as Leader of the House.

I am not completely enamoured of all the principles that are contained in this bill. I know that the bill has been actuarily designed. In his second-reading speech, the Treasurer said -

As I have explained, the original contribution basis was not founded on any actuarial assessment of the various risks of mortality, &c, experienced by the forces. The committee has recommended that the time is now opportune, in view of the knowledge gained under the present legislation, to place contributions on a proper footing.

I agree that the rate of contribution should bear some relation to the benefits that accrue. I agree, also, that the actuary in this field has a particular role to play, but I believe, particularly with people serving in the Defence Forces, that the actuarial basis is not the most important factor. The most important factor is that justice should be done. Special duties devolve upon servicemen and women. They serve away from home for a considerable portion of their career and they face, perhaps, exceptional dangers, even in the pursuit of their ordinary training. Servicemen and women are a special case. Therefore, we should not place so much emphasis on whether the fund will balance or whether it will be self-supporting, but we should consider whether we can be a little less mean in our approach. I put this to honorable members in the House - many who are not in the House may read it later: Is there any need for us to be mean? I use the word " mean " with due consideration to its exact meaning in this context. Why should we be worried about the fund being on a firm financial basis? The payments into the fund, as outlined by the honorable member for Parkes, since the last war-


Mr Bury - Is that-


Mr BRYANT - It is good to see you awake. I hope you will take part in this debate.


Mr Bury - You put me to sleep!


Mr BRYANT - If you apply your economic understanding to an interpretation of some of the clauses of the bill, you will be doing better than you have done in the past.

In the last year for which a report is available, £1,200,000 was paid into the fund. That is a very small part of the total defence expenditure. So, even if the fund were to lose at the rate of 5 per cent., 10 per cent., or 15 per cent., only a very small burden would be placed on the resources of the fund. But the pensions payable-


Mr Harold Holt - Is that your idea of sound finance?


Mr BRYANT - I pointed out that we should approach this question, not so much on the financial or actuarial basis, as with our thoughts directed to the special conditions that prevail for servicemen. If you will take the trouble to read one of your own reports, you will see that the refund of contributions and the total pension payable do not amount to the total payments into the fund. In other words, this is a co-operative undertaking by the people in the forces just as is the case with every superannuation system in the country. It is a co-operative undertaking by which those at present serving, in whatever category they may be serving, pay for the pensions of the people who have retired or who are receiving benefits.

I believe it is a fallacy to base any superannuation fund on the idea that everybody must be able to withdraw his contributions' from the fund and still leave the fund solvent. If £1,200,000 is being paid into the fund each year, you have £1,200,000 as a basis upon which to pay benefits. In this instance, although the Government is paying, in theory at least, a certain proportion into the fund, in fact the contributions from service men and women more than equal benefits being paid to pensioners. Of course, in the services there are special cases. People serve for short periods. Therefore, an arrangement slightly different from that in ordinary superannuation funds is necessary. But even in this case of a new Navy, Army and Air Force, only ten or eleven years old, with all the problems of people failing to re-engage for service, payments into the fund by contributors at this stage greatly exceed any possible pay-out. Therefore, I see no need to be mean with regard to some of these benefits.

I make a special appeal on behalf of the children of pensioners. This bill, as is the case with the Superannuation Act and the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Act, provides for a payment of £156 a year for a child orphaned by the loss of both parents. Three pounds a week is a miserable sum, taking into account the amounts that are contributed to the fund. I feel much the same way about all these superannuation funds. The sum of £3 a week is completely inadequate for the maintenance of a child. It is nothing like the amount payable by the Department of Territories, which makes an allowance of £300 a year to any person prepared to take an aboriginal child into his home and provide him or her with schooling in the south. Apparently the Minister for Territories or his advisers feel that £6 a week is needed to maintain an aboriginal child. Yet we, with all the resources at our disposal in these funds - £56,000,000 in the Commonwealth superannuation fund and about £10,000,000 in this fund - treat children in this niggardly fashion. To be a little more generous would not cause a very great drain on the fund. I think we should give consideration to a realinement of values in this respect.

I have similar feelings about the treatment of widows. It is interesting that the general attitude with regard to superannuation funds is to up-grade the benefits payable to widows. When this fund was first introduced widows received one-half of the pen sion formerly payable to their husbands.

That amount has now been increased to fiveeighths, and in some schemes in this country the amount is as high as threequarters. The tendency seems to be in the direction of granting the widow the full pension available to her husband; and that is a principle of which I approve. Therefore I suggest that we give consideration in the future to a revaluation of the principles upon which we run these funds. We should be looking at the total amounts contributed to the funds and the possible benefits to be paid. We must consider the soldier who, at age 60 or 65, may qualify for an age pension. He would get a pension payment of £200 or £225 a year. In the first instance, if he did not contribute to the pension fund he would have a flag-fall of some £200 a year. Many people who contribute to these funds are unhappy because they are disqualified from receiving an age pension. That is another matter which I think should be taken into account when these superannuation funds are considered.

There are several other matters which I think we should consider. The act at present provides that in the case of a person who marries after he has qualified for the pension and subsequently dies, his widow does not qualify for any pension. That situation cannot arise very often, but it is a matter of great moment to all contributors. We must consider not so much what it means actuarially but what it means to the individual citizen on the receiving end. That is a provision that I would remove from the act.

There are several other points with which I should like to deal but generally speaking the bill is a great advance. Therefore I have pleasure, in a way, in applauding the Government's introduction of the bill. However, I feel very keenly about the point made by the honorable member for Parkes as to retrospectivity of payments. This bill has been on the stocks a long time. Anybody who associates with service men and women must know that they have felt great anxiety about the previous provisions and have been waiting anxiously for this bill to do something to relieve their anxiety. In view of the solvency of the fund and in view of the importance a measure such as this is to the future recruiting rate of the services, there can be no justification for denying retrospectivity. I support the amendment and I commend to all honorable members the ideas that we have advanced from this side of the House. In the future let us approach these matters with a little more generosity.







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