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Wednesday, 25 November 1959

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- Twenty-four hours ago the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) introduced the Defence Forces

Retirement Benefits Bill which consists of 86 clauses and five schedules and extends over 79 pages. The bill amends the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act 1948-1958, which consists of 86 sections and eight schedules and extends over 67 pages.

Mr Harold Holt - Can't you understand it?

Mr WHITLAM - I believe that I can understand it, and I hope that every honorable member can understand it. This is one of four bills which the Treasurer introduced 24 hours ago and, even if honorable members had not gone to sleep in the intervening period, it would have been impossible for them to have read all those bills and the acts they amend. As far as one can tell from a necessarily cursory look at the bill, it represents an improvement in many respects on the scheme of retirement benefits for members of the forces which was introduced by the Chifley Government in 1948. Added experience has enabled us to be more generous in our treatment of the officers and men who make the armed forces their career while they are in the prime of life.

I propose to confine myself to clause 2 on the first of the 79 pages, which is in these terms -

This Act shall come into operation on the fourteenth day of December, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine.

I support the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), and supported by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) and the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), which provides that the bill shall date from 1st July last. If the Parliament were to accept this amendment we would ensure that officers and men who have retired since the Government made up its mind to implement these improvements will receive the benefit of these improvements. To put the matter in another way, we shall see that officers and men in the armed forces are not penalized by the Government's delay, however it is explained or justified.

Before giving the chronology of the Allison committee, I should like to say that all honorable members are indebted to the committee for the careful consideration which it gave to the problem with which it was commissioned to deal - a very complex problem which, as far as one can tell, has been dealt with in a very clear and just manner. The committee was appointed on 5th September, 1957. It was commissioned to inquire into the rates of pay of officers and men, and into the rates of pensions and other benefits that officers and men receive on retirement. The section of the report dealing with rates of pay was considered by Cabinet on 18th June, 1958, and the suggested increases in pay were approved and made effective from the first pay period in July, 1958. On 23rd September, 1958, the then Minister for Defence, Sir Philip McBride, replied to my question relating to officers' retirement conditions in these terms -

The benefits appertaining to service members are at present being considered by the committee, and I hope to receive a report and recommendation from it in the not far distant future.

On 9th April last, the present Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) told me -

The report was received by me within the last few days and is in my hands now. At the present time I am studying it. Subsequently, of course, it will go to Cabinet with my recommendation.

The report was considered by the Cabinet on 21st July last. Its approval was announced in the Budget speech made by the Treasurer fifteen weeks and one day ago. We now find that the recommendations in the Allison report are to become effective from the 14th of next month.

An ascertainable number of people will be affected by the amendment. The Treasurer has been good enough to give me figures indicating the number of officers and men who have retired since the committee was appointed and since the Government approved its report, and who, in each case, are receiving pensions. There are, of course, many officers and men who have retired and who are not eligible for pensions. But these figures which I shall now cite - and some of which I interpolated while the honorable member for Chisholm was speaking - relate to officers and men who have retired and are now receiving pensions and who, if the bill were implemented retrospectively, would be receiving greater pensions. Since the committee was appointed on 5th September, 1957, 158 officers have retired on pension because of age and seventeen because of invalidity, and 120 other ranks have retired because of age and 110 because of invalidity.

Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes - Since what date?

Mr WHITLAM - Since the committee was appointed on 5th September, 1957 - two years and two and one-half months ago. Since the Government considered and adopted the report of the Allison committee - that is, since 21st July last - so the Treasurer has told me, 22 officers have retired on account of age and one on account of invalidity, and 23 other ranks have retired on account of age and 29 on account of invalidity. All told, 75 men have resigned or retired and gone on pension since the Government accepted the report. Some 80 officers and men would benefit if the House agreed to the amendment which has been moved by the Opposition and supported by the only speaker on the Government side so far apart from the Treasurer. It may be that, in some circumstances these do not seem to be very great numbers of officers and men. But that should not deter us. They all are human beings, and most of them would be heads of families. If only one man is being treated wrongly we should remedy that treatment. The total number of pension payments under the present act is not great compared with pension and superannuation payments under the terms of the various other acts which this Parliament has passed. The report of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board for the financial year 1957-58 shows that, at 30th June, 1958, 705 officers, 270 commissioned' warrant officers and quartermasters and 1,982 ratings, other ranks and airmen were in receipt of pensions. I should point out that widows and children are included in those figures.

Retirement benefits concern members of the forces at a vital stage in their lives, because they follow an occupation from which one has to retire in the prime of life. I propose to give the establishment figures for various ranks of officers in the Army. I shall not give the figures for the Navy and the Air Force, which, in each case, are smaller. I shall give the number concerned and the compulsory retiring age for Army officers. There is an establishment of three at the rank of lieutenantgeneral, and officers of that rank must retire at 60. There is an establishment of ten major-generals, and they have to retire at

57.   There is an establishment of 61 colonels and brigadiers, with retirement at 55; and an establishment of 196 lieutenantcolonels, with retirement at 50. All other commissioned ranks, Mr. Speaker, have to retire at 47. In the Australian Army, all officers of the rank of brigadier or below have to retire in the prime of life. They have to retire at an age when they cannot manage on the money they have saved or on the benefits payable under this act. They have to retire after having held positions of responsibility, authority and professional status for a couple of decades. They have to retire at an age when their commitments for the education, accommodation and establishment of their families are at the maximum. One may be pardoned for thinking that an officer in the Australian Army would be foolish indeed to beget children after he was 30 years of age, because he could not be sure of doing justice to them in the sphere of life in which the Australian community expects him to rear them.

In those circumstances, Sir, we feel that it is bare justice to make this measure retrospective to the beginning of this financial year - to approximately the time when the Government at last accepted the report of the committee which inquired into the matter. The Government has had the report for nearly eight months. The Cabinet adopted the report four months ago, and that adoption was announced in the Treasurer's Budget speech three and one-half months ago. The Government does not intend to make the report effective for another three weeks. It would not cost the country very much to make these provisions retrospective to the beginning of this financial year. The country would be ashamed' to begrudge the extra few thousand pounds involved.

Mr Harold Holt - It is not just a few thousand pounds.

Mr WHITLAM - How much is involved?'

Mr Harold Holt - If the honorable member calculates the actuarial equivalent in respect of a man retiring with his lifetime ahead of him, and not having paid contributions for his retirement benefits, he will find that, spread over the number of persons involved, the cost would be more than a few thousand pounds.

Mr WHITLAM - All we ask is that this measure be made retrospective to 1st July, 1959.

Mr Harold Holt - But the retirement benefit has to be carried on for the pensioner for an indefinite period.

Mr WHITLAM - The same argument would apply to an officer who retires on the 15th of next month.

Mr Harold Holt - But he would be liable to contributions and lump sum payments out of his retirement benefit.

Mr WHITLAM - If the bill is made retrospective as we ask, officers and men who have retired since 1st July last will be given the same opportunity to make deferred payments for the period that they remained in the forces after 1st July. We are making that privilege or right available to men who retire within the next eight years - or eight days, for that matter. If their payments to the fund exceed 10 per cent, of their pay in the case of officers, or 5 per cent, in the case of other ranks, we are giving them an opportunity to make deferred payments out of their pensions. We should at least see that a similar right or privilege is given to officers and men who have retired since the Government adopted the Allison committee's report.

At all events, the Treasurer has given no explanation for deferring the operation of this measure until the 14th of next month. If pensions have to await legislation, they should become operative as soon as the two Houses of the Parliament have passed the legislation. But this measure will not become effective for a couple of weeks after that time. What we suggest is that rights similar to those which the Government proposes to give to men who retire after the middle of next month should be given to officers and men who have retired since the Government made up its mind on the matter. We just want to give justice to men who, we asserted over two years ago, required it, who, the committee advised eight months ago, should have it, who, the Government decided four months ago, could have it, and who, the

Parliament was told three and one-half: months ago, would have it. We should at least see that this measure is made retrospective to the date of the Government's announcement, Mr. Speaker.

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