Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 19 April 1961

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- This is a further superannuation measure which proposes to make some amendment to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act 1959. The Opposition does not oppose the measure but I want to offer what I hope will be some constructive criticism. This measure is a result of the Allison Report of 1957. The Allison committee was set up by the Government in 1957 to report on some aspects of pay and allowances for members of the serving forces and on some aspects of retirement benefits. It was not until November, 1959, that the measure was brought before this Parliament. It largely superseded the superannuation act which was then in force and which had been introduced by the Chifley Government in 1948. It is conceded that the legislation at that time did require amendment and I understand it was amended year after year. I have no doubt that this Parliament is indebted to the Allison committee for the work it did in connexion with retirement benefits generally and pay allowances although I, together with some other members of the Opposition, would, if we had the opportunity, be critical of some of the allowances that have been made available in accordance with this report. Nevertheless, we concede that the committee did rectify some anomalies which had existed and I think that, by and large, it can be said that the report has been adopted by this Parliament with the approval, in the main, of the serving members of the defence forces.

I believe it is extremely important that the Allison report, as adopted by this Government, should take into consideration all aspects of service, because it should be remembered that most servicemen retire in the prime of their lives. I point out - and no doubt the Minister will concur - that all officers below the rank of lieutenant-colonel are required to retire from the services at the age of 47.

Mr Cramer - Not all.

Mr BARNARD - I accept the Minister's correction, but I understand that the age is 47 years.

Mr Cramer - On the average.

Mr BARNARD - The Minister can put it in that way if he wishes, but the fact remains that these officers retire in the prime of their lives and certainly at a time when it is very difficult for them to transfer from one form of employment to another and when they are faced, possibly, with providing for the education of their children. In this respect, I believe that this Parliament has a duty to ensure that the retirement benefits paid not only to officers but also to non-commissioned officers and other ranks, and particularly to widows and children, are commensurate with what we consider should be an adequate retirement allowance. Some of the anomalies in that respect have already been overcome. I have already said that in the opinion of the Opposition some of the benefits are far less than they should be, having regard to the buoyancy of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund to-day. But the Opposition has no complaint to make concerning this bill. The measure merely proposes some minor amendments to the existing act, which was introduced into this Parliament in 1959.

Unfortunately, there are no figures available from the Commonwealth Actuary which would give some indication to the Opposition of the degree of buoyancy of the fund at this stage and enable it to make some constructive suggestions concerning the matters to which I have already referred, such as the inadequacy of the payments, particularly to widows and orphans. The Minister now proposes three principal amendments. The first merely grants an extension of time to personnel who had elected not to contribute for part or whole of the additional pension provided by the act of 1959. The second amendment confers on servicemen who, I understand, elected in 1948 not to join the scheme then available, an opportunity to contribute for a pension.

The third amendment is interesting. The Opposition pointed out, when the amending bill was introduced into this Parliament in 1959, that there would be some difficulty in this respect. The amendment refers to the formula which set the entitlement at one and one-half times the amount of the contribution. I understand that when the measure was introduced into this House it was pointed out that some members contributing under the new scheme - gratuity at a fixed amount for each year of service - would receive less than they would have received under the 1948 scheme. That criticism has, in point of fact, been substantiated and so I am glad to see that the Minister has provided an amendment which will allow some serving officers of the defence forces to receive benefits under the one and one-half times formula which will mean, in effect, that they will have the advantage of a higher rate of income. Broadly, they are the three amendments that the Minister proposes.

As I have already indicated, the Opposition does not intend to oppose this measure. I have already referred to the fact that the one and one-half times formula has now been upheld for members of the Forces, but there is one other point in the bill on which I want to dwell for a few moments. During his second-reading speech the Minister made reference to those members of the Services who are prematurely retired. I prefer to use another term because some serving members are compulsorily retired and they are the people with whom I am concerned at this moment. A serving member of any of the armed forces may retire for a variety of reasons. He may be invalided out of one of the services. He may retire of his own volition. But there are some who - as we know - as the result of the re-organization of the Army, in particular, have been compulsorily retired, and in that instance I believe that they are entitled to far greater consideration than they have received in the past or will receive in the future.

The Minister is fully aware that representations have been made to him recently concerning one member of the services - a non-commissioned officer - who has been compulsorily retired though he had a number of years to serve under the original terms of his contract. This man receives a far lower rate of pension than he would have received had he been able to complete the full length of service. I believe that a person who is compulsorily retired from the services should get the benefit that would have been paid to him had he completed the length of service for which he contracted. This bill makes no allowance for cases of that nature. The Minister merely refers to it as premature retirement, but premature retirement takes on a different aspect when a member of the Services is compulsorily retired. That is what is happening to-day.

Serving members of the Army - particularly those who have had long service - are being compulsorily retired by the Minister and get lower rates of pension unless they are prepared to pay in a lump sum the amount which would enable them to qualify for a full pension. There are many members of the Services, particularly noncommissioned officers and other ranks, who are not in a position to make a lump sum payment in order to qualify for their full pension entitlement. I suggest that this is one matter to which the Minister should give serious consideration.

The other point to which I wish to refer relates to widows. Under the amended act a widow receives five-eighths of the pension that would have been payable to her husband. We know that there are some superannuation schemes in this country which regard as the widow's entitlement threequarters of what would have been the husband's due. In view of the buoyancy of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund at this date, it should be possible for the Government to accept the higher rate of three-quarters rather than the fiveeighths. I suggest that five-eighths of what would have, been the husband's entitlement is a very small amount for a widow to live on and educate her children as she would wish. In the circumstances, this is one matter that the Minister should consider when the legislation is being amended at some future date. We know that conditions generally have improved.

I join with other honorable members on both sides of the House in congratulating the Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley), and the present Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) and the Ministers who have preceded him, on the way in which they have effected improvements generally in the armed services. I know the conditions that obtained before the Second World Wax. I know the conditions that obtained, in many cases, during the Second World War, and I know that since that time not only this Government but also other governments have endeavoured to effect improvements in the conditions generally of serving members of the armed services. I believe that these improvements have been effected in large measure, and that the lot of members of the services to-day is far better than it was between the two world wars.

I think the Minister may also be congratulated on the fact that improvements have been effected in the general rates of pay of members of the services. Undoubtedly a serving member to-day is much better off financially than was his counterpart in one or other of the armed services at any time between the two world wars. Some improvements, as I say, have been effected, and I also acknowledge that the measure we are now debating represents a further attempt on the part of the Minister to improve the existing legislation.

The Opposition does not intend to oppose the measure, which merely provides for the minor amendments to which I have already referred. I would suggest to the Minister, however, that he should consider the two points I have raised. The first concerns a serving member of the armed forces who is compulsorily retired, and the second has regard to the question of fixing an equitable rate for widows of ex-servicemen. I have no doubt that there are many other matters that could be dealt with in discussing legislation of this kind, but the fact is, of course, that the bill deals only with certain minor amendments. The Labour Party does not intend to oppose the legislation, and I merely repeat, in conclusion, that I hope that the Minister will consider the points to which T have made reference.

Suggest corrections