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Thursday, 25 November 1965

Mr HOWSON (Fawkner) (Minister for Air) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Honorable members will see that the Bill is designed to extend the classes of persons who may benefit from the Royal Australian Air Force Veterans' Residences Fund established under the Act of 1953.

I think I should give honorable members a short account of the history of the Fund and how the money became available to establish it. The 1953 Act was passed to make provision for the application of the share of the proceeds of prize captured during World War II and made available for the benefit of members of the Royal Australian Air Force. The terms " prize " and " prize money " referred to in that Act have a history which links them closely with the wars in which England has been engaged down the centuries. " Prize money " is the sum paid in respect of any enemy ship or goods captured by a maritime force of a belligerent at sea.

Until the First World War it had been the custom for a grant to be made to the actual captors of the ship or goods which had been captured or seized. But, in 1918, by an Act of the British Parliament the proceeds of prize were paid into a Naval Prize Fund which was divided between officers and men of the Navy generally, distribution continuing, however, to be made in accordance with the royal prerogative. During the Second World War, many enemy merchant ships were captured by the navies of the British Empire, often with the assistance of the Air Force. In December 1945, the British Government, with the agreement of the dominion governments, announced that it had been decided that prize money in respect of the proceeds derived from the sale of captured enemy merchant ships and cargoes should again be granted. But, instead of granting the whole of the prize money to the Navy, which had traditionally been the case, on this occasion it was decided that a proportion of the proceeds should be allocated for the benefit of Air Force personnel. The British Government also announced its intention that this would be the last occasion on which prize moneys would be paid.

Subsequently, the British Government decided that the portion of the prize money attributable to the Royal Navy would be distributed in accordance with precedent to individual members of the fleet but the portion attributable to the Royal Air Force would be paid to certain Air Force charities and not to individuals.

The British Government allocated the sum of £478,000 to the Australian Government for distribution to the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force. This was divided between the two on the basis of £249,000 to the Navy and £229,000 to the Air Force. The Government approved individual distribution to members of the Navy on the basis of six months' sea service in the war, an arrangement similar to that followed in the Royal Navy. Distribution was made equally, irrespective or rank or rating. Thirty thousand members of the Royal Australian Navy participated in this distribution. When considering the R.A.A.F. share, the Australian Government was faced with the same problem which confronted the British Government in deciding on a formula for distribution of prize money to members of the Royal Air Force. Distribution to individual members was considered but the question of eligibility became so complex that equitable distribution would have been virtually impossible. Distribution on the same basis as the Navy would have meant insignificant shares to each participant with all the administrative difficulties and cost. It would have involved the investigation of the claims of about 200,000 personnel who served in the Royal Australian Air Force between 1939 and 1945. Thus, it was decided to allocate the Air Force share to a charitable purpose, which was to provide residences for ex-Air Force male personnel in necessitous circumstances. For this purpose a trust fund was established to which the £229,000 was applied and the Act was passed in 1953.

Three trustees were appointed to administer the Fund, the purpose of which, as contained in the present Act, is to provide residences in which former male members of the R.A.A.F. in necessitous circumstances and, if the Trust so approves, the wives of those members, may be accommodated. Preference in the allocation of accommodation was to be given to members who served during World War II while the trustees had power to provide accommodation and support to the widow of a former member who had been in occupation of a residence.

The trustees also had the usual power to invest funds, purchase land and erect buildings. During the years subsequent to their appointment, the trustees invested the funds while they were exploring ways and means of devoting them to the principal purpose of the Fund as set out in section 4 of the principal Act. The trustees were required by the Act to comply with the State trust laws in the investment of the funds. Investments were made in government and semigovernment loans and other deposits. Moneys were also made available for mortgage loans to former members of the Air Force who were buying homes either under the War Service Homes Act or through private purchase. Through the good offices of the Council of the Municipality of Sandringham in Victoria, several blocks of land were made available to the trust. It took some years for title difficulties to be cleared up. After that operation had been satisfactorily concluded, the trustees embarked on the erection of ten home units.

Prior to this, the trustees had been exploring the best means by which they could apply the funds to meet the purposes of the principal Act. Their inquiries from charit able and ex-servicemen's organisations had elicited the happy information that there were practically no cases of Air Force veterans being in such necessitous circumstances as to require accommodation and support in the type of residence which the Act had contemplated. These investigations led the trustees to the conclusion that there was a greater need for the provision of home units for the accommodation of families rather than the provision of residences on the Darby and Joan principle. To 30th June 1965, the Fund had accumulated to an amount of £376,693. This of course included the asset at Sandringham.

The purpose of the Bill is to extend the classes of persons who may be eligible for accommodation in residences provided by the trustees. It will be noted from the definition to be inserted in the principal Act by clause 3 that, in addition to former male members, the following persons will be eligible for accommodation in the residences -

1.   widows of deceased members;

2.   mothers of deceased former unmarried members, and

3.   former female members so long as they can also be classified as eligible for benefits under the War Service Homes Act.

In each case, eligible persons must satisfy the trustees that they are in necessitous circumstances and have dependants for whom they require accommodation as well as for themselves. Section 4 of the Act is proposed to be amended by this Bill to enable dependants of eligible persons to be accommodated in the residences. Such dependants would be those approved by the trustees who would have regard to relationship to or dependence upon eligible persons.

An important amendment which is proposed in the Bill is the insertion of a section requiring the submission by the trustees to the Minister of an annual report for presentation to the Parliament. In the past, the trustees have not been required to submit such a report although their accounts have been subject to audit by the AuditorGeneral. The report on the finance of the trust is included in the Auditor-General's Supplementary Report which is presented by my colleague the Treasurer.

I consider that opportunity should be provided to the Parliament to examine the activities of the trust and determine whether the Fund is being applied to the most worthy objects. The presentation of an annual teport will achieve this purpose. I commend the Bill to honorable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.

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