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Tuesday, 9 June 1970

Mr BURY (Wentworth) (Treasurer) - Mr Speaker-

Mr Bryant - Here is the spirit of progress.

Mr BURY - The honourable member, although rudely interjecting, is substantially right. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) asked me a number of specific questions, as did other honourable members. 1 w 11 endeavour to answer those. He asked whether any increase in contribution will be required in the case of the pre- 1959 members in order to take advantage of the increase in entitlements provided under this Bill. The pre-1959 entrants affected are in the main those who now hold the rank of lieutenant-colonel or higher. If they have not already elected to limit their future contributions under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act 1963-68 they may now contribute for the full increase in pensioner entitlement now provided or, alternatively, elect to limit their contributions to what they are already pay ng. Those who make this election will become entitled to the full Commonwealth share of the increase in benefits now being provided.

The honourable member also referred to the complexity of the existing scheme and quoted recommendations contained in the report of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board to the Treasury transmitting the Actuary's report in respect of the quinquennium ended 30th June 1964. He asked why the recommendations in the report on the review of the 1959 entrants had not yet been enacted. Paragraph 32 of the Board's report indicates that a further 6 months may be required for the distribution of surplus assets to complete the type of review of contributions for the pre-1959 entrants envisaged in that report. As honourable members know, the distribution of the surplus assets is now approaching completion and leaves the way open to complete the pre-1959 scheme review. He also inquired why Parliament had not been informed of the commencement of the fourth quinquennial investigation into the Fund. The requirement for this investigation is contained in section 22 of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act 1949-69. These investigations are automatically commenced every 5 years as required by the legislation.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition complained - and his complaint has been echoed by other members - that the Act is full of anomalies. He instanced the differences- in retiring ages prescribed for officers of equivalent rank in the different Services. These ages are related to manning requirements in the different Services, which in fact are not identical, and hence the difference arises. He also inquired why the third quinquennial investigation into the Act formed the first full investigation into the DFRB Fund. The first . and second quinquennial investigations under the Act were conducted, in terms of the then legislation, not into the state and sufficiency of the Fund but solely into the state and sufficiency of the pensions account of the Fund. The procedure is explained in sections 32 to 35 of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act 1948-58, which is included in the repr, nt to which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred. These sections remain in essence unchanged from the scheme's introduction in 1948 until the scheme was amended in 1959.

He also asked for clarification of the situation where a person eligible to participate in the distribution of surplus assets of the Fund now being made had died. In this connection I would like to draw his attention to paragraph (b) of- sub-section (1.) of section 17 of the Act authorising the distribution, namely, the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act (No. 3) 1968, in which it is provided that such payments will be made to such persons as the DFRB Board considers proper having regard to the circumstances of the case. He also said that lack of knowledge about the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund was a complaint common throughout the defence Services. An explanatory booklet has been completed and is at the moment awaiting the passage of this legislation before printing . can be completed and up to date booklets issued throughout the defence forces, an action of which i am sure the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would approve.

Mr Barnard - That does not help.

Mr BURY - So far as it goes, I am sure he would approve of it. He did remark in passing that there has never been any investigation of the DFRB scheme. The original scheme, as a point of history, resulted from an investigation of the Dedman Committee, in 1948. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition probably knows Mr Dedman. This gentleman, who had a distinguished parliamentary career in his Party, conducted this investigation. There was also an exhaustive investigation of the scheme by the Allison Committee in the late 1950s, and this resulted in the introduction of what is known as the post-1959 scheme. The post 1959 scheme now applies to over 80% of members of the Fund. Major reviews of the scheme have been undertaken by the Government since then, the last being in 1967 and 1968, which resulted in further significant improvements in the scheme.

A number of honourable members, including the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), raised some queries. The honourable member for Wills is an eminently ebullient character of unlimited verbosity. When he with his grey hair speaks with youthful experience I am reminded of the days when in my youth I was a new boy at school and I went up to that sector of the school which was recruiting new members for the cadet corps. The notice read: 'Those new boys seeking a field-marshal's baton, please apply to the sergeant-major's office between the hours of so and so and so and so'. Under this, someone had written: Knapsack to carry baton, price 2s 6d'. I thank an honourable member who has interjected for reminding me of the rank of sergeant-major which I eventually attained slowly, rung by rung over some years.

Mr Cope - What about the air raid wardens? Give us a go.

Mr BURY - The presence of the honourable member for Sydney in the haunts of Kings Cross has continued unabated ever since. I am sure that, as he continues around them, in his own mind he feels that the place has declined ever since. The hon ourable member for Wills referred to questions on notice by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). Those questions were put on notice on 22nd May. Replies are being obtained to those questions. Those answers will be supplied to the honourable member. I am sure that if honourable members opposite could induce the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and one or two other notable examples on the Opposition side to reduce their demands on the notice paper it would be possible to answer a great many more serious questions much more readily. I just say that to honourable members and I do suggest that the remedy lies in their own hands.

The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) who is in spirit at least a worthy successor in carrying out the work once performed by the former honourable member for Maribyrnong raised certain matters. They are men of different character. I say that the honourable member for La Trobe follows on in the spirit of the work of the former honourable member for Maribyrnong, but the former honourable member for Maribyrnong did have an assiduity for detail and so on to understand and to master all the details of this legislation which, apparently, is very confusing to most other honourable members.

The honourable member for La Trobe raised the question of compensation. This Bill does not amend the legislation relating to repatriation or to compensation the benefits of which may be paid to servicemen in appropriate cases in addition to the benefits under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act. He also asked about the resignation of officers with over 30 years service, in other words, service stretching back further than that of the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer). He asked for an answer to this question. These benefits will be available under legislation being prepared to implement the preservation of pension rights.

I turn now to the amendment that was moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The Government does see a great deal of virtue in having a thorough inquiry into the DFRB legislation. However, we do find it difficult to accept - indeed, we find it impossible to accept - the amendment in its present form which, if carried. would have the direct practical effect of postponing the benefits provided by this legislation.I am sure that, once he realised this fact, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, if satisfied on other points, would not press his point. In any case, the questions raised - most of them by Opposition members - initially will be reported on by the Commonwealth Actuary when he completes the quinquennial investigation. In the course of the inquiry, I feel sure that these points which members on both sides of the House have pressed will be brought to light and will be ventilated.

I can sympathise with the honourable member for Isaacs, who spoke last, because I once went through a process similar to the one which the honourable member described. In my case, I retired from the Public Service to enter this chamber. I also received nearly my contributions in full but with no interest.I think that the Government in the course of the years by practical application of justice has rectified the situation in respect of so many of the cases to which attention has been directed.

The thinking of the Government on the amendment is along these lines: Our feeling is that this would be an appropriate subject for study by a joint select committee. Before the Government could bring forward a motion, this idea will need to be explored by our colleagues in another place. But in due course, after these necessary preliminary discussions have taken place, the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) will introduce a motion guided by the conversations. I am sorry but, at the moment, we feel that this is essential.I am suggesting that a joint select committee would represent the thinking of the Government on this matter.

Mr Barnard - If the Senate is not interested, we will settle for a select committee of this House.

Mr BURY - We would not be unduly restricted in this approach. We would need to have conversations with parliamentary leaders on both sides in the Senate and in this House. But we would be prepared to bring forward to this House an appropriate motion as coming out of this discussion.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Barnard's amendment) stand part of the question.

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