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Thursday, 5 April 1973
Page: 1153


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes (CORIO, VICTORIA) - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

 

In addition, the Government of Luxembourg was approached in June 1972 through the Australian Ambassador to Belgium but the response was that there was no concrete interest in the project. Representatives of the Government of Cyprus in London expressed interest but there had been no substantial developments by the time of the Australian general elections in December 1972.


Mr HAYDEN -We do not intend to forbear with such a cumbersome, slow moving and inadequate process for providing pension portability. We have sliced through the gordian knot-

Portability will now be provided without any requirement for reciprocal arrangements with other countries. That is, a person drawing Australian pension can take that pension right anywhere in the world after 10 years Australian residence in the case of age pension, and after 5 years of such residence in the case of invalid pension where the invalidity occurred in Australia, otherwise after 10 years' residence in Australia. No period of residence is required in the case of widowhood where the couple were permanently resident in Australia when the husband died. This is truly a substantially generous improvement on pension portability practices to the present. lt comes in recognition of the special rights and needs of migrants in this country - justice too long denied them.

For too long migrants have been told by past governments of their valuable contribution to the development of this nation. But for equally long too little has been contributed by those governments towards the special needs of so many migrants especially during their difficult period of adjusting to a new, alien and not always hospitable society. Too often they have been seen as and treated as front line fodder for our industrial system as the disproportionate representation for some migrant groups among the semi-skilled and unskilled work classifications indicates. This disproportionate representation in these employment categories incidentally is also evidence of the socio-economic upward mobility which their presence has allowed many Australian residents of longer standing.

The presence of migrants in this country has been valuable to this nation and has given it and its people a far better future than would have been achieved otherwise. But there is much that should have been done to assist many migrants and we intend remedying this neglect. What is proposed in this Bill is only a small part of what has to be done - of what should have been done for too long.

Now let me give some detail about this Bill. Under the Bill, pensioners who have gained the right to receive an Australian age, invalid or widow's pension by satisfying the appropriate residence qualification by actual residence in Australia including periods of absence counted as residence under the Social Services Act but excluding periods of residence in Britain or New Zealand treated as residence in Australia by virtue of our reciprocal agreements with those countries, will be able to continue to receive their pensions overseas at the rates current, and under the conditions applicable to the payment of pensions, in Australia. Wives' pensions will also be payable overseas.


Mr King - Mr Deputy Speaker, as this is important legislation I draw your attention to the state of the House. (Quorum formed)


Mr HAYDEN - This right to continue to receive a pension overseas will operate in the same way as if the pensioner had remained in Australia. Thus, for example, if a widow pensioner remarries overseas, her pension will automatically cease.

The Government's proposals for unrestricted portability of pensions will apply to pensioners leaving Australia on or after the date on which the enabling legislation becomes operative on receiving the Royal Assent. It is necessary to draw the eligibility line somewhere and retrospectivity would have been difficult to apply equitably. This cut-off point is consistent with the principle incorporated in legislation introduced by the previous Government providing for pension portability under reciprocal arrangements made with other countries.

Moreover, the Government's proposals render unnecessary the provisions of the present legislation enabling payment to be made in respect of a period of up to 30 weeks on a pensioner's return to Australia after a temporary absence, and for the payment of pensions to pensioners who go to live in an external territory. Of course, the rights of such pensioners who are absent from Australia on the date this legislation becomes operative will be fully protected.

Pensioners receiving their pensions in Malta, Italy, Greece and Turkey in accordance with the reciprocal pension portability agreements entered into under the legislation introduced by the previous Government will not only have their existing rights preserved but will be brought within the new provisions that is they will be able to continue to receive their Australian pensions but the requirement that they live in one of the 4 countries mentioned will no longer apply. Action has already been taken to advise the governments of Malta, Italy, Greece and Turkey of the Australian wish to terminate the agreements made with those countries which, as far as Australian pensioners are concerned, will become redundant.

Australian pensioners going to Britain or New Zealand for permanent residence at present lose their Australian pensions but may receive, under our comprehensive reciprocal agreements on social security with those countries, the pensions of the country in which they are living. Australian residence, for this purpose, is translated into British contributions or New Zealand residence respectively. These agreements thus require review in the light of the Government's decision to pay Australian pensions abroad and the necessary action has already been initiated.

The reciprocal pension portability provisions currently incorporated in the Social Services Act permit the grant of a pension outside Australia only where a pensioner has a continuing entitlement and where a 'transfer' from one type of social service pension to another is involved. These provisions will be retained but also extended as I will indicate in a moment. Complementary legislation is being introduced to permit the payment overseas of pensions payable under section 92 of the Repatriation Act. The Bill now before the House will permit a pensioner receiving such a pension overseas to transfer to an age, invalid, wife's or widow's pension payable under the Social Services Act. The pensioner medical service will, as at present, continue to be available only in Australia, as will the concessions provided by the Commonwealth in respect of radio and television licences and telephone rentals. However, funeral benefits and the special pension payable for 12 weeks after the death of one member of a pensioner married couple will be available for pensioners receiving their pensions overseas.

Pensioners overseas will not receive supplementary assistance as the eligibility conditions could not properly be applied; in this respect the Bill maintains the situation incorporated in the pensions portability legislation enacted last year. However, when each member of a married pensioner couple in Australia is qualified for supplementary assistance, the rate payable to each is half that which could be payable if only one were a pensioner. The Bill makes provision for the increase of supplementary assistance to the single rate, subject to eligibility in other respects, to the member of a pensioner couple remaining in Australia when his spouse is absent.

Human nature being what it is, cases could conceivably arise where people who have previously lived in Australia might aim to return to Australia foi the specific purpose of receiving a pension, after which they would again leave this country. As a deterrent to such action, the Bill provides that where a person applies for a pension within 12 months of his return to Australia any pension which may be granted will not be payable overseas if he leaves Australia within a year of the date of his last return to this country. It is realised, however, that unforeseen circumstances, for example, the death of a husband or wife, could arise which would provide a bona fide reason for a change in plans to reside in Australia. In these circumstances the requirement of 12 months residence in Australia before the pension can be transferred overseas will be waived.

As 1 have indicated, pensioners who have gained the right to receive an Australian social service pension by satisfying the appropriate residence qualification or who are receiving a wife's pension will be able to continue to receive their pension overseas without restriction. While it will benefit mainly aged, invalid and widowed migrants who wish to return to their former homelands, cither permanently or temporarily, it will apply equally to all pensioners. It will thus in future be possible for pensioners to visit, or live with, their children or other relatives who have settled or are working overseas. This Bill marks another instalment in the implementation of the Whitlam Government's progressive policy in the social welfare area and will be followed by many other measures designed to ensure that we resume our rightful place as a pioneer and leader in this field. I commend the Bill to the House. (Quorum formed)

Debate (on motion by Mr Street) adjourned.







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