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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1735

Mr WILSON (Sturt) - I wish, in this adjournment debate, to draw the attention of the House to the needs of a significantly large, but necessarily diverse group of people who have been affected by the impact of currency realignments on the real value of pensions that they receive from overseas countries. As the weeks have passed I have been impressed by the actual number of people affected because constantly this matter has been drawn to my attention. A large number of people have come here from other countries with entitlements to pensions through other government schemes or through private employer based schemes. In many instances when these people have left their country of origin the pension entitlement has been fixed at the rate payable when they left that country. This is not true in all cases. Some of these people are members of schemes, both government and private, under which wherever they live they continue to be entitled to increased benefits paid in the source country of the pension. These people are either wholly or, in some cases, partly dependent upon the pensions that they receive from overseas countries.

As a result of the change in the value of the Austraiian dollar many of the recipients of these pensions have sustained a substantial income loss. It might be said that they should take this into account as one of the risks of coming to live in Australia either because they personally wish to come here or because they are drawn here to join relatives and family living permanently in this country. It might be said that one of the risks - together with all the other problems that they face in making their determination as to whether to move - they should take into account is the possible impact upon their real income of changed value of the pension to which they are entitled. If we say this of these people we should similarly say it of the industry groups which go into the export market to sell Australianproduced goods overseas but when those groups, properly organised as they are entitled to be, make representations to their governments as to the difficulties in which they are placed as a consequence of a change in the value of the Australian dollar, we find that governments of all persuasions look at the impact upon these industries and introduce schemes whereby that impact is lessened.

Only a few weeks ago we were told, in relation to certain manufacturing industries, that in respect of the loss over certain ranges the industries would get recoupment from a government scheme of 90 per cent of the price reductions actually made between 23rd December 1972 and 31st December 1973, as a result of the revaluation. Very little, if any, attention has been paid to the individual person whose real income has been affected by the revaluation of the Australian dollar. My plea this evening is to urge the Government to examine the extent of the numbers of people who have, in this way, been adversely affected. I am aware of the fact that, in a debating way, the argument could be advanced that if the movement in the value of the Australian dollar had been in the reverse direction no one would be standing up and saying that these people should not have the benefit of the windfall that they received. But when that happens in the case of organised industry in Australia the Government does not say to that industry that it must give back, in some form, the benefits it received because of the realignment of international currency. The movement, in recent times, has been particularly severe in the case of certain currencies. The American dollar has had an exchange rate change of 20.49 per cent; the Greek currency as against the Australian dollar, 20.66 per cent; and the pound sterling, 1 8.54 per cent.

In the case of the American dollar it may be that not a large number of people in Australia are affected. There are not significant numbers of American settlers in this country in receipt of the type of fixed or occasionally variable income of the type to which I have referred, but there are large numbers of United Kingdom migrants living in Australia who are in receipt of pensions, government or employer-base, who have been adversely affected in terms of their real Australian income as a result of the revaluation of the Australian dollar on the 2 occasions on which the effect of international currency movements has been to revalue the Australian dollar. I believe that larger numbers of people are affected than we are aware of. It is true that many of these people may now, as a consequence of their loss of real income, to some extent be able to recoup that loss by becoming entitled to Australian social security pensions. I know that in some instances it is possible to say that, dollar for dollar, their loss will be picked up. In other cases the loss will be picked up by only 50c in the $1. because under the reciprocal agreements that apply 2 categories of pensioners in Australia are affected.

The first contains those who do not qualify by the normal residential qualification. If they are eligible under the means test as it still operates, they do not count the pension that they receive from the United Kingdom in their assessable means. Under the agreement the Australian Government merely makes up the difference between what their English pensions. I know that in some instances it is social security pension they would receive in Australia. So it can be said in that area that the loss is picked up totally. Where people have been here for a longer period and have qualified by 10 years residence - there are many of them - and they are in the tapered means test area, the loss of the value of their overseas pensions is supported only by the 50c in the $1 by virtue of the operation of the present means test.

In addition there are a number of people who are right outside the area of the operation of the means test. At a time when we are showing increasing concern about the relationship of pensions to pre-retirement earnings, we should have some concern about the effect upon this group of persons who perhaps are getting no benefit under reciprocal agreements or under the Australian social security system. We should be concerned about the effect upon them of the reduction in their income as a result of currency revaluations. Numbers of people have approached me who have been entitled to United Kingdom police pensions or pensions from their employers. Some of them have been in United Kingdom Government schemes. They all have been adversely affected, and quite seriously, in terms of the relative degree to which their incomes have been fixed and the habits they have formed at a level related to their incomes. In addition to facing up to the consequences of inflation upon a relatively fixed income, they have had to face this substantial reduction in their real incomes.

My plea tonight is to urge the Government to examine the needs of these individuals. They are spread in a diverse way throughout the community. They are not organised as industry groups are organised, and yet the effect upon them of currency realignments is perhaps in a personal and human way far more severe than it is on industry groups which can make adjustments in their patterns of trade to suit the new circumstances. As world mobility increases, I urge that this problem be looked at in a far wider context even than the present situation that has arisen from the recent revaluations.

Mr SPEAKER - 1 have received advice from the Leader of the Opposition that he has nominated Mr Hamer to be a member of the Select Committee on Road Safety in place of Mr Drummond, as advised to the House yesterday.

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