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Monday, 17 September 1973
Page: 1078


Mr BARNARD (Bass) (Minister for Defence) - in reply - Perhaps initially I should indicate to the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King), who has just resumed his seat, that it would not be possible in the limited time available to me to answer every query that has been raised by individual honourable members. However I shall try to cover some of them. The first thing that should be done in replying to the debate on the Repatriation Bill is to acknowledge that the Bill is being supported not only by Government supporters but also by the Opposition, including the Country Party. I take this opportunity, as indeed other Government supporters before me have done, of referring to the part played by the Minister for Repatria.ion (Senator Bishop) in being able to present to the Parliament a Bill which provides major benefits, some for the first time in Australia, to ex-servicemen generally. The Minister deserves to be commended. He already has received commendation from the Returned Services League and other interested organisations.

In the 9 months that this Government has been in office it has been able to effect a great many improvements in the repatriation field. It is not for me to enumerate them at this stage. This is not the first Bill that has been introduced by me, acting on behalf of the Minister for Repatriation, providing for improvements for ex-servicemen and exservicewomen generally. This is the second occasion I have had such an opportunity in 9 months. Both Bills have provided major increases in benefits for ex-servicemen. In many ways this Bill applies for the first time principles that were sought by the Government when it was in Opposition to cover anomalies contained in the principal Act. This Bill indicates generally the attitude that has been adopted by the Government in relation to repatriation matters - the attitude it will continue to adopt until it has been able to give effect to the promises that were made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in his 1972 policy speech.

In his remarks the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett), who led for the Opposition, made 2 criticisms. As the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) pointed out. the honourable member for Herbert was sensible in his speech in confining his criticism to only 2 matters. He knew that it was difficult to attack the Bill as a whole so he referred to the special compensation allowance. The honourable member's speech was in a low key because he supported the Bill. However he has a short memory in referring to the compensation allowance and the fact that the Government has decided that it should be abolished. Most honourable members opposite - indeed, all who were present during the last Parliament - will remember that when I spoke on behalf of the Opposition on repatriation during the Budget session I indicated that I did not believe that the special compensation allowance should be continued. I made that statement not only in this Parliament but I also indicated my opposition to it to the Returned Services League and other organisations. When I advocated the abolition of the special compensation allowance there was no criticism from the RSL. Indeed it supported my suggestion and made recommendations to the previous Government through the then Minister for Repatriation, the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten), asking that the special compensation allowance be abolished and that it be incorporated in the 100 per cent general rate of pension. The RSL was not the only organisation which believed that it should be abolished, that it was discriminatory in nature and that it had been introduced by the previous Government to provide an increase in pension for a very small percentage of those who received the general rate of pension. The honourable member for Indi, who was then the Minister for Repatriation, knows that only 14 per cent of general rate pensioners were in receipt of the special compensation allowance--- that is, only 14 per cent of the 129,000 pensioners in this country.

Year after year the former Minister, who is critical of the Government denied the general rate pensioners an increase in their pensions. For 8 years the general rate of pension remained unchanged. Yet this former Minister has the temerity to criticise the Government because it was determined to abolish the special compensation allowance. He did not mention that as a former Minister for Repatriation he raised no objection when his Government refused to alter or amend the general rate of pension applying to about 129,000 exservicemen in this country. There was no increase for 8 years.

What has happened since the Labor Party came into power? There have been 2 substantial increases and there will be a further increase in the autumn session. I want to read out for the benefit of the honourable member for Herbert and the honourable member for Indi, because they were critical of the abolition of the special compensation allowance or the incorporation of the special compensation allowance in the general rate of pension, a list of the organisations which asked the previous Government to incorporate the special compensation allowance in the general rate of pension. Representations were made by the Returned Services League, the Partially Blinded Soldiers Association of Australia, the Federated TO Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Association, the Australian Legion of Exservicemen and Women, and the Korea and South East Asia Forces Association of Australia. All those organisations asked the previous Government to incorporate the special compensation allowance in the general rate of pension. So it is extremely difficult for the honourable member for Herbert or the honourable member for Indi to justify standing up in this House and criticising this Government because it recognises that there are 129,000 ex-servicemen in this country in receipt of a general rate pension or a part of that pension and it believes that the normal circumstances ought to apply in relation to this pension, that it ought to be graduated from 100 per cent down to 10 per cent.

What was the system perpetuated by the previous Government? It said that 75 per cent incapacity would guarantee a special compensation allowance for some pensioners. As I said before, only 14 per cent of them received the special compensation allowance. How did the previous Government discriminate or distinguish between 75 per cent incapacity and 70 per cent incapacity? There is a difference between them of 85c a week. If one adds to that the special compensation allowance, one finds that the difference in payments' between the 70 per cent pension and the 75 per cent pension is $5.30 a week. How did the previous Government justify that? I argued in this Parliament that it was not possible to distinguish between 75 per cent incapacity and 70 per cent incapacity, but the previous Government perpetuated that system merely because the greatest number of pensioners were in that category below 70 per cent and down to 10 per cent. The Government makes no apology for incorporating the special compensation allowance in the general rate of pension. I concede and the Government concedes that under the terms of this legislation some general rate pensioners in receipt of the special compensation allowance will not receive an increase, but there will be a further increase for general rate pensioners in the autumn session and that will absorb the whole of the special compensation allowance. I now turn to the other point made by the honourable member for Indi.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.


Mr BARNARD - Mr Speaker - (Quorum formed)- I appreciate the fact that the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) has called a quorum. It was necessary to call a quorum which showed, of course, the complete lack of interest by Opposition members in the repatriation bills presently before the House. One can understand why honourable members opposite were not in the House. After all, they showed a great reluctance to debate the bills at all. Before the suspension of the sitting I was dealing with the question of the special compensation allowance. The decision of the Government to incorporate the special compensation allowance in the 100 per cent general rate pension has been criticised by the honourable member for Herbert and the honourable member for Indi. I had indicated to the House that it has been the policy of this Government when in Opposition to remove what it regarded as a complete injustice.

Earlier during the course of my remarks I referred to the fact that there were 129,000 general rate pensioners. I apologise to the House for incorrectly citing that figure. In actual fact, the number of general rate pensioners is 190,000. Of course, this merely strengthens the case that I was making prior to the suspension of the sitting in relation to the special compensation allowance. If 14 per cent of general rate pensioners were in receipt of the special compensation allowance, that means that there were and are, in fact, 164,000 general rate pensioners who received no increase during the regime of the previous Government. For 8 years such pensioners received no increase in their general rate pension. It is well known to the Returned Services League and those organisations who protested against the inadequate amount of the special compensation allowance that the previous Government in this way was able to provide the smallest amount possible for the smallest number of general rate pensioners.

Having dealt with the special compensation allowance, I now refer to one other criticism that was raised by both the honourable member for Herbert and the honourable member for Indi. The honourable member for Indi in particular referred to what he believed was a rumour that the Repatriation Department was to be amalgamated with the Department of Social Security. I am glad he said that it was a rumour because nowhere in the platform of the Australian Labor Party can it be found that there is any intention on the part of the Government to amalgamate the 2 departments. It is not in the platform: it has not been considered by the Government. I have made it perfectly clear and the Minister for Repatriation, Senator Bishop, also has made it perfectly clear that this matter has not been considered by the Government. There are 2 departments, and we recognise the importance of the Repatriation Department and the ability of those who have specialised in this way over the years to discharge their obligations and the obligations of the Government to the returned servicemen of this country. So it was a rumour. The honourable member for Herbert said that it was a rumour. It is only a rumour, and I wish to refute it at once.

I turn to the third point made by the honourable member for Herbert in what was, after all, a very small speech on a very important Bill. I believe that his speech indicates the lack of enthusiasm which the Opposition has for this Bill. He offered some criticism of tribunals. I have appeared before repatriation tribunals for a great many years - I think about 17 years. I appeared on behalf of ex-servicemen of this country .before both entitlement tribunals and assessment tribunals. Therefore I believe that I am in a position to be able to speak with some knowledge of this subject. The tribunals consist of people, most of whom were chosen by the previous Government. My experience has been that there will always be some criticism of the way in which tribunals approach a case, depending on the merit of that case. While a great many ex-servicemen choose to exercise their right before tribunals, naturally there will be criticism of the tribunals. I have always found that the tribunals accept their responsibility and, I believe, discharge that responsibility under the terms of the Act. So, we are dealing with the human factor which comes into the representation of exservicemen who have their case heard before an entitlement tribunal. Quite frankly, I do not believe that the criticism of the honourable member for Herbert was justified, nor do I believe that it can be proved to be justified in any circumstance. They were the main criticisms offered of the Repatriation Bill.

Honourable members opposite chose to ignore the great benefits which flow from this legislation. One can understand this. One honourable member referred to the fact that we have now provided free medical and hospital treatment for all returned servicemen from the Boer War and the First World War. He said that it was long overdue. Of course it was long overdue. Year after year, while in Opposition, we moved to have this incorporated in the Repatriation Act. Honourable members opposite just as consistently opposed it, in the same way that they have opposed in the House amendments which I have proposed, for example, to give a special recognition to those who may be suffering from cancer. As a result of this Bill it will now be possible for any returned serviceman to receive medical treatment if he is suffering from cancer, whether it has been proved to be war caused or not. As with the repatriation legislation which was dealt with in the autumn session of the Parliament and which made some adjustments to the Repatriation Act, the Returned Services League and other organisations had put submissions to honourable members opposite, when they were in government, which they had consistently ignored. Let me give the House one example, the funeral benefit which had remained unchanged virtually during the whole period of office of the previous Government. One of the first moves of the new Government - the Labor Government - was to double immediately the funeral benefit from $50 to$1 00.







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