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Thursday, 22 October 1964

Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales.) (Minister for Customs and Excise) . - I wish to advert first to the matter about which Senator Wedgwood and I join issue. Provision for the housekeeper service has been included in the Estimates since 1951- 52. In previous years provision for all the States appeared in the one item. In the last financial year the appropriation appeared in Division No. 364, sub-division 3, item 02. In 1962-63 it appeared in Division No. 364, sub-division 3, item 03. As to this year's provision, all I can say is that there is an historical background to the matter and that the proposed appropriation has been included in Document B.

Senator Wedgwood - It has, but I should still like to know by what criteria it was placed in that document.

Senator ANDERSON - Well, where else could it go? This all hinges upon the rearrangement of the Budget Papers. I prefer not to go any further with that matter.

Senator Wedgwood - I appreciate your point, but 1 do not understand the reasoning behind what has been done.

Senator ANDERSON - When a member of the Public Accounts Committee acknowledges that she cannot understand the reason, what chance has anybody else of understanding it? Senator Buttfield raised the subject of accommodation for disabled persons and grants to eligible organisations. She made some general observations on matters of policy which it is not appropriate for me to deal with here. It will be recalled that some time ago I, as Minister representing the Minister for Social Services in this place, furnished an answer which revealed that only one organisation has applied for a grant. I do not think we should be critical of the fact that only one organisation has applied. When all is said and done, the relevant legislation was passed only in November 1963. No organisation can gather together all its financial and administrative resources and embark upon such a programme within a matter of months.

Senator Buttfield - The Minister does not think that the legislation was not what these organisations wanted?

Senator ANDERSON - No. I think it is too early to pass judgment on that matter. If any welfare organisation wishes to take advantage of an Act of Parliament and enter upon a building scheme, it must first get the Act, read it, interpret it and take it to people who can advise about its application. Then it has to look to its own financial resources and decide how best it can administer the scheme. I suppose every honorable senator is associated in one way or another with a charitable organisation and would have had experience of this sort of thing. There is always a time lag in these matters. I would not be prepared to agree at this stage that this legislation did not meet the requirements of these organisations.

Senator Buttfield - Can you tell me how many organisations asked for assistance?

Senator ANDERSON - I can say that the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association of New South Wales has not yet made application. By reason of the very nature of things, the organisation may well not yet be ready to proceed; I do not know. The Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association of New South Wales and the Australian Council for the Rehabilitation of the Physically Disabled took a prominent part in representations that were made prior to the passing of the legislation. They said that hostel accommodation was the most pressing need. 1 think all of us know the human dynamo - Mrs. Bedwin - who is behind the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association of New South Wales. She and her husband, as the President and Secretary respectively of that organisation, went to every State of the Commonwealth when advocating that something be done in this field. A grant has been approved for a South Australian organisation which is associated with the care of mentally handicapped persons.

Senator O'Byrneraised the subject of supplementary assistance to pensioners. The honorable senator raised several matters relating to the means test. I think it would be wiser for me not to attempt to answer these queries but to ask the departmental officers to extract the necessary information. In general terms, supplementary assistance amounting to 10s. a week is available to persons who are in receipt of the full standard rate of pension if they pay rent and are considered to depend entirely upon the pension. A small supplementary income would be permitted. However, I repeat that 1 think I should rely upon my officers to supply the necessary information.

Senator Cantreferred to payments to deserted de facto wives. Speaking generally, this is regarded as a State responsibility. However, in Victoria, where no State assistance is available, a special benefit is paid in cases of hardship, especially when children are involved.

Senator Morris - Do you mean in the first six months?

Senator Cant - No. We are talking about payments for the whole period of desertion.

Senator ANDERSON - I am talking about payments to deserted de facto wives. I come now to Division No. 475, subdivision 4, item 01 - compassionate allowances and other payments under special circumstances. The proposed expenditure for this year is £92,000. Actual expenditure in the last financial year amounted to £99,801. This item provides for the payment of compassionate allowances to persons who are suffering hardship but are ineligible for statutory benefits, compensation payments to former employees of the Civil Constructional Corps and other civilians for war injuries, and also certain ex gratia payments. Compassionate allowances are paid at rates identical to the rates of appropriate benefits under the Social Services Act. The major categories are: (a) Payments equivalent to age or invalid pensions, wives allowances and funeral benefits made to or in respect of aliens who are not naturalized and whose circumstances warrant special consideration; (b) payments equivalent to widows' pensions to women who are innocent victims of bigamous marriages and who have young children and to persons who become widows after arrival in Australia but who are not naturalised; (c) payments equivalent to maternity allowance and child endowment to wives of members of the defence forces serving in Papua and New Guinea.

An amount of approximately £14,500 is provided in this item for the payment of compensation and hospital and medical expenses in respect of members of the Civil Constructional Corps for death or for incapacity sustained in the course of and directly attributable to their employment during the 1939-45 war, and other civilians who suffered injuries as a result of enemy action in the 1939-45 war either as civilians or as members of approved civil defence organisations. Also provided in this item is an amount of £2,400 for the payment of a weekly allowance to ex-members of the women's Services who are in special circumstances - expectant mothers discharged from the Services for this reason, and unmarried. This allowance may be paid for a period of three months before and three months after the birth, but for a longer period where the medical opinion is that the applicant is unfit for work or where suitable work is unobtainable.

A very small amount is included in the item for the repatriation of age and invalid pensioners or other social service beneficiaries. This is done at the request of the persons concerned where it is in their interests and, having regard to the expectancy of life and other factors, it would prove more economical to the Commonwealth to meet the expenses of repatriation than to continue to pay benefits over an extended period. The appropriation for 1964-65 is £7,800 lower than the expenditure for 1963-64. The reduction is related to compassionate allowances and to payments to aged Chinese. It is expected that the number of these aliens receiving payments in the nature of pension will fail. Approximately 95 per cent, of the recipients are now over 75 years of age.

The honorable senator also referred to item 03 - Pensions to officers on retirement. The expenditure on this item in 1963-64 was £3,446, and the appropriation for 1964-65 is £3,500. Provision is made under this item for the payment of pensions to ex-officers, and their dependants, of certain departments and authorities. For various reasons, these pensions cannot be paid from Commonwealth superannuation funds, or can be paid only to a limited extent from those funds. Five pensions are paid at present. Expenditure in 1964-65 will be slightly higher than in 1963-64 due to an increase in the rate of one of the pensions.

I turn to item 04 - Supplementation of pensions and allowances to which the Transferred Officers' Allowances Act applies, or which are payable under section 71 of the Superannuation Act. In 1963-64 the expenditure under this item was £22,927. The appropriation for 1964-65 is £16,500. This provision is required to enable pension increases granted to certain transferred officers under the Transferred Officers' Allowances Acts and the Superannuation Acts of 1951, 1954, 1958, 1961 and 1963 to be continued during 1964-65. The estimated expenditure for 1964-65 ls £16,500, approximately £6,400 less than the expenditure in 1 963-64. The reduction is mainly due to the fact that during 1963-64 the Treasurer approved increases which, in most cases, included arrears from December 1962, and in some cases from January 1961.

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