Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 11 November 1964

Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Customs and Excise) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill and of those associated with it is to give effect to a number of desirable machinery changes in the repatriation legislation. In addition, arising from recent legal advisings and administrative difficulties in relation to medical treatment which has long been provided foc non-war-caused . disabilities, appropriate amendments are being made to section 124 of the Repatriation Act which authorises the making of regulations. The amendments proposed continue the Government's practice of making adjustments to legislation in the interests of ex-servicemen and their dependants as the need for adjustments is brought to notice in the normal course of administration. Details of the proposals follow. ,

Appeals to War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunals may be made where pension is granted but the pensioner is not satisfied with the rate of pension allowed, or where a disability is accepted as due to war service but in the opinion of the Repatriation Board or the Repatriation Commission the degree of incapacity does not warrant a pension assessment. In the former category, the tribunal, if it allows the appeal, can give effect to the increase from the same date as the commencement of the pension assessment appealed against; that is, three months before the lodgment of the claim. In the latter category, the earliest date it can fix is six months prior to the date of lodgment of the appeal, and, because of the time taken to process claims, it happens in some cases that this is later than the date the Board or Commission could have fixed. The amendment proposed to section 78 will remove this anomaly.

The second proposal concerns the treatment of medical sustenance for service pension purposes. Medical sustenance is paid where a war pensioner or claimant is prevented from working because of the necessity for treatment of an accepted disability, or while he is undergoing medical investigation in connection with a war pension claim. Sustenance is regarded as income in assessing a service pension under the Repatriation Act, and its payment therefore leads to pension adjustments. Because sustenance is paid for relatively short periods, the adjustments to pension are temporary, but can involve reduction or even suspension or cancellation of the service pension. These temporary adjustments cause a good deal' of administrative inconvenience, and, moreover, cancellation or suspension of the service pension can result in temporary loss of eligibility for associated medical and- other Commonwealth benefits and for other benefits provided for these pensioners from public and private sources. The- Bill therefore provides that, for service pension purposes, medical sustenance will not be regarded as income. Passage of this legislation will enable any necessary adjustment in total payment to be made to the sustenance allowance instead of to the service pension.

The Repatriation Act does not define the term "step-child". It has hitherto been thought that the expression includes only the child of a former marriage dissolved by death. Legal advice however, is that the expression may include the child of a marriage dissolved- otherwise than by death - for example, by divorce. In principle it seems that a war pension should not be paid in the latter case unless the step-parent "member" has accepted responsibility for the child's maintenance, or unless, after the member's death, his widow has accepted that responsibility. The Bill will insert a definition of "step-child" Which will give effect to this principle.

There have always been provisions in the Repatriation Act and in associated legislation which require the amount of war pension payable under the law of another part of the Queen's Dominions to be taken into account in assessing the rate of Australian war pension payable. As a result of some countries ceasing to be part of the Queen's Dominions, war pension payable by those countries will no longer be taken into account unless an appropriate change is made in the relevant legislation. The present Bill will make this change.

Three changes are being made in service pension, provisions. The first will remove the present means test as to the child's own means in the case of the first or only child of a service pensioner if he is in the custody of his parents. This will bring the service pension provision into line in this regard with the comparable provision for child's allowance payable under the Social Services Act to the wife of an invalid pensioner who has custody of a child. The position of a child not in its parents' custody will remain unaltered. A further amendment will remove any doubt regarding eligibility for payment of the higher rate of 15s. per week service pension to a younger child where the pension of an older child ceases and, in such a case, for payment of the lower rate of 2s. 6d. per week to any younger children not exceeding three in number. The third amendment in the service pension area relates to payment of service pension during the temporary absence overseas of the pensioner. Under the Repatriation Act a service pension may be continued during the temporary absence of the pensioner from Australia for a period of up to six months irrespective of which country the pensioner visits. Under the Social Services Act, a social service pension may, in similar circumstances, be continued generally for a period of up to 12 weeks. However, in consequence of reciprocal arrangements with the United Kingdom and New Zealand, social service pensioners visiting those countries may have their pensions continued for an indefinite period.

The Repatriation Act is being amended to enable the Commission to extend the period of payment for visitors to the United Kingdom and New Zealand, on the lines of the arrangements for social service pensioners, while retaining the existing policy of six months limitation for visitors to other countries.

Under the repatriation regulations, medical treatment may be provided for the widows of deceased members of the forces as well as for certain other dependants. In consequence of a recent legal advising, it appears that there may be some doubt about whether this provision in the regulations is sustained by the regulation making power in section 124 of the Repatriation Act as it presently stands. An amendment to section 124 included in this Bill will put ths matter beyond doubt.

The Repatriation regulations also authorise medical treatment for disabilities not due to war service for certain ex-servicemen who are. seriously disabled as a result of war service, for war nurses of 1914-18 war and for member service pensioners. Regulations in force since 19.43 have authorised the Commission to recover the cost of such treatment where the patient has a right of recovery against some other person by way of damages or compensation. Doubts have recently been expressed about whether the regulation making power authorises the provisions for charge and recovery in these cases and there have been difficulties in proving the cost of treatment where this has been disputed. The opportunity is therefore being taken in this Bill to confirm that the regulations may provide for the recovery of the cost of treatment insuch cases and that the regulations may authorise an appropriate scale of charges in these circumstances.

Certain of the amendments I have mentioned will also need to be applied to other repatriation legislation. The Bills accompanying this measure give effect to these requirements. They are the Interim Forces Benefits Bill, the Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Bill and the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Bill. In the case of the Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Bill, the opportunity is being taken to insert a provision validating certain payments under that Act which were made prior to the making of the regulations. As I have indicated, the Bills make a number of changes in the interests of the welfare of ex-servicemen and of commonsense administration and I commend them to the Senate. This second reading speech also covers the Interim Forces Benefits Bill, the Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Bill and the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Bill and I suggest that the second reading debate on these Bills be made concurrently.

Debate (on motion by Senator Hendrickson) adjourned.

Suggest corrections