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Thursday, 20 May 1965


Senator GORTON (Victoria) (Minister for Works and Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research) (1:40 AM) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The intention of the Government to bring down legislation to provide a reestablishment charter for national servicemen was publicly announced some weeks ago. It is now my pleasure to introduce the Bill to give effect to this charter. Our reestablishment proposals are directed to three ends. They are, first, the protection of the interests of national servicemen in relation to their reinstatement in civil employment; secondly, the protection of national servicemen in relation to obligations entered into before they become liable for national service; and thirdly, the facilitation of the reestablishment of national servicemen in civil life on completion of their period of continuous national service.

I must, at the outset, point out that not every aspect of the charter, of the entitlements, to be enjoyed by national servicemen is covered by the present Bill. National servicemen who serve in special areas will qualify, under the same conditions as those applying to regular soldiers, for repatriation and war service homes entitlement. They will, of course, receive the same rates of pay as regular soldiers. Provisions covering these matters are to be found in the repatriation, war service homes and defence legislation. In addition, a series of benefits will be provided administratively. First, in addition to any other Army leave due to them on discharge from their period of continuous service, national servicemen will be granted seven days termination leave or, at the discretion of the Army, pay in lieu. Secondly, national servicemen will be paid a gratuity of £40 on completing their two years service, with a minimum payment of £20 for those discharged, for example, for medical reasons, before two years. Thirdly, the Department of Labour and National Service will of course assist national servicemen with any problems arising in regard to their reinstatement rights and, in the case of those without jobs to which they can return, will assist them in securing suitable employment. We are also taking up with the relevant authorities, Commonwealth and State, and with the national employer organisations the importance of giving favorable consideration to the adjustment of age limits for appointment or advancement to positions where age limits exist. This will also assist the re-establishment of national servicemen.

Let me now come to the Bill before the Senate and to the principles that have guided us in considering the form and content of this legislation. We want to avoid, as far as practicable, and certainly to minimise, the possibility that those called upon to serve their country under the national service scheme may be disadvantaged by comparison with those not called up. The character of this current national service scheme is different from that of its predecessor. A major difference is the length of the period a national serviceman will be away from his civilian employment. This cannot but present for some young men problems of re-establishment. On the other hand the length and character of the service may open up new prospects and opportunities on return to civil life. Many will obviously benefit from this. It seems prudent to draw heavily on the arrangements for protection of rights and reestablishment benefits that were so carefully worked out in respect of men called up during the last war. At the same time it is necessary to remember and take account of the distinctions between that situation and the situation that we confront under this national service scheme.

A further point of some importance is that some decided changes have come over the habits, and particularly the purchasing habits, of the community in the last 20 years. This has been strikingly evident in the case of young men of national service age. 1 have in mind here the vast growth in hire purchase transactions and the greatly expanded range of items to be so purchased. These changes in habits have had to be taken into account in framing the legislation. The matters with which this Bill deals are protection in relation to civil employment, moratorium vocational training, rehabilitation of disabled men, and reestablishment loans, It is convenient to deal with each in turn. The Bill deals with them in the order I have just mentioned.

I start with Part II of the Bill dealing with protection in relation to civil employment. The provisions under this heading are, apart from what might well be described as technical changes, basically the same as those that have been contained in Part XII of the Defence Act which are to be repealed under the Defence Bill which was recently before the Senate. Part XII covered members of the Reserve Forces and the Citizen Forces. It was an adaptation of the provisions contained in the original National Service Act. The provisions in the current Bill have, therefore, had detailed consideration by the Senate on other occasions. So they require little exposition.

I point out that these provisions apply to national servicemen, members of the Reserve Forces and members of the Citizen Forces. They apply to men called up for continuous Full-time service and going into annual camps. Men of these classes employed with an employer for 30 days or more before call-up for continuous service, or going into short term camps, will be entitled to reinstatement if they apply to be reinstated as soon as is reasonably practicable. To meet the case of the longer periods of continuous service, application for reinstatement must be made within 30 days or such longer period as the Minister allows.

The Bill provides that reinstatement must be in the pre-service occupation under conditions no less favorable than would have applied if the man had not been absent on service, including any increase in pay he would have received if he had not been absent. On reinstatement, continuity of employment will be deemed not to have been broken by the period of defence service. If the man stays in his reinstated employment for as long as he was away on service, the period of his absence will count for long service leave, superannuation and pension purposes as though he had not been absent. The short term periods of defence service will count for purposes of determining annual and sick leave also. It is not necessary to provide that long term service shall be counted for these purposes because the Army will be looking after annual and sick leave during service.

In the carefully defined circumstances described in clause 12 which are of long standing in legislation of this sort, employers will be excused from reinstating. It will not be a sufficient excuse that someone else has been employed to replace the person on defence service.

The provisions respecting moratorium for national servicemen - which, like the remaining provisions of the Bill, relate only to national servicemen - are to be found in Part III of the Bill. These follow very closely the provisions in the Reestablishment and Employment Act of 1945 as amended. Only in several respects are there any departures from the earlier provisions that are worthy of note, and I will refer to these as I go along.

I should explain here that the whole idea behind providing for a moratorium in relation to transactions to which national servicemen are parties is to ensure that their interests will not be prejudiced because of changes in their financial circumstances on commencing national service. Many men will be better off financially while on national service. Some men will be in business on their own account and will have entered into business transactions of various types. Others, in the custom of today, may have involved themselves, quite legitimately, in commitments which they may find hard to keep up while on service. What we have set out to do is to strike a balance and to protect both parties to transactions affecting men who become national servicemen.

Put briefly, what the Bill does is to give protection to a national serviceman, that is to say, a national serviceman who has commenced actual service, and a female dependant as defined in the Bill, in respect of mortgages, agreements, debts, contracts, hire purchase agreements, and so on, subject to two conditions. They are, first, that the transactions must have been entered into before, what the Bill describes in clause 17 as " the moratorium date ", and secondly, that the liability of the national serviceman under the transaction must continue to exist at the time of his commencing service. The moratorium date is normally the date upon which an age group is required to register under the National Service Act. If, however. a registrant is, pursuant to the National Service Act, deferred from call-up the moratorium date is the date upon which he receives his call-up notice. This will be roughly a month before he commences service.

This is one of the departures from the wartime moratorium legislation. It takes account of the differences between the circumstances of that time and now. Then, the moratorium applied to all transactions that had been entered into before a man was called into the Services. The reason for this was that call-up could take place at any time and with little notice. This will not be the case with the great run of national servicemen. When men are called on to register they will know that they are liable to be called up. Only a short time will elapse before a man knows whether he is deferred indefinitely or for a limited period or whether he will be called up without delay. So, with the exception of some men granted limited deferment - for example, as students or on grounds of exceptional hardship - those who register will know where they stand about entering into new commitments. For some of those deferred, there will be an element of uncertainty as to time. Deferments granted may or may not be renewed. Hence the different provisions regarding the moratorium date. Commitments entered into before the relevant moratorium date will be protected. Those entered into after will not be protected. While the relevant date is different in this Bill, the principle is the same as applied to the wartime legislation. If a man enters into obligations after he has become aware that he is to be called up, he will do so knowing what his financial position will be whilst he is on service.

Putting it broadly, the protection the Bill gives will continue for twelve months after completion of national service or, if the service is less than that, the period thereafter which is equal to that service. Moratorium provisions are necessarily complicated, and these provisions are no exception. Honorable senators will notice that Division 2 of Part 111 deals specifically with mortgages and agreements for the purchase of land. Then Division 3, dealing with the prohibition or suspension of proceedings, has provisions which deal not only with mortgages and agreements for the purchase of land but also all other transactions including hire purchase agreements.

Let me take the mortgages and sales of land first. The protection given to the national serviceman - to avoid repetition I do not repeat that female dependants as defined in the Bill are included - is that, subject to a number of qualifications, payment of principal and instalments is postponed until after the completion of 'the national service or the shorter period, mentioned already, where that service terminates in under twelve months. These postponement provisions are not of an absolute character. They are subject to a number of qualifications. Interest has, of course, to be paid meantime on the payments postponed. These provisions for the postponement of payment of principal and instalments will not apply if the appropriate court considers that the postponement is unnecessary having regard to the interests of the national serviceman, if the national serviceman has abandoned his land, or if the court considers that the postponement would cause hardship or loss to the mortgagee or vendor. Nor will the postponement apply where a mortgagee has entered into possession before the national serviceman commenced his national service, or where a mortgagee or a vendor has been authorised by a court to exercise his remedies before then.

L now turn to the general provisions in Division 3. These, as I have already remarked, extend also to hire purchase agreements. These clauses, in short, provide that the leave of the appropriate court must be obtained before a judgment against a national serviceman can be enforced or before any legal remedy in consequence of any default in payment of a debt or performance of an obligation by a national serviceman can be exercised. Again I emphasise that these provisions apply only in relation to transactions entered into before the moratorium date. The protection given by Division 3 extends for the period I have already mentioned in relation to Division 2.

The protection given under Division 3 is, as was the case with the wartime legislation, subject to qualifications. The appropriate court is required to take into account the interests of both parties on any application that is made to it. It will not be necessary to seek the court's leave in the following types of cases: First, where default is made in paying interest; secondly, where a mortgagee in possession of property other than land is exercising a power of sale which arose before the date on which the national serviceman commenced service; and thirdly, where the national serviceman has purported to sell or otherwise dispose of the goods covered by a contract or has parted with their possession. In addition - here is a second departure from the wartime moratorium legislation - the provisions requiring leave of a court do not apply in relation to a hire-purchase agreement where the liability under it is less than the amounts mentioned in clause 29 of the Bill unless the appropriate court on the application of a national serviceman, in the circumstances described in the clause, is satisfied that he should have the protection given by the Act.

As was the case with the wartime legislation, goods that are used by, or belong to, a national serviceman, except goods acquired under a hire-purchase agreement made after the moratorium date, cannot be seized or taken possession of without the leave of the appropriate court. The same applies to writs of execution against land on which is erected a dwelling house owned by a national serviceman. Leave cannot be granted in this latter case if the national serviceman or his female dependant is occupying the dwelling house or is taking steps to obtain possession to occupy it. The appropriate courts, which are defined in detail in the Bill, are given extensive powers to deal equitably with applications made to them. They are required to have regard to the circumstances of each individual case, and naturally the particular circumstances of both parties.

I turn now to Part IV dealing with vocational training. We all know how successful the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme was. The scale of the scheme for which this Bill provides will necessarily be much smaller. But we do need a vocational training scheme of this sort if men are not to be at a disadvantage in their employment upon return to civil life. This is not the place to give an exhaustive list of the types of situations to be faced. There will be some who acquire skills whilst in the Army and we want to make provision which will enable them to be supplemented in appropriate cases by post-discharge training. There will be some who may need some form of refresher training to bring them up to date with developments that have occurred in their particular vocation. There will be those who, for various reasons, may not have reinstatement posts to go to. They will clearly be aided in their resettlement by an appropriate form of training. The vocational training arrangements will make all the difference to the effectiveness of the re-establishment of the national servicemen and indeed to their usefulness in the community.

Part IV is in very wide terms, and desirably so; inescapably so. It enables the Minister to make arrangements for the postdischarge vocational training of national servicemen where it is considered necessary or desirable for their effective resettlement. Training may be full time, part time or by correspondence. Arrangements may be made with the States for the use of their services and facilities for vocational training. The Minister is authorised to pay to trainees allowances, expenses, tuition and like fees, and to provide text books, equipment tools of trade, and so on. The development of the vocational training scheme which the Bill authorises will, of course, require the working out of many details and these are currently receiving active attention.

Related to the training that I have been discussing are the provisions contained in Part V dealing with the rehabilitation of disabled national servicemen. We would all hope that there will be little need to resort to these provisions. But if there are men with disabilities hindering their effective resettlement which could be overcome by treatment and training, they will be provided for under Part V - provided of course that they are not eligible for similar benefits under the Repatriation Act.

Part VI deals with re-establishment loans. Under these provisions a national serviceman will be eligible for such a loan where this would be necessary to enable him to re-establish himself in a business, profession or occupation, including farming, in which he was engaged prior to call-up or was prevented from entering because of call-up. These provisions are also based on the Reestablishment and Employment Act. I am sure that they will be found most valuable for some at least of those who render national service.

Mr. President,I have run through the provisions of this most important reestablishment charter for national servicemen. I have explained the principal features of the various Parts of the Bill. I remind honorable senators of my opening remarks that other benefits will be available to national servicemen by virtue of other legislation or administratively. The whole of these arrangements considered together do, we believe, provide a comprehensive set of measures calculated to take care of the problems that will face national servicemen. There is nothing niggardly about this programme, and rightly so.

It is entirely right and proper that arrangements of the kind contained in this Bill should be legislated for. This Parliament and the people it represents, would be failing in their duty if this 'legislation were not enacted. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.

Senate adjourned at 2 a.m. (Friday).







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