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Thursday, 21 September 1972
Page: 1127


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Minister for Air) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

With the concurrence of honourable senators I incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard. (The document read as follows) -

This Bill gives effect to repatriation proposals announced in the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr Snedden). The repatriation content of the 1972-73 Budget demonstrates clearly this Government's acceptance of its responsibilities to the ex-servicemen and women of Australia, their widows and their dependants. Over 300,000 Australians will benefit under the proposals. The Bill provides for a number of improvements in repatriation benefits, but does not include all the changes mentioned in this year's Budget. Amendments to regulations will be necessary to give effect to some of the improvements, such as the increase of 50c a week in the domestic allowance payable to war widows, and the provision of nursing home care for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, intermediate rate pensioners, war widows and World War I nurses.

Many of the improvements must be considered in conjunction with those in the means test area, which my colleague the

Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) has already announced in another place. Increases in the rates of means test pensions, and the considerable easing of the means test, will add substantially to the level of benefits which some war pensioners will receive, including T & PI pensioners and war widows also in receipt of means test pensions. I will now outline to the Senate the specific provisions of the Bill and will relate them to overall pension payments in some cases. It should be borne in mind that all pension payments are free of income tax and, therefore, they have a greater purchasing power then equivalent amounts of earnings that are subject to tax.

GENERAL RATE

The general rate war pension of $12 a week at the 100 per cent rate will be increased to $14. The special compensation allowance, paid to the more disabled war pensioners receiving pensions from 75 per cent to 100 per cent rates, will continue at up to $6 a week, thus making the new total payment $20 a week for those in receipt of both war pension and special compensation allowance at the 100 per cent rate. General rate war pensions are presently payable at different levels, according to the ranks held during service. The Government considers that the principle of equal compensation for equal incapacity justifies abolishing these different levels and replacing them with a standard general rate pension of $14 a week at the 100 per cent level. At least 95 per cent of the 192,000 general rate pensioners will, according to the assessed degree of their incapacity, receive the benefit of the $2 increase at the 100 per cent rate. The remaining number will also receive increases in their pensions, but the amount of the increases will reflect this change of policy.

Special Rates

The Bill provides also for an increase in the special (T & PI) rate, which is payable not only to the totally and permanently incapacitated and certain tuberculosis sufferers, but also to the blind and the temporarily totally incapacitated. The special (T & PI) rate will be increased by $3.50 to $48 a week, making a total increase over the past 3 years of $12 a week or $624 a year. The intermediate rate of pension, which is payable to those whose incapacity from war-related disabilities or tuberculosis permits them to work only part-time or intermittently, will be increased by $2.75 to $34 a week.

Special Allowances

Attendants' allowances, payable in addition to war pensions to the most seriously disabled ex-servicemen, will again be increased this year. The higher rate of $16 a week, payable to the blind who are also afflicted with total loss of speech or total deafness, and to those who have had both arms amputated, is to be increased by $1.50 to $17.50 a week. The lower rate of $9.50 a week, which is payable to those who are blind or paralysed, or who have suffered certain severe amputations, or who are otherwise so disabled as to need an attendant, is to be increased by $1 to $10.50 a week. The amounts payable in addition to general rate pensions to those ex-servicemen who have lost one or more limbs or an eye will again be increased. Those amputees who have always been paid the equivalent of the special (T & PI) rate will receive, in addition to the increase in the general rate, increased amounts of $1.50 a week, bringing their total increases in war pensions and additions to $3.50 a week. Amounts which are, in addition to general rate pensions payable in respect of other amputations or the loss of an eye will be increased by various amounts according to the nature of the incapacity suffered. The new amounts will range from $1.80 lo $11.75 a week.

War Widows and Children

Illustrating the Government's continuing concern for the dependants of deceased exservicemen whose deaths were related to war service, Increased payments will be made to over 50,000 war widows, and also to their children. The present rate of $.18.25 a week, which most war widows receive, will be increased to $20. War widows are at present paid war pensions at different levels according to the ranks held by their deceased husbands during war service. Consistent with the change of policy in relation to general rate pensions, to which I have already referred, and with a view to eventually abolishing all distinctions of this nature, pensions at all levels other than the highest will be increased to the same level of $20 a week.

In addition, the 50c a week increase in domestic allowance, which will be payable to more than 97 per cent of war widows and which, as I mentioned earlier, will be prescribed in regulations, will bring domestic allowance payments up to $8.50 a week. The Senate will, of course, appreciate that the increases to which I have referred are not all that many war widows will receive. An estimated 20,000 war widows also receive social service means test pensions and the substantial improvements in that, area will benefit those war widows considerably. For a child of an exservicemen whose death was related to war service, the Bill increases the weekly pension to $7.35. For a child who has lost the support of both parents, the pension will be increased to $14.70 a week. Some 4,000 children will benefit from these increases. The Bill also provides for continuation of the war pensions of certain student children under the age of 21 years. Such children, who could number as many as 20,000, are those who do not receive from the Commonwealth, while undertaking full-time study or training, payments in the nature of living or maintenance allowances that are at least equal in amount to the allowances they would receive, if eligible, under the soldiers' children education scheme. Children receiving allowances at lesser rates will be entitled to continuation of all or part of their pensions. This arrangement is designed to help exservicemen who do not receive substantial Commonwealth assistance towards the maintenance of student children.

Education Allowances

I should like to point out also to the Senate that, although this Bill does not increase allowances payable under the soldiers children education scheme, the Government has authorised payment under that scheme of new maximum rates ranging from $2.60 a week for a secondary school student aged 12 to 1.4 years, living at home, up to $.13.30 a week for one aged 16 to 18 years living away from home.

Service Pensions

Those who suffer from pulmonary tuberculosis, or who have served in a theatre of war and are over 60 in the case of men or 55 in the case of women, or permanently unemployable, qualify for service pensions if they satisfy the means test. The Bill amends the Repatriation Act to extend improved benefits to them. The means test and maximum rates for service pensions are the same as those for age pensions. Proposed increases in maximum pension rates and supplementary assistance, and the easing of the means test, including the conversion of superannuation pensions, will benefit service pensioners substantially and permit many more people to qualify for them. Unlike most previous years, no reductions will be necessary this year in Service pensions by reason of increases in war pensions. On the contrary, increases in each pension will give many people substantial increases in their combined pension income.

Examples 1 shall now give a few examples of how war pensioners, who have no other income or property affecting their means test pensions, will benefit under the Government's Budget proposals. These will illustrate the pension improvements that those pensioners will enjoy. A single TPI exserviceman, with no means other than war pension, who receives a Service pension, at present is paid $44.50 a week war pension and $1 Service pension, a total income of $45.50. Under the proposals, his war pension will be increased by $3.50 and his Service pension by $5, giving an income of $54 a week. A married TPI pensioner and his wife, who have no means but their war pensions and receive Service pensions, will similarly enjoy substantial increases. Their total war and Service pension entitlement is now $66.29 a week. The war pension increase in their case will be $3.50 a week and their Service pension increases will be $2.50 a week for the member and $5.50 for the wife, giving them a total income in war and Service pensions of $77.79 a week. If such a couple have 2 children aged, say, 13 and 15, the increases in Service pensions will be $6.61 for the member and $9.25 for his wife. When the chil dren's pensions and education allowances are added, the family income will be $102.28 a week.

Similarly, a war widow with no means other than her war pension and domestic allowance, but eligible for age or invalid pension under the Social Services Act, will enjoy a substantial benefit under the proposals. Her present war pension of $18.25 a week will be increased by $1.75; her domestic allowance of $8 will be increased by 50c; and her age or invalid pension at present $10.13, will be. increased by $5.62. This will give her a total income in war pension, domestic allowance and social service pension of $44.25 a week, a total increase of $7.87. In addition, of course, pensioners in these categories, as well as others, enjoy valuable concessions by way of free medical treatment and other fringe benefits provided by the Government.

APPROPRIATION

The Bill appropriates the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent necessary to provide during the current year the additional payments to which the Bill gives effect. The foregoing amendments will come into force on the date on which the amending Act receives royal assent, and the pension increases will be paid as from that day, if it is a pension payday, or from the first pension payday thereafter.

The Overall Picture

The increased payments to which this Bill will give effect represent a culmination of the Government's efforts during this Parliament to enhance the benefits available to incapacitated ex-servicemen and to dependants of those whose deaths were related to their war service. In each of the 3 Budgets, and on 2 other occasions, during the life of this Parliament, the Government has introduced legislation to increase and extend benefits. Our prime concern has been the most seriously incapacitated and the dependants of those whose deaths were attributable to war. In less than 3 years the special (T & PI) rate will have been increased from $36 to $48 a week, an increase of 33.3 per cent. The war widow's pension will have been increased by the same percentage. The pensions of children of deceased ex-servicemen whose deaths were related to war service will have been increased even more substantially, by 36.1 per cent in the case of a first child, and 72.9 per cent in the case of second and subsequent children, while the pensions of children who have lost the support of both parents will have been increased by 44.8 per cent. Over the same period, the various economic indices have shown movements at lower rates: the consumer price index by 15.4 per cent, the minimum wage by 31.4 per cent and average weekly earnings by 29.9 per cent. The increases which will have been effected during the life of this Parliament will have more than kept pace with the economic changes.

At the same time, the Government has brought about improvements in subsidiary benefits for special cases, as instanced by increased payments in respect of amputees. New benefits, such as the proposed arrangements for nursing home care to which 1 referred earlier, have also been introduced. All of those, when combined with the increases in Service pension rates and the improvements in the means test itself, have resulted in a greatly improved total position being achieved for recipients of repatriation payments over the last 3 years. Compared with an actual total expenditure of $3 17m for the 1969-70 financial year, estimated expenditure for the 1972-73 financial year is $4 19m for the whole Department. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Willesee) adjourned.







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