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Tuesday, 3 December 1974
Page: 3047


Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) - I want to make one or two very brief observations about this Bill. At the outset I commend the Government for bringing in this enlightened piece of legislation. 1 am particularly grateful to the Government for correcting what has been an anomaly in the law of the land since 1919 when single ex-servicemen who might otherwise have qualified for the benefits of the War Service Homes Act, as it was then, did not qualify because they had not married. My understanding is that when a person renders some form of service which gives him access to the benefits of a particular piece of legislation there ought not be any qualification on it whatever, but there has been. It is remarkable that last year we found an anomaly so far as it related to women exmembers of the defence forces. That was corrected. It has taken until this year to correct the situation relating to unmarried ex-servicemen who otherwise qualify. I am particularly grateful for that.

I have had a lot of dealings over the years with people who have felt seriously disadvantaged and unfairly discriminated against. I could not argue against that. I felt they had a case and that they were being discriminated against simply because they had not chosen to marry. They had chosen to build or buy a home and had chosen to enter into the financial commitments resulting from such a decision, and whereas they saw fellow ex-serving members of the forces entitled to the benefits of the War Services Homes Act, and the Defence Services Homes Act, as it has been more recently named, the beneficial provisions of the Act were not available to them. I am delighted to see that the situation has been corrected. I am sure that there are many hundreds of people- not thousands but hundreds throughout the Australian community who will now come into the range of benefits under this scheme and whose mortgage loan arrangement will be taken over under the provisions of this legislation.

As Senator Carrick stated in condemnatory terms, the provision is being increased from $12,000 to $15,000 to meet the increases in the purchase price of a home these days. One can argue up hill and down dale about all of this, but it is happening everywhere. There are increases in wages; there are increases in costs; there are increases in the purchase prices of the various commodities and essentials and necessities of life. Until we reach some sense of balance and sanity in our whole economic system this is bound to happen. But the Government has acknowledged that it is happening and it has decided that ex-servicemen who qualify for defence service home loans will not be disadvantaged by the situation which affects every other section of the Australian community. So I am grateful to the Government for having acted.

I am also very pleased to note that there has been some relaxation of the rigidity which has hitherto been evident in relation to the one home arrangement. In other words, finance has been provided in relation to one home and it has always been very difficult to obtain finance for a second home. When one reads the provisions of the Bill, and particularly when one studies the second reading speech, one can see that there is some justification for the attitude that has been taken in relation to the provision of finance for one home, because when that first home is paid off the money goes into Consolidated Revenue and any advances for the purchase of a second home must be taken out of the funds provided in the next year or in the particular year of the happening. This also has brought about some very anomalous, unfair and unjust situations. 1 recall a case of some years ago of a man who, as a reward for his service, was promoted- he lived in Devonport in Tasmania- because of the excellent service he had rendered to his employer. As he was employed by a State-wide instrumentality his promotion involved a transfer. Rather than the promotion being a reward for service, good conduct and all the other things which an employer looks for, it in fact turned out to be a disadvantage to him because he then had to discharge his loan under the War Service Homes Act and to commit himself to a substantially greater loan at a very much increased interest rate in Hobart. So whilst he was promoted, in fact it was a disadvantage to him. Had he not taken the promotion he would have lost his place in the order of seniority and ultimately at the end of his working life he would have been very seriously disadvantaged indeed in terms of the rank which he then held and the pension to which he would become entitled.

So the system, so far as it related to people like that, I believed worked unfairly. I can see the other side of the coin as well. However, I do believe that this is the appropriate approach to the matter. I hope that it will be treated with a great deal of sensitivity, and I have no doubt that it will be. I hope that persons who, for some reason such as outstanding service or for having conducted themselves as one would expect people to do, get promoted in their jobs do not find themselves in the situation of losing the benefits of the defence service homes scheme and paying a greatly increased price for a home at a substantially elevated interest rate.

The only other thing to which I wish to allude is what appears on page 3 of the second reading speech in relation to the situation on Norfolk Island. I am very pleased to see that there has been a change in the approach to the availability of benefits so far as they relate to Norfolk Island. During a visit to the island some two or three years ago- I am sure that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) will recall the occasion with great happiness and pleasure- we learned that the per capita enlistment from the populace of Norfolk Island exceeded that of any other place in Australia. Those people were very proud of their record of service to their country in times of war. I am delighted to see that there has been some acknowledgment of this situation. Perhaps it is not such a direct acknowledgment, but it is an acknowledgment nevertheless in terms of the fact that the legislation provides, in relation to the leasehold and general land tenure situation, for a relaxation of the availability of the assistance and the benefits under the Defence Service Homes Act. These benefits will now be extended, I would expect, to many more people who otherwise were disadvantaged by the former provisions of the Act in relation to Norfolk Island. With those few comments, I commend the legislation and I express my own personal gratitude, as one who had some little part in bringing about a new approach, a change, in relation to the provisions concerned with single ex-servicemen.







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