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Tuesday, 9 May 1961

Mr FOX (Henty) ):- I do not intend to enter into a debate of the Government's financial policy. I believe that it has been effectively defended and justified by many previous speakers on this side of the House. I only wish to say, to assure the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) and other honorable members opposite, that we on this side are just as concerned about unemployment as they are. The cause of the unemployed is not helped by the constant talk of depression and calamity which we hear from honorable members opposite. Such talk could cause workers to fear for their jobs and to spend less than they would normally spend, thereby reducing the output of factories and restricting opportunities for employment for the people whom honorable members opposite profess, to represent.

The subject to which I wish to devote my remarks is much less topical and less stimulating. It is not my intention to take up a great deal of the time of the House at this late hour, but I want to take this last opportunity before the Parliament goes into recess, to refer to a few matters to which I hope the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Osborne) and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) will give some thought. The first matter that I wish to deal with relates to the fact that the Seamen's War Pensions and Allowances Act provides for benefits for seamen who served in the 1939-45 war and who suffered injury as a result of enemy action. Unfortunately, the provisions of the act do not extend to the period prior to the 1939-45 war, and consequently, seamen who suffered injuries as a result of enemy action in the 1914-18 war are excluded from the benefits provided by the act, nor do those men benefit by qualifying under the Repatriation Act, as they were not members of the armed services. Most of the men concerned are over 60 years of age to-day, and there are not many of them. It would be a gracious gesture on the part of the Government if it were to make provision for these men who served their country just as surely as did the merchant seamen of the Second World War.

The second matter to which I propose to refer concerns the Aged Persons Homes Act. Men who are under the age of 65 years may not be admitted to the homes for which the act provides. In view of the fact that the Government, in recognition of war service, pays a service pension at 60 years of age to an ex-serviceman with overseas service, it does not seem logical to exclude such a person for admission to an aged persons home. The cost to the Government in providing for the admission of such men would be exactly nil because the homes are already erected and it would only be necessary to change the wording of the act to correct the position.

While I am discussing the subject of aged persons homes I wish to say that I, in common with quite a number of other honorable members, have received representations asking me to support a case for the widening of the Aged Persons Homes Act in order to provide for the disabled as well as the aged. Several very worthy voluntary organizations are helping to rehabilitate disabled persons. They are helping to provide employment for disabled persons and are thereby easing the strain on the public purse. The organizations are engaged in a most worthwhile task which is to the benefit not only of the persons whom they are endeavouring to help and to care for, but also of the Government. I personally believe that the provisions of the act could be widened in such a way as to include benefits for the civilian disabled, as well as the aged.

The qualifying residential period for newcomers to this country in respect of the age pension, is 20 years, except in the case of migrants from the United Kingdom and New Zealand, with the governments of which countries we have reciprocal agreements. At naturalization ceremonies we tell migrants that they are now Australian citizens and as such are entitled to the benefits and privileges of Australian citizenship. I know that many of them feel that they are being treated as second-class citizens, since we impose on them a qualifying period of 20 years before they become eligible for the age pension. I believe that many more migrants would become naturalized citizens if we reduced this period to 10 years. I should like to see social service benefits made available to all Australian citizens without any qualification ot time, but I realize that that may be too costly to implement immediately. If we can induce more migrants to seek naturalization, surely we will be doing what we profess to desire; that is, to build one nation, in spirit as well as in name. If it is felt that such a policy would encourage the migration of too many persons in the over SO years age group, 1 am sure that that trend could be controlled through our migration selection policy.

A matter to which I have referred previously in this place is the fact that while, under the terms of the reciprocal agreement with the United Kingdom, migrants who qualify for the age pension on arrival in Australia are paid at the Australian rate and are thereby placed on an equal footing with Australian-born age pensioners, the handful of persons who have been blinded in the United Kingdom and who migrate to Australia continue to receive the United Kingdom pension rate in Australia. As that rate is lower than the Australian rate, they consequently are at a disadvantage compared with their blind brethren in Australia. If we accept a migrant, knowing of his disabilities, we should be prepared to pay to him the same amount that we pay to an Australian-born person who is similarly afflicted. The cost to revenue in doing so would be small because the number of persons affected would not be great. To do so would eliminate discrimination against the less fortunate section of migrants.

Finally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to refer to the case of one of my constituents. His wife is an invalid who is suffering from multiple sclerosis. She is bedridden and completely helpless. She requires constant attention. Their seventeen-year-old daughter, who would normally toe working, has to devote the whole of her time to taking care of her mother. The husband's taxable income last year was less than £900, and out of that he had to pay medical expenses in excess of £150, which is the present limit of the allowable deduction. As their daughter is over the age of sixteen years, he cannot claim for her as a dependant, although she is prevented from earning anything towards her keep. The. provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act which limit the allowable deduction in respect of medical expenses to £150 a year, work harshly against persons at a time when they most need help.

I believe that the present limit of £150 is not realistic. No person deliberately incurs medical expenses. It cannot be denied that such expenses frequently impose a strain on a person's resources. I hope that the Government will remove the limit and allow taxpayers to claim the full amount of medical and hospital expenses.

Mr Stokes - What about the refunds that are paid?

Mr FOX - I am taking them into consideration. When a person claims these expenses as deductions, he naturally brings into account any refund that he has received, but I believe that if his total expenses are in excess of £150 he should be allowed to deduct the full amount, because it is when expenses are so high that the taxpayer requires the greatest help. I believe, also, that persons placed in the position of this man's daughter, who has had to give up a normal existence and employment in order to care for an invalid mother who would have qualified for admission to a public hospital where she would have been cared for at public expense, should be eligible for some kind of pension or unemployment benefit.

The matters which I have mentioned, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are nearly all, in themselves, minor, but they indicate the existence of apparent anomalies, and I hope that the two Ministers whom I have mentioned will sympathetically consider my representations.

Wednesday, 10 May 1961

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