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Wednesday, 4 March 1970

Mr HOLTEN (Indi) (Minister for Repatriation) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to bring into operation for repatriation service pensioners the election promise of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) that the Government would introduce legislation providing increased pensions for married means test pensioners who lose the economies of living together because of failing health. The specific proposal is that, where pensions are now paid at married rates to each of such a married pensioner couple, each will receive pension at the standard rate after the passage of this legislation. The Bill makes the same provision for Service pensioners as is made for age and invalid pensioners in the Social Services Bill introduced by my colleague the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth).

Honourable members will know that an eligible ex-serviceman or woman who is single, widowed or divorced may receive a Service pension at the standard rate, namely $15 per week, which is higher than the married rate - currently $13.25 per week - payable to each of a married pensioner couple. The higher rate for single people recognises their special needs as compared with married pensioners who, because they live together and are able to share common expenses, are in a relatively better situation. It must be accepted, however, that the position of married couples who, because of illness for example, must give up normal domestic living to be cared for in a nursing home is often the same as that of single pensioners. The Bill1 gives practical recognition to this fact.

Clause 3 of the Bill therefore provides that where a repatriation board is satisfied that a pensioner husband and wife cannot live together in a matrimonial home because of the illness or infirmity of either or both of them, and these circumstances are likely to continue indefinitely, the Service pension may be granted at the standard rate.

Under the Repatriation Act a repatriation board is the primary independent determining authority concerned with the determination of claims. It is for that reason that the power of determination in these instances is given to a board.. It will exercise the power in relation to Service pensioners which is exercised by the Director-General of Social Services in relation to age and invalid pensioners. Under the Social Services Act the Director-General has a general power to review a determination whenever it appears to him that sufficient reason exists for doing so, and upon review he may affirm, vary or annul it. Clause 3 of the Repatriation Bill gives a similar review power to a repatriation board in relation to the circumstances of married pensioner couples who may be eligible for the standard rate.

The Bill also provides in clause 4 that couples who benefit from the amendment I have outlined may, subject to their means, also receive supplementary assistance, often known as 'rent allowance'. It will be recalled that in 1968 the Government amended the Repatriation Act to provide that, where one of a married pensioner couple dies, the surviving pensioner receives for 6 fortnights the amount of pension that would have been payable to the couple jointly. The Bill provides that this benefit will continue to be paid on the basis of the married rate.

The Bill also provides for the appropriation of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent necessary for the purposes of the Bill. It is proposed in accordance with the usual practice that the increases in pension rates provided by the Bill will come into operation on the payday following royal assent. The measures I have outlined represent a further development in the Government's provision for the needs of means test pensioners and I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stewart) adjourned.

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