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Wednesday, 28 February 1973
Page: 47

Mr BARNARD (Bass) (Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Minister for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

As you know, Mr Speaker, the Government is moving quickly on a broad front to implement the policies for which it received a mandate on 2nd December 1972. Among those policies were a number of proposals related to repatriation. The Bill currently before the House is designed to give legislative effect to important Government proposals relating to improvements in pension rates and conditions of eligibility. In saying that they are important, I do not intend it to be taken that other matters in the repatriation field are necessarily placed in lower order of priority. They will be kept continually under review. In fact, honourable members will be aware that the funeral benefit payable on the death of entitled ex-servicemen has already been increased from $50 to $100. Regulations giving effect to this increase were notified in Gazette No. 16 of 8th February last. I will now outline to the House the provisions of the Bill.

The Special Rate War Pension

The Government's view is that the special or total and permanent incapacity rate payable to a man or woman who has been classified as totally and permanently incapacitated because of war related incapacity should not be less than the adult Commonwealth minimum wage. Accordingly, the Bill provides for an increase of $3.10 a week in the special or TPI rate, taking it from $48 a week to $51.10 a week. It should be remembered that the minimum wage is a gross wage, subject to income tax. All war pensions, on the other hand, are tax free, so that the real value of the special rate is far greater than it first seems. But we must add also the value of any special allowance such as recreation transport allowance or attendant's allowance for which a pensioner may be eligible. I might add that this special rate is also payable to certain tuberculosis sufferers, to the blind, to those suffering from the more serious double amputations and to those who are classified as being temporarily totally incapacitated. A total of 21,104 pensioners will receive this increase, at a cost of $3 .4m in a full year.

The Intermediate Rate War Pension

The intermediate rate is one of the different rates of war pension designed to cater for the various degrees of war related incapacity. It is payable to those whose incapacity permits them to work only part-time or intermittently and will be increased by $2.55 a week, taking it from $34 to $36.55 a week. The cost for a full year for the 1,900 pensioners involved will be $0.25m.

The General Rate War Pension

The Government's policy is that the general rate of war pension should be progressively increased until it has reached the equivalent of 50 per cent of the adult Commonwealth minimum wage and that it should be maintained at that level. Bearing in mind that over 190,000 ex-servicemen and women receive a war pension within the general rate scale, we have always maintained that the Government's goal in this direction would have to be reached in stages as resources permit. As a first step, this Bill provides an increase of $2 a week at the 100 per cent rate, taking the maximum of this pension from $14 to $16 a week. Honourable members will be aware that the general rate presently scales down from 100 per cent to 10 per cent according to the assessed degree of incapacity. All general rate war pensioners will benefit from this increase. There are 190,880 general rate pensioners and the cost of this increase for a full year will be $8.34m.

The War Widow's Pension

The Government is acutely aware of the loss endured by the nation's war widows and the difficulties they have faced, and are still facing in their daily lives without the assistance, comfort and support of a breadwinner. As a first step in the Government's programme in this area, the Bill increases the basic war widow's pension by $1.50 a week taking it from $20 to $21.50. The cost in a full year of this proposal will be $3. 94m affecting some 50,500 widows. Additionally, most war widows are eligible for a domestic allowance of $8.50 a week and many may also qualify for a means test pension.

Honourable members will notice that column 3 of the scale in clause 20 of the Bill lists a rate of $43.10 per fortnight for war widows whose husbands held ranks higher than Captain (Navy), Colonel, Group Captain and relative ranks. This rate is the last vestige of the former practice of paying war widows' pensions according to the ranks held during war service by their deceased husbands. It will be phased out in future pension movements.

Cost of Increases

The total cost of these increased war pension payments will be $1 5.93m in a full year, and $8.5m for the 1972-73 financial year.

War Pensions for Student Children

The Government's policy on war pensions for student children, which is reflected in the Bil], is that they should be continued until completion of full-time education in respect of dependent children who are not receiving a maintenance or living allowance or salary from Commonwealth sources that equals or exceeds the allowances payable under the Repatriation Soldiers' Children Education Scheme.

Service Pensions in respect of Student Children

In relation to children of service pensioners, the Bill also reflects the Government's policy that a child should continue to be recognised for service pension purposes irrespective of age, for as long as the child continues to undertake full-time education.

Service Pensions Generally

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 existing means test. As you know, Mr Speaker, the Government is committed to abolishing the means test within the life of this Parliament, but I will not dwell on that particular point at the moment.

The proposed increases in age and invalid pensions will, under the provisions of the Repatriation Act 1920-1972, apply automatically to service pensions and there is no necessity to amend the Act in order to honour the Government's commitment to increase immediately means test pensions by $1.50 a week. The increase will take the maximum service pension to $21.50 a week for a single ex-serviceman, and to $18.75 a week for a married ex-serviceman or an eligible wife. The cost of these increases will be $6m for a full year and $3. 15m for the 1972-73 financial year.

Removal of Certain Disadvantages Suffered by Dependants of Ex-Servicemen

In the repatriation legislation as it stands there are certain dependants of ex-servicemen who suffer disadvantages which the Government considers unjust, and the opportunity is being taken to remove these disadvantages.

First, where a claimant for a pension dies after a decision on his application has been given by the Repatriation Commission, his legal personal representative has not been permitted to lodge and prosecute an appeal with an entitlement appeal tribunal or an assessment appeal tribunal. A legal personal representative should be allowed this right and this is the purpose of clause 5 of the Bill. It should be borne in mind however, that action taken under this new provision will be subject to other provisions of the Act that govern and place time limits on claims and appeals procedures generally. For example, a decision of an appeal tribunal cannot be expressed to operate from a date earlier than three months before the date on which the claim for pension was lodged. In certain other limited cases, the decision can have effect from a date not earlier than 4 years before the date of decision or determination. There is also a time limit for the lodgement of appeals with an assessment appeal tribunal.

Secondly, where an ex-serviceman lodges an application for service pension, but dies before a decision is given, the claim lapses and no pension is payable to his estate in respect of the period up to death, in spite of the fact that, had he lived, the pension would have been paid as from the date of application. Under the Social Services Act payment of arrears of pension can be made in the circumstances described and the Bill currently before the House inserts in the principal Act a provision similar to that of the Social Services Act.

Thirdly, at the present time some de facto wives and some ex-nuptial children are recognised under repatriation legislation. Other Commonwealth Acts such as the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees), the Social Services and the National Health Acts recognise additional categories of these dependants. The Government is of the view that the present provisions of the repatriation legislation are too restrictive and should be brought into line with these other Acts.

The Bill therefore embodies proposals to recognise for war pension and associated benefits. A defacto wife or widow who has lived continuously with an ex-serviceman on a bone fide domestic basis for at least 3 years preceding consideration of her status, or the member's death, as the case may be, if she is or was wholly or partly dependent on him and any ex-nuptial child of an ex-serviceman.

The Bill also recognises for service pension purposes a de facto wife who has lived with an ex-serviceman on a bona fide domestic basis for at least 3 years preceding consideration of her status and any ex-nuptial child, foster child or ward in the custody, care and control of an ex-serviceman.

Review of Entitlements

In view of the substantial improvements to be introduced by the Government, some of the present entitlements under the Repatriation and Social Services Acts have been reviewed. These entitlements, which have their origins well back in the history of these pieces of legislation, have to date allowed some people eligibility for means test pensions from both departments. This dual eligibility has placed these people in a more favoured position than other members of the community, and the substantial improvements being effected, and to be effected, make it advisable that steps be taken to gradually correct this situation. Therefore, on this occasion, where dual means test pensions are already being paid, no pension will be reduced but only one department will give effect to the proposals, and the other will continue its pension at the current rate.

The dual means test pensions which may presently be received under the Repatriation and Social Services Acts are those payable to the widow or deserted wife of a service pensioner - such a widow or wife can continue to receive her repatriation service pension at the same time as she is receiving a civilian widow's pension under the Social Services Act - and a service pensioner suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis - such a pensioner can also receive at the same time an age or invalid pension under the Social Services Act.

The Bill provides that, where a widow or deserted wife of a Service pensioner is also receiving a civilian widow's pension under the Social Services Act, her Service pension will not be increased on this or any future occasion. Service pensions payable to persons suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis will be increased under the general provisions relating to Service pensions. For the future, any person who has an eligibility for means test pension under both the Repatriation and Social Services Acts will have to elect to receive a pension under one or the other.

Another anomaly which this Bill removes from the Repatriation Act is that preventing a person, otherwise eligible for Service pension as an ex-servicewoman, receiving it if she receives a war widow's pension. Such an exservicewoman will now become eligible for Service pension, even though receiving a war widow's pension. A war widow currently in receipt of an age or invalid pension in addition to her war pension may, if she is eligible for a Service pension, and so wishes, transfer to the Repatriation Department and receive her full entitlement under the Repatriation Act.

The increased pension rates will be retrospective to 7th December 1972, the first pension pay day after the recent elections for the House of Representatives. The Bill appropriates the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent necessary to provide during the current year the additional payments to which it gives effect. It gives me great pleasure, Mr Speaker, to introduce this legislation. It represents major steps in the Government's provision for those who have served the nation in time of war and it adds a further dimension to the large and varied legislative programme upon which the Government has embarked. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.

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