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Friday, 2 December 1938

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (BarkerPostmasterGeneral) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

For many years the Repatriation Commission has been authorized to hold and administer on behalf of the member in such manner as it thinksfit, the war pensions payable to those unfortunate exsoldiers afflicted with lunacy, and who are unmarried. This duty was entrusted to the Repatriation Commission by an addendum of 1922 to the fourth schedule of the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act.

The commission retains all such moneys in special trust accounts for each individual pensioner, and invests the moneys in approved securities and credits the accounts with the income and proceeds of such investments.

The moneys to the credit of the accounts have been expended in various ways -

(a)   by the provision of comforts, clothing, and other forms of assistance, to the pensioners themselves; and

(b)   by making regular allowances to the parents or other indigent and deserving relatives of the pensioners.

When the addendum in question was introduced, it was also thought that it would empower the Repatriation Commission to administer moneys remaining to the credit of such trust accounts after the decease of the pensioner, but some doubt has arisen as to whether or not such addendum, in fact, achieved that objective, and doubt also arises as to whether the making of allowances to parents or other relatives is in fact an administration on behalf of the member, in accordance with the terms of that addendum.

The purpose of the present bill is to clear up those anomalies and define the position clearly, whilst opportunity is also being taken to extend similar powers to the commission in respect of those married men similarly afflicted, whose wives' pensions have been cancelled under the provisions of section 37 of the act. There are, fortunately, very few of such latter cases, but it is confidently felt that in such cases the obligation rests on the Government to protect the rights of children and other deserving relatives.

Some of these unfortunate pensioners have now accumulated substantial credits in their respective trust accounts, and the Government feels that the law relating to estates should not be permitted to operate in favour of some one more closely related who is of substantial means, but who, by reason of distance of residence or complete indifference, has never interested himself in the pensioner's welfare during his lifetime, to the disadvantage of a deserving and perhaps indigent relative, who has for many years taken an active interest in the welfare of the pensioner.

If the law as at present enacted - and of this, as I have said, there is some doubt - prevents the commission from continuing an allowance to an indigent deserving relative after the death of the pensioner, the Government feels that the position should be clarified. Shortly put, the bill gives to the Repatriation Commission power to retain, expend and invest the pensions payable to all such unmarried pensioners, and to such married pensioners, in those cases in which the pension payable to the wife has been cancelled under section 37 of the act. It gives to the commission power to expend such moneys towards providing clothing and comforts for the pensioner, towards the payment of allowances to any member of the pensioner's family in necessitous circumstances, and towards the cost of maintenance of the member whilst an inmate of an institution.

This is in accordance with the present practice, and it will be seen that the amount to be applied to cost of maintenance cannot exceed one-half of the total pension. Perhaps I should refer very shortly to this aspect. All that the bill proposes in this respect is the making of a hook entry, which will have no effect on the war pension vote, but will relieve temporarily the vote of maintenance of d e pa r tmen tal i nst i tu ti ons .

Upon the recovery of the pensioner, the commission will be required to render to him an account and to refund to him all moneys retained by it, less the amount expended on comforts or other benefits for the pensioner or by way of allowances to his parents or other relatives. Such refund will include the amount applied to cost of maintenance. Similarly, on the death of the pensioner, the whole amount retained including the amount applied to the cost of his maintenance but less advances of the kind previously referred to, may be made available either by continuing allowances already in payment to deserving relatives, by the making of further allowances, or by such other manner of distribution as the commission decides.

The bill is an endeavour to provide for the relatives of these unfortunate men in a manner consistent with that which the pensioner himself might reasonably be expected to make were he competent to do so.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Black- burn) adjourned.

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