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Wednesday, 11 April 1973
Page: 1320

Mr STREET (Corangamite) - The Opposition will not oppose the second reading of this Bill. However, we have several reservations about it. I note that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) is not in the chamber at the moment.

Mr Hansen - He will be here soon.

Mr STREET - I trust that he will be able to resolve some of the reservations held by the Opposition in his speech winding up the debate. However, we believe that the Bill is deficient in some specific areas. My colleague the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) will move some amendments to the Bill at the Committee stage. I trust that the Government will be prepared to see the logic of those amendments which are designed to protect the Australian taxpayer from what the Opposition believes can be possible abuses of the provisions of this legislation.

I think it should be remembered also that the first initiative in this field came from the previous Government. I should like to pay my tribute to the honourable member for Mackellar, the Minister for Social Services in the previous Government, for his efforts in this respect. I think that the Minister for Social Security was less than fair to the honourable member for Mackellar during his second reading speech in introducing this legislation to the House. In the Minister's remarks there was a strong implication that the previous legislation had been unsuccessful in achieving its objectives. He instanced the number of countries approached and the number of reciprocal agreements which the previous Government had been able to con clude successfully. But in fact, of course, the legislation covers a large number of migrants. In the first place there are those, although not affected by the previous Government's legislation in this field, covered by the comprehensive social security benefits with the United Kingdom and New Zealand. But the previous Government was able successfully to conclude reciprocal agreements with Malta, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Between them those countries account for a large number of migrants to Australia.

The previous legislation provided for portability of benefits, as honourable members will be aware, subject to 20 years residence in Australia while over the age of 16 years, and there had to be reciprocal agreements with the countries concerned. This legislation makes much more generous provision. In the first place there is no requirement for a reciprocal agreement. For an age pension 10 years residence in Australia is required and 5 years residence is required for eligibility for an invalid pension where the cause of the invalidity was incurred while the person concerned was resident in Australia. The applicant is required to have resided in Australia for 10 years in the case of an injury causing invalidity being occasioned outside Australia. In future, satisfaction of these requirements will qualify people for a portable pension. No residential qualification is required for a widow whose husband dies while they are both permanently resident in Australia. Broadly, those are the criteria which will be applied for eligibility for pensions in the future.

The Opposition is concerned to see that these very much more generous provisions in the Bill are not abused. We are not convinced that the Bill as drafted will prevent abuses. But with relatively simple amendments, asI mentioned will be moved by the honourable member for Mackellar, these abuses could be prevented. Therefore, the Opposition hopes that the Government will see the force of the proposed amendments and support them. As I mentioned earlier the Opposition's concern is to protect the Australian taxpayer from people who take advantage of this scheme. At the same time the Opposition wishes to protect the interests of migrants and indeed all Australians in achieving true portability of pensions. But we do not see justification for Australian taxpayers having to provide pensions to people who already are getting them under the reciprocal agreements with the

United Kingdom and New Zealand. Nor do we believe that the conditions for eligibility should be so loose that they will encourage some people to come to Australia for perhaps a brief period when they are quite young, purely for the purpose of becoming eligible for a lifetime pension - a very valuable asset as I am sure all honourable members would agree.

These are the aspects which will be dealt with by the amendments to be moved. Clearly the Government is not yet in a position to indicate what the future situation will be of Australian residents in the United Kingdom. In his second reading speech the Minister merely said that necessary action has already been initiated. But of course one party cannot unilaterally change an agreement: it can abrogate an agreement not that I am suggesting we would consider that course for a moment. The reciprocal agreement provides for considerable notice to be given before it can be abolished or changed. Id the meantime there must be a large element of doubt amongst those who are included in the terms of the reciprocal agreement. In fact, 1 am quite sure that many honourable members would have received representations since the introduction of this legislation to that effect. I am talking now about the reciprocal agreement with the United Kingdom particularly. People are concerned about the doubtful position which British migrants occupy at present.

Finally, I draw attention to 2 unsatisfactory aspects of this legislation. The first one, as I regret is the case with so many other proposals introduced by the Government, is that no attempt has been made to estimate the costs involved in the implementation of these proposals. I am well aware that in a piece of legislation like this it is not possible to give a definitive, accurate estimate of cost because we do not know until the legislation has been in force for a while just how many more people will take advantage of the new portability criteria. But I do think that we could have expected at least some reference by the Minister to the economic implications of this legislation. We certainly will be looking for some explanation during the course of this debate.

The second point that I should like to make is that this Bill is just one more example of what 1 might term sloppy and loose legislation which has been introduced by this Government. As my colleague, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) will demonstrate, the Government has not given sufficient attention to some of the technical points involved and has left portable pensions - in some conditions - open to abuse, to the grave potential disadvantage of the Australian taxpayer. The Opposition is concerned about this and we will be bringing forward constructive amendments which, while not in any way affecting the benefits and privileges of the bona fide applicant for pension portability, will protect the interests of those who will be called upon to pay the costs of this scheme.

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