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Wednesday, 11 April 1973
Page: 1343

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) (Minister for Social Security) - in reply - I should like to reply briefly to some of the points which have been made in the course of the debate. I say briefly' because by and large there seems to have been unanimity of opinion that this is a very generous proposal. Even members of the Opposition, in spite of one or two instances where there were particularly vigorous efforts to contrive some sort of criticism, conceded that it is a generous proposal. I should like, however, to stress one point, and that is that there is no resemblance at all between this Bill and the one that was introduced in April 1972 by the previous Government. There are quite divergent differences in principle. The basic principle behind this Bill, introduced by the new Government, is that if a person has a pension entitlement established in Australia then that is a right of his - a complete right and an inviolable right - and he maintains it even if he decides to go overseas, whether a migrant who returns to his homeland, in most cases of course for a visit but in some cases for permanent settlement, or as an Australian citizen who decides to travel overseas for some extended period.

Perhaps it is appropriate at this stage to stress that this benefit will apply to those who are retired and who within the next 2b years will be drawing means test free pensions in Australia as a result of the action of this Government. It will, of course, apply when a person is visiting overseas.

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will that be in the next Budget?

Mr HAYDEN - The honourable member is anticipating a debate that one of his colleagues will be introducing tomorrow. I think that will be the appropriate time to discuss that matter. Let me discuss some of these divergent differences between the Act, as it finally became, of the last Government in April 1972 and this proposal. I restate that the proposal now before the House gives portability of pension right once it is established in this community. There is no requirement in this legislation to wait 20 years before pension eligibility for portability purposes is established. That was the requirement of the previous Government in April 1972. ft was worried then, as it was always worried as a government, and as the Opposition it is still worried today, that someone might just happen to exploit the system, that someone just might happen to get a benefit to which it does not think he is entitled.

I remember a few years ago reading some of the old debates on social services going as far back as the early stages of federation. I was interested to note that when the invalid pension was introduced into this country there was a 20-year residential requirement written into the legislation before any person could draw this benefit because the government - a conservative one, appropriately - of that day was alarmed that Australia would be inundated by a flood of people coming here for the express purpose of picking up invalid pensions. After all this time the values, the philosophy and the sensitivity of conservative representative bodies in this Parliament has not changed at all.

There is another defect in the system introduced by the last Government - the reciprocity provision. This is an important point. There is no requirement at all under the proposal now before the House that benefits are dependent on reciprocity being established. Once the right for pension benefit is established in Australia that is all that is required and portability is established. Let us be clear on the principle behind the last Government's Bill to provide for portability. The principle was that the pension benefit could become portable only when a reciprocal arrangement was successfully negotiated with another country. The fact is that there are only 4 countries with which the last Government successfully negotiated such arrangements. If one cares to look at the list of countries approached, apart from those 4, for the purposes of negotiating reciprocal agreements - and this list was included in my second reading speech when I introduced this Bill - one will see that there are 23 countries which had been approached and that 4 of them indicated what can be best and most generously described as lukewarm interest; the other 19 quite clearly showed no interest at all. Only the former Minister for Social Services waxes enthusiastic about the possibility of negotiating, extensively, reciprocal agreements with other countries. In this situation the whole arrangements behind that last Bill which became the Act, and which still applies until this amending Bill is passed, were largely meaningless. They provided benefits for very very few people. The Act provides reciprocal arrangements for people in Malta, Greece, Italy and Turkey. Of course, migrants from the numerous other countries completely missed out. lt is quite clear-

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was much more than 50 per cent in total, including the United Kingdom.

Mr HAYDEN - Does the honourable member mean 50 per cent of countries?

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of migrants.

Mr HAYDEN - I am not in a position to argue that, to be honest, but I would doubt it very much, even if the number included the United Kingdom.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Order!I think the Minister would do better if be spoke through the Chair.

Mr HAYDEN - Another matter, which was raised by the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) and also referred to by one or two other speakers, concerns the cost of this scheme. One would rather expect that there will probably be a saving on the arrangement. But first of all let me point out that we are providing pension entitlements for people who already have that pension right in this country. So there will be no extra cost at all. They are already drawing pensions. But the saving probably will come about because in fact there will be a saving on fringe benefits which will no longer be available to them overseas. I refer here to concessions on television and radio licences, concessions on telephone services and certain rights in relation to the pensioner medical service and pensioner hospital benefits. These concessions do not apply overseas so clearly there will be a saving in this area. I would have thought that there would have been no need to include these details in the outline of the Bill because they seem so self-evident.

Again, some supporters of the Opposition, in their desperation to drum up some sort of criticism of the proposal, argued that, because of the generosity of the Bill which the present Government has introduced, some people will be drawing 2 pensions when they go overseas. They could, for instance, draw an Australian pension here and as a result of portability rights overseas could draw, for instance, a United Kingdom pension, a West German pension or a pension from any one of a number of countries. In fact, there is a long list of countries which already provide this right and many people in this country who draw an Australian pension are also drawing a pension from their homeland, and there is more than a couple of score of such countries.

We have within this country, of course, a situation where people from the United Kingdom draw 2 pensions. They have an Australian pension right and they have a full entitlement to a United Kingdom pension. There has been no concern expressed about that, and I do not see why there ought to be on this occasion. But the fact is that we are responsible for our actions and our actions alone, and what other governments do is their responsibility, not ours. We are setting a certain standard. We are cutting through the Gordian knot, as I mentioned in my second reading speech, getting rid of the impediments, of all of the conservative concern expressed in the restrictive sort of legislative controls of the Act enacted in April 1972 by the previous Government and saying that if a person in this country establishes a right to a social security pension then that is a right that cannot be taken away from that person merely because he goes overseas; he takes the right with htm.

Finally there is one matter to which I wish to refer at this stage. Of course, I will be discussing the proposals contained in the amendment of the honourable member for Mackellar in the Committee stages. The honourable member discussed in advance some of the points he would raise in relation to his amendment during the Committee stage and I will save discussion on them until then. But the honourable member expressed some unease that perhaps this Bill was too generous and that if we had too much generosity in the provision of social security benefits there could easily be a backlash in the community. The honourable member cited the case of Aborigines. Honourable members will recall that a few weeks ago during the second reading stage of an earlier social services Bill he expressed concern about what he seemed to feel was the generosity in regard to unemployment and sickness benefits, specifically unemployment benefits, going to Aborigines. He suggested that this would lead to further moral decline of these people, further moral turpitude, problems of excessive drinking and so on. 1 do not think this is the answer at all. I have never believed it and I still do not. The Aboriginal problems of social maladjustment come in fact from cultural clash, from long term neglect of the needs of the Aborigines within our society, from the way in which the Aborigines have been repressed and discriminated against and the way in which their needs have not been attended to. The succession of previous Federal governments must accept that responsibility. Nonetheless, I agree with the honourable member for Mackellar that there can always be a backlash in social welfare and social security programs if they seem to be too generous. There is always a core of conservative people in the community who resent strongly the provision of what they feel are too generous' benefits or 'too generous' a system of welfare services being established in the community.

I can assure the honourable member for Mackellar that Australia is a long way short of being too generous either in the provision of benefits or of welfare services or in the philosophy that motivates the development of these things. This was the case until the advent of this Government so far as the philosophy is concerned. But in regard to the material things such as services and payments we believe there is still a long way to go, a very long way indeed, if this country's social security system is to be lifted up to the ideal standard to which we should aspire, as seems a fitting objective for one of the wealthiest countries in the world. This must be done if we are to restore the preeminence that this country once had as a social laboratory in the development of social security benefits and services. Having replied to the few main points which were raised by members of the Opposition and in view of the fact that there is general agreement, apart from the few criticisms that were mustered, I propose not to discuss the matter any further at this stage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

In Committee

Clauses 1 to 9 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 10

10.   Part IVaa of the Principal Act is repealedand the following Part substituted: - "Part IVaa - Continuation of Payment of Certain Pensions After Pensioners Leave Australia "83ae. Except as provided by regulations giving effect to an agreement referred to in section 137, a pension payable by virtue of those regulations is not payable in respect of any period during which the pensioner is outside Australia.

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