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Tuesday, 8 November 1977
Page: 3080

Mr BRYANT (Wills) -The Defence Force (Retirement and Death Benefits Amendments) Bill (No. 2) 1977 is part of the long and continual liberalisation of the Defence Force retirement benefits system; so the Opposition side of the House supports it.

Mr Bourchier - Hear, hear!

Mr BRYANT - I am glad that my friends opposite also support it and agree with it.

Mr Bourchier - We introduced it.

Mr BRYANT - In a way I suppose that they introduced some of it, but this is one of the more interesting pieces of legislation of this Parliament in the long haul to obtain reasonable retirement provisions for the people in the defence services. There has been a continuous struggle by people on both sides of the House and people outside the House to remove some of the anomalies between the Public Service superannuation schemes and schemes such as this one. The liberalisation in this legislation covers the spouse who is widowed after the retirement of the serviceman and who remarries, and the spouse who married the pensioner after the pensioner attained the age of 60 years. It is interesting that it has always been difficult to have such reforms accepted as reasonable social security projects. Ever since I entered this Parliament we have had discussions of this nature. I do not know why it has taken 20 years to liberalise these matters. I recall 1 7 or 1 8 years ago having a discussion with the Commonwealth Actuary, on behalf of a committee outside of this to which I belonged, in which I raised the case of the widow of a serviceman who remarried after the servicemen's retirement. The horror that the Actuary brought to the discussion when it was suggested that we ought to disregard the peculiarity of her situation and bestow the normal benefit was almost incredible.

I hope that the Bill is gratefully received throughout the system. I think the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) has had something to do with recent developments in this field. A former member for La Trobe, Mr John Jess, and a committee of this Parliament had a good deal to do with updating the scheme. If I remember rightly- I would hate to introduce politics at this stage of this Parliament- it was the Labor Government which implemented most of that committee's recommendations and started things on their way. So we all have had a part in it, but we all have been a part also of the illiberal interpretations of the system.

This afternoon 1 remind honourable members and the people responsible for drafting this legislation and for the examination of the scheme of the situation of those officers who retired, I think, prior to 1962. 1 am open to correction, but from a glance at the speech I think we have not brought servicemen up to date with the people who retired post-1962.

Mr Bonnett -Post- 1972.

Mr BRYANT - That is correct, 1972. I know servicemen of long and distinguished service who were gravely disadvantaged by this failure to introduce what might be called 'catch-up ' provisions. I know of one soldier who graduated from Duntroon towards the end of the First World War, went overseas, served in the regular Army continuously during the period of peace, was in Europe at the beginning of the Second World War, formed a battalion and carried it through to battlefields and who rose to the rank, I think, of brigadier and ultimately retired as a lieutenant-general. I do not know exactly what his pension is, but I would guess that it is very low down in the system. It is probably not much better than the pension of a person who served for 10 or 12 years, who may have seen no active service at all and who retired as a lieutenant or a warrant officer or something of that order.

Some years ago when we first started to discuss this matter only 7,000 or 8,000 people were involved. There is an incredible meanness in the system when we come to discuss matters such as this in relation to pensions, whether they be pensions of servicemen or other folk. Such meanness was reflected in the Act governing parliamentary pensions. There were certain restrictions on the widow's pension if the member had married after a certain age or within a certain period before bis retirement. I do not think those things are justifiable.

I was saying here this afternoon, as I have said on a lot of occasions in this place, that when we are speaking about people who put on the uniform to serve in the armed Services, they accept a totally different responsibility from that of any of us who do not do so. It may well be that a person will serve for 20 years and will not move far from headquarters or from barracks. It may well be that a person enlists in the Services and within a few months he is in some totally unexpected situation such as Vietnam and his life or his health is forfeited. It is a totally different quality of service. Therefore it cannot be evaluated in any way in terms of money. So this afternoon I am grateful, on behalf of those people in my electorate who will benefit from this legislation, for the fact that something more has happened. I hope that in the not too distant future we will be in a position to take up all the anomalies and iron them out. That ought to apply to other systems too. This is one of those cases in which the superannuation scheme for public servants has been a trendsetter.

This afternoon in the last few minutes of this Parliament I am grateful for the opportunity to speak uninterrupted. I noted that as I rose to speak an increasing number of people, including the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), came into the chamber to listen. It has been one of my great sorrows that the right honourable who was elected to this Parliament at the same time as myself and who made his maiden speech on the same night as I did, has refused to benefit from the continual advice I have given him about bis political views. However, he is still not too old to be corrected. As I make what I suppose is going to be one of the last speeches of this Parliament, I remind the House that I made one of the first speeches of the Parliament on the day we elected the Speaker. Honourable members will be interested to note that, having spoken for what amounted to about a third of a column in Hansard, the present right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), who represents that constituency for the time being, had the question put and I was gagged. I hope that this afternoon we will depart from this Parliament with some sense of responsibility for the parliamentary system.

One is critical of the short time allotted for this debate. This is a very lengthly piece of legislation; it has 51 clauses; it is a very complicated piece of legislation. But we have no time to deate it. The sheer arithmetic of this Parliament means that we will not have time to debate legislation such as this in the future either. If 80 or 90 pieces of legislation such as this are brought down and we try to fit them in end to end during the parliamentary year, there is no way in which that can be done. Therefore there has to be a legislative committee system. I hope that we will get round to that so that we can start to feel more as though we are in a participating parliamentary democracy.

I shall refrain from speaking during the adjournment debate this afternoon but will express my thoughts now. I do not know what one wishes honourable members opposite on an occasion such as this. I will be going out into electorates to try to entice the people to see otherwise than do honourable members opposite and to encourage them to return people who represent the forces of progress and justice as do members on my side of the House. I have no doubt that vigorous campaigns will be conducted by honourable members opposite in the electorate of Wills to try to remove me. At least they will drive through the electorate on occasions, but I suppose they will not stop. On the whole, one can only say, Mr Speaker, that under your benign guidance and the way in which you conducted the affairs of the House- and you have improved through 22 years' association with me- the House has overcome many great difficulties and troubles that come from the tensions that arise in it. On the whole, one finds that most members are personable, that they are easy to get along with when travelling interstate or overseas on parliamentary committees. I hope that the spirit of good sense, good judgment and bonhomie we bring to occasions such as this will eventually extend to the consideration of social legislation such as that now before the House and that, instead of taking 20 years to drift and trudge through the liberalising of matters, we will get on with it from day one and will do things properly from the very beginning.

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