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Thursday, 28 November 1985
Page: 2456

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(12.02) —I remind the Committee that the criteria for a totally and permanently incapacitated pension referred to by Senator Macklin were not subject to the sunset clause and in fact were passed by the Senate in the autumn session of Parliament in the Repatriation Legislation Amendment Act. The provisions in that legislation, and in fact in this legislation, are the result of recommendations by the Advisory Committee on Repatriation Legislation Review. Accordingly, the Government cannot possibly accept the amendments suggested by Senator Macklin. It should be stressed, as Senator Macklin seemed to be confused about this, that if a veteran does not qualify for a TPI rate pension, that does not mean that he is not eligible for any pension. There are three separate types of pension to which he could be eligible.

The three levels of compensation under a repatriation disability pension are, firstly, the totally and permanently incapacitated rate which is a pension payable to a veteran who, because of his accepted disabilities, is unable to undertake more than a negligible amount of remunerative work, that is, less than eight hours a week. That pension rate is $182 a week. Secondly, there is the intermediate rate of pension which is payable to a veteran who, because of his accepted disabilities, is unable to work other than on a part time basis, or intermittently. That rate of pension is $125 a week. Thirdly, there is the general rate pension which is payable to a veteran who, although he has suffered service related disabilities, is still able to have a full working life. Those disabilities are rated from 10 to 100 per cent and the amount of pension ranges from $6.80 to $68.80 a week. Thus, there is acceptance in a varied form of a person's disability.

The general rate pension provides compensation for the veteran who could continue to work despite his disability. When I draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the great bulk of World War II veterans have now left the work force, one has to have regard to the costs involved if, after a person has engaged in remunerative activity all his working life, he can then claim a totally and permanently incapacitated rate pension. Of course, that is why the Advisory Committee recommended as it did and why the Government took the recommendation on board and presented it in the Repatriation Legislation Amendment Bill which was approved by both Houses of Parliament in the autumn session.

We naturally reject the amendments because they are patently absurd and would make the clauses inoperable for a whole number of reasons. In effect, the amendments remove the distinction between a veteran able to work part time or intermittently-that is, who would be eligible at the intermediate rate-and the veteran not able to work more than eight hours a week and who is entitled to a TPI rate. The rate paid would become a matter of choice as both clauses would contain identical wording. The remaining clauses would become inoperable because of the cross-references to paragraphs deleted by the amendments.

I wonder whether the Democrats really understand what they are proposing. The amendments would have the extraordinary effect that a TPI pension would be payable even if the veteran was not severely disabled and even if he could work more than eight hours a week. To make such changes would be irresponsible and that is the view of the veteran community.

The criteria for the granting of a TPI pension came into effect on 6 June 1985. This legislation simply clarifies what has always been intended for payment at this rate. I draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the cost to revenue of this proposal this year would be $69m rising to $226m in the subsequent years. There seems to be a lack of understanding of what is envisaged in the TPI rate. It is a recognition of a person's incapacity to work. For example, in the debate in the House of Representatives the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Nehl) said:

The connection between a TPI pension and whether an eligible veteran worked is entirely a creation of the present Minister's imagination.

I remind the Committee how wrong those comments are. One honourable member went on to say that TPI claims, once determined on capacity, are now being considered on the economic ability to work.

The wording of the Repatriation Act, prior to its amendment in June this year, has remained unchanged since 1920 when it first came into operation. I remind Senator Macklin that a Schedule to the Repatriation Act as it then stood stated:

The Special Rate of Pension may be granted to members of the Forces--

I stress this-

who have been blinded as the result of War Service, and to members who are totally and permanently incapacitated (i.e. incapacitated for life to such an extent as to be precluded from earning other than a negligible percentage of a living wage).

I emphasise the words `precluded from earning other than a negligible percentage of a living wage'.

There can be no responsible reason why the Committee, having already passed the Repatriation Legislation Amendment Act earlier this year and not having applied a sunset clause to these provisions, and the Government having taken that into account in framing the budget for the Department of Veterans' Affairs for this and subsequent years, should now change what has already been determined because of an issue on which certainly there are some people in the veteran community who have a view. I do not deny that some people hold that view but it is not the official view and no representations have been made to me on this matter by any of the responsible leaders of the veteran community. I urge rejection of the amendments.