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Thursday, 25 September 1958

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I was discussing that section of the bill which referred to the entitlement of T.P.I. ex-servicemen under the amending legislation. I had pointed out for the benefit of honorable members that only a very small proportion of those persons will receive the 10s. increase that was promised under this legislation. The reasons for that I explained. The first is the ceiling limit of £15 15s. which has been applied by this Government. Unless that ceiling limit is adjusted, it will not be possible for more than a small percentage of T.P.I. ex-servicemen to receive an increase of 10s. a week. It might be said by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), who sits at the table, that all T.P.I. ex-servicemen will receive an increase of 10s. a week, but the great majority of T.P.I. ex-servicemen are in receipt of a service pension, and that service pension, or the age pension received by an ex-serviceman's wife who is aged over 60 years, will be reduced accordingly. The anomaly is obvious and, as I indicated before the suspension, I believe the Government ought to remove it, in fairness to T.P.I. ex-servicemen.

The ceiling limit was adjusted in 1955, not for the benefit of the T.P.I. exservicemen, but because of the adjustments made under the amending legislation of that year to enable age, invalid and other classes of pensioners to receive a pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week, as well as an additional income of £7 a week from other sources. This meant, in effect, that the ceiling limit would be £15 15s. I repeat that the ceiling limit was not raised in 1955 for the benefit of T.P.I, ex-servicemen. It was raised because this Government wanted to adjust the rate for age and other classes of pensioners.

Let me deal with the actual rate payable to married T.P.I.ex-servicemen to substantiate what I have said in respect of the amount that will be made available under this legislation for this particular class of pensioner. I refer to the case of a married couple when the wife is 60 years of age or older. The member, under this legislation, will receive £11 10s. pension and the wife £1 15s. 6d. If the member as a T.P.I. ex-serviceman has no other income, he is entitled to a service pension payment of £2 9s. 6d. a week, which entitles the couple to receive a total of £15 15s. But if the 10s. a week is payable to the married T.P.I. ex-serviceman, the service pension is reduced from £2 19s. 6d. to £2 9s. 6d. If a pension, part-pension or social service pension is being paid to the member or to his wife, in each case there will be a reduction of 5s. a week. So, there is no increase so far as the T.P.I. ex-serviceman is concerned except in the cases I have mentioned - the single T.P.I. ex-serviceman and those who have income from other sources, such as superannuation.

I now refer to the position of war widows. I acknowledge at once that under this amending legislation some increase has been accorded to them, but it applies to the special payment made to certain sections of war widows. I refer to the domestic allowance. The Minister indicated, in his second-reading speech, that 90 per cent of war widows were entitled to receive the domestic allowance. That means, in effect, that 10 per cent of the war widows in this country are not receiving the domestic allowance but only the base rate of the war widow's pension.

In 1948, the widows pension rate was 53 per cent of the basic wage. To-day, it is only 42 per cent of it, and in my opinion this Government cannot claim to have dealt generously with the war widows by allowing their rate of pension to decline to the extent that it now has in comparison with the basic wage. I believe that war widows, particularly those 10 per cent, who are not eligible to receive the domestic allowance, should receive far greater consideration from this Government. The domestic allowance is payable only in cases where a war widow has a child under the age of sixteen years, or one over sixteen who is undergoing education or training, or if she herself is over the age of 50 years or is permanently unemployable. There must be 10 per cent, of the war widows in this country who are receiving no more than £4 17s. 6d. a week from this Government. It appears that the best it can do for them, having appropriated their husbands for military service and who, in their turn made the supreme sacrifice in the interests of our country, is to pay them no more than £4 17s. 6d. a week. I believe that the Government should have made the 7s. 6d a week increase general and should not have confined it merely to the domestic allowance with the resultant effect that 10 per cent, of the war widows receive no increase at all.

But this payment bears out the general attitude of the Government as it is demonstrated by this amending legislation. The Government has promised increases. I remember in 1957 there was considerable applause from the Opposition when the Government announced that there would be a 25s. a week increase for, the T.P.I, exservicemen. But there was no applause this year because Government members know, only too well, that that increase, will reach only a certain few. The Government cannot claim to have acted fairly in respect of either T.P.I, ex-servicemen or war widows.

Let me turn to the 100 per cent, pension rate. Last year, it was increased by 7s. 6d. a week, but under this legislation there will be no increase. Honorable members know that the great bulk of war pensioners in this country are on the 100 per cent, pension rate - the base rate of pension as it is commonly called. This afternoon I indicated to the House the number of persons actually in receipt of the T.P.I, pension. It is very small in comparison with the number receiving the pension for 100 per cent, incapacity. But, as I have already said, there will be no increase at all under this legislation; that pension rate will remain at £5 2s. 6d. a week.

It is a pity that the Minister, in dealing with these examples in his second-reading speech, referred to the case of the unmarried pensioner who is in receipt of the 100 per cent, base pension rate. But here is a typical example. An unmarried exserviceman receives the 100 per cent, war pension of £5 2s. 6d. a week if he is considered to be permanently unemployable. We know that a great many ex-servicemen receiving the 100 per cent, rate are, in point of fact, permanently unemployable. Their disability has not been accepted by the Repatriation Department as being due to their war service. They have a disability which is accepted, but the fact that their health is impaired is not entirely due to war service. In such a case the 100 per cent, pensioner receives a service pension of £2 15s. a week, which makes a total of war service pension of £7 17s. 6d. a week. In other words, this ex-serviceman who is totally incapacitated and who is not able to take his proper place in the society of this country, receives no more from this Government, after giving his services in the interests of the country, than £7 17s. 6d. a week.

That is considerably less than the basic wage. Even a junior employee in any one of the government departments of this country receives considerable more than £7 17s. 6d. a week. Once again, I say that the Government cannot claim to have been generous in this respect. I have shown that that is so in each of the cases I have referred to - the T.P.I, ex-servicemen, the war widow and the 100 per cent, pensioner. There has been a general deterioration in the pension rate.

It is perfectly true, as I acknowledge, at once, that additional allowances have been provided in this legislation. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) referred, earlier this afternoon, to the amendments providing for these benefits. We appreciate the fact that the Government is giving some consideration to certain classes of service pensioners. But I regret that the Minister, during his second-reading speech, when assessing the amount available to the various classes of war pensioners, should once again take into consideration the value of child endowment. I suggest that no one should consider child endowment when determining the rate of war pensions. Surely, nobody takes into account the fact that I receive child endowment when they assess my total income. It is not done in any other branch of the Public Service. Nor is it reckoned by any employer in the Commonwealth. This is a benefit which was provided by the Commonwealth Government for all parents, yet the Minister set out a table in which the value of child endowment has been added to the general rate of pension to increase the total amount paid. Surely we should not take into account the money that a war widow receives in child endowment. Neither should we take child endowment into account in respect of other war pensioners. Child endowment is all too small to-day but, small as it is, the Minister has taken income from child endowment into consideration in respect of every class of pension affected by this legislation.

Although a very small increase of 7s. 6d. was granted to pensioners in 1957-58 no increases are granted under this legislation. Surely, in view of the fact that the benefit payable to the wife of an ex-serviceman has not been increased for several years, but has remained at the paltry figure that I mentioned to the House earlier, we should at least do something about that matter. While the Government has been prepared to increase some pensions, do not let us forget that the amount involved is very small in relation to total expenditure by the Government in this financial year. I believe that the Government could have given more consideration to the deserving class of pensioners dealt with by this legislation.

Now I turn to the entitlements appeal tribunals, and this brings me, of course, to that contentious legal provision, section 47 of the Repatriation Act - the onus of proof provision. I do not hesitate to say that, in my opinion, the tribunals are giving a great service to ex-servicemen generally. I believe that they treat ex-servicemen with every courtesy, and all honorable members who appear before these tribunals know that the ex-serviceman is given every opportunity to present his case fairly and properly. However, the fact remains that in many instances the members of the tribunals are not able to apply the onus of proof provision as it should be applied. As a matter of fact, the Minister himself gave a ruling on this matter when addressing a conference of the Returned Service men's League two or three years ago. He said - lt is not for the claimant to prove his claim, but throughout the whole proceedings the onus remains on the person or authority to prove that he is not entitled.

That statement, I believe, expresses the intention of section 47.

I agree with the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) that we shall never be able to solve this problem of the application of section 47 until such time as we are prepared to appoint a judicial authority to make an independent review of the way in which the provision has been applied. I am sure that most honorable members will agree with me when I say that it is extremely difficult for any person or authority to prove that a man's condition is due to war service, just as it is extremely difficult to prove that cancer is due to war service. By the same token, however, it is quite impossible to prove that a condition is not due to a person's war service, taking into consideration the length and type of service involved. That is the position that applies to-day. I believe that the onus of proof provision is not being correctly interpreted. The most cursory examination of the records that show how many applications have been accepted and how many refused, is sufficient to indicate that the tribunals are not able to assess accurately whether or not a disability is, in fact, due to war service.-

Let me conclude by saying that we believe that the onus of proof problem ought to be the subject of immediate consideration by the Government, just as we believe that some classes of pensioners are not receiving the justice to which they are entitled. We believe that pension matters generally should receive the attention of the Government, and for that reason we intend to take appropriate action when we have an opportunity to present our views to the people in the forthcoming election campaign.

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