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Wednesday, 1 November 1967


Mr BARNARD (Bass) - by leave- The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) has just made a very important statement. It affects a very large section of the people who are now serving in the Australian forces. The Opposition cannot understand why the Treasurer has not been able to introduce, as he foreshadowed in his Budget speech, the legislation that would give effect to the decisions he has now announced. When he delivered his Budget speech he foreshadowed that those members who are now serving in the armed forces as national servicemen would in future be eligible for the benefits of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. I pointed out then that the Government had adopted a principle that would provide two rates in the future for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. Those national servicemen who are serving overseas in special areas prescribed by the Government will, under the terms of this legislation, be entitled on their discharge to receive the total and permanent incapacity rate of pension in addition to the amount that would normally be paid to them from the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund.

The Opposition has already stated its attitude. It will not oppose the legislation when it is introduced. We applaud the Government for its attitude. But we have made our position quite clear on the Government's determination to have two rates applicable to those who are discharged as totally and permanently incapacitated. The Treasurer referred in his Budget speech to the amounts that will be payable to an exserviceman, a national serviceman or a member of the permanent forces who had been discharged as totally and permanently incapacitated. The Treasurer in his statement today said that an ex-serviceman in this category will receive from the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund $31.50 a week and in addition will receive a basic tax-free pension of $34.55 a week under the repatriation legislation. The Treasurer has repeated the statement he made in his Budget speech. He ought to be more specific, because he must know that the rate of $34.55 a week would be paid only to a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman who has a dependent wife. A single totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman would receive only $30.50. The rate of $34.55 is made up of the amount that is paid to the ex-serviceman as a pension and the amount of $4.05 that is paid to his wife. The Treasurer has tried to convey in his statement the impression that every totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman will receive a pension of $34.55 a week. This is incorrect. If the Treasurer wants to use this figure, he should point out that it will be paid only to a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman who has a dependent wife.

I do not want to deal with the statement at length this afternoon. The Opposition will have the opportunity to deal with the matter when the appropriate legislation is before the House. However, the Treasurer has had ample opportunity to present the amending legislation to the House. This afternoon he has anticipated the legislation with a statement explaining the Government's attitude and what it proposes to do. But he should have had the Bill available before this; the House adjourns at the end of the week. He has failed to do so. He promised in his Budget speech that the legislation would be available during this sessional period. It is not available and I think he should have given a better reason than be has, that is that it has not been possible for the Government to overcome drafting difficulties. A good deal of legislation has been presented to the Parliament during this sessional period. Very few of the amending Bills that have been presented would merit the same consideration as the Bill to provide these benefits to exservicemen. However, despite the importance of the subject, the Treasurer now informs us that it will not be possible to introduce the amending Bill before the first sessional period in 1968.

Having made those points, let me again express the attitude of the Opposition on this subject. We do not oppose the Government's decision to provide additional benefits to national servicemen who are now serving overseas in prescribed areas and who will be classified as a result of a war caused disability as totally and permanently incapacitated. But there are matters that the Opposition will have to consider very carefully when the legislation is before the Parliament. There is, for example, the question of the rights of a national serviceman who, having completed his period of service overseas in a prescribed area, is discharged and subsequently becomes totally and permanently incapacitated. Perhaps the Treasurer will be good enough to tell the House what will happen in such a case. I suggest that, if a national serviceman is discharged, his contributions to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund should be repaid to him. If be subsequently becomes totally and permanently incapacitated as a result of a war caused disability flowing from his service in Vietnam or in a special area he will not be entitled to the additional pension. Of course the Treasurer made no reference to this In his statement.

These are the questions that the Opposition puts to the Treasurer. We believe we are entitled to a full and frank explanation. Will the Treasurer tell the House what happens in the case of a national serviceman who is discharged and who subsequently becomes totally and permanently incapacitated? He will not have any benefits from the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. His contribution will have been re- funded to him at the time of his discharge. The Opposition will take the opportunity when the amending legislation comes before the House in 1968 to deal more fully with some of the questions I have asked this afternoon and which the Treasurer has not answered.

I say finally that the Treasurer ought not to mislead the people of this country by having them believe that the rate of pension that will be paid to a TPI exserviceman is higher than that actually provided under the Act. He knows that the amount he mentioned in his statement this afternoon will be paid only if the TPI exserviceman has a dependent wife. The Treasurer used this figure in his Budget speech and he has repeated it this afternoon. It is quite incorrect. I believe the Treasurer should be more accurate in quoting the amounts that will be paid to TPI exservicemen.

Mr McMAHON(Lowe- Treasurer) - by leave - The honourable member has asked three questions that I believe deserve to be answered immediately. He asked, first, what were the reasons for the delay. He probably knows that there is an interlocking relationship between the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act and the Superannuation Act, and this results in a most complicated and difficult task. We have had several Cabinet or Cabinet sub-committee meetings to sift through the mass of detail that has been thrown up and to try to get the legislation ready for presentation to this Parliament. The simple fact is that it has just not been practicable to do so, although I did have some hope towards the end of last week that we might be able to draft a skeleton Bill - not a full one - for introduction to the Parliament, and that we could later withdraw it and bring forward the comprehensive defence forces retirement benefits legislation.

As to the honourable member's question about inaccuracy, we have heard a good deal in this House in the last few days about inaccuracy, but I must say that the honourable member himself is guilty of inaccuracy in this case. I have just been informed by the responsible officials that in the example given of a married private soldier totally and permanently incapacitated, the figure of $31.50 a week mentioned as the pension that he will receive is accurate. That was the figure given by me and it has now been confirmed by my Department.


Mr Barnard - But the Treasurer said he would receive $34.55 under the repatriation legislation.


Mr McMAHON - I said that a married private soldier totally and permanently incapacitated as a result of war service will receive a pension of $31.50 per week under the defence forces retirement benefits legislation, together with a basic tax-free pension of $34.55 per week under the repatriation legislation.


Mr Barnard - That is not right. I think the Minister's officials had better inform him further.


Mr McMAHON - I have again checked with my officials and am assured that this is in fact the married rate. So the honourable member is making a mistake.


Mr Barnard - That includes a wife? The TPI rate is not $34.55.


Mr McMAHON - I used the word 'married' at the beginning of that passage, and the honourable member knows I used it. If he would like to look at my statement again he may do so. I have underlined the word in the copy I have before me so that it will be easier for him to see. The honourable member obviously is either blind or he is attempting to create a diversion.

The third question raised by the honourable member concerned a person who was discharged and who subsequently became totally and permanently incapacitated. The question was whether he could subsequently become entitled to defence forces retirement benefits on a TPI basis. The answer is that he can if he is discharged with invalidity benefits unless the basis of discharge is changed. If he is not he cannot get the benefits.

Debate (on motion by Mr Chancy) adjourned.







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