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Tuesday, 26 March 1968

Mr STOKES (Maribyrnong) - I want to say at the outset that I agree that the purchasing power of repatriation pensions generally has been eroded over recent times. It was unfortunate, of course, that the Government last year, faced with a certain amount of economic stress, occasioned to a great degree by a sharp and unprecedented increase in defence expenditure, decided to withhold any increases in the repatriation and social service fields. This decision, coupled with the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission's minimum wage concept in July 1967, undoubtedly forced the purchasing power of those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners and superannuitants, further downwards. It must be admitted that as wages rise so do costs of production. Therefore the prices of consumer goods have spiralled ever upwards.

I now wish to refer to a pamphlet which has been circulated and which honourable members have had for some time, lt was issued by the Returned Servicemen's League. On receipt of this pamphlet the Government members ex-servicemen's committee wrote to Sir Arthur Lee, the National President of the Returned Servicemen's League, on 8th November 1967. I feel obliged to quote from that letter. On 8th November 1967 we wrote:

Although we appreciate that rising costs and increased wages have caused an imbalance in the ratio which existing pensions bear to the present day minimum wage, we would also point out that the liberalisation of the means test for social service benefits effective from April of this year did enable the more needy of the T & PI pensioners and the war widows in the requisite age bracket to claim up to an additional $3 per week service pension. ... lt is noted that your repatriation sub-committee has never sought an opportunity in the past to discuss these matters with our Committee but we assure you of our willingness to assist in this regard at any time in the future.

We have had regular annual conferences with representatives of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen and with representatives of blinded exservicemen, and we have put their submissions to the Government. Sir Arthur Lee replied to our letter and said he would like to discuss the position with the Committee. He was magnanimous enough to suggest that the

National Executive of the RSL should meet us in either February or May of this year. He set out a request based on a minimum wage of $37.55 for TPI pensioners, with 50% of that amount for the 100% general rate and for war widows and proportionate adjustments for other categories. On 30th November I replied that we would be pleased to meet the National Executive and to discuss proposed submissions to the Government for consideration in the 1968 Budget. I pointed out that tying pensions to a minimum wage was not a practical basis but that the social services age pension plus the permissible income was a better standard. Thus the TPI pension plus the wife's allowance should equal the married social service rate plus what the TPI pensioner cannot earn - the permissible income that is allowed to the civilian couple. I also asked that this aspect be discussed by the Executive at its February meeting.

Arrangements were later made for a meeting to take place between the National Executive and the Government Members Ex-Servicemen's Committee in May. That was the position up until yesterday. Now we find that the New South Wales President, Sir William Yeo, a member of the National Executive which is to meet us, is off beam as usual and is publicly attacking Government ex-servicemen for sitting down and not fighting for their former comrades. This irascible old gentleman says he would flog us. What he has done is far worse, because what he has done is to undermine this gettogether which has been arranged for May and which intended to accomplish something to benefit those former comrades. I am not an intolerant person and as far as I am concerned, and this applies to my committee also, the meeting will proceed and I hope that the good sense of the Federal President and the other State Presidents will prevail. However Sir Wiliam Yeo's undisciplined outburst will have had an effect on the camaradie we may have expected at a meeting between exservicemen. On the question of sitting down and doing nothing, the Government Members Ex-Servicemen's Committee made strong submissions to the late Prime Minister last November. The submissions included two resolutions. The first related to the provision of free medical and hospital benefits for Boer War and 1914-18 ex-servicemen.

Mr Barnard - The honourable member should have voted for our amendments 3 years ago.

Mr STOKES - -1 am telling the honourable member what my Committee has done. The second resolution provided for all war pensions to be excluded from income in the calculation of the means test for service pensions. This would bring the rate for the needy married TPI pensioner up to $54 a week. Unfortunately the Prime Minister was lost, so we must return again to these submissions.

On the question of tying pensions to the minimum wage, I ask: What minimum wage? In July 1967 when the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission did away with the basic wage and introduced the concept of the minimum wage it fixed different minimum wage standards for each capital city. In fact in Victoria there are three or four different minimum wage standards. So what do we do? There is no Federal minimum wage standard. There is a non-official acceptance of an average of the six capital cities, but this is a silly thing to tie a pension to. On the other hand, on the social services basis that I mentioned earlier we have one basic formula only. It is constantly under review and has been constantly adjusted. I refer to the social services pension. I remind the House that under a Labor government, which did have the pensions tied to the basic wage, the pensions were reduced when the basic wage fell. While repatriation pensions are overdue for a review, the ex-servicemen on the Government side of the House, particularly those on my Committee, have worked strenuously and hard, and will continue to do so, in the interests of ex-servicemen.

It is often said: 'You cannot always win', but flogging a willing horse is not my idea of a fair crack of the whip. Let me refer briefly to this matter of definite public importance. This is the second time the Opposition has raised this question, yet since 1964 the aspects under discussion have been apparent How many times have members opposite raised matters of definite public importance that have been completely immaterial and which would not stand up against a subject such as this?

This debate has been pure humbug. Honourable members opposite have sought to make political capital out of the situation that has arisen. Why has the Labor Party not raised this matter before if it is so dear to the hearts of honourable members opposite? They talk a lot but they do not do anything. All they do is talk, but members on my side of the House work hard for ex-servicemen, and we hope to achieve more for them in the future.

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