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Wednesday, 21 October 1970

Mr BUCHANAN (McMillan) - When I look at the estimates for the Department of Social Services and the Repatriation Department the first thing that strikes me is the very marked efforts that are being made by the Government to ensure that it is channelling a very large section of the available money into these worthy areas. I want to speak only about repatriation and to draw the attention of the Committee to one or two things. For instance, in repatriation alone there are 105,000 people at present receiving compensation for war service and there are also more than 55,000 Service pensioners. I will come back to this aspect later on and deal with a combination of those two groups. But in passing I would mention that these benefits are costing the people of Australia, through the Government which is making available the expenditure, $234m out of a total expenditure for the whole of the Department of $337m, which is a very significant amount when one comes to examine it.

There have been increases over the whole range of pensions and the pension for the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman has risen to $38, and the total cost is about $45m a year. There are 23,000 TPI pensioners. The intermediate rate, which was only fairly recently introduced, does not cover such a wide range. It covers those fellows who are able to work intermittently only. In other words, they are still able to earn considerable income but because of the injury sustained due to war service they are on occasions intermittently affected by the injury and so they are given a sort of halfway pension. Then we come to the standard rates and the various percentages which are paid according to the disability. Let me once again emphasise the word disability'. Because I have not sufficient time in this debate I will not go into other activities of this Department such as assistance to war widows and orphans, special compensation, travel allowances and those sorts of things to which the Government has always lent a very sympathetic ear.

I want to raise a matter that I have raised before. I presume I will have to do so again next year, although I hope not. I hope that by then what I have to say may be found to be worthy of acceptance. The honourable member for Swan (Mr Bennett), who preceded me in this debate, touched briefly on this matter. When war pensions were introduced the purpose was to provide some compensation for a disability that was suffered by a serviceman in the course of carrying out his duty in the defence of Australia and which could, and probably would, affect his earning capacity for the rest of his life. A war pension is not given as a reward for service - for having enlisted and served the nation. It is not given in payment for services rendered and it cannot, in any respect, be regarded as earnings. No-one has ever earned a war pension. It is not even income, because it is specifically designed to replace lost earning power, lt is not regarded as income when a person who receives such a pension fills out his taxation return, but for the purposes of the means test it is regarded as income. This, I submit, is completely wrong. The pension is given freely to replace lost earning power.

In the Repatriation Act a war pension is described as a pension payable under the Act but not including a service pension. I must include some technical detail in my speech to round off the picture. A Service pension may be granted in the case of a man of 60 years or a woman of 55 years provided he or she has served in a theatre of war at a rate not exceeding the maximum payable if he or she were qualified to receive the age pension. In passing I should comment that it would be very much simpler if this had not come under the Repatriation Act at all. The Service pension is given to returned men and women who are aged 60 or 55 years respectively. A person can receive the full age pension subject to a means test which relates to any money which is regarded as income. If a person goes down the street and does some work what he receives is regarded as income. If a person, by his endeavours, is able to invest money, the income he derives from that investment is subjected to the means test. But a war pension is not given to any man as an income; it is designed to cover a disability. The recipient of a war pension is probably prevented from going down the street and doing some work and so competing on even terms with a civilian age pensioner.

My submission is that most decidedly a war pension should be removed from the means test, and I ask that this be done. I asked for this to be done last year and I hope that I do not have to ask again next year, but if I have to do so, I will. I am not alone in making this plea. The Federal President of the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Soldiers' Association in one of his letters referred to the disability pension and said that the war pension should have no connection whatever with the age pension. This is a widely held view. According to figures that have been made available by the Repatriation Department for the 1970-71 Budget, about 30 per cent of all TPI pensioners qualify for a part social services pension. The TPI man can have a big income and still get the TPI pension. I know of some men who are very comfortably placed but because of their war disabilities they get this pension.

Mr Birrell - Good luck to them.

Mr BUCHANAN - 1 agree. They deserve this pension and it is quite right that they should get it. At the other end of the scale, however, there are men who, because of their disabilities, have not been able to make a place for themselves in civilian life - and this applies to the TPI pensioner and the 100 per cent rate pensioners as well - and build up an income that will maintain them adequately. The war pension is given because of a disability. This is the only source of money that some of these TPI pensioners have. There is no reason why such a pension should be taken into account in the application of the means test. In assessing eligibility for the age pension the war pension should not count. If this were the position their incomes would be increased considerably, but they would not be receiving too much for what they have suffered. As my time has almost expired, I ask the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) whether he will give serious consideration once again to this matter. I have had some interesting discussions with him about it. I have discussed it with the previous Commissioner and I hope that the new one will also take up the subject.

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