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Thursday, 25 May 1972
Page: 3122

Mr REID (Holt) - The purpose of this Bill, as indicated by the title, is to pay pensions and other benefits to certain persons after they cease to be resident in Australia. It will apply also to people who are Australian born and to those who have settled in Australia. It makes no distinction between new settlers who have taken out Australian citizenship and those who have not. 1 congratulate the Minister upon introducing this legislation, for I know he has been advocating portability of pensions for quite some time.

The Act prevented many of our aged citizens, who had lived and worked hard in Australia for many years, from drawing pensions because they chose to live in another country. The Bill now before this Parliament will enable the Minister to enter into an agreement with other countries, and pensions will then be paid to Australian citizens who go to reside overseas, whether permanently or temporarily. In return, the participating country will be expected to pay pensions to their former residents now living in Australia. The agreements that the Australian Government enters into with other countries will differ in most cases, so no firm rule will apply. Each agreement will be drawn up in terms of mutual relationship existing between Australia and the participating country, with a view to obtaining the best possible benefit for Australian citizens.

The agreement will cover age, invalid and widow's pensions, and the residential qualification for a portable pension will be 20 years after reaching the age of 16. Insofar as invalid pensions are concerned, there is no residential qualification provided the disease or injury was contracted or caused in Australia to a permanent resident. The same conditions will apply in the case of a widow's pension, when the husband's death occurs while permanently resident in Australia. Portability will also extend to allowances for pensioners' wives and to the special pension payable for 12 months after the death of a member of a married couple.

An important aspect of the Bill is that the benefits shall be paid irrespective of whether the person is a naturalised Australian citizen. This is where it disagrees with the views of the Opposition. I know many new settlers in my electorate who have resided there for 15 or 20 years and who have not taken out Australian citizenship for certain reasons. I know these people to be hard working and loyal citizens who are a credit to the community in which they reside. Most of these migrants have come to Australia to seek a new life for their children, as they know that better opportunities exist in Australia, and even though they do not take out Australian citizenship, their children most certainly are Australians, as many have been born here.

There are other reasons why migrants do not take out Australian citizenship. Many have small families or are single and they feel that one day they may wish to return to their country of birth. So, why should these people, many of whom have spent the best part of their working lives in Australia, not be able to take their pension entitlement with them? This is what this Bill proposes to do. The Bill recently introduced by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) would confine the benefits to Australian citizens and this would fail to help those very persons of whom I have just spoken. Such a measure would discriminate against many of our best citizens. As I said, these people are the parents of Australian children. This surely must be a defect in the Bill introduced by the Leader of the Opposition. Under the Bill introduced by the Minister for Social Services every effort will be made to secure the greatest possible reciprocal payment for migrants from other countries who choose to live in Australia.

In some instances it is possible for migrants from other countries to bring their pensions or portion of their pensions with them. If the Government grants portability of Australian pensions without getting anything in return for our new settlers, as was proposed in the Bill introduced by the Leader of the Opposition, we would leave ourselves open to strong criticism. I am pleased to say that this is not the intention of the Government and the Minister for Social Services will do everything possible to negotiate the best reciprocal payments for new settlers. The Minister, in introducing this Bill, has given an unequivocal assurance that he will negotiate for the best possible agreement between this Government and other governments and I am quite confident that the Minister will press their case to breaking point if necessary. I must hasten to add that this is the least we can do for our new settlers, many of whom make great sacrifices to come here. Many say goodbye to their families and friends and travel thousands of miles to Australia to commence a new life and the least we can do is to negotiate the best possible deal for them.

Whilst on the subject I think it is a great pity more is not done to make our new settlers welcome, particularly the non English-speaking migrants. Old Australians are a pretty casual lot and little effort is made to seek out new settlers and make them feel that they really belong. The best way to do this is to invite them into our homes for a friendly chat over a cup of tea or something stronger, if necessary. In the postwar period 2.9 million migrants have come to Australia to seek a new way of life and if it were not for the great work force they provide, we would have less of all those things we consider today to be so essential to our way of life. They have also contributed greatly to the cultural and spiritual life of Australia and I feel that a much greater effort should be made by old Australians to make them feel at home. If this were the case perhaps the approximate number of 20,000 migrants, which was referred to this afternoon, would not be returning to their countries of birth.

To qualify for an Australian pension overseas, recipients must have resided - this point has been subject to a lot of debate this afternoon - for 20 years in Australia, which is less than the qualifying period of 25 years in Canada. This does not, of course, apply to invalid or widows' pensions. In the Bill presented by the Leader of the Opposition it was possible for a citizen from the United Kingdom or New Zealand to live in Australia for 12 months and qualify for the Australian pension on the grounds of age or as an invalid or widow and return to live abroad for the rest of his or her life at the expense of the Australian taxpayer. Such a proposition is absurd.

Whilst on the subject of portability I want to mention one or two anomalies that apply to elderly migrants who come to Australia from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. As the Channel Islands have no reciprocal agreement with Britain it means that migrants from these islands do not qualify for Australian pensions on arrival. I recently had a case of a widow, Mrs Elsie Le Mesurier of Noble Park, who came to Australia last year to live with her only son, Mr Reg Le Mesurier. She was very concerned to learn on arrival that she did not qualify for a supplement to her Channel Islands pension, as that country was not included in the United KingdomAustralia reciprocal agreement. In effect, it means that Mrs Le Mesurier's residence in the Channel Islands cannot be treated as residence in Australia, as applies with all other citizens migrating to Australia from the United Kingdom or New Zealand. She will have to complete 10 years continuous residence in Australia before she qualifies for an age pension, or 5 years for a widow's pension.

However, it is doubtful whether Mrs Le Mesurier will ever receive an Australian pension unless the Act is amended, as she is over 80 years of age. I know there are other elderly migrants who come to Australia to live with a son or daughter, and who do not qualify for an Australian pension until they have resided here for 10 years, lt is quite obvious that anyone over 80 years of age does not come to Australia just, to receive an Australian pension and then return to his or her country of birth. I would therefore like the Minister to take this matter up with his colleague, the Minister for Immigration (Dr Forbes) and give consideration to amending the Act with a view to paying the Australian pension to all migrants over 80 years of age, after serving a qualifying period of 6 months, as applies to residents from the United Kingdom and New Zealand. At present many of these aged people are a great financial burden on their families because they cannot obtain fringe benefits under the pension scheme. The Act should be amended so that they may qualify for a Commonwealth pension. I would like the Minister to have a good look at the case I have presented.

Finally, I repeat that the Bill before the House is not confined to migrants only - I have not heard this mentioned this afternoon - as Australian born citizens also will bc able to draw their pensions whilst living overseas. As previously mentioned, the new pensions will apply to all migrants, whether naturalised or not. This legislation is long overdue and I am sure it will be welcomed by all Australian citizens. I wish it a speedy passage through the House.

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