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Wednesday, 15 September 1971
Page: 1323

Mr JESS (La Trobe) - I support the Superannuation (Pension Increases) Bill 1971. I agree with most of the points made by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). It is a pleasure to have honourable members on both sides of this House in almost complete agreement with a piece of legislation. In introducing this Bill the Minister for the Army and Minister assisting the Treasurer (Mr Peacock) said:

As I have already said when introducing the Superannuation (Pension Increases) Bill, the Government will be examining simpler methods of adjustment which would produce more equitable results than the notional salary method of adjustment adopted in this Bill, with a view to future application on a regular basis.

I agree with the point made by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports and the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson). Perhaps it would have been helpful if the Minister had put forward a few ideas as to the Government's line of thinking on this matter so that we could have a general debate on a much wider basis. I am sure that everyone will welcome this Bill. We are all aware of the situation of those people in receipt of superannuation under the Commonwealth scheme, Defence Forces Retirements Benefit scheme or private schemes. These people are the ones who are affected in times of inflation. These people have made provisions in the early part of their career for retirement at a certain age and they expect that at that age they will be able to maintain a reasonable standard of living but when inflationary trends enter the economy they find that their livelihood is eroded year after year and there is absolutely nothing they can do to retrieve the situation. I think it is right and just that the Commonwealth Government has made provision in this Bill, the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits (Pension Increases) Bill and the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances (Increases) Bill for people who are in this situation.

Take the position of a warrant officer or a captain who retired in 1966 and who thought that he would get a certain amount of money which would allow him to live with his wife in reasonable comfort. His situation has been eroded. There is no scheme to which he can contribute in order to obtain more equity. He has to face the future with a certain amount of money. I think it is right for the Commonwealth Government to make provision for a review, as has been done in this legislation. I believe that such a review should be undertaken automatically. I personally feel that this is something which the Treasurer should introduce and I am sure that this feeling will be supported by honourable members on both sides of the House.

The honourable member for Melbourne Ports referred to the establishment of a national superannuation scheme. I think it is reasonable to say that most thinking people today believe that there is need for a debate on this matter. I think I used the wrong word when I said 'debate': There should be an investigation into this matter. There is necessity for the Government to introduce a White Paper in regard to this matter as was suggested by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports. Perhaps the honourable member is right when he says that the Government may have more information and knowledge on the factors involved in this matter. However, this information should be placed before the House and perhaps at some stage a committee would be prepared to look at it and to receive submissions relating to a national superannuation scheme. The establishment of such a committee would be to the advantage of everyone in that they would be able to understand all the factors involved in such a scheme. I hope that the Government at some future date will adopt the suggestion. I hasten to add that in my opinion it is not the correct way to do things in the way that this was done by the Opposition at a moments notice in the House the other day. Without notice this matter was raised and it was expected that everybody would jump up and vote in favour of it. As one of these honourable members who feel quite realistically that there is a need for and that there are problems in respect to a national superannuation scheme I hope that the Government will take the initiative in this, matter before very long.

I think that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports, I and other honourable members who serve on the Joint Select Committee on Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Legislation are aware of the great complexities involved in any superannuation scheme. To understand the situation one has only to hear the problems in other countries which have endeavoured to tackle this problem and which have established national superannuation schemes. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports wanted to know what would happen with an automatic adjustment in superannuation where everybody is under a national superannuation scheme and so many people would not be productive because all the time the number of pensioners would be increasing. How far can any economy carry these people when all the time a natural increase to offset inflationary trends comes about.

I think that we all agree that the widows and children who suffer under the Commonwealth scheme, the defence forces scheme and the parliamentary scheme, as well as those under private schemes, should receive the benefits which are now being offered to them. Any member of this Parliament may die today, tomorrow or the next day. He thinks that his wife will be adequately provided for even though she has no other income. I think it is only right that additional benefits should be made from these funds because after all costs will continue to rise. We should bear in mind that these funds are not overdrawn at the present time. Some provision should be made for these people.

I would like to refer to one other matter which may not be relevant to this Bill. Perhaps I could introduce it in speaking to a Defence Bill or a Bill relating to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. However, it is referred to in the explanatory memorandum circulated by the Minister assisting the Treasurer and it does relate to these 3 Bills now under discussion. I refer to the cost for the full year of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits increase which will be $3,400,000. A matter which concerns me and which I do not quite understand is that it appears that this amount of money is to come out of the defence vote. I can see no reason whatsoever why costs associated with the defence forces fund should come out of the vote for the defence expenditure of this country. As I understand it the appropriation for defence is to pay the salaries of the members of the fighting forces and to purchase the equipment to be used by those forces in the defence of this country. If one looks at the Estimates one will find that for 1971- 72 the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund is expected to cost in the vicinity of $20,550,000. I cannot see that this is a true and rightful cost against the defence services of this country. If one looks at the cost of the superannuation component which is paid by the Commonwealth - this does not include the PostmasterGeneral's Department and other authorities - it will be found that $5 1.7m is paid from the Treasury vote. Can the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) or his Department tell me why it is that the cost of superannuation for members of the Departments of Trade and Industry, Civil Aviation and other departments should not come out of the direct vote of those departments? Why should this practice apply only to the Department of Defence? In my opinion this appears to be some sleight of hand. We think that we are getting a full bottle for defence and defence equipment but find that from defence expenditure $20m is to be paid in pensions to gentlemen who have served the Commonwealth in the defence services. I see no reason for any difference in the way superannuation is charged to a department, and it should not matter whether the superannuitant was a member of the defence services or a civil servant. This is the only area where there is any dissimilarity whatever. I do not think it is correct to make this charge against the defence vote. If it is to be done with respect to one department, it should be done with all departments.

I support the 3 Bills and I hope that before long the Government will make a statement or introduce a White Paper on the 2 matters which I mentioned earlier - a regular review of pensions or increases of pensions and, perhaps after due consideration, a national superannuation scheme. As I said, national supperannuation is a complex question and there may be good and valid reasons why such a scheme cannot be introduced. However, I think that the people and the Parliament are entitled to know such reasons. Many of us know the problems which have been experienced in other countries in respect to this particular issue. I support the Bills.

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