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Thursday, 8 March 1973
Page: 380

Mr ERWIN (Ballaarat) - We in the Opposition are feeling very benevolent this afternoon, because we support this Bill. I am pleased to see that the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Barnard) is present in the chamber, as I know something of his background and the long hours of work he has put in to help repatriation pensioners. The Bill currently before the House is designed to give legislative effect to proposals relating to improvements in pension rates and conditions of eligibility. I support the view that the special or TPI rate payable to a man or woman who has been classified as totally and permanently incapacitated because of war related incapacity should not be less than the adult Commonwealth minimum wage. The Bill provides for an increase of S3. 10 a week in the special or TPI rate, taking it from $48 a week to $51.10 a week. The special rate is also payable to certain tuberculosis sufferers, to the blind, to those suffering from the more serious double amputations and to those who are classified as being temporarily totally incapacitated. In this category there are 21,104 pensioners. Quite recently, because of the means test, TPI wives who were previously on age pensions had their medical entitlement cards taken away from them. I suggest that the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation have a look at this situation with a view to restoring those medical entitlement cards.

The intermediate rate is one of the different rates of war pension designed to cater for the various degrees of war related incapacity. It is payable to those whose incapacity permits them to work only part time or intermittently and will be increased by $2.25 a week, taking it from $34 a week to $36.55 a week. In this category there are 1,900 pensioners. I support the view that the general rate of war pension should be progressively increased until it has reached the equivalent of 50 per cent nf the adult Commonwealth minimum wage and that it should be maintained at that level. Over 190,000 ex-servicemen receive a war pension within the general rate scale, from 100 per cent down to 10 per cent. This Bill provides an increase of $2 a week to the 100 per cent rate, taking the maximum of this pension from $14 to $16 a week. The general rate presently scales down, as I have said, from 100 per cent to 10 per cent according to the assessed degree of incapacity. All general rate war pensioners will benefit from this increase. There are 190,880 general rate war pensioners. The Opposition as well as the Government is acutely aware of the loss endured by the nation's war widows and the difficulties they have faced and are still facing in their daily lives without the assistance, comfort and sup port of the breadwinner. The Bill increases the basic war widow's pension by $1.50 a week, taking it from $20 to $21.50 a week, affecting some 50,500 widows. Additionally, most war widows are eligible for a domestic allowance of $8.50 a week and many may also qualify for a means test pension.

The Opposition supports the policy of war pensions for student children as provided in the Bill and agrees that they should be continued until completion of the full time education of dependent children who are not receiving a maintenance, living allowance or salary from Commonwealth sources that equals or exceeds the allowance payable under the Repatriation Soldiers' Children Education Scheme. The Bill also provides that a child of a service pensioner be recognised for service pension purposes, irrespective of age, for as long as the child continues to undertake full time education.

Those who suffer from pulmonary tuberculosis, or who have served in a theatre of war and are over 60 years of age in the case of men or 55 years of age in the case of women, or permanently unemployable, qualify for a service pension if they satisfy the existing means test. The proposed increases in age and invalid pensions will, under the provisions of the Repatriation Act 1920-1972, apply automatically to service pensions, and there is no necessity to amend the Act to increase immediately means test pensions by $1.50 a week. The increase will take the maximum service pension to $21.50 a week for a single ex-serviceman and up to $18.75 for a married ex-serviceman or an eligible wife.

Several points have been raised by the Minister, and I think some of them are worthy of repeating. In the repatriation legislation as it stands there are certain dependants of ex-servicemen who suffer disadvantages, and the opportunity has now been taken to remove these disadvantages. First, where a claimant for a pension dies after decision on his application has been given by the Repatriation Commission, his legal representative has not been permitted to lodge and prosecute an appeal with an entitlement appeal tribunal or an assessment appeal tribunal. A legal personal representative should be allowed this right, and this is the purpose of clause 5 of the Bill, as the Minister stated. Like the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) I support that wholeheartedly. It should be borne in mind however that action taken under this new provision will be subject to other provisions of the Act that govern and place tune limits on claims and appeals procedures generally. For example, a decision on an appeals tribunal cannot be expressed to operate from a date earlier than 3 months before the date on which the claim for pension was lodged. In certain other limited cases the decision can have effect from a date not earlier than 4 years before the date of decision or determination. There is also a time limit for the lodgment of appeals with an assessment appeal tribunal.

Secondly, where an ex-serviceman lodges an application for service pension but dies before a decision is given, the claim lapses and no pension is payable to his estate in respect of the period up to death, in spite of the fact that, had he lived, the pension would have been paid as from the date of application. Under the Social Services Act payment of arrears of pension can be made in the circumstances described. The Bill currently before the House inserts in the principal Act a provision similar to that which is in the Social Services Act.

Thirdly, at present some de facto wives and some ex-nuptial children are recognised under repatriation legislation. Other Commonwealth Acts, such as the Compensation (Commonwealth Employment) Act, the Social Services Act and the National Health Act recognise additional categories of these dependants. The Bill, therefore, embodies proposals to recognise for war pensions and associated benefits a de facto wife or widow who has lived with an ex-serviceman on a bona fide domestic basis for at least 3 years preceding consideration of her status, or the member's death, as the case may be, if she is or was wholly or partly dependent on him, and any ex-nuptial child of an ex-serviceman. The Bill also recognises for service pension purposes a de facto wife who has lived with an exserviceman on a bona fide domestic basis for at least 3 years preceding consideration of her status and any ex-nuptial child, foster child or ward in the custody, care and control of an ex-serviceman.

I congratulate the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard), who represents in this chamber the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop), for seeing that this area of anomaly between the Department of Social Security and the Repatriation Department has been straightened out. Where dual means test pensions are already being paid no pension will be reduced but only one department will give effect to the proposals and the other will continue its pension at the current rate. I should like the Minister to explain further the situation. I am not quite sure what is involved. The dual means test pension which may presently be received under the Repatriation Act and Social Services Act are those payable to the widow or deserted wife of a service pensioner - such a widow or wife can continue to receive her repatriation service pension at the same time as she is receiving a civilian widow's pension under the Social Services Act - and a service pensioner suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. Such a pensioner can also receive, at the same time, an age or invalid pension under the Social Services Act.

The Bill provides that a service pension now payable to a widow or deserted wife of a service pensioner will not be increased on this or any future occasion. I should like the Minister to explain this provision further. Service pensions payable to persons suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis will be increased under the general provisions relating to service pensions. In future any person who has an eligibility for means test pension under both the Repatriation Act and the Social Services Act will have to elect to receive a pension under one or the other. I support this provision.

Another anomaly which existed in the Repatriation Act prevented a person, otherwise eligible for service pension as an exservicewoman, receiving it if she received a war widow's pension. Such an ex-servicewoman will now become eligible for a service pension even though receiving a war widow's pension. A war widow currently in receipt of an age or invalid pension in addition to her war pension may, if she is eligible for a service pension and so wishes, transfer to the Repatriation Department and receive her full entitlement under the Repatriation Act. I congratulate the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation on introducing this legislation. The Opposition supports the Bill.

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