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Thursday, 8 March 1973
Page: 382

Mr HANSEN (Wide Bay) - As this is my first speech in the new Parliament I take this opportunity of congratulating the Speaker and you, Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Scholes), on your elevation to your new positions. I trust that you both will give long service in these posts in the Parliament. The House is debating cognately 5 Bills which implement the election promises of the Government. They provide for pension increases in line with increases granted to social security pensioners. The Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) referred to the gazetted increase in funeral benefits from $50 to $100 for war pension exservicemen. The Government recognises that a man or woman who served Australia and has been permanently incapacitated because of such service should not receive less than the Commonwealth adult minimum wage. Honourable members can think of instances - fortunately there are not as many as there might have been - of young national servicemen who have been sent to Vietnam and who have returned to face life as totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. The least Australia, which was responsible for sending these men to Vietnam and at whose bidding they served, can do is to recognise that they should not receive as a pension less than the Commonwealth adult minimum wage. For this reason the TPI rate has been increased by $3.10 a week - from $48 to $51.10. The intermediate rate has been increased by $2.55 a week to $36.55. I understand this will affect some 1,800 pensioners. The war widow's pension is being increased by $1.50 a week to $21.50. This will affect some 50,500 widows, according to the Minister for Defence. Student children are being recognised as dependants, similarly to the children of persons who are the recipients of social security benefits. It has been a matter of concern to many parents in receipt of sickness or unemployment benefits that student children over the age of 16 years have not been regarded as dependants. Provision will be made for a payment until such time as the child either completes his studies or is able to obtain a position. Children will be recognised as dependants of -war pensioners as are the children of recipients of social security benefits. This will be of great assistance to the war pensioners.

The Government has acted swiftly in recognising de facto wives and ex-nuptial children. I can recall a particularly sad case involving a constituent of mine who was entitled to a service pension. There was no doubt about this. During his service overseas his wife left him. He did not know where, his wife was but he knew she was around somewhere. He could not afford a divorce. Eventually he set up a relationship with a woman and lived with her for 23 years. They reared 6 children. At the time he was speaking to me 2 of the children were still dependent upon him. He was advised that he was elig ible for a single pension only. In his first application to the Department he was advised that because he was receiving an income of $47.40 a week, which was in excess of the amount allowed for a single man, he was not eligible for a Service pension. He had then just turned 60 years of age. When I saw him about 14 months later he was riding a bicycle 8 miles to and from work. I can tell honourable members that he did not carry any excess fat. He had to continue to work for $47.40, or whatever the wage was at that time, to support his de facto wife and his dependent children.

He certainly could not live on the single Service pension and this was having an effect upon his general health. I referred the matter to the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten), who was then Minister for Repatriation, and he confirmed the opinion given by the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation in Queensland. The Minister wrote to me and said that as this gentleman's de facto wife and dependent children were not eligible for consideration under the Repatriation Act any application for a Service pension he may lodge must be assessed on the basis that he was a single man. The Minister said, however, that if he married his de facto wife or legally adopted his children consideration would be given to granting him a Service pension and the assocated benefits. The Minister regretted that there was no better news to convey. This man was caught in a real scissors. The Department would not recognise his children and he was ineligible for a single pension. Because he was recognised as a single pensioner the amount of money he could earn outside the pension was restricted. I am very pleased to see this sort of anomaly cleared up in regard to repatriation and social service pensions.

One of the cruellest things I have seen is ex-nuptial children not being recognised by the former Department of Social Services. I know that some recognition was . given to this matter during the period when the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) was Minister for Social Services. It was agreed that the Commonwealth pay money to the States, to be allocated through the child welfare departments to provide some assistance to women with children born Outside marriage. These children would not normally be recognised as dependants. Even though this assistance was given, a distinction was still being made between members of a family. I know a case of a widow who had 3 children. Some time after her husband died she struck up a relationship and was left with a baby. This child was not considered in any circumstances to be a dependant. The woman had to make separate application to the Queensland Department of Children's Services to receive money for the child. The whole family was being penalised. I consider this to be totally wrong and I am very pleased to see that this differentiation is not to be continued by either the Repatriation Department or the Department of Social Security.

As the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Erwin) has said, it is regrettable that some increases in pensions have resulted in wives, TPI pensioners and others being excluded from their medical benefits. In some cases they have been asked to return their medical entitlement cards. I hope that the negotiations between the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), the Minister for Health (Dr Everingham) and the Australian Medical Association may achieve some means by which these people can receive their entitlement. If the only answer is national insurance, the sooner it comes into effect the better it will be for those people who have this constant worry of having either to insure against sickness or take the chance of paying large bills for treatment, except in those States which have a free medical and hospital scheme. I commend the measures to the House and congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop) and the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) who represents him in this chamber on introducing this legislation at such an early stage in this new Government.

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