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Wednesday, 11 April 1973
Page: 1321

Dr KLUGMAN (Prospect) - The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) who led for the Opposition in the debate on this legislation made 2 criticisms of the Bill. One criticism related to the question of the cost involved and the other was his allegation that certain people could obtain a pension who should not be entitled to it; the honourable member for Corangamite said that the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) will fix that up with his amendment. I should like to quote a report of remarks made by a spokesman for the honourable member for Mackellar who, until fairly recently, was the Minister for Social Services in the previous Government. He was referring to the costs involved in such a scheme in a statement which he issued on Australia Day. The report states: . . the spokesman for Mr Wentworth said he had 'no idea' of the numbers of people who would classify for Australian pensions overseas. He said the new scheme would cost Australia 'virtually nothing'.

This was because the Government had to pay pensions for people living in Australia. In addition it had to pay for postal, transport and other pensioners' concessions.

The spokesman said that in fact the new scheme could result in a 'net saving' for the Government.

It is interesting to note that when the honourable member for Mackellar, as Minister for Social Services introduced into the House what was a far worse scheme than this one, he said that the more people who applied for pension portability, the greater the saving would be, but he claims that under our proposition when more people take advantage of the scheme extra costs will be involved.

The Bill that we have introduced, in fact, is similar to the Bill we introduced in March last year when we were in Opposition. The then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam, introduced a Bill because we knew that the previous Government was not prepared to do anything. Finally, just before the elections, the previous Government introduced its legislation. However, it put all kinds of restrictions on the portability of pensions. It provided for a 20-year residential period instead of 10 years, which is the normal qualifying period for age pensioners who choose to stay in Australia and insisted on reciprocal agreements with other countries. Those are the 2 main differences between our legislation and the legislation introduced by the previous Government. There is no need for reciprocal agreements and we will stick to the 10-year residential qualification which applies to people who receive a pension in Australia. The Government can see no reason why, once people are in receipt of the pension, they are not entitled to take it wherever they wish.

In fact, the Government has extended this principle in another piece of legislation that has already been introduced by the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation. I refer to the Repatriation Bill (No. 2) which will be debated next and which, in fact, could well have been debated in conjunction with this Bill. The Repatriation Bill (No. 2) applies exactly the same principle to repatriation pensioners. People are entitled to take those pensions wherever they like. It should not be dependent upon whether Australia has achieved some allegedly reciprocal agreement with another country. The previous Minister talked big about the reciprocal agreements. In fact, all he did was to send cyclostyled letters to a number of embassies or consulates in Australia and he expected those other countries to take up the question of reciprocal agreements.

Mr Street - We got four.

Dr KLUGMAN - Yes, but the point was that there was no necessity for those reciprocal agreements; they made no difference whatever to what was happening. As far as Australian citizens are concerned, the reciprocal agreement is unnecessary. This Government decided that a person who has become eligible for the pension in Australia is entitled to take the pension wherever he wants to go. in exactly the same way as pensioners from many other countries do at present.

When 1 spoke to the similar Bill which was introduced last year by the Opposition and was defeated by the previous Government, I pointed out that in a comparable country to our - the United States of America - a larger proportion of people who were eligible for the age pension would have originated from overseas because the main period of migration of young people to the United States was in the 1920s or early in the twentieth century. I pointed out that, in the United States, out of 13 million pensioners, only 108,000, or less than 1 per cent - about .8 per cent - lived overseas and of all the pensions and benefits paid for retired persons, only 8.8 per cent were paid overseas. In 1969, this figure amounted to $US17m of a total payment of more than $US2,160m. In return for that expenditure of $US17m, or whatever would be the corresponding amount in this country, there is, of course, a saving on fringe benefits. There is no necessity to provide nursing home and hospital benefits or the other fringe benefits which go with the age pension. Therefore, 1 suppose, it is in the economic interests of the Australian community that as many pensioners as possible go overseas. I do not suggest that they should go overseas for that reason, because I take a humanitarian view of the position. But if people want to argue purely on an economic basis, it is in fact in the economic interests of Australia that pensioners take their pensions overseas.

I think it is important when discussing this legislation to pay tribute to many of the people who worked hard during the last few years to try to persuade the previous Government to bring in this type of legislation. The previous Government failed to do so and I suppose, to some extent at least, it could be said that this was part of the reason for the previous Government now being on the Opposition benches. Certainly, in certain seats such as the seat of Evans in Sydney and probably in other seats in Australia, the reaction of many of the local people who were naturalised Australians was very strong against the Government. Among the people to whom 1 should like to pay tribute are the publishers of the Italian newspaper 'La Fiamma' which organised a petition and obtained 73,000 signatures for that petition which it then presented to the previous Prime Minister. In New South Wales alone it obtained nearly 36,000 signatures, and in Victoria 22,000 signatures to this petition were obtained.

The people felt very strongly about this matter. Many thousands of people felt strongly about it as being a right - an entitlement - even though they had no intention of leaving Australia, to obtain their pensions overseas. They simply felt that it should be a right available to them. In some cases people have certain emotional ties with their country of origin. Honourable members hear of people who are in their 70s or even older who decide that they want to return to Italy, Greece or Germany or some other country to die. As one who came from overseas I certainly do not have any emotional ties of that nature but I think we should respect that that sort of emotion tie is felt by many people. It is a pity that in Australia there are people from the so-called Iron Curtain countries who would experience some difficulty, for political reasons, in returning to those countries.

The newspaper 'La Fiamma' was one of the organisers for this type of legislation. Other people who worked very hard for it and to whom a tribute should be paid include members of the Maltese community led by its High Commissioner, Mr Joe Forace. He helped to put pressure on the previous Government in the sense of supporting on behalf of the Maltese Government and the Maltese Labour Party, which, in fact, is in power, efforts to bring about this sort of legislation. Even organisations which on purely political matters one normally would expect to have supported the previous Government came out strongly in support of the Labor Party's proposed legislation and strongly against the previous Government's legislation. I refer particularly to the United Council of Immigrants. It is interesting to note the types of organisation which make up the United Council of Immigrants. They are organisations many of which one would normally find sympathetic to the previous Government on other political issues. Those organisations are the Central Council of Croatian Associations in Australia, the Italian Welfare Centre Co. As. It. in Sydney, the Netherlands Society of Sydney, the Association of Australian Slovacs, the Swiss Club of New South Wales, the Ukrainian Society of New South Wales, the Federal Council of Polish Associations, the Estonian Society in Sydney, the Hungarian Council of New South Wales, the Latvian Community in Sydney, the Lithuanian Community in Sydney, the Maltese Community Council of New South Wales and the Australian Romanian Association.

AH of these organisations were very upset by the attitude of the previous Minister for Social Services, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). I remember attending a meeting in the Paddington Town Hall last year to which the previous Minister had been invited some 2 to 3 months earlier to express the then Government's point of view. The former Minister refused to attend, pleading absence - I cannot remember whether from Australia or from Sydney - on that very day. The relevant point, however, was that he did not bother sending anyone in his place. He was always very happy to send anyone from Mr Les Irwin to Mr Douglas Darby to any of the meetings of those organisations when it only meant attacking the Labor Party, but when it meant actually doing something for the immigrants involved who were represented by the organisations he squibbed it. I am sure that from a political viewpoint it cost the previous Government dearly during the last election campaign.

La Fiamma', which ran the campaign for the pensioners among the Italian community, obtained some 73,000 signatures to a petition. It also ran a poll independently some months later to determine how the people who read La Fiamma' would vote in the last Federal elections. It was interesting to discover that almost 90 per cent of the readers of that newspaper, which has by far the largest readership of any foreign language publication in Australia, particularly among the Italian community in Australia, said they would vote for the Australian Labor Party. I do not blame them. There were many reasons why they should vote for the Labor Party, one being that it promised to introduce the sort of legislation which is now before the House. I congratulate the Minister and the Government for introducing this legislation so early in the life of this Government. It is important because many people are waiting to go overseas and to take advantage of this legislation which, of course, is not being made retrospective. A person who has applied for and is receiving a pension will be able to apply for the transfer of that pension after the date of proclamation of this legislation.

I strongly oppose the amendment foreshadowed by the honourable member for Mackellar, especially the proposition which states:

Where the Director-General is satisfied that a person has become resident in Australia solely or mainly for the purpose of establishing eligibility for a pension, he may determine that some or all of any pension for which that person has become eligible should not be paid while that person is absent from Australia.

The proposition is that a person must be in Australia for 10 years to become eligible for the pension. The proposition is ridiculous. A person becomes eligible for a pension when he or she is aged 65 or 60. A person, according to the proposed amendment, allegedly will come to Australia for 10 years with the aim of obtaining-

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