Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 11 April 1973
Page: 1327

Mr BERINSON (Perth) - I support this Bill and welcome the promptness with which the Government has found a place for this measure in its busy and crowded legislative program. The Bill should not be looked at in isolation nor should it be seen just as providing one further expansion of benefit to any particular group. Its real significance appears to me to be twofold. Firstly, it represents a further step in establishing that distinctive Australian Labor Party attitude to pensioners, namely, that pensions are available as of right and not of favour and if they are available as of right they are not to be withdrawn on geographical grounds. Secondly, it is a further development in our review of the migration system and of the official attitude to migrants. We are trying to bring more understanding, flexibility and co-operation to this area and this Bill will be seen as a significant contribution towards that effort.

In leading for the Opposition the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) foreshadowed that some amendments would be moved in the Committee stage but that the Opposition would not oppose the second reading. In terms of the formalities of the House, that means that for all practical purposes the Opposition is not opposing the Bill and the acceptance of the Bill by it is therefore a further interesting continuation of a process we have seen operating throughout this session.

In the last Parliament Labor's proposals were greeted time and again by the then Government with cries of 'Where is the money coming from?', or 'That is easy to say in Opposition but wait till you have the responsibility of implementing it in government', or You do not realise the complications which would arise from doing what you suggest'. It is worth pointing out in this context that the Government's legislative program not only stands on its merits but also as vindication of the proposals it put when in opposition. The acceptance of so much of our program by the Liberal Pary and the Country Party confirms this belief and goes to the extent of making it hard for us to remember now all the agonising they appeared to go through on such questions as votes for 18-year-olds, the removal of excise tax on wine, the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Bill or, to come back to the Bill before the House, unqualified portability of pensions. All these were seen previously by the Opposition when it was in Government as too costly, too complicated or too soon. Now that the initiative has been taken by the present Government we find acquiescence in those points by the Opposition with hardly a murmur or reservation. That is the case as we shall shortly see as we proceed to the vote on the second reading of this Bill.

Portability of Australian pensions, apart from the special arrangements we formerly had with the United Kingdom and New Zealand, was provided for the first time in a Bill presented to the Parliament in April last year. The present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) could certainly claim part of the credit for this measure as his own earlier private members Bill on the same subject obviously gave considerable impetus to the movement in that direction. I noticed, whether from nostalgia or some other reason, that the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) was still intent tonight on dwelling on the alleged defects and amateurism of the private members Bill. That is totally irrelevant now. I have acknowledged before that the Bill introduced by the previous Government last year was better than the private members Bill which preceded it. However, the importance of the private members Bill lay in the impetus which it gave to government legislation and to the. further legislation which is now improving on that. It is important that it be seen in that context and recognised for the major contribution it made to the portability of pensions.

In any event, whatever the cause of the previous Government's Bill in April last year, it did at that time represent an important advance on earlier thinking. I think I acknowledged that at the time and acknowledged also the contribution which the honourable member for Mackellar, who was then Minister for Social Services, had made. I notice from Hansard that I went on to make 4 points in criticism of the Bill at that time, the now existing legislation. I suggested firstly that we should reduce the residential qualification for the age pension from 20 years, as was then provided, to 10 years which is the period for qualification existing in Australia itself. I suggested secondly that we should do without the need for reciprocity. My reason at that time which still remains valid, and the acceptance of this proposition negates much of what the honourable member for Mackellar has said tonight, was that both these propositions - that is, firstly, that we should not have a different eligibility period outside Australia and within it and, secondly, that it is not our concern to have reciprocity before we advance - depend in the last resort on our concept of the nature of the pension system. If our pensions arise as of right then they must arise at some particular time irrespective of where the right is exercised. 1 am pleased to see that principle recognised in the present Bill.

The third criticism I made of last year's Bill at the time was that it should be possible while abroad for a qualified pensioner to change from one category of pension to another should the status of that pensioner change while abroad: for example, changing from the status of the wife of an invalid pensioner to a widow pensioner following the death of the invalid pensioner. The fact is that on the basis of last year's Act that position was not covered but it is covered now by this Bill. I welcome that as well. The fourth criticism I made last year was that I thought it then to be a shame that persons living abroad who would be eligible to obtain a pension if they returned to Australia and to take it with them if they then returned abroad were to be precluded from the scheme altogether. I recognise that this position is still not covered as fully as I would have liked though it is partly covered in the case of people returning for a minimum period of 12 months. I console myself with the thought that three out of four propositions being accepted within 12 months of the argument being put is not bad for starters and I suspect from the benign way that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) is looking at the moment that he will not be averse to further arguments being put on the fourth proposition.

The need for a new Bill, especially one removing the necessity for reciprocal arrangements, can be readily demonstrated. The original portability Act was introduced, as I have already pointed out, in April last year and passed in May last year. By December only 4 countries had finalised the reciprocal arrangements with Australia that were called for by the Act. These countries were Greece, Italy, Malta and Turkey. The table incorporated in Hansard during the course of the Minister's second reading speech indicates how difficult and lengthy the process of obtaining further extensions is likely to be. I want to put to the House the unfortunate and unfair distinction which would have arisen had we not moved to delete the need for reciprocity. Under the reciprocal arrangements made with the 4 countries I have mentioned, a considerable number of migrants are already covered. I notice from the most recent consolidated statistics of the Department of Immigration that for the period 1945 to 1972 inclusive the numbers of migrants regarded as permanent and long term arrivals, by country of last residence, are as follows: Greece 210,000, Italy 404,000. Malta 75,000 and Turkey 14,000. Those figures are all taken to the nearest thousand. As will be seen, the reciprocal arrangements cover in general terms - I know that this is not a strictly accurate representation of the cover available - 703,000 migrants. In other words, reciprocal arrangements with those 4 countries - in themselves occupying over 6 months of endeavour - did cover 703,000. But this leaves an enormous number of migrants uncovered in the event that they wish to return to their original countries of residence.

In the same table in the Department's consolidated statistics covering the same period, that is 1945 to 1972 inclusive, we find the following numbers of migrants regarded as permanent and long term arrivals, by country of last residence: The United Arab Republic 32,000, South Africa 24,000, Canada 53,000, United States of America 124,000, Ceylon 12,000, Cyprus 17,000, Hong Kong 26,000, India, 37.000, Malaysia 54,000, Singapore 24,000. China 17,000, Indonesia 12,000, Japan 12,000, Lebanon 33,000. Austria 91,000-

Mr Katter - What do those figures represent?

Mr BERINSON - They refer to the long term and permanent arrivals from the countries mentioned over the period 1945 to 1972, who are not covered by existing reciprocal arrangements in the event that they wish to return to their countries of origin. I remind the House that I am comparing them with the number of 703,000 migrants who would be covered under existing reciprocal arrangements if they returned to their countries of origin. 1 do not want to delay the House, but I think that for the sake of completeness it would be worthwhile to put into the record a list of the numbers of migrants from some other countries. I have omitted those countries with fewer than 10,000 migrants in the period I have mentioned. We are dealing with substantial migrant groups.

Mr Street - But do not forget the United Kingdom reciprocal agreement.

Mr BERINSON - I keep that well in mind. I continue quoting from the same table: Belgium 7,000, Denmark 12,000, Finland 13,000, France 31,000, Germany 27,200, Hungary 14,000, The Netherlands 154,000,

Poland 23,000, Spain 21,000, Switzerland 17,000, Yugoslavia 95,000 and Fiji 13,000. I have not, I confess, added all those up. but they come to well over one million migrants coming from countries with which we have no reciprocal agreement and in respect of which the possibility of reaching a reciprocal agreement in some cases is nebulous and in other cases non-existent. If the migrants wished to return to their countries of origin or indeed to any other country other than the 4 with which we already have agreements, they would be left out in the cold. I can see no reason in principle for that sort of distinction being maintained and I am pleased to see, as yet another of the benefits in this Bill, that that position will be precluded. The cost of the new measure has been raised today in a number of forms.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr BERINSON - Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was referring to the fact that Opposition speakers earlier in this debate had complained about the cost of the new pro.posals. In respect of one area only is complaint justified, namely in respect to Australian pensioners who go to live in Britain. The honourable member for Mackellar rightly pointed out that in some circumstances these pensioners could in the future get 2 pensions whereas now they are eligible for only one. The short answer to that is that the possibility of double pension exists even now under his own original reciprocal agreements, for example, with Italy. Certainly in the future this arrangement will exist for restricted numbers of people in many parts of the world. It is hard to perceive the principle on which we could reasonably say that one might have a double pension in any part of the globe but the United Kingdom. As for the rest, the cost of covering all pensioners wherever they may go and irrespective of reciprocal arrangements will be negligible.

In fact, it is not difficult to argue that the cost of maintaining payments to pensioners abroad actually will be less than maintaining them here. That can be shown in purely economic terms by reference, for example, to the absence of fringe benefits and particularly medical benefits that beneficiaries would have received if they had not gone abroad. Some vague reference was also made to other potential increases in costs. If anyone is concerned at the drain on overseas reserves which might be produced at some future time when our overseas balances are not as healthy as they are at present, I can assure him with a clear conscience that he need not worry about that either. In spite of the considerable interest in migrant groups, organisations and journals when reciprocal portability was achieved last year for Greece, Italy, Turkey and Malta, I find on inquiry that as of today only 153 persons are actually receiving benefits abroad under last year's legislation. The relevant numbers are 49 in Greece, 73 in Italy, 2 in Turkey and 29 in Malta. The type of pension received by these 153 persons is broken up as follows: Age pension 53; invalid pension 51; wives' pension 22; class A widow 10; and class B widow 17. Of course, this number will grow but one can confidently predict that the growth will be modest.

The United States of America's experience in this respect is instructive. I quote from an article headed 'Benefits Paid Abroad Under OASDHI' which is a publication of the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The title 'OASDHI' refers to that section of the United States Social Security Act governing payment of old age, survivors and disability insurance. The experience to which this article refers is as follows:

At the end of 1940, the year that monthly benefits first became payable, there were about 100 beneficiaries living abroad who were receiving a total of about $1,000 in monthly benefits. At the end of February 1968 there were 194,453 beneficiaries abroad receiving a total of about $15m in monthly benefits.

This amount taken in isolation might be frightening until one considers the further comment which states:

The increase in the number and amount of benefits paid abroad under the OASDHI programme between 1940 and 1968 might seem phenomenal unless compared to the growth of the entire OASDHI cash benefit programme ... the total number of monthly beneficiaries grew from about 220,000 at the end of 1940 to nearly 24 million at the close of 1967. During the same period, the monthly amount of benefits in current-payment status grew from about $4m to over $2 billion.

Seen in that context the $15m being remitted abroad is modest indeed. But this matter is being looked at in economic terms and I believe it is wrong to consider it on that basis alone. I borrow again from the words of the United States--

Suggest corrections