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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1452

Mr KING (Wimmera) - This is one of the few occasions on which I can agree with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant). He said that this is not an important piece of legislation so far as changing the whole of the Australian economy is concerned. I agree with the Minister in saying that it is a matter of principle and of doing something for certain people, irrespective of how few they may be. I suppose it would be almost impossible for anyone to find out the exact number of people who would be affected by this legislation. In a nutshell this Bill means that Service pensioners and other means test pensioners such as widowed mothers and the aged parents of deceased exservicemen will be entitled to continue to receive their pensions under the Repatriation Act if they leave Australia. I believe that this is very important because as far as Service pensioners and other eligible pensioners are concerned they are entitled to receive this privilege, if I may express it in that way, irrespective of where they may be residing.

I wish to explain who are Service pensioners. I am sure many other honourable members in this House have found that there is confusion about the nature of the Service pension. Over a period of time I have had numerous people come to me and start talking about certain types of pensions. They do not realise the difference between the age pension, the Service pension and repatriation pensions. Indeed I have even had people come to me, because I happen to be a member of a Legacy club, and say they wanted a Legacy pension. Of course there is no such thing. I want to point out the difference between the various pensions. A Service pension is granted by the Repatriation Department but it is not on the same basis as a repatriation pension. A repatriation pension is granted to persons who suffer disabilities that have been accepted as due to war service, whereas a service pension, which is similar to the age pension, is granted to ex-service personnel on reaching the age of 60 in lieu of 65, which is the qualifying age for the age pension. That is basically the difference between the 3 different pensions.

I notice in the second reading speech that the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) has given consideration to the question of supplementary assistance. I agree entirely with the decision that an individual should lose his eligibility to receive supplementary assistance when he leaves the country; but I note that the legislation provides that an ex-serviceman's wife who remains in the country while her husband leaves will be entitled to this assistance. I also agree with what the Government proposes to do in regard to the question of the returnee - in other words those personnel who have elected to live outside of our country but who think that by returning to Australia for a short period, perhaps a few days, they could qualify for the pension. I agree that a benefit should not be granted in such circumstances. There are many and varied reasons why an ex-serviceman from the Australian forces would want to live overseas; this is a matter for his own personal judgment. But it would not be right for such a person to return to Australia just for the purpose of receiving a pension and then to move off again. ; I want to raise a' few other points in relation to this matter. One concerns the transfer of a social security pension to a Service pension, or vice versa. As I said at the outset the costs in this connection are unknown. There are a few other matters to which one could also refer to at this stage. Without wandering from the Bill to any degree I want to draw the attention of the House to that part of the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) where he said he would raise the various rates of these pensions - that is totally and permanently incapacity pensions, Service pensions and the like. The Prime Minister said that the TPI rate would be based on 100 per cent of the minimum wage. This promise has been carried out and I congratulate the Government for doing so. But the Prime Minister also said that the 100 per cent rate pension would be 50 per cent of the minimum wage. At the present time this is not the case. I would like to know why.

The Prime Minister went on to say that other rates and allowances would be adjusted proportionally. Again this has not yet taken place. I want to know what has happened. I want to know whether the Government will take immediate action, shelve its proposals or just completely forget about them. I want to know these things, just as many other members on this side of the House want to know them. I ask the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) who is sitting at the table to place the points just expressed before the Minister concerned because I think it is very important that if a particular party at election time makes a promise and does not fulfil that promise the people have a right to know why the promise has not been fulfilled.

I plead with the Minister for Defence to suggest to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop) that he make a clear cut statement indicating the intentions. I know that Rome was not built in a day. I do not expect that all the legislation containing the promises made by the Government could be introduced overnight. But because we have made a start on matters dealing with repatriation legislation I would like to know why we cannot go a little further. In view of the circumstances that are prevailing in this House at present due to issues that have taken place outside, I conclude my remarks by saying that I support the Bill wholeheartedly. I congratulate the Government on the step ' that it has taken so far and hope that it will be able to continue to fulfil the promises that it made at the last election.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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