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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2886

Mr HOLTEN (Indi) - The fundamental benefits and changes in the major Bill of these 3 Bills which are of great complexity, as mentioned by the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer), meet with the broad approval of the Australian Country Party as part of the Opposition in the House of Representatives. I compliment the honourable member for Isaacs in particular and the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) who both had the fortune to be members of the committee commonly known as the Jess Committee which was established in 1970 to investigate this extremely complex subject. The honourable member for Isaacs spelt out with preciseness and brevity some of the doubts he has about the effectiveness of the provisions of this Bill. Broadly speaking I share those doubts. I do not propose to go into the same detail as the honourable member for Isaacs but I will refer to some of the matters he mentioned during the course of his comments. lt should be put on record that by asking that the second reading of this Bill be proceeded with today in this House the Labor Party once again has illustrated its disregard for the normal traditions of the House and the rights of honourable members to have a reasonable time to consider the contents of Bills presented to them. I draw to the attention of honourable members the situation with these Bills. Last Friday afternoon the Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Minister for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply (Mr Barnard) introduced these Bills, one of which is a 79 page Bill containing 131 clauses. He wants them passed on the second sitting day since last Friday. Surely it is not reasonable to expect any members of the House who was not a member of the Jess Committee to be in the race even to read the contents of the Bills, let alone to have studied them in detail and to have had consultations with people affected by the Bills. I refer in particular to the servicemen and women of Australia.

This is another example of the complete farce that the Labor Government is making of the Parliament. Surely the appropriate procedure would be to debate these Bills in the Budget session and make provision for retrospectivity to whatever date the Government decided. The Bills already contain a great deal of retrospectivity. To introduce these 3 Bills last Friday - particularly the Defence Forces Retirement and Death Benefits Bill which contains 139 clauses and covers 79 pages - and to expect the House to debate them now is not giving honourable members a fair deal. Basically the Bills are the result of the efforts of the Jess Committee which was formed in 1970 and which had the express and overriding objective of simplifying the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits scheme.

Originally a request was made by the Government Members Defence Committee to the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), when he was Prime Minister, to set up the Joint Select Committee on Defence Forces Retirements Benefits Legislation. As well as to simplify the provisions of the schemes, it was designed to make recommendations which would improve the complex schemes and also remove anomalies. By leaving the present schemes in existence the Labor Government seems to have made things more complex than ever before, particularly for the pre- 1959 contributors and the present recipients of superannuation benefits. The Jess Committee received about 450 written submissions from individuals, departments and organisations, and heard evidence from 65 witnesses. The main recommendation of the Committee was the introduction of a completely new scheme to replace the existing pre-1959 and post-1959 DFRB schemes which commenced 25 years ago, in 1948.

The original scheme had much in common with the Commonwealth superannuation scheme. However, one of the major problems it encountered was its inflexibility. In 1957 a committee chaired by Sir John Allison was appointed to review the scheme. The result was a new scheme for members of the forces who joined up after 1959. It is known as the post-1959 scheme. The objective of the Jess Committee's report was to remove these 2 previous schemes with their complexities and establish one scheme that would be simplified and understood by all. However, that has not been achieved by the Bills presented to the House by the Labor Government. Of course, it is understandable that these Bills would be brought in by the Government. This is another move towards giving people an incentive to join the forces, particularly the Army and even to remain in them. Of course, the DFRB amendments are long overdue.

The Labor Government has found also that it must find a substitute for national service training to encourage people to join the Army, in order to have a reasonable number of people in the armed Services. National service training contributed greatly towards maintaining our Army at an appropriate strength. However, the Labor Party was influenced by the strong 'peace' proponents and ideologists within the Labor Party's ranks, both inside and outside the Parliament. Eventually, after a long and, at times, rather emotional campaign they gradually infiltrated the minds and thinking of many good Australians. It is a shame that the Labor Party gives no recognition to the fact that since 1965 national service training has provided Australia with more than 40,000 men trained in various military areas. It has helped many young men in many ways and it has helped Australia. Personally I would not seek to retain national service military training, but it certainly seemed to me from my contacts with national servicemen that a vast majority of them approved of the scheme.

As I said, the honourable member for Isaacs has dealt very comprehensively with his doubts about the effectiveness of the main Bill before us. I support his remarks. We are discussing about half a dozen Bills. I want to comment briefly on some of them. The major Bill - the Defence Forces Retirement and Death Benefits Bill - does not achieve simplicity. The objective was to get rid of the previous Acts. The Labor Government has not done this. It has retained the old DFRB Acts. This Bill does not deal with the problem of late entrant officers. It strikes a rate of contribution for a Service pension at 5.5 per cent of a serviceman's annual rate of pay, which can be compared with the rate of 5 per cent in the Public Service. Surely that is an anomaly. The Government has not been prepared to make a decision on the updating provisions which keep the superannuation payments of people who retire on pensions in line with average weekly earnings. That was recommended by the Jess Committee and seems to be a simple and fair procedure. It was accepted in the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) legislation which has been passed by this House but has not yet been passed by the Senate.

This Bill introduced by the Labor Government does not implement the recommendation on updating. As the honourable member for Isaacs said, the Government seems to be more inclined towards the Pollard recommendation which involves an adjustment based on a change in the consumer price index. The final glaring anomaly which indicates that this is either a complete abrogation of responsibility to the widows of the ex-servicemen of this country or a complete lack of co-operation between the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron), is that the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill which was introduced in this Parliament placed the widow of a member of the Public Service who died during the course of his duties, or while travelling to or from work, on full pay for life plus adjusted payments according to the rise in salary for the particular class in which the member of the Public Service was employed. If an exserviceman dies his widow is only 50 per cent as well off as a widow of a public servant. In almost successive weeks, or at least very closely together, we have been presented with 2 very important and wide ranging pieces of legislation by this Labor Government and we have a shameful anomaly in the provision for widows of servicemen.

Finally I refer to the setting up of an appeal system, which is a very praiseworthy inauguration. The people who are dissatisfied with the assessment of the rates of their DFRB pensions will now be able to appeal to a tribunal. The Minister in his second reading speech said merely that they will be able to appeal to a tribunal but I would have thought it would have been competent for him and not beyond the bounds of possibility to set out the composition of the tribunal and the procedures which it would adopt. There is no possibility of discussing the manner of composition of the tribunal and the methods it will use because these are not set out in the Bill. I draw attention to a statement in the second reading speech which is misleading. The Minister said that the Jess Committee report 'recommended the introduction of a new scheme which, with some necessary modifications, is the scheme covered by the first Bill introduced'. This is inaccurate. Speakers, including myself, have pointed out that quite significant departures have been made from the Jess Committee report. Perhaps the Minister will say when he is replying who thought the modifications were necessary.

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