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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2893

Mr BARNARD (Bass) (Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Minister for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply) - in reply - There are one or two comments that I would like to make about a Bill which has been described this afternoon as one of very great significance. I listened with a great deal of interest to the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh). The honourable member is a new member in this House and he obviously displayed that tonight. I certainly do not want to enter into a debate on the historical background of the defence forces retirement benefits legislation, but it is quite clear that the honourable member has not studied the legislation. I must confess that I had great difficulty in deciding or determining whether the honourable member was speaking on DFRB legislation or on the defence statement that I made this afternoon. But I think he can be excused for that. As I said, he is a new member. However, the honourable member described the legislation as deplorable. As a matter of fact, having listened to all of the Government members - the Opposition members - who spoke on this Bill this afternoon I was not impressed to hear the honourable member for Darling Downs, despite the fact that some criticism was expressed, describe it as deplorable legislation. At first I thought that I had not heard him correctly. But the honourable member repeated the statement later. However, I am prepared to excuse this on the basis that he is a new member and therefore no doubt has a great deal to learn about the DFRB legislation and indeed other legislation that he has spoken on in this House.

I accept the criticism that was made by the honourable member for Darling Downs and some other honourable members this afternoon about the time that was available to members of the Opposition to consider this legislation. I acknowledge that the legislation does involve a great many clauses. I acknowledge that probably more time ought to have been made available. But if I may come back to the historical background of this legislation it was quite clear that a policy decision made by the Opposition back in 1972 which was outlined to the people of this country during the election campaign of December 1972 proposed that the DFRB legislation would be introduced in this Autumn session of the Parliament. I have honoured that promise. I do not want to take any of the credit myself for what is contained in the legislation because again I acknowledge quite freely that a number of people have made a contribution. I think the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) said late this afternoon that the exmember for La Trobe, Mr John Jess, had not been mentioned in my second reading speech. What I say in answer to that is that I have publicly acknowledged outside this Parliament on a number of occasions the contribution made by the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Legislation as well as by the honourable members for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) and Herbert (Mr Bonnett), both of whom have some experience in this matter. I freely acknowledge the contribution they made to bring about a very successful report which is now, of course, incorporated in this legislation.

I am prepared to accept the criticism in relation to the time that is available to honourable members to study this legislation. But it is quite clear from what has been said by honourable members, particularly from the Government side this afternoon, that the Bill does incorporate the recommendations of the Jess Committee. The Government has not in any way at all dishonoured those recommendations. Indeed, as a result of discussions which I had with departmental officials back in January of this year when I issued instructions that the legislation should be introduced in this session of the Parliament - these meetings involved not only officials of the Department of Defence but representatives of the certain respective Services, the Treasury and the Attorney-General's Department - some adjustments were made to the original recommendations of the Jess Committee. Any of the amendments which were made at that time were accepted on the basis that they would improve the legislation, that they were an improvement on the recommendations in the report and that, as a result of their incorporation into the legislation, no one would be disadvantaged. I was quite firm in my instruction that no one should be disadvantaged. lt was said this afternoon - I think by the honourable member for Herbert - that no one from the Services was invited to participate in the discussions that took place when the drafting of the legislation was being undertaken. The plain fact is that representatives of the Services were at the 2 meetings I supervised and the other meetings which were held. They gave their opinions and accepted the Jess Committee's recommendations. I accepted the amendments which were suggested. So in point of fact this legislation is in the ultimate an improvement in many respects on the recommendations of the Jess Committee because it ensures that no one will be disadvantaged.

One or two points were raised this afternoon by honourable members opposite concerning invalidity and comparisons were made between the entitlement of widows under the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill, which is still before the Parliament, and this legislation. I have no hesitation in saying that I will be only too pleased to look at any anomalies that may arise as a result of the implementation of the legislation which has now been introduced in the Parliament but which has not been finally determined. Honourable members should understand that I moved immediately to give effect to the recommendations of the Jess Committee and that it was not possible at that stage to take into consideration legislation which was not then under consideration but which has subsequently been introduced in the Parliament. If there are anomalies, naturally they will be considered. I believe that no Minister who has the responsibility of introducing legislation of such complexity and of such magnitude would not be prepared to concede that some anomalies will arise. As any anomalies arise I will be only too pleased to have them reviewed. That applies to the rights of widows and to the question of invalidity. Those matters will be reviewed at the appropriate time.

I believe that one member of the Opposition displayed complete ignorance of the legislation this afternoon. Obviously he had not read it or did not understand it. He said that in his opinion it should have been spelt out in the legislation how the review and appeal systems will operate. Provision is contained in the legislation for both an invalidity review tribunal and an administrative appeal tribunal. The appeal tribunal will hear appeals from ex-members of the defence forces or serving members of the defence forces who believe that they have been disadvantaged. The terms and conditions have been clearly set out in the legislation. The appeal tribunal will be headed by a barrister. A contributor to the defence forces retirement benefits fund and another member will be appointed to it. The entitlement tribunal will be an assessment tribunal for invalidity purposes. The Question has been raised as to whether we should use a repatriation entitlement tribunal in this respect or whether a new tribunal should be established. As they have been clearly provided for in the legislation, there ought not to be any criticism in relation to those matters. One of the matters to which the Jess Committee gave very thorough and, I believe, careful consideration was the question of appeals and invalidity entitlements or assessments. These have been provided for.

I believe that one can claim that the Government has honoured the promise it made to introduce this legislation during the first session of the Parliament. I can only reiterate what I said a few moments ago about anomalies, that is, that they are bound to arise in some fields. Naturally I will be prepared to look at them as they arise. It has been said also that the Government has promised to repeal the existing DFRB legislation. That matter was clearly explained in the second reading speech I delivered to this House only a few days ago. There I made it quite clear that it would not be proper to repeal the existing legislation at this stage as to do so would have created anomalies and difficulties which would have prevented the introduction of this legislation at this time. I pointed out and made it quite clear in my second reading speech that the legislation will be repealed at the appropriate time.

There may be in the legislation which is now before the Parliament provisions which honourable members feel ought not to be there. They are there because it is necessary to retain them at this stage in order to provide the entitlements that contributors are now receiving under the old legislation. But there is to be simplicity in relation to the entitlements of future contributors and those who retire after 1 October 1972 and who become eligible after that date. They will pay 5. 5. per cent of their salary and will be able immediately to determine what their retirement benefit will be. That is the great simplicity of this legislation. It is what the Jess Committee looked for and indeed recommended in its report.

There is only one other matter to which I think I should refer. It is a matter which was raised by the honourable member for Herbert. The honourable member referred to the problems relating to the no detriment clause, which is clause 25 of the Bill. In respect to this matter, I wish to say that about 3,500 officers who entered the Services at the age of 22 years or thereafter may suffer benefit detriment on retirement because their prospective service under the Jess scale would give them a lower entitlement than they would have under the present scheme. This detriment is to be overcome by allowing them to purchase notional service, which will equalise the 2 entitlements. In many cases the cost of purchasing the notional service will be met by the refund to them of excess contributions and the lower contribution rates which will apply to them in the future. In effect the intention is to preserve a man's entitlement as at 1 October 1972. That is the way in which the legislation is written. If, however, I find that this creates any serious anomalies, I shall be pleased, as I have already indicated, to have a further look at the matter. I submit that the legislation which is now before the House does honour the recommendations of the Jess Committee. It will provide a substantially improved benefit to serving members of the armed forces and ex-members of the armed forces.

I conclude by indicating to members of the Opposition that if there are any problems with this legislation it is because the time factor has meant that they have had to be accepted by those who have been responsible for the drafting, which has been a long and complicated process. I believe that the preparation of the legislation was a monumental effort by the draftsmen. They deserve very great credit for their achievement in being able to produce the Bills by last week as drafting was commenced only in January of this year. So whatever criticism may have been offered by members of the Opposition this afternoon it was quite clear that they accepted that the recommendations of the Jess Committee had been honoured and, indeed, I give credit to those who made a contribution to bringing about the reforms.

Mr McVEIGH(Darling Downs)- Mr Speaker, I wish to make- a personal explanation.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?

Mr McVEIGH - Yes. In his opening remarks the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard), who I understand has a reputation for honesty and integrity, stated that I had said that the legislation was deplorable. I did not say this at any stage. The remarks of the Minister for Defence are personally offensive to me. I realise that the Minister is a tremendously busy man and probably was not very clear in his thinking, but what I did say was that it would be a terrible thing if the administrative tribunal were created just as a job for the boys. At no stage did I say that the legislation was deplorable. Actually, I spoke in favour of its implementation but pointed out a few anomalies. In a later stage in his speech - just to further my point that the Minister was not quite with it - he referred to remarks made by speakers from the Government side. There were no speakers from the Government side.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable gentleman is out of order. He may speak only in regard to misrepresentations made in regard to himself. Any other misrepresentations relating to any other honourable member must be made by those honourable members personally.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bills together read a second time.

Messages from the Governor-General recommending appropriations announced.

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