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Tuesday, 11 September 1973
Page: 758


Mr BARNARD (Bass) (Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Minister for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I believe, Mr Speaker, that this Bill contains some of the most significant changes in the repatriation field that have been presented to the House for many years. There will be increases in the rate of payment of most pensions -and allowances. The means test for Service pension purposes will be eased and, for Service pensioners or applicants for service pensions who have reached the age of 75 years, it will be abolished. Free medical and hospital treatment will be provided for all ex-servicemen of the Boer War and the 1914-18 War. Ex-servicemen and women who served in a theatre of war and who suffer from malignant cancer will be provided with free medical and hospital treatment for that condition. Artificial limbs will be provided free through the repatriation artificial limb and appliance centres to all amputees in the community who need them. These new and extended benefits were referred to in the Budget speech of the Treasurer (Mr Crean). This Bill will, however, introduce other changes which the Government proposes, both within and outside the Budget context. Repatriation benefits will be extended to members of the regular defence force.

The admission of civilian patients to repatriation hospitals will be authorised, but only to the extent that facilities are available after catering for entitled repatriation patients. Statutory authorities giving determinations under the repatriation system will be required to give reasons for their decisions. These changes, Mr Speaker, are an indication of the responsibility that this Government accepts in relation to those who have served their country in time of need, and now those who voluntarily make up the country's defence forces. We also recognise that, when and where capacity exists, the facilities and expertise of the repatriation treatment services should sensibly be made available to the community generally.

Although most existing pensions and allowances have been improved on this occasion, there are some that have not been changed or increased to the degree eventually intended. They have not been overlooked but, as a matter of priority, benefits for ex-servicemen and women, and the dependants of deceased ex-servicemen, have been given preference on this occasion. Other benefits will be adjusted as circumstances permit.

In addition to the improvements that I will detail shortly, there will also be increases in the rates of payment of service pensions that will result automatically from proposals that my colleague, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has already announced in the House. However, the Bill amends the principal Act to apply the increased rates of service pension payable in respect of some children and to incorporate in the principal Act the same principles that will aply to age pensions under the Social Services Act. A small pension of 25c a week presently payable to certain children of service pensioners, but not payable to children of social service pensioners, will be discontinued, but this will be more than offset by the increase in the rates payable to parents in respect of those children. The increased rate of means test pensions, the easing of the means test and, in some circumstances its abolition, will mean that many war pensioners and war widows will receive greater total payments than may at first appear to be the case. The opportunity will be taken in this Bill to remove the remaining instances of higher repatriation payments to dependants on the basis of the rank the serviceman held in the forces. This Government sees no justification for differing payments being made for like circumstances. Probably fewer than 200 dependants will be involved and all of these people will receive an increase.

Another anomaly this Government considers exists in the pensioning structure will be removed. I refer to the special compensation allowance introduced by the previous Government in 1968. This allowance is paid to most of the 14 per cent of general rate pensioners who are in the 75 per cent to 100 per cent range. While these pensioners will not lose any money, most of them will not receive any of the proposed increases in the general rate announced in the Budget. They will, however, thereafter receive all general rate increases at a rate commensurate with their assessed extent of incapacity. I will now outline the specific increases proposed in the Bill. The rate of payment of the various pensions and allowances referred to will be weekly amounts unless otherwise stated.

Special Rates

The special rate - totally and permanently incapacitated - pension is payable to those exservicemen who, because of war-related incapacity, are totally and permanently incapacitated to such an extent that they are incapable of earning other than a negligible percentage of a living wage. This rate is also payable to the war-blinded and certain sufferers from pulmonary tuberculosis, as well as those temporarily totally incapacitated because of warrelated disabilities. About 20,000 will benefit from the proposal to increase this rate by $4.50 to $55.60 now and to increase it further by a like amount to $60.10 in the autumn, when it will again be the equivalent of the minimum wage. The Bill provides for the first of these increases.

I should remind honourable members that war pensions are paid free of income tax and, in terms of purchasing power, have a greater value than equivalent earnings. Even without the various additional allowances payable in specific circumstances, and disregarding valuable fringe benefits available, the special rate pension of $55.60 to be payable under this Bill is in excess of the net value of the minimum wage after tax. The intermediate rate pension is paid to about 1,840 ex-servicemen who, because of war-related incapacity, are able to work only part-time or intermittently. The Bill provides for this rate to be increased by $2.25 to $38.80, and that rate will be further increased by $2.25 to $41.05 in the autumn.

General Rate

This is the rate of pension that is paid to most repatriation pensioners. About 190,000, or 90 per cent, of those ex-servicemen and women who suffer war-related incapacity are pensioned under this rate at percentages from 10 to 100. The Bill provides for an increase in this rate at the 100 per cent level by $3 to $19. There will be corresponding increases at lower levels. The rate will be further increased by the same amount to $22 in the autumn. As I mentioned earlier, Mr Speaker, in conjunction with these increases it is proposed to eliminate the special compensation allowance. Half of that allowance will be withdrawn now and the remainder in the autumn. The previous

Government saw fit to leave the general rate pension unchanged for eight years between 1964 and 1972 and consequently the value of the payment declined significantly. It is the intention of this Government to restore its value but, because of the need to bridge such a wide gap, and the numbers involved, this cannot be achieved in one step.

Dependants of Deceased Ex-Servicemen

Increases are proposed in the payments made to the widows of those ex-servicemen who died from war-related causes, and to the children and certain other dependants of those servicemen. It is in this area that differential rates based on the serviceman's rank, to which I referred earlier, will be eliminated. The Bill provides, Mr Speaker, that the War Widow's pension rate will be increased by $1.50 to $23. This pension will again be increased by a similar amount to $24.50 in the autumn. The pensions payable to the children of deceased ex-servicemen will also be increased. Where the child is in the care of his or her mother, the Bill provides for an increase of $1.90, lifting the pension to $9.25. The pension payable to a child who has lost both parents will be increased by $3.80 to $18.50 a week. Approximately 3,200 children are involved, of which about 130 fall into the latter category. Another relatively small group of dependants are the widowed mothers of deceased unmarried ex-servicemen and the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and invalid children of deceased ex-servicemen. In each instance the serviceman died from war-related causes and, apart from the widowed mothers, the other dependants must be without adequate means of support to be eligible for pension. The present rates vary according to the exserviceman's rank, but it is proposed that in future the same rate of $8.50 will apply to all these pensions. Incidentally, Mr Speaker, I would mention that the rate of this pension has not been varied since 1950 although most, if not all, of these people would also be in receipt of a means test pension.

Special Allowances

In addition to war pensions various allowances and amounts are paid for specific purposes. It is proposed to increase the rate of payment of these allowances to the order that I will detail. Attendant's allowance is payable at the higher rate to the blind who also suffer from total loss of speech or are totally deaf and to those who have had both arms amputated. It is paid at a lower rate to the blind, the paralysed and to those who have certain particularly severe amputations or who otherwise have need of an attendant. The proposed increases are $4.50, to ยง22, for the higher rate and $2.50, to $13, for the lower rate. About 1,200 receive these allowances. Additional amounts paid to amputees vary according to the nature of the amputation suffered. There are 15 specified categories of the loss of a limb or an eye, or a combination of both, that attract this additional payment. The first 6 items are for those more seriously disabled, who have their pensions and the addition made up to an amount equal to the special rate (TPI) pension. For the remaining 9 items, the increases proposed in the Bill will range from 45c, to $2.95, and the new rates from $2.25, to $14.70. Almost 2,100 receive an addition under the last 9 items of the schedule.

Allowances authorised by Regulations

I should also like to point out to honourable members that, in addition to the increases I have just outlined, there are further increases proposed which will be authorised by regulations under the principal Act, as amended by this Bill. With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall briefly outline the proposed increases. The domestic allowance, which is payable to approximately 97 per cent of war widows, either because they have children, including student children, or because they are at least 50 years of age or are permanently unemployable, will be increased by $1 to $9.50. Clothing allowance, which is payable at one of three levels depending upon the degree to which the pensioner's war-related disability causes excessive wear and .oar to his clothing, will be increased by 20c, 15c and 12ic respectively. The new rates will be $1.05, 70c and 55c.

Recreation transport allowances will be increased by $3.50 at the lower rate and by $7 at the higher rate to $16 and $32 a month respectively. Where a gift car has been issued, the allowance towards the car's upkeep, payable in lieu of recreation transport allowance, will be increased by S84 to $384 a year. Soldiers' children education scheme allowances for other than tertiary students will be increased by various amounts ranging from 65c to $3.35 and the new weekly rates will range from $3.25 to $16.65. The allowances for tertiary students are adjusted in line with movements in the rates of living allowances paid under the university or advanced educa tion scholarship schemes administered by my colleague, the Minister for Education.

Cost of increased pensions and allowances

The cost of increases I have referred to, and which are authorised by this Bill, together with the increases to be implemented by regulations, is estimated to be $16. 167m for the remainder of this financial year and $21. 540m in a full year.

NEW BENEFITS

The Bill will authorise the making of regulations to permit the provision of medical and hospital treatment for additional categories of people.

Boer War and 1914-18 Wai- Veterans

All ex-servicemen of the Boer War and the 1914-18 War will be eligible to receive free medical and hospital treatment for all disabilities, irrespective of whether they are warcaused. The majority of these ex-servicemen saw service under unusually severe conditions for long periods, and the Government recognises that the added security this measures will give these men in the later years of their lives is well deserved. The full range of repatriation treatment facilities, including general practitioner services, out-patient and in-patient treatment, specialist services and the supply of artificial aids and appliances will be provided free of charge. Additionally, nursing home care will be provided where necessary, subject to a patient contribution of $17.85 a week. About 29,000 veterans could be eligible at an estimated maximum cost of $7.13m this year and $9.51m for a full year.

Cancer Patients

The Government proposes to provide free medical and hospital treatment for malignant cancer suffered by ex-service men and women who served in a theatre of wai. The full range of repatriation benefits will, of course, continue to be made available in cases where the incapacity is determined to be related to war service. It is difficult to estimate the cost of instituting this proposal; but, on the best available evidence, it is thought that about 5,700 persons could benefit at a cost this year of $2.25m and $3m in a full year.

Amputees

The loss of a limb is an event which is a catastrophe in anyone's life. Such an event can result from the increasing number of industrial and road accidents arising in today's developed society or from diseases more common to the older age group. The Government proposes that artificial limbs will be provided, free of charge, to all persons in the community who need them, whether ex-service personnel or civilians.

Supply, at least in the early stages, will be subject to certain priorities, generally based on need and medical advice. The Repatriation Commission will supply artificial limbs either direct from the Repatriation artificial limb and appliance centres or through commercial limbmakers. In addition to supplying initial artificial limbs to new amputees, the Government proposes that replacement limbs will be supplied to existing amputees, estimated to number 13,000.

The estimated cost of providing the additional limbs this year is $0.6 15m and $0.9m in a full year. In addition, an estimated $0.5m is expected to be spent on provision of additional buildings and equipment over the next 2 years.

Disregarding War Pension as Income for Means Test Purposes

As a step towards implementing the Government's undertaking to disregard war pensions as income for means test purposes, the Bill proposes that 25 per cent of all war pension payments will be disregarded in the assessment of Service pensions. Some war pensioners whose means exclude them from receiving a Service pension, or who receive such a pension at less than the maximum rate, will benefit from this proposal. Estimates are difficult to make, but it is expected that approximately 25,000 persons could benefit at a cost of $5.6m this year and $7.47m in a full year.

Provisions for Service Pensioners Aged 75 Years and Over or Blind

The Bill provides that the means test on Service pensions will not be applied where the Service pensioners, or applicants for Service pension, have reached the age of 75 years. As with age and invalid pensioners under the Social Services Act, the Repatriation Act at present excludes the earnings of a blind pensioner from the means test.

Because it is proposed to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act to make age pensions subject to income tax, the Government proposes in the Bill that a transitional benefit of $3.00 a week will be paid to any blind Service pensioner male over the age of 65 years, or over 60 years in the case of a female. This benefit will be free of tax and should ensure that those aged blind will not be disadvantaged.

Proposed amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act will also provide a rebate of tax for non-blind age and Service pensioners totally or mainly dependent upon their pension.

The cost of the first stage of abolishing the means test on Service pensioners and providing the transitional benefit for Service pensioners will be of the order of $8.8m this year and $ 11.7m in a full year.

Repatriation Benefits for Regular Servicemen and Women 1 come now to provisions in the Bill which are of a non-budgetary nature.

Perhaps the most important of these matters is that, for the first time, Repatriation benefits will be extended to servicemen and women in the peace-time Services.

In many respects the regular servicemen's range of activities, location and .potential exposure to personal injury are far less predictable than in the case of a civilian.

Recognising these factors, the Government proposes in the Bill to extend to regular servicemen and women Repatriation benefits in respect of disabilities arising out of or aggravated by their defence service on or after 7 December 1972.

Persons who will be eligible are those members of the forces on continuous full-time service on or after 7 December 1972 who, whether before or after that date, have completed 3 years effective full-time service. Persons who were engaged or appointed for a period of full-time service of not less than 3 years but who, on or after 7 December 1972, died or were discharged on medical grounds for reasons attributable to their defence service before the completion of 3 years service will also qualify, unless their discharge occurred before the completion of 12 months effective service and resulted from a preexisting condition which was not aggravated by service. National servicemen serving immediately before 7 December 1972 who complete the period of service for which they were engaged to serve or who die or are discharged on medical grounds as a result of their service prior to the completion of that period of service are also eligible under the provisions of the Bill.

At the risk of repetition but so that this aspect is abundantly clear, I emphasise that only incapacity or death arising from service on or after 7 December 1972 will attract repatriation benefits. It must be remembered that regular servicemen and women are already provided for under the Compensation (Government Employees) Act, which I will hereafter refer to as the Compensation Act, and they will retain that cover even though the Bill extends to them eligibility under repatriation legislation.

The dual eligibility concept avoids the many complications which would arise if servicemen and servicewomen were forced to make rigid choices of cover under only one of the two Acts. However, the Bill includes provisions under which benefits received under the Compensation Act are to be set off against entitle.ments under the Repatriation Act. Thus, while dual eligibility under the two Acts is proposed, double compensation is avoided. For example, a serviceman or servicewomen disabled because of defence service may claim under both the Compensation Act and the Repatriation Act, but any pension payable under the latter Act will be reduced by the extent of any payments under the former. In any case where payments under the Compensation Act exceed entitlement under the Repatriation Act, no pension will be payable under the latter Act.

Similarly, repatriation payments will be reduced by the extent of any payments received by way of damages in respect of the same incapacity or death. In view of the widespread entitlement under third party and other forms of insurances against common law liability, the Bill recognises the possibility that a claimant may hold a right to common law damages and provides that damages received in any resultant action should be offset against repatriation pension payments. This is not a new concept. An example of its adoption is already in the Compensation Act, which makes similar provision where an employee has a right to damages additional to his compensation entitlement.

As a logical extension of this concept, the Bill provides that a claimant who may have entitlement to damages from another party may be required to pursue his case to a court of law. The Bill also provides that a right of action may be taken over from a claimant and pursued either to settlement or judgment. Payments already made by way of pension may be recovered from any damages obtained. The existing repatriation determining authorities will decide claims and determine appeals from members of the defence force using the same criteria, procedures, etc., including the benefit of doubt and onus of proof provisions, as now apply to ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen generally.

Within this context, the repatriation benefits being made available under this Bill to regular servicemen and women are broadly those available" to 1939-45 members of the forces who did not serve on active service. Specifically, where incapacity or death arises out of or is attributable to service in the defence force, or the condition leading to that incapacity or death is contributed to or aggravated by such service, the existing range of war pensions, allowances, and treatment will be available to the member, his wife and children. Other repatriation benefits will also be available, including benefits to eligible children under the Soldiers Children Education Scheme.

Reasons for Decisions

The second non-Budgetary item in the Bill will authorise determining authorities appointed under the Repatriation Act to record and advise claimants of the reasons that led them to make the particular decisions. The Government takes the view that it is unreasonable to expect a person to prosecute a claim through an entire determination and appeal structure without at any stage giving him a reason for a decision. Armed with the reason for an adverse decision, a claimant would be in a better position to decide whether to accept that decision or to proceed with an appeal.

The Bill also contains provisions to protect members of determining authorities, witnesses and others from proceedings, either civil or criminal, in respect of the determination made by the authority or in respect of evidence presented or provided to that authority. So that claimants and appellants are not inconvenienced by delays in the determining process, it is proposed to introduce the giving of reasons for decisions gradually, having regard to the additional work-load involved. The Bill therefore provides that regulations may prescribe which determining authorities will be required to give reasons for decisions and, also, the provisions in the Act on which they will be required to give reasons. This phasing-in will provide the authorities with time to adjust to the new requirements and will also allow for assessment of the extent of administrative and other changes required in the light of experience. Honourable members may be assured that the whole system will be carefully monitored, so that delays will be avoided. If necessary, additional determining authorities will be constituted.

The remaining matter to be dealt with in the Bill, Mr Speaker, is to give legislative authority to make regulations to allow the Repatriation Commission to make its hospital beds available free of cost for non-repatriation patients if capacity is available. The same authority will provide for the supply of artificial limbs to all in the community who need them. But I emphasise that these facilities will be made available only after the needs of entitled repatriation patients have been satisfied. After entitled patients, priority will be given to ex-servicemen and women if, while in hospital for a war-related disability, it is considered medically desirable that they receive treatment for a non-accepted condition. Any remaining capacity could be made available to non-repatriation patients such as those attending the Repatriation Artificial Limb and Appliance Centres who require treatment associated with the amputation or, for that matter, for the actual amputation. Other patients could be admitted where it is considered specialised treatment can best be provided in repatriation hospitals or patients whose cases are of special interest for teaching purposes, and who are being treated privately by specialist repatriation consultants. It may also be possible to admit suitable patients who live in the immediate vicinity of the hospital. Treatment of nonentitled patients would not be automatic but would depend upon the circumstances that exist at the time at each particular hospital and would be subject, where necessary, to agreement with the various State health authorities. (Extension of time granted.)

Application

Generally the Bill provides that increased rates of payment will be effected from the first pension pay day after Royal Assent is given to the Bill and that other provisions will apply from the date of assent. However, entitled members of tht Regular Defence Force will be eligible for benefits with effect from 7 December 1972. Mr Speaker, this Bill encompasses a wide field of repatriation activities and in order to assist honourable members in their consideration of it, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop) has prepared explanatory notes for each clause of the Bill. A copy of these notes will be made available to all honourable members. It is my pleasure, Mr Speaker, to commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.







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