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Tuesday, 11 September 1973
Page: 764


That the Bill be now read a second time. This Bill relates closely to the Repatriation Bill. It is to give effect, so far as seamen are concerned, to the Budget decisions that provide for increases in war pensions and allowances, and also will require authorities determining claims for benefits under the Act to give reasons for their decisions. Under the Bill the existing general rate pension is increased from $16 to $19 a week and the war widow's pension is increased from $21.50 to $23 a week. The 'intermediate' rate of war pension is being increased by $2.25 a week to $38.80 a week. This is the rate paid to seriously disabled persons whose war-caused incapacities render them incapable of working other than on a part-time basis or intermittently.

The Bill also increases the pension rates in respect of the children of deceased seamen coming under the Act. The weekly rate for each child is increased from $7.35 to $9.25 a week. Where the mother is deceased also, the rate goes up from $14.70 to $18.50 a week. The Second Schedule to the Act prescribes allowances where attendants are needed by specially-handicapped seaman pensioners. The weekly rate of $10.50 is increased to $13 and the rate of $17.50, payable where both arms have been lost, is increased to $22.

In line with action being taken in the Repatriation Bill, the opportunity is being taken in this Bill to remove the remaining instances of differential general pension rates based on the rank or rating the seaman held in the Merchant Navy. This Government sees no justification for different payments being made for similar circumstances. The highest of the rates will now apply, regardless of rank or rating. The Bill does not have to provide for the increase of $4.50 a week in the special totally and permanently incapacitated rate, which brings it to $55.60, or for various increases in the weekly amounts payable in respect of the serious disabilities set out in the Fifth Schedule to the Repatriation Act, as the increases in rates under that Act will apply automatically to seamen pensioners by virtue of section 22a of the Seamen's War Pensions and Allowances Act.

As the Treasurer (Mr Crean) indicated in his Budget Speech, the increases now being made to various war pensions will be repeated during the autumn sittings. These are mainly the special, intermediate and general rate pensions and the war widow's pension. The special compensation allowance introduced by the previous Government in 1968 is regarded as an anomaly in the pension structure and will be removed in 2 stages. It is payable to seaman general rate pensioners in the 75 per cent to 100 per cent range. The allowance is being halved under this Bill, but the loss will be offset by the increase in the amount of general rate pension that will be payable.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the Bill will require authorities determining claims for benefits under the Act to give reasons for their decisions. This is in line with an amendment being made by the Repatriation Bill. Under the Seamen's War Pensions and Allowances Act the authorities concerned are the Seamen's Pensions and Allowances Committee for each State and the Repatriation Commission. Those authorities will be required to set out the grounds upon which each decision is reached. That statement will become part of the claimant's official record and he will be supplied with a copy.

Increases in the widow's domestic allowance and the clothing allowance will be made by regulation. The Bill does not appropriate the funds required to cover the increased benefits, as they are included in the appropriation under the Repatriation Bill. The increases in pensions and allowances will be payable on the first pension pay-day after the date on which the Act receives the royal assent. Mr Speaker, I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Gorton) adjourned.

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