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Monday, 17 September 1973
Page: 1077

Mr KING (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) - The honourable member for Barton should look at his explanatory notes a little more closely because comments such as the ones he made can be very misleading. The reference is 'for means test purposes for certain types of pensioners' - not all pensioners. I think this is something that we should stress rather strongly. If honourable members look at page 5 of the explanatory notes they will see clearly set out those who will qualify. They will find that those who will qualify are pensioners who are in receipt of a war pension, naturally, and who are also in receipt of a Service pension as distinct from an age pension or a war widow's pension. I think the honourable member for Barton might have the point - or has he?

Mr Calder - It has not sunk in.

Mr KING - I do not think it has sunk in. I thought it might have, but it has not. There is a slight difference between the actual situation and that described by the honourable member for Barton and there are many ex-servicemen who, for their own reasons, elected to apply for an age pension as distinct from a Service pension.

Mr Reynolds - They have nothing to gain by that.

Mr KING - At present, they have a lot to lose if they are receiving an age pension as distinct from a Service pension. For instance, there would be nothing of benefit to the widows. If ever a section of the community deserves consideration, in my mind it is the war widow. She receives no benefit when it comes to a particular pension in which she may be interested, whether it be an age or widows pension. But, unless she is in receipt of a Service pension - there are very few of these in Australia at present - she will not receive the benefit of this provision.

The domestic allowance which is included as a war pension may be used as part of the basis for the 25 per cent reduction, but this is not carried through to other areas. So, I would ask the Deputy Prime Minister to explain to me, firstly, why the Government has elected on a 25 per cent reduction figure and why it will not permit other pensioners, such as the ones I have just mentioned, to be included. After all, if this is worthy of a 25 per cent reduction, perhaps it is worthy of a 50 per cent reduction or a 100 per cent reduction. Or is this the first move towards including war pensions for taxation purposes? I should like the Deputy Prime Minister to answer that question.

Another item which I should like to mention concerns the question of repatriation benefits to members of the regular forces who completed their service after 7 December 1972. The Government has backdated some pensions and benefits - not so much pensions, but certainly benefits - to the Boer War and the 1914-1918 War. Why has 7 December been selected? We know that the Government took office on 2 December but why has it not been back-dated for personnel who had served their term prior to 7 December? That is another question I would like the Minister to answer.

I turn now to the informing of applicants that their applications for acceptability or for an increase in pension have been refused. I think it is a good move that reasons for the refusal are now to be given. It has been my experience that many ex-service personnel who have their applications rejected by a board are lost when they are sent a form by which they may appeal. These people do not know which way to turn. They have been told that their applications have been rejected but they are then sent a form to submit a further case. They do not know what to do. If they are given an indication of the reasons they have a chance to prepare further evidence. In the introductory note the term 'the reasons for their decisions' is used. What decisions? Are they board decisions, commission decisions, or tribunal decisions? I think that question should be answered before the debate is concluded.

The move to extend benefits to veterans of the Boer War and World War I is very good and is long overdue. Many honourable members on both sides of the chamber have been pushing for such a benefit for a long time. Paragraph 6 of the introductory note refers to medical and hospital treatment for exservicemen who have served in a theatre of war and are suffering from cancer. Why are the words theatre of war* included? If we are to accept cancer in the broad why should a man be eligible only because of particular war service? I think a little more explanation is required. I turn now to consider the provision of treatment in repatriation hospitals for people other than ex-servicemen. I have no complaint about that as long as vacancies occur in the repatriation hospitals. However, I join the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) who asked earlier whether it is the commencement of the phasing out of true repatriation. As the honourable member said, exservice organisations ought to look at that step very closely. It could be the beginning of repatriation matters being taken over by the social security administration.

Generally speaking I believe that this repatriation measure is a good one. As I said at the outset, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop) has introduced many good points. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard), who represents the Minister for Repatriation, is now at the table. If he cannot answer this afternoon the questions I have put to him I would like them answered in the not too distant future. If at all possible the answers should be made available to the public. I suggest that the answers be included in Hansard. After all, this is the place from which many ex-service organisations and exservice personnel seek their information. Apart from the queries I have raised I join other members of the Opposition in certainly supporting the Bill.

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