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Tuesday, 26 September 1972
Page: 1180

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Minister for Air) - in reply - I thank the Senate for its support of these Bills. Senator Keeffe, in opening the debate for the Opposition, said that it supported this legislation and wanted it to be passed by the Senate as quickly as possible. Senator Keeffe went on to make some comments that were based on his own experiences. I am very pleased to say that I do not think that those are the general experiences of most other honourable senators. I believe that the repatriation benefits paid in this country are very good. I believe that they are equal to those paid in any other country in the world. However, from time to time pressure is brought to bear for improvements to certain benefits. The Government has given consideration to all of the representations that have been made to it over the years and has acted on those with which it agrees. I would point out that the Returned Services League and the other ex-service organisations provide strong support to ex-servicemen and women in this regard. The RSL in particular meets representatives of the Government each year and puts a submission to them on repatriation benefits. The RSL is listened to very carefully by ex-servicemen who have had long experience in dealing with repatriation matters.

The increased payments provided for in this legislation are a culmination of the Government's efforts over the period of this Parliament. In the last 3 Budgets there have been increases in benefits paid to repatriation recipients and on 2 other occasions during the lifetime of this Parliament there have been further increases. The Government's prime concern has been with the most seriously incapacitated and the dependants of those whose death is attributed to war. Senator Keeffe said that increases in pension rates had not kept up with increases in the minimum wage or increases in costs. If 1 may take up some of the time of the Senate, I would like to demonstrate how the rates paid to TPI pensioners and war widows compare more than favourably with the movements in the consumer price index and the minimum wage. Since June 1950 the consumer price index has increased by 152.3 per cent. In the last 3 years it has increased by 16 per cent. Since June 1950 the minimum wage has increased by 278.5 per cent. In the last 3 years it has increased by 20.5 per cent. Since June 1950 the TPI pension has increased by 352.8 per cent. In the last 3 years it has increased by 33.3 per cent. Reference has been made to the fact that the special rate-

Senator Keeffe - I wish I had a chance to speak again; I would really blow that up.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - Honourable senators on this side of the House could have blown up Senator Keeffe's argument, but it was not worth our while to chase all the hares that he put before the chamber. If we look at the Labor Party's proposals, as presented to the RSL by Mr Barnard, we find that it has suggested that the special rate pension should be increased to not less than the minimum wage. The increase proposed in this Bill takes that pension to $48 a week, which will exceed the minimum wage less income tax deductions for both single and married men. I understand that the Labor Party is taking the minimum wage as $51.80 a week whereas ;he true minimum wage is ยง51.10 a week. I draw the attention of Senator Keeffe to the fact that a man on a wage of $51.10 does not take that home; he takes home that amount less income tax and other deductions which bring it down well below the $48 provided for in this Bill.

Senator Keeffetalked about widows. I agree with much of what he said about the hard life a widow has to face when she has lost her husband as a result of him defending his country, and particularly when sh. has to bring up a young family. Labor' i proposal would increase the widow's pension to 50 per cent of the minimum wage; that is 50 per cent of $51.10. Under this Bill the war widow's rate of $20 a week plus the domestic allowance of $8.50 a week is well above 50 per cent of the minimum wage.

Senator Keeffe - We did not ever say that we would take away the domestic allowance.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - No, but Labor has said that the war widow's rate should be 50 per cent of the minimum wage. I am demonstrating that under this Bill it will be more than 50 per cent of the minimum wage-

Senator Keeffe - War widows will be $5 or S6 a week better off under us than they are under you.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - That is what the honourable senator says, but I am quoting the proposals put forward by Mr Barnard. 1 cannot do any better than that. I take it that Mr Barnard had the permission of Caucus to put forward these proposals.

Senator Keeffe - You are distorting Mr Barnard's figures.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - No, I am not. Anyhow, let me go on and say that I include the domestic allowance because 97 per cent of war widows receive it. So, I do not think the argument Senator Keeffe advances is valid. He talked about the way ex-servicemen are treated. I point out to him that an ex-serviceman has to apply to a repatriation board; then he can apply to the Repatriation Commission; and finally he can go to a tribunal should he desire to do so. At the present time every one of those bodies is manned by ex-servicemen. Surely Senator Keeffe is not saying that those men, who are men of great experience and who belong to ex-servicemen's organisations in this country, will let the ex-servicemen down.

Senator Keeffe - Those are your words, not mine.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - That is what I believe Senator Keeffe was trying to imply. He asked me a number of questions. Firstly, with reference to the general rate he asked me whether those on 70 per cent-

Senator Keeffe - I referred to those below 75 per cent.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - Yes, so I am taking 70 per cent. He asked whether those on 70 per cent and less would receive increases. The answer is yes. It was stated in the second reading speech that the great majority of general rate pensioners - that is, at least 95 per cent of the 192,000- would receive the full benefit of the $2 increase at the 100 per cent rate. The rest also will receive increases, but such increases will be a little less because the higher rates for higher ranks will be abolished. An example is that a flight lieutenant now receives $12.23 a week at the 100 per cent rate and lower ranks receive $12 a week; in future all ranks will be paid $14 a week at the 100 per cent rate.

Senator Keeffe asked whether the means test is abolished in treating war pension as income for service pension purposes. The answer is that the means test has been eased considerably, although not abolished, on this occasion and war pensions are still treated as income. Of course, when the means test is finally abolished - the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) has said that he hopes this will be within 3 years - they will no longer be treated as income. Senator Donald Cameron asked me to refer to the last amount in column 3 of the First Schedule. The second reading speech, which is reported at page 1128 of Hansard, refers to the fact that all levels of war widow's pension other than the highest will be increased on this occasion with a view to eventually abolishing all distinctions because of rank.

Senator Keeffe - That means that anybody with a rank higher than colonel will still receive 10c a week more.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I understand that all ranks above captain in the Navy, colonel in the Army and group captain in the Air Force do not receive an increase.

Senator Keeffe - What is the 10c for?It is only 10c, but it does not look good.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN -] am told that that is the rate in the Schedule at the present time.

Senator O'Byrne - That is abolished now.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - It will be abolished the next time there is an increase. I will arrange for the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) to look at what Senator Keeffe and Senator Donald Cameron have said and, if I can provide any information other than what I have given, I will be happy to do so. Senator Hannan made a speech in defence of these Bills. I was very happy to hear what he said. He went back a little before my time. Apart from the comments to which I have referred, in general the Senate has supported the Bills; so I suggest that the motion for the second reading now be put.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.

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