Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 29 October 1974
Page: 2068

Senator MARRIOTT (Tasmania) -It is a happy coincidence that the Senate is, I hope, going to put into legislative form the Bill before the Senate on a night when the National Congress of the Returned Services League is meeting in Melbourne. I believe the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) had the privilege of being in attendance and no doubt opened the Congress or addressed it. We will look forward to getting the verbatim report of his message to the RSL. Mr President, you and I, although on different sides of the Senate, have spoken on many a repatriation Bill over the years. They are now history. I think it will be agreed by most members of the Senate that this particular Bill is more extensive than many we have debated because it brings under the principal Act, the Repatriation Act 1920-1973, the following Bills to which it will authorise changes: The Interim Forces Benefits Act, the Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Act, the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act, the Native Members of the Forces Benefits Act to be retitled the Papua New Guinea (Members of the Forces Benefits) Act, and the Seamen's War Pensions and Allowances Act. I name them into the record because of some references I shall make to some of them in the comparatively short speech I intend to make on this legislation.

The second point that I want to emphasise early in this speech is that the Minister and, I presume, the Government have initiated and put into the record the term 'veterans' which the Minister defines as those ex-servicemen and women covered by repatriation legislation. This initiative appears to have been well received. I have not had the official advice from the headquarters of the RSL because it is meeting in Melbourne but from what I have heard and been able to find out the term 'veteran' is acceptable. I think this is for 2 reasons. One reason is that it shows our continuing friendship with the American people, and I am glad that the Minister is supporting this line of policy because Australian-American relationships are very important. The other is that most countries, I understand, use the term 'veteran' and wonder what 'repatriation' means in our legislation. So I have no criticism to offer. As a matter of fact, I think it shows that we in Australia are able as time marches on to adopt changes. I remember in the early years after the Second World War the Returned Servicemen's League was known as the RSS&AILA-the Returned Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia. It was born in about 1917. Then it became the Returned Soldiers League- the RSLbecause somehow or other it was thought that, the majority having served in the Army, it should be called the Soldiers League. Better advice and thought predominated and those of us who are members of the League are now known as returned servicemen and the League is now known as the Returned Services League. Whether or not there will be any change of that name I strongly doubt but it could become the Veteran's League or the Veteran's Association.

The Bill before the Senate increases most of the benefits payable to beneficiaries under all the legislation which I have enumerated. The details are set forth in the Senate Hansard of Thursday, 24 October 1974, in the Minister's second reading speech, starting at page 2001. I will not repeat those details because they are in the record and, more importantly, as soon as we pass this Act it will receive royal assent and those who are to be beneficiaries will receive the benefits and will know the details. They are the ones principally concerned. Of course, the taxpayers who provide the money also have a right to be concerned.

In addition to the increases in actual payments to the beneficiaries, the Bill takes two welcome steps forward and I have no hesitation in congratulating the Minister and the Government. They have provided in the legislation that prisoners-of-war of the Second World War will be entitled to full repatriation medical and hospital attention. As the Minister said, it might be wondered why prisoners-of-war are singled out but there are prisoners-of-war in both Houses of this Parliament who would be able to tell us from their own experience why now, many years after the Second World War, medical and hospital benefits for all requirements will be available to them. This is a step in the right direction. There is another important addition to the advance made last year when Senator Bishop was Minister for Repatriation- and I shall say something about senators and repatriation in a moment. Last year those ex-servicemen who had served in a theatre of war became entitled to medical and hospital benefits if they became victims of cancer. In this legislation the Minister has widened the scope of that provision and now it includes all veterans of the Second World War and, I presume, wars before that and since. All veterans, and that means all servicemen, are accepted for repatriation benefits.

In an aside I said I would refer to Ministers for Repatriation from the Senate and from another place. When I first came into Parliament in 1953 -the Liberal-Country Party Government was in office and stayed there for 23 years- the slogan in respect to repatriation was: 'Whom Caucus first wishes to destroy, it makes Minister for Repatriation', because both the previous 2 Labor Ministers for Repatriation in another place had lost their seats when facing the electors. Senator Wheeldon, like many Liberal senators, obviously will not suffer that fate, particularly after this Bill becomes law.

According to the official records, it is estimated that some 13,600 veterans who were prisoners of war will be eligible for the medical and hospital benefit. The Department has even gone on record as estimating that, by widening the scope of eligibility for medical and hospital treatment to include cancer, another 2,400 ex-servicemen could be included. That is the good news. But mostly these days good news is followed by serious news. I do not use the phrase 'bad news'. The serious news is that, according to the Minister's second reading speech, repatriation benefits this financial year in total will cost this nation of 13 million people- let us assume that there are 5 million taxpayers- the sum of $650m. That is an increase in 4 years- I am not being party politicalof some $272m, an increase of 33 W per cent.

We are dealing with the Repatriation Act 1920-1973. 1 understand that this year the total increased payments will be $ 143m for the part of the year. The payments do not fall due until royal assent has been given to this legislation. Last financial year for the full year the cost of repatriation benefits increased by $88m. So the people of Australia- you and I, the taxpayershave to realise that, regardless of the rights or wrongs, the Government is saying to the people:

In about two to three years time, as the aftermath of participation in war and in war only, the cost to this underpopulated country'- honourable senators opposite like a lot of idiots are talking about zero population- 'will be $ 1,000m'. Alternatively the Labor Party may do what it did when it was in government during the depressionreduce pensions. I do not think that even this Government would have the nerve to do that.

There is no doubt that the benefits being made available under this legislation will add to the inflationary pressures that are muddling Australia and confusing the Cabinet, the Caucus, the Caucus cabinet and the kitchen cabinet. Everyone is confused and everyone is worried about inflation. By passing this legislation we are knowingly adding to the pressures of inflation. But what I want to say is this: A government is elected to govern. I choose my words very carefully. A government is responsible for its own policy and a government must bear the brunt of the effects of its policy both on the recipients and on the people who pay- the people of Australia. As I have said, this Bill will add to inflation. 1 say to the Government: Those who live by inflation, politically, will die because of inflation. The vote seekers will find before they are many months older politically that what is won on the roundabouts is lost on the swings. That is the responsibility of honourable senators opposite. They knew it when they took over government. They know it now and they must stand up to the test of time.

The Opposition will not delay the passage of the Bill because it knows that, once it receives royal assent, the benefits will become payable from that day or from the nearest pension day afterwards. Normally the Budget would have been brought down in August and by 1 October the new benefits would have been payable. Now it looks like early November or mid November. Already a month of inflation, rising at 20 per cent odd a year, has bitten into the benefits that were promised and that we are putting into law tonight. So the Opposition wants the Bill to become law before too much more of the benefits is eaten away. As I said earlier, I congratulate the Minister, the Government and the Department on the fact that they have had a look at other things. They have not just had their minds on financial and hospital and medical benefits. In legal terms, as I understand them, it has made certain that the majority decisions of the determining authorities- that is, the tribunals and the boards which are mostly composed of 3 membersare valid in law. There appears to have been some doubt about their validity because of what has happened in respect of enlarging the scope whereby the reasons for the decisions will be made known to ex-servicemen and for other reasons, it has been necessary to put a little strength into the Act to ensure that validity and also to strengthen the famous section 47 of the principal Act, which has been debated so often and so long and which relates to the onus of proof.

It may interest honourable senators who have not studied the Bill- if there are any- to know that the independence of Papua New Guinea is acknowledged and the effect on ex-servicemen resident in that emerging country is covered by this Bill. In other words, those who are entitled to repatriation benefits, service pensions and the like who are going to remain living in Papua New Guinea will, under this Bill, be able to draw their Australian entitlements. In addition the Department and the Minister have picked out from the legislation the fact that mariners- merchant seamen- have been under some disability in the past. This is being rectified. In future those who are entitled under the Seamen's War Pensions and Allowances Act will be able, if they so desire, to have the right of appeal to repatriation tribunals. In other words, we are saying that Service personnel who are in the same category as veterans will have the same right of appeal to the same tribunals. That will ensure an equalising of benefits. I congratulate the Minister for including this provision in the Bill.

As we know, the Minister is not only known as the Minister for Repatriation; he is also known as the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. The new title has caused him to include in this Bill a provision that the person who will be appointed Secretary to the Department of Repatriation and Compensation will also be Chairman of the Repatriation Commission. The Minister goes out of his way to say quietly that that gentleman, with the added duties, will receive no extra salary. He is like a parliamentarian in that respect.

Senator Poyser - You voted against it.

Senator MARRIOTT - I wish Senator Poyser would keep quiet, because I am taking no real notice of him. I hope that the Chairman and Secretary will have added help in performing his extra duties; otherwise he will not be able to give the necessary amount of time to the details to which we would like to see him give attention. The Minister- I wish he could keep that broken record player behind him quiet- or his speech writers in optimistic mood forecast something for the autumn session. Fancy a Labor Government Minister forecasting that he will do something in the future! How amusing! But, if he is still here as Minister, if his Party is still here as Government and if they bring into the Senate the increases forecast by the Minister, I assure him that if I feel that the Treasury has the moneynot the fiduciary issue- to pay for the increases, he will receive at least my support. He gives service pensioners that light on the hill to look to and to hope for in that if they are 70 years of age or over- neither the Minister nor I am near that mark- they will receive their pension regardless of any means test qualification.

The Bill before us encompasses more than 50 amendments. I congratulate the Department on providing the document which sets out clearly, even for laymen, the details and the explanations of the amendments which are wide-ranging but effective in the general tenor of what they strive to attain. The Repatriation Act is tidied up. I have to make a confession here. For some years I urged on previous governments and Ministers that the Repatriation Act be completely revised, reprinted and published because of the problem facing Returned Services League clubs, Legacy clubs and other ex-service associations in trying to interpret for the many inquirers from whom they receive queries the actual up to date details of the Act. This is a massive task. As I have said, we are considering the Repatriation Act 1920-1973. I believe it is time the Repatriation Act 1974-75 was produced. Finally, I say quite seriously to the Government that it is to be congratulated on the repatriation legislation. My only fear is that, although the Government's repatriation policy is good, its fiscal or economic policy has gone haywire. I wonder whether one is going to go one way and the other is going to go the other way. That is my only fear for the future. These benefits will be as nothing -

Senator McAuliffe - Never fear, we'll be here.

Senator MARRIOTT - Senator McAuliffecan say: 'Never fear'. He can sit back in his usual placid manner. But I am thinking of the people who suffer.

Senator McAuliffe - Do you not think that we think of them?

Senator MARRIOTT - No, I do not think the Government gives a continental, because of the way Government senators are laughing and joking on a serious matter. I say that this is a very serious matter. If the Government's fiscal or economic policy is such that inflation goes ahead by 25 per cent next year and many of these recipients of benefits are among the 200,000 unemployed, these benefits are as nothing. I say to the Government: 'Bring your fiscal policy into a common sense policy. Have a good economic policy. Get hold of the government of this country. Get us back to normal or get out '.

Senator McAuliffe - It will be hard to do that with you.

Senator MARRIOTT - The honourable senator would not know what normality was. He probably does not even know what it means. With those few kind words, on behalf of the Opposition I say that we support the legislation but we fear that the Government's policy will ruin the benefits which may be derived from the legislation.

Suggest corrections