8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Minister for Shipbuilding a statement to make concerning the’ resignation of the Chairman of the Shipbuilding Tribunal? Can he tell us why Mr. Connington resigned, and whythe Government did not put into operation the awards of the Tribunal?
– I have read in the press the statement that Mr.Connington resigned because some awards were not given effect by the Navy Department, but. I have no official knowledge of the reason, for his resignation.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy if his Department has refused to give effect to the awards of the Shipbuilding Tribunal.
– I am not aware that it has done so. Matters generally are under consideration, but I would remind the honorable member that the Navy Department has nothing to do with commercial shipbuilding.. ,
– As it is considered that the nine F5 flying boats which have been acquired by the Commonwealth are by no means the latest machines, though of standard pattern, will the Minister representing the Minister for Defence ask that representations be made to the Home authorities with a view to the securing of the latest types ?
-I shall have the matter looked into, and, if necessary, representations will be made to the Home authorities.
– I have received from the honorable member for Hunter an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The cancellation and reduction of soldiers’ war pensions by the Department of Repatriation.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
.- I movethe adjournment of the House to discuss the administration of war pensions, because of the great importance of the subject. Until the latter months of last year, the administration of war pensions was in the hands of the officers of the Old-age Pensions Department. Since its transference to the Repatriation Department there have been many changes,’ and pensions have frequently been cancelled or reduced. The Act providesfor the reviewing of pensions from time to time, and that is necessary to prevent men who are not entitled to pensions from receiving them; but the Repatriation Department have gone beyond that, and, as the records will prove, have cut down the pensions of men who are unable to work. This has been done on the ground that the men concerned are only two-thirds or onethird incapacitated bywar service. In some cases in which, by reason ofinjuries received in the way of wounds, or illhealth due to war service, men are unable to work, pensions have been cancelled entirely, and, in some instances, the persons affected have wives andfamilies to support. The House must take notice of these facts, because, of late, there has been too much muddling in administration, and a strict investigation should be demanded. The reviewing of pensions is necessary, because no man should receive a pension to which he is not entitled. But the country’ is under an obligation to make proper provision for those who are suffering because of their services during the war. While the war was in progress, it was said that our soldiers would, on their return, be properly looked after should they be disabled in any way at the Front, but it seems to me that this obligation to look after them is fast being forgotten. I do not know who is to blame for this, yet I dare say that other honorable members have had experiences similar to my own. In my district, since October last, scores of men have had their pensions reduced, and, in some cases, pen sions have been cancelled altogether. Some of these men, according to their statements to me, are so incapacitated that they are unable to follow their former occupations, or to earn anything like as much as they earned beforethewar. When the administration of war pensions was conducted by the Old-age Pensions Office, local doctors, all reputable men, were asked to report upon the condition of pensioners, and these then got justice. Now, however, the services of local medical practitionersare declined, and the Repatriation Department sends to my district from Sydney a doctor who, I believe, is a returned man. The administration of returned men has, in many instances, been detrimental to returned men themselves, though they may not recognise this. This doctor examines pensioners, and certifies that they are suffering only a certain percentage of incapacity, or are no longer incapable by reason of war service, and on the strength ofhis reports pensions are reduced or cancelled, there being no other investigation. I have written many letters on the subject, and the answer always received has been that may communication has been treated as in the nature of a notice of appeal, and that the matter has been submitted to the State Pensions Board, which, after consideration of the medical evidence, is unable to vary the decision. Are soldiers who risked everything for their country, and were injured in the war, to be wholly at the mercy of one medical man? Are the opinions of local medical men to be wholly disregarded? Is there to be no redress for the soldiers? I have numbers of cases to support the statements I am making.
– The honorable member will help both the soldier and the Government if he can givespecific instances and, if possible, names.
– If the Minister would take the trouble to visit New South Wales or send some one. there on his behalf to peruse the files in connexion with soldiers pensions he would find numbers of cases submitted by honorable members of this House. I do not know how many Ihavesubmitted with the same negative result? Here is a letter forwarded to me from the Minister for Labour and Industry in New South Wales. I had already dealt with the case,but this letter supplies the particulars laid before the Minister by the returned soldier in question. The letter is as follows: -
I have been advised to write to you and explain my case.I was invalided home from France with V.D.H. of the heart and trench feet. Two years ago I received 15s. per week pension, and went to work as groom in a coal mine. The dampness brought on the bad feet, and I was treated at the local hospital, and then transferred to a military hospital in Sydney, and my heart was very bad. I received full pension, which I have received for five months, was examined by the Repatriation Doctor from Sydney, and six days ago I received notice that my pension was cancelled. I then went to the manager of the mine where I worked, and he refused to employ me without a doctor’s certificate. I went to Dr. Raymond Lane, and asked him for one, and after sounding me he refused to give me a certificate as fit for work. I then went to Dr. Abel James, and asked him to give me one, and he would not give me one, but said I may get some very light work. Then I went to all the mines and tried to get employment, but failed. I cannot get work, and have a wife and three young children depending on me, and our pension, being paid in advance, when cancelled, I had nothing to go on with. An invalid cannot get credit, and I had to pay cash for everything. I had no money to buy food with, and cannot get work, so will you kindly try and do something for me and my family as we are badly in need.
There are many similar cases. Here is another -
Your letter to hand of the 2nd February re pension. Where they state that 1 am now suffering two-thirds incapacity due to war service, I would like to ask them how it is that I have been before totally incapacitated, and that I am now in a worse condition than ever. I am suffering through war service and nothing else. If I could do any work to support my wife and family, I would not ask them for a penny. I was prepared to fight for the country. I am now prepared to fight for my just dues and rights. I lost six months’ pension in 1919 through a doctor that never looked at me at all, but I am not going to do that in this case, so you can tell them that I will put this case through every channel I can. Thanking you for the trouble I am causing you.
I have had a lot of correspondence over this case. In the first instance I had great difficulty in getting a pension for this man, hut now it has been cancelled, despite the fact that he is incapable of doing any work.
– I can quote the case of a man who is in bed for most of his time and is not receiving a pension.
– Here is another case -
Be Robt. Miller, Carrington Convalescent Hospital, Camden, 8568, Private, 2nd Battalion. - With reference to a communication of the 15th March, 1921, addressed to you by the above-named war pensioner, I have to advice that his pension has been suspended owing to his failure to attend for medical examination when requested to do so.
Fresh arrangements will , be made to have him medically examined at an early date, with a view to removing the suspension.
Yours faithfully, (Signed) A. G. Farr,
I have had voluminous correspondence in connexion with this. man. He. was a constituent of mine at the time he first communicated with me, but since then he hasbeen in various parts of New South Wales in an endeavour to have his health restored. His pension was suspended because he did not answer the call to be examined, but how could a man in a convalescent hospital attend for examination? The Department ought to have probed the matter further, and ascertained the reason for his absence before suspending his pension. However, it merely shows the way in which the Department is administering pensions, There has been altogether too much muddling in connexion with Commonwealth departmental administration generally, and it is high time strong action was taken by the Ministry to put matters right. We cannot afford to let the men who fought for us be treated in this way. I have nothing to say in regard to the taking away of pensions from men who have been fullyrestored to health, but I claim that they should be granted to men who are still suffering.
I believe that over 90 per cent. of the staff of the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Department are returned soldiers.
– Yes. When we gave returned soldiers the privilege of accepting these positions it was the worst, thing that could have happened to the returned men themselves. They would have received more justice had the administration of these Departments been left in the hands of more capable officers. As the honorable member for Illawarra(Mr. Lamond) has just interjected, the officials in these Departments have got into a military routine, and imagine that everything can be done in a mechanical way without giving proper consideration to the matters which come before them. The returned soldiers are suffering from the application of that method. As I have often said, I pledged my word, to see that justice was done to the men who went to the Front, and as long as I remain in this House I am going to do as much as I can in their interests. Therefore, I call upon the Government, who were so lavish in their promises for returned soldiers, particularly in respect of pensions, to take a hand in this matter, and not allow understrappers to continue to run the Repatriation Department. They ought to put the administration of pensions, on a proper footing, and see that justice is done to the men who are suffering to-day. It may be said that because this Parliament enacted legislation which does not give the Minister the fullest possible power to control the administration of the Repatriation Department, his hands are tied, but, as a matter of fact, the hands of a Minister are never tied, because if an Act under which a Department is administered prove unsatisfactory it can easily be amended. This House and the Ministerwho isresponsible to it should always have the fullest control over any Government Department.
– Last night I got very little encouragement from the honorable member’s party in connexion with a matter concerning another Department.
– The work of the Repatriation Department has shown, beyond all shadow of doubt, that there is room for improvement, and, if the Minister feels that there is need, for amendment of the Act, I am sure that this House, within less than half-an-hour, would give him whatever legislation he deemed necessary in the interests of the soldiers. However, I ask him to make a searching inquiry into this Department, as well as the War Service Homes administration. If he does so he will not require me,or any other honorable member, to furnish him with specific cases of injustice, because he willfind them by the bushel in the files. In the meantime, will he ask his officers for a return as to the number of men receiving war pensions at the time that they were ad- ministered by the Treasury, the number receiving pensions at the present time, and the number who, after receiving them, have had them curtailed since the transfer of the control of pensions to the Repatriation Department?
– I will do so most willingly.
– If the cases are as numerous in other electorates as they are in the Hunter division, the total number will be very large. However, I trust that the Minister, if he has not sufficient power to deal with the administration of his Department will come to the House and ask it to amend the Act in order to place’ affairs on a more satisfactory footing.
I regret that the honorable member who introduced the subject-matter of this discussion did not give honorable members some indication of his intention. There are numbers on all sides of the House who are prepared, given a little time in which to get their material together, to show that administration in connexion with the affairs ‘of the returned soldier has been by no means what was promised. In the Pensions Branch there are many cases of very severe hardship. I have a sheaf of letters a foot or two deep emanating from all the States, and, had I been given opportunity to prepare, I would have selected a number of the most moving cases from which to quote. However, I have one or two at hand from which I shall draw, and which will be sufficient, I think, to support my criticisms. I have a communication from the secretary of one of the State branches of the Officers’ Widows and Dependants’ Association. If there are any people who should receive reasonable treatment at the hands of a Government who have promised to extend it, they are the widows of officers who fell at the Front.
– And of men, also.
–Yes, but more particularly the dependants of officers. In many cases their widows have been so nurtured and reared that now, their bread-winners having been lost to them, they are incapable of earning their own livings. Their husbands went to the war with the promises of a generous ‘Government in their minds j but their widows and orphans have been left practically without support, and with no ordinary knowledge and experience or general means wherewith to make a living. The position of some of these widows is not only individually disastrous, but amounts to a grave discredit to Australia. Here is the substance of the letter from the Officers’ Widows and Dependants Association: - * . ]* “I Ifltf J
I have to inform you that the Prime Minister was approached immediately after the new year, and stated that the matter would be looked into. Nothing further apparently has happened, and, if allowed to rest, it may be overlooked.
There is indicated the pathetic hope that something will be done. But we know that nothing is being done or has been done. The sufferings of the dependants of some of our returned men, and of those who have fallen, are such that if I were administering the Department I would be unable to sleep at night. Letters similar in character to that which I have quoted have reached me from the branches of the same organization in Western Australia and New South Wales. ‘ I believe, indeed, that in every State - more shame to Australia - there are women who have been gently reared, and are not fitted for the struggle of life, who have been left without any one to protect them; and the Government are not fulfilling their undertaking to occupy the position of their protectors. Not only the widows and orphans, but in many cases returned soldiers themselves have grave causes for complaint in respect of the dealings of the Government. Here is another typical letter: -
Your letter to hand, 27th March, 1921, from Department of Repatriation, for which I thank you for the trouble you have taken on my behalf, although it is not satisfactory to me. The letter states that I have lost only one-tenth incapacity, but I may state here that I have lost one finger and another is damaged and at times quite useless to me, and I think, at least that 8s. 3d. per fortnight is hardly enough for a married man who has got to depend on his hands. Thanking you for your kindness.
This generous Pensions Department, in respect to whose activities the Government were so lavish in their promises, gives an injured married man, who has. to make his living with his hands. 8s. 3d. per fortnight with which to help maintain his family. ‘Examples such as this could be multiplied by hundreds, if not by thousands, by honorable members generally. I want to see that the Government accept their voluntarily undertaken responsibilities. They have failed in their administration of returned, soldiers’ affairs, and unless they wake up to the facts, very soon the position in Australia will be much more serious than any one cares to anticipate.
– I also, like the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), regret that honorable members generally were not made aware df the intended introduction of a discussion upon the subjectmatter of pensions this morning. Had notice been given me, I, too, would have been prepared with numbers of striking individual causes of complaint. I cannot, however, take up the position of the honorable member who has jost resumed his seat with regard to the responsibility of the Government, although, if I cared to do so, I could show that I am in a much stronger position than he, for he was one of those honorable members who insisted on compliance with the soldiers’ demand for independent tribunals to administer the matters in which they were involved, free of political control. I never conceded the right of the soldiers to take these matters away from the purview of the representatives of the people in this Parliament.
– ‘The honorable member voted for pensions to be taken over by the Department which is now handling them.
– That is true; but I was not going to put the present Government out and the honorable member’s party into power merely because a majority of honorable members took up an attitude in connexion with the administration of pensions of which I did not personally approve.
I would point out to the honorable member for Robertson that, against whoever these charges in regard to the administration of pensions and soldiers’ matters generally may lie to-day, they cannot be levelled at Ministers, from whom this Parliament deliberately took control. In everything else that the honorable member for Robertson said, and in all that I heard the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) say, I concur. Administration today is infinitely worse under the controlling body demanded by the returned soldiers themselves than it. was under the authority of responsible Ministers, and we are. in the unhappy position that, while under the system of responsible government we were able to make our opinions known and felt, the administration aof the tribunals now in control are beyond the reach of Parliament. I hope that this morning’s criticisms will result in a return to correct methods of control.
I understand that a direction has been issued to medical officers in relation to their determinations concerning whether soldiers are suffering from incapacity due to the war. That instruction., I am told, is of such a nature that the medical officials are not free to act as they could have done formerly. If such is the case, the responsible Minister should discover the facts, and take action.
– I hasten to assure honorable members that I know nothing of this.
– I am convinced of that; but, from the cases which have come under the notice of all honorable members, it is apparent that there is some determination on the part of those controlling the administration of pensions at present to cut out, or, at any rate, to cut down numbers of individual pensions in order to show better financial results than hitherto. I know of a specific instance in which a soldier had been receiving a pension because of his incapacity. He was called before examining officials, however, and his pension was reduced to such an extent that it is practically useless. That man is fighting for his life. He is unable to work, and, therefore, is not in a position to buy much that is needful to him. These are not isolated cases. The fact that there are scores of them in every electorate suggests that they must be all part of a carefully devised plan. They cannot be due to accident. I can well understand that one or two such cases might creep in under the wisest administration; but the widespread cancellation of pensions, without the soldiers concerned being given any reason for their cancellation or afforded an opportunity of being heard before cancellation, and the fact ‘that outside doctors have certified that a soldier is suffering because of war service and unable to work, while official doctors of the Department have said that he is not suffering on account of war service and is able to work, go to indicate that within the Department itself there is a determined effort to deny to the soldier his rights. I feel sure that the Minister, knowing as he must do, after this debate, the general character of the complaints against the administration of the Department, will exercise such powers as remain to him to see either that this condition of affairs is remedied within the present Department, or that the powers df that Department are taken away and the whole system restored to the control of a responsible Minister.
.- It is generally admitted that the administration of pensions to soldiers and dependants of soldiers is in a most lamentable condition. It is not for me to say with whom the fault rests; but it is the duty of the Government and of honorable members on all sides of the House to seethat the complaints are dealt with and justice meted out. Here is the case of a soldier named Lawrence, now living at Leichhardt’, Sydney. After about four years’ service at the Front he came back an almost helpless shell-shock case. For nearly two yearsthat ona n has not been receiving a penny from the Department, and he can get no> satisfaction from it or its medical officers. Private medical men who have examined him -say that he is quite incapable of working, and he is in such a pitiable condition that,- as I told the Controller in Sydney, “ it almost gives one the creeps to look at him. He is a married marr with a family, and yet because ‘the medical authorities of the’ Department- havesome idea that his case is not what it deems to me, although private medical men have assured me that it is quitegenuine, he is not receiving any assistance from the Department. A “committeeof business men in Leichhardt took up his. case, but after dealing with it for sometime found it impossible to obtain any satisfaction and asked me to assist them.. I eventually obtained for the man a temporary grant of £2 - not £2 per week,. but an actual grant of £2. Nothing more would be given him. The authorities in Sydney said that the case would have to be referred to the head office in Melbourne for consideration. “ Melbourne “ has been sitting on it for the last six weeks. Meanwhile this man and his wife are receiving nothing. The man cannot work, and the woman has to go out to work to maintain her soldierhusband who fought for his country.
I hold it to be the duty of honorable members generally, quite apart from party considerations, to see that justice is done in all such cases. I ask the Assistant Minister forRepatriation (Mr. Rodgers) to deal with the case of this man Lawrence, and to see to it that petty technical points are not raised in opposition to his claim. Do to this man the justice that he did to his country.
As illustrating the attitude generally adopted by the Government towards our returned soldiers, I propose to relate to the House the action taken by New South Wales members of the Labour party in reference to soldiers’ grievances. We held a meeting of our party in Sydney, after representations had been made to us by soldiers and the dependants of soldiers, and decided by resolution to wait upon the only Commonwealth Minister then in Sydney - the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) - and place before him the complaints that had been submitted to us. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham), and I were deputed by our party to place the facts before the Treasurer. We did so, and were told by him that we had better submit our complaints to him in the form of a memorandum. If we did that, he said, he would take the memorandum to Melbourne, and place it before the Cabinet and the Department.. We reported to our party, and subsequently drew up a memorandum which we presented to the Treasurer on 1st February last. From that day to this we have not had one word from him, the responsible Minister, or the head of the Department in reference to these complaints.
– The honorable member cannot say that he has ever submitted to me a case with which I have not dealt.
– We submitted this memorandum to the Treasurer who, as I have said, was the only Commonwealth Minister then in Sydney, and he promised to bring it before the Cabinet. After waiting a week for an answer we sent to the Treasurer the following urgent telegram : -
Dependants of soldiers I very anxious to know the reply of Government to Labour party’s memorandum re living allowance, &c.
That telegram has not even been acknowledged. The memorandum which we submitted to the Treasurer was as follows : -
A meeting of members of the Federal Parliamentary Labour party was held at the Commonwealth Bank Buildings, in Sydney, on Tuesday, 1st February, and resolutions were passed which were subsequently placed before the Treasurer, the Bight Honorable Sir Joseph Cook, by representatives of the meeting, Messrs. Riley, M.P., Mahony, M.P., and Cunningham, M.P. The members of the Par. liamentary Labour party complained of the following matters : -
The reduction and practical discontinuance of the living allowance of mothers, widows, and other dependants of deceased soldiers, by reasonof a regulation issued by the Repatriation Commissioners, fixing the maximum amount which could be drawn, including pension, was not to exceed 35s. per week, &c.
The reduction of military pension by reason of the receipt of an invalid and old-age pension. When provision was made by Parliament for the granting of pensions to widows and other dependants ‘ of deceased soldiers, it was distinctly understood that such pensions were not to be reduced by reason of the receipt of invalid and old-age pensions, and it is claimed that the will of Parliamentshould be carried out in the spirit in which the Act providing for military pensions was passed.
The reduction of invalid and old-age pensions, when war gratuity bonds held by such invalid or old-age pensioners are cashed.
These are grievances under which soldiersand their dependants are labouring. We placed that memorandum before the Minister, who was in Sydney; but. following the usual governmental method of “ keeping things dark,” no reply was sent to us.
– When I appointed a tribunal, itwas said to be a “ camouflage “ tribunal.
– The honorable gentleman appointed no tribunal in connexion with the matter we are discussing.
– But I did in the other matter.
– That other tribunal was appointed to deal with war service homes; the honorable gentleman ought not to try to “ side-step “ me.
– I am merely showing the attitude taken up by the honorable member and others.
– Did the Treasurer submit that memorandum to the Cabinet ?
– You had better ask the Treasurer; I see so many documents.
– Surely the Minister will admit that the document I have read is an important one?
– I admit its importance.
– Then the Minister must know whether or not he received it, or whether it came before the Cabinet. Can any other Minister present say whether this document was placed before the Cabinet? “We, and also the soldiers, wish to know what the Government are doing, or what they propose to do. I hope that the Minister will be able to announce that the Government are prepared to accede to the requests made by members of the Australian Labour party on behalf of the soldiers.
. - I entirely agree with the mover of the motion, but I do not agree with the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), who, in his explanation, drew class distinctions by speaking of officers’ wives instead of soldiers’ wives generally. The rule has always been to draw no distinctions of the kind. Up to the present no honorable member who has spoken has suggested a way out of the difficulty; but I contend that, quite apart from party considerations, a solution may be found: I know that since the pensions administration was taken over by the Repatriation Department, the administration, has not been so good as formerly, and that is due to the hard-and-fast rules laid down by the Department. I am not going to blame the Government or the Minister, but I do blame the administrative head; whoever he may be, for issuing orders that, in dealing with individual cases, expenses must be cut down. The mover of the motion spoke of the medical officer having the sole right to say whether a pension shall or shall not be reduced; and we cannot altogether blame such an officer for acting in accordance with such orders.
– Soldiers have the right of appeal.
– That is so; but has the tribunal to which he appeals sufficient knowledge of his case to give him a fair deal?
– In New South Wales there is a State Board of Appeal, but that Board always deals with a case in accordance with the medical officer’s certificate.
– I have been Complaints Officer in Western Australia, and heard complaints in that State from the beginning of the war. The same rules and procedure should apply in both New South Wales and Western Australia, because this Parliament does not legislate for particular States. At any rate, I am prepared to say that in Western Australia the soldiers get a great deal more to their -advantage than in any other State, and in certain cases are allowed to travel free on the railways and tramways. In Western ^Australia a Complaints Officer was appointed to listen to soldiers who complained of a grievance. Any soldier had the right to put his complaint before that officer; who, in turn, had the Tight to put the case, not to the administrative head, but to the Minister. The result is that in Western Australia the soldiers were absolutely satisfied. My belief is that there are sufficient qualified and public-minded men to be found in each -State, and in every district of each State, to form an Appeal Board. My suggestion is that, if, after a medical officer has reduced a pension, the soldier regards the reduction as unjust or inequitable, he ought to have the right of appeal to such a Board. A Board of the kind would be authorized to report to the Minister direct.
– As I pointed out, there is a State Board in New South Wales, but it acts entirely on the certificate of the doctor sent up by the Department. If an appellant has certificates from two or three other doctors whom he has consulted, the Board still acts on tb» certificate of the medical officer.
– But under my suggestion there would be the right of direct appeal to the Minister-. That would be giving the soldier what every’ Democrat desires to give him, namely, a civil right over a military right. In Western Australia he has had that right and is satisfied. I know that before the pensions
I were controlled by the Repatriation Department the medical referees rejected cases which subsequently came before me as Complaints Officer, and on many occasions, after I have explained the circumstances to the medical officers, they have reviewed their decisions. If any instruction, such as has been referred to by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) has been issued by the administrative head, who is a soldier, the Minister” should see that the regulation is revised in the interests of the men who fought for this country, and by their sacrifices made it possible for this Parliament to be in session to-day.
.- I indorse the remarks made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Foley). People have come to me and complained about their pensions having been cut down, and investigation has revealed many cases of hardship. One man, who enlisted from the New South Wales Railway Department, returned from the war invalided. After. he had been in the enjoyment of a pension for some months he was called up for medical examination, and the Board decided that he was not suffering as a result of war-like operations, and his pension was stopped. He returned -to the Railway Department, and, on being examined by two Government doctors, he was rejected for employment in the service because he was not physically fit. I sent to headquarters an appeal against the treatment this man received, but he has obtained no redress, although he is a married man with a young family. Cases such as his are the most heart-breaking that honorable members have to deal with. Every appeal I have made to headquarters in Melbourne has been refused, because the Department is guided solely bv the medical certificate and takes no notice of out-‘ side evidence. However, I believe the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) is sympathetic and that he will have a searching inquiry .made and all rejected cases reviewed. In connexion with widows’ pensions also there are many cases of hardship, to which I direct the attention of the Assistant Minister. If a - widow who is an old-age pensioner cashes her war bond her pension is immediately cut down. That was never intended by Parliament, and paragraph 7 of the rules printed on the back of the bond states that upon no consideration will a pension, be reduced on account of the cashing of the bond. Who gave instructions that the pension should be cut down in those circumstances ?
– I do not administer the Gratuity Act, and I have given no instructions of. the kind to which, the honor- able member refers, but the Act does prescribe certain financial limitations.
– Now that the matter Has been mentioned, I believe that the Assitant Minister will make an inquiry and see that justice is done.
– I welcome the opportunity afforded by this motion to have this matter ventilated as far as possible, and to put before the House and the country the policy which the Government have carried out in regard to soldiers. I admit that in the administration of the war pensions many cases of hardship, which called for Tedress, have been brought to my notice, and I, personally, am doing everything within my power, which is limited, to see that those cases are dealt- with as speedily and equitably as possible. But I take very great exception to the’ statement made by the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), that the Government have failed in their duty to the soldier. I deny that emphatically, and I claim that there be one pledge which the Government have fulfilled to the limit, even beyond, it is in respect of our undertakings to the soldiers. I remind the House and the country that during the present financial year we shall spend £50,000,000 upon such activities, comprising provision for land settlement, £16,000,000; war service homes, £8,000,000-
– Both of which amounts the soldiers must pay back.
– Quite so; but surely T may be allowed to show that the Government have fulfilled their promises. For pensions in the present year £7,500,000 is being provided; gratuities to be paid or redeemed by public and private arrangements combined will amount to about £14,000,000 up to the end of May next, and the expenditure upon repatriation generally will be about £4,500,000, making a grand total for the present year of £50,000,000. I regret that the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) is not in the chamber. He stated that his recent action iti ‘leaving the Nationalist party, and his attitude to-day, are due to the fact that the Government have not fulfilled their obligations to the soldiers. All I shall say at this stage is that that is 1 not his real reason.
– The real reason is that you have got the honorable member’s job.
– Dealing more particularly with the motion of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), I draw the attention of the House to the figures showing the progressive development of the pensions provision under the present administration : -
The estimated expenditure for this .year is £7,031,104. The provision made’ this year has totalled £7,500,000 Those figures show that the number of pensioners and the amount of the claims paid have steadily increased, and I deny that the Government has failed in its promises, or in its duty towards the returned men.
– Were not the pension regulations altered about the end of the year?
– There have been three War Pensions Acts, each amending measure increasing the provision made for war pensions for returned men and their dependants. For a disabled returned man with a wife and three children, the 1915 Act made a weekly allowance of £2 12s. 6d. ; the 1916 Act of £3 7s. 6d., and the Act under which pensions are now paid of £4 2s. ,6d. A totally and permanently incapacitated soldier with a wife and three children receives £6 0s. 6d. per weak, and the allowance increases as his children increase. Most of those who condemned the Government have condemned the legislation for which they themselves voted.
– It is the administration, not the legislation, of which we complain. * Mr. RODGERS.- The impression left by the discussion must be that the Government and country have failed in their duty to the returned men. As a matter of fact, however, very generous provision has been made for them, and the Government has strained the finances to give effect to it. As to the administration of the law relating to returned men, Parliament decided that it should be in the hands of Commissioners. I opposed the proposal, and now I find myself temporarily at the head of the Department responsible for this administration. Of course, I have nothing to say against any one who is engaged in the work of administration, and I refuse to accept general statements which involve the wholesale condemnation of officials. I undertake, however, to submit to the keenest possible test every case referred to me, either here or outside. The Government have appointed returned men as Commissioners, the deputies under them are returned men, and 98 per cent, of the staff of the Department are returned men, so that there should be no lack of sympathy in the administration of the Act.
– The appointment of returned men for the administration of the War Service Homes Act and other legislation dealing with soldiers has led to nothing but muddle.
– I am not prepared to indorse that statement. When I took a certain line of action towards another Department, a great deal of abuse was showered on me, though that will not deter me from doing my obvious duty. As to living allowances, when the pensions were increased, they were in many .cases reduced; but this year the Government will provide about £7,500,000 for pensions and living allowances, and the provision we have made has steadily increased. The statement of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) that widows’ war pensions are reduced if invalid or old-age pensions are received is not correct.
– It is the Old-age Pensions Department that makes the reduction.
– In granting a war pension, no cognisance is taken of any other pension that a widow or dependant may be receiving. That is the provision of the Act ; but, in the matter of allowances, the circumstances of pensioners are considered. Many pensions are enjoyed as a matter of right. A totally and permanently incapacitated man with a wife and three children receives £6 Os. 6d. per week as of right, and cannot be deprived, of his pension.
Extension of time granted.
Some of the other pensions are specific and definite, and cannot be varied by the administration. Others may be subject to review, and increased or decreased according to the medical report of the condition of the pensioner. “When a returned man has had his injuries repaired by gratuitous medical and surgical treatment, and has been restored to full health, he is no longer entitled to a pension. TheGovernment has its obligations to the country as well as to the returned men, and it cannot pay pensions to persons who are not entitled to them, or more liberal pensions than the law provides for. But no person who has suffered a war disability, and is thereby entitled to consideration, should receive less than fair compensation.
– How can you interfere unless you secure an amendment of the Act?
– The administration of the war pensions is in the hands of Commissioners, who possess a medical organization for the examination of all cases. The variation of a pension depends on the me’dical certificate, and the complete survey of the pensioner’s medical file, which contains an account of his case and of the examinations to which he has been subjected from the beginning. The Commission possesses a very able Medical Board, which has appointed medical officers throughout the Commonwealth. As the law stands, I can only draw the attention of the Commissioners to the representations made in this Chamber and outside, and ask for a full review of the administration on the medical side. The first appeal is to the State Board, and the final appeal to the Commissioners, who, before coming to a decision, consult the highest medical authorities. If this procedure does no’t bring about a satisfactory adjustment of pensions, I promise to reconsider the whole position with my colleagues and the Commissioners.
.- I am in a position similar to that of other honorable members. I have not the papers with me .that I. would like to have had in speaking upon this question. After hearing the Minister’s reply, it seems to me not to be a question of bringing forward evidence to show that there has been a reduction of pensions, or to prove that the administration of the Department is unsatisfactory; our object ought to be to ascertain the best means of rectifying the difficulty confronting us to-day. A good deal has been said about the action of medical officers in reducing the pen- sions of incapacitated soldiers, but I know of cases in which the pensions of widows of deceased soldiers have been reduced during the last few months, despite what the Minister has said about the increases which have been authorized. I would like to know how it comes about that a widow with one child has her pension reduced, seeing that the medical officer has no control over matters of that kind. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr; Foley) has suggested that the officer administering the Department has issued orders for a reduction ; but it would be a most extraordinary step for him to take unless he had instructions from the Government to do so.
– No instruction has gone from the Government or from any mem- ber ofl the Cabinet to alter or reduce any pension within the statutory provision.
– The Minister, in replying, particularly to the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), refuted the charge that the Government had not stood up to their responsibilities in regard to returned soldiers, and in support of his claim pointed out that so many millions of pounds had been expended or would be expended by the end of this year. I have heard no -‘criticism in regard to the amount of money that has been expended. It is the responsibility of this House. As far as I can judge, the criticism I have heard to-day has been levelled against the administration of the Repatriation Department. It would be useless for me t© tell a widow who is receiving only £1 15s. a week, and who has children to rear and educate, that we have spent £7,000,000 on soldiers and their dependants during the current year. She would naturally want to know why, if we could spend all that amount of money, she was not getting fair and reasonable treatment, and an opportunity to maintain herself and her children and educate them in the manner in which they should be educated. I had fully intended to place before the Minister the case of a King Island widow. I received all the papers concerning it just prior to leaving Tasmania, but I have not brought them up to the House to-day, because I did not know that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) intended to submit this motion. In fact, I intended to bring the case under the notice f of the Minister before mentioning it in the House; but, inasmuch as the honorable member has raised a discussion on this question, . and the Minister has replied, I shall take this opportunity of dealing with it. The widow concerned was the wife of a medical officer who lost his life ali the war. She was receiving a pension of £2 10s. a week, but it has now been reduced to £1 15s. a week. I want to know who is responsible for making that reduction, and whether the Minister considers the amount adequate? The country must do justice to the dependants of deceased soldiers. The amount of money we spend on repatriation generally, and upon the building of war service homes, is an indication ‘that this Parliament is. willing ,to do that justice, but it is no indication that each and every dependant is receiving fair .treatment compared with the total amount spent, or compared with what others are receiving. “While millions of money have been spent upon repatriation we know that some of it has been wasted. “Who is responsible ? It has been said by honorable members, and even by the Minister himself, that the control of the expenditure has been taken out of his hands.
– I said that Parliament fixed the control. I did not say that it had been taken out of my hands.
– But I look to the Minister to provide a remedy. I cannot deal with the Commissioner or with any of the officials. I agree perfectly with the honorable member for Hunter when he says that the soldiers have not received sympathetic consideration from some of the officials of the Departments who are returned men. I have never advocated that soldiers should he appointed to these positions quite apart from their ability or capacity to do the work they are called upon to perform. There are officials in the Repatriation Department and the “War Service Homes Department who are absolutely unfitted .for their positions, and who give no sympathetic treatment to other soldiers who approach them. There are some in the Department who could not get a job elsewhere. The good men who returned from the Front were speedily picked up by employers. Those who could not get jobs elsewhere were put into Government Departments. They are not fit to wear one stripe as soldiers. They have no sympathy for the men who approach them. I have had this experience myself when going into the office seeking information. It was not known that I was a member of Parliament. The officials could not supply me with the information I required. I was passed on from one man to another, until I realized that no one knew his work, and I felt that not one of them cared very much whether the seeker for information got what he desired. Speaking as a soldier, I am perfectly sure that the appointment of these men to the Repatriation Department has led to bad administration. In fact, the worst administered Department in the Commonwealth to-day is the Repatriation Department.
Now as to the remedy. The Minister has said that he will have a full investigation. It is very necessary. But I cannot hold the Minister blameless. As head of the Department he must be aware of the faults in administration. ‘ However, now that he is about to make an investigation, I hope he will act promptly. He asks what he is to do, and whether he has power to do anything. If he has not the power to dismiss the head of the Department, should he think it necessary to do so, we are indeed in a peculiar position in this Parliament. If a Commissioner or any official can be appointed by the Government and cannot be dismissed, even if found to be grossly incompetent, the sooner the matter is rectified the sooner we shall have a chance of having reasonable administration in our Departments.
– If any honorable member knows of any definite reason why the present Commissioner should not hold his office, I shall be glad to know it, and if it can be proved I will take definite action.
J have . acted in one direction already, with, jolly little thanks, form this House.
– is it tie duty of an honorable member to supply a Minister with specific cases why the head of a Department should be dismissed?
– But if an honorable member charges an officer with haying done certain things he ought to make definite charges.
– I have not said that the head of the Department is responsible for the reduction of these pensions or for maladministration. I say that I hold the Minister responsible. He should know which of his officers is to blame. Ho asks for specific cases. We have given,them to him this morning, oases in which the Department has been administered unsatisfactorily. He says that the Government have done their duty by. voting the money, bub honorable members have surely shown to his satisfaction that the amounts of the pensions are inadequate. When dependants or incapacitated men ask for information, are the replies they receive satisfactory, or can they get justice unless they secure the services of a member of Parliament? Personally, I have no desire to got to any official of a public Department to get justice for a pensioner or any one else. I have given sufficient reasons to the Minister to show that hi3 Department is npt administered properly.
– The Minister should be responsible to this House. Who else could bet
– I have not shirked any responsibility.
– It is unreasonable for the Minister to ask me, or any other honorable member, to furnish him with specific reasons why the head of a Department should be dismissed. I did not say that he should be dismissed.
– The honorable member indicated that, because of his administration, the Commissioner should be dismissed.
– No. I said that the maladministration spoken of showed that there was something wrong in the Department, and for this I held the Minister responsible, and claimed that he should find out which of his officers was responsible. If the Minister is not responsible, then I suppose the Commissioner is responsible. If pensions have been reduced by instructions from the Commissioner and the’ Minister has not issued those in structions, surely the Commissioner was responsible. These pensions have been reduced.
– The law does not permit of the reduction of the pension of a widow with a child under sixteen years, of age.
– Pensions have been reduced. That is. to say, the total, including the pension and the allowance,, has been reduced. If, as the Minister says, it is not lawful to make these reductions, it is his business, and not mine, to find out why they have been made.
The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) indicated that the oldage pension of a widow who had received a war gratuity in cash had been reduced. The Minister made no direct reply to that statement. It would be an awful shame if that were the case.
– It was not the war pension that was reduced.
– If the Minister has not the’ power at present to administer the Department satisfactorily to himself and to the Parliament, I will be one who will help him to alter the position.
– I have listened carefully to the reply of the Minister to the charges which have been levelled. It consisted mainly in the cataloguing of the amounts of money voted ‘by this House for soldiers’ pur-‘ poses. The point which was missed by the Minister is that it has been complained most’ emphatically that there have been specific instances of unwarranted and unjust reductions of the pensions received by disabled men and war widows.
– All such reductions, in the cases of disabled men, are the outcome of recommendations ‘by doctors.
– That may he so ; but I wish to put the point of view both of the disabled returned man and of the doctor. It is not merely the view-point of the medical man employed by the Pensions Branch which must be borne in mind; but the fact is that the reports of doctors with even more specialized experience and genera] capacity have been consistently disregarded. I may say that in the few instances in which I have been able to secure an alteration, following upon the reduction of a disabled man’s pension, that success was occasioned by reason of my having -been able -to go to the trouble of making a personal examination and expressing a professional opinion thereon. Thus, in addition to my other capacities, such as they may he, foi pressing the claims of men whose .pensions have been reduced, I have been able to apply a special method of pressure. As to where the responsibility” lies, if it is not a Ministerial responsibility at present, the fault does not rest with honorable members of the Country party. The vote taken in this House which transferred pensions from Ministerial responsibility was not supported by my colleagues in this corner. And, with respect to the statement of the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Lamond), I would point out that, no matter how he may have thought or expressed himself at the time, he voted for the transfer of control to the present body, while I note that the name of tho honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), whom he criticised, does not appear in the division list at all.
I wish again to plaCe it- on record that the Government have not exercised the con.trol over funds for returned soldier purposes which was intended by Parliament. I am glad to perceive that in that regard even the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has come round to our way of thinking. Some months ago he himself took exception to the fact that the money which has been distributed to the States for purposes of land purchase and soldiers’ settlement has been allowed to pass, in the sense of control, entirely out of the hands pf the Commonwealth Government. This Parliament should have retained control both of the money itself and of tho method and, particularly, the rate of speed of soldiers’ settlement. It is a significant fact, by the way, that a Sydney weekly paper, which supported tho Government party with the whole of its forces at the last elections, should now be publishing every week a page which is headed, “ Cyaniding the Soldier’s Widow.” We are asking for justice to returned mcn and to their dependants. We complain that, emanating from some source or other - and ultimately the Government cannot escape responsibility - there appears to .have grown up a narrow policy which
Dr. Earle Page. has gripped the whole of the administration of pensions and of repatriation generally. -The views which have .been expressed on all sides of the House demonstrate that that spirit should not .be allowed to prevail; and if the Govern-: ment are -being overridden .by officials it is their duty to displace them, no matter whether they be returned men a hundred times over. We do not say that because a man is a returned soldier he is thereby qualified to take any and every position open. I strenuously object to the imputation cast by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton )upon returned soldiers generally, when he said that returned .men have been responsible for the bad deal which has been given to other returned soldiers in respect of the subjectmatters under review.
– I said that both the Department of Repatriation and of War Service Homes was administered chiefly by returned soldiers, and that they were both in a muddle. That is absolutely correct.
– I object to the statement that- returned soldiers are giv ing a worse deal to returned men than other people would be doing.
– But I say that they are.
– That is unfair. If the honorable member were to make a selection for the same work from among men who are not returned soldiers it would be found that they would be giving a worse deal than is the case- to-day.
I wish to illustrate in a few words the narrowness of the view taken with respect to what should he noted in regard to the granting of pensions and what factors should not he entertained, together with the manner iu which such cases are treated. It is possible for any medical man to he permitted to change his opinions. It is not proper that because a disabled soldier was before a Medical Board a year ago, or three years ago, and that upon the- evidence then offering the Board took a certain view as bearing upon his pension, their conclusions should be held as good and sufficient for all time. That is to say, it is only right that there should be periodical reviews. I was, at one period, in charge - of a hospital which was treating maimed men-cases of amputations. I know that acting solely on hospital experience Iarrivied at quite an erroneous conclusion concerning the percentage of disability which should be allotted when those men went out into ordinary life. It was only by review, and bydiscussing matters with many of the men themselves, who had no axe to grind, and who did not wish to lean upon the Commonwealth for any pension whatever, that I made up my mind that the attitude of the departmental officials was often wrong and unjust to the soldiers. As an outcome of that altered personal view-point, I am glad to say that a better deal has been secured in respect of pensions allotted to numbers of maimed men. It will be necessary to review past decisions in a more generous rather than in a more critical spirit. In many cases, for example,’ the men’s papers have failed to indicate disabilities which had not been noted by the medical authorities at the time. Sometimes, no doubt, those disabilities were not apparent; but the oversight may have been due to carelessness, or to the congestion of an officer’s duties at the time when the final medical examination was conducted: I repeat that very often a medical historysheet is misleading and incomplete, and sometimes the men concerned have had to pay for a private operation which was rendered necessary solely as an outcome ofactive service.
– But the report of a man’s condition would be shown on his medical history-sheet, and if that report by a medical officer were misleading, should the individual be compelled to suffer? Dr. EARLE PAGE. - I will deal with that matter later.I have in mind the case of a man who lost the whole of an arm. He was trying to carry on a fruit business in a small country town. For some reason, the official medical officer to whom he had been told to report insisted that the returned man should not be treated as though he were completely incapacitated, but as having a 50 per cent, disability. They reduced his pension by one-half, and the local doctors and I had to fight for six months to get the pension restored. This man had not only received an injury from which few recover, - but was labouring under ‘ that mental condition which must result from such an injury. During thewhole of this period he had not only to look after his own work, but -to suffer the mental distress associated with the- fighting of his case.I appeal for a wider and more liberal interpretation of the law. There should be appointed a Board, not altogether of the character suggested by the honorable member for . Kalgoorlie (Mr. Foley)., but -consisting of district medical men, to deal withthese matters. The members of the Board should consist of medical men in general practice rather than consultant surgeons. They would be able readily to visualize the conditions under which most of these people are living and working, and would therefore be better fitted to appraise ‘the percentage of return for services which they should obtain from the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I was pleased to hear the reply made this morning by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers). My sympathy, to some extent, went out to him, especially when he was referring to the speech made by the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), because this is only our third day of sitting this year, and we know that renegades from a partyare at first always very bitter. The Minister seemed to feel very keenly the attack made by the honorable member, and those whoare familiar with the working of the party system know very well that there are always disappointed office-seekers. The honorable gentleman told the House of the amount that had been expended in ‘ connexion with Repatriation and War pensions. He will readily admit that the Labour party has rendered the Govern- . ment valuable assistance in raising the moneys necessary for such purposes. We complain, however, of the way in which the War pensions system, in the main, is being administered. The administration of- the law is certainly not in accord with the intentions of Parliament. No Parliament was ever more sympathetic in its view of what should be done for men who had fought for. their country than is the Parliament of the Commonwealth, and I certainly hope -that the Government will do something to help these returned men and their - dependants. When the Bill providing for the transfer of the War pensions system, from the Department of the Treasury to the Repatriation Department wasbefore the Househonorable members ofour party, and several supporters of the Government, including the present Assistant Minister for Repatriation, objected to the control of pensions being placed in the hands of the military authorities. We claimed that our soldiers upon returning to Australia and obtaining their discharge ceased to be military men, and that as soon as they fell back into civil life theyshouldbe dealt with by the civil authorities. Even at this late hour the Government would be well advised in substituting civil for military control of the War pensions system. If that were done much of the present discontent would be removed. The system was administered by the Treasury officials more in accordance with the will of Parliament than it has been by the military, whose actions lead one to believe that the military doctors have had instructions that the cost of War pensions must be materially reduced. That seems to be the spirit operating in the minds of the authorities. Living, as I do, close to the largest military barracks in Australia, I am constantly being interviewed by returned men, and every day have to address letters on the subject of soldiers’ grievances to Mr. A. G. Farr, the Deputy Commissioner of War Pensions in Sydney. I have no complaint to make against Mr, Parr and his staff. I have received every consideration, at their hands, and believe that, within the limits of their instructions, they are doing their very best. In common with other members of the Labour party, I have received several letters from the Soldiers’ Mothers, Wives, anil. Relatives Victory Assocation, the patron of which is the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks). Many of the members of this Association, in connexion, with what is now an historical event, left the party with which I am associated, but they are coming back to seek the advice and assistance of their old allies. If a returned soldier comes to me with a grievanceI do not ask him to what party he belongs. My humanitarian feelings are at once aroused, and I try to do my best for such a man, no matter what his politics may ‘be. Here is a letter- - which is typical of many received by honorable members - from the Soldiers’
Sydney, 3rd April, 1981.
Mr. J. . West, M.H.R.
Dear Sir, - I am bringing under your’ notice the case of a returned man, Mr. A. A. Burton, of Lansdowne-street, Surrey Hills. Since his . return, discharged “ medically unfit,” he has not been able to do- any work at all through both physical and mental trouble. He is married and has four children. We have assisted him in every way possible to obtain a pension, especially as his discharge was “ medically unfit.” Despite the fact that when he returned, and for long after, he was a patient at various military hospitals, theRepatriation doctors give as their opinion that his disability is not due to war service. He was a healthy man when he enlisted and came back a physical wreck, not due to his own misconduct. His case is one of. several which we are placing before the respective members, and we respectfully hope you will give your support andco-operation to any movement that will be started to put both pensions and living allowances on a more just and merciful footing.
I have another case which I will send along to you later when I have learned the full facts. Our Association helps to the best of its ability all cases of distress with food, clothes, and advice.
Yours, &c., JESSIE CONN ELL.
The Minister would ‘ be well-advised in doing something in the direction suggested by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Foley). He should not depend entirely upon the military medical officers, who seem to be imbued with the idea that their duty is to reduce expenditure and generally to assist the Government to get out of the muddle in which they find themselves in connexion with the War Service Homes and War Pensions Departments. I am nob actuated by any desire to catch votes in speaking in this way. People come to me, because of my well-known humanitarianism and, unlike the honorable member for Robertson, who is a renegade from the National party, I have not to huntf or votes. I have been requested by hundreds of people to take action to secure an improvement in the administration of the. War Pensions system, and it is with that object in view that I have spoken. Many honorable members opposite are in accord with the sentiments to which I have given utterance, and I hope they will join with me in- endeavouring to induce the Government to remedy the many mistakes they have made. Would I be in order, Mr. Speaker, in moving for an extension of the time allowed for the consideration of thismotion?
Mr. SPEAKER (Son. Sir Elliot Johnson). The honorable member has already spoken.
– This procedure is quite irregular. Obviously, a new debate cannot be initiated at this juncture.
– I merely want to say, whether I am agreeable . or not to the proposed extension-
– Is it the pleasure of the House that the time be extended?
– I submit that, as a matter of common courtesy, a Minister, in such circumstances, should be allowed to say one word–
– I submit that the Treasurer is out of order.
– If . there is any objection the time limit cannot be extended. It is now 1 o’clock, and the time allotted under the Standing Orders to the consideration of the motion has therefore expired.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 8.15 p.m.
– The position is very simple. The standing order dealing with the matter is very definite that a debate on a special motion for the adjournment of the House to discuss a specific matter of urgent public importance must close within a certain time unless the House otherwise orders. The decision of the House to extend the time must be unanimous, and if any exception is taken the time cannot be extended. The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) rose to ask. for an extension of the time allowed for the debate. I was proceeding to submit the request to the House when the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) rose and desired to say something. There was then an interchange of remarks between the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and the Treasurer, which prevented me from taking the sense of the House on the ‘request for an extension, and while that was in progress the time allowed for the discussion of the motion expired and I was in duty bound by the standing order to interrupt the debate.
– Is it too’ late to move, that so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would permit of the discussion on the subject ofpensions being extended for half-an-hour ?
– That course cannot be adopted. If we have Standing Orders they must be obeyed. I must be guided by the Standing Orders, which, in this matter, are clear and definite. As the time allowed under the Standing Orders for the discussion of the motion has expired, the debate must be interrupted end the Orders of the Day called on.
– I am somewhat confused, as I do not understand your reply to my question. I said that a minute before 1 o’clock I moved the extension of the time allowed for the debate, and then andthere the Treasurer interposing, in my opinion, in a disorderly way, the time was allowed’ to fly past, and my motion was thus prevented from being passed. I should like to know whether it is possible to have my motion put to the House now.
– Order ! The standing order is quite clear, and the matter is closed. It was not my fault that the motion submitted by the honorable member was not decided by the House. Certain incidents occurred, which were in themselves disorderly; but while they were in progress the time allowed for the consideration of the motion expired, and under the standing order the debate had to then cease, and the Orders’ of the Day had to he called on as the next business.
Consideration resumed from 7th April, (vide page 7303), on motion by Mr. Greene -
That duties of Customs and duties of Excise (vide page 726), first item, be imposed.
. - I wish to say a few words in a general way before we come to the consideration of the Tariff in detail in order to make clear ray attitude towards the Tariff in general. Prior to the war I should probably have been termed a fanatical Protectionist, as I was prepared to go to the extent of the absolute prohibition of the importation of goods thatcan be manufactured in Australia, but during tie war it was the unfortunate experience of the people of Australia to be robbed as mercilessly by Australian manufacturers as by the importers of foreign-made goods. It may be contended that it is infinitely preferable that we should be robbed by our own countrymen than by the people of other nations. ‘We have contended throughout that the people might bo protected, but because of the extraordinary conditions prevailing no action was taken by the Government to protect them.
To-day, with fewexceptions, the Tariff duties now submitted meet with my approval. I am riot now in agreement with thosewho would establish a prohibitive Tariff. There are some industries which go to make this a selfcontained community, which should be given greater protection than others. Much has been said by members of the Country party regarding the position of the farmer, but I contend thathis position in no way differs from that of any other person in the community.
– Yes, it does.
– He is a producer, and as such is of no more value to the community than is any other producer of wealth. All have their place in society, and one cannot do without the other. All are of equal importance.
– That statement is correct.
– When, therefore, the members of the Country party contend that preferential treatment should be given to a section of the community, they take up an untenable position.
– We ask for equal treatment, not preferential treatment.
– Whilst the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) and his colleagues in the Country party rail at the position which has been created under which the farmers of Australia have been exploited, they will take no practical steps to prevent that exploitation, and bring about its discontinuance. The position of the farmer, so far as agricultural implements are concerned, does not differ in any way from his position in respect of his utilization of other articles and commodities. Just as the farmer has been robbed unmercifully by the farming implement manufacturers of Australia, so he has been robbed just as unmercifully in connexion with the clothing he requires by the woollen manufacturers of Australia.
– The honorable member would impose higher duties in order that he might be robbed to a greater extent?
– I desire the assistance of the members of the Country party in order to restrict and prevent the exploitation of the farmer. The party to which I have the honour to belong stands for the new Protection. It guarantees a fair deal to the manufacturer - and I believe that the average manufacturer requires no more - and at the same time desires to protect the interests of the consumer andproducer. But when an opportunity occurs, and many have occurred during the past three years, to restrict the operations of people who have been exploiting the whole community, the members of the Country party are found to be the first to support the Government. It is of no use for the members of that party to rail against the iniquitous treatment of the farmer by the implement manufacturers if they are not prepared to do something to put an end to it.
– What does the honorable member propose that we should do?
– We are’ prepared to go so far as to say that the benefit of ordinary governmental utilities should not be extended to persons who are not prepared to treat the people properly. We have placed restrictions on many thousands of people in Australia. We have prevented people receiving letters. We have prevented firms from transacting business with Departments of the Commonwealth. By withholding from them the service of the utilities which we control ‘we can restrict the operations of exploiters of the public. That has been put forward time and again; but the Government have always contended, contrary to the best legal authorities, that it is not possible to do this. This restriction, which is now applied to a section of the community might be applied to others. If at any time the members of the Country party show that they are in earnest about protecting the farmers, they will receive every assistance from honorable members on this side. But the members of the Country party are not in earnest - that is the whole trouble. It is only by reason of the support of the Country party that the Government lives; and it is of no use for the Country party to accuse the Government, or any one else, of allowing those practices to continue, if the party is not prepared to take some action. .
– Was your party going to support the motion -of the honorable member for Perth (Mr.Fowler) ?
– I venture to say that our party would have been just as solid as it is possible for any party to be. The honorable member for Perth could not even get a seconder to his motion from the party which is constantly railing against the Government.
– Did he ask for one?
– The honorable member for Perth said he could not get a seconder from that party, and I do not suppose he would have said so had ‘he not made inquiries.
Mr.Stewart. - I say that the honorable member for Perth did not try.
– He said he saw he could not get one, and he did not like to ask for one.
– The members of the Country party may fight out that matter amongst themselves. The point is that the farmers’ representatives have not taken those steps which they should have taken. We of the Labour party do not propose to protect the farmers as against the general community; we are prepared to protect the whole of the community. If at any time the Farmers party do get really in. earnest about protecting the farmers, they will have all the support possible fromthe Labour party. As I understand that the adjournment of this debate is to be moved about 3 o’clock, and as other honorable members may desire to speak, I shall not at this stage detain the Committee any longer.
.- I wish to say a few words, particularly in reference to the speeches made by members of the Country party. I should not refer to the wheat question were it not that the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) raised it the other. night. That honorable member stated that the people of Australia are indebted to the farmers because, had the farmers sold the wheat abroad, they would have got £13,000,000 more than they did.
– I desire to call the attention of the honorable member, not to a rule, but to that usage of Parliament which allows a general discussion on the first item on an occasion of this kind. The honorable member, I point out, has already spoken in the general discussion on the whole of the Tariff.
– Do you rule that I cannot speak?
TheCHAIRMAN.- I shall not so rule, but I point out that if the honorable member is permitted to make a general speech for the second time, I cannot refuse the same privilege to other honorable members.
– There is nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent my speaking the second time; and I remind you, sir, that I spoke very briefly on the former occasion.
– There is no standing order against a second speech; and I am now only referring to a usage of Parliament. There is no desire on my part to do more than follow that usage, and, on a Tariff, the Estimates, and business of that kind, to allow a general discussion on the first item, at the termination of which, the other items are considered. I may also point out that in this debate honorable members have greater privileges than are accorded on any other business that can come before the Chamber in Committee. There is no limitation as to time, and no limitation as to the number of speeches on the items. If the honorable member for Yarra establishes a precedent, I shall not be able to prevent other honorable members speaking . more than once in the general discussion.
– I have carefully looked up the Standing Orders, and you, sir, have not disclosed anything contrary to my contention that I am within my rights in speaking now in the general discussion. It is now, I think, about twelve months since the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) introduced the Tariff, and, in the course of the few remarks I then made, I saidI knew that my speaking on that occasion would not debar me from speaking again on the general question. Should you, Mr. Chairman, rule me out of order, I candidly say that I ‘have a way in which I can get over the difficulty and be enabled to make the speech which I now desire to make. I am free to move that the first item be postponed until after another division of the Tariff has been considered. This would give me an opportunity of showing how little truth, there is in the statements of some members of the Country party. Those honorable members have either deliberately or unknowingly confused the issues. They have included in the 35,000,000bushels of wheat which are consumed in Australia the amount of seed wheat which is only of advantage to the farmers. This latter amounts to 10,000,000 bushels per annum, and it means that £4,000,000 of the £11,000,000 goes directly into the pockets of the farmers. I could show, from Knibbs that in the five years ending 1919 over 40 per cent, of the wheat was consumed locally, over 73 per cent, of the butter,90 per cent, of the cheese, and 90 per cent, of the mutton, lamb, and beef. These figures show that it is the home market that is of advantage to the farmers, and not the export market. When the first item is called on, I shall move that its consideration be postponed until after the consideration of Division 6, which deals with metals and machinery. If the farmers’ representatives desire Tree Trade for the farmers, I am anxious to see ‘how they will vote in the ease of metals and machinery.
I intend to give a general support to many items of the Tariff, though, as in the past, I shall object to others. I shall require information from the Minister as to the progress of industries - as to industries being in existence - Before toeing prepared to support the operation of duties forthwith.
.- I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) is not allowed the opportunity to make the speech he desires. I had expected this debate to extend into next week. However, as it seems likely that it will close unless some one speaks, I desire to make some observations, particularly directed to the speeches of the members of the so-called Country party, and, generally, outlining what I conceive to be the policy of the country on the question of a Protective Tariff. I do not hesitate to say that I am a Protectionist. I think the policy of Protection is the only sound policy for a country like Australia; it is the only policy under which we can become the great self-contained nation we desire to be. Our friends in the Government corner, if I have apprehended their speeches correctly, claim that they are the sole representatives of the farmers. In that respect they are under a great misapprehension - they are not.
– We do not claim that.
– They claim to speak for the farmers; and I desire to point out that, in my opinion, a large section of the farmers of Australia do not agree with their views on the Tariff.
– They are no more the sole representatives of the farmers than are honorable members opposite the sole . representatives of Labour.
– I do not wish to ibe drawn away by the disorderly interjections of the Treasurer, who has already caused some trouble to-day. As I understand the contention of the Country party, it is that the farmers ought to be allowed to go into the markets of the world to purchase their agricultural machinery - they desire Free Trade for such commodities. I start with an admission of the necessity for manufacturing our agricultural machinery in this country - with an admission of the necessity for making this a great self-contained nation. If we do not start from that basis we have utterly failed to learn the lessons of the war. When we cast our minds over the war period, we realize that if we rely on agricultural machinery coming from oversea under a Free Trade policy, we shall find that, instead of having the markets of the world open to us, we shall not be able to purchase any machinery at all.
Mr.Stewart. - That is correct.
– Very Well, then ; we have to start with an admission that we must manufacture all such commodities within the boundaries of Australia.
– Not all, but some; and at a fair price.
– Well, we must manufacture all we can manufacture, and we must have such a policy as will enable us to manufacture at a reasonable profit. I have heard no suggestion from my honorable friends in the Government corner that such manufactures can be carried on in this country except by the imposition of a Protective Tariff.
– I asked why, seeing that we have cheaper coal, cheaper steel, and cheaper labour than our competitors in America, Protection is needed.
– I do not stand for cheap labour; we must keep up. out labour conditions to enable the workers to live at a reasonable standard of comfort. Indeed, I do not agree with the use of the word “ cheap “ ; I never speak of “ cheap “ wheat, bread, or cost of living, but of purchasing, at a reasonable rate. We have to be able to purchase our wheat, our flour, our bread, and meat at reasonable prices.
– And our agricultural implements also.
– Quite so - everything we purchase. We do not desire anything “cheap,” but everything at a reasonable price.
– Commodities are generally nasty if they are cheap.
– That is so. If we reason from bedrock principles by admitting the necessity for manufacturing in Australia those implements which are used in Australia, we are inevitably driven to the conclusion that there must be such a Protective Tariff as to enable that to be done against the competition of the outside world. I am prepared to go further. Having imposed a Tariff sufficient to enable the manufacture of these implements in Australia, there must be another branch of law to insure that the manufacturers do not make exorbitant or unreasonable profits; the farmers must not be exploited by our local manufacturers.
– Does this Tariff prevent anything like that?
– I do not think it does; at the same time, that is not an objection to the Tariff, but an objection to the absence of some regulating law or power to insure that the farmer, or any other person, who buys goods manufactured in this country shall do so on the basis of the cost of production, plus a reasonable amount for added profit.
– The honorable gentleman will admit that it is not possible to make that provision in a taxation measure, andthat we require another Act.
– I admit that at once, and for that reason I have not directed my criticism against the Government on the matter. Rather, my reply has been directed to the interjection by the honorable member for the Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). It cannot be done in the Tariff. It most be done by other legislative means, and I hope the Government will, as part of their policy, go further, and bring in a measure to provide that the consumers of those goods that are manufactured within our borders shall be able to obtain them at a reasonable price. If this is done, the Government will do a very great service. I realize that this is not in any sense a party question. It is unfortunate that in the debate on such a great issue as this there should be any attempt to make political capital out of it for party purposes, because, after all, we are shaping a national policy under which we hope to be able to build up this great country of ours. I feel satisfied, from my experience of the House as it is constituted at present, . that honorable members are quite capable of putting party considerations aside for the mo ment, and combining in an endeavour to give effect to a fiscal policy that will make for national progress on the lines I have indicated.
It is not possible for me to go into details of the Tariff. I merely wish to outline my views on a Protective Tariff, with its concomitant . legislation - call it new Protection, or what you will - which will enable the primary producer to obtain the locally-manufactured article at a reasonable rate. To me it comes as a surprise that the position of the farmers should be stated as being antagonistic to the interests of the rest of the community, because the interests of the man who applies his labour to land are identical with the interests of the worker in the factory.
– That is correct.
– Therefore, a party proclaiming that the interests of the man on the land are antagonistic to the interests of the worker in some other direction fails to realize that no party can aspire to govern unless its policy is framed with a due regard to the interests , of all sections, and it stands for the workers as a whole, because, after all, the workers of a country in every branch of industry are the backbone of the nation.
– Workers in the broadest sense.
– I go that far with my honorable friend, the member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), and say, workers in the broadest sense of the term.
– Including yourself.
– I certainly include myself as well as the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford), the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), and indeed, all honorable members who at all events ought to be workers. I want tomake it clear to our friends in the corner that as a party their policy is not based on a broad enough foundation.
– That is your opinion.
– I am giving my own opinion. That is what I am here for. I cannot state the opinion of any other honorable member. Their policy, I repeat, is not framed on a sufficiently broad basis to comprehend the interest of the whole community. We have had this fact strikingly illustrated in the speeches from honorable members of that party on this great question. They have failed to conceive what is a sound fiscal policy for the future development of Australia. Not only have they failed in this respect, but they have failed also to apprehend the opinion of those they purport to represent - the primary producers, a large number of whom believe a protective policy is essential if Australia is to be developed on sound and right lines, and made a self-contained . nation. I know that very many of my personal friends among the pastoralists hold this view. They believe it is necessary to increase our population, and by that means ease the load of taxation that will be required for defence purposes, because we can have no better guarantee of immunity from external aggression than the peopling of our own country with a virile population of workers, and the adoption of a policy to make it self-contained. We do not want to go overseas for any of our requirements in time of war.
What does history teach us ? Take the case of the great United States of America. Will it be denied that the development of that country was the direct result of a Protective policy ?
– Do you want the same conditions here for the workers as in the United States of America under a high Tariff?
– I am not talking about the internal conditions of the United States of America. I am speaking of thepolicy that made for the development of that great commonwealth in the west. If the people of the United States of America had continued the policy of Free Trade, they would not have been able to build up the great self-contained nation we see to-day.
– And they would not have had one-tenth of their present population.
– I do not think they would. Therefore, we should direct our energies to the same end. I believe the farmers are entirely with us in this matter.I am satisfied that they are just as intelligent, politically, as any other section of the community ; and that they will give their indorsement to the fiscal policy that will allow of the manufacture, locally, of agricultural machinery.
Mr.Stewart. - But do you approve of farmers selling in a Protectionist market at Free Trade rates ?
– The honorable member for Wimmera is now deducing some facts into a formula with which I cannot agree. His is a wrong formula. In the consideration of an issue so important as this, we must take the broader view, and not confine our attention to the interests of a particular class, in the community. I do not admit that the interests of the producers are in any way injured by the imposition of a Protective Tariff.On the contrary, I think they are safeguarded. We must get down to the foundation of nationhood.How are we going to make this country a great, selfcontained nation?
– By the occupation’ of our rural lands, and not crowding our people into the cities.
– Yes, and by manufacturing all those things that are necessary for the development of a country.
– But what are you going to do for a market for your manufactures when you have met all local requirements ?
– Our market will be largely within our own boundaries, because by the adoption of a sound Protection policy we shall build up a big consuming population. The home market is the best market. In Australia we have room for millions of people. Our immediate duty is to populate our vast spaces. We cannot do this unless we take steps to build up our great manufacturing interests. And we can do this without in any way jeopardizing the interests of our producers. As a member of the Labour party, I claim the support of all sections of the community ; and I remind my honorable friends in the corner who are the principal opponents of this Tariff, that I have always contended - I challenge them to dispute it - that the Labour party is the only party whose programme and platform safeguard the interests of all workers, whether engaged on the land or in our secondary industries. I have always held that the interests . of the worker on the land are identical with the interests of the worker in the factories, and as a party our programme has been framed to cover them all. That is the reason why, on this side of the House, we have so many representatives of primary producing constituencies, like the honorable member for Hume (Mr.. Parker Moloney),, the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham), the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Lavelle), and other honorable members I could mention. In our party we have certainly as many honorable members representing primary producing constituencies as are to be found among honorable members of the Corner party, but with this difference: that while representing primary producing constituencies, in this House, when the division bells ring they are not to be found voting with those who, among other interests,, represent the middlemen of the community. No one can argue logically that the interests of the primary producer and the interests of the middleman are in any sense identical.
– But surely the middleman is entitled to representation?
– Certainly. I. am. not saying he is not. What I am saying is that. the policy of a party should have regard for the interests of the producer and the consumer, which are identical; whereas the interests of the producer and the middleman are not.
– We, on this side, go one better. We represent them all.
– The honorable gentleman says he does. But the fact that there are secessions from the party indicates that there are members on the Ministerial side who realize that their party is not quite popular with the great body of the public. But no matter how the case may be in regard to members of the Ministerial party, the fact remains that they cannot continue in office except with the assistance of honorable members in the corner, who call themselves the Country party.
– The honorable member will be voting with the capitalists on this Tariff.
– I shall be voting for the interests of my country, which are the only interests in which I am concerned.
Honorable members of the Country party keep the Government in power. The division lists during the last sittings of Parliament show that whenever a crucial division took place five or six members of the Country party conveniently voted with the Government, whilst some of the others did not vote at all. When the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler) wrote to different honorable members in the corner, saying that he intended to move a motion -
That in order to restore responsible government to this Parliament, to place the finances of the Commonwealth on a more satisfactory basis, and to put an end to wasteful and inefficient administration, it is necessary to discharge the present Ministry from office, and it was known, that honorable members on this side would support him-
– Would they all have supported him?
– Yes, decidedly; and why Was the motion not proceeded with? If honorable members were sincere in desiring to destroy this Tariff, all they had to do was to inform the honorable member for Perth that they would support his motion, which embodies the first plank of their own platform. They did not do that, and the honorable member for Perth declared that he could not rely on even getting a seconder forhis motion. I propose to continue my remarks at the next sitting.
The following papers were presented : -
Tropical Australia - Report of the discus- sion at the Australian Medical Congress at Brisbane, 27th August, 1920.
Ordered to be printed.
Public Service Act - Appointments, &c, of J. R. McKay, E. C. Craine, L. L. Trevitt, W. S. Allan, F. M. Ross, D. P. J. Mitchell, A. J. Humphreys, W. J. T. Compton, J. T. Pinner, H. C. Higgins, J. J. Stewart, R. J. J. Hunt.
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) pro- posed–
That the House do now adjourn.
,- This morning we discussed the pensions administration of the Repatriation Department.
– The honorable member will not be able to revive at this stage a discussion which took place earlier inthe sitting upon a special motion.
– I understand that the Minister agreed to report progress in order to allow honorable members to make a few remarks upon the subject.
– I certainly did.
-We are guided by the Standing Orders and the practice and custom of Parliament, and if we are to set them aside, on every occasion we shall have chaos through the careless conduct of public business. There are right and wrong ways of doing, these things. The Standing Orders specifically prescribe a time limit to a special motion for adjournment. That limit had expired before the House decided to take any action in the way of an extension of time, and therefore, as has been previously ruled, the debate on that motion cannot be revived in the same, sitting. However, if honorable members desire to discuss soldiers’ grievances generally without making particular reference to the definite matter which was the subject of the motion for adjournment they may do so. They may not refer to the cancellation or reduction of war pensions, which was the specific subject of the special motion.
– Shall I be in order in discussing the administration of the Repatriation Department ?
– The honorable member may discuss the administration generally without reference to the particular matter which has been already debated.
– May I discuss the administration of the Repatriation Department in connexion with the claims of tubercular soldiers?
– Certainly. The only thing excluded is the specific matter embodied in the motion discussed this morning.
– For the last, twelve months tubercular soldiers have been agitating through their association for better treatment at the hands of the officials.
They are the most unfortunate of any of our soldiers. A returned man who hasbeen permanently incapacitated in other ways knows exactly where he stands, because his pension is definitely fixed. Ninety-nine per cent, of the tubercular soldiers have to be treated in hospital, and while there they receive a pension of £2 2s. per week; but as soon as the progress of the disease is arrested the doctors advise that they be discharged. When they leave the hospital they continue to receive the same pension of £2 2s. per week. Several honorable members, with representatives of the Tubercular Soldiers Association, waited as a deputation upon the Commissioner for Repatriation, and also the present Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers), and, later, the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). The last-named was most sympathetic, and said that, in his opinion, the Commissioner had full power to deal more liberally with the tubercular soldiers. On their discharge from hospital they are advised by the doctors to follow a certain line of treatment. The diet alone costs them £2 5s. per week. How are the soldiers to pay for board and clothing? The doctors say, also, that these men would fare better if they could get light employment.’ Would any honorable member take a sufferer from tuberculosis into his home or business and allow him to’ mix with his family or employees? These soldiers walk the streets in search of light employment, and, continually receiving refusals, they commence to worry, which the doctors say is the worst thing they can do. The Commissioner admitted that these men could receive the full pension of £4 per week if they were- classified as totally and permanently incapacitated. The Prime Minister said that if such was the case they must be treated similarly to other disabled soldiers. The Commissioner’s attitude is, however,, that if the men are so bad that they can be classified as totally and permanently incapacitated, they are a menace to public health, and should not be allowed out of hospital. In that respect the returned soldier is being treated differently from the civilian. An amendment of the regulations was made by the Commissioner, who promised that -an increased pension would be paid to these unfortunate soldiers.
– A civil tubercular subject cannot get any pension.
– In New South. Wales he can if he is an invalid.
– In this State he must first be picked up in the gutter.
– I have heard - I will not say whether my authority is official or otherwise - that the soldiers’ pensions have been cut down to the extent of f 1,600 per month. I had under my notice the case of a woman with five children, whose husband was in the Asylum for Insane at Callan Park, Sydney, and she was receiving the magnificent pension of £1 15s. per week. It is impossible for a woman to feed herself and five children on that sum.
– What pension was that woman getting originally?
– That is all she ever got. The Board say that they must be guided by the doctor’s certificate, and when I interviewed the doctors they said that the Sydney Board, of which General Bennett is chairman, has overridden their certificates. It hurts me, as a returned soldier, to have to admit that in my experience the soldier members of the Board have dealt less sympathetically with our applicants than have the civilians. . I have particulars of a case of a widow woman who had. four sons, three of whom served in the Army, and one in the Navy. Three were killed, and only one returned to Australia. These four men kept their mother, and she now receives the magnificent pension of £1 per week. I have submitted this case to the authorities time after time, and since my taking it up her weekly pension has been reduced by 5s. per week.
– If such is the case the honorable member had better drop it.
– I will not drop it until I see justice done. In this particular case the Repatriation Board in- Sydney instructed an official to make inquiries instead of approaching reliable officials in the community, such as postmasters, or police officers, or others occupying public positions. The only evidence this investigating official took was from a woman next door who was living with a -man as his alleged wife, and it was on her evidence that the pension was reduced, as that is the only paper on the file. The woman who gave the evidence had. had her pension reduced, and would not associate with the woman next door, so she reported to the Repatriation Board that this unfortunate widow had sufficient to live on.
I have another communication from a man whose pension has been reduced, and in the letter he states, among other things, that the Department has come to the decision that he is not suffering any war disability. He says that the Department grants him a tram and train pass because he is unable to walk; but six weeks afterwards it reduced his pension to a minimum of 5s. per week. The whole position is farcical. This man was. an employee of the Railway Department before going abroad, and the doctor will not allow him to return to work because he is unfit. Notwithstanding this, the Repatriation Board allows him a pension of 5s. per. week and a railway and tramway pass. Is he expected to live on the passes which are supplied ?
These are typical cases which need more sympathetic treatment at the hands of the Repatriation Board. As one daily hears numerous complaints and statements that men are receiving pensions when they have no right to” them, it is the duty of the Government to be fair, first of ‘all, to the incapacitated men and war widows who have made such great sacrifices.
. ‘ - When the debate was proceeding this morning the Minister was asking honorable members to submit concrete cases. I can refer him to an honorable member who can supply, not only one concrete case, but a truckload of them. I can also refer the Minister not only to concrete cases but cast-iron and cast-steel cases, all in the vicinity of Brisbane.
– I have dealt with every case up there, and the honorable member will find a sheaf of correspondence in the Brisbane office.
– I am pleased to hear that such is the case. Since the Minister was in Bris- bane honorable members have been inundated with applications from men and women asking why their pensions or their living allowances have been reduced. It is the reduction of the living allowance particularly that is causing such great hardship. I have always been under the impression that the administration of war pensions should be in the hands .of returned soldiers, because I thought they would be more sympathetic towards their fellow men. It is not altogether the fault of the Act, because in many instances it is the officers in the lower positions who are responsible. I know that when these cases are brought before the Minister he will give them the careful consideration he gave those that were submitted to him in Brisbane.
There is another matter which I wish to bring before the House, because, possibly, many honorable members on both sides of the chamber have not read the report in yesterday’s Herald concerning the treatment of certain street musicians. I think this is one of the cruellest cases that has ever come under my notice. The magistrate who heard the case is a sympathetic . man and a great patriot, and he said that it pained him very much to have to fine these men for playing in the streets of Melbourne. It will, perhaps, be better for honorable members not to take my word, but to follow the report in the Herald, which I do not think was a biased one. It reads -
Five familiar faces were seen to.-day in the District Court, when Robert Golding, Ormond Croz, Arthur Williams, Charles Moy, and Jack Moy, returned sailors, who have been performing as a Returned Soldiers’ Band in .the city streets, were each charged, on the information of the City Council, with having played a musical instrument in Bourke-street to the obstruction of the pedestrian traffic, on 9th March. All pleaded not guilty. Each was fined £1, with 2s. 6d. costs.
I shall leave out the evidence tendered, and quote the statement of Mr. Wade, the magistrate. When he asked if these men would desist from playing in the streets they replied in the negative. Mr. Wade said -
It goes very much against my inclination to fine these men, as I have always believed that returned soldiers should be helped as much as possible. But as they will not promise to desist a fine will be imposed. “ If -it were not for the soldiers some of the business men who have been complaining would not have businesses,” said Mr. Fogarty.
Those are significant words. Mr. Fogarty was appearing for these men. What would the people of Amiens have to say if they were asked if an-Australian soldiers’ band, playing in front of their establishments, would interfere with their trade? They would not only be glad to allow them to play, but would express the thanks of their people for what the Australians had done for them. If it were not for the men who went away these people in our city streets would not have any businesses. This is one of the most astonishing cases I have heard of in my life, and it is incredible that our City Council should prosecute them because they were rendering musical selections in the street.
– Were they injured men? /
– The report does not say that they were injured, but merely refers to them as returned soldiers. Mr. Wade, in reply to Mr. Fogarty, said -
Yes, I well remember the time when the business men who are now complaining, stood on lorries in the streets and made speeches with bands playing all round them. This was when the soldiers were leaving Australia, and the obstructions that these men now object to were then common occurrences.
What crime have these men committed, and why should they be prosecuted and fined £1 and 2s. 6d. costs for playing in the streets? In this chamber we have passed resolutions of thanks to those men for what they have done for Australia and the Empire, and the action of the City Council is a decided blot on its escutcheon. Many of those who complained and who asked men to go to the Front and sacrifice their life and blood for the Empire were nothing more than “ cold-tea “ patriots. It was very easy for them to say, “ You go and fight and I will stay at home.” But when these brave men have returned and are endeavouring to earn an honest livelihood, instead of making things easy for them, they have been responsible, for their prosecution. It ‘is an accursed action. There has been no protest from. the Returned Soldiers Association nor from any returned soldier members in this House; but I would be prepared to move heaven and earth to have those fines repealed and the money repaid. Those men are not criminals, and those who class them as such should be punished in the way they have been. I hope the men will send in a petition at the earliest moment. There is no sham about me, because I feel I cannot do too much for the soldiers who have done everything, for me. They have not only made Australia free, but have assisted in freeing the whole world. Those business men are under an everlasting debt of gratitude to the men who went to fight for us, and I feel with Mr. Wade when he says that we cannot do too much for the soldier. Knowing Mr. Wade’s feelings concerning the soldier, I know it must have pained him very much to impose a fine. Before the war it was a common sight to see German or Austrian bands parading our main streets, and- no objection was taken; but when these men return and choose to follow some suitable employment the men whose interests they have been away to protect are the first to object. This is what one of the leading newspapers of Melbourne says -
Five returned soldiers who were fined at the District Court yesterday for having played music in the streets, contrary to the City Council’s by-laws, refused to promise to cease playing when offered certain favorable conditions by the magistrate. Favorable conditions ! It is really comic opera. There were no favorable conditions offered to these men when they were asked to go overseas, and, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives in the cause of the Empire. They were told that if they left the positions which they then occupied”, those positions would be restored to them upon their return. We know how that promise has been kept. Many of their former employers gave them their jobs back when they returned, but sacked them within a week, when they discovered that they were not as competent as they were previously.
The inference is that these men, presuming upon ‘their ‘former association with the Australian Imperial Force-
Presuming, indeed ! Truly that is a gem.
The inference is that these men, presuming upon their former association with the Australian Imperial Force, feel ‘that they have rights not enjoyed by other citizens. So they have. They certainly should have rights which .are not enjoyed by citizens who stayed in Australia and kept the home fires burning. I hope that they will stand up for their rights.
– I hope that the honorable member will get our Lord Mayor to recognise their rights.
– It » is quite enough for me to attend to our own Lord Mayor without looking after the honorable member’s.
Such a view,, if generally held, would bring great discredit upon a noble name.
Moreover, the action of the City Council in passing the by-law is being misunderstood. There should be no need for returned men to earn their living aS mendicants, and the Aus tralian Imperial Force has most to gain by the closing of this avenue to an easy means of livelihood, however tempting it may be to some of its former members. There is sterner work to be done by able-bodied men, and for the incapacitated there are occupations which they may have by right, and not by charity.
This crowd evidently wants the German, Austrian, and Hungarian bands back again. Because an Australian band plays in our streets it is no good to the Argus newspaper. Here is a case of more Free Trade - Free Trade in bands. What a different tune is being played in 1921 from that which was played from 1914 right up till 1919 ! These men were then told, that it was their duty to lay down their lives, if necessary, in the interests of the Empire. If the Government will, not take action in this matter, the Returned Soldiers Association ought ‘to do so. They are strong enough to demand that the Australian Imperial Force shall not be dragged in the mud. Only a few months ago, when I was speaking of the treatment which was being meted out to returned soldiers in out-back areas, the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) interjected, “ That cannot happen now. The Returned Soldiers Association will take the matter in hand.” Unfortunately, I cannot become a member of that association, although I am a soldier, because I served only in the Imperial Forces. But I appeal to the hon- or able member for Robertson, as a member of that association, to see that something is done in this connexion. It is a case in which he should interest himself with a view to insisting that these men have the fines which they have paid refunded to them, and that their convictions shall be expunged from the Court records. They are not criminals, and should not be branded as such.
’. - I desire to bring ‘under the notice of the Acting Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) an important matter in, connexion with the soldiers who, at the time of their enlistment, were apprentices, and who had had previous compulsory home service. A decision has been arrived at by the Commission that a returned soldier who was employed on home service shall not receive payment for the difference between his apprenticeship wages and a journeyman’s wages for the time that he was engaged in home service. This may at first blush. appear to be quite a reasonable proposal, because, in the ordinary course, after the expiration of his indentures, the apprentice would have to make up the term during which he was absent from his trade on borne service. But the fact has evidently been overlooked that the apprentice who enlisted deprived himself of the opportunity of completing his indentures during his younger years, with the result that after having served for five years at the war he is now called upon to complete them when he is a man, in many cases a man with a family. The action of the Commission is so indescribably mean that I feel sure it has not the approval of the Minister. I hope that he will look into the matter, with a view to extending more generous treatment to these men who did so much for their country.
.- The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page), in the speech which he has just delivered, referred to the great number of returned soldiers and dependants who daily came to see me in Brisbane during the past four months. I am glad to .say that in a great many of these cases wc were able to secure an adjustment; but, nevertheless, quite a. number of cases have not been adjusted. ‘ I am sure that nobody, either inside or outside of this House, has done more for the welfare of the returned soldiers than has the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers). Quite recently he visited all the States of the Commonwealth. He came- to Queensland, and it is no exaggeration to say that he spent night and day listening to the numerous complaints which were submitted to him, not only in connexion with repatriation, but also in connexion with War Service Homes. Personally, I feel that the Government have done all that they could to honour their obligations to our returned soldiers. The Acts upon our statute-book prove that. But when we come to the administration of the Department, that is another matter. We all know of many instances which .point to unsympathetic administration, and I was glad to hear the statement of the Assistant Minister that he will personally investigate the complaints which have been made. Whilst he was in Brisbane., a great many specific cases were placed before him, and I have since received his assurance that he has investigated the whole of them, and communicated the result to the Returned Soldiers Association in Brisbane, the executive of which brought these matters before him. I would like him to seriously consider one thing, namely, the medical examination to which returned soldiers are subjected in connexion with the cancellation or reduction of their pensions. I am of opinion that a local Board of medical practitioners should be appointed in the various centres to deal with the cases of men in those centres. It frequently happens that advice of the Repatriation medical officers is not accepted by the Central Administration, and it appears to me that a Board of local practitioners, who -could see each individual applicant for a pension, would be better qualified to judge of -what ought to be done in each case.
– I. was extremely pleased to hear the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) promise that he would look into some of the cases which have been mentioned here “this afternoon. Such a pledge, coming from him, means something. Upon every occasion that I have communicated with him, he has exhibited an earnestness to do justice to the individuals concerned which is quite refreshing in a Ministerial Department. I particularly wish to bring under hia notice a matter in regard to which I have recently experienced considerable trouble; I refer to the purchase of War Service Homes in my own electorate. I am sorry that a decision has been arrived at, which seems .to be final, -that no more purchases ‘are to be made of homes which are already in existence.
– Except , in special circumstances.
– I really, think that I have submitted several cases which merit special consideration, and which are before the Minister at the present time. Within the past two months I have inspected particular properties which have been offered to returned men, and as one who has been in the real estate business for many years, I would not hesitate to ,pay double the price that is being asked for some of those properties. In one instance there is a brick building of five rooms, . together with 11 acres of orchard, which is being offered to a returned soldier for £650. . I know that the house itself could not be built to-day for £800. The circumstances under which this offer has been made are exceptional. The owner is an old man who wishes to retire, and he is making this special concession because the prospective purchaser is. a returned soldier. I have placed all the facts before the Department, but I have been told, in reply, that it is not the policy of that Department to purchase homes which are already in existence. The Acting Minister has just intimated that such homes may be purchased in special circumstances. I think that the valuation-
– It is not so much a matter of valuation, but there must be some special reason why it would be better for the Department to buy a house which is already in existence than to erect a new. one.
– What better reason can be forthcoming than that the valuators who have inspected the property have approved of it, and that those who know something about values have all said that it is an absolute bargain at the price? When that assurance is given, what more does the Minister want in order to reach finality? The reply comes back from the Department that the policy is now not to purchase homes already built. The Department do not add “ unless the case is an urgent one,” or “ unless there are certain circumstances about the case which make it a fair proposition.” We are simply told that there is no more chance now of having these propositions considered on their merits. I am gratified to know that that is not final. I have been assured by the Department that that rule or arrangement is final. If the Minister will give us an assurance that any case such as I have quoted will be looked info, and considered on its merits, that is all we want. I have several cases in my electorate which I know are excellent bargains; but the people interested have been told that the proposals cannot be treated on , their merits because the policy is not to buy homes already built.
This morning the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers), in reply to a question, said that the military pensions of dependants were not cut down because they happened to be recipients of old-age or invalid pensions. While that may be so, will the Minister assure me that the reverse is not the case? Is it not true that the invalid or old-age pension is cut down where a military pension is received ? If it is bo, it is a distinction without a difference. I have no hesitation .in saying that it is a fact, and, if it is, the same result is produced and the same injustice done as if the military pension were reduced.
– Those pensions are not cut down.
– Then that instruction must have been given quite recently, because I have had cases where the old-age or invalid pensions were reduced.
– I think the invalid’ and old-age pensions are affected by the amount of military pension in the case of soldier dependants.
– I have had cases where it is so.
– There have been cases where the pensions have been affected by the war gratuity ; but we have stopped all that.
– It is very gratifying to hear it. Whenever the instruction was given it was well warranted, and. I am very pleased to know that it Kas been given.
Last session the Treasurer stated that if any necessitous case of an applicant for cash for his war gratuity was turned down by the Board, he would deal with it himself on its being brought before him. I have sent two such cases to the Treasury, and I should like to know from the Treasurer whether he still adheres to his promise, because the last reply I received from his Department - it may have been sent by the officers without his knowledge - was that the case had been sent back again to the Board. In the meantime the . man wrote to me that he was stranded, that he was an invalid, unable to follow his usual occupation, and that he had no alternative but to give himself up to the police. I know him personally, and am sure that he is an honest, straightforward man. He owes about £80 for board,, and his war gratuity amounts to about £90. He handed it over to the people with whom he boarded, but, at they were not millionaires, it was of no use to them. They could not keep him any longer. If ever there was a necessitous case, this was one, and I could not understand why it was rejected by the Board.
– I know nothing about it.
– I addressed the letter to the Treasurer, relying on the promise he made last session. I believe that if. the Treasurer knew that that kind of thing was going on he would stop it. It is inconceivable to me that a letter, addressed to him personally, can be dealt with by the officers of his Department without its being put before him.
– There is nothing wrong about that. Unless the officers know that there are some special . circumstances, that is what they would do.
– They simply say the case has been referred back to the (Board for further consideration. The man lives at Wagga.
– Is there nobody in Wagga who wants a gilt-edged investment, and would cash the bond for him?
– They would cash it under the usual conditions ; that is, he would have to purchase about £30 worth of goods.
– Will not the Government cash his bond if he has a good case?
– He cannot get it cashed. He has had the matter before the Board for several months. He can work for a couple of days a week, but if he does he has to be under the doctor’s care for another couple of days. It is a case where the man ought to be getting a pension ; but he is not able to do so, and has nothing to rely on but his gratuity, ‘ which is already eaten up by what he owes for board.
– Come and see me next week.
– -I shall do so, because this is a distressing case that I want finalized. I believe the Treasurer will settle it when the facts are put before him properly.. I bring it forward here to show that in the Department they seem to slum these things over in a way that is not doing justice.
– Not quite that. Already the Department has paid out in cash about £1,750,000 for war gratuities.
All that has to come out of our revenue balance. It has to be raked up from one quarter and another, because money does not drop down to us from the clouds. That is why we would rather thatsomebody outside should cash these bonds, if they would do it reasonably and fairly.
– That is the trouble. Some persons act fairly towards returned men, but the majority do not.
– I think that the majority do.
-The majority “have” the soldier every time.
– I think that the majority of those who are willing to cash these bonds try to “get at” the soldier.
– The soldier could protect himself by informing us of the terms that he is getting. Yesterday I. had before me a case in which a society “was willing to . cash a soldier’s bond on condition that he . paid 50 per cent, of its value in premiums. That is sheer rascality.
– At any rate, I am glad that the Treasurer has promised to finalize these cases instead of sending them back to the Board.
Recently I sent to the Department the claim of a widow whose circumstances to-day are the same as they were six months ago, but whose pension has been reduced from £2 to 15s. per fortnight. The blame for- that cannot be put upon a doctor, and it seems to me that there is something in the suggestion of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Foley) that some sort of order or instruction has been issued for the cutting down of pensions in the interests of a false economy.
– How many children has this widow?
– So far as I know, only one dependent upon her.
– The pension of a war widow cannot ibe reduced unless she remarries.
– It all depends on circumstances.
– No. The widow has a legal, inalienable right to her pension.
– Then you should look to your administration.
– Yes. It is the administration, not the legislation, of which we complain. I am certain that some of those who are administering the Act do not understand it.
– I think that the honorable member confuses allowances and supplementations Avith pensions.
– It seems to me that there must have been an instruction issued to go slow, because money was not available.
– No such instruction has been issued by the Government.
– I know of a case in which a man in my electorate has had his pension reduced from £2 to 14s. a fortnight, although he was worse on the last visit of the doctor who examined him than on the previous visit. Doctors do not recommend the reduction of pensions out of pure cussedness, and I cannot help thinking that action of this kind is due to the issue of an instruction by the Government to keep expenditure within certain limits.’ If such an instruction has been issued, we should know of it.
– I have- said halfadozen times that no such instruction has been given.
– Does the Minister say that no such instruction has come from the Treasury?
– I am certain that that is so. The Treasury would advise me, and I would issue an instruction.
– Then it is impossible to conjecture why so many pensions have been reduced.
– We must rely on the reports of medical men regarding the health of pensioners.
– This man says that he is willing to pay to be examined by any other medical man, and that such an examination would prove that he is now worse than he was. Nevertheless, his pension has been reduced. I have a number of such cases, and I “am glad the matter has been ventilated to-day, because it gives honorable members the opportunity of niacin? real grievances before the Minister. I sincerely trust that he will carry out his promise to consider the suggestions made to him, and see that justice is done io these men to whom such lavish promises were made during the war period.
– It is not often that I weary the House, particularly on a Friday at such a. late hour; but I wish to draw the attention of the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) to a couple of cases that have been before ‘his Department, and in regard to which I have not received what I consider satisfactory replies.
The first case is that of ex-Sergeant W. Flindell, No. 1261, of the 32nd Battalion, who lost his arm just close to the shoulder, and one leg. It is a double amputation case which we always understood in this House entitled him, without qualification, to a pension of £4 per week.- Flindell received £4 per week for a few weeks; but because artificial limbs had been supplied to him, and because out of sheer charity he had been employed by hie old employers at £1 15s. to £2 per week in order to help him to bring his pension to an amount Which would enable him to live decently, the amount of his pension was reduced to £2 2s. per week. The Department tell me that it is the duty of this man’s former employers to re-employ him, and this is a sentiment with which I can find no fault; but when we know that as a’ result of his war service he is no longer capable of carrying on the particular class of work he formerly did, and has simply been given a pensioner’s position in connexion with the firm, we can surely see that he is entitled to come under the section of the Act dealing with double amputations, and hn ve his full pension of £4 per week restored to him. One could elaborate these, cases very materially,, but I have no wish to do so.
– The case mentioned is certainly a. hard one.
– I wish also to refer to the case of John Quinn, of Point Walter-road, Bicton, Western Australia. He applied for a War Service Home on the 16th December, 1919, paying £15 by way of deposit, but owing to various deJays in connexion with the calling for tenders for the construction of the home he withdrew his application in September, 1920. The Department have a very fair case to put up to explain, the delay, because, although they called for tenders twice, they did not succeed in getting one tender. But when this man applied to have his title deeds returned to., him, which, he had lodged with the Department, he found that .he was debited with fees to the amount of £8 12s. 7d., made up as follows: - Survey fees, £1 le.; cost of preparation of mortgage, £3 4s. 7d; cost of preparation of plans, £3 IDs; stamp duty on discharge of mortgage, 7s. ; and registration of discharge of mortgage, 1’Os. The Minister regrets that he cannot see his way clear to make the refund to which I think this man is justly -entitled ; but I ask that the matter should be again investigated with a view to granting justice to one who has got nothing from the Department, but, on the other hand, has been penalized by the very fact that he ever came into contact with it.
– I will give those matters my personal attention.
.- I have several cases which I can mention as typical of many others. The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) said today that any reasonable request submitted to the Department ought to be granted without the intervention of a member of Parliament, and I agree with him, because many persons are very reluctant to approach honorable members. Many of us who have been in the House for a long time know only too well that the war has, unfortunately, brought many troubles close home to them. Of course, no honorable member objects ‘to these requests being made to him ; but it is our natural wish that every person should be able to get a fair deal without appealing to -a member of this House.
The first case to which I wish to draw attention is that of a lady who tells me that her husband, who was an Anzac, is at present in Yarra Bend Asylum. His pension of ‘£1 per fortnight is being paid to the Master-in-Lunacy. She receives 9s. per fortnight, and the children lis. 3d. per fortnight. There are three children, one is seventeen months old, and the ages of the other two are four and six years respectively. The amount is not sufficient to keep the woman, and last December she made application to be paid the full pension. The application was refused. The Master-in-Lunacy read a letter to her from a doctor, who certified that her husband’s present condition was aggravated by the war. Honorable members who have had experience of mental cases know that, in .nine cases . out of ten, it would be far better to follow the sufferer to the grave than to the asylum. When this woman came to me she was thin and emaciated.. Apparently she had not been receiving even the necessaries of life. But, in any case, the point I wish to make is that, even df there is some doubt as .to whether her husband’s condition was aggravated by the -war or not, she should get the benefit of that doubt. I have written to the Controller, and have received a reply stating that the case will be considered.
Another case is that of a man who returned last March suffering from the effects of gas and also from an injury to. the knee. He was given *a pension of 8s. 3d. per week, and, on appealing, was placed under an X-ray examination at the Base Hospital.’ His appeal waathen refused. He is to go before the Board again.
Another case is that of Mrs. Bicknell,. a widow, of Langridge-street, Abbotsford,, the mother of the first nurse who died at the war. She made an application for a pension on account of her late daughter, who, if she had lived, would have been able to assist her. The ^pension was refused; but I am pleased to say that the representations I made in this case, have been successful. However, the application ought not to have been successful because I made it, but should have been granted in the first place to the woman herself.
Here are the facts of another case -
I understand that Mrs. M. J. Roberts, of 17 Hoddle-street, Richmond, has twice made application for a pension on account of her son, 3141, Private S. R. Roberts, 39th Battalion, who . was gassed and is unable to regularly follow his occupation.
The father is not alive, and the son is practically the sole support. Mrs. Roberts is now nearly sixty years of age, and is unable to work. 1 shall be glad if you will reconsider this case with a view to affording some assistance in the shape of a pension.
This application was refused. No pension was granted. However, I succeeded in getting the lady a very small pension. I do not say that all the criticism indulged in at the ^expense of the Minister is justified. So long as we .are dealing with the human element, the utmost care .must be exercised by every Department in seeing that justice- is done, remembering, however, that it is far better to err on the side of liberality than on that of harshness. I do not say that all the men who have returned from the war are angels ; but the very fact of their service demands that we should treat them with absolute fairness, and deal with their dependants in that spirit of generosity which we promised to show them.
– I am very much impressed with the suggestion of several honorable members that in the matter, not of the assessment, but of the reconsideration of pensions, the soldier should have the benefit of civilian doctor representation. It would be impossible to control or administer pensions if one were to hand over the matter of appeal altogether to an outside Board which would be in no way responsible to. the Department. I cannot undertake that; but in view of the representations which have been made to-day, and knowing, as I do, the feelings of honorable members, and of the returned men themselves, the whole case of the soldier will be gone into again from every point of view, and more fully. I shall make representations, in connexion with the Appeal Boards, to permit the attendance of civilian doctors as well as of the Department’s medical officials.
– I have a case which I wish to make known. In 1916, when the men were leaving for the Front, with all the bands playing and the flags flying, they were heroes. There was one such hero from my district who was a husband and a father, and his family, too, were heroes. We hailed them as such, and we promised that we would look after- them. Until 1918 that man fought and was wounded, and fought again and was wounded; and then he was reported “A.W.L.” His people never heard of him again. He was missing. They do not know to this day where he is, or what has become of him, and his wife and children are starving. Maybe his body is lying shattered, or blown to pieces,, iu France ; but he is “ A.W.L.”, and his de- . pendants to-day are getting no assistance of any sort from any source. Why should they be punished merely because the letters’ “ A.W.L.” stand, at the De fence Department, against the man’s name? I appeal for fresh consideration of the cases of such unfortunate people.” If the father had not gone to the war, or if he had returned and were here to-day, he would have been their supporter. The family, therefore, is suffering directly from the causes of war. I hope that, as an outcome of the consideration of this case, all cases of “ A.W.L.” will be reopened and considerately examined.
.- I can speak with some authority upon matters having to do with soldiers, so far as this State is concerned, since I am the only member of the original enlisting Committee who began with that body and remained with it until the end. I spoke from many platforms. I did not ask any man to do what I had not offered to do, but on account of my” age I was refused permission to go on active service. From a thousand platforms we pledged ourselves to look after the women and children. Have those promises been kept? I am not blaming the Government or any Minister. I have one case in mind which was brought under my notice by a magistrate. The husband was in a house of detention for six months. He was mentally unhinged. Now he has disappeared; no one knows where he is. The Defence Department is looking for him. Meanwhile the wife and child, who received a pension, have had it taken away from them. I protest iu the name of humanity. It was a calamity when the care of pensions was taken from the Pensions Department. I do not suppose that any honorable member has had as many returned men and dependants through his hands as I. I keep a clerk doing nothing but the work of soldiers and their dependants, and of old-age pensioners. I have had a man appointed as a commissioner so that he may be in attendance at my office in order to assist me ih the taking of affidavits. This is all very well, and one does what one can; but it is not right that applicants for pensions should be compelled to come to members of Parliament in order to secure justice. I am sure that the ‘Government desire to do only what is right. I welcome the announcement of the Minister in regard to the matter of Appeal Board assistance by civilian doctors; but be should be on guard with respect to the introduction of private practitioners. I suggest that a request be made to- the public hospital authorities throughout the Commonwealth that they treat any returned soldier or dependant, and then that the Department take the certificate from that hospital as being a document which can be relied on. With respect to private medical men, providing that they do not take fees from returned soldiers or their dependants, I would suggest that the same reliance be placed upon their certificates. But I would not like to see poor people having to pay for the services of a private medical man to fight a Department in their behalf. It is impossible to fight a Department. I know many soldier medicals who have returned from active service. Some of these have not my respect or regard ; most of them have. They should be put upon their honour to treat as a younger brother every soldier who comes before them, and the dependants of our soldiers should be able to obtain treatment free of charge at any Government hospital. Is it any wonder that some of those who went through the horrible turmoil of the war, with its brain-Tacking experiences, are absent without leave? As the honorable member forHunter (Mr. Charlton) has said, if these men had not left borne to fight for their country they would not be absent without leave to-day. They responded to the call of their beloved country, and from every public platform were told that their dependants would be” looked after if anything happened to them. ‘ In theso circumstances, if we err at all, it should be on the side of generosity. Do not let us forget that every penny given to the dependants of our soldiers is spent in out midst.
Under the present system an allowance is made in respect of only a limited number of children in each family. In the name of the future units of the States I ask what the seventh, eighth, or tenth child in a family has done that reasonable provision should not be made for its support. Why. should hot the child of a soldier whose bones have been left on the frontier be allowed by the Government at least as much for its support as an ordinary Police Court will allow in making a common maintenance order?
I know that the cost of the system is piling up, and in that respect my sympathies go- out to the Treasurer; but, since we have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on the war we should be prepared, if necessary, to spend tens of millions of pounds in helping the dependants of those who fought to conserve to us our homes . and our liberties.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.29 . p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 April 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1921/19210408_reps_8_94/>.