10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton
Groom) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have several times made complaints about a Commonwealth dump of mixed coal, which has been lying for many months on an estate in my electorate. I understand that the Government cannot find a purchaser for that coal, and I ask the Prime Minister whether, having ‘regard to the depressed condition of industry in the district and the hardships that many people may expect in the coming winter, the Government will place these stocks under the control of the mayors of adjacent municipalities for distribution amongst the deserving poor?
– This stack of coal lies on a property that is wanted for subdivision and the Government has done everything possible to get the coal removed. It has been advertised for sale throughout Australia, but no offers for it have been received. In the circumstances, I shall consider whether the coal can be utilized for the benefit of the people in the district, as the honorable member has suggested.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the recent disturbance caused by the unemployed in the South Australian House of Assembly? On account of the very real distress existing in that and other States, will the Prime Minister confer with the State Governments in regard to the best means of providing relief?
– I read a paragraph describing the incident to which the honorable member refers; but I remind him that unemployment is not primarily the concern of the Commonwealth Government ; it is a matter for the consideration of the State Governments. The honorable member might approach the Government of South Australia, and it would be for that Government to approach the Commonwealth Government with regard to some basis of co-operation for affording relief.
– Will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of putting in hand at once all Commonwealth work that is ready to be proceeded with in South Australia in order to relieve, the acute distress existing there because of unemployment?
– The unemployment problem in all States is being watched very closely by the Government, and wherever possible works that will provide employment are being put in hand as speedily as possible.
– As the Commonwealth controls migration, will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of suspending the migration scheme until such time as employment is found for the people already in the country?
– The honorable member knows as well as I do that the Commonwealth does not control migration. Assisted migrants come to Australia on the requisition of the States or through nomination by friends or relatives, and the Commonwealth merely assists financially in the transport of such persons to these shores. The Commonwealth certainly has power to refuse admission to any person, but it does not propose to exercise that authority and so proclaim to the world that Australia cannot absorb any more people.
– Is not the Commonwealth Government one of the partners in the Migration Agreement by which migrants are brought from the United Kingdom to Australia? If so, as the Government has the sole responsibility of bringing migrants to Australia, will the Prime Minister represent to the State Governments the need for discontinuing such nominations and requisitions until our own people are employed ?
– It is most undesirable’ to make it appear, as the honorable member always tries to do, that the Common-, wealth Government and this Parliament are responsible for the immigration to Australia. I would remind him that assisted migrants come here either because they have been directly requisitioned by the Governments of the States or because they have been nominated by citizens of the States. It is for the State Governments to take action in this matter, and they are now doing a good deal to reduce the flow of migrants. Because of the prevalence of unemployment, they have reduced to practically nothing the requisitions for migrants, and are taking action with respect to the nomination of migrants.
– Is the right honorable gentleman aware that the week before last 130 Czecho-Slovakians landed in Sydney, and are now unemployed, moat of them being stranded there? Ishe also aware that none of these migrants were assisted or nominated by a State, but were brought out by machinery - apparently a most efficient organization - operating in their country of origin, which is publishing statements regarding the great sums of money which can bc obtained by those who go to Australia? As these migrants were neither nominated nor assisted by a State Government, will the Prime Minister instruct the agents of consuls for foreign countries, and the representatives of the Commonwealth at Australia House, to take such steps as may be necessary to give sufficient publicity in those countries to the fact that the migrants already here are without employment?
– The particular case to which the honorable member has referred was brought under the notice of the House lost week, when the Minister for Home and Territories said that the whole of the circumstances were being investigated. The review of that matter is now in progress. The various consuls are closely in touch with the position in Australia, and axe informed as to the amount of employment that is available. Further, I have had many conversations with various consuls, and particularly with the consul for Italy, on the general subject. The fullest information as to the whole position is made available at Australia House, and the whole position in regard to migration is being very closely watched by the Government.
–In view of the large and increasing amount- of unemployment brought about by the strike of cooks in the mercantile marine, is the Prime Minister able to inform the House of any steps having been taken by the Federal Labour Party to bring that strike to a conclusion ?
– I am aware of none.
– It does not follow that there are none.
Preference in Employment.
– Can the Minister for Home and Territories state whether the Federal Capital Commission gives preference in employment to returned soldiers and married men, or whether single men residing in the Territory are given preference to married men and returned soldiers residing at Queanbeyan ?
– I shall obtain the information asked for; but I may say that the Commission adopts the same policy as that of the Government, returned soldiers and married men receiving preference over other applicants for employment.
– Has the attention of the Postmaster-General been drawn to an article in the Sydney Sun headed, “Dave Smith beaten on points; Postmaster-General proves a snag,” from which it would appear that the Postal Department acted harshly and unfairly towards Alderman Dave Smith, of Mosman, the ex-champion boxer of Australia ? Is the Minister also aware that Alderman Smith is at the present time on a visit to Canberra, and that Mr. Kitto, the Deputy Postmaster-General for New South Wales, is expected in Canberra today? Will he assure the House that Mr. Kitto does not intend to pursue a vendetta against Alderman Smith, either by boxing him, or in some other way ?
– Questions must relate to matters affecting the departments which Ministers control. . The honorable member’s question is not in order.
– To put my question in another way, will the Minister see that Alderman Dave Smith receives a fair trial ?
– Mr. David Smith was prosecuted for using a wireless set without a licence. He was taken to the court, and I think fined 30s. and costs. That verdict stands. I think that he was fairly treated.
– Has the Chief Secretary of New South Wales expressed the opinion that Alderman Smith was unfairly treated, and that he was reluctant to assist the Postmaster-General to carry into execution the verdict of the court ?
– I had a letter to that effect from the Chief Secretary of New South Wales, but I take it that the court is the proper authority to decide how such cases should be dealt with. In this instance the court found the defendant guilty.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral officially aware of any arrangements or conversations or efforts being made by the broadcasting station 3LO to combine with or absorb the Adelaide station 5CL and other broadcasting stations in Australia? If so, will he make a statement giving full particulars of what is being done?
– The honorable member knows quite well that the object of the Government is to bring the whole of the broadcasting stations together, and to obtain co-ordination of their efforts. I understand that this has been effected so far as Victoria and New South Wales are concerned, but up to the present time the Adelaide station has not come into line with those of the other States.
– Can the Prime Minister inform the House when the Constitution Commission is likely to completethe taking of evidence and present its report to Parliament?
– I have no official information on the subject, but I understand that the Commission has practically completed the taking of evidence, and will proceed with the drafting of its report almost immediately. The report should be available at a reasonably early, date.
– At the present time the awards of the Arbitration Court are published in conjunction with the judgments and are sold at a cost of 4s. or 5s. each. Will the Attorney-General consider the advisability of arranging for the publication of the awards alone in a cheaper form?
– Already the awards and judgment of the court are extensively circulated free of cost, but I shall have the honorable member’s suggestion inquired into.
– Has the AttorneyGeneral had time to study the judgment of the High Court in regard to the Performing Rights Association? Is he aware that the association is again bombarding hall proprietors, particularly local governing bodies, with requests for royalties in respect of copyright items performed in the buildings under their control ?
– I have studied the judgment of the High Court and will take an early opportunity to make a statement to the House on the subject. I am not aware of the bombardment to which the honorable member refers, but if he will let me know of any improper requests made by the Performing Rights Association I shall have investigations made.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether the report of the royal commission appointed to inquire into the Bundaberg serum tragedy has yet been received by him, and when it will be made available to honorable members?
– The report has not yet been submitted to the GovernorGeneral. I again assure the honorable member that the report will not be held up for one moment after it has been handed to the Prime Minister.
New South Wales
– I ask the Minister for Home and Territories whether finality has yet been reached in the negotiations between the Governments of the Commonwealth and New South Wales regarding the use of a joint electoral roll?
– The matter is now receiving the consideration of my department.
– Will the Treasurer inform the House why the Commonwealth Loan Council borrowed in the United States of America instead of in Great Britain when raising the last loan of £10,000,000? Is the honorable gentleman in a position to give the House full information about the flotation of that loan ?
– The decision of the Commonwealth Loan Council to float the last loan in the United States of America was arrived at after full consideration of all the facts. The loan is required to complete the works programme of the Commonwealth and State Governments. The terms of the loan are very favorable to us. There will be a net return to the investor of £5 0s.1d. The recent loan raised by New Zealand in London gave a net return of £4 19s. 2d. This £10,000,000 loan compares very favorably with previous loans. The rate is the nearest we have got to those of New Zealand for the last five years. At present the difference between the cost of flotation in London and New York is much less than it was a few years ago, the balance in favour of London, after allowing for stamp duty charges, being now about 8s. per cent. The previous Commonwealth loan floated in London was for £8,000,000, at £98, with interest at 5 per cent., the net return to the investor being £5 2s. 3d. The last New South Wales loan floated was at £991/2, with interest at 51/4 per cent., the net return to the investor being £5 5s. 8d. The terms on which we are now borrowing in New York are the best that any government, except that of Canada, has obtained in New York since the war.
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– -The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister in charge of Repatriation, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister in charge of Repatriation, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister in Charge of Repatriation, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained.
Report on “Bunchy Top” Disease.
asked the Prime
Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he will obtain the following information : -
The number of machines usually in use in the three largest clothing factories of Sydney and Melbourne?
The number of machines that are idle in those factories at the present time?
– The information is being obtained.
Broken Hill to Victoria and Adelaide Roads
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
In view of the fact that there is a large amount of interstate traffic in goods and passengers between Broken Hill and Adelaide, and between Broken Hill and Victoria via Mildura, will he give sympathetic consideration to a special grant for those roads, apart from the amount already ear-marked for the Western Lands division of New South Wales?
– Proposals for the construction or reconstruction of roads under the Federal Aid Roads Act must, in the first instance, be made by the State Minister. If proposals for expenditure on the roads referred to by the honorable member are submitted in the prescribed manner, I will give them full consideration.
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
Is it a fact that certain companies take advantage of our patents laws in order to exploit our citizens by refusing to . sell machines, in order to exact royalities or rent for each machine; if so, what are the names of the companies?
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Presentations to Commonwealth
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I would refer the honorable member to the statement furnished on the 21st July, 1926, in reply to a question asked by him (Parliamentary Paper No. 71, 1926). The question of displaying those works of art not at present exhibited has been receiving the careful consideration of the Library Committee. The original plans of the committee were for their display in the accommodation to be provided for the National Library, but this accommodation is now required for other purposes. The display of the Mortimer Menpes . collection is at present receiving attention, and it is hoped that arrangements which are now in hand will result in their being displayed in Canberra at an early date. In the meantime they are carefully stored in cases in Parliament. House.
Housing - Rating
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– I regret that the particulars asked for by the honorable member are not available at present, but I am taking steps to obtain the information.
Mr. McGRATH (through Mr. Fenton) asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– I regret that the information which the honorable member desires is not at present available, but I am having inquiry made into the matters mentioned.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The information ia being obtained, and will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
Conducting of Telegraph and Tele phone Lines.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Whether he is yet in a position to announce the date of the beginning of the work of conduiting the telephone and telegraph lines in the city of Broken Hill ?
– The conduit work considered necessary will be proceeded with on receipt of the material at Broken Hill. It is hoped a commencement will be possible in June.
– On the 28th March, 1928, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked the following questions, upon notice : -
I am now in a position to furnish the following replies: -
– On the 29th March, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) brought under notice the question of the freight on apples on the railway from Queanbeyan to Canberra. It has been ascertained from the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner that he has introduced a rate of 6d. per single case of fruit conveyed over the Federal Territory railway. The Commissioner states that this will mean a substantial reduction on the charge at present existing, and coupled with the special rate which is charged for the conveyance of fruit on the New South Wales Railways, should enable deliveries to be effected at a low rate.
– On the 26th April, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) asked me whether in view of shipping difficulties between the mainland and Tasmania, consideration would be given to the advisability of establishing a sugar depot in Hobart in order to assure a regular supply of sugar to the Tasmanian jam factories and other industries to which that commodity is essential. I promised to have inquiries made as to the practicability of the honorable member’s suggestion. I find thai in March, 1925, consequent upon representations by my colleague, the late Minister for Trade and Customs, the Queensland Sugar Board arranged through its agent, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, that Tasmanian customers, at the beginning of each summer, could order a reserve of, say, four to six weeks’ requirements to go into their stores, and then continue ordering each week in accordance with their current requirements, payment to be made only on the quantity of the reserve stocks actually used each week; the current weekly orders to be paid for in the usual manner. It is considered that these arrangements should enable manufacturers in Tasmania to meet any risks of shortages of sugar arising from the shipping difficulties referred to by the honorable member.
– On the 24th April the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) asked me a question without notice in regard to the position of the work being carried out by the Executive Committee of the Australian Tobacco Investigation, set up under an agreement between the Commonwealth Government, mainland State Governments and the British Australian Tobacco Company. The following statement has been furnished by the Executive Committee setting out the position: -
The committee decided to appoint a director of investigations, and invited applications in Australia and throughout the world from persons qualified to fill the position. Mr. C. M. Slagg, M.Sc, late chief of the tobacco division of the Department of Agriculture, Canada, was eventually appointed and he arrived in Australia on 1st March, of this year.
After consultation with the executive committee it was decided that he should make a tour of inspection of the tobacco growing districts throughout Australia in order to familiarize himself with local conditions, and to enable him to prepare his plans for the future conduct of the investigation. Mr. Slagg has now visited tobacco growing districts in Victoria and New South Wales, and is about to visit Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia, in that order. Whilst in Queensland, he will inspect the leaf from several experimental plots established last year in Northern Queensland by the executive committee in conjunction with the Queensland
Department of Agriculture. He will also study the conditions under which such leaf was grown.
Dr. Darnell Smith, Director of the Botanic Gardens, Sydney, who is a member of the executive committee and who has had considerable experience of the tobacco industry on the scientific side, visited America last year at the request of the executive, for the purpose of studying the tobacco industry in that country. His inquiry had particular reference to the question of soils and cultural methods. His report has been submitted to the executive committee, and a summary of his impressions of the American industry was published in the journal of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, February, 1028. The question of printing in full his impressions of the American industry is at present receiving the consideration of the executive.
Solely for the information of the executive committee and the Director of Investigations, an economic survey of the present position of the tobacco growing industry was carried out by a party which included the official tobacco experts respectively of New South Wales and Victoria, During this survey, representative samples of soils from the tobacco growing areas were collected, and these are being analysed for the purpose of comparison and record.
The executive committee has already initiated, and is at present conducting, several experiments in connexion with the disease, blue mould, and the question of the possible effect of climate and soil conditions on the aroma and flavour of tobacco. These experiments have not been completed, and in any case the executive are strongly averse from publishing interim reports on such matters until the results have been subjected to thorough proof and check. This policy will be strictly adhered to throughout the course of the investigation.
It would appear that the first announcement of the agreement gave a decided fillip to the industry, and the executive have received many inquiries about the possibilities of growing tobacco. It is the considered opinion of the executive that until the fundamental requirements of tobacco growing in Australia have been ascertained - and it was the absence of this information that gave rise to the investigation - an increase of the areas at present- devoted to tobacco is inadvisable. The executive is of opinion that a rapid expansion of the industry at present would probably lead to much unsuitable land being devoted to tobacco culture and to the production of much inferior leaf.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1928, Nos. 33, 30.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1928, Nos. 31, 32.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1928 - No. 7 - Defamation.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) (by leave) agreed to -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as will enable the Notice of Motion No. 1, General Business, to take precedence for this day.
.- I move -
That a select committee from this House be appointed to inquire into and report upon the operation of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, including -
Before proceeding to discuss the motion I wish to express my grief at the tragic passing of the late Minister for Trade and Customs, Honorable H. E. Pratten. We are all weighed down with sorrow and the consciousness that the late muchrespected Minister sacrificed his life in the service of his country. He held the esteem of every honorable member of the House, and administered his most difficult portfolio with great distinction. May I say, in the words of the Latin poet, Horace, that the late Minister “completed a monument more lasting than brass and more sublime than the regal elevation of pyramids,” and died rich, with honour. His example is an inspiration to others to devote their time and service to the nation.
It is not my intention to speak at undue length upon the motion I have moved, for I am anxious that the House shall vote upon it to-day. I assure honorable members that I approach the subject in a non-party spirit. I ask that the Minister in charge of repatriation (Sir Neville Howse) and the House generally shall do likewise. I am acting in perfectly good faith, and with some knowledge of repatriation matters, having been for some time a war pensioner and an inmate of a number of military hospitals both here and abroad. I have deliberately refrained from suggesting a personnel for the proposed committee, in the hope that “ the Government will accept the motion and choose its own representatives.
There is no party motive behind my motion. It must not be taken as an election issue, and I ask the House to consider it in the spirit in which it has been submitted. I am merely asking for an inquiry into repatriation by a select committee of this House. I do not propose to commit the Government to any specific course of policy, but I suggest that there is room for investigation and that one should take place. There is no expenditure involved in appointing a select committee composed of members of this Parliament, as there would be with a royal commission. Such a committee could sit during the forthcoming recess and present an early report to the House and thus allay much of the dissatisfaction that undoubtedly exists at present.
I am not seeking an expression of opinion from the House respecting the administration of the department, nor do I propose to take this opportunity to attack the Repatriation Department. I merely say that there is sufficient room for an investigation into the working of the Repatriation Act. There is absolute evidence that such an inquiry is necessary, and I challenge any honorable member to argue to the contrary. Since I have been in this Parliament, motion after motion has been moved regarding repatriation and the treatment of returned soldiers, and case after case has been ventilated in this Chamber. That clearly shows that there is dissatisfaction with the working of the act, if not with the department itself. It may be that an inquiry will reveal the fact that the Repatriation Commission is handicapped by inadequate legislative direction, or that there is room for drastic improvement in the administration. Many of the returned soldiers themselves object to the publicity that has at times been given in this House to their disabilities. I plead guilty to having ventilated certain of their grievances, but have only done so with a view to obtaining redress for them. I think that any honorable member, if he were suffering from a disability, would dislike it being made a matter for public discussion. I wish to put an end to the necessity for the ventilation of grievances in this House as far as possible.
The select committee should have the fullest scope and right to consider every phase of repatriation administration. The necessity for such a motion ten years after the war has ended may he questioned, but, in reply, I would point out that the Minister forRepatriation himself, I believe, said that the peak pension year would not be reached until 1930, and I assert that the cases that are now being examined by the department are difficult to diagnose and, in consequence, injustices may occur. The cases that occur now are invariably tubercular, neurasthenic or organic complaints, which are difficult to diagnose. The result is that there is to-day perhaps more dissatisfaction with the administration of repatriation than there has been hitherto. Repatriation is of much more importance than many other questions - many of them abstract - which have, from time to time, been referred by the Government to committees of this House for inquiry and report. In the administration of re-, patriation, over £7,500,000 is involved annually, and that sum, with the exception of £180,000 for the administration of the department, represents pensions. Surely the immensity of that expenditure, particularly having regard to the complaints that have been made, warrants an inquiry by . a select committee.
My request has received general and specific . support from the returned soldier organizations. The New South Wales branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League has, during the last few months, conducted an extensive press campaign in favour of the appointment of appeal boards. I do not propose to weary honorable members by quoting extracts from newspapers, but any one who has followed the Sydney press for some weeks past will have noticed the insistent demand for appeal boards, and that conclusively shows that there is something to investigate, and some ground for dissatisfaction. The Limbless Soldiers’ Association of New South Wales is in agreement that a select committee should be appointed to inquire into the various methods of administration by the Repatriation Department. Circulars from the Tubercular Soldiers’ Association” have also been distributed- among honorable members. That association held a conference in Canberra this week. I was invited to attend, but unfortunately was unable to be present. However, I was led to believe that the meeting would support my motion for a select committee. Last week the Returned Soldiers’ League distributed a circular appealing to honorable members to allow an inquiry to take place respecting the necessity for the appointment of appeal boards. The Sydney newspapers, during the last few weeks - ‘one might say during the last few years - have shown indications of public discontent with repatriation administration. Letters have been published criticizing the various phases of repatriation, and in particular, pointing out that some returned soldiers receive pensions to which they are not entitled, and that others who are really entitled to pensions have been left lamenting. I do not support the former contention, but I say that in the interests of this Government and of the Commonwealth Parliament, an investigation such as I have outlined should take place. The House itself would be handicapped . in examining the position of the Repatriation Department, -especially during this session, owing to the lack of time and inability to take evidence, and the only alternative is to relegate the inquiry to a select committee consisting of returned soldiers and one member of the medical profession. For instance, the honorable member for Herbert (Dr. Nott) is a returned soldier and a medical practitioner as well. A par liamentary committee of investigation is the only satisfactory form of inquiry, because in arriving at decisions, questions of legislative policy mustarise, and members of this House are best equipped to determine whether the law should be amended Or the regulations liberalized.
– The remedy must come through the law, and not through an alteration of the administration, which I submit is not unsympathetic.
– I do not condemn the Minister for Repatriation, in fact, I intend at a later stage to pay a tribute to his work. I certainly give him credit for having done his best for the returned soldiers. I am prepared to admit that the law may require to be altered. No doubt during this debate many of us will be at cross purposes. Why not leave it to the Parliament to deal with the subject through a committee. Other committees are inquiring into matters of infinitely less national importance, and a parliamentary committee is the only one that is qualified to decide whether a legislative remedy is required. This matter cannot be relegated to another body that has no sense of obligation to the people, and is unfamiliar with the intentions of the legislature.
There has never been a comprehensive inquiry into repatriation since the department was established. A royal commission was appointed in 1924, but it was composed entirely of doctors; it sat only in Melbourne, and the terms of reference were restricted to the following question : -
Is the present method of determining whether an ex-soldier’s disability is due to or aggravated by war service adequate to decide the origin or degree to which it is aggravated, and what proportion of his present incapacity can be regarded as having resulted from his war service?
That is a carefully-worded, technical question, limiting the scope of the royal commission to medical considerations. Therefore, its inquiry was incomplete and inadequate, and many of its findings, because they went beyond the terms of reference, were abstract and vague. I admit that some that were adopted by the Government have been of incalculable benefit to some soldiers who previously had not been favorably considered by the department. The inquiry of this body, however, was not sufficiently comprehensive, and, therefore, its findings were not complete. For instance, I quote two paragraphs from the report -
We desire to ascertain whether it is right and just to deprive soldiers of their pensions because of the inadequacy of the departmental records. That is one matter which should be further . investigated by this Parliament. Certain of the recommendations of the commission were admirable, and were adopted by the Government, including those relating to the provision of attendants for blind soldiers, and pensions for those suffering from tuberculosis. The commission reported that the present opportunities of appeal were adequate; but it was not instructed to investigate that phase, even though when it sat the soldiers were asking for the appointment of an appeal board. Paragraphs 27 and 28 of the report say -
Those findings are delightfully abstract; no attempt has been made to analyse the evidence or to give reasons for the conclusions arrived at. But my principal objection to the commission’s report -is the inadequacy of the terms of reference.
Other countries are re-examining their repatriation systems.
In Canada the Returned Soldiers’ Association is seeking the appointment of a select committee to inquire into grievances, and I am advised that a similar demand is being made in the United Kingdom. The principle of appeal boards has been recognized in other countries. If Parliament is to be a deliberative assembly, it should assert its right to inquire into different phases of administration. All honorable members are responsible, notonly to the returned soldiers, but also to the people of Australia generally, and this House has no more important subject than repatriation to deal with. I am reminded that the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) protested in Melbourne a few days ago against the theory that party loyalty does not permit of the free consideration of this and kindred matters in Parliament. The right honorable member asked whether members were to degenerate into political hacks. I sincerely hope that honorable members will not allow party considerations to determine their attitude on this matter and impel them to vote against the motion. Having stated briefly the broad grounds upon which I invite the House to agree to the motion, I will now analyse the terms of the motion.
In the first place I have asked for an inquiry into the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, and have pointed out that a considerable amount of dissatisfaction exists. The Minister is often charged by implication with being unduly sympathetic in some cases and less sympathetic in others. The Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ Imperial League has pointed out that certain pension claims have been granted, after repeated representations to the Minister and after the individual cases have been frequently mentioned in the House, only because of the influence and persistency of the parliamentary representative dealing with them.
– That is totally wrong.
– The Minister will admit that in certain cases pensions would never have been granted had not members of this House brought the circumstances under his notice and obtained re-examination of the claims.
– The associations of returned sailors and soldiers have had much more influence than members of Parliament.
– I remind the Minister of a case to which I have referred previously. A soldier’s widow had been refused a full pension. The matter went before the present Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) and the Repatriation Commissioner five times, speaking from memory; ultimately it was referred to the present Minister, and the application for a full pension was granted. For one persistent person who will explore every avenue of appeal through soldiers’ organizations and members of Parliament, there are 99 who are ignorant of their right to use these channels in order to have their cases re-opened. A general inquiry is needed in order to ascertain if there is any ground for dissatisfaction.
I ask also that the method of assessment should be investigated. Is the method prescribed by the law and regulations adequate? Are the; methods adopted by the Repatriation Commission thorough and perfectly fair to the individual soldier and his dependants, or should the law and the regulations thereunder be liberalized? In what way is the degree of disablement determined? “What happens when there is a difference of opinion between doctors, such as the royal commission described as having been evidenced by an examination of the files ? Is the soldier given the benefit of any doubt?
– Always. ‘
– If three doctors declare that a disability is not due to war service, and one doctor declares that it is so due, is the soldier given the benefit of that doubt?
– The evidence is very carefully weighed, and if there is any doubt the decision is in favour of the soldier.
– I dispute the Minister’s statement, because I investigated one case in which there was a difference of medical opinion and the soldier’s claim was rejected. Subsequently, when I examined the files and brought the matter under the Minister’s notice, the appeal was granted. I have no desire to throw mud at the Repatriation Department; I am merely showing that there is ample warrant for a full parliamentary inquiry into this matter. Is any honorable member - whether a returned soldier or otherwise - in a position to declare definitely that there is no need for an inquiry? What honorable member knows the methods adopted by the Repatriation Department in determining appeals? We have the Minister’s assurances, but various things point to the need for overhauling the administration of repatriation. A committee of the House might declare as a matter of public policy that the method of assessing pensions should be altered.
A further question to be determined is: Whether the present method of deciding appeals is adequate? The appeals are decided in the absence of the appellant, by medical boards and others. That practice is contrary to the policy operating in New Zealand, Canada and Great Britain. The Minister may reply that the scheme of repatriation in Australia is more generous than elsewhere. That that is so generally, I agree; but that is because of the direction of this Parliament; -no individual can lay any flattering unction to his soul on that account. But, even though the scheme of repatriation be more generous by intention of Parliament, it does not necessarily follow that it operates fairly in all circumstances, or is ample to meet all requirements. State repatriation boards cost £2,000 a year ; they are comprised of one representative of the returned soldiers and two departmental officials. In. principle the right of appeal is; already recognized. But these State boards are futile, and no . soldiers’ organization will say that they discharge a very useful function. They are not sufficiently independent to be appeal boards in the true sense, because they are subject to departmental influence and considerations. Having regard to the fact that the administration of pensions costs £180,000 a year, it is worth inquiring whether a system of appeal boards would not be more economical and more satisfactory generally. A letter which honorable members have received from the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League shows that the principle of an appeal board- has been engaging the attention of that body for the last two years. At the State congress in New South Wales last year it was resolved that an independent appeal board should be constituted to finally determine war pension appeals. That matter went to the Federal Congress of the League, and in November last in Brisbane it was unanimously resolved “ That in the opinion of this congress an independent appeal board should be constituted to determine war pension appeals.” Subsequently the State Executive of the League in New South Wales instructed its secretary to communicate with Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand with a view to ascertaining what procedure was followed in those countries. The letter received in reply, referring to the War Pensions Appeal Board in Canada, states -
That act provides for a board known as the Federal Appeal Board, consisting of not less than three, nor more than seven members appointed by the Governor in Council. Of the members first appointed to the board, other than the chairman, one-half shall -be appointed for a term of two years and the other for a term of three years, and they shall be eligible for re-appointment for such further terms, not to exceed five years, as the Governor in Council may deem advisable. Three members constitute a quorum. The majority of the members shall be persons who served in the naval, military or air forces of Canada during the war. Each member shall devote the whole of his time to the performance of his duties under that act. . . . There is in Canada a board of pension commissioners, and a department of soldiers’ civil reestablishment. This appeal board deals with appeals against decisions from either of these departments….. Every applicant and the
Board of Pension Commissioners or its representative shall have the right to attend in person, at any and all sittings for the purpose of hearing an appeal held by the board or by a member thereof, under such conditions as to the payment of an applicant’s expenses thereby incurred as may bc fixed by regulation of the Governor in Council, and the applicant wHY if he so desires, but at his own expense, be assisted thereat, by counsel or representative other than the official soldier adviser appointed under the department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment Act.
In Canada there are permanent soldier advisers to whom pensioners and their dependants can go for advice. These unofficial advocates enable them to be fully protected. I have already said .that the Returned Soldiers League desires the liberalization of certain phases of the administration as it is carried out in Canada ; but it maintains that the appeal board system has been eminently successful. Mr. Barrow, secretary of the Canadian Soldiers Organization, pointed out that since the board’s appointment in August, 1923, it had dealt with some 13,000 appeals, and in from 20 to 25 per cent, of the cases the decisions of the lower tribunal had been reversed. When an appeal is first lodged it is immediately forwarded to the soldier’s official adviser, who has reasonable access to the official file. Should the soldier desire his case to be handled by counsel or other representative, he may have it done. Turning to the New Zealand system, let me quote from the letter received from the general secretary of- the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association. Tt states -
The War Pensions Appeal Board is one of the finest things in connexion with the war pensions legislation; it undoubtedly assists in bringing about the payment of war pensions, but better than this, it satisfactorily finalizes almost every case.
In Australia we have a see-saw system, which leaves both the applicant and the public dissatisfied. The letter proceeds -
It is the practice of the War Pensions Board to merely consider a case on the documentary evidence before it, while the Appeal
Board not only permits the appellant to appear before it, but also allows him to be supported by an advocate. A claimant for a war pension lodges an application with the Commissioner of Pensions, and in due course this is decided upon by the War Pensions Board. If rejected, in nearly every case the reply sent to the soldier informs him that the case may be reconsidered On receipt of further evidence, particularly medical evidence. It is then competent for him to obtain further evidence and present it to the War Pensions Board. He may place his case before the War Pensions Board times without number, and thereafter has the right of appeal. From the date of the last decision of the War Pensions Board the soldier has six months within which to lodge an application for the hearing of an appeal by the Appeal Board. In due course he receives advice to appear before the Appeal Board, and also Government travelling warrants, if necessary, to reach the town in which the Appeal Board 13 sitting.
On application to the War Pensions Appeal Board he is entitled to be represented by an advocate, who may or may not be a. solicitor.
On receipt of the application for the case to be heard by the War Pensions Appeal Board, the departmental file regarding the appellant is sent to the War Pensions Appeal Board, a precis is made out, and a copy of same handed to the members of the board prior to the’ hearing.
In Australia the soldier’s application for a pension is dealt with in his absence. The whole onus of proof rests upon the soldier. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), has a motion on the notice-paper to the effect that no claim for a war. pension should be rejected unless the department could. show that the disability could not have been due to or aggravated by war service. That is another reason why the matter should be probed by a select committee. The secretary of the New Zealand Soldiers’ Association points out that the Appeal Board has been of wonderful benefit to pensioners, success having been obtained in from 60 to 64 per cent, of the cases in which appeals have been lodged. In England there is an appeal .board to which the soldier has the -right to state his case. In my opinion, that is the best system that could be devised. It removes the control of the department from even the remotest suggestion of favoritism or yielding to strong pressure, and it is in keeping with the accepted principles of British justice that a man should “have the right to produce medical or other evidence in support of an appeal before an independent and impartial tribunal if it can be shown that he has been unjustly treated. I admit candidly that at the Homebush sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association of New South Wales, 1 submitted a motion in favour of appeal boards. This was accepted by the State Congress and also by the . Federal Congress. A number of persons, including General Rosenthal and Dr. Benjafield, and a former principal medical officer of repatriation, I am told, desire to be afforded an opportunity to give evidence in support of the creation of appeal boards. Since the commencement of repatriation activities, over 52,000 claims for pen7 sions have been rejected. Honorable members are reminded of th.it fact in the letter sent to them by the Returned Soldiers’ League of New South Wales. I do not say that all these claims should have been granted; but there is ample room for an inquiry to discover whether all those men have been fairly treated. I “commend Sir Neville Howse for all that he has done to improve the working of the department, but he will fall in my estimation if he burkes an inquiry. The soldiers’ organizations ask for it, and as it is not a party matter there is no reason why it should not be held. No expense would be involved, and there would be no sacrifice of principles, .because the Government would have a majority on the committee just as it has a majority in this House.
It has been stated in this chamber that the number of war pensions has increased ; but I deny that statement. The number has declined. In 1920 the number of soldiers receiving pensions as 90,389, and in 1927 the number had fallen to 72,388; but the dependants of incapacitated and deceased soldiers have increased. In 1920, the dependants of incapacitated soldiers numbered 8G.448, and the dependants of deceased soldiers numbered 48,743. In 1927 the dependants of incapacitated soldiers numbered 147,568, and the dependants of deceased soldiers 39,865. According to the report of the Repatriation Commission, only 834 soldiers were granted pensions in 1927 ; but pensions were granted in that year to wives, children, and other dependants of soldiers to the number of 12,489. Therefore, the suggestion that the burden of repatriation, in so far as it affects the individual soldier has materially increased, is entirely wrong, although the burden with respect to dependants has increased to an enormous extent. Iu 1927 the number of soldiers receiving pensions was 72,388; but the number of wives, children, and other dependants in receipt of pensions was 187,433. In the Repatriation’s Commission’s report no analysis is made showing the disability to which the 834 soldier pensioners were subject last year. I make bold to say that most of them are tubercular, or suffering from neurosis and other complaints that are now showing the effects of war service. As showing the present immensity of repatriation operations, during 1927 13,323 new claims were granted, including those from wives and children, 2,518 claims were rejected, 58,993 pensions were reviewed, 3,763 pensions were cancelled or discontinued, and 2,391 “diggers” died.That indicates that, although this request for a select committee comes ten years after the war ended, it is just as important and necessary as it might have been in the years that have passed. It is even more so, because the difficulties that arise in the assessment of the degree of disablement, and the contributory causes of disablement, are greater to-day than they were immediately following the war. This is largely due to the inadequacy of medical and other records at the time of the soldier’s discharge, referred to in the previously mentioned royal commission’s report. It is interesting to note that the disability of the following classes of pensioners may be directly and undoubtedly attributed to war injuries : -
That accounts for more than half the total of war pensioners. In addition, 34,188 men are suffering from tuberculosis, asthma, bronchitis, gas poisoning, nephritis, neurosis, throat affections, or are mentally under restraint, whose disabilities are due to the stress, strain and exposure of war. An inquiry is particularly desirable in those cases where there is difficulty in determining the degree of incapacity. To indicate how great was the toll of the war, and in answer to those who claim that our pension bill is already inordinately high, I mention that 80,000 of our men died during or since the war, more than one out of every four of those who went abroad on active service, while there are 72,388 others incapacitated as a result of the war. The combined number of dead and disabled Australians who served in the Australian Imperial Forces represents more than 50 per cent, of those who served abroad.
In these circumstances, our incapacitated returned soldiers are entitled to a maximum degree of sympathy and consideration from this Parliament, which could best be evidenced by the appointment of the committee to inquire into their grievances, which I am advocating. No one can gainsay the fact that the administration of repatriation is our most sacred trust, the greatest national responsibility of this Parliament, and one to which we should give the maximum degree of consideration. My remarks cannot be construed other than as a desire to assist the Government and the soldiers themselves. The establishment of appeal boards has been the policy of the Labour party for some time, and this party, as a whole, is behind my request for this investigation. I have no desire to commit the Government to any specific course of policy, or to dictate what should be done. And I do not wish to criticize the Minister or his department. I am merely actuated by the desire to remove all existing cases of dissatisfaction by allowing Parliament itself through a committee to sit in judgment upon them. Whatever the decisions may be, they may palliate or end the necessity for the frequent references which are made in this House to the grievances of disabled soldiers, and from that stand-point only the inquiry would be justified.
I should refer to some comments conveyed to me in an unofficial letter which I have received from a prominent member of the soldiers’ organization referring to the royal commission on the assessment of war disabilities, which submitted its report on- the 22nd December, 1924, and to other matters. The letter states -
This report did not say that the present method of determining whether an ex-soldier’s disability is due to or aggravated by war service is adequate to decide the origin or degree to Which it is aggravated; that it was, or it was not, but the recommendations it made show that apparently there are many faults. This report, in my opinion, does not answer your notice of motion.
It must be remembered that this royal commission consisted of medical men. Usually royal commissions are presided over by trained men, men who have had years of experience in assessing evidence, and in a judicial capacity.
It would be interesting also to know from the Minister how many of the recommendations of this royal commission the Government has actually carried out. Of course, it has carried out entirely those appearing under the heading of Appeals. Paragraph 23 states : “ Your commissioners made searching inquiries regarding the administration of the act. They are fully satisfied that a sympathetic attempt has been made by the administrators under the act to grant to claimants the fullest possible measure of relief that an honest interpretation of the act would allow.” The returned soldiers do not ask for sympathy; they want justice, and they will not get justice until an independent tribunal is set up to hear their appeals against the unsympathetic treatment of departmental officials.
Paragraph 15 of the report says: “ Your commissioners are of opinion that the Repatriation Commission is greatly hampered by the inadequacy of the records as to the exact state of health of soldiers upon discharge from service.” By quoting that the Repatriation Commission only told us what we already knew, but the royal commission did not know apparently that the result of this inadequacy of records is reflected in the inadequacy of pensions granted, and also the large number of pension claims rejected.
This commission’s report is three years old. The returned soldiers are three years older, as proven by their grey hairs and bald heads, and they are rapidly growing older every day, due to the toll of years of war sevice which has aged them considerably; a large number of them, instead of being still young men, are old men.
I suppose those who said there is no necessity for a pensions appeal board say there is no necessity for the many other boards that are set up in the States and in the Commonwealth to decide on appeals against decisions of departmental officials. I refer to other acts and regulations.
The British Ministry of Pensions has seen the justification for setting up two appeal tribunals, and not only doing that but giving the appellant a precis of the documents in his file. The Canadian and New Zealand Governments have also found it necessary to establish’ independent boards. The opinions of the Returned Soldier Associations of those dominions on this question you already know.
It will be interesting to learn from the Government on what grounds it bases its claim that there is no necessity for a similar board here. The worst criminals in the State have the right of appeal before an impartial tribunal, and all we ask for returned soldiers is that right. It is against the fundamental rules of British justice that a department should function as a court of trial and a court of appeal all in one. Since 1916 the Repatriation Department has rejected over 50,000 war pension claims. Out of that number how many appeals have been sustained?
In all electorates, I feel sure, the returned soldiers will be anxious to know how their parliamentary representatives feel towards this very necessary amendment to the Repatriation Act.
The Federal Congress of the League, comprising delegates from all States, decided unanimously in November, 1927, “That an independent appeal board should be constituted to determine war pension appeals.” The 1927 congress in this State did likewise.
At a meeting of the Orange sub-branch of the League on Anzac night, when the war pensions appeal board was explained, and what the League was doing, it was cheered. At every sub-branch and returned soldiers’ meeting that the League’s representatives attend, they are advised of the League’s attitude and endeavours to bring about this amendment; and on every occasion it is cheered, which shows conclusively what the returned soldiers want. The “Digger” only wants a fair go; it is impossible for him to obtain this as the position now is. He only wants the opportunity to present his own case, or to engage an advocate who possesses the capabilities and knowledge to do this for him in the best possible way. The widow, whose knowledge of procedure and matters of such like is negligible, also wants this right. The right to plead their case before an independent tribunal. The returned soldiers are sick of hearing the threadbare, down-at-the-heel decision of the Repatriation Department, “That death was not due to or accelerated by war service”; or “That disability is not due to or aggravated by war service.”
Would you ask the Minister is it not a fact that some cases have been presented to the Repatriation Commission on appeal, at least three times, and on the third appeal the Repatriation Commission has upheld same and granted a pension? Is not this one instance for the necessity for this board.
I could go on writing like this for a week. I trust this will help you. It appears to me that the result of your notice of motion is a foregone conclusion. However, I wish you luck, and for the “Diggers’” sake I hope yon are successful.
In my opinion a select committee’ is necessary, and the letter I have quoted proves that statement. It could hear expressions of opinion from all concerned, such as the complaints of the limbless men - on which, no doubt, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) would have something to say - the complaints of tubercular soldiers and others. Instead of allowing the time of this Parliament to be taken up in what has so far been fruitless discussion on. soldiers’ grievances - I speak in a broad sense - it would be better to appoint a committee to investigate complaints.
I speak feelingly and with all sincerity on this matter. In asking the House to give my motion favorable consideration, I remind honorable members that we continue to owe a debt to our returned men and their dependants.. Although it is ten years since the war ended there are hundreds of men whose -lives are a veritable hell on earth, men who are racked with disease and who continue to feel that their country has treated them unjustly. When all is summed up, the expense involved in . such an inquiry would be comparatively negligible. It would not interfere with the operations of this Government or of this House, but it would bring consolation and satisfaction to those on whose behalf I am speaking. Let us remember that we owe a debt to those men, both living and dead, who in the words of Binyon- -his poem has become sanctified by its association with the Toc H. movement - “ Went with songs to the battle “ -
They were young, straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow, not old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them or the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Let us give a sympathetic ear to the grievances of those who now suffer as a result of their sacrifices. Let this Parliament pause for a few moments in its deliberations on other important subjects, appoint this committee, and learn what those men have to say for themselves.
– I congratulate the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) upon the calm and dispassionate way in which he presented his case, but I deeply deplore one portion of his speech. Honorable members will, recognize that frequently, in and out of this House, I have begged my comrades and all men with whom I have any influence, not to make this a party matter. It was, therefore, with extreme regret that I heard the honorable member say what he proposed had been incorporated in the policy of the Labour party. I again appeal to all tosee that the subject is removed from the hurly-burly of party politics.
The motion of the honorable member asks for the appointment of a select committee to deal with three things. First, it is to inquire into and report upon the operations of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. I remind thehonorable member that soon after I entered this House in 1923 I brought under the notice of the Treasurer certain dissatisfaction that existed in connexion with the administration of the Repatriation Department. At that time the Government appointed a royal commission to report upon these matters. After inquiry, the commission stated definitely that most of the difficulties of the Repatriation Department arose from medical causes. For that reason, a royal commission consisting of medical men - the only persons, I suggest, who were competent to deal with the problem - was appointed. It was composed of the best men the Government was able to find, and was representative in that a man from each State was appointed to it. These gentlemen were all returned soldiers, and most of them had lived with the soldiers under the conditions of actual warfare. The majority of cases with which the Repatriation Commission has to deal are really medical problems. The reference to this royal commission was very wide. It read -
Is the present method of determining whether an ex-soldier’s disability is due to or aggravated by war service adequate to decide the origin or the degree to which it is aggravated, and what portion of his present incapacity can be regarded as having resulted from his war service?
The motion which the honorable’ member has just moved covers practically the same ground. The difference between the two is merely that between tweedledum and tweedledee. But in spite of that the honorable member has made the most extraordinary statements on the subject that I have ever heard, and has said something about certain vague and abstract recommendations. I appeal to honorable members to say whether the terms . of reference which I read were not perfectly clear. The. merest glance at the names of the persons who were members of that royal commission would be sufficient to convince any one that they were in every sense thoroughly competent to deal with the matter submitted to them. They were qualified not only as members of the medical profession, but also as ex-service men who were vitally interested in the welfare of those who had been their comrades on active service. We- have only four medical men in the membership of this House. It might be reasonable for us to ask them to consider the matter which the honorable member for Reid has introduced ; but seeing that from 90 per cent, to 95 per’ cent of the appeals which are made against the decisions of the Repatriation Commission to-day involve medical considerations, it would be ridiculous for us to submit it to other than qualified medical practitioners.
The members of the royal commission made many valuable suggestions and recommendations in the report which they submitted to the Government. A large number of these have been given effect, and I do not need to refer to them. The crux of the present situation, however, is bound up with paragraph No. 28, which reads -
Much of the difficulty has arisen owing to a confusion in the lay mind (and even in the medical mind) between sympathy for the soldier and just appreciation of the cause of his disability.
The recommendation of the commission gave general satisfaction to the soldiers.
The first specific matter upon which the honorable member for Reid has asked that there shall be an investigation is: “ The method of assessing war pensions.” The honorable member made an elaborate and accurate statement of the methods adopted in Canada and other countries to assess war pensions; but he failed to outline the procedure adopted by our own Repatriation Commission. This commission consists of three members, one of whom must be a nominee of the Returned Sailors’ aud Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia. As a matter of fact, the commission has always consisted of three ex-service men. The commission has under it in each State a board, which consists of three members, also all returned men. All cases submitted for consideration are carefully analysed by the officers of the Repatriation Department and the State board. The medical history of the applicant, all documents in connexion with the case, and the nature and continuity of his employment are considered. The board may decide the case, or report to the commission. If the decision, reached is appealed against, the case may be submitted to the commission.
– In what sense is the chairman of the commission a returned soldier ?
– I am entitled to describe him as a returned soldier, because he volunteered for service, and proceeded to Egypt. His health broke down while he was in training there, and he had to return to Australia. That was the experience of many men who enlisted. These are entitled to, and receive, exactly the same consideration as the men who served in the front line. When a case is submitted to the commission in Melbourne, all the evidence is reviewed and any additional evidence is secured, always with the object of connecting the applicant’s disability with his war service. If it be a mental case, the services of the best alienist available are obtained; if it be an eye or ear case, the best specialist available in that branch of medical science is secured; if the case be of a special nature which does not come within the province of the medical advisory committee, all the relevant evidence of whatsoever kind that is available in connexion with it is secured with the object of arriving at a decision favorable to the applicant. After a case has been considered by the commission, it may, whether there is an appeal, or, in som? cases, whether there is not, be submitted to the medical advisory committee, which consists of men who are foremost in the medical profession in Melbourne. It was not practicable to constitute this body of one medical man from each State, because practitioners of the calibre required cannot be expected to give their whole time to this work. But I feel sure that any medical man in New SouthWales, or elsewhere, who heard the names of the practitioners who comprise this committee would be quite satisfied that they could not be improved upon even if selections were made from each State.
Recommendation No. 29 of the royal commission is also very important. Itreads -
The consideration of matters connected with the assessment of pensions is essentially medical, and it is, therefore, difficult for the lay mind to appreciate either the problems or the principles involved in their solution.
I have examined thousands of ex-service men, and I claim to be able to speak with some authority on this subject. Each year the percentage of appeals which present medical problems is increasing. From the time that the medical advisory committee first sat in February, 1919, up to the time that I took charge of the department in January, 1925, 99 individual cases had been considered. Immediately I assumed control of the department I recognized that as the great majority of cases which came up for consideration presentedmedical (problems, we should have a more effective method of dealing with them, and they were thereafter submitted to the medical advisory committee. In the last three years more than 1,000 cases have been considered by it. This shows that I was convinced, right from the beginning of my administration of the department that, as the royal commission subsequently pointed out, the cases which came up for consideration from time to time being principally medical, needed the attention of qualified medical practitioners.
Since my appointment as Minister in charge of Repatriation, the pension conditions have been liberalized considerably, and the cases for which pensions are obtainable have been widened. Australia stands to-day in the unique position of having the most liberalWar Pensions Act in the world, though it may be that the conditions of other countries are, in one or two respects only, a little more elastic than our own. It is important that honorable members should remember this fact. Among the approved recommendations which I have submitted to the Government since I have had charge of the administration of the department are the following: -
Removal of hardship which resulted from the operation of section 40 of the act.
Payment of a permanent pension to men suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis as a result of war service.
Allowance of 7s.6d. per week to certain partially-blinded men.
Restoration of benefits to widows who. remarry and again become widowed.
Increased pensions for third and subsequent children.
Provision of motor transport for certain classes of totally and permanently disabled men.
Some difficulty has arisen in dealing with tubercular men, possibly owing to ambiguity in the statement which I made to the House on this subject in August, 1925. I accept full responsibility for such ambiguity. I admit that in certain cases tubercular men to whom it was the intention of the Government to grant, a permanent pension of £2 2s. per week are not receiving a permanent pension. Let me make it quite clear that they are receiving the pension of £2 2s. per week, but they labour under the disadvantage of not knowing definitely that the payment of it will not be discontinued. This, naturally, causes a great deal of dissatisfaction, and justly so. However, I trust that after a conference which is to be held on Sunday next, instructions will be issued which will overcome this disadvantage. The matter is under consideration, and I have every hope that it will be determined satisfactorily to the men concerned.
The next specific matter upon which the honorable member has asked that an investigation shall be made is “ The question of establishing an appeal board in regard to war pensions.” I understood the honorable member to say that his respect for me, in consequence of what has happened in this connexion, has been considerably lowered. I trust that the honorable member is open to the conviction that there may have been legitimate grounds for any action that I have taken in this regard. Surely, his extraordinary remarks couched in such weird language do not mean that he will refuse to take into consideration any evidence that may be forthcoming on this subject. If, after hearing what I have to say, he still feels that I have lowered myself in his esteem, that is a differentmatter. I have served in all for a little more than eight years with men on active service, and I submit that this, together with the position which I occupy in the medical profession, and my interest in the welfare of ex-service men generally, gives me some right to speak with authority on this subject, and protects me from the accusation of being a party hack in any advice that I submit to the Government on this vexed question.
Surely the honorable member for Reid will not deny me the pleasure of saying that I, of all men in Australia, am most likely to be able to estimate the effects of service on the health of the troops in all theatres of war - because I visited all of them - and the results likely to accrue from war injuries. I considered this question from all angles - I have not lightly passed it by - before tendering advice to the Government. I have carefully and very gravely considered all aspects of the proposal to appoint an appeal board. I have examined the constitution of the appeal boards that are now in existence in England, and, in fact, in all countries of the world with the exception of Australia. The honorable member for Reid lays stress upon the fact that other countries have these boards, but the reason that appeal boards are not in existence in Australia to-day is that they would not add one iota to the benefits enjoyed by our ex-soldiers. I have only one interest to serve, and it is that of my comrades. I am not concerned whether the Government likes my recommendations or not. I came into the House to perform a certain duty, and I mean to carry it out. I go further, and say that I have more right than has the honorable member for Reid to judge what is best in the interests of returned soldiers, because I have been in close association with the disabled men for the last three years, and, therefore, have been in a position to make definite and dear recommendations to the Government. Those recommendations have been placed before the House. There is no reason for the appointment of an appeal board in Australia, because we have something better in operation. Every man and his dependants has the right to appeal to the Minister in charge of Repatriation. When I took charge of the department in 1925 I stated on the floor of the House that, not only was I prepared to receive appeals through members, but that I preferred them to be conveyed through associations, who, very often, were able to supply missing details, and thus enable me to give full consideration to cases.
– The Soldiers’ League does not seem to agree with the Minister. Surely there are a few experts among them?
– Does the honorable member mean medical experts ?
– No. This is not wholly a technical matter.
– I said that I thought that about 90 per cent, of the cases were now purely medical, and thai such cases were gradually increasing year by year. That is the opinion of most of those who have considered this question.
I should like briefly to refer to the press notices that have been quoted. The honorable member for Reid laid great stress upon certain circulars which have been distributed to honorable members asking them to interest themselves in respect of the appointment of appeal boards. Those circulars were couched in very extravagant language; but gave not one reason to show that the returned soldiers would be in a better position with an appeal board; therefore, they carry very little weight as far as I am concerned. The honorable member for Reid also said that he thought all returned soldier associations, including the tubercular association, were in favour of the appeal board. That is not the case.
– I have just ascertained that I was wrong in regard to the tubercular association.
– That association is not in favour of an appeal board. It has expressed very definite opinions, not only at its recent meeting, but for years past, in favour of the continuance of the present policy. The moment an appeal board is appointed we, without question, shall commit a grave mistake.
Any honorable member who votes’ for the motion- to-day will be doing an injustice to the men who served for this Country. I have not the slightest- hesitation in saying, noi1 has any other man who knows how the act is administered, that if it were not for a certain amount of underground engineering that is now taking place, this subject would never have been discussed in this House. Every one knows that this underground engineering is gradually increasing.
– The Minister has no right to make a statement like that. Who are the engineers referred to ?
– Will the honorable member permit me to answer his question?
– Yes, by all means, but do not run away from it.
– I am not attempting, to run away from it, but I cannot answer it and be heard by the House while, the honorable member ; is shouting. There, are to-day a certain number of returned men who are dissatisfied with the administration of the department. There is, as the honorable member for Reid has said, between 40,000 and 50,000 appellants whose claims have been refused. Supposing that some of them have been unjustly refused, we should immediately try to remedy the injustices, but not to take up the claims of those that have been rightly refused. I would remind honorable members that one of the principles underlying the Pensions Acts in all countries of the world is that the disabilities must have been caused or aggravated by war service. Wipe that out and there is nothing left except to prove service, which is easily ascertained from the books, and to prove disability after service. In other words it would not matter what the cause of the disability might be the sufferer would get a pension. That is the position taken up by many honorable members.
– Does the Minister say that honorable members, by voting for a select committee, will do the returned men an injustice?
– I have pointed out that a select committee would not be competent to deal with this question. I said so in calm and measured terms. I went on to say that any honorable member who voted for the motion and thus permitted the appointment of an appeal board, would be doing an injustice to the returned men.
– Who did the underground engineering to which the Minister has referred ?
– I have already given that information. I said that it has been carried out by a certain number of appellants whose claims for pensions have been refused. The honorable member for Reid said that the number was 52,000,’ but I was under the impression that it was 42,000.
I, as Minister of Repatriation, have attempted to explain the position to honorable members, and I could place on the table thousands “of letters, including, dozens, from returned soldier associations, thanking me for what I have done in the interests of the disabled men. I stand in a. position totally different from that of other ‘honorable members, many of whom are not returned men. “I am a member of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ League.
– I am a member of the public, and they are very much concerned in this question.
– I have thd right to speak for the soldiers themselves. I am speaking on behalf of the soldiers when I say that I refuse to make any alterations to the Repatriation Act. Rather, I shall continue to improve the present policy, which is to ~take every case into consideration, to give it my personal attention, and to make every effort, where there is a reasonable doubt, to give the benefit to the returned soldier. I shall not assist in doing what I consider to be an injustice to my comrades. Since I have been a member of the Government it has not refused one of my recommendations on behalf of the soldiers. Had it done so I should have considered that I had no right to hold my position, and I would have handed my resignation to the Prime Minister without delay.
I beg honorable members to keep this question out of party politics, because it has no right there. The sickness and illness of our soldiers should be sacred to us. I oppose any alteration of the present policy of the department, and I ask honorable members before voting on the motion to recognize that the appointment of an appeal board would do a grave injustice to those men who fought so bravely against a ruthless enemy.
.- The motion of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), supported by his admirable speech, reads -
That a select committee from this House be appointed to inquire into and report upon the operation of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, including -
That the committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to move from place to place, and to sit during any adjournment of the House.
I have read the motion to the House because I fear that the Minister has not read it, and if he did ‘ I suggest, with great respect, that he has not given any evidence of having understood it. May I say with the very best of good feeling towards the honorable gentleman, in whose transparent honesty I have absolute belief, that he takes himself a little too seriously, suggesting, as he does, that when he has spoken to Cabinet it must immediately give effect to his recommendations, and that the House in turn must give effect to the decisions of the Cabinet ; otherwise his resignation will immediately follow. This is not a one-man question. It is not by any means entirely a medical question. It is a question for the consideration of the public as a whole, and I say that with reference also to a passage which occurs in the letter which was quoted by the honorable member for Reid, and addressed by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia to, I think, every member of this House. In the course of it they say that they resent discussion of their disabilities on the floor of the House.. My reply is that whatever their natural feelings may be, the responsibilities and duties of members, and the obligations of the general public remain.
The motion asks for the appointment of a select committee to consider the creation of an appeal board. How could the appointment of a select committee conceivably be an injustice to the returned soldiers?
– Because members of the committee would not be qualified to deal with medical problems. -Mr. BRENNAN.- How can the Minister expect that . statement to be accepted as a sincere expression of opinion % If members of a select committee were in competent to deal with” medical problems, I assume that they would not proceed far with their inquiries before they would be told so by expert witnesses, who, in turn, might, under cross-examination, readjust their own views on some of these questions, and might even hesitatingly reach the conclusion that they had not acquired the whole sum of human wisdom in connexion with the problem of repatriation. If an appeal board were created, would resort to it be compulsory ‘ or discretionary? Would it not be available to those only who felt aggrieved, and wished to make use of it? I cannot help thinking that the Minister has made a reply which is not altogether ingenuous, backing up the departmental view, which usually prevails, with his expert knowledge as a medical man. I repeat that this is not wholly a matter for medical experts; it involves considerations of public policy and responsibility.
The motion brings home to our mind the dreadful harvest of blood and tears which this country is still reaping nine years after the war as a result of the breach of trust committed in 1914 by the trustees of the civilized world. I say civilized, but, after all, who is civilized and who is not? If we are to measure civilization by knowledge, I suppose the war-makers of 1914 considered themselves highly civilized. It we are to measure it by the application of knowledge to the service of humanity, the standards of civilization employed by the nations which participated in the great war, must fall beneath that of the Siamese peasant or the Chinese coolie. On Anzac Day I witnessed a great procession in Melbourne; it occupied hours in passing a given point. Rank after rank, in hundreds and thousands, those veterans of the great war passed by, and the most significant and striking remark I heard was that that splendid display of Australian manhood did not equal the numbers of our priceless fellow citizens who had been slain on foreign battlefields. Certainly, if war is a test of civilization no coloured race has ever provided such an example of internecine savagery as that of the highly cultivated representatives of the western world, and certainly none left the debt of war to posterity as we are doing. Truly has it been said, “ The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” The real tragedy of the great war, or one of them, is that successive generations learn only evil from the evil example that has been set them. So it is, that the plausible cant which passedmuster for the expression of pure patriotism at the beginning of the war still serves after-dinner expansive orators of our own time when speaking of the making and consequences of wars.
The motion deals with the human wreckage of war - the halt, the maimed, the blind, the mentally unbalanced. We should be kind to them, for this wreckage is all that the war gave to us. It is true that it further enriched the rich, and further pauperized the poor; that it put a special value upon lying and made a virtue of hypocrisy; and that under the influence of the passions to which it gave rise we vented our petty spite upon the women and children of other nations who, for the moment, were hostile to us. At a safe distance we belched forth our furious hatreds. Now, like spendthrift fathers, we are handing down to our children the undischarged burden of our debts which in our own time we take all sorts of care to dodge - the debt to the bond-holders and the debt to the soldiers. The former, of course, will not suffer; they will draw their interest, but the capital debt will remain a liability upon posterity. The other obligation is more pressing.
Let us see what can be done for the human flotsam and jetsam with which, with a judicious mixture of guile and folly, we have bestrewn the world. The report of the Repatriation Commission for the year ended the 30th June last is couched, as such reports frequently are, in the selfcomplacent language of a certain kind of officialdom ; I speak of a certain kind, because for the general body of Australia’s public servants I have a great respect. A paragraph of the report reads -
A perusal of this report will reveal that the activities of the commission in the aggregate are not lessening, and that the financial liability of the Commonwealth for what might be called in general terms the aftermath of the war, instead of decreasing as in other countries that participated in the war, is increasing.
This latter very striking fact is not less surprising than a consideration of the two main items of expenditure responsible for it. These are war pensions and medical treatment for war disabilities. During the year under review the cost of war pensions was greater than in any previous year and more ex-soldiers were under medical treatment.
An explanation of these increases is to be found in the exceedingly liberal provisions of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act and Regulations, the liberality of which are emphasized by the expressed desire of the Government that they be interpreted in the most generous manner.
The two factors chiefly responsible for the upward tendency of expenditure in regard to the items mentioned are -
the absence of any time limitation on applications for pensions or medical treatment, and
the acceptance of pension responsibility in respect of wives and children of incapacitated soldiers irrespective of when marriage takes place or the children are born.
Then follows a comparison between the United Kingdom and other countries, on the one hand, and Australia on the other, to show that we have been extraordinarily liberal to our soldiers and their dependants. That might be a source of gratification to some people, but to me there is very little consolation in the fact that those who in hundreds of thousands fought alongside Australia’s soldiers are even worse off in the schemes of repatriation than are our men who fought in their thousands. After all, apart from the great resources of this country, there is good reason why the Australian soldier should be treated particularly well. This Commonwealth, was not even remotely connected with the military and commercial intriguing which set the stage for the war. In our splendid isolation, which we have established for ourselves and to which we are indebted to no other country, we might have continued along the lines of peaceful development and self-reliance. No other country threatened us. None was likely to attack us. The material prosperity that we might thus have enjoyed is a minor consideration; of infinitely greater importance, to my mind, is the shining example of self restraint and moral courage we might have set to the rest of the civilized, or, if you like, uncivilized world.
But being enmeshed as we were, without consultation or consent, in the ambitious schemes of military imperialism, the position is quite otherwise. It is coo late to deplore the dreadful consequences, or to waste recriminations on those who harnessed us gratuitously to the Juggernaut of war. The fact remains that with unbounded bravery and enthusiasm, our men and boys poured themselves into the fighting ranks. Their inspiration was that there was a call to courage. Their ideal was sacrifice, and high service of some kind, somewhere. For a time their masters were content to wave a banner of blood, and yell them on to the shambles. Later, the picadors pricked on the reluctant ones with every kind of incitement and threat. Finally the government of the time, by an act of political treachery repugnant to every sound principle of right and justice, sought by force to seize the bodies of the remaining men of Australia, and force them, the unwilling, to join the willing victims, and add another, and perhaps greater pile to the sacrifice. We know the history of that. Under the spell of the inspiration to which I have referred, Australian soldiers fought and many fell. Some returned to tell the tale, and others left their bones on foreign battlefields. God only knows how many of them welcomed death as the great deliverer. But some, and Avith these I am immediately concerned, fought on. Amidst the sweat and stench of battle, the bodies of fallen friends corrupting comrades, amidst war’s curses and imprecations, its disease and vermin, its veritable misery and its blank despair, they fought on, and tasted to the full the glory of war. And still they fought. They fought for days, which seemed like weeks, and weeks which seemed like months, and months that ran eventually into years, and years that must have seemed an unhallowed eternity. Unbelievable as it is, they still lived, and came back to this country. With heads erect, with some part at least of the inspiration that fired them to go, they said, “ Others are worse than we. We ask for no pension. We ask. for no help of any kind. We claim no other reward than the dreadful memory of the task accomplished.” And so, during the war, and for years afterwards, these men went out into this country, and filled some niche, doing whatever came their way. They performed whatever task was assigned to them, and asked nothing from the country for which they at least believed they had fought.
There came a time when at last they fell by the way, when their frames were no longer capable of sustaining the dauntless spirit. Men who had not fallen in war, and whom war could not crush or break, fell at last in their peaceful avocations, in some cases years after the war. Men of strong bodies, great constitutions, and stout hearts - the time came at last when they fell. For the most part, they had wives, children, and dependants of various kinds. They came to the Government of this country - the chosen representatives for the time being under whose direction they had fought so long, in circumstances such as I have endeavoured weakly to describe, and said, “ Now at last, for we can help it no longer, we ask for some succour, some support, some help,” and the answer was, the official answer-
– They did not ask in vain.
– The answer was the official one, “ We cannot find that the death or disease for which redress is asked was attributable to war service.” This is the anti-climax to the great climax of war. This is the exquisite, master example of irony. This is the guerdon of their almost unbelievable endurance. It is an official crown upon their crown of thorns : “ Officially the department can find no trace of death or disability having resulted from the dreadful experiences of war “ - experiences which can not be understood even by the expert gentlemen who were technically associated with the war, and who call themselves technically returned soldiers, but are no more returned soldiers in reality than I am, and God knows that I am little enough of a soldier. That is the answer: “ Officially we can find no proof of the fact that your falling by the way nine years after the war is associated with your sufferings, your endurance, and your perils by sea and land.” This embodies the sentiments applauded - I heard some applause a moment ago - by the post-war politicians, or a majority of them on that side of the House. It is subscribed to also. by a certain number of medical gentlemen whose military history and experience may be epitomised in the fact that they went out of their consulting rooms one day dressed in the respectable garb appropriate to a noble profession, and emerged from their dressing rooms masquerading as military officers, none of lesser rank than that of major nor greater that that of commander-in-chief. These sentiments are subscribed to also by the gentleman signing this report as chairman. I asked during the Minister’s speech on what ground this gentleman claimed to be a returned soldier, and he told me in answer that at some stage when he was contemplating soldiering he became sick. If he did, I am sorry for it. I have no complaint about what was done or omitted as the result of his sickness. But I know that during the war, under a variety of military titles, he filled a number of official posts beyond the outermost limits of any theatre of war. I also know that he is the same gentleman who, after the approved manner of the departmental hack, certified as true and correct the audacious falsehoods of one of his unhappy predecessors which I exposed in my place in Parliament when we were meeting in Melbourne some years ago. He is the same man who accounted for his spacious lack of knowledge by a public declaration that he took no notice of any information conveyed to him by members of Parliament. In that regard I refer to the letter which has already been quoted, and coming as it does from this representative body I would commend it, in particular, to the perusal of the chairman of the commission. The secretary of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ Imperial League of New South Wales, in the letter that has been read, makes reference to members of Parliament in these terms -
Much has been made in the past of the sympathetic treatment that has been extended by the Minister in charge of repatriation to cases which have been submitted to him. The Returned Soldiers’ League has been aware that cases have arisen which have been continually rejected on appeal by the department for a number of years, but have been eventually granted as the result of representations made by parliamentarians who have interested themselves in such subjects. My council feels it is wrong in principle that certain returned soldiers are able to thus secure exhaustive reviews, and ultimately succeed, while thousands of others not so fortunately situated have been so unsuccessful.
– Then, why, do not those thousands appeal?
– I ask the Chairman of the Commission to make his choice between two things - did he, on the one hand, accede to the representations of members of Parliament because of the influence they exerted over him-
– Then, if he did not do that, the members of Parliament who drove these cases into his unreceptive head, are to be congratulated on their persistence. He must make his choice.
It is difficult to consider repatriation, or the act as it stands, without considering the probability of having to provide also for the wreckage of another war, before we have made provision for the wreckage of the last war. I propose to conclude with a few observations on that point. We could not even consider the distinctively civil proceedings of a year ago, the opening of this building, without employing the services of a battleship, and without touching reference on the part of the Prime Minister to the might and majesty of the British Navy. The truth is that in order that we may not have a further batch of damaged goods to provide for at an early date, in competition with the present, we had pledged ourselves to “ make the world safe for democracy.”
– What does the honorable member mean by “ damaged goods “ ?
– I mean men like the honorable member.
– I object to that. It is the most insulting thing I have heard said in this House, for the devil of a long while.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Watkins). Order! As the term used by the honorable member is offensive to the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green), I ask that it be withdrawn.
– I have no hesitation in making an immediate withdrawal of the phrase, and in adding that I think that the honorable member for Richmond should have had sufficient understanding to know what I meant by it, and that it was certainly not meant to he offensive.
Consistent -with the policy of making the world safe for democracy, we also had a policy of safeguarding the rights of small nations, and so more battleships were sent to a sister nation, and a small nation at that, to Egypt, to prevent the people there from passing laws in their own country safeguarding the rights of free speech. That was a double blow, directed at once at the rights of democracy and of small nations. In these things the Prime Minister wholeheartedly concurred. Where a posse of police would have served admirably, we sent one of our own battleships to the Solomon Islands to make a further demonstration of might and majesty, when, with others, most unhappily, a relative of a member of this House lost his life. This, I presume, was considered consistent with the expressed policy of the British Government and of this Parliament to reduce armaments!
I mention these matters because one cannot deal with repatriation without dealing with first principles, “ Might and majesty.” “ Might “ stands for the crude brutality of physical force, “majesty,” in this connexion, for the vulgar blatancy of the privileged bully. Let us re-adjust our views, and act in accordance with our professions. Let us see if we really cannot make the world safe for democracy. If we believe in the rights of small States, let us not be associated with the policy of vindictively bullying small States. If we believe in the rights of free speech, especially, let us not send battleships to prevent it.
I hope that we shall have a committee of inquiry appointed to investigate the claims of the men whom I describe as the wreckage of the war, the men who have been injured in the various ways which I have feebly endeavoured to picture, who have such a strong claim upon our generosity, and certainly on the fount of justice. Is it not perfectly apparent that if a man falls by the way nine years after the war ended there is no medical basis on which it can be determined whether or not his disability was attributable to his war service ? This is no longer a question for medical science only because medical science cannot possibly answer the question. In many cases the question cannot be answered, but justice can and may be done by an inquiry into all the circumstances of the case, into the real military history of the person concerned, into his sufferings in the interests of his country, by which it is highly probable at least that his health was undermined, and to which his present condition is, on the balance of probabilities, attributable. It is in such cases men should have the benefit of the doubt.
– In such circumstances they receive the maximum pension.
– I am compelled to contradict the honorable gentleman. The onus of proof is always upon the returned soldier, who has to show that his disability is attributable to war service. That is an impossibility. I support the request for an inquiry in order that our returned men may be relieved of that much too heavy burden.
I ask the Minister not to be too selfsatisfied about this matter, and not to imagine that only he possesses special knowledge on the subject. I ask him not to imagine complacently that this matter can be dealt with only by medical men. It has a much wider and more human aspect. It is largely a political question, involving the nation’s responsibility. Let us not be actuated by the bargaining spirit of the huckster, quibbling on fine points regarding the cause of disabilities. Remember their services, and give back to these men something at least, though it can be only a small part of what they earned a thousand times over and a fraction also of what you promised them.
Mr. D. CAMERON (Brisbane) [5.12 J. - I have listened with close attention to the speeches of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), of the Minister (Sir Neville Howse), and of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). I entirely agree with the honorable member for Reid regarding the great importance of the problems of repatriation which have to be decided from time to time. The people of Australia gave a very definite mandate to its national representatives regarding the treatment that was to be meted out to our returned soldiers who caine back suffering from war disabilities, and also the treatment that was to be meted out to the dependants of those who did not return. I am confident that the honorable member for Reid will concede that every honorable member in this House is actuated by a desire just as keen as his own to see that the welfare of our returned soldiers is safeguarded.
One of the duties of the proposed committee of inquiry would be to inquire into and report upon the operations of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. I am surprised that the honorable member referred in rather a light way to the finding of the royal commission on the assessment of war disabilities, which submitted its report in 1924. It has already been pointed out that that commission consisted of five eminent members of the medical profession, taken from five different States of the Commonwealth. They were Dr. C. B. Blackburn, Dr. E. Sandford Jackson, Dr. H. S. Newland, Dr. W. W. Giblin, and Dr. A. V. N. Anderson. I believe that all of those gentlemen served with the Australian Imperial Force, either abroad or in Australia. The honorable member for Batman maintained that, after all, the problem whether an ex-soldier is suffering from a disability due to war service or some other cause is not a medical one. If it is not to be decided by members of the medical profession, who possess special knowledge, who can decide it ? Either it is a problem to be decided by the members of the profession, or, as the Minister stated, it must be assumed that every man who served abroad and who now suffers from some disability, acquired that disability through war service. I am sure that exservice men would be the last to make such a claim. The terms of reference of the royal commission which was appointed in 1924, read -
Is the present method of determining whether an ex-soldier’s disability is due to or aggravated by war service adequate to decide the origin or the degree to which it is aggravated, and what portion of his present incapacity can be regarded as having resulted from his war service?
In its report the commission stated -
After full and careful inquiry into all matters arising out of the reference, your commissioners unanimously agree that, in the majority of cases, the present machinery for determining disability and assessing pensions is sufficient.
There are, however, certain types of disabilities present in a small minority of ex-soldiers which are for various reasons inadequately determined. The inadequacy, to some extent, has been due to defects in the Australian’ Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, e.g., sections 22 and 40. In some cases rulings made with the object of facilitating the grouping of cases have been found in course of time to operate harshly in exceptional cases, and some unavoidable delay has occurred in determining the suitable alterations or modifications required. The chief difficulty, however, has been met with in dealing with those cases in which disabilities have manifested themselves at a much later period after discharge, than had been anticipated by those who framed the act, and by those interpreting its intentions. It was clearly the intention of Parliament when framing the act to cover all disablement resulting from war service. This entails the necessity for investigating the possible relationship to war service of illnesses appearing long after discharge. Delay is often unavoidable while efforts are being made to trace some connexion and discover some continuity that will enable those interpreting the act to establish a relationship between the illness under review and war service. In certain cases discontent has been aroused by the applicants and their friends not appreciating the cause of delay.
We all know that in some cases it took several years before it could be determined whether disability was due to war service or other causes. I think that it may be fairly contended that the commission dealt with the methods of assessing war pensions, which is, I take it, the object desired by the honorable member for Reid, when he asks that a committee of inquiry should be appointed.
– I merely ask for an investigation.
– One of the most important recommendations made by the commission was the payment of a permanent pension to ex-soldiers suffering from tuberculosis, if it was decided that the disease was the result of war service, a recommendation which was approved by the Government.
I have not received any request for the appointment of a committee of inquiry into this subject from any representative organization of soldiers, except the letter, which I believe every honorable member has received, from Mr. Stagg, New South Wales State secretary to the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia. I am not aware whether the Government has received any request for this committee from the federal executive of the league or any other organization. I know that it has at all times been the desire of the Government to have the co-operation of representative bodies of returned soldiers to facilitate and make more generous the operations of the Repatriation Act. I consider that the request for a select committee should come from the federal executive of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia. I have often, in company with other honorable members, introduced to the Prime Minister of the day and the Minister in charge of Repatriation deputations from organizations representative of returned soldiers and their dependants. They have put forward various requests which have always been given the fullest consideration by the Government. I have been dealing with that part of the honorable member’s motion which asks that a select committee shall be appointed. I shall proceed now to deal with the question of ‘the appointment of appeal boards. In this connexion it is interesting to recall the views expressed by the royal commission appointed in 1924. It reported that-
Mud of the evidence related to the question of the opportunities for appeal open to the ex-soldier. On this question your commissioners have formed the opinion that, from the appellant’s point of view the method in vogue in Australia compares favorably with that in force in other parts of the Empire, in that no final appeal board exists. This principle it is held should be always maintained. Your commissioners consider that, while the right of repeated appeals to the Repatriation Commission should be admitted there should be on the other hand some limitation in so far that each subsequent appeal should bc based on fresh evidence, such as new facts or altered physical condition of the claimant. The right of every man to appeal from a State Board to the Repatriation Commission should, of course, be preserved. Your commissioners are of opinion that it would be subversive of that judicial character for which British tribunals are renowned if partisan representatives of different bodies sat upon an appeal board.
I have for some time believed that the Government would be well advised to follow the example of Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand and appoint a board te which ex-members of the Australian Imperial Forces who wish to do so could appeal from decisions of the Repatriation Commission. Under the existing practice the Repatriation Commission has the assistance of a Medical Advisory Committee, which is composed of four of the mosteminent members of the profession in Melbourne. I do not know whether it is the intention of the Government to transfer to Canberra the central office and head-quarters of the Repatriation Commission, but I cannot see any way by which it can also transfer the Medical Advisory Committee. This committee, which sits in Melbourne is, as its name suggests, only an advisory body. But the commission often qualifies its decisions by saying that the committee was consulted, thus throwing the onus of the rejection of an appeal upon a body which never sees the appellant. It has always seemed proper to me that people appointed to hear and decide appeals should have the appellant before them. Under the present practice the appellants are not seen personally by either the commission or the committee. In urging the appointment of an appeal board I do not desire to reflect in any way upon the work of the commission, the Medical Advisory Committee, or the Minister. I have no hesitation in stating that had the services of the Minister and the Advisory Committee not been available the Government would have been compelled long ere this to appoint an appeal board. Speaking in this House on the 8th March last, I stated that I believed that a Federal appeal board constituted on the lines of the appeal boards of Great Britain and Canada would be valuable in advancing the interests of ex-soldiers incapacitated through war service. The Canadian Pensions Act provides that -
There shall be a board known as “ Tlie Federal Appeal Board “, consisting of not less than three nor more than seven members appointed by the Governor in Council and on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice. The majority of the members shall be persons who served in the naval, military, or air forces of Canada during the war. Each person shall devote the whole of his time to the performance of his duties under this act, and shall not hold or accept employment inconsistent therewith.
Such a board should afford to appellants the right to appear in person and/or to be represented by an advocate, who may or may not be a solicitor. This privilege is not provided under the method adopted by the Repatriation Commission for dealing with appeals. Immediately an appeal is lodged in Canada the independent official soldiers’ adviser - such an official is appointed in each of the principal centres chosen by the Government, to advise ex-soldiers and their dependants on matters pertaining to pensions, Asc. - is asked to inspect the file of the applicant, and,, if necessary, act as counsel, for the appellant in preparing and presenting the claim. In some instances our comrades on service had not had the advantage of complete education, and in presenting a case before a State board, the commission, or the medical advisory committee, would be at a great disadvantage. I am, therefore, of the opinion that it would be wise for us to provide for the appointment of official soldiers’ advisers as provided for in the Canadian legislation.
It may be said by some friends of exsoldiers that an appeal board would penalize the war pensioner or claimant because final decisions would be given by it, and after a time limit no further appeal could be heard; and because under the existing method of deciding appeals by the Repatriation Commission the appellant would receive more sympathetic consideration than under an appeal board. To these objections I would reply that recourse to the appeal board would not be made until the commission had rejected a claim or reduced a pension assessment. So the appellant could not be worse off with an appeal board than without one. If the objection to final decisions contains any substance, the Government could easily overcome it by providing for an appeal at any time in the event of fresh evidence being adduced. I have heard it asked, “ Where are we to get suitable men to act on such a board?” An appeal board should be akin to a legally constituted court. A barrister or solicitor, a disabled man, and a doctor constitute the Entitlement Tribunal of Great Britain. The New Zealand board consists of a Supreme Court judge and two medical officers, one nominated by the Returned Soldiers’ Association and the other by the Government. Personally, I should prefer a board constituted as in Canada, with a Supreme Court judge as chairman. il/r. /). Gum aron.
I submit for the earnest consideration of the Minister that a Federal appeal board should be provided, or, alternatively, that an appeal board composed of leading local practitioners be set up in each State. As to my alternative suggestion, I feel that when a pension claim has been rejected by the State repatriation authorities, it should be referred to a board of leading local doctors for decision. All relevant papers, including the war medical histories of ex-soldiers, could be made available to the proposed local appeal board. Since all applications for pensions are granted or rejected on medical opinion, it appears to me that a local committee composed of qualified medical practitioners would be eminently suited for the hearing and deciding of appeals. It could have the claimant personally before it, and could also have presented to it all the documentary evidence available to connect the claim with war service. It could also have the assistance of the local Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation and his staff. Such a method would be a more expeditious and, to my mind, a more equitable way of dealing with appeals. If such boards were created in the States an appeal against their decisions could no doubt be permitted to the Minister, who would have the existing Medical Advisory Committee to assist him. When an application is made for an old-age or invalid pension, a local medical officer interviews the applicant, and is able to advise the Government as to whether a pension should or should not be granted. I do not think it would be difficult to obtain the services of leading local medical practitioners as members of appeal boards. At any rate, that was not the experience in Great Britain, for the services of Lord Dawson, probably the greatest heart specialist in the world, were made available to deal with such cases, and so were those of the leading specialists in other branches of medical science. . I do not for a moment believe that our practitioners would refuse to act as members of the local boards.
I should like to refer to two specific cases which have a bearing on this phase of pensions. The Repatriation authorities in Queensland recommended that a certain soldier be given the benefit of the doubt and his pension restored to him,- but the recommendation was vetoed by the Repatriation Commission and the pension refused. Had the State authorities the power to decide appeals, no doubt this man would have had his pension restored. The other case refers to a man who was awarded a special rate of pension, which is only approved when a man is totally and permanently incapacitated. Subsequently his pension was reduced. I have been making representations to the Government in respect of this case for some years. The Minister .recently instructed that a special local medical board should be asked to review the claim. This hoard has since examined the pensioner, and I await the decision. The opinion of that board,, consisting as it ‘did of leading local doctors, is hardly likely f.o be set aside by the commission. The appointment of it is in harmony with the basic principle of the State appeal boards such as I advocate.
I go so far as to say that the Deputy Commissioner in each State and his staff of doctors should be given greater powers, and in cases such as the first that I have referred to, the Deputy Commissioner should have authority to approve of the restoration of the pension. Another phase of war pensions which I should like to submit for the Minister’s consideration is whether it would not be practicable and just to assess permanently war pensions subject to an appeal at any time, and with the provision for a voluntary periodical examination to ascertain whether the condition of pensioners had retrogressed. I am of opinion, as a layman, in view of the fact that a pensioner has been pensioned for, say, ten years, that the medical officers should be able to assess the extent of his disability due to service, and permanently pension him without further renew. I feel; too, that most pensioners would welcome this practice.
I hope the question of consolidating the act will’ also be considered, by the Minister. There are a .number of regulations in operationwhich should be embodied’ in the act. I admit that these regulations are unlikely to be adversely interfered with by this or any subsequent’ government, but I am sure it is only reasonable to have the stamp of parliament, so to speak, impressed upon them. There are certain sad cases of ex-soldiers who have become derelict or sub-normal as a result of the horrors of war. Many are unable to secure permanent employment, and” some have reached a stage which makes them a public charge. I understand that the Government is giving this matter consideration, and I trust that something will be done for these unfortunate men. Canada provides- for certain classes of men in this category by giving quarters and maintenance, and, when necessary, medical treatment for any indigent war pensioner whose pensionable disability, together with his non-service disability, prevents him permanently from obtaining or. continuing remunerative work, and thereby earning, sufficient to maintain himself, and who, as a result has or will become a public charge. With reference to widows’ pensions, on the 22nd July, 1926, 1 stated in this House -
It is my opinion that these widows should receive a minimum pension of £2 2s. a week, and I trust that the Minister will again give this matter his sympathetic consideration. Because a soldier’s widow is thrifty, and does her best to augment her income by going out to work she should not be liable to have her pension reduced. I think she should be placed in the same position as the soldier whose pension is payable irrespective of whether he is in receipt of an income of £1,000, £2,000, or even more per year. If the Government would accede to this request it would act graciously and generously towards these widows.
In reply to questions which I asked in this House, the Minister informed me that there were approximately 6,300 soldiers’ widows in receipt of war pensions, and of these 5,300 were receiving the maximum rate. I was also informed that the rates varied from £2 7s. to £4 4s. per fortnight, that the cases were re-considered periodically, and that pensions were assessed according to the pensioner’s circumstances and ability to augment their incomes. I submit that pensions for soldiers’ widows should be fixed irrespective of their incomes. I also ask the Minister to extend to the children of blinded soldiers the same educational benefits that are afforded to the children of totally and permanently incapacitated soldiers. Certain pensions have been reduced or refused on the grounds of non.material aggravation by service. The Repatriation Act was amended in 1921 to provide for such cases, but apparently the text of the amendment was not quite definite enough to cover every case of aggravation by service of a preenlistment disability. Section 23 was amended by the addition of sub-section 2, paragraph a of which reads -
The conditions of his war service contributed to any material degree to the death or incapacity of a member.
That paragraph should, in my opinion, be amended by deleting the word “material,” or, as an alternative, an amendment should be introduced to provide adequate pensions for ex-soldiers who served in an actual theatre of war, provided aggravation of a pre-enlistment disability occurred. In 1926 the Minister informed this House that instructions had been issued to all repatriation offices to standardize the words “ material degree “ introduced in the 1921 amending act. I am afraid that this instruction does not meet the position. In fact, I am informed that it has even caused confusion in the minds of the medical officers who have to interpret it. I would ask the Minister, when dealing with war pensions, to bear in mind the question of acceleration of death by war service. It is recognized by the medical profession that the horrors and hardships of war undermined the health of our soldiers, thus accelerating death and diminishing their earning capacity.
I have, this afternoon, been impressed by the Minister’s statement, and his definite assurance that he is willing and prepared personally to consider every application for a war pension which the Repatriation Commission has refused to accept. I have heard practically every honorable member in this House rise in his place and refer to the fact that specific cases that they had brought under the notice of the Minister have had his personal attention, and in every instance very satisfactorily dealt with. Although I admit that I favour the appointment of an appeal board - and I have frequently said so in my electorate - I am doubtful whether a majority of the returned soldiers and their dependants desire such a change. I know that the representatives of the Tubercular Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Association of Australia, meeting in conference in Canberra do not favour the appointment of an appeal board. I understand thai thai meeting ‘ passed a resolution indicating that it was in accord with the principle of an appeal board, but that at the present time the interests of returned soldiers would be best served by the existing system of appeals to the Minister. While the Minister, with his medical knowledge and experience, retains his office, the question of appointing appeal boards should, they think, be left in abeyance. I do not know whether the Government ha3 received any direct representations from the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League regarding: the appointment of appeal boards, but I know that at the last Federal conference held in Brisbane, a resolution was unanimously passed in support of appeal boards. I understand that the Brisbane sub-branch, of which I am a member, alsopassed a resolution favouring the appointment of an appeal board. I have not received any official notice to that effect.. I am not without reason for imagining that its members were influenced largely in their decision by the fact that when I addressed them I said that I favored the appointment of appeal boards. I have not seen any communications conveying a request for an appointment of an appeal board other than the letter from the secretary of the New South Wales branch, which was quoted by the honorable member for Reid. I am very doubtful whether, without amending and consolidating the act, appeal boards would bring about the desired results. It must be apparent to all honorable ‘members that I have endeavored to take some interest in matters affecting repatriation. At the moment, and while the Minister with his special qualifications is available, J think that it would be unwise to appoint appeal boards, and I therefore desire to move an amendment, which I sincerely trust honorable members will favorably consider, because I am convinced that its acceptance would be in the interests of disabled ex-service men. I move -
That all the words after the word “That” bo omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ this House is of the opinion that the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act as now administered provides the means whereby every pension claim which ha« been rejected by the Repatriation Commission can be placed before the Minister in charge of Repatriation, and receive full consideration by him, and accepts the assurance of the Government that, in the event of the Minister finding it impossible to follow his present practice of personally reviewing every case submitted to him, steps will be taken to provide some equally effective means, preferably an independent appeal board, to safeguard the rights of ex-service men and their dependants.”
– I have listened with interest to the speech of the honorable member for Brisbane . (Mr. D. Cameron), and I am very much surprised that he has seen fit to move an amendment to the motion of the honorable member for Reid. The honorable member’s speech from beginning to end was in support of the appointment of appeal boards, and his attitude was certainly at variance with that of the Minister for Repatriation. The Minister’s great objection to the appointment of the select committee was that it might decide in favour of the appointment of appeal boards. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) was at great pains to show that the grievances of returned soldiers could best be dealt with by the appointment of an appeal board. He made a number of other suggestions, and then wound up an otherwise admirable speech by moving an amendment which means nothing more or less than that things should be left as they are. Experience of many claims which have come under my notice has convinced me that at present the only appeal is from Caesar to Caesar, and, naturally, the appellant gets no nearer redress. Yet the honorable- member for Brisbane, who admits that the soldiers have grievances, and quoted the efficacy of appeal boards in New Zealand and Canada, said that he was satisfied to leave all these matters to the Minister. Why he moved the amendment I cannot understand. Is it merely an attempt to whitewash the present system and side-track any effort to secure reform? I would have understood the honorable member’s attitude better if, after making his speech, he had simply voted against the motion; the only purpose of the amendment he moved must be to save the faces of himself and other honorable members opposite. They include many who served in the war, and who may be regarded as in close touch with other returned soldiers, and I am told that many honorable members on the Ministerial side are favorable to the motion.
The Minister said that he hoped this matter would be dealt with in a nonparty spirit, but one cannot but believe that much pressure has been brought to bear on honorable members to induce them to vote against the motion. The honorable gentleman went so far as to say that if he did not get what he wanted in regard to this matter, he would hand in his resignation. It ill became him, while urging consideration of the motion on non-party lines, to issue a threat which had the effect of whipping his supporters into line. He referred to the “ underground engineering” that had preceded this motion, but offered no explanation of what he meant by that term. I have referred to the letter which has been circulated amongst honorable members to ascertain who has been responsible for the underground engineering. The Minister did not definitely charge the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League. He will not say that it is responsible for the underground engineering..
– I hope not.
– So do I; but what did the Minister mean by his innuendo ? The letter which has been addressed to honorable members asking them to support the motion moved by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) is from a responsible body, which may be supposed to be entitled to speak for the returned soldiers. The inference to be drawn from the Minister’s statement is that this body is responsible for the underground engineering which he resents. The letter says -
We only ask that you will give this league an opportunity of presenting facts that will prove beyond doubt that there is a necessity for the creation of such tribunals in Australia.
The letter does not ask that a select committee be appointed to deal with the cases of aggrieved soldiers. The request is only that a committee of the House be appointed so that the league may submit facts in proof of its contention that there is a need for the appointment of an appeal board similar to those which are operating so successfully in Canada and New Zealand. The Minister answered that by saying that he does not think that a committee of members will be competent to deal with such cases. That is not what is desired. We are told that in New Zealand and in Canada the system of appeal boards has worked admirably, and that from 60 to 64 per cent of the persons who have appeared before them have received satisfaction. That is the statement of a responsible body of men. If the Minister does not charge them with being underground engineers, who does he think is responsible for this propaganda? The only men, who, so far as I know, have influenced the moving of this motion, are those who should be competent to speak for the returned soldiers, the members of the New South Wales branch of the league.
– The Government was very ready to appoint a board to deal with land tax appeals.
– And it proposes to appoint a. board to inquire into the conditions of the aborigines in the north. I have no objection to the appointment of such boards, but, unfortunately, the Government adopts a different attitude upon a matter which closely concerns men to whom this country owes much. If they have grievances they are entitled to ask for the appointment of a committee that will hear their cases and decide upon the evidence whether they are entitled to an appeal board. The Minister appears to fear that a select committee might recommend the appointment of such a board as the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) has declared to be the best means of rectifying the undoubted wrongs of the soldiers. Apparently the Minister desires to be able to say, “ Alone I did it.” It is not physically possible for any individual, however wise or wellintentioned, to deal with all cases. The Minister knows that I have written to him more than once in regard to some claims. I have in mind the case of a returned soldier, who, upon returning from the war, was granted a full pension. When his health improved he was put on half-pension. However, an endeavour to resume his usual occupation was followed by a recurrence of his illness, and he again applied for a full pension, pointing out that his ailment and ‘ the treatment of it were the same as when he was in receipt of a full pension. The commission, however, declared in effect that his disability was not due entirely to war service. It is. physically impossible for the Minister personally to deal with all the cases that require attention. I admit that when I bring” a soldier’s grievance under his- notice, I invariably receive a courteous letter in reply; but these men require something more than courteous letters. I recognize that the Minister carries out his duties as well as can reasonably be expected of him.
– He is doing excellent work, and a lot of it is done without statutory authority.
– That is a -gross reflection on the Government, and shows that the amendment of the act is long overdue. We have an admission from the ministerial side that, in adjusting the claims of soldiers, the Minister is prevailed upon to go outside the law. It was stated that the claims of 52,000 health-broken men had been rejected since 1915. Yet the Minister asks us to believe that he is able to do all this work without assistance. I do not say that the whole of the 52,000 men had just claims; but our attention has been drawn to the fact that in New Zealand, when rejected claims were brought before boards of appeal, 64 per cent, of them were allowed.
– Does the Minister suggest that he could hear 52,000 cases?
– That is practically his answer. The honorable member for Brisbane has submitted an amendment that was apparently inspired, in order to save the faces of ministerial supporters; but a most clumsy method has been adopted. It shows that there was much justification for the remarks of the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), when he said that the ministerial party would have to take the rough with the smooth if they wanted him to follow them to Canberra. He declared to his constituents -
If you want me as your member, you cannot have me as a party hack. There is too much of that sort of tiling going on over there. Members are forced through the application of the party whip to vote against things that they believe in.
Mr.Fenton. - And to follow their leader with dog-likeobedience.
– Yes. Honorable members opposite are required to come to heel with dog-likeobedience.
– Order !
– If my remark is out of order, the right honorable member for Balaclava is the cause of it, and he is not present. His statement lends colour to what has transpired here to-day, and to the rumours that there was much difficulty in the caucus of the party opposite on account of this motion. When the Minister tried to get his followers to vote against it, many of them said they did lot like voting against something in which they believed. The honorable member for Brisbane wound up his speech’ in support of his clumsy amendment by saying, “ Steps should be taken to provide some equally effective means, preferably anindependent appeal board.” In other words he admitted that the proposal of the honorable, member for Reid was an admirable one. The amendment means nothing, and was intended to mean nothing.
– The object is to make a pretence that honorable members opposite are not voting in the negative.
– Quite so. Instead of voting against the motion outright, they have asked for a halfway house, in which to shelter, so that it cannot be said that they voted against a proposal which they favoured. The Minister has given no reason for opposing the- motion. He has not asked that the returned soldiers should deal with the cases themselves.
– God forbid !
– The Minister tried to suggest that that was the effect of the proposal of the honorable member for Reid. I earnestly hope that the motion will be carried.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
.- The honor able member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) has moved -
That a select committee from this House be appointed to inquire into and report upon the operation of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, including- (a) the method of assessing war pensions; and
That the committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to move from place to place, and to sit during any adjournment of the House.
The motion is divided into two main sections, one suggesting that the method of assessing pensions is not all that could be desired, and the other urging that it is advisable to establish an appeal board. The last clause of the motion refers merely to the method by which a select committee, if appointed, would conduct its investigations, and is not nearly so important as the first. I was particularly glad to note that the honorable member endeavoured to refrain from introducing a party note into the debate.- I believe that he is animated by a desire to do what he can to adjust what he believes to be anomalies in the allocation and administration of pensions. On previous occasions we have had in this House discussions centering around the payment of pensions to returned soldiers. I am confident that no honorable member, no matter on which side of the House he may be, has ever suggested that’ this Government or the people of Australia treat our returned men in a niggardly fashion. It must be admitted that, compared with other nations, the people of Australia have not been unmindf ul of the debt that they owe to our returned soldiers for the services that they rendered to the country. It must be admitted, also, that the m aximum pension paid to our disabled soldiers is adequate in view of the state of our finances, although it is completely inadequate to reimburse them for the sacrifices which they made. But there does appear to be a desire to have investigated the cases of all returned men whose pensions have been reduced or deferred, or whose claims . for pensions have been rejected, and to consider the advisability of establishing an appeal board.
The assessment of war pensions is a vexatious question which has been debated at length in Parliament, and has also been the subject of contributions to the press from inspired sources. The Government actuated by a desire to get to the kernel of the whole affair, appointed a royal commission on the Assessment of War
Service Disabilities, which, submitted its report on the 22nd December, 1924. The personnel of that commission was necessarily more or less composed of medical specialists, as the subject is one peculiarly within their scope. No one oau question the bona fides or the ability of the gentlemen who constituted that royal commission. Its terms of reference were -
Is the present method of determining whether an ex-soldier’s disability is due to or aggravated by war service adequate to decide the origin or the degree to which it is aggravated, and what portion of his present incapacity can be regarded as having resulted from his war service.
Although that does not represent in toto the proposal of the honorable member for Reid, it covers fairly comprehensively paragraph a of his motion. Later, I shall deal with the paragraph which refers to the establishment of an appeal board. After a most exhaustive investigation, and after hearing and dissecting evidence n a most thorough and unbiased fashion, the commission tabled a report, paragraph 18 of which reads -
Your commissioners consider that, while the right of repeated appeals to the Repatriation Commission should be admitted, there should be, on the other hand, some limitation in so far that each subsequent appeal should be based on fresh evidence, such as new facts or altered physical condition of the claimant.
I do not agree entirely with that view, particularly with the words “ some limitation in so far that each subsequent appeal should be based on fresh evidence.” I cannot believe that the commission expected returned soldiers to produce fresh evidence in support of their claims. It would be an extraordinary thing if those men had to produce fresh evidence every time they appealed. Old evidence should be reviewed, but it would merely be asking those men to call on their imaginations if fresh evidence were demanded on each occasion. Apart from that phrase, I agree with the other views expressed in the report. While recognizing that some cases must, from time to time slip past the board, the commission was of the opinion that the applications of returned soldiers for pensions received a fair and comprehensive review. One can confidently claim that the commission did not come to any illogical conclusion.
– What conclusion did it come to ?
– Its conclusions are enumerated in 30 paragraphs, but I shall not weary the House by reading the whole report.
– Did the commission find that things were satisfactory?
– The commission found that, on a comparative basis, the administration of pensions in Australia was satisfactory. It dealt especially with appeals, and for the information of the right honorable gentleman I shall quote paragraph 17 of its report, which is as follows: -
Much of the evidence related to the question of the opportunities for appeal open to the exsoldier. On this question your commissioners have formed the opinion that, from the appellant’s point of view, the method in vogue in Australia compares favorably with that in force in other parts of the Empire, in that no final appeal board exists. This principle, it is held, should be always maintained.
We know that various other countries have appeal boards to deal with the claims of their returned soldiers, and the findings of those boards are definitive. If such a system were introduced in Australia, a returned soldier would be penalized, because once his appeal was dismissed by the board there would be no further action open to him. To-day he has the advantage of advancing his claim again should it be refused. Some little time ago I inserted an advertisement in the press of North Queensland urging all returned soldiers whose pensions had been deferred or reduced, or whose applications had been rejected, to make application again for a review of their claim3 to the Minister, at the same time asking them to supply me with a copy of the application. I received a great number of claims in each category, and many of the anomalies attaching to 1 hose cases were corrected on review. That could not have happened had an appeal board existed. As I have said, previously, I do not consider that the granting or refusal of returned soldiers’ pensions should be completely in the hands of a Minister; but under existing conditions I say unhesitatingly that we are fortunate in having as Minister controlling these matters, an honorable and gallant gentleman who saw extraordinary service during the war, and at the’’ same time is possessed of a psychology and an analytical mind that enables him to deal fairly with all claims. I think we can rest assured that he will deal with the claims that come before him with justice, and with an extraordinary amount of sympathy. I do not know of anything that would lead to the bringing about of any better arrangement than that which nowexists, inadequate though it may be.
In his dispassionate and fair address the honorable member for Eeid (Mr. Coleman) suggested the appointment of a select committee. I have no wish to reflect on honorable members, but my experience as a member of a select committee is that such committees are futile.
– That is a reflection on the House.
-I said that I did not wish to reflect on honorable members, but at the same time I am prepared to say what I think about the value of the work done by select committees. I was recently a member of a select committee which found that it was thwarted wherever itturned when it was dealing with any of the matters referred to it.
– That was because its powers were limited.
– That is so. Because of the limitation of its powers the work of the committee was stultified. It was only when it was converted to a royal commission that it was able to get on with its task and produce a report of any material value. If a select committee were appointed, as suggested by the honorable member for Reid, it would go over the evidence that has- already been taken by a royal commission, and, whatever its personnel, I am sure it would not deal with the subject as adequately or comprehensively as has already been done by that royal commission. I certainly cannot support that part of the motion that suggests the appointment of a select committee, because I do not think it could produce a report having any tendency towards securing finality.. The honorable member for Brisbane has submitted the following amendment -
That all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words: - “this House is of the opinion that the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act as now administered provides the means whereby every pension claim which has been rejected by the Repatriation Commission can be placed before the Minister in charge of Repatriation and receive full consideration by him, and accepts the assurance of the Government that, in the event of the Minister finding it impossible to follow his present practice of personally reviewing every case submitted to him, steps will be taken to provide some equally effective means, preferably an independent appeal board, to safeguard the rights of ex-service men and their dependants.”
I have no difficulty in supporting tha: amendment. It practically commits the House to the policy of setting up an appeal board when it is obvious to the Repatriation Department, the soldiers affected, or this honorable House, that the Minister in charge of Repatriation has fallen down on his job, or that justice and sympathy are not being meted out to the returned men. I do not challenge the sincerity of the honorable member for Reid. I repeat that he has dealt with the matter in a dispassionate and nonparty manner. He was followed by the Minister (Sir Neville Howse), who gave a lucid explanation of the situation as he found it, and an exposition of his own administration. The Minister quite rightly pointed out that while the honorable member for Reid had drawn upon the practice of other countries, even foreign countries, in support of his contentions, he had not marshalled his facts clearly, and that he had failed to indicate any of the virtues of the present method of administration. It is true that the honorable member for Reid was good enough to pay a tribute to the honorable and gallant Minister in charge of Repatriation, but I think he might also have dwelt for a small measure of time on the virtues of his administration. It is possible, as has been suggested by various honorable members, that at times injustice may have been done, but if so no one regrets it more than does the honorable member himself.
While I was pleased to hear the address of the honorable member for Reid, I was almost nauseated by the sentimental slobber poured out by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). I hope that some honorable members opposite will have the courage to dissociate themselves from some of his remarks. I take the strongest exception to them. For instance, in his peroration, when quivering with excitement, or simulated excitement, the honorable member said, in almost melodramatic fashion, “ We should remember the history of these men.” As a party we do; .we remember very well the services rendered by our men during the war; but we also remember the services rendered during the same period by the honorable member for Batman. The honorable member’s attitude reminds me of a story that I was told. Two Canadians, in uniform, and two Americans, in civilian clothes, were seated ina restaurant, and one of the Canadians was describing the battle of the Somme. One of the Americans, overhearing, said, “ Some fight I” The Canadian replied, “ Yes, some do ; but others are too frightened.” That story, I think, is very pertinent, when, on the eve of an election, we hear the honorable member for Batman posing as the champion of returned soldiers. I think it is only right to ask the honorable member at whose behest he is speaking, and what branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League he represents. Yes, we do remember the history of these men, and we also remember the history of the honorable member. I listened to him referring, in scathing terms, to what the medical profession had done during the war: He told us that many doctors left their consulting rooms, went down to the depot and came back with the rank of major, without having done anything. It is true that many doctors left their consulting rooms ; went to the front, and did not return. The annals of the British army contain no brighter page than that ‘which incorporates the records of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The only double Victoria Cross gained by the British Army was that awarded to Major Martin Leake, of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Many medical men went to the war and rendered magnificent service. Many members of the legal profession also did so. Some of them went as privates and came back as majors ; others did not go at all, but took the opportunity to feather their own nests while their fellows fought the battle for them. The honorable member for Batman spent quite a considerable amount of his time in depicting the horrors of war. No one would applaud -war; no one within the precincts of this House hates war more than do those who have taken part in a war ; but it is. extraordinary that practically everything of use we have to-day has been developed by nations who have been game enough to take up the gauge of battle when their independence has been imperilled. I have no further comments to offer. I regret greatly that the honorable member for Batman saw fit to make the allusions he did; but I am not surprised, because they were quite in keeping with what he did during the war.
– I rise to support the motion. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) made a very clear and comprehensive statement of his case, and has been complimented by the honorable member for Herbert (Dr. Nott) on the impartial way in which he set it out - without any reference whatever to party politics. I regret that I cannot return the compliment to the honorable member for Herbert. I have listened to most of the speeches delivered on this motion, .but have heard no allusion to an election, except that just made by him. It is regrettable that an honorable member cannot ask for justice for returned soldiers without being accused of doing something “ on the eve of an election.” Many speeches have been made on both sides of the House in support of returned soldiers, not on the eve of an election, but every year - in every session of this Parliament; and it ill became the- honorable member for Herbert to make the unworthy suggestion he did. Is the right to- ask for justice for returned soldiers- to- be denied to any. one who did not go to .the war? Is a monopoly of that, right to be given to those who did go to the war, while others are to remain dumb? From my experience as a member of parliament, handling as other honorable members do, a number of applications for pensions, I believe that many claims have been- rightly rejected. The officers of the Repatriation Department are doing in certain circumstances as well as it is possible for them to do. But, in my judgment, there are claims that have been rejected unjustly. The motion asks for the appointment of a select committee, not to go into the evidence as experts, and not to set itself up as a body of medical “men, or as judges as to whether this or that disability is due to war causes or not, but to give the returned soldiers an opportunity to place facts before it justifying the estabment of an appeal board. In their communication to honorable members the returned soldiers point out that there are already two appeal boards in England,
One to decide whether a soldier is entitled to a pension, and the other to decide whether his assessment is a just one. Honorable members must realize that at present the decision of the Repatriation -Department as to whether a returned man who is unable to follow any occupation, is or is not entitled to a pension, is to that man a sentence of life or death. This parliament has already set up appeal boards for big landholders. Honorable members of . the Opposition assisted in the appointment of those appeal boards because we believe in the right of appeal. And we believe that every man is entitled to justice whether he is a big landholder or a poor returned soldier without the use of his limbs or suffering ill-health. In other parts of the Empire appeal boards have been set up. Surely honorable members do not contend that the Repatriation Commission is infallable?
The honorable member for Herbert (Dr, Nott) this afternoon made an unwarranted attack upon the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). I had not the privilege of hearing the speech delivered by the honorable member for Batman, but I have heard comments upon it, and I know the honorable member and ‘ his views sufficiently well to be quite sure that the honorable member for Herbert has misinterpreted them. He asked, “ What right has thehonorable member for Batman to speak on behalf of the soldiers “ ? He has this right : That he has as many returned men in his electorate as any other honorable member of the House, and has been indefatigable in working for them. I have heard representatives of the returned men’s organizations, and particularly the President of the Fathers of Soldiers’ Association, publicly thank the honorable member for Batman for his work on behalf of ex-service men. That is the answer to the honorable member for Herbert.
The motion before us is quite clear. It asks that the Government shall appoint a select committee to consider the advisableness of setting up appeal boards. That surely is a reasonable request. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) has moved an amendment which is an insult to the intelligence of the House.
– It means nothing.
– It sets out in the first place that -
This House is of the opinion that the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act as now administered provides the means whereby every pension claim which has been rejected by the Repatriation Commission can be placed before the Minister in charge of Repatriation and receive full consideration by him…..
It will be realized that that is ridiculous when it is stated that more than 52,000 claims have been rejected. The Minister in charge of Repatriation is a busy man. I know that he is a hard worker, but as he is Minister for Home and Territories, Minister for Health, Secretary of the Cabinet, and Minister in charge of Repatriation, it is manifestly impossible for him personally to give full consideration to all the claims that have been rejected. If honorable members vote for the amendment they will show themselves to be arrant asses. A review of the pension claims which have been rejected would involve months of work in every State of the Commonwealth, and the Minister in charge of Repatriation could not possibly do it.
The amendment goes on to say that the House accepts the assurance of the Government that, in the event of the Minister finding it impossible to review the rejected claims, steps will be taken to provide some effective means to safeguard the rights of ex-service men and their dependants. We do notneed to await a pronouncement from the Government to satisfy ourselves that it is impossible for the Minister in charge of Repatriation to review the rejected pension claims. We may, therefore, immediately reject the amendment. Let us have a straight-out vote on the motion.
If I did not believe that a case could be made out for the appointment of an appeal board, I should not vote for the motion, but I believe that a strong case can be made, out for it. In saying that I do not condemn the administration of the Repatriation Department. I have received every consideration and courtesy from the Minister in charge of Repatriation and the officers of the department, but, nevertheless, I have a strong feeling that many men who went on active service are not being justly dealt with, and until they receive justice neither I nor any other honorable member of the House can allow the matter to rest. We want an impartial tribunal to investigate this subject. The question at issue is not whether Australia is doing as much’ as or more than any other country for its returned men, but whether she is discharging all her obligations to them. I do not suggest that in comparison with other countries we have acted in a niggardly fashion in respect to our ex-service men,’ but our system of assessing pensions has resulted in injustices which we should remove. It would not be a costly business to set up an appeal board such as proposed. I am sorry that the honorable member for Reid did not move definitely for the appointment of an appeal board for, in my experience, it is necessary.
I regret that it has been suggested that this matter has been brought forward only because we are on the eve of an election. The honorable member for Reid and other honorable members have on various occasions since the last election moved motions similar to this. I ask honorable members to brush aside the unworthy suggestion that the motion has been moved merely because an election is looming ahead of us, and also the -futile amendment of the honorable member for Brisbane. Let us vote solidly for the motion, which is in accordance with requests made by various ex-soldier organizations.
– The suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) that considerations of expense have prevented the Government from appointing appeal boards is grotesque. Nobody could honestly suggest that any Government that has been in office in Australia since the war .has dealt in a cheese-paring fashion with repatriation problems. The Government has not agreed to the appointment of appeal boards simply because it believes that this would not be the most effective method of dealing with the problem it is designed to overcome. I have independent testimony, which I shall submit presently, to show that no more satisfactory results than are obtained in Australia have followed the appointment of appeal boards in other parts of the Empire. That Australia is determined to do justice to her returned men is shown in the Commonwealth accounts made public only a couple of days ago. These indicate that we -have paid £378,000 more in war pensions in the nine months of this financial year than in the corresponding period of the last financial year. In every other country the pensions bill is either at a standstill or is diminishing.
A proper knowledge of the history of repatriation in Australia is necessary to enable honorable members to vote intelligently on this motion. During the years immediately succeeding the war a good deal of dissatisfaction existed in respect to the administration of the Repatriation Act. When I first became a member of this Parliament in 1919 about half of my weekly mail consisted of letters relating to repatriation matters. ‘ The act was altered in 1921 while the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) was acting as Minister for Repatriation. It will be remembered that when the amending bill was before us we searched every standard dictionary to find words which would ensure full justice being done to the soldiers and yet safeguard the interests of the general public. The conditions governing the payment of pensions were considerably liberalized at that time, and since then the number of cases of hardship brought under notice has continually declined. When I was Minister for Repatriation during 1923 and 1924 at my suggestion a committee of returned soldiers representative of three parties in the House, was appointed to look personally into these cases, with the object of removing anomalies and causes of complaint which then existed. It was found at that time that nearly every case which presented difficulties involved medical considerations. Consequently, towards the end of 1924 the Government appointed a royal commission, composed of medical practitioners of the highest reputation who had been on active service, to consider the matter.
The reference to it was in the following terms : -
Is the present method of determining whether - an ex-soldier’s disability is due to or aggravated by war service adequate to decide the origin or the degree to which it is aggravated, and what portion of his present incapacity can be regarded as having resulted from his war service?
The commission came to the conclusion that except for tubercular cases in the -main, the existing method was effective. It dealt in paragraph 17 of its report with the proposal to appoint appeal boards, and made the following comment : -
Much of the evidence related to the question of the opportunities for appeal open to an ex-soldier. On this question your commissioners have formed the opinion that from the appellant’s point of view the method in vogue in Australia compares favorably with that in force in other parts of the Empire in that no final appeal board exists. This principle, it is held, should be always maintained.
The reason for this is that immediately a form of words is fixed with the object of rigidly determining the- issue at stake finality, it is true, can be reached, but such finality may . cause a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction and hardship. I well remember the honorable member for’ Hunter (Mr. Charlton), the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), Sir Robert Garran and myself in 1921 searching for a word which would do justice to the soldiers on the one hand and protect the interests of the taxpayers on the other. We found, after considerable study, that we could not employ better language than that now embodied in the act.For that reason the Government, following the advice of the royal commission, has adhered to the existing position. In doing so it is very fortunate in having the services of the Minister for Repatriation (Sir Neville Howse), who was DirectorGeneral of Medical Services during the great war, was also associated with a previous war, and knows intimately the temperament of soldiers. Despite the many demands upon his time he has always been willing to personally investigate every case brought under his notice. As a result of the Minister’s activities, there is no other country in which returned soldiers receive such liberal treatment as is given in Australia.
– He cannot go personally into every case.
– Of course he cannot, and neither could any one else, or any board except over a long period of time. In a communication written, last year, I was informed that during a period of four years the appeal board in Canada had heard only 13,000 of 52,000 appeals, 400 of which were made by members of the Imperial Forces resident in Canada. Even if an appeal board were appointed it would be found that appeals would not be dealt with as expeditiously as they are at present handled by the Minister for Repatriation. I believe the general opinion of honorable members and people outside is that the present system under which theMinister is devoting his time and applying his expert medical knowledge to the consideration of these cases is much more satisfactory from the view-point of returned soldiers than any other system that could be introduced. If, however, it is found to be ineffective, the Government is quite willing to adopt the suggestion embodied in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron), or any other reasonable proposal, in order to give just and even generous treatment to every case. We are able, however, to give not merely justice, but even generous treatment under the present system, particularly whilst we have at our disposal the services of the present Minister for Repatriation, who has ah intimate knowledge of the work, and is able to render valuable service to the Government and to ex-service men.
.- I have no hesitation in supporting the motion moved by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), which reads -
That a select committee from this House be appointed to inquire into and report upon the operation of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, including -
That the committee have power to send for persons papers and records to move from place to place and to sit during any adjournment of the House.
I do not agree with honorable members opposite who have said that the members of a select committee appointed from this House would not possess the necessary expert knowledge to deal with this important subject. In opposing the motion, the Government has departed from its practice, which has become quite common, of appointing boards, commissions, and committees to inquire into and report upon numerous subjects of much less importance. I am sure that you, sir, would be able to select from this House a committee possessing the necessary qualifications to enable them to inquire into the whole question of repatriation, and submit . recommendations to . the Government that, would be very beneficial to returned soldiers. .
This . subject, should be discussed in, a non-.party spirit, and I was pleased to-.. listen to . the. fair and dispassionate speech of the honorable member, for Reid (Mr: . Coleman.)., who. did not introduce party politics. into the discussion. Every honorable member represents large numbers . of returned soldiers, to whorc they and the country have a duty to perform.. . TheReturned Sailors’- and Soldiers’ Imperial League rightly states in a letter senttohonorable members that it expects . the whole community to take an. interest in’ this matter.. A portion -of that letter reads–
This league looks to allr fair-minded members of the community, even apart from . returned . soldiers, to help it . along, in . this campaign Weare looking, to . you to., help- us in this . first step ..towardsthis very, necessary amendment to , the Repatriation Act. The league is convinced that the pensions problem will; continue.tocausethe. greatest -unrest until the- Repatriation Department hasbeen , relieved, of , its. power, to hear appeals. The returned soldiers who cannot understand why they are not given pensions, and those who are similarly, situated, whose pensions have been cut down. , to a mere pittance, are buoyed up by the ‘knowledge that the league is making every endeavour on theirbehalf.
The communication, is signed, by Mr: W.. J. Stagg, the secretary . of the New -South Wales branch of the Returned. Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia, and I do not think any. honorable member will say that Mr. Stagg cannot speak with authority on behalf of returned sailors and . soldiers in New South Wales. There are ex-soldiers in Queens-, land who, are also , deeply interested . in this matter, In supporting the, request . for a select committee., . they do not wish to reflect upon the work of the Minister; but, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, he is a busy man and cannot be expected to have sufficient time to deal with the numerous appeals made.
– One man cannot do it.
– Of course not. A Commonwealth Minister could not be expected to hear appeals against decisions of the Public Service Arbitrator, and the Treasurer could not hear appeals against assessments made by the Federal Commissioner ofTaxation.
– Nor could the AttorneyGeneral be expected . to hear appeals in criminal cases.
– It would be preposterous. At present we have, a very sympathetic: Minister . in charge of Repatria-. tion; but Ministers come and go.” I ‘ cannot help . recalling a conversation I had only’ the other day with the late Minister for Trade and Customs, in which we discussed the motion -picture industry: It was . suggested by some ‘ honorable members that, because we had ‘ a very, reliable Ministerf or Trade and Customs, it was, quite unnecessary to have a board to hear appealsagainst the decision of the Commonwealth Censor; Evidence was given before . the “Royal Commission on, the’. Moving Picture Industry, of . which I was a member, to the1 : effect . that the then Minister for Trade’ and Customs would not always occupy that . office, and, that . hewas also too busily , engaged on other departmental matters to. excercise his judgment and discretion, in . regard to films. It was stated in evidence that, when appeals were made against the decision of the Commonwealth Film Censor,, it frequently happened that the Minister,, who was too busy to view the, film,, sent a subordinate officer in his department to report on the suitability or otherwise of , the film. In some cases, officers, were sent who possessed only an elementary knowledge . of what was , expected in the matter of film censorship. If we allow appeals, from the decision of the Repatriation Commission to be made, to the Minister in charge of the depart ment, it may. happen that, after there has-been . a reshuffle, of portfolios, we shall, have in office a Minister, who does not possess the necessary knowledge to properly consider appeals. As the Leader of the Opposition stated, it is too much to expect a Minister, with many other important -duties to perform, to hear appeals. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) endeavoured to justify the speech he made in Brisbane to returned soldiers, when he advocated the appointment of an appeal board. The amendment he moved, however, is meaningless, and will not assist the returned soldiers in any way. The speech which the honorable, member delivered was practically in agreement with everything the honorable member for Reid has said in favour of the establishment of an appeal board. He also gave various reasons why a select committee should be appointed to inquire into the whole subject and make impartial recommendations to the Government. Theamendment of the honorable member for Brisbane does not coincide with the views’ thatheexpressed in Queensland. It reads- …
This House is of the opinion that the Australian ‘Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, as now administered,’ provides the means whereby every pension, claim . which has been rejected by the. Repatriation Commission . can. be placed before, the. Minister in ‘charge of . Repatriation and receivefull consideration by him, , and accepts the. assurance ‘ofthe Government that,’ in the event of the Minister finding.it impossible . to follow, his present practiceof personally re; viewing’ every case, submitted , to . him, steps, will be taken’ to ‘ provide some’ equally effective means,’ preferably an independent’ appeal board, to safeguard, the rights of ex-service men and their dependants.
Why . should not’ the honorable member for Brisbane support the motion moved by the honorable member forReid?It is what the returned soldiers of Australia are asking for. The Minister for Trade’ and Custom’s, who was with us last week, has now , passed away, and there may be a reshuffle of portfolios with the result thatreturned soldiers will not have the ‘assistance of the present Minister in charge of Repatriation.
I have with; me communications’ from returned soldiers’ leagues in the electorate of Capricornia favouring appeal boards. The payment of pensions together with the hearing of appeals in regard thereto, is engaging the’ attention of returned soldiers wherever they ‘ congregate. This’ bears out my contention’ that if a select committee is appointed, exsoldiers’ associations will have an opportunity of expressing the opinions of their members. In a democratic country such as Australia, surely they , should have that right. The considered opinion and recommendations . of the select committee would be very helpful to the Government, and also to the Minister in charge of Repatriation. The recommendations of such a committee would,I am sure, lead to the establishment of an appeal board, which is so eagerly desired.
Is there anything unreasonable in the motion submitted by the honorable member forReid?What is being done in other countries? In England there, are two boards to which disabled returned soldiers may appeal.No doubt the, whole subject was carefully’ considered there, because the interests and welfareof ‘millions of soldiers were- at stake.’ . One Appeal Board receives appeals against decisions on’ entitlement, and the’ other, receives appeals’ against decisions on assessment. Canada has a War Pension Appeal Board,and, in. addition,there- . turned soldiers there are . assisted by . soldier advisers,’ who are appointed on . the’ nomination of ‘the.’Returned . Soldiers Associationandwhoseservicesarepaid foroutofthepublicpurse.That Dominion ‘has’ provided the ‘necessary, . ‘ facilities’ to enable’ its’ returned soldiers to appeal to an impartial and independent tribunal,butinAustraliastrangetosay, appealsagainstthedecisionofthe Repatriation Department are heard bya tribunal composed’ of officers of that ‘ department., New Zealand . ‘hasa War Pensions Appeal Board, presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court, and comprising also two medical practitioners, ‘ one of whom ‘ is the nominee of the Returned Soldiers’ Asso- . ciation. ‘. Australian disabled soldiers in ‘ presenting their claims ‘ for’ pensions should be’ given , facilities, equal’ to those’ enjoyed, by returned soldiers in New Zealand. Mr. W. J. Stagg, the secretary of the New South Wales branch’ of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ Imperial ‘ League, in a statement prepared for the’ considerationof the State Council meet- . ing on the 19th April last,, pointed out that the result, of the Appeal Board’s workin Canada was that, in from about 20 to 25 per cent, of the appeals heard, the decision of the lower tribunal was reversed. With reference to New Zealand, he states -
The general secretary of the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association assures me that the War Pensions Appeal Board has beer of wonderful benefit to pensioners in New Zealand. He states the average of success of cases dealt with by the Appeal Board since its inception is between 60 and 04 per cent.
However sympathetic the Minister in charge of Repatriation may be towards the disabled returned soldiers, he cannot be expected to give to their claims the time and consideration that could be given by a properly constituted appeal board. I submit with all due respect to the Minister that it would be a physical impossibility for him to deal with all claims.
– That does not comewithin the Minister’s functions.
– There is nothing prescribed in the act empowering the Minister, to hear appeals against the decisions of the Repatriation Commission. I understand that he has not even the power to instruct the commission to vary its decisions, and it was never intended that he should, hear appeals from those decisions. The , Minister has onerous duties. He has’ to hear numerous grievances concerning the conditions of living in Canberra. He has to administer the Mandated Territories, North and Central Australia, and the Health Department as well as the Home and Territories Department. He is also Secretary to the Cabinet, which, in itself, is a very important and busy office. It is, therefore, utterly impossible for him to give proper attention to appeals against the decisions of the Repatriation Commission.
The Minister has stated that any honorable member who votes for the motion will be doing an injustice to returned soldiers. What has been the result of the conferences of returned soldiers? It is clear that the returned soldiers’ associations are of one opinion; they have unanimously passed resolutions in favour of the appointment of appeal boards. The State and Federal congresses of the Returned Soldiers’ League which met in August and November of 1927 respectively, carried the following resolution without one dissentient: -
That it is the opinion of this congress that an independent appeal , board should be constituted to determine war pension appeals.
No doubt the returned soldiers in passing that resolution had in mind the splendid work of the appeal boards in New Zealand and in Canada. It should appeal to the sense of fair play of all honorable members that the Repatriation Department, which decides the claims of disabled returned soldiers, should not have anything to do with appeals against its decisions. During the last twelve years the claims of a vast army of healthbroken soldiers, numbering 52,000, have been rejected by the department. Many of these men have frequently written to honorable members, who in- turn have approached the Minister in charge of Repatriation.
– We always get a fair hearing.
– I admit that. But it is impossible for the Minister to hear all appeals. There are few men with tho personal, qualifications of the Minister, yet it would not be an impossibility to appoint, as an appeal board, three men with the necessary experience and training, to devote their whole time to the hearing of appeals. The burden of proof is now placed upon the pension applicant, but this onus should really be’ on the department. In many cases the department contends that the sickness or. malady from which the applicant is suffering has not been caused by war service. Such a contention is largely a matter of opinion, and many injustices have been done, because of wrong decisions that were given with the very best of intentions. Today we find that the soldier who has influential friends and an active parliamentary representative at his elbow has the best opportunity of having his case reviewed. Many disabled men are in remote districts or of a retiring nature, and it is only as a last resort, when they find themselves in straitened circumstances, that they pluck up sufficient courage to approach individuals who can put their cases for them. The New South Wales branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League supports this contention. No strict rule requiring proof on the part of a returned soldier that his illness is due to war service will ensure to him a fair deal. It is most difficult for the soldier to prove that his disability is due to war service. The
New South “Wales branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League quotes, in support of this contention, the following extract from the Daily Telegraph of the 29th November, 1927:-
No hard and fast rule requiring proof that a returned soldier’s illness is due to -war service will guarantee fair dealing. It may operate with cruel injustice. Who can tell with certainty whether the illness of a man who has been at the front was or was not caused by his experience there?
I submit that the returned soldiers have’ a good case for the appointment of appeal boards. This motion should not tie made the football of party politics, and it is unfair of honorable members opposite to say that it has been brought forward for party purposes. .That accusation was also unjustly made when the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) submitted a motion for the relief of tubercular soldiers. The honorable member for Herbert (Dr. ‘Nott) admitted that the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) had made a reasonable and temperate speech. Nearly every honorable member has returned soldiers in his electorate, and he owes a duty to them and to their relatives. He should certainly be prepared to support a motion, the object of which is to give fair and impartial treatment to disabled soldiers. They are deserving of the best that this country can give them, and their welfare should not. be the subject of party politics. It behoves honorable members to vote for the motion because it represents the views of the returned soldiers of Australia.
– I confess that in common with many other honorable members, my first thought, when notice of this motion was given, was that it was a proposal for another select committee. In view of the criticism of honorable members opposite respecting the numerous boards, commissions and committees that have been appointed, it is strange that they should now seek to add to their number. We must first consider what function this particular select committee would, fulfil. We find that it would deal with a subject upon which every honorable member of this House as a layman is well qualified to express an opinion, and that is, the effectiveness of the Australian war pensions system and the manner in which it is being carried out. A reference to the report of the royal commission of 1924 will show that practically the whole of the subject-matter of the motion- was examined by that commission, the members of which were eminently qualified to deal with the points under reference. It is only fair to say that the system of repatriation and pensions, which was initiated by the Hughes Government, has subsequently been extended and made a workable proposition by the present Government.
– But there has been no further legislation.
– That is so.
– The basis of our war pensions system has not been changed.
– The position is quite in accordance with the best British traditions. If the department administered the law in a hard and fast, red tape fashion it might prove almost unworkable; but British genius is capable of administering such a law fairly and impartially. This act has been made workable chiefly through the genius of the present Minister in charge of Repatriation. As to how it is being done, I have no intention of hazarding a guess. I am well satisfied in my own mind with his administration. He and I have been closely associated since the formation of the Australian Imperial Forces. I have had many opportunities of watching his work and of discussing subjects with him, and no doubt it will interest the House to know that even during the early days at Gallipoli the question of soldiers’ health and the effect of the war on the subsequent life of the soldier were already engaging his attention. We discussed the matter there and then under those unpleasant conditions. It is common knowledge that there must be difficult cases when it comes to putting any system into operation. These cases are brought to us individually, and we deal with each one as if it was the only case to be reviewed. It is only natural that they should evoke our sympathy. A man comes to us whom we knew in the field, whose record we know, and who, we know, has’been refused- a pension. Although we are aware that; according to the strict* letter of the act, he is not entitled to a pension, we take up his .case, and put it before the. -Minister. I have heard statements to-night which indicate that there is a belief to the effect that it is possible to exert pressure on the .Minister for Defence. If anybody were in a position to do so, I should think that we .who served with him at the war ought to be able to exert . pressure -in favour of some particular man. I have never known a case, however, in which anything of that kind was done. If the case was a reasonable one, he would. give it fair consideration, but I have never known him to pay any attention to a bad case, nor would I prejudice my standing with him by bringing up such a case. The same thing applies in respect of such influence as applicants may possess. If there were three people to see the Minister, one of them a widow, one a field officer, and one a private, I know ‘quite well who would be the last to get in, and in which direction the Minister’s sympathy would lie.
I come now to the view taken of this matter by the returned soldiers. We have had quoted to us almost ad nauseam, letters written by executives of soldiers’ organizations. There must be executives, I suppose, but when one wishes to learn the real feelings of the people behind the executives, it is a good . thing to go out amongst those people themselves. I have made inquiries in Tasmania and also in Victoria, particularly in Melbourne, and have met a large number of my own comrades. To - them I put the question of this appeal board, and the system of pensions. It is possible to find out in 24 hours what the soldiers really think of the Repatriation Department, and the pensions system. In my own State, of course, the numbers are relatively small, and the difficult cases are also few in number, but even in Melbourne I found the feeling, with which I confess I myself agree, is that their concern is to obtain the maximum for their pals, and they do not want to take any risk whatever. Their views are really expressed in the words of a resolution which, I believe, was passed to-day by the Federal Tubercular
Soldiers’ Conference, and which runs ‘ as follows -
That while this conference is in accord with the principle of an appeal hoard, members are of tlie opinion that, at the present time ‘ the interests of returned soldiers are best served by the existing system of appeal to the Minister, and that while Sir Neville Howse retains his present office, the institution, of an appeal board be left in abeyance.
That was the view which I found expressed almost universally in Melbourne. Of the other States, I am not qualified to speak. I have not had many opportunities to visit Sydney, but amongst such of my comrades as I have spoken to the opinion is held that it would he, unwise to ;alter the present system under which such good results have been obtained. As regards the speed with which the work is done, some speakers seemed to proceed on the assumption that there were thousands of. appeals stacked- up in the repatriation office waiting for a superappeal board to come and deal with them. It is the current appeals which count, and an appeal board of three, , five, or seven members, which would have to deal with the same set of papers, would not be likely to work more quickly than one man, and certainly not when that one man had devoted himself, as the Minister has, to a special study of these cases. He is able to put his finger on the vital point in a way in which I do not think an appeal board could ever hope to do. The question also arises as to how the board would function. I believe it would be necessary to pass legislation to provide for this board. It would have to work within the four corners of its act, and the fear of the soldiers, apart from the doubt as to whether the right men would be appointed, is whether it would have the necessary power to deal with the cases in such a way as to give them, satisfaction. The soldiers feel, at the present time, that they have a certain and sympathetic avenue of appeal, and they do not want to change that for the uncertain benefits of an appeal board. But just. as in the Australian Imperial Force at the front, there was always some one behind every commander ready to step into his place if need be, so there should be provision for the constitution of an appeal board to take the place of the present Minister if we should lose his services. Then there is the’ matter of the attitude -of the soldiers. I have heard members speak of bashful soldiers. Personally I have never seen them. ‘When a soldier feels strongly on any subject he is apt to express his feelings in such a way that no one, unless he is deaf, dumb, and blind, can possibly be under any mistake as to what is meant. If an appeal board were really wanted by the returned soldiers now, they would not leave us in ‘any doubt as to their desires. As to the need for this amendment, I am sorry to hear the words “ puerile “ and “ unnecessary “ used in connexion with it. We do not want an appeal board at the present time, but we want such a board to be in readiness when it is needed. I should, perhaps, have begun my remarks by saying that I hoped this matter would be treated in a non-party manner. That seems to be the usual thing to say whenever any matter relating to the soldiers is under consideration. We have heard references made to the whips .cracking. It was a very common expression in the field whenever our opponents were presenting us with an extra large assortment of ironmongery, to say that the whips were cracking. I have heard it said that here, in politics, the whips also crack. I can only say that if that is so the whips are so small, and so feeble, that I have never heard them.
.- I wi.3h to compliment the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) upon his motion, and on the way in which he has endeavoured to show what is in the minds of the soldiers. The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has endeavoured to discredit the opinions expressed in executive resolutions, and to say that they do not represent the feelings of the soldiers. If his remarks did not mean that, they meant nothing. He said that he had obtained the opinion of the soldiers as to whether they wanted an appeal board or not. He quoted a resolution passed by the Conference of Tubercular Soldiers, and it would be interesting to know who is the “ copy cat,” - the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron), who has submitted an amendment in almost the same terms, or the Tubercular Soldiers’ Conference, or who was the underground engineer who got those opinions expressed in identical terms ? I presume the matter is possible of explanation. The underground engineer suggestion is not mine; “it was suggested earlier in the debate. I suggest to the. honorable member for Denison (Sir John Gellibrand) that he never meets the men who are concerned in the question as to whether or not they ought to have pensions. I suggest now, as I did when I was speaking on the pensions for tubercular soldiers, that one rarely meets the men who are turned down by the department - the men who are left on the general charity of the State in which they live, nor do the soldiers’ associations necessarily know of them, because there are more soldiers who do not belong to the associations than who do. I consider, however, that, this- matter should be dealt with on a basis of equity.
I am surprised to -hear it said that this is being made a party matter. Even though the honorable member for Reid said that this was on the platform of the party, I can assure the House that it is not a party matter as far as the Labour party is concerned. Let me give the position as it concerns myself. Long before there was any mention of improving the pensions system or of bringing the matter before the House, I advocated the extension of the pensions to all those who had suffered injury or disability as a result of the war. It was just after I returned from the war that I met the complaints officer of the Returned Soldiers’ Association in South Australia, Mr. Tom Bower, on the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide, and suggested to him that what returned soldiers ought to do as a body “was to getincorporated in the Pensions Act a clause providing that every man suffering, subsequent to his experience overseas, from any complaint that could be assumed to have been aggravated or brought about by war service, should be deemed to be suffering from a war disability, and that a pension should be paid for it. That was in 1919, and I maintain that if we do not make every soldier who becomes tubercular a full pensioner -we do not honour the ‘responsibility we accepted when he was enlisted’ as physically fit for war service. The Minister did himself little credit when he said that this motion had been moved for party purposes. Last year the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) submitted a- motion affirming that every man should, be considered as having been sound in health at the date when he was medically examined and accepted as fit for military service, and thereafter no suggestion of pre-war disability should prejudice his claim to a pension. No man can deny the ‘ equity of that proposal. Our soldiers were medically examined, and accepted for service, and any subsequent illness should be assumed to be the result of, or aggravated by, war service. Being convinced that the soldier who has developed tuberculosis is not getting a fair spin, I moved a motion a few months ago without consulting the members of my party. I acted entirely on my own initiative ; as the Government was not prepared to waive the consideration of pre-war disability in all cases, as suggested by the honorable member for Melbourne, I tried to get the concession for the tubercular men, who, in my opinion, suffer the worst of all disabilities.
-I deny that.
– A man may have lost two limbs or his eyesight, but his injuries must be extraordinary before they impose a greater disability than tuberculosis. A person smitten by this dread disease not only suffers pain and inconvenience, but has the ghastly knowledge that in a few years he must “go west.” I do not wish to enlarge on the horrors of active service; but those who were not at the front lave no conception of what it was like. Many men offered their lives every day, but in addition to the dangers of bullet, shell, poison gas and high explosive, constitutions were undermined by cold and mud, by sleeping in holes, and feeding on short rations. Often have I seen men gnawing at biscuits to allay the pangs of hunger. Having regard to the fact that 5 and 6 per cent, was paid for the money with which the war was financed, it is sheer audacity to talk the tarradiddle. that we have heard to-night regarding soldiers and their pensions.
The Treasurer stated that the Australian “War Pensions Act compares favorably with any similar measure in the world. So it should. The wages paid to our men were higher than the wages paid to the soldiers of any other country. In the general treatment of its soldiers Australia set a standard that the rest of the world might well follow ; but all that can be done to give comfort to those who have suffered in health because of the war is the least that should be done. I have never asked for increased payments for the men who are well. We took the job at the wage that was offered; the job is complete, and the contract is finished. But the position in regard to pensions is different. When our men were at the front they were regarded as heroes, and they were promised that the country would look after them on their return.
It is . absurd to say . that every application or grievance will be dealt with by the Minister personally. The claims rejected last year numbered 2,518; the new pensions granted were only 834. Were all the rejected claims considered by the Minister? We are concerned not only with the rejected claims, but also with the many pensions that are inadequate. I remember a man named Copeland, who before the war had been a navvy on the east- west line. He came into my office at the Trades’ Hall, Adelaide. He was racked with rheumatism, and had been drawing a full pension for three years. But the department had withdrawn his war pension, and told him to apply for an invalid pension. I was not then in Parliament, so I put his case into the hands of the then member for Angas (Mr. Gabb). He failed to get justice for Copeland, who continued to draw an invalid pensionWhen I re-entered this House, I asked to be allowed to peruse the files relating to his case, and one other. In regard to the second case I was not successful, but when Copeland’s claim was considered by the Minister he regained his war pension and was paid all money that was in arrears. I see him every week under “the tree of knowledge” opposite the General Post Office, Victoria-square, Adelaide, sitting with others who are able to enjoy some comfort in their declining years. He is still racked with rheumatism, and draws his pension ; but he has to report periodically for review. If he had not got into touch with me after Mr. Gabb had failed to get his war pension restored, and if I had not succeeded in getting the Minister to consider his case, he would be still suffering an injustice. The other man whose case I took up. at that time is in a tubercular hospital. Although the first board that investigated his claim recommended in writing that he be given the benefit of the doubt, the Minister, or the commission, subsequently decided that there was no doubt. Unquestionably the man is tubercular, and he did not leave England. If he had gone over to France and received his issue on the first day, as many did, he would have been a hero; but, because he did not leave England, his wife and daughter clean offices in order to support themselves. That is wrong. An appeal board would deal with his case, and it might even go beyond the doctor’s medical report and consider the ethics of the claim. Another man who came to me had been a blacksmith’s striker. Half his right thigh had been shot away, and he had lost two fingers, so that he was incapacitated for his former employment, and he was drawing a pension of only 8 3. a week. That man must have been in the firing line; he did not lose half a thigh and two fingers in Piccadilly Circus ! In the 52,000 rejected claims there may be other cases of that kind. “We ‘shall be giving away nothing if we concede the request of the soldiers for an appeal board. I wish the pensions were made so generous that there would be no need for such a tribunal. The present pensioners include 2,765 suffering from tuberculosis, and 16,432 suffering from rheumatism, debility, gas-poisoning, nephritis and other diseases. If we accepted pension responsibilities towards the whole of the 350,000 men who went overseas, and in generous recognition of their patriotic service paid to each and all who needed it sufficient to maintain them when they were ill or old, surely this country could afford the cost. If that was done, no appeal board would bo required; all that we should need would be some authority to police the pensions, to ensure that a man who became demoralized or nerve-racked did not waste the money he received from the Commonwealth. That may not be the point of view of my party; I doubt if my colleagues are prepared to go the full length with me in that direction; but I have spoken my own conviction. I am not pleading for myself; I have no personal interest in this matter, but I have firsthand knowledge of the job our soldiers did. I worked and lived with them at the front, and I know what fine fellows they were. For that reason, apart from my general love for humanity, which tells me that no person who needs succour should want, I support the soldiers’ claim for an appeal board, if that is the most equitable system that can be devised, short of giving to every soldier a defeasible right to a pension.
The honorable member for Denison spoke of underground engineering. He had no right to make that suggestion ; but, as he did, I retort by saying that the honorable member is responding to the crack of the party whip. He has been in the oven and is done brown. These innuendoes should not be made unless there is some foundation for them. Honorable members opposite who refer to alleged happenings in the Labour party’s caucus room should remember the advice given by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt). The treatment of our maimed and sick soldiers should not be viewed from a party stand-point; their care should be regarded a3 a national obligation. If any party advantage is to be gained from treating them generously, it will accrue to the Government and its supporters, because, to those who give, rather than those who urge, are thanks usually tendered. Personally, I do not advocate the claims of our maimed and suffering soldiers in the desire to gain one vote for myself.
From the Sydney Morning Herald of the 28th April last I take the following extract : -
Soldiers’ grievances were discussed at meetings of the Nationalist and Country parties yesterday, and a proposal for the establishment of boards of appeal made during a debate in the House of Representatives recently, was considered. The plan was that soldiers receiving pensions should have the right of appeal to a board from decisions of the” Repatriation Department. The general feeling was that the welfare of former soldiers was safe in the hands of the Minister, Sir Neville Howse, and that appeal boards were unnecessary.
The language of that extract is similar to that used to-night by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D.’ Cameron). The ‘ Tubercular Soldiers’ Association have also carried a similar resolution, probably in the belief that by praising the Minister they will get better treatment. They are, . however, on safe ground, because, having been accepted as tubercular soldiers, they cannot now be regarded otherwise. They have no need to urge the appointment of an appeal board. But the case of the man at Angorichina is one for an appeal board, which should endeavour to give effect to the spirit of the- act. The obligation to do the- fair thing for our returned soldiers rests upon the community. Among the 2,000 men whose applications were rejected in one year, or the 52,000 whose applications have been rejected since the Pensions Act was passed, there may be hundreds of cases similar to that to which I have referred. We do not know what an appeal board might not do for these men, who are distributed throughout the Commonwealth, and have no means of making their cases known. Indeed, some of them are so disappointed with the treatment they have received that they have refrained from making further applications. We shall not discharge our obligation to these men until their every need has been met. I voted for the motion of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), and when it was defeated I submitted another motion myself. I shall also vote for the motion now before the House, in the hope that the Government will realize its indebtedness to our soldiers and give them an adequate measure of protection.
.- As one who appreciates what the Government has done for our returned soldiers, and knows with what satisfaction its actions are regarded by the people in my own State and in my own electorate, I have no hesitation in supporting the amendment moved by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) -
This House is of the opinion that the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act as now administered provides the means whereby every pension claim which has been rejected by the Repatriation Commission can be placed before the Minister in charge of Repatriation, and receive full consideration by him, and accepts the assurance of the Government that, in the event of the Minister finding it impossible to follow his present practice of personally reviewing every case submitted to him, steps will be taken to provide -some equally effective means, preferably an independent appeal board, to safeguard the rights of ex-service men and their dependants.
The Government has not only exerted every effort, to ensure that justice is done to the returned soldiers, but it has also given their claims every possible consideration, particularly during the administration of the present Minister, Sir Neville- Howse.. I know from personal experience that he has done all that is possible to facilitate the placing of applications before the commission with a view to pensions being granted. Iu many cases that’ I have submitted to him on appeal he has indicated to me the evidence necessary to complete the case, and has co-operated with me to secure from various sources the necessary data. Moreover, whenever there has been a doubt, the soldier has been, given the benefit of that doubt. Apart from a communication received to-day from the secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League I have received no request from returned soldiers to support the proposal of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), for the appointment of a select committee to investigate the method of assessing pensions, or for the establishment of an appeal board. Although I have been closely associated with the league1 since my return from overseas, in the many communications I have received from that body no reference has been made to the proposal of the honorable member for Reid. My association with and membership of the league, which is a very useful institution, has extended over a number of years. For four years I was privileged to be on the council of management of the Queensland branch of the league; for three years I was district president, and for a number of years I have been president of the sub-branch of the league in my own town. During those years, and I am pleased to say, ever since, I have been in constant contact with returned soldiers. I met many of them during the recent Easter adjournment, and although the motion of the honorable member for Reid had been before this
House prior to that adjournment, the returned soldiers whom I met were not interested in it. I, therefore, feel convinced that the soldiers generally are satisfied with the treatment they are receiving, and are not in favour of the motion- before us.
Honorable members, opposite say that the Government has failed in its duty to our returned soldiers. They complain that the country’s debt to the returned soldiers has been disregarded by the Government, and that instead it has treated in a niggardly way those who came to the country’s help in time of need. I propose to refer briefly to the Government’s activities on behalf of our returned soldiers, with a view to showing that, with the limited funds at the disposal of a new nation of only 6,000,000 people, it has endeavoured to discharge fully its debt to those men who were incapacitated because of war service, and also, to those who lost their bread-winner as a result of the war. Up to the 30th June, 1927, Australia spent £171,546,920 in making provision for its soldiers. The items comprising that amount are : War ‘ pensions, £65,921,144; general repatriation benefits, £20,193,140 ; war . service homes, £22,959,484; land settlement, £35,001,941 ; war gratuities - cash and bonds - £27,471,211. The expenditure in respect of the last three items is to the 31st March, 1926, only.
– What have those figures to do with the motion before us?
– Probably the honorable member would not see their relation to the motion even though I spent an hour in explaining the position to him. I shall show that the charges made against the Government as to its treatment of returned soldiers are unjust. No government could have done more to honour its promises to the men who fought for the country than the present Government has done. ‘ On the 30th June last, 432,732 applications for war pensions, representing an expenditure of £65,921,144, were dealt with by the Repatriation Commission. Applications for general repatriation benefits numbering 994,204, and representing an expenditure of £20,193,140, were also dealt with by the commission. On the date mentioned the number of war pen sions in force was “259,821, involving an annual . liability of £7,372,612. T had proposed to deal in detail with the method in which these” moneys were expended, but owing to’ the lateness of the hour, I shall not do so. The Government has endeavoured to deal with the difficult question of finding employment for returned soldiers. To the 30th June last it had expended £3,412,049 in providing employment and sustenance for them. In addition, men who were disabled to such an extent as to be unable to resume their pre-war occupations were trained for new occupations; men who enlisted under the age of 20 years without having entered upon training for a skilled occupation were given the opportunity of training for such an occupation, while apprentices whose training was interrupted by war service were assisted financially to enable them to complete their indentures. Altogether 27,043 men have been fully trained or are still in training. The amount expended in the vocational training of soldiers to the 30th June, 1927, was £4,843,494. At that date 532 men were still in training. The department was fortunate in having the services of some of the best medical men in Australia to do all that was humanly possible to restore maimed and injured soldiers to their former state of health. The Government has available the services of not only specially trained and fully experienced departmental medical officers, but also the most distinguished specialists in all the States of the Commonwealth. Provision has also been made for Australian soldiers to receive medical treatment for war disabilities in Great Britain, Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, New Zealand, and in the United States of America, where even now some of our soldiers are, it is seen that their every requirement is met. In view of these activities, I do not think that even the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) can say that the Government has neglected its duty to our returned soldiers.
– I am not satisfied with what the Government has done.
– The honorable member’s interjection reminds me that , there are none so deaf as those who will not hear, or so blind as those who will not see. In addition to the benefits I have mentioned, maimed soldiers have been assisted to obtain artificial limbs. In each State the Government maintains an artificial limb factory for making and repairing artificial limbs and surgical aids of all descriptions. Other benefits covering varying needs have been granted, such as the provision of special institutions for the accommodation and treatment of totally and permanently incapacitated soldiers, Anzac hostels, and in sanatoria for tubercular cases.
The motion before us urges the appointment of an appeal board, but I am satisfied, after a careful examination, that the administration of the Repatriation Department has never been better than it is to-day. General satisfaction regarding its administration exists throughout Australia. I have made careful inquiries as to the operation of appeal boards in Great Britain, Canada, and New Zealand, and am satisfied that in those countries the conditions are not comparable with those in Australia. In each State we have what is practically an appeal board, presided over by State returned soldiers. The officers in this department are all returned soldiers. In passing, I should like to say that, in my opinion, the State officers should have much more power. The central administration has done noble work. Here again the officers are all returned soldiers, and have proved to be most sympathetic to the claims of their former comrades. The medical advisory board, comprising Sir George Syme, Sir Henry Maudsley, Dr. Ramsay Webb, and Dr. R. Stanwell has done good work. These men are all returned soldiers ; they know the psychology of returned soldiers, and have done all that they could to assist them to obtain pensions.
– To accord with the honorable member’s description they must, indeed, be God-sent angels.
– They are; and, in addition, are the most eminent men in their profession in Victoria. Having examined many of the files, I know that these men have sought evidence in order to make applicants eligible for pensions; the treatment accorded to them is most sympathetic.
The honorable member for Reid urges that a select committee be appointed to consider, first of all, the method of assessing pensions, and secondly, the establishment of a board of appeal. I have inquired into the terms of reference of the royal commission appointed on the 22nd December, 1924, and I find that they are practically those that the honorable member desires for the proposed select committee. The committee that he suggests would have very limited powers and a personnel of limited experience on medical questions; whereas the royal commission was composed of most eminent medical officers who had served in important capacities overseas, and on a royal commission which had almost unlimited powers of investigation. The commission discovered that most of the problems then to be investigated were entirely of a’ medical nature; but the’ honorable member now suggests the appointment of a committee of laymen to deal with medical problems that have already been considered by eminent practitioners, such as Drs. C. B. Blackburn, E. Sandford Jackson, H. S. Newland, W. W. Giblin, and A. V. M. Anderson. The commission’s terms of reference were -
Is the present method of determining whether an ex-soldier’s disability is due to or aggravated by war service adequate to decide the origin or the degree to which it is exaggerated, and what portion of his present incapacity can be regarded as having resulted from his war service?
Exhaustive evidence was obtained by this commission from the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperia-1 League of Australia and the Tubercular Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Association, the Blinded Soldiers’ Association, the One-eyed Soldiers’ Association, the Returned Nurses’ Association, the Australian Imperial League of Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Womenfolk, and the Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Fathers Association. The report furnished by the commission was very lengthy, and practically every recommendation made by it has been put into effect. The twelfth recommendation, the only one in which an exception was made, was -
After full and careful inquiry . . . . your commissioners unanimously agree that, in the majority of cases, the present machinery for determining disability and assessing pensions is sufficient. There are, however, certain types of .disabilities present in a small minority of ex-soldiers which are, for various reasons, inadequately determined. The inadequacy, to some extent, has been due to defects in’ the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, e.g., sections 22 and 40.
I hope to prove that hoth those sections have now been satisfactorily dealt with by the Minister, and that the limitations referred to by the commission have been definitely set aside by altering and extending the provision. On the subject of appeal boards, the commission stated -
Much of the evidence related to the question of the opportunities for appeal open to the ex-soldier. On this question your commissioners have formed the opinion that, from the appellant’s point of view, the method in vogue in Australia compares favorably with that in force in other parts of the Empire, in that no. final appeal board exists. This principle, it is held, should be always maintained.
I am satisfied that effect has been given to every practicable recommendation of that royal commission. In addition, a medical advisory board has been appointed, comprised of the eminent men to whom I have referred;
We are assured that the Minister has investigated every case brought under his notice by ex-soldiers personally, and by members pf this House on their behalf, and will continue to do so. My personalexperience of the work of the Minister has been’ entirely satisfactory, and no vote of mine will be given for any proposal to remove from him the important duties that he now so successfully discharges. I am satisfied that the appointment of an appeal board would not be an improvement upon the present system. Such a board would be bound to operate strictly within the four corners of the act, and would be restricted in its operation much more than the Minister now is. Great difficulty would be encountered in obtaining a board composed of men of the calibre, and with the extensive experience, of the present Minister. Tor eight years Sir Neville Howse has had to do with soldiers’ disabilities. He was privileged to serve with distinction in the South African war as well as in the last great war. We of the Australian Imperial Forces had the honour of having him in charge of the medical services, and we know how well they were conducted under his direction. In view of the sympathetic way in which he carried out his onerous duties, we are convinced that we should be best serving our comrades by asking him to continue to bestow the same sympathetic care as that, shown by him in the past upon the task that he has voluntarily undertaken. It would be far better in the interests of the soldiers to retain the present system than trust to the problematical advantages of an appeal board. There would be too much risk in departing from the present satisfactory method, and I am convinced that every returned soldier will support honorable members on this side of the House in not pressing for an appeal board.
I have been pleased to notice that effect has been given to the many important recommendations made from time to time by the Minister to the Government. We cannot hope for anything better than that.
I will endeavour to summarize briefly the improvements that have been effected since the Repatriation Act has been administered by Sir Neville Howse. First of all, the hardships referred to in the royal commission’s report as having operated under sections 22 and 40, have been removed, and the act is operating smoothly in that respect. Tubercular soldiers have a permanent pension of not less than £2 2s. a week, if proved to be suffering from the disease on or subsequent to 1st July, 1925, as the result of war service, and all cases prior to that date will be re-investigated. From the 1st July, 1925, soldiers who have lost the sight of one eye have received an allowance not exceeding 7s. 6d. per week, provided that the pension and allowance together do not exceed the full rate of pension. Ex-soldiers’ widows who remarry, are now granted an allowance. Previously this pension was only paid for two years after re-marriage. The new provision has operated only since the 11th August, 1926. The extra payment made with respect to the third and subsequent children of deceased or incapacitated soldiers has been granted during the present Minister’s term of office. Notwithstanding the fact that a great number of children’s pensions have been cancelled on account of the recipients having reached the age of 16 years, and the fact that many widows have remarried, their pensions having to be cancelled in due course in accordance with the act, the war pensions bill on the 30th June, 1927, had increased by £411,695 as compared with the amount payable on the 30th June, 1925, and the annual liability at the 30th June, 1927, stood at £7,362,768. Also, during the term of office of the present Minister, the Government approved of the payment of an allowance of £10 a month to every returned soldier who is totally and permanently disabled, so that he may provide himself with necessary transport facilities. I have already referred to the medical advisory board, which was also appointed’, during the term of the’ Minister. During the first year of its operations that board held 23 meetings, and dealt with 99 individual cases, 75 of which received its recommendation. Since then it has dealt with 830 cases individually; and approved of 408.
I submit that, however one may view this -motion,, it must be realized that the Government and the present Ministerhave at all times done more than could be expected of them, and that they . ‘have done all that could be done if we agreed to the motion submitted by the honorable member for Reid (Mr.- Coleman). He seeks the appointment of a select committee, whose personnel will be restricted to men who may not be thoroughly conversant with the disabilities of our returned soldiers. In December, 1922, the Government appointed a royal commission, to which I have previously referred, which had greater powers than any select committee could have. The personnel of that commission consisted of some of the most eminent and capable- surgeons and physicians who had served in the Australian Imperial Force. Its recommendations have since been given effect, and they have resulted in general satisfaction in the administration of the Repatriation Department. It is evident that the present arrangement with regard to war pensions could not be improved by the carrying of this motion. If a board of appeal were appointed, it could not be expected to operate as satisfactorily as when cases are referred to the Minister. Therefore, the honorable member for Reid is asking the Government to do something that is full of risks to the soldiers. I cannot support that.
– The amendment emanating from the honorable member’s party suggests an appeal board.
– The administration provides the means whereby dissatisfied pension claimants may have their complaints’ brought before the Minister, who will give them the fullest con- ‘ sideration. Because satisfaction now exists in this matter, I shall not by any remark or vote of mine foist on the returned soldiers conditions which, I feel confident, could not better those at present in operation, but which might introduce difficulties and remove ‘ the prevailing general ‘ satisfaction. I cannot support’ the. motion ‘of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), but I have very much pleasure in supporting the amendment of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron).
.- At. the’ outset I desire to express my appreciation of the moderate manner in which ‘ the honorable- member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) ‘ presented his case. The discussions that have taken place in this’ Houseon similar subjects during the last’ five years have usually resulted either in “ some’ sort of unsatisfactory’ compromise,” or in an’ attempt to sidetrack the issue. I regret very much that we are not ‘considering the advisability ‘ of completely ‘ reviewingourRepatriation Act, of removing or ‘lessening’ thelimitations that now ‘exist, and at’ the ‘same time of appointing an independent ‘board of review.
– Is not private members’ day a day off for the Ministry?
Mr.O. RILEY.- It is a day not to be wasted, a day on which earnest and conscientious beliefs should be voiced. No other governments has been so prolific as the present one in appointing royal, commissions and select committees. We have a board of appeal dealing with income taxation and another with land taxation, both providing means whereby individuals may appeal against the assessments of the Taxation Commissioners. If it is right to appoint hoards of three or more members to consider taxation appeals, surely it is but just to give the returned soldiers an opportunity to appeal against’ the findings of the Repatriation Commissioners. The Income Tax Board of Review and Land Tax Appeal Boards consider chiefly appeals lodged by men who accumulated greatwealth at a time when our soldiers were risking their lives for their country. Those boards are responsible for recommending the remission of large sums of money to people who are well able to contribute towards the cost of the war. While these wealthy people may have money remitted to them, it must be remembered that we cannot restore health to those men who lost it by serving their country. The Minister has been very courteous and attentive whenever I have submitted cases’ to him, but I have usually refrained from submitting individual cases to the honorable ‘gentleman, because I contend that ‘ a Minister should attend to the major affairs of’ his department. The -honorable gentleman- has to control three important departments j and it would not .be- right’ if honorable- members ‘ submitted ‘numerous repatriation’ cases’ upon- which’ they disagreed with the commissioner.* It is impossible ‘for theMinister to -shoulder such a responsibility, which “should ‘be -passed” on to a board;
The ‘ appointment’ of ‘a board would. give < returned soldiers ‘or- their “dependants anopportunity to appeal against the ‘decisions of the Repatriation Commissioners. I halve /on hand a number of cases, some of -which- date ‘back’ three.’ or four.- years’,’ which appear :to me to be anomalous, and require ‘ attention. ‘ I have the greatest sympathy, for tubercular’ soldiers, as I have ‘a knowledge of the conditions under which .’they were compelled to exist when*on active service. I know how indifferent the authorities were at times to the health: and .well-being of. our soldiers. Yet a great many of them >are now refused pen- sions on the ground’ that- their disability was ;not -due to war service. When one remembers .that -those men were compelled to . use bedding . and’ blankets whichhad previously been’ used” month after’ month by other men: without any . attempt at disinfection- or- fumigation, it is apparent how easy it was for them to contract disease The department has failed to extend to many men that consideration and sympathy to which they are entitled. Cases have come under my notice of men who, after three or four years of war service, returned practically nothing but skin and bone, although in their former civilian life they had been of fine physique, and engaged in such strenuous callings as blacksmithing, yet these men were unable to get pensions. Some of them have since passed away, and their widows and children have been denied pensions. I know of one man whose case is very unfortunate: Tuberculosis has rendered him so weak that he- reels as he walks along the street. He is a total abstainer, but frequently when he - has applied for employment he has been told to return when sober. His is a particularly deplorable case. In- my opinion the benefit’ of the doubt should be given to men who,- like him, cannot’ carry on their pre-war occupations. A great deal has been said by the Repatriation Depart- ment about the earning, capacity .of re- turned men, and about the percentage of war disabilities, but- 1 think the soldiers are more likely to get fair, just andsympathetic treatment from a board consisting -of a ‘representative of the Repatriation. Department, a medical man nominated ‘ by the Returned -Soldiers’ League and two or three lay members, ‘ who can appreciate the difficulties under which our. lads laboured during the war period. . Many men who took part in some of the most courageous exploits of of the Australian Imperial Force, have been deprived of- pensions because they . happened to be indiscreet for a few days and- were absent without leave: They have splendid testimonials from their officers as to their -fighting capacity and war record. An appeal board” could deal with their claims for pensions. During my few years in this Parliament I have had occasion to handle the cases of three war widows in -regard1 to whom complaints were forwarded to the department as to their mode of living. These women were deprived of pensions without being given an opportunity to peruse the evidence -against them or learn the -names of’ the informants. An appeal hoard could also deal with their cases.
I give to the Minister in charge of Repatriation, all the credit to which he is entitled, and admit quite frankly that where I failed to get many repatriation cases attended to by his predecessor I have succeeded without much effort in getting consideration from him. Nevertheless I am of the opinion that the. Government has failed to do the right thing for returned soldiers. So long as there is a returned soldier in Australia who cannot obtain employment, and so long as there is any returned soldier dependent or in a desperate plight, because a pension has not been given owing to a doubt as to the war origin of the disability, I claim that the Government has not done its duty. I regret very much that Government supporters have found it expedient to submit an amendment. To my mind they are shirking the issue. If they have objections to the appointment of a select committee, they ought to move an amendment recommending the advisability of appointing an appeal board. I regret the manner in which the Government has treated the motion SUDmitted by the honorable member for Reid. No honorable member on either side of the House is anxious to make political kudos or benefit out of the returned soldier question, but honorable members of the Opposition, whether they participated in the war or not, are as genuinely concerned with the conditions of returned men and their dependents as honorable members on the other side of the House, notwithstanding their war records. In the course of his remarks the honorable member for Moreton mentioned that £65,000,000 had been spent on war pensions; £22,000,000 on war service homes, and £27,000,000 on war gratuities. What comfort is it to the war widow or the poor returned lad broken ‘ in health and spirits that over £100,000,000 has been spent in that way? Our present concern is for those poor unfortunate dependants who are not being helped to-day. Sympathy is all very well, but it is useless of itself. We ought to do something practical to help these people. I claim that the motion submitted by the honorable member for Reid gives the House an opportunity to do something practical, and I appeal to honorable members opposite not to avail themselves of the opportunity afforded by the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) to side-step the issue. I ask them to try honestly to live up to the promises made during the war period. In that regard, I was waiting with interest to hear what the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was going to say. I regret that he has now left the chamber.
.- All day in this chamber I have listened with great interest to the speeches that have been made, and I regret exceedingly that Mr. Acting Speaker, during Mr. Speaker’s absence, failed to see the right’ honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who on three occasions rose to address himself to the motion.
– Order! The honorable member for Moreton, who got the call, has been in the chamber all the afternoon, and has risen several, times.
-I am not contesting the right of Mr. Acting Speaker to do what he did, I am simply expressing my regret that the right honorable member for North Sydney missed his eye. The right honorable gentleman was the. author of the war pensions scheme,, and was the one man in Australia mostly concerned in the fulfilment of every promise made to the soldiers. On occasions like the present, it is also not out of place to remember a man like the late Senator E. Millen, who practically gave his life to the moulding of the scheme of war pensions and repatriation,’ and went to a premature grave because of the stupendous efforts he made to do justice to the Australian soldier. I have myself been a fairly close student of soldier problems. During the absence of the late Senator E. Millen at the League of Nations Assembly, I administered the department, so I am well aware of the terms of the act. The measure was placed on the statute-book by the Hughes Government, and it remains to this day the basis of our pension scheme.
A good deal has been said during this debate about appeals. I point out that the right of appeal is embedded in the present act. The right to determine eligibility and grant a pension rests with the State board, but a claimant may appeal to the central commission against an assessment. The Minister in charge of Repatriation has no right to review the decisions of the commission. During the time I was administering the act I often felt that injustices were being done, and I brought certain cases in which I took a personal interest before the commission in tho hope that they might be reconsidered. On practically every occasion the cornmission intimated to me that it was bound by the law. I was, therefore, as powerless, as -the present Minister is, unless he is able to exercise some influence upon the commission which I could not bring to bear upon it. The Minister and. the commission are, however, fortified by the Advisory, Medical Committee, though this was not set up, as stated by the honorable member for Moreton- (Mr. J. Francis), by the present Minister, but was in operation during the time I had charge of the department. If the present Minister, who is 100 per cent, sympathetic with our pensioners and exservice men generally, spoke his mind, he would say that that grand body of medical men has been of incalculable assistance to our ex-soldiers. I shall vote for the amendment, because I believe that thu present administration is thoroughly sympathetic with our ex-soldiers, and because the principle of an appeal is already incorporated in our legislation. Nevertheless, I commend the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) for having brought the subject before us in such an able and conscientious manner.
It is asked that we should submit for review the method of assessing war pensions. I sincerely trust that this will not be done; for if any alteration should be made, innumerable difficulties would arise. A new basis of assessment might also completely alter the obligations of the nation. Another- objection to such a review is that many of the persons who might have been affected by a change are dead.
As to the proposal that an inquiry should be made into the advisableness of setting up an appeal board, I repeat that the right of appeal already exists. The commission is composed of three exsoldiers, one of whom is practically an appointee of the principal soldier organization. Each State board is also composed of three ex-service men. Th: Minister in charge of the department is a returned soldier. Our repatriation administration is, as a matter of fact, in the hands of returned men from beginning to end, and if an outside appeal board were established, it might seriously impair the harmony that at present exists. In any pension scheme there are bound to be disappointments, inequalities, and even, injustices, which can only be removed by the process of time. I urge returned men generally to leave well alone, and not interfere with the present administration.
– I much regret that an attempt has been made to make this a party question, although I altogether absolve the mover of the motion, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) from such a charge. In discussing the matter with that honorable member some time ago I intimated to him that I did not think the appointment of a select committee was necessary.
The motion asks that an inquiry should be made into the advisableness of appointing an appeal board. At the last congress of the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia a motion was carried almost without discussion in favour of the principle of an appeal board.’ It was thought that as the principle operated satisfactorily in other spheres, it should be just as satisfactory in respectto repatriation. The proposal went on automatically to the Federal Congress of the league which was held in Brisbane, and ,was unanimously endorsed. Consequently the claim of the honorable member for Reid that the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia is favorable to the appointment of an appeal board, is perfectly true. The principle is in operation in two of our sister dominions, and also in Great Britain, and it works well. There are slight differences between the constitutions of the boards in the various parts of the Empire, but the point is that they are independent. The powers of the
Canadian board of appeal are limited. The War Veterans’ Association in that dominion is endeavouring to have the powers of the board increased, as at present it has authority to determine only the entitlement of an ex-soldier to a pension, and cannot deal with the assessment of a pension. In New Zealand one board deals- with the entitlement and assessment of pensions, but in the United Kingdom separate boards control these two branches of the work. No definite proposals have been made by the mover of the motion in this regard. He suggests that a select committee should be appointed to investigate the whole matter of soldiers’ pensions and report to the Government. The recommendations of the royal commission to which reference has been made, state in paragraph 15 -
Your commissioners are of. the opinion that the Repatriation Department is greatly handi-capped by the inadequacy of the records as to the exact state of health of the soldiers on discharge from service.
Recently the State branch in New South Wales requested the British Medical Association to “ask its members to keep a complete record of any returned soldier patients who consulted them, as many exservice men’s appeals had been refused because they were unable to produce definite evidence of the state of their health since they were discharged.. Exsoldiers have visited medical men, who, on being questioned, have stated that, as no- charge had been made for professional service, no record had been kept of the case. In these circumstances the exsoldiers have been prejudiced, as they have been unable to. support their case by medical opinion. During the last Parliament the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Hurry), the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) and myself were appointed a special sub-committee to deal with cases submitted to us by the Minister. That committee met every week and considered numerous cases requiring consideration. The other members of that committee will support me when I say that in 90 per cent, of the cases a final decision depended upon the medical reports, and as we were all laymen, we had to rely upon the medical opinion contained in the documents. We had not an opportunity to examine the applicants, although it would have been desirable to do so. Because of the futi- lity of carrying on in that way, and as a result of our “recommendations, a royal commission was appointed to report upon the matter first mentioned by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman). The whole subject was, I think, investigated more effectively than it could be by a select committee.
The Minister (Sir Neville Howse) said that be believed that even if the motion were carried and a committee were appointed, returned soldiers would not benefit. If he was referring to the principle of appeal boards, I disagree with him, because boards of appeal have been of considerable benefit to returned soldiers both in Canada and New Zealand. I have not seen the circular letter from the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia; but I have before me a report issued to the State councillors of New South Wales, of which I have the honour to be one, prior to the last council meeting, when pensions and other matters were fully considered. In other countries appeal boards are operating with great advantage to rer turned men, but I do not know whether that is due to the fact that their legisla- tion is more liberal than ours. Possibly it is not so rigid. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) referred, to appeal boards dealing simply, with an interpretation of the act, which is the crux of the whole matter. Our act requires amending; but I do not know whether that can be done during- the present Parliament. If an appeal board were appointed, some injustices, such as the Minister mentioned, may possibly result; but I cannot agree with his contention that the carrying of the motion will be detrimental to ex-service mcn. I admit that there would be much more dissatisfaction if the department were not under the control of a person possessing the qualifications and experience of the present Minister. The Minister’s medical knowledge is of invaluable assistance to him in determining the claims of disabled soldiers. He has received many encomiums from both sides of the House for the manner in which he has been able, by his own interpretation of the act, to stretch its provisions, and to-day as a result the returned soldier is possibly in a better position than he would be under an appeal board. Notwithstanding that, I still contend that such a board must eventually be appointed, and the act amended so that the decisions of the board shall not be restricted in any way by legislation. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) pointed out that when he was the Minister for Repatriation he came up against the rigidity of the act on several occasions, and he paid a subtle compliment to the Minister on his ability to overcome the objections of the Repatriation Commission by applying his own interpretation to the provisions of the act.
Underlying’ the amendment moved by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) is the suggestion that, when the act is. not being administered as it is at present, because of the reshuffling of portfolios or a change of Government, an appeal board shall be appointed,, and with that suggestion I heartily agree. I deliberately refrained from rising earlier in this debate until we had the definite assurance of the Treasurer,, on- behalf of the Government, that if the present administration changed in any way some other form of control of war pensions would be instituted, preferably an independent appeal board -to safeguard the rights of exservice men. In view of that assurance I am inclined to support the amendment, although at first it did not meet with my approval. I have disagreed with the Minister in charge of Repatriation on many occasions, and I still differ from him on several points. I recently had occasion, on the motion to adjourn the House, to bring a certain case under his notice; but taken, all round the Minister’s administration of the Repatriation Department has been practically all that could be desired. We cannot’ expect him to see eye to eye with us on every point. I give him credit for having his own point of view, and although disagreements have ocurred in the past and will occur in the future, I really believe that he is doing his best for the returned men. For that reason I think that the appointment of an appeal board should be postponed until such time as an alteration in the administration makes its establishment essential.
.- I would not have risen to speak had I not promised the returned soldiers to render them every assistance in my power, and with that end in view I have much pleasure in supporting the. motion of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman). The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis) cast a nasty slur on returned soldiers when, in his opening remark he drew attention to the expenditure on soldiers’ pensions. Surely they are entitled to every consideration. The honorable member’s speech was of no assistance in the debate. It was really designed to try to save the neck of the Government by bringing about the defeat of the motion. The money that is paid in pensions is immediately circulated throughout the community, and our industrial operations would not lose, but actually gain, by the payment of increased pensions. I have nothing to say against the administration of the Minister in charge of Repatriation. I have brought numerous cases under his notice. There are a large number of returned soldiers in my electorate, and many of them have sought my advice. In the case of two returned soldiers two years elapsed before I was successful in getting them a pension. 1 made up my mind that they were going to get a pension. I brought them before medical men, and paid their fees,. 15s. or £1, or whatever was required, arid! eventually I succeeded. The other case was that of a man who was employed as a smith at Mort’s Dock before the war. He was well built, and about 6 ft. 2 in. in height, and was able, before he was injured, to lift heavy weights. It took me some time to satisfy the department that he was qualified to receive a pension.
The last speaker, the honorable member for Richmond, was loud in his praises of the Minister .who deals with repatriation, and he endeavored to prove that there was no necessity for this appeal board. It should be remembered, however, that even a criminal who has been sentenced in” the court has the right to appeal against his sentence, yet in the matter of pensions, it is proposed to deny the returned soldiers a similar right. It is said that these matters are best left in the hands of the Minister, but how he, with all his other duties, can attend to these complex questions affecting 52,000 men is more than I can understand. He must be a marvel, the like of which was never seen before, nor will be seen again. I have very little sympathy with all the talk about making this a non-party matter. The honorable members who speak in that strain are politicians, and they would be very stupid fellows if they did not think about the next election. Are not all honorable members pleased when they see their utterances reported in the press so that their views are kept before their constituents? Why do the returned soldiers write to me and place their requests before me? It is because I have the right to come into this House and. put their cases before the Government. The honorable member for Reid was quite right in bringing this matter before the House, and no one ought to he offended at the manner in which he did it. The only thing which surprises me is that the Government did not seize the opportunity to adopt the suggestion offered, because this debate will be reported in Mansard, and will provide very good material to use, against the Government, during the next election. It will be spoken of as the hardhearted Government which would not grant the request of the returned soldiers for an appeal board. That is how it -will be represented to the electors. I have told the returned soldiers that it is only fair and equitable that they should have the right of appeal. The debate will not do the honorable member for Reid any harm, but all reasonable people will want to know why the Government refuses to grant the request for an appeal board. In accordance with the pledge that I have given the returned soldiers. I am bound to vote for the motion. . If the Minister does not grant this request, he is denying justice to the returned soldiers, and is not fulfilling his duty as a representative of the people.
– In the course of a most interesting debate many suggestions have been made to which I shall give careful consideration; but nothing that has been said alters the opinion I expressed earlier in the debate that the’ greatest disadvantage to the returned soldier at the present time would be the appointment of an appeal board.
.- If time permitted I would like to traverse at length the statements made by the Minister, many of which I strongly resent. But this discussion has not been fruitless, for it has at least made clear that the Government will ultimately recognize the need for establishing an appeal board. Personally, I resent the statement that an appeal board is not necessary while the honorable member for Calare (Sir Neville Howse) continues to« administer the Repatriation Department, and I am quite certain that that reason will not satisfy the returned soldiers’ organizations. I protest’ against the. misrepresentation of my motion that has been a characteristic’ of the speeches of honorable members opposite. ‘ At this late hour I cannot go fully into this matter, but I do stress the fact that a select committee might consider matters other than the medical assessment of pensions. It might consider, for instance, whether the scale of pensions- and the general provisions of the existing law are adequate for the guidance of the medical officers of the department, and in conformity with the wishes of the majority of honorable members of the House. These matter’s were not included in the terms of reference to the Royal Commission on Repatriation. The suggestion that a committee of this Parliament is not competent to sit in judgment on these matters is a reflexion which it should quickly resent. I recognize that the motion will be defeated - that was decided weeks ago - and in voting against it honorable members are indicating that they consider that an inquiry is unnecessary. It has been suggested that my motion advocates an appeal board with no alternative. I deliberately framed my motion to allow of a complete investigation, and refrained from suggesting what form of appeal should be adopted, in order not to give honorable members on the Government side an excuse for opposing it. I regretthe attitude they have adopted, and especially the arrogant attitude of the Minister. The majority of honorable members will, no doubt, decide to leave things as they are, to ignore the’ representations made by the most powerful returned soldiers’ organization in Australia, and accept the implied reflexion upon their intelligence and ability contained in the Minister’s statement that a select committee would not be competent to conduct an investigation into pensions. No one, however, can gainsay the fact stated by the honorable member for Richmond that the principle of an appeal board met with the unanimous consent of the last federal conference of the league. Other opportunities will arise for ventilating matters akin to this. The appointment of a select committee would have enabled all these matters to be discussed dispassionately and without occupying the time of the House, but the Government has not seen fit to accept my proposal.
Reference has been made to the failure of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) to secure a call from the Chair. Judged by his utterance on previous occasions, had he been given the opportunity to speak to-night he would at least have supported the motion, and displayed as usual that independence of mind which the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) has declared to be necessary in a deliberative assembly.
Question - That the words proposed to he omitted (Mr. D. Cameron’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 21
Question so resolved in the negative.
Amendment agreed to.
Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
That this House is of the opinion that the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act as now administered provides the means whereby every pension, claim which has been rejected by the Repatriation Commission can be placed before the Minister in charge of Repatriation and receive full consideration by- him, and accepts the assurance of the Government that, in the event of the Minister finding it impossible to follow his present practice of personally reviewing every . case submitted to him, steps will be taken to provide some equally effective means, preferably an independent appeal board, to safeguard the fights of ex-service men and their dependants.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Latham.) read a first time.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Latham) read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I have received to-day from the Clerk of the Blouse of Representatives ‘a letter stating that information has been received from the Secretary of the Defence Department that, following the practice of recent years, arrangements are being made for Navy and Army veterans to be entertained at luncheon this year in the capital cities of each of the States, except Tasmania, in connexion with the Empire Day celebrations. Apparently Tasmania is again to be slighted this year, notwithstanding that in that State there arc many Navy and Army veterans, who have just as much claim to consideration as their comrades in the other States. I suggest that there are as many such veterans in Tasmania as in Western Australia or in Queensland. If the Government is not prepared- to pay the passages to Victoria of the Tasmanian veterans,, it should arrange with the branch- of the Re- - turned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia in Hobart to entertain them there. I hope that the Minister will reconsider this matter so that the veterans in Tasmania may be treated in a similar manner to that accorded their comrades in the other States.
. -I shall make representations to the Minister for Defence in this matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.26 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 May 1928, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1928/19280510_reps_10_118/>.