11th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Eon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment: -
Economic Research Bill.
Sent of Government Acceptance Bill.
Income Tax Assessment Bill, 1929.
Migration to the Dominions.
– A cablegram from London states that in the House of Commons the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) assured Mr. Harris, a member of the Liberal party, that the dominions accepted recipients of unemployment relief or those granted part of their passage by the poor law guardians, provided that the immigrants were medically fit and of good character, and employment was waiting for them. As it would obviously pay Great Britain to ship away millions of unemployed, the Government paying the passage money or agreeing to continue the dole for a year or two, I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware of any scheme of this kind, and whether it applies to Australia?
-No person can obtain an assisted passage to Australia unless he is nominated by somebody already here, and such nomination is approved by a State Government, or is migrating in accordance with a requisition to the Commonwealth Government by a State Government. Thereisalso a limited number of boys arriving under various semipublic migration schemes.
– When does the Minister for Markets and Transport expect the Oodnadatta to Alice Springs section of the north-south railway to be completed by the contractors and handed over to his department?
– The contractors have undertaken to complete the line by the 30th June, and I understand that construction is ahead of schedule time.
Alleged Boycott by Merchants.
– Yesterday I asked the Attorney-General whether he proposed to take action against the timber merchants who are boycotting those traders who refuse to conform to the policy of the majority, and the honorable gentleman invited me to direct his attention to any section of an existing law under which action could be taken. I now ask the Attorney-General whether he is prepared to proceed under section 86a of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which provides that -
No person shall -
By any other form of boycott or threat of boycott, prevent or endeavour to prevent any person from offering or accepting employment or working in accordance with the terms of an award or order of the court.
The court, in fixing hours and wages, prescribes the minimum and not the maximum ?
– I am still unable to understand what actions by the timber merchants are considered by the honorable member to be directed against the observance of an award or order of the court. There is no Commonwealth law or award which compels a person to trade with other persons. The honorable member has referred to a boycott, but before section 86a can apply, the object of the boycott must be related to prevention of work under a current award or order of the court. As I am at present advised, there is no such association between the action referred to by the honorable member and any award or order of the court.
– The first Australian pilgrimage to the battlefields of Europe will commence in June. Will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of the Commonwealth Government being represented, and special ceremonies being arranged at Lone Pine and in France?
– The Government has taken certain steps to facilitate the visit of the pilgrims to the battlefields, particularly those on Gallipoli. The representation of the Government on the pilgrimage and the arrangement of ceremonies have been considered and the Government has decided not to take any action at present. The matter will, however, receive further consideration.
Relief of Unemployment
– Will the PrimeMinister take steps to ensure an early commencement of the works that have been approved by the Public Works Committee with a view to relieving unemployment during the winter season?
– I understand that one of the works recommended by the Public Works Committee will be submitted to the House to-day.
– As there is considerable unemployment in the various States, particularly South Australia, will the Prime Minister indicate to the House to-morrow, what public works the Government proposes to proceed with during the period that Parliament will be in recess?
– The Government has been pressing on with all works the construction of which is practicable at the present time. That policy will be continued, and, if the necessary money is available, approved works will be proceeded with.
– I read in the Melbourne Herald of yesterday that at the convention of the Country party at Warragul, certain speakers had declared that the Arbitration Court, the tariff, and high wages had cruelly re-acted on the farmers. They declared that wages should be reduced by one-fourth. I ask the Treasurer whether that is now the accepted policy of the Country party?
– The policy of the Country party in this Parliament is declared by myself.
– I have received from a prominent poultry farmer the following letter -
About a fortnight ago a cable from London appeared in the commercial column of the Melbourne press stating that the days of payable prices for Australian eggs bad gone by in London, and questioned the wisdom of exporting them again. As the production of eggs in Australia, .and in Victoria in particular, is in excess of local demands and export is looked to to take the surplus away at a payable price, this statement, if true, means a serious blow to the poultry industry, now the fourth primary industry of Victoria, and, according to Government statistics, worth about £5,000,000 a year.
Has the attention of the Minister for Markets been drawn to this cablegram? If so. are any steps being taken to safeguard this valuable industry?
– My attention has been drawn to that statement, and inquiries are being made as to whether there is any foundation for it. It is exceedingly difficult to predict the prospects on the London market for the next export season, but any information that I can obtain I shall gladly make available to the honorable member.
PURCHASE of Glassware.
– A few years ago a banquet was given at Federal Parliament House, Melbourne, to the officers of the American Fleet. Miniature Australian and American flags adorned the tables, and they bore the label “ Made in Japan.” Now we learn that a consignment of Belgian glassware for this Parliament House is held up by the Customs Department because the goods do not comply with certain regulations, and there is a prospect of their being pitched into Sydney harbour. As protection is the settled policy of this Parliament, will the Prime Minister instruct that, so far as is practicable, only goods made in Australia shall be ordered for this building?
– The honorable member’s question slightly embarrasses me. The matter to which it refers is within the jurisdiction of the House Committee of this Parliament, and if the Government were to make any suggestion about a matter of this kind it might be charged with interfering with the constitutional rights of Parliament, therefore, I do not think that I should be justified in acting as the honorable member has suggested, or even expressing an opinion upon the subject.
– I am sure that the honorable member for Maribyrnong has overlooked the fact that the present House committee has been in existence for about three weeks only. It has held only one meeting, which took place a fortnight ago. Obviously, then, the present committee is not responsible for the placing of the order to which he referred.
– I understand that the answer given by the Minister for Trade and Customs was that these glasses were obtained from Belgium because they could not be manufactured in Australia. I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether, if that is his opinion, he will inspect the glass manufacturing works in New South Wales and Victoria, where they are producing glassware equal to any that has ever been imported into this country.
– I did not make the statement attributed to me.
– During last session a bill was introduced to amend the Workmen’s Compensation Act, and in his policy speech the Prime Minister promised that the measure would be proceeded with. During this session the amending bill has been re-introduced into the Senate. As the act is obsolete, and this Parliament is likely to be in recess for several months, I ask the Prime Minister whether this House will be afforded an opportunity to deal with the bill before the adjournment?
– The Commonwealth Employees Compensation Bill is on the notice-paper of this House, and if the progress of business permits, the Government will ask the House to deal with the measure this week.
– In view of the fact that notwithstanding the agreement made some three years ago, between the British Australasian Tobacco Company Limited and the Commonwealth Government, the tobacco industry is languishing, and huge profits are being made by the British Australasian Tobacco Company, will he consider the advisability of not renewing the agreement for any further period, with a view to having the recommendation of the Tariff Board for a reduction in excise duties of 6d. per lb., given effect and the whole of the investigations and experimental work undertaken by the Commonwealth and State Governments in conjunction?
– The matter raised by the honorable member will receive consideration, though I cannot for a moment accept the statement made in the earlier part of the question.
– I ask the Treasurer and Leader of the Country Party if his attention has been directed to a paragraph which appeared in this morning’s Canberra Times?
– I rise to order. I ask, Sir, if an honorable member is in order in addressing a question to the Leader of a party in this chamber.
– I understood the honorable member to address his question to the Treasurer. A member is entitled to address to a Minister only questions relating to the administration of public affairs of which he has control, or to measures of which he has charge in this House. It has been ruled, on several occasions, that members are not entitled to question Ministers concerning utterances made or resolutions passed at meetings of outside organizations with respect to matters not connected with their administration of public business. I ask the honorable member to confine his question to matters such as I have mentioned.
– I ask the Treasurer, who happens to be Leader of the Country party, if he has read the following paragraph which appears in this morning’s Canberra Times?
By Victorian Country Party
By an overwhelming majority the fourteenth Annual Conference of the Victorian Country Party to-day, decided in favour of the abolition of the Arbitration Court.
Mr. E. Hunt (M.L.C.), of New South Wales, said - Motor cars have made some farmers unwilling to work. I know some who have never stopped running into the city since they got their cars. Selfishness and greed are the great troubles of to-day.
– If the honorable member bases his question on the proceedings at a conference. I ask him to say in what way they are directly connected with the administration of public affairs of which the Treasurer has control, or with some measure of which the Treasurer is in charge in this House. If he so connects them, his question will be in order, but not otherwise. It is, however, not the practice of Ministers to answer questions in relation to matters of policy.
– I thank you, sir, for your direction.
– The honorable member must observe it.
– As the statement which I have quoted casts a reflection on the farming community, I wish to know if there is anything in therumour that the Treasurer proposes to impose a higher road tax on motor cars ; and also to ascertain his opinion concerning the abolition of the Arbitration Court?
Question not answered.
– I rise to order. I waited with, some interest, Mr. Speaker, to hear the answer of the Treasurer to the question submitted by the honorable member for Capricornia.
– Will the honorable member state his point of order?
– Is it to be understood that if a question is unpalatable to a Minister, or to his party, he may not answer it, or that the answer, if any, may be smothered by exclamations of dissent by his supporters who do not wish it to be answered ? I should like to know what the answer is.
– The honorable member for Batman has been in this Parliament sufficiently long to know that a Minister is not compelled to answer a question, the answering of questions being within the discretion of Ministers, if n Minister refuses to answer a question, the honorable member asking it has no redress. It is, of course, disorderly for honorable members to dissent noisily when a question is being answered.
– I should like to know the opinion of the Treasurer on the suggested motor tax.
– According to a paragraph which has appeared in the Sydney Sun, the President of the United States of America, Mr. Hoover, has ordered that full publicity shall be given to income tax and business returns. I ask the Prime Minister if, in connexion with the proposed inquiry in relation to the coal-mining industry, he will see that the colliery-owners produce their income tax returns; and also that all employers appearing before the Arbitration Court produce their returns to the Arbitration Court?
– I read the newspaper paragraph to which, the honorable member refers ; but it does not in any way indicate that the President of the United States of America spoke of the publication of income tax returns. His statement referred only to the amount paid by way of rebate upon taxes levied in excess of just requirements. I understand from the second portion of the honorable member’s question that he thinks there should be a general publication of all documents, including income tax returns, before the Arbitration Court. The answer is that the law does not provide for that to be done, and I would not favour an amendment to give effect to the honorable member’s suggestion.
– Will the Prime Minister lay on the table all the communications which have passed between the Prime Minister’s Department, the Shipping Board and the Management of the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, in regard to compensation to the staff?
– I shall look into the matter to see if it will be possible to lay all the papers on the table.
– In the Melbourne Herald of Tuesday, the 19th March, there appears a cartoon entitled the “ Page family.” In the cartoon are depicted the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), a civil servant, an old-age pensioner, a war pensioner, and “a mau on the land”. There is a large pudding on the table, to which the civil servant is being liberally helped, and underneath are these words : -
The Federal Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) said yesterday that a large deficiency in the customs and excise revenue will not come out of departmental economy, but out of the road grant subsidy, old-age pension, or war pensions.
Was that statement made by the Treasurer, and, if so, what does it mean ?
– The statement is a deliberate distortion of my words. I said that, as the expenditure on the Commonwealth Public Service was about £3,000,000, it would be impossible to balance any big falling off in customs revenue, should it occur, by economizing on the salaries of our public servants, and that if Parliament desired a big reduction of expenditure it would have to consider the modification of the general policy of this country. I did not make the suggestion, however, that that should be done. All I said was that it was. a matter for Parliament:
– I ask you, sir, if it is not a fact that the rules of this House provide that any honorable member making a statement based on a newspaper report must vouch for the accuracy of the statement which he quotes?
– A question of order should be raised immediately the occasion arises; but, as this matter is of general interest, I may explain that very early in the proceedings 0f this Parliament my predecessors, with the concurrence of honorable members, allowed a great deal of latitude, and thus the practice now followed was established. On assuming office I went carefully into this matter, and decided that I would not be justified in setting aside the practice which had grown up; but the matter is one which, I think, the Standing Orders Committee might consider when the revision of the Standing Orders is before them.
– As it is apparent ‘ that the Standing Orders Committee is to meet during the recess to suggest material alterations to the Standing Orders, will the right honorable the Prime Minister seriously consider the abolition of the guillotine, and the substitution of a system of time limitation for speeches on measures brought before Parliament?
– The question should really have been directed to Mr. Speaker, who is Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee, but I think he will permit me to say that any suggestions which the honorable member has to make will, if forwarded to the committee, receive the fullest possible consideration.
– I ask you, sir, if the following statement which appears on the blank question papers for the guidance of honorable members who wish to ask questions on notice, was placed There with the authority of the Standing Orders Committee -
Questions addressed to a Minister should relate to the public affairs with which he is officially connected, to proceedings pending in Parliament, or to any matter of administration for which the Minister is responsible.
– The statement referred to by the honorable member was not issued by the authority of the Standing Orders Committee, but was printed with other information merely for the guidance of honorable members and is founded on Parliamentary practice.
Tariff Board’s Report
– Seeing that the Minister for Trade and Customs has stated that it is not the intention of the Government to take action before the House rises, to give effect to the recommendations of the Tariff Board in respect of the cotton industry, will be make the report available to honorable members and others interested in the industry, so that it may be carefully considered by them before Parliament re-assembles?
– I do not think that . it would be ici the public interest to make the report available until the intention of the Government in respect of it has been disclosed.
Accommodation for Visitors
– Is it intended during the recess to increase the accommodation available in this chamber for visitors who wish to witness the proceeding of the House. During this week Canberra was visited by a large number of visitors, including 100 journalists from all parts of Australia who attended a conference here. Their business occupied them in the daytime, but in the evenings they desired to be present, with their wives and members of their families, to listen to the Parliamentary debates. Many of them, however, were unable to find seating accommodation. In the event of additional accommodation being provided, will a certain portion of it be reserved for the use of visitors attending conferences in Canberra ?
– My attention was drawn to this subject by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins). An examination has shown that it would be very difficult without structural alterations to the chamber to allow the accommodation for visitors to be extended. During the recess the matte, will be further considered, and an endeavour will be made to re-arrange the seating accommodation with a view to providing extra room, although I fear that not very much can be done in that direction. It would, in any case, be difficult to reserve seats for visitors attending conferences here.
Tenders fob Lease.
– Can the Prime Minister inform me how many tenders have been received for the leasing of the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, and who are the tenderers? If he is not able to make a statement on the subject immediately, will he do so before the House rises, in the event of information reaching him which should be conveyed to honorable members?
– I am not at present in a position to make a statement, but if information which I can properly convey to honorable members reaches me before the House rises, I shall make it available to them.
– In the early part of the sessionI represented to the Prime Minister that a number of honorable members desired an alteration to be made in the Bitting days of Parliament. Since then all honorable members have been consulted on the subject, and I understand that they have shown an almost unanimous desire for a change to be made in accordance with my suggestion. In these circumstances, will the Prime Minister consider arranging that the sitting days during the next session shall be in accordance with the wishes of honorable members ?
– I have not yet had evidence to indicate that the position is as the honorable member has stated; but if honorable members generally desire a change to be made in the parliamentary sitting days, I do not think there will be any difficulty in making it.
– Will the Minister for Works and Railways make a point of visiting Temple Court, in Melbourne, during the recess and looking into the facilities provided there for Federal members, with a view to seeing whether better arrangements cannot be made for those who use the rooms regularly?
– I will do so.
– I understand that the Minister will also be in Adelaide during the recess. I should like him to pay a visit to the room provided for the use of Federal members at the State Parliament House to see whether some improvement cannot be made in the extraordinarily poor accommodation provided there.
– I hope that the Minister will also visit the rooms in Brisbane with the same object.
– I will look into the whole question, including the accommodation at Sydney.
No. 2 Secretariat - Canberra House - Housing - Storage Facilities
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained, and will be conveyed to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained, and will he conveyed to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Dr. MALONEY (through Mr. Fenton) asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Alleged Waste of Public Money - Suggested Abolition
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Dr. MALONEY (through Mr. Fenton) asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will the Government, during recess, put a question to the people of Australia, who have to pay for the losses on Canberra, whether the present system of Commission government should be abolished?
– The Government is not prepared to ask Parliament to pass the enabling legislation, and the country to incur the very heavy expenditure, that would be necessary to enable the course suggested by the honorable member to be followed.
Conditions at Port Adelaide.
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’squestions are as follow : -
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– Information will be obtained as to registrations of waterside workers at Port Adelaide. It is not expected that the information will make it possible to distinguish between persons described as volunteers and other persons.
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The Commonwealth Government has taken no action in relation to any of the matters mentioned in these questions, and no information is available with respect to them.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
What is the total amount expended on (a) military, (b) naval, and (c) air services each year from the 30th June, 1926, to date?
– Inquiries will be made, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member as early as possible.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
With reference to the figures showing the number of persons detained in the North Head quarantine area, supplied by the Minister on the 18th instant in reply to a question by the honorable member for Warringah, will he now state, regarding the years in question -(a) the number of patients, (b) the number of contacts, and (c) the diseases or illnesses for which the persons were detained?
– The information desired by the honorable member is being obtained.
Prime Minister, upon notice -
– As I have previously intimated, the inquiry which is being conducted by Mr. Justice Pike is for the purpose of ascertaining the position of soldier land settlement in the different States, with a view to laying down general principles upon which the Commonwealth Government might render a further measure of financial assistance to the States, so as to enable a definite solution of this problem to be arrived at Mr. Justice Pike is taking all necessary steps for informing his mind as to the position in individual States. The exact course adopted in obtaining this evidence is a matter for the discretion of Mr. Justice Pike.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Power for Pennant Hills Station
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made and a reply will be given as soon as possible.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What was the number of applications made for (a) invalid and(b) old-age pensions in 1925-26, 1926-27, 1927-28, and from 1st July, 1928, to 28th February, 1929?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained as far as possible.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– A reply will be given to the honorable member’s questions as soon as possible.
– On the 7th March the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) asked a question relative to litigation in connexion with patents in which Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited is concerned. I then said that I had no definite information as to what had taken place in New Zealand. I am now able to inform him that under agreements signed in October, 1928, the New Zealand Government pays the same royalties as will be paid in Australia from the inception of its official broadcasting service. The royalties were at the rate of 5s. per licensed listener per annum to the 1st November, 1927, and thereafter at the rate of 3s. per annum. In addition, the New Zealand Government has agreed to pay a royalty of 10 per cent, on the gross revenue derived from the operations of its coastal wireless service. These agreements will continue to operate until 31st October, 1932.
– Yesterday the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) asked if I would lay on the table of the House the papers relating to the prosecution of a former servant of the Federal Capital Commission, named McDowell. I shall lay the papers in the possession of my department on the table of the Library in the course of the day.
The following papers were presented -
Norfolk Island - Report for the year ended 30th June, 1928.
Development and Migration Commission - Report relating to the Canned Fruits Industry of Australia.
Ordered to be printed.
British Phosphate Commission - Report and Accounts for year ended 30th June, 1928 (8th year).
Customs Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 25.
No. 4 - Crown lands.
– Yesterday the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) asked a question concerning the road from Goulburn to Canberra, via Tarago and Bungendore. I have ascertained that the State authorities have made provision for an expenditure, this year, of £5,133 on purely maintenance work, with the object of keeping this road in a trafficable condition, pending the construction of the new road from Canberra to Goulburn, via Collector, the estimated cost of which is £250,000.
Fares and Freight Rates
– On the 15th March the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) asked the following question : -
I am now in a position to furnish the following replies : -
– On the 18th March the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) asked me -
I am now in a position to advise him as follow : -
Queensland. This is the only crossing place that has been closed by the Queensland authorities.
. - I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1921, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work, which has been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and in relation to which the Committee has duly reported to this House the result of its inquiries, viz.: - Construction of buildings for the Institute of Anatomy, at Canberra.
The object of building an institute of anatomy is to house the valuable specimens of Australian fauna which have been collected by Professor MacKenzie, of Melbourne, over a period of eighteen years, which he has donated to the people of Australia. The value of his gift to science, particularly to Australian science, cannot be over-estimated. The specimens willbe objects of interest, and indeed of envy, to the rest of the world. I am confident that when they are housed in the Institute of Anatomy here, Canberra will be the Mecca of scientists from all parts of the world. Professor MacKenzie is in the House this morning, and I feel that I am voicing the opinion of all honorable members, and of the Australian people generally, when I make full acknowledgment of the wonderful spirit of patriotism that he has shown.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– The Government has accepted his gift with gratitude. An agreement entered into with Professor MacKenzie provides that a School of Anatomy will be built at Canberra to house his specimens. The matter was referred to the Public Works Committee prior to the dissolution of the last Parliament. In the interval which occurred between the dissolution of Parliament and the appointment of a new committee, certain modifications were made in the plans of the proposed building, in order to give more space for the collection, and to allow for economical expansion and additions, if found necessary. The building now proposed will be an improvement on the one the plans of which were considered by the previous Public Works Committee. The total cost of the building is estimated at £96,000. The action of the Federal Capital Commission in calling for tenders for the work before the Public Works Committee had reported on the proposal is to be deprecated. That action was taken by the commission in order to provide continuity of employment for workmen in Canberra, but, except in the most urgent circumstances such action cannot be justified. The erection of this building will provide employment for from 60 to SO men. The building will be worthy of the magnificent collection which Professor MacKenzie has so generously donated to the Australian people.
Debate (on motion by Mr. McGrath) adjourned.
Question. - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair, and the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply - negatived.
Debate resumed from 14th March (vide page 1212) on motion by Sir Neville Howse -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Under this bill it is proposed to create two boards to deal with appeals in relation to war pensions - a War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal and a War Pensions Assessment Appeals Tribunal. The bill gives effect to the much belated promise made to returned soldiers by the Government on the eve of the last election. I, personally, am gratified that the Government has at last seen the light. We are told in the scriptures that “ Joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.” The decision of create an appeal board is in the nature of a death-bed repentance. For a long time honorable members on this side of the House have advocated the creation of appeal boards to deal with soldiers’ pensions. In doing so, we have correctly interpreted the dissatisfaction of returned soldiers generally with the method of deciding appeals in relation to war pensions. That considerable dissatisfaction has existed in that connexion was evidenced by the hostile reception given to the Government’s refusal last year to agree to the principle of establishing appeal boards. I am pleased with the decision of the Government, because, ever since I was elected to this chamber in 1922, 1 have striven for the creation of appeal boards and the liberalization of war pensions. Other honorable members have been active also. I mention the interest of honorable members on this side in this matter, because there has been a tendency on the part of honorable members opposite to claim a monopoly of sympathy with our returned soldiers. The liberalization of war pensions during recent years is the outcome of criticism in this House and elsewhere of the methods in operation. Largely as the result of that criticism, a Royal Commission was appointed in 1924 to inquire into the assessment of war disabilities. The recommendations of that commission certainly improved the lot of disabled soldiers, and criticism in Parliament and by outside bodies has had the further effect of inducing the Government to take a more sympathetic view of their cases. If suitable men are appointed to the appeal boards to be constituted, the existing dissatisfaction should, to a great extent, be removed. It is not so much the law that matters as the manner in which it is administered. If men capable of interpreting the will of Parliament are appointed, the utmost sympathy and consideration will be given to appellants who appear before them. On the 26th August, 1924, during debate in this House, I strongly urged the appointment of appeal boards to deal with soldiers’ pensions. The reasons I then advanced for their creation still remain. They were as follows : -
A board such as had been appointed in Great Britain and New Zealand obviated the necessity for worrying Ministers with individual cases or bringing them before the House. It has been suggested - but I am not one who makes the suggestion - that influence has played a part in determining many claims brought under the notice of the Repatriation Commission. If that is the case, it is most unfair; but the best way to prevent it is to create an appeal board on the lines that I have suggested. Such a board should consist of a representative of the Government and a representative of the ex-soldiers, with an independent chairman.
The broad principles contained in the suggestions then made by me are to be found in the bill, and, personally, I offer no objection to it. Certain amendments have been circulated, with the object of shaping the bill in keeping with the wishes expressed generally by various returned soldier organizations.
I cannot allow this occasion to pass without referring to the attitude adopted by Government supporters, on the 10th May last year, when I sought an inquiry into the need for the establishment of appeal boards. Had that motion been carried, a comprehensive investigation would then have been held. Appeal boards would have been in operation long ago, and the position would have been materially improved. My object was to make the issue an entirely non-party one; but the motion was not so received. The Government treated it as reflecting on the administration, and the motion was defeated on a party division. I have always supported appeal boards, because I desire to see the determination of exsoldiers claims removed from political control, and all suggestion of political influence as to the need for the creation of appeal boards- I cannot do better than quote some of the remarks contained in a manifesto issued by the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia, New South “Wales branch, on 16th May last year, after the defeat of my motion last year. In giving its reasons for asking for an appeal board, the league stated -
An independent board would certainly broaden the interpretation of what constitutes disabilities from war service. It would not reject the inferences that wallowing in mud and slush, and front line service, were factors in the break down of health, even if long after the war. Any impartial tribunal would weigh very strongly in a man’s favour the period of front line service, and the exposures lie had endured, as contributing to ill-health, though his medical history in the Repatriation Department’s pigeon holes showed “ All clear-“
On the occasion of the debate last year, the Minister made certain references to “ underground engineering.” I then thought, and I still consider, that his remarks were totally unjustified. He did not attempt to amplify his statements, or explain what he meant. No doubt, the implications were directed against me, and other members of the Labour party, for having presumed to bring the matter of appeal boards under the notice of the House. I make no apology for saying that, so far as appeals are concerned, I have consistently advocated them, both in and out of this Parliament. At a meeting of the Homebush Sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League in New South Wales, I first brought this matter forward. The motion that I then submitted was subsequently adopted by the State congress of the league, and, finally, it was approved by the Federal congress of that body. Perhaps, in view of the fact that I have been identified with the matter from its inception, the Minister considers it wrong in principle for me to ventilate it. That may be why he made the accusaton of underground engineering. I resent now, as I resented last year, the statement of the honorable gentleman on that occasion.
I feel justified in referring to this matter, because, particularly at election times, members of the Government are very ready to misrepresent the attitude of honorable members on this side to the problems affecting returned soldiers, and also to other subjects. Last year the Minister strongly assailed me for bringing the proposal forward. He displayed then what I might describe as an arrogant spirit more in keeping with a military environment than the atmosphere of this chamber. He went so far as to threaten to resign from the Ministry, so it is stated, if my motion were carried. He became almost hysterical in condemning me for introducing the subject. He assumed the role that he alone was competent to speak for returned soldiers. He suggested that he, of all men in Australia, was most competent to determine the effect of war service on the health of the troops. Now there is a marked change of policy on his part and that of the Government. The Minister (Sir Neville Howse), on 10th May last year, became extremely violent in condemning the whole principle of an appeal board. Let me read a few extracts from his speech on that occasion. He said -
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. 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. . . . Any member who voted for the motion, and thus permitted the appointment of an appeal board, would be doing an injustice to the returned men. I shall not assist in doing what I consider to be an injustice to my comrades.
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 mon who fought so bravely against a ruthless enemy.
That is the manner in which this proposal was greeted only ten months ago. The honorable member for Denison at that time was Sir John Gellibrand, and the honorable member for Herbert was Dr. Nott. They, amongst others, condemned the proposal. Both were defeated at the last general election. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) damned my proposition with faint praise ; but I submit that he did not openly and directly oppose the inquiry I sought.
While I welcome the changed attitude of the Minister, I must look for some reason for it, and I can only attribute it to the fact that the Government misunderstood the opinions and sentiments of the returned soldier organizations outside. The New South Wales branch of the league circularized Parliament and the newspapers of this country, condemning the Government’s attitude. There was a vigorous controversy, in which the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) participated, and in which he gave his benediction to the spirited and pugnacious efforts of the New South Wales branch of the Soldiers’ League in its endeavour to have its policy carried into legislative effect. It is even said that at a meeting of the Katoomba-Leura sub-branch of the league the former honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) was invited to be present to explain his reason for voting against my motion. The right honorable member for North Sydney was also present. The Minister for Repatriation should also have been invited to attend.
– They did invite him, but he had a bad cold !
– I understand that at that meeting vigorous and heated discussion in which the right honorable member for North Sydney vigorously participated, occurred, and the former honorable member for Macquarie finally produced a letter from the Prime Minister, in which it was indicated that the Government would agree to the appointment of an appeal board. As a matter of fact, the Government surrendered to the volume of public opinion outside because certain seats were jeopardized. Tha Minister himself showed that, by embarking upon a frantic rush round the suburbs of Sydney, addressing various sub-branches of the returned soldiers’ league, where, I believe, he met with varying receptions. Consequently, this last minute election promise to grant an appeal board was purely the outcome of the pressure from the returned soldier organizations. It was a justification of the pugnancy and determination on the part of those bodies in pressing their claims to a satisfactory conclusion. The Government now introduces this bill. I consider it essential, before examining it to make these few introductory remarks even if they do arouse the ire of the honorable member for Fawkner.
With the general principles of the bill I am in agreement. It is based partly on the British system of deciding war pensions appeals. In England, two boards function, similar to those proposed under this bill. No doubt the separation of the functions of those two bodies will expedite the hearing of appeals. I have confirmed what the Minister has already said - that this bill meets the wishes, in the main, of the returned soldier organizations, although certain amendments are suggested. In Canada and New Zealand, only one board hears appeals. It deals with both the granting of pensions and the decision of appeals against assessments.
– Not in Canada.
– According to my perusal of the Canadian act it does.
– The board there does not deal with assessments at all; it deals only with entitlements.
– I accept the Minister’s correction. In New Zealand, the board deals with both matters. There is one valuable and important proviso in the Canadian Act, to which I wish to direct special attention, .and I hope that the Minister will be able to give a satisfactory assurance of his intention in the matter. In Canada, there is provision for a soldiers’ adviser, whose function it is to assist applicants for pensions with advice, and in the preparation of their claims and appeals. To my mind, when we are introducing a system of this description, and have to deal with a large body of men who are not thoroughly educated in some instances, it would facilitate the hearing of appeals if we had an officer to whom they could go who would assist and advise them and watch over and protect their interests. “We have that principle in King’s rules and regulations in regard to courts-martial. Any accused person is entitled to the services of an officer who is described a? the “ soldiers’ friend.” From personal experience, I know that there is considerable difficulty in that applicants for pensions who go to the Repatriation Department have papers placed in their hands, and are told to go away to fill them in. They approach members of this Parliament, who are handicapped by being unable to peruse the files, and many soldiers are disheartened because of the treatment received when their applications are lodged. When appeal boards are established, an officer should be detailed from the department, or specifically appointed to carry out these functions in each state. The officers of departments, as a rule owe a duty to their own departments. It should be the duty of some officer in each State to watch over and protect the interests of appellant soldiers, and to advise and help them in every possible way. Frequently, long delays occur in deciding pension appeals. I do not know what causes those delays, but sometimes months elapse. If there were such an officer as I have suggested, it would be his task to pursue the inquiry to its conclusion, to prevent those unnecesary delays which inflict hardship upon the applicant, and to accelerate appeals in every way. Section 7 of the Canadian Department of Soldiers’ Re-establishment Act provides -
The Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Minister, appoint . . . in each unit or district of the department an ex-member of the forces . . . whose duties shall be generally to advise and assist exmembers of the forces in matters pertaining to re-establishment, treatment and pension, and to perform such other duties as may be prescribed by the Minister.
Under the Canadian Pensions Act, there is a provision whereby an applicant may at his own expense be heard before the board through an outsider; or he may be assisted throughout the proceedings by counsel or a representative other than the official soldiers’ adviser, again at his own expense. The act also provides that appellants against the decisions of the Pensions Department can avail themselves of the advocacy and assistance of the official soldiers’ adviser. As a matter of fact, all papers relating to appeals are forwarded to the official soldiers’ adviser at the inception of the appeal.
In May last year the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) debating the motion that I had moved, expressed the following view, with which I am heartily in accord -
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 o 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.
I suggest to the Minister that the State repatriation boards, which are more or less of a farce, and a waste of public money, should be abolished, and that the money should be expended in each branch of the Repatriation Department throughout the Commonwealth, who would be entirely free from control or undue influence on the part of the Deputy Commissioner or other departmental affairs.
In his second-reading speech, the Minister suggested that certain regulations would be made. It was my intention to move an amendment designed to secure the appointment of advisers, but the character of the bill does not permit me to do so at this stage. .1 hope that the Minister, when he is replying, will state that it is his intention to make that provision by regulation. I have circulated a number of amendments, every one of which has been inspired by outside organizations of returned soldiers with which I am associated, either officially or in a private capacity. I take this opportunity to express my regret that, before introducing this bill, the Government did not consult the Opposition. It is claimed that it is a non-party measure ; but its progress through this Chamber would have been more greatly facilitated had our suggestions been taken into consideration when the measure was being drafted. Possibly the Minister would have seen the wisdom of incorporating some of them in the bill, although, judging by the amendments which he has circulated this morning, he has adopted that course to a certain extent.
– I have accepted the majority of them.
– Before I conclude I shall review certain statements that were made by the Minister in his secondreading speech. In his introductory remarks he referred to the procedure that is followed in dealing with applications for pensions and appeals, and instanced the work of the State repatriation boards; but he did not indicate what benefits or advantages were derived by returned soldiers from those boards. It would be interesting to know in how many instances the State repatriation boards have been responsible for the variation of decisions given by the department. According to the expressed opinions of returned soldiers’ organizations, those boards have been of absolutely no value to the ex-soldier.
– The composition of a State board will not allow it to alter a decision of a department.
– That is so; its composition includes two departmental officers. The system is farcical in the extreme. While these boards continue to be so unevenly balanced, and of such a subservient character, they can serve no useful purpose.
Criticism can also be directed against the existing method of deciding appeals. The medical advisory boards merely examine the files; they never see the applicants. Their decisions are arrived at solely upon what the files contain. In that connexion it is important to rem ember that the Royal Commission on War .Disabilities, which presented its report to this House in 1924, conveyed the following important conclusion to the Government : -
Your commissioners ure 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.
It is clear, therefore, that the determination of a pension appeal from an examination of a file inflicts an injustice upon the appellant. That is a further argument in favour of removing the burden of proof from the soldier and placing it on the department. The opinion of the War Disabilities Commission that I have just read is one of the most important contained in its report, and immediately it was issued there should have been a radical alteration in the methods adopted by the department.
The Minister has also made much of the benefits that have resulted from his intervention in the determination of appeals. I thank the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) for having directed attention last year to the fact that, as a matter of strict law, such an intervention is illegal. It was never contemplated by the act; but, admittedly, it has the sanction of honorable members of this Parliament, in so far as the intention is to determine appeals with liberality. The appointment of an appeal board, however, will probably provide a much better method of determining appeals. The Minister is well aware that very strong criticism has been made of ministerial intervention by the New South Wales Branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League. In a circular which it issued that league said, in effect, “ The Minister says that diggers do not want an appeal board, that in himself they have something better than an appeal board. He publicly issues an invitation to every digger and dependant whose pension claim has been rejected to appeal to him. He issued this invitation to the New South Wales branch of the league some time ago. Thirteen cases were submitted io him; thirteen replies were received, each mi exact replica of the other, not one having different wording, confirming the previous departmental decision.” How amusing! I understand that the Minister took strong exception to that statement-, but perhaps it might he as well to “ Let the dead past bury its dead.” The proposed boards will obviate criticism of that nature in the future. It would bo very interesting, howover, to know in how many appeal cases the Minister has been responsible for having the decision of the Repatriation Commission varied.
The honorable gentleman has also made much capital out of the reforms which have been instituted since he assumed office. I take this opportunity of saying that in the initial stages of repatriation, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), by means of legislative policy, did more for the well-being of returned soldiers than has been done by any of his successors. Furthermore, every liberalization of war pensions has been the outcome not of ministerial direction, but of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on War Disabilities appointed in 1924, and the representations of honorable members in this chamber, particularly those of my colleagues the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) and the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates). I do not know of one concession that has been given voluntarily by the Government. The Minister particularized the acceptance of syphilis as a disability caused by the war, the payment of a permanent pension in tubercular cases, and the liberal treatment of blinded ex-soldiers. Each of those was the outcome of the recommendations of the royal commission.
– I did not refer to the blinded ex-soldiers.
– The honorable gentleman spoke of the other two cases.
– And added a third.
– Those concessions were recommended before the Minister assumed office. I feel obliged to make these observations. I recognize the good work the Minister has done in certain directions; but, as a member of the Labour party, I cannot allow the impression to go abroad that the Minister and his colleagues are the only persons who can ensure a fair deal for the men who fought in the war, particularly in view of the statements that arc made at election time concerning this party. Last year, the honorable member for Adelaide moved a motion concerning tubercular soldiers, and was instrumental in having their pensions liberalized by the elimination of an anomaly that then existed.
There is one important statement of the Minister to which I wish to direct attention. By implication, if not directly, he said that there has been an increase in the number of war pensioners. That is not the case ; but even if it were, it would not affect the position one iota. So long as there are in this community persons who are permitted to draw interest on war bonds, the returned soldier is entitled to the greatest degree of liberality which the nation can extend to him. There has been no increase, but on the contrary a pronounced decrease, in the number of returned soldier pensioners. I shall quote and analyse figures that were included in the last report of the Repatriation Commission. They not only indicate the inaccuracy of the Minister’s suggestion, but also illustrate the terrible wastage that is caused by war. They furnish the strongest plea that could bc made for giving the returned soldier the benefit of any doubt which may exist. The report shows that in 1920 there were 90,3S9 incapacitated soldiers receiving pensions, 86,448 of their pensionable dependants, and 48,743 dependants of deceased members receiving pensions, making a total of 225,5S0 pensions paid. That was the peak period, since when there has been a gradual decline. In 1921, the number of incapacitated soldiers who received pensions dropped to 79,491. That big decline was no doubt due to deaths, and the cancellation of pensions for other reasons. The number of dependants, however, had increased, as a result of marriage and the birth of children, to 93,995 ; while the number of dependants of deceased members had increased to 49,051, making the total 222,537. In 1922 the pensions to incapacitated soldiers again fell to 76,249, but the dependants had increased to the enormous total of 102,046, whilst the pensions paid to dependants of deceased members had declined to 47,077, making a total of 225,372.
– There is an increase in the total.
– Undoubtedly, but those figures relate to the dependants and not to the soldiers themselves. We must regard this matter from the aspect of the disabled soldier. This Parliament and Government, as a matter of policy, have decreed that his wife and children are pensionable.
– That means an increased number of pensioners.
– That is admitted, but it does not mean an increase in the number of returned soldier pensioners. The public has the impression that our liability in regard to ex-soldiers’ pensions is increasing. That is wrong, and I wish to correct it. For the following five years there was a decline in the pensions of ex-soldiers until the last financial year, ended 30th June, 192S, when the number of pensions paid to incapacitated soldiers was 72,067, or 17,722 less than in 1920.
– Is that the lowest for any year?
– There has been a slight fluctuation in the last five years, but it is not worth considering. During the last financial year the pensions paid to the dependants increased to 155,809, of which number 55,403 were for wives, and 95,220 for children, the balance being for other relatives. The increase over the number of dependants in 1920, which wa3 86,44S, is therefore 69,361, or nearly double. That is where the greatest burden of liability exists in the main. On the other hand, the dependants of deceased members have declined to 38,194, as compared with 48,743 in 1920, representing a decrease of nearly 10,000. Pensions must continue to increase so long as soldiers marry - and a large number are still unmarried - and raise families, because every additional child is pensionable. The ex-soldier, in the raising of families, has done his duty in peace as he did in war. The liability in regard to exsoldier pensioners themselves must, however, decrease because of deaths arising from disabilities due to war service. The total number of deaths since the armistice is not contained in the repatriation re port, but 2,252 pensioners died during the last financial year, so that it would appear that about 25,000 pensioners have died since the armistice, a period of ten years. This makes the total deaths to date, including the 60,000 who died during hostilities, 85,000, or about one in every four of those who served abroad. To this total must be added the thousands of others who have died through causes other than those arising from war service, so that it would be safe to say that over 100,000 of our soldiers are now dead. This represents almost one in every three. If we add to this total the 72,667 ex-soldiers now receiving pensions, we will perceive that nearly half of the Australian Imperial Forces is dead, disabled, or receiving war pensions. That indicates the strain and stress experienced by the men who served with the Australian Imperial Forces. It is recognized that that army more than any other waa subjected to continuous service because of its superb fighting qualities. Because of that, the country should at all times give the utmost consideration to any question of doubt as to whether the disability of an ex-soldier is due to war service or otherwise. The Minister referred to pensions granted last year, and mentioned the total as being 891. It would be interesting to know how many of those represent the restoration of pensions previously cancelled. Obviously, cases of gun-shot wounds amounting to 132, mentals under restraint amounting to 24, and war neurosis accounting for 74, would come within this category, as would the everrecurring tubercular cases, amounting to 108. Many of the men who went to the Front were from 20 to 22 years of age. Now that ten years have elapsed, weaknesses are developing because of the exposure and strain that they underwent at the war. As instancing the magnitude of the operations of repatriation, the commission’s report reveals that about 54,000 claims for pensions have been rejected by that body since its inception. Of the new claims amounting to 13,547 which were granted last year, only 891 were in respect of returned soldiers, the balance comprising 2,354 claims for wives, 9,863 for children, and 439 for other dependants. The overwhelming preponderance of. claims now being considered are in relation to wives and children. There are about 10,000 members of the Australian Imperial Forces who are unmarried. If they marry they are likely to be the fathers of many children. Consequently this liability must continue to increase.
I have quoted these figures so they may be placed on record to enable honorable members to have a better understanding of the problem which we are discussing. The Minister stated that the 22 suggestions of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ League were embodied in the bill, with the exception of a few minor points, or else provision had been made by regulation to put them into effect. We should be advised as to the nature of those regulations. One of the great problems that the bill does not attempt to solve is that of onus of proof. This is a vexed and burning question, especially among those who have not been able to establish their claims for pensions. The amendments that. I have circulated provide for the mitigation of the provisions of the bill. My desire is that the appeal tribunal shall be flexible and completely untrammelled ; having the right to make decisions with the utmost liberality. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has circulated an amendment which is certainly worthy of serious consideration by honorable members, because once having disposed of this bill we shall not have a further opportunity to discuss the subject. It is extremely difficult for us to draft a suitable and adequate amendment to meet the position in regard to onus of proof. The question of aggravation due to war service is often arbitrarily decided. In the case of one returned soldier who returned from the war with tuberculosis, the commission granted him a pension, at the same time stating that there was evidence that he had contracted the disease before he enlisted. He was, therefore, granted a pension during the period of aggravation arising from war service, and then his pension was arbitrarily terminated. The last information that I received about that man was that he was dying of tuberculosis; yet the department rejected my appeal on his behalf. Up to the present there has been no means of ventilating grievances in respect of war pensions other than in this House. The creation of these boards will afford another avenue. The board should not have power to reduce pensions. The words “ substantial justice “ and “ reasonable doubt “ should be eliminated. The words “reasonable doubt,” if argued before a court, would probably give the lawyers an opportunity for discussion for weeks and weeks. If there is to be a doubt let it be final, and not qualified by the word “ reasonable.” Other amendments will be introduced by honorable members. I make the suggestion to the Minister that there should be some provision for the medical treatment of disabled men regardless of whether their disabilities arise from war service or not.
– That does not come within the scope of the bill; but I shall make a note of the honorable member’s suggestion.
– I understand that in France and other countries exsoldiers may receive special treatment at military hospitals regardless of whether their disability arises from war service or otherwise.
I am greatly pleased with this measure, because I feel that it will confer a lasting benefit upon the returned soldiers. It will in a large degree banish from the parliamentary arena the everlasting grievances and complaints that honorable members make on behalf of applicants for pensions. The success of the scheme will undoubtedly depend upon the individuals whom the Government appoints to carry out this responsible duty.
– The honorable member is very optimistic.
– The establishment of the appeal tribunal, although it may be in the nature of an experiment, must represent a measure of reform, and be an improvement upon the present administration.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– I have no doubt that every other honorable member in this House welcomes with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) the introduction of this measure. The ‘Government is to be congratulated upon its early fulfilment of the promises made to the people that legislation for the establishment of a system of war pensions appeal would bc brought down as soon as possible this year. The Government was also extraordinarily well advised in determining to ascertain first how similar systems have operated in other countries of the world. The Governments of Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and, I believe, the United States of America and South Africa, were asked to supply the fullest particulars in relation to their various systems, and of any difficulties or weaknesses which may have been disclosed during the years that they have been in operation. The Prime Minister and the Minister in charge of the measure also urged the Federal President of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia to get into touch with organizations representing ex-service men in those countries, and to ascertain the difficulties and weaknesses that from their point of view existed in the various systems of appeal established. Every honorable member must agree that that was a very wise procedure. I understand that in every case information was readily furnished, and I feel that the result is that the system of war pension appeals which this Parliament is now setting up will bc based on the soundest and most generous footing. The Minister has been able to take advantage of the experience of other countries, and Australia should benefit by it. I, personally, am convinced that the system of appeals provided for in this bill, with some amendments which I hope will be agreed to when the committee stage is reached, will be acceptable to the great majority of those vitally concerned, our exservice men and their dependants. We cannot forget, however, that much will depend upon the personnel of these tribunals, and also, of course, on the administration of the law, when passed.
I have sometimes been asked by persons keenly interested whether I am sure in my own mind that an appeal board system would be of advantage to exservice men and their dependants. I certainly would not have advocated the establishment of such boards if I had not believed that that would be so; but I desire briefly to state the reasons which have caused me to think for some time past that the Government would be wise in establishing such a system in Australia. W e must remember that there is no court in the British Empire, with the sole exception of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, from whose decisions there is not the right to appeal. As the years pass, and we are able to view matters in their true perspective, the story of repatriation iu Australia will undoubtedly be acknowledged to be a very fine effort. There is no precedent for what Has been done. The Government made a determined effort to re-establish its ex-service men in civilian life. Mistakes, of course, have been made ; but has there ever been any great undertaking in regard to which mistakes have not been made? We can all quote individual eases of hardship with which we have come into contact, and, perhaps, in some instances, grave injustice has been done; but taking our repatriation efforts as a whole, they compare favorably with those of any other country. I do not claim that we have been more generous than any other country, but we have been quit as generous, and with the passing of this measure we shall be in the lead in what is being done for disabled ex-service men. and for the care of their dependants and of the dependants of those who have died. But however generous and liberal a scheme of repatriation may be, there will, as time goes on, be found cases - hard cases - not provided for by legislation.
From the outset this work has been regarded as a great national undertaking, which should not in any way provoke party antagonism, and I believe that the people of Australia have been behind the Government in its efforts to treat our ex-service men in the most generous way possible, having regard to the resources of the country and the future welfare of the community. I hope that honorable members will continue to treat the subject as a non-party matter.
I shall briefly mention now my reasons for considering that a war pensions appeal system is advisable. The people of Australia, on a population basis, have borne a heavier burden of repatriation expenditure than any other country, and they have done it willingly. Comparisons are often odious; but, in comparing what Australia and Canada have done in this matter, I do not wish the comparison to be so; it is my desire merely to show the relative burdens which have been undertaken by those two countries. Four hundred and eighteen thousand and fifty men embarked from Canada to serve overseas during the Great War, and the deaths that occurred on service in the Canadian forces numbered 51,650. Three hundred and thirty-one thousand nine hundred and fifty men embarked as members of the Australian Imperial Forces, and of that number 60,200 were killed or died of wounds or sickness while on active service. At the 30th June, 192S, 72,667 incapacitated ex-soldiers were in receipt of war pensions in Australia, while 48,027 were receiving pensions in Canada. If one includes the pensions payable to the dependants of incapacitated soldiers, the number is 155,809 in Australia, and 93,955 in Canada. There were also 38,194 pensions paid to dependants of deceased soldiers in Australia, and 31,393 in Canada. The total annual pension liability at the date mentioned was £7,485,5S2 in Australian and £6,846,000 in Canada, showing an increased annual liability in Australia, as compared with the Dominion of Canada, of £649,453. In the four years ended the 30th June, 192S, 2,766 Australian war pensioners died, or on the average approximately 700 per annum. I think that the honorable member for Reid included in his figures all pensioners who had died, including the dependants of ex-service men. There is no record of the number of ex-members of the Australian Imperial Forces, other than pensioners, who have died since the war. But, notwithstanding the large number of war pensioners who have passed away, our pensions liabilities continue to increase, as 891 new claims for war pensions were accepted during the year ending 30th June, 1928.
– Although that is the number of new claims submitted, it includes many from ex-service men who have previously appealed against the decision of the repatriation commissioners.
– I understood that they were absolutely new claims that had not previously come before the Repatriation Department.
– Then how does the honorable member account for the fact that many of the claimants are suffering from the effect of gunshot wounds.
– One does not like to refer to his own experience on active service; but, when I returned from the war more than ten years ago, I was passed as being perfectly fit. Like many others, I was anxious to get away from everything military, and wanted to get home, so when asked how I felt I assured the authorities that I was quite right. I now find that, because of gunshot wounds, which I received on Gallipoli, I shall probably need the assistance of a member of the profession of which the Minister for Repatriation is an ornament. The honorable member for Reid will realize that many mcn suffering from gunshot wounds sustained at the war may now be applying for pensions for the first time. Those S91 new claims have involved payments of 13,547 new grants to ex-service men and their dependants. In the United Kingdom the position is different, and the number of ex-soldiers on pension is decreasing. The reason for that is that a limit, terminating on the 31st August, 192S, was set to the period within which ex-members of the British. Forces could apply for war pensions. There were then about 1,000,000 pensioners, including 4S9,500 ex-service men. Still, the British Government has found it necessary in some cases to continue the right of certain applicants to appeal, particularly when suffering from neurasthenia and similar complaints. But the official records indicate that the cost to the British Ministry for Pensions has been decreasing steadily for some time past, for, while in 1921 the annual payments amounted to £106,000,000, in 1928 they were only £57,000,000. During the ten years immediately following the armistice, it cost the British Government £7S7,000,000 for war pensions, which is striking evidence of the costliness and tragedy of war, that amount being actually greater than that of the national debt of Great Britain when the war began in 1914. France during the same period paid in pensions £450,000,000, and Germany £350,000,000 ; and the casualties suffered by those countries wore greater than those in the ranks nf the British forces.
Our war pension liabilities continue to increase, despite the death of pensioners, the re-marriage of widows and the adolescence of children. Our annual pension lull has increased from £7,3S6,S42 during the year ending 30th June, 1921 to 47,690,890 during the year ending 30th June, 192S, and it will continue 10 increase. This no doubt is due to the fact that since the present Minister of Repatriation has been in charge of the department, he has, as it were, constituted himself an appeal board, and has accepted liability for claims which otherwise probably would not have been successful. The honorable member for Reid( Mr. Coleman) mentioned this increase in our war pension liabilities, and the report from which he quoted shows definitely that it has been substantial during the last four years. This war pensions expenditure is a burden which the people of Australia have always displayed a willingness to carry, and they have shown that they expect the most sympathetic administration as regards exsoldiers and their dependants.
There is no time limit to claims for war pensions under our legislation. An ex-service man may at any age, if he can connect his disability with war service, claim a pension. I may, perhaps, be permitted to mention one case which came under my notice some time ago. It was that of an ex-soldier suffering from tuberculosis. This man, I may add, was never in the field ; but that was through no fault of his own. He developed tuberculosis some years after the war. His was an extraordinarily sad case, and when it came under my notice I made a most determined effort, as many other honorable members have done iu respect of deserving cases that have been brought under their notice, to have this man’s claim for a war pension considered. Tn the end, he got it, but only after the Minister had succeeded in locating the medical officer who had attended him while overseas. The decision in his favour, I understand, turned on evidence that his chest had been painted with ifr. D. Cameron. iodine. The medical officer who attended him stated definitely that only the chests of those who were wounded or had some chest trouble such as bronchitis, pneumonia, were painted with iodine. This was accepted as the necessary connecting link between his post-war trouble and his war service.
In our legislation there is, as I have stated, no time limit within which an ex-soldier may apply for and receive a pension, if he can connect his disability with war service. There is no time limit in Canada, New Zealand, or South Africa. In the United States of America the time limit is five years; in France, the time limit expired on the 30th December, 192S; in Italy, it expired in 1923, and in Germany, two years after the cessation of hostilities.
Speaking in this House on the 8th March, 1928, and again on the 10th May, 1928, I urged the Government to consider seriously the advisability of following the example of Canada and New Zealand, and to establish a tribunal, to which ex-soldiers could appeal from any decision of the Repatriation Commission. I then expressed a doubt whether, without an amending and consolidating act appeal boards would achieve the object which we all desired. I have urged the Government in the past to make provision for exsoldiers who, because of some war disability which prevents them from earning a remunerative livelihood, have become, or may become, a charge upon the State. In quite a number of cases it is almost impossible for these men to make a living. They are like so much human flotsam washed backwards and forwards in the changing tide of human progress. They are suffering from definite war disability; but are not entitled to full pension payments. The Canadian Government makes provision for this class of ex-service man, and I am convinced that we shall have to consider the problem sooner or later. In Canada, ex-service men in this category receive quarters and maintenance, also medical treatment when necessary. I have also, on other occasions, suggested that the Minister should consider the adoption of the American system under which all ex-soldiers are given free hospital treatment. The military hospitals in the United States of
America are open at all times to ex-service men irrespective of whether their disability is recognized or not as being due to war service. It would, I think, be wise to permanently assess war pensions subject to an appeal at any time and with the provision for a voluntary periodical examination to ascertain whether the condition of the pensioner had retrogressed.
I know the Government is anxious to do everything possible for the welfare of exsoldiers so as to assist them to re-establish themselves as citizens of the Commonwealth. Consideration will, I hope, be given to these points which I have raised and regarding which I feel very strongly.
Entitlement is to-day the greatest repatriation problem, bound up of course with the questions of attributability and onus of proof. It is the knowledge that every day it becomes more difficult, in an increasing number of cases, to connect disability with war service that has made me so strong an advocate of the creation of an independent tribunal to which an applicant for a war pension may appeal should he so desire. If, after the tribunals have been created and have functioned, it becomes evident that certain amendments to our legislation are necessary in order that our appeal system may function in accordance with the expressed intention and wishes of this Parliament then the Government should, without delay, bring down a bill making the necessary amendments to the act.
I think it can be claimed that our legislation has, on the whole, been fairly satisfactory. There has not been an amendment of the law since 1923. The proposal to appoint an appeal board is not a reflection upon the Repatriation Commission, which consists of three exsoldiers. It is unthinkable that a commission so constituted would deal otherwise than sympathetically with ex-service men. Nor is the proposal a reflection upon the Medical Advisory Board, which consists of four of the most eminent members of the profession. Nor is the proposal a reflection upon the present Minister for Repatriation. I believe with the Prime Minister, that had Sir Neville Howse not been available, it would have been necessary years ago to appoint appeal boards.
In Canada the system of appealing to an independent tribunal has been in existence since 1923, and is working to the satisfaction of all concerned. Nevertheless, it has been found necessary to review the Canadian Pensions Act every year. The Canadian appeal system, I may add, is entirely independent of the ordinary departmental administration. The appeal board is appointed, not by the Minister for Repatriation, but by the Minister for Justice, and the latter Minister had charge of the bill in the Canadian Parliament. In Great Britain also, the appeal tribunals are under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chancellor, not the Minister for Pensions.
Under this bill the Entitlement Tribunal will be responsible to Parliament through the Minister. I have given notice of an amendment which has been circulated, and which I believe will, if accepted, remove any doubt from the minds of ex-service men concerning the absolute independence of the Entitlement Tribunal so far as the Repatriation Commission is concerned. I believe it is wise to make this provision, and that it will make the appeal system more acceptable.
– Surely much will depend upon the personnel of the tribunal.
– I have already said that very much will depend upon the personnel of the tribunal and also upon the administration of the act. We all realize that, and I sincerely trust that the Government will be able to get the very best men for this tribunal. There are, of course, differences between our system of administration and that which has been adopted in Canada. There are no State Boards in Canada. The whole system of repatriation is centralized. Under the Canadian Act the appellant has the right of personal appearance before the tribunal. That right is also given under the bill now before us. Entitlement is recognized as unquestionably the main subject in pension appeals. Repeated requests have been made to the Canadian Government to provide assessment tribunals such as those for which provision is made in the bill now before us, but the Dominion Government maintains that they are impracticable. 1 hope that our efforts will prove that there is nothing impracticable about them and that they will give entire satisfaction. If that should prove to be the case, I feel sure that the Canadian Government will be disposed to set up similar tribunals, because of the enormous amount of work that has to be done in the hearing of appeals. In Canada it is not possible to consider more than 2,000 appeals per annum, and a royal commission has been investigating the matter. It will, I firmly believe, recommend the establishment, of assessment tribunals. The Canadian Board of Appeal is directly responsible to Parliament and the chairman of the board was formerly the chief medical officer to the Board of Pensions. With all due respect for our Minister in charge of repatriation, I do not think that a similar appointment would be aceptable to ex-service men in Australia. No reflection is intended regarding the chief medical officer of our Repatriation Department; but there is a definite desire that medical men should not sit upon the entitlement board. The Canadian act allows one appeal only, but there is a proviso that should fresh evidence of a material nature be submitted within one year, another appeal can be made if the Board of Pension Commissioners, after considering the fresh evidence, again reject the application. If that appeal is again rejected, the applicant and the Board of Pensions must accept the decision as final. In our bill there is no such limit. An ex-member of the forces who can bring forward fresh evidence may continue appealing until he reaches any age, and this, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) must recognize, is most generous. It is a provision that should be acceptable to the ex-members of the forces. As a matter of fact, from what I am able to gather from communications I have received from the organizations in Queensland, they are most agreeably surprised that the Government has found it possible to establish assessment tribunals in each State as well as the entitlement tribunal- Distant States such as Queensland and Western. Australia will derive the greatest advantage from this. In the Canadian and New Zealand Acts provision is made that the hoard must not remain in one place, but must visit the large centres of population. There is, however, always a tendency for a board of this description to settle down in one spot, with the result that outlying centres do not see much of it. These assessment tribunals will save a tremendous amount of time.
The jurisdiction of the Canadian board is limited to the direct question of entitlement. It has no power to assess the rate of pension. The right of appeal to the board lies with the soldier or his dependant only. It is also interesting to note that the expenditure incurred in connexion with the Canadian board for the last year for which figures are available was £30,000. We can, therefore, appreciate the fact that the system proposed in the bill before us is likely to be expensive ; but, as I have previously said, the Government has not considered expense when anything could be done to improve the conditions of ex-service men and their dependants. I have already pointed out that the provisions for establishing assessment tribunals will prove acceptable, as also the generous provision which permits the applicant to appeal from the decision of the commission as many times as he chooses to do so if he can bring forward the necessary fresh evidence. It does not remain with the commission to finally say whether the evidence brought forward is or is not fresh and relevant. The ex-service man can appeal to the tribunal upon this question if he desires to do so. That provision should also give satisfaction. The assessment tribunals set up in each State will consist of a chairman, who will be an ex-soldier with legal knowledge - I think he is required to possess the right to practice in the High Court or the Supreme Court of a State - and two medical men, who will be selected from a panel. This method of appointing assessment tribunals has proved most satisfactory in Great Britain. The willing services of the greatest specialists in the land have always been available. I have heard from the officer actually responsible for the appointment of these tribunals that the system adopted has worked splendidly. On appeals, for instance, in cases of heart trouble, the services of men like Lord Dawson, probably the greatest heart specialist in the world, ure always available. These eminent men have always been willing to help in the work of deciding what is fair and just. I am easy in my mind that the members of the medical profession in Australia will be equally ready to help in this work. The Minister will have no difficulty in getting them in each State, and in every centre, to sit on these tribunals and help the work of repatriation in. every way possible, and the applicant will always be given the benefit of any doubt. Of course, it is essential that no medical practitioner associated with the Repatriation Commission, whether he be a specialist or not, should sit on one of these tribunals. Provision is made in the bill to enable the commission to increase the pension of a man who has already appeared before an assessment tribunal if subsequently it is found that his condition has become worse. The commission can grant the increased pension without further reference to the assessment tribunal; but it has no right, so far as I can gather, to decrease any pension once it has been assessed by an assessment tribunal.
Sub-section 2 of proposed new section 45 w is a most important one, dealing as it does with the great problems of attributability and onus of proof. It definitely sets out that an appellant shall have the benefit of any reasonable doubt when appealing to the entitlement or assessment tribunals. The question of onus of proof has been the subject of long debate in the Parliaments of New Zealand and Canada, and it is most interesting to read what occurred in 1923, when this legislation was introduced in the Parliaments of both Dominions. Practically the whole of the discussions centred round this most difficult problem. In August, 1923, the legislation for the creation of an appeal board was introduced in the New Zealand House of Representatives by Sir Heaton Rhodes, the Minister in charge of war pensions. When bringing down the bill, ho said that one of the greatest difficulties in connexion with the payment of war pensions was attributability. Doubts were expressed during the debate as to whether any lawyer could draw up a clause to meet the position. It was considered almost impossible to do so.
– It is not an easy matter.
– Do we desire to bring about such a position that an exsoldier well up in years, when he is, say, 60, 70 or 80 years old, and when he is afflicted with some disability such as senile tuberculosis, may be able to claim that he would not have been so afflicted if he had not been to the war? He might not have any proof that his trouble was in any way connected with war service. The question is whether it is the intention of this Parliament or the wish of the soldiers themselves that it should be possible for a man in such circumstances and at any age to become a charge on the country - whether a man should have the right, years after he has left the forces, to claim that he is suffering a disability from his war service, and the onus of proof must, rest on the commission to prove the contrary. I do not think that the ex-service men would ask this. Throughout the New Zealand debate it was generally recognized that the difficulties in connexion with this problem were innumerable. The Leader of the Opposition in the New Zealand House of Representatives talked at length on the matter. He welcomed the sub-clause which provided -
On any such appeal the Appeal Board may receive evidence as it thinks fit, whether of a strictly legal nature or not.
I think that provision is in our bill. Another honorable member in the New Zealand House moved an amendment -
Provided that the board shall not reject an application if in its opinion there is reasonable presumption that the death or disability was due to or aggravated by the applicant’s employment as a member of the forces.
I have not succeeded in ascertaining the difference between “reasonable presumption” and “reasonable doubt.” This honorable member advocated another amendment, which provided -
A record that an applicant was discharged as fit shall not be taken as conclusive evidence that his subsequent death or disability was not due to his employment as a member of the forces.
That seems to me to be a very sound provision.
– It is a negative proposition.
– I do not think so. A man may have been discharged as fit on his return to Australia. His sea voyage may have pulled him together, and in his anxiety to get his discharge he may not have mentioned his disability. In the Canadian House of Commons, on the 11th June, 1923, the Minister of Soldiers Civil Reestablishment, Mr. Belaud, moved the second reading of the bill which provided for a War Pensions Appeal Tribunal, and the debate which followed was most interesting. As in New Zealand, the whole discussion centred upon the discussion of attributability and onus of proof. Early in the debate an amendment was proposed which seems to me to be rather like the amendment which ha3 been circulated by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). It was -
That a member suffering from tuberculosis, neurasthenia, cancer, or any other disease or incapacity which could reasonably be attributed to war service, should be deemed to be suffering from a disease attributable to or aggravated by naval, military or air force service, unless or until it was shown that the disease or incapacity was neither attributable nor aggravated by such service, and for the purpose of the provision acceptance for such service should be conclusive that at the time of joining such service the officer or man was not suffering from any such disease or incapacity.
It is difficult for a man who has had no legal training to know what this provision means, but the whole of the debate in the Canadian House hinged upon it, although in the end it was not acceptable and even the mover of it agreed that it could not be adopted.
Sub-section 2 of proposed section 45 w provides that tribunals shall not in the hearing of appeals be bound by any rules of evidence, but shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case, and shall give to an appellant the benefit of any reasonable doubt. The honorable member for Reid does not like the word “reasonable”; but I take that sub-section to mean that if the appellant can show a case which can reasonably be attributed to war service, and a doubt exists, then the Appeal Board must give the benefit of the doubt to the appellant. That I know to be the intention of the Government and of honorable members, and I think that the sub-section fairly expresses it. So far as I am able to judge, ex-members of the Australian Imperial Force agree that any claim for a pension should be supported by evidence if possible. Proposed new section 45x provides that the information in the records may be made available to the appellants or their representatives under certain conditions. A soldiers’ file should contain full particulars of his service and subsequent dealings with the Repatriation Department, and honorable members must be aware that in some instances it would not be kind to hand over a file to an applicant. I understand that in Canada the soldier is permitted to sign his medical report, and it cannot be used in evidence against him unless it is signed; but sometimes it would be unwise to disclose to the soldier all the evidence which the department has gathered, possibly on the Commissioner’s assurance to the informant that portions of it would be treated as confidential. We know of instances in which the disclosure of such documents would, perhaps, cause the breaking up of happy homes. If we have a definite assurance that, whilst safeguarding confidential information, everything possible will be done to give the soldier all the facts bearing on his case, that should be sufficient. Perhaps it might be possible to arrange for the private medical officer of an applicant to have access to the files. I think that should be done.
– Does not the honorable member think that soldier advisers should be appointed?
– Speaking in this chamber on the 10th May of last year to the motion of the honorable member for Reid, I expressed the view that it would be wise to appoint at least one adviser in each State. I do not agree that the first duty of the officers of the department is to the department. The duty of every officer is to do all he possibly can to assist the applicant. Of course, an officer has hot always the time to give to a particular case, and it would be of advantage to the soldier if the matter could be followed up through an adviser. Organizations representing ex-soldiers do a lot of this work, but many ex-service men do not belong to them. 1 think it would be to the advantage of returned soldiers generally if each of them joined one of the leagues or associations. I support the suggestion of the honorable member for Reid, and I hope the Minister will give an assurance that he will investigate it. I shall support the second reading of the bill, and I hope that when it reaches the committee stage the Minister will agree to any amendments which are likely to improve the measure. I am convinced that honorable members will continue this debate in a non-party spirit. I was sorry to hear the honorable member for Reid say that all improvements that have been effected in the repatriation legislation are due to the advocacy of himself, the honorable member for Adelaide and the honorable member for Ballarat.
– I did not say that.
– That claim was not an evidence of the non-party spirit. Personally, I do not care who gets the credit so long as we can improve the legislation and make it more generous to the unfortunate ex-soldiers. We all are keen to make this appeal system a success and acceptable to the men, and I believe that by so doing we shall greatly help the unfortunate ex-soldiers and their dependants and also the dependants of the 60,000 of our comrades who now lie in many foreign lands - I might almost say wherever the glory of British arms was greatest.
– I welcome this bill as another belated effort on the part of the Government to give some measure of justice to the ex-soldiers who have long been denied their due. A system similar to that proposed in the bill has been operating in Canada and New Zealand since 1923, and I am certain that had a Labour Government been in power in the Commonwealth, this system would have been instituted here years ago.
– Is this the non-party spirit?
– If the honorable member continues in that strain, I shall tell the House something of what I know of the Labour party’s attitude to returned soldiers.
– It is due to the consistent advocacy of this system by honorable members on this side and the re turned soldiers’ organizations throughout Australia that the Minister has changed from the attitude he adopted last year. Here I should like to congratulate the honorable member for Reid on having made one of the best, if not the best, speech I have heard during the brief time I have been a member of this chamber. I was very much surprised to hear the quotations he made from the remarks of the Minister for Repatriation last year. Apparently in the interim the Minister has had his ears to the ground, and, as a result, the misty penumbra of illusion that then surrounded his luminous circle of rational perception has cleared away sufficiently to enable him to bring forward this bill and to commend it to the House. I agree with the honorable member for Brisbane that this should be a non-party question. He rightly said that the success or failure of the legislation will depend to a great extent on the personnel of the tribunal, and also on the spirit in which the act is administered. The honorable member told us of how he had to fight to get justice for one returned soldier. It is outrageous that any man who fought for his country should have such difficulty in getting his rights. This case is not exceptional; every honorable member is aware of similar ones, but perhaps other cases have not had the satisfaction of having been pressed with such persistency and success. Many cases still require attention, and I hope this legislation will result in justice being done to men who have long been denied it. A returned soldier should be able to get his rights without having to ask members of Parliament to exert their influence. No doubt, the repatriation scheme is costly. We are told that the pensions have cost this country over £7,000,000. But what did the war cost Australia? If another war broke out tomorrow, hundreds of millions of pounds would be found by the community very quickly. Therefore, why should any government balk at the cost of a just pensions scheme?
– The Government has never balked at the cost.
– Whatever may be the cost of doing our duty to the soldiers, we should face it. I endorse the remarks of the honorable member for Brisbane regarding the onus .of proof. He supported his argument by illustrating his own case. I may also quote my experience. I received a fair issue of gas on one occasion, and was carried to the back of the lines unconscious. Before I went to the war, I was as fit a man as ever walked; I could swim 300 yards without difficulty and could run for hours. But after I had been gassed, I swam 30 yards in the baths of the Royal Automobile Club, London, and was completely exhausted. Will any medical man deny that, as a result of gas, my vitality was lowered and my constitution weakened? Any disability I may suffer later, I may safely claim to be indirectly due to war service. The onus of proof in this matter should not be on the soldier. It would be very difficult foi” me to prove that any ailments from which I may suffer later were due to war service, although nobody can deny that my health was permanently and prejudicially affected thereby. The honorable member for Brisbane said that if a man was discharged “ fit “ from the Australian Imperial Forces after the war, that was a sufficient proof that any disability he might suffer subsequently was not due to war service. Hundreds and probably thousands of soldiers believed they were fit when they left the army. So far as I know, many underwent no medical examination at that time. The soldiers were merely asked if they were fit and they replied “yes” or “no”. Thousands of men were so glad to escape from military discipline and routine, that they declared themselves fit when they were not fit, in order that their discharge should not be delayed. The case of one man, who was a member of my company, has been brought under my notice by his widow. She has written to me to the following effect: -
You were mi officer of tlie company of my late husband. I wish to inform you that I was refused my war pension now for the second time, but am making another hard try to get my rights, for my son’s sake as well as for my own. I believe they signed my hasband off as medically fit, because he said that he was so. He was so excited to bc back in Australia to see his people and his invalid mother that he said he was alright so that he could get away quickly. He was not home a week before he regretted his action and saw his mistake. But his boss on the mine gave him a good staff job on his return, and he was paid for illnesses and loss of time. On one occasion, in 1924, he was away from work for six mouths, and. the mine paid him his wages regularly. That is why he did not trouble to get his pension. He suffered from gas and pneumonia in 1!)24 and obtained medicine from a chemist who is now dead, so we cannot get any medical evidence from him.
The widow asked me to tell her if I could, whether the conditions in the tunnels were such as described to her by her husband. I told her they were. Every one knows that the gas fumes penetrated the tunnels and affected the men occupying them. In this case, the widow should be granted a pension without any question whatever, for there can be no reasonable doubt that her husband’s physical condition was most adversely affected by his war service and two doctors certify that the war was the cause of her husband’s trouble.
In another case brought under my notice, an applicant for a pension obtained a medical certificate from his doctor to the effect that his condition could be ascribed to war service, yet he was denied a. pension. The doctor was the family physician of the applicant, before he went to the war and can testify that, prior to his departure from Australia, lie was healthy, whereas, on his return he was a wreck. The onus of proving that the condition of returned soldiers not due to war service should rest upon the department and the onus of proving that it was so due should not be placed upon the soldier.
– A man who was gassed on active service can obtain evidence from his companions to that effect and so secure a pension.
– Surely if a man is able to produce certificates from two medical practitioners that his condition is due to war sendee, he should be granted a pension.
– I agree with the honorable member.
– But no man could return to Australia a wreck without hav ing passed through a medical hospital somewhere.
– Within a fortnight of this man’s return to Australia he was in a hospital. We all know how anxious men were to obtain their discharge as soon as possible after their return to Australia.
I hope that the administration of the Repatriation Act, as amended by this measure, will be liberal, and that the tribunals to be set up will be sympathetic with the returned soldiers. A great deal will depend upon the personnel of them.
I regret that an honorable member saw fit the other night to attack the chairman of the Repatriation Commission (Colonel Semmens). In my opinion, the attack was unjustified. During the war I was in charge of miners at a camp at Seymour. The miners from the different States were concentrated there prior to embarkation. They all arrived with certificates to the effect that they had been granted their final leave, but some of them assured me that this was not so. I thought it unjust to send them away from Australia without granting them the final leave to which they were entitled, and made representations on the point to Col. Semmens. He came to Seymour, investigated the complaints, and granted the men concerned final leave. This was much appreciated. My experience of Col. Semmens from that time to this has been that he has shown every sympathy with the claims of his former comrades-in-arms.
As the honorable member for Brisbane has said, the main difference of opinion to-day respecting the conditions under which pensions may be granted, relates to the onus of proof. He remarked that this has also caused a good deal of trouble in New Zealand. I trust that the Government will see fit to make provision in this act in this regard. Every man who left Australia on active service, was promised that his country would care for him and his dependants upon his return, and that if he did not return, his dependants would be provided for. Those promises in many cases have not been fulfilled. I suppose every honorable member of the House could give instances such as I have mentioned this afternoon. I urge the Government to leave no stone unturned to right the wrongs that still exist, and to rectify the injustices under which many returned men still suffer.
– This bill will be welcomed by honorable members on both sides of the House. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) and the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) have dealt at some length with the principles underlying the measure; I propose to touch upon only two points. Something about the bill makes one feel that hereafter one need not despair about anything. Only a few months ago the Minister in Charge of Repatriation declared that appeal boards were unnecessary and undesirable, and that he would not consent to the establishment of them. He added that the returned soldiers would be worse off, if their appeals were dealt with by boards, than they were during his own benign and wise administration. Today the honorable member for Reid has told us something of the circumstances surrounding the Minister’s welcome but most bewildering conversion. I feel now that we may hope that at no distant date, the Minister will grant the other requests that have been made on behalf of the returned soldiers. He would not have to go far to accede to them immediately; that he should hesitate to do so, robs this adventure of his of much of its glory. The points to which I propose to direct the attention of the House have been stressed by other honorable members, and, therefore, I shall be brief in my treatment of them. The first relates to what may be shortly termed the onus of proof. If we ask ourselves why the bill is before us to-day, the answer is that the soldiers of Australia have demanded it. The manner of their demand - their insistence upon it, to the point of being even a little menacing - has brought about this happy change. But why did they ask for the bill? It was because of their intense dissatisfaction with the administration of the department as carried out under the existing law. For that reason neither the department nor indeed the Minister should be censured. We are all creatures of our environment, and must move within the ambit of the legislation that gives us what little authority we have. But the reason why the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imeperial League, and the other bodies of returned men, demanded an appeal board was that, in their opinion, they were not getting justice, substantial or any other kind, from the Repatriation Commissioners. In what way did they fail to obtain it? The gravamen of their complaint was that on going before the board, and complaining that they were sick, incapacitated and broken men, they were called upon to prove that their incapacity was due to, or aggravated by, war service. Tens of thousands of them failed to do that, and that is the angle from which we have to view this bill. That is the reason why the Returned Soldiers League asked for it. It was demanded in order that a grievous wrong might be remedied. Nobody denies that these men have fought, and are now ill and incapacitated; but they are required to prove that their condition is due to, or aggravated by, war service, and they cannot prove it. Are they now to appeal from Cæsar to Cæsar? If they are to appeal from one board to another, both of whom operate under the same kind of law, will not the same verdict be obtained as before ?
It is not suggested for one moment that there is anything wrong with the personnel of the Repatriation Commission. I think that it is composed almost entirely of returned men. At any rate, when it was established originally by me, the Returned Soldiers League asked that the chairman should be a returned mau. To that I agreed, and I think in every case returned men were appointed not only as chairmen but also as members of the various boards. So far as I am aware, they are still wholly composed of ex-soldiers, who are as honest and sympathetic as we are towards incapacitated men. I can hardly believe that in itself a change of personnel as is contemplated by those responsible for the bill, will give satisfaction to tens of thousands who feel that they have been treated unjustly. A commissioner, no doubt, becomes attuned to his environment, and, working under a law that cramps his scope of action, he is compelled to give his decisions on certain grounds, and on no others. Naturally, perhaps, he becomes a little biassed and narrow. If we call the proposed tribunals appeal boards, that will not alter their nature. They will be composed of the same kind of men. Ex-soldiers will go before them and say, “ “When I went to the war I was in the flower of manhood, but look at me now. I am a broken wreck.” The board will reply, “ Unless you can prove that your present condition is due to war service, we can do nothing for you.” In a vast number of cases the unfortunate applicant cannot prove it. There is perhaps a strong presumption but there is and there can be no proof. On the other hand no doctor on earth, let alone a layman, can prove that an ex-soldier’s incapacity is not due to his war service. Men who know as much about the marvellous mechanism of the human machine as a lifelong study will enable them to know, are fumbling, like blind men, in the dark, vainly endeavouring to tell us what is the cause of many of the ailments which afflict mankind. Yet we go to a poor, unlettered and broken man, and say to him, “ You prove that what you are suffering from is due to the war.” How in the name of God can he prove that? A year ago the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) submitted a motion to this House regarding tubercular soldiers. It is literally true to say that thousands of these men have appeared before the commission, and their applications have been turned down because they cannot prove that their tubercular trouble is due to war service.
– They are not able to do the impossible.
– Of course, they cannot prove it. We are all more or less tubercular, and everybody knows it. We spring from a germ-proof stock that is now able to throw off tubercular poison. The reason why we do not all die from tuberculosis, notwithstanding that we have, or have had, the bacillus of the disease in our system, is that we have enough vitality to resist it; but to plunge a man into the hell of war for four years, expose him to hardships of which civilians can have no experience, and then expect his vitality to remain at its flood, is to expect a miracle.
Some, indeed, came out of this inferno of war apparently unscathed; the bounding vitality of youth for the time triumphed over the fearful shocks and strain of war. As the honorable member for Reid and others have said, when the war was over, they made haste to throw off their soldiers’ tunic and put. on the jacket of a civilian, thanking God they had been spared, and resolved to put all thoughts of the horrors they had endured behind them. For three, five or, perhaps, ten years they pursued their various civilian avocations, apparently hale and strong, and then comes with startling abruptness the end. Their strength oozes from them, their youth passes, they are broken men. The expectation of life at the age of 24 years, which we may assume was the average age of the men of the Australian Imperial Forces is 431/2 years. The average deathrate at 35 years - that is 11 years after the armistice - is 45 per thousand. But the men of the Australian Imperial Forces are dying at the rate of 75. The war is doing its deadly work. And then, again, how many of them are below par? They are still far from old ; but they are getting into middle age. Disease takes a thousand shapes; some of the men develop locomotor ataxia; some tubercular trouble, some kidney trouble. But all these maladies are due to one thing - a lowering of vitality. The nervous force has been reduced until the men no longer have power to resist-disease. Their war service has prematurely aged them. If a civilian subjected to a similar strain in the course of his employment sued his employer, no doctor in Australia but would say that the ills from which the man was suffering were due to that cause. The onus of proof is placed on the unfortunate ex-soldier, although it takes the best of us, in the days of vigorous health, to prove anything before a court of law or other tribunal. These poor men, suffering from the effects of the great strain of war service, goes before a tribunal, and because he cannot prove what no doctor on earth can prove or disprove, redress is denied him. Now we have a bill that sets up another tribunal, which is to be guided by the same principles as those observed by the present commission, and it must necessarily arrive at the same conclusions. The Minister said what was absolutely true when the honorable member for Reid submitted his motion in the last Parliament. He remarked that the ex-soldiers would be better off under him.
– Does the right honorable gentleman believe that?
– I think so, because the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) said that the Minister had no legal warrant for what he had done in connexion with the claims of exsoldiers.
– That is quite true.
– I would not blame him if, to do a great right, he did a little wrong. If what the honorable member for Wannon has said is true, the Minister has ignored the law, and he has dispensed, not justice, but favours.
– That is not true.
– Well, I shall say that he has dispensed justice. On one occasion I heard an ex-member of this House, addressing a soldiers’ league, say, “ I was able to get a pension for ‘ so-and-so, ‘ from the Minister, and he could not get it from the commission.” The natural inference was that he secured it through the favour of the Minister. I do not particularly blame either him or the Minister. Still, we do not want favours, but justice. At the present time justice is hard to get; because the soldier is asked to do what is in many cases impossible, and if a returned soldier has to prove that his disability arises from war service, he will not be able to obtain it from this tribunal. I admit, of course, that the question is most complex and difficult. I cannot support the amendment of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Breunan) because I consider that it goes a great deal too far; but if after the appellant had made out a prima facie case, the onus of proving that his disability was not, in fact, due to war service passed from him to the commission.
– That is all that we want.
– I am trying to see what we can get. The function of a grand jury is to determine whether a prima facie case has been made out against an accused person. Similarly, in both civil and criminal actions, the judge has to determine whether there is a case for the jury. That is all that we are asking for; if a man makes out a prima facie case, the onus should be on the Commissioner to say that the disability is not due to war service. Such a provision would satisfy me, and I believe that it would have the approval of 99 per cent, of the returned soldiers. Admittedly, we are sailing between Seylla and Charybdis. We are legislating not merely for to-day, but also for the future. We cannot provide that, no matter when a man may break down, he shall obtain a pension from the board. There must be a direct relation between his disability and his war service; but once he makes out a prima facie case the onus of disproving that direct relation ought to pas3 from the appellant to the commission.
– That is all that is sought by my amendment.
– I believe that the amendment goes beyond that. We all realize that this is a most difficult matter. What we are trying to do is to deal out even-handed justice. We are all glad to hear that the matter is to be lifted out of the political arena. It ought not to be soiled by party conflict. When we asked those men to fight we did not inquire whether they belonged to the Labour party, the Liberal party, or any other party. We appealed to their manhood and asked them to fight for Australia. And we pledged ourselves very definitely and unconditionally, for we said, “If you do your duty by Australia, Australia will do her duty by you. “ It is in that spirit that we are considering this measure.
Just one more point, and I shall conclude. The proposed new section 45x reads -
An appeal tribunal and an assessment appeal tribunal shall, so far as is consistent with the interests of the appellant, and with any obligation to respect information given to the commission upon a confidential basis, make available to the appellant or his representative information contained in the records relating to the case.
That appears to me to go right to the heart of the question. I shall explain what it means. A returned soldier may go before an appeal tribunal aud say, “I have put my case before the Repatriation Commission, and have been turned down. They did not, aud will not, give me any reason ; therefore, I come to you for justice.” According to the provision that I have just read, if the evidence on which that man’s application has been rejected is of a confidential nature it may be withheld. Therefore, that man will be condemned upon evidence that is not disclosed. Such an action is repugnant to 011]’ sense of natural justice. The whole of the facts should be made known. It is urged that the information should be withheld out of consideration for the man, or his relatives or friends; that something disgraceful or infamous may have been alleged against him. But surely this is a reason why the facts should be made known. If a nian has -been guilty of anything disgraceful or infamous, what right has he to expect any consideration from this tribunal? If his infamous conduct is relevant to the claim, it would be sufficient to justify its rejection. But I point out to honorable members that we live in a world in which strange things are done, and it is not unknown for one man to stab another in the back. Under this provision it will be possible for any person to say of a claimant for a pension “I remember him in France,” and relate the circumstances. He’ will be able to suggest that the claimant has contracted some disgraceful disease, that at the Front he was a coward, that he was then and is now a malingerer. Let the accuser and the accused be brought face to face. If the one has anything to say of the other, let him say it in front of him. If the claimant is a malingerer, put him out; and if the other man is a smoodger, or one who would stab another in the back, expose him. The idea of allowing any man to prevent a returned soldier and his dependants from obtaining a pension, and deprive them of all means of livelihood, is utterly repugnant to our sense of justice.
– Unless the applicant sees the file he does not know what case he has to meet.
– If the bill is amended in the directions I have indicated the soldier will secure redress and we shall welcome it. It is flexible, and can be adapted to varying circumstaoces. The Minister, I hope and believe, will have the power to appoint as many appeal boards as the circumstances demand. Subject to amendment in those two particulars, but above all in relation to the onus of proof, the bill promises to give justice to the returned soldiers without too long a delay. In the hope that it will do so I welcome it, and shall vote for the second reading.
.- I cannot say that I welcome the bill, nor that I have ever favoured legislation of this character; but I must agree with the suggestion of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) because it has been alleged against the party to which T belong, that it has always considered repatriation questions from a party angle, and has endeavoured to obtain from them a party advantage. It is well known that when this legislation was requested by the honorable member for Reid prior to the dissolution of the last Parliament, it was refused ; but during the election campaign the promise was made that it would be introduced, the object being to attract to the Government side those who desired it. I make that statement without fear of contradiction by honorable members opposite. If they can obtain a party advantage from the introduction of the measure, they are welcome to it. My concern is for the soldier. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has dealt very effectively with the bill, and has shown that the appeal will be from Caesar to Caesar. I am not greatly enamoured of the provisions under which returned soldiers will comprise the personnel of the different boards. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) the other night made a violent attack upon the administration of the department, during which I interjected “Are all the officers returned soldiers”? to which he replied “Yes.” It has been my experience that returned soldiers receive just as harsh treatment from ex-soldiers as from civilians. I should be inclined to give an outsider the opportunity to administer this act, rather than place its administration in the hands of a returned soldier. Civilians feel that they are under some obligation to the returned soldier, and would administer the act in such a way that a far greater measure of justice would be meted out to returned soldiers than otherwise would be the case. An applicant for a pension will place his application before the commission and if it is turned down, he will appeal to the board, which will, in all probability, uphold the decision of the commission. The position will be practically the same as it is to-day. I have no faith in an appeal board, but if it is wanted by the returned soldiers, I am prepared to vote for its establishment and to give it a trial. I should prefer the Minister to be the final arbitrator in respect of the rights of returned soldiers who are claiming pensions. Once we pass this measure, once we have had the cake and eaten it, we shall relinquish the right to bring up cases on the floor of the House. The treatment of ex-soldiers must be left in the hands of the appeal board.
– I do not admit that.
– If the Appeal Board is not to have the last say, and if we are still to ventilate grievances on the floor of this House, then we are carrying this thing to the point of absurdity. If I am not satisfied with the work of the board, I shall not hesitate to speak in this House on behalf of the returned soldiers. I want the ex-soldiers to have better treatment than they are getting at present. Why should Ave haggle over their rights? As the right honorable member for North Sydney has said, Ave did not ask them whether they were Labour or Liberal when they offered to enlist. We asked them whether they were willing to fight, and they came in their hundreds and thousands. They did their job, and now Ave are disputing their claims for pensions. Many honorable members of this House joined in the recruiting campaign during the war, and I ask them whether they have honoured the promises they made to those who enlisted. We should be ashamed of ourselves for what is happening to-day. My attitude, although unprecedented, is consistent. When I returned from the war, I suggested to the complaints officer in Adelaide that returned soldiers who fell sick at any time should have the right to claim attention and succour from this nation, it being accepted as a matter of course that their ailments were due to war service. The fact that they were soldiers and had offered their lives for this country, should entitle them to free treatment at hospitals. Any man who did not go to the war does not know what the returned soldiers went through. They were subject to attacks not only from the enemy but from disease, which was brought about by the conditions under which they lived. The strain and stress that they experienced at the front must inevitably affect their constitutions. Yet, here we are, haggling and arguing about the best method of giving them reasonable justice. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) said that there were hard cases that could not and would not come under repatriation. Has he a right to say that? The nation is surely under an obligation to these men. The honorable member also said that a man can get senile tuberculosis at the age of 90 years, and in that case it could not be proved that the disease had anything to do with the war. I doubt whether any man who fought for four years in France is likely to live until that age. It is an absurd and ridiculous argument. The men who enlisted were subjected to a medical examination before they were sent overseas. I, myself, was medically examined. The rule was put over us. No man was enlisted if he happened to have a flaw in his constitution. He had to be sound in his heart, lungs and limbs. The flower of our manhood was sent to the holocaust overseas. Some of them returned unscathed, but others were broken. As the right honorable member for North Sydney has said, in many cases the effects of the war have not begun to manifest themselves until some years afterwards. No doctor in the world could say that some of the ailments of the returned soldiers were not due to war service. At one time I brought under the notice of the % Minister the case of a man suffering from a tumor. “When he went overseas he was a young fellow of 21 or 22 years of age. He became sick twelve or eighteen months ago. He came to me, and he had changed so much that, at first, I did not know him. His own medical officer could not diagnose his case, so he consulted a specialist. He was asked ““Were you at the war?” and he replied “Yes.” The specialist asked “Were you gassed?” and this man told him that he had got the ordinary issue of gas like the others. He was then informed that he was suffering from a tumor of the stomach which had been brought about by war service. The medical men connected with the Repatrai- tion Department had full information respecting this man’s case, and a certificate from Dr. Vercoe had been supplied, stating what this man was suffering from, and yet his application was turned down by the department. I saw the Minister, and immediately a change came over the scene, and the returned soldier received his pension. What will be the position when the appeal board is established? Generally speaking, the board will uphold the decisions of the commission, and there will be no opportunity of making representations to the Minister.
– Yet the honorable member is voting for the appeal board.
– Yes. I am anxious to give it a trial, because the returned soldiers have asked for it. The cost of treating every sick and injured returned soldier should be a charge upon the nation. That would be not generosity, but their right. I intend to refer to one clause of the hill only, and that relates to the Entitlement Board. I object to the appointment of that board, because all that a sick ex-soldier should need to entitle him to succour from this nation is a clean discharge from the Military Department. If an ex-soldier meets with an accident, that is his own affair and he should pay for it, but when he is suffering from asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis, rheumatism or any other complaint resulting from exposure on the battlefields of France, he should be entitled to free treatment. I was in France for six months only, but I have been told by returned soldiers that the winter of 1916-17 was the coldest in France for 30 years. The men were wet and cold and living in mud and slush, and on short rations. It cannot be said that the great majority of the returned soldiers are fit and well. I, myself, as a returned soldier, require no assistance from the nation, and I hope that I never shall. But those who risked their lives and are now suffering in consequence, are entitled to the best treatment that we can give them. During the war we spoke about saving the Empire for democracy, and of creating a new world. Nothing was to be too good for the returned soldiers ; yet to-day, it is exceedingly difficult for them to get justice. The worst victims of the war are the tubercular exsoldiers, ‘ and surely they should be supplied with the wherewithal to live iu decent comfort for the few short years of life left for them. I support the bill in the hope that it will confer some benefit upon the returned soldiers who are sick and incapacitated.
.- I have given this bill very careful consideration and I cannot find in it anything contentious. I welcome its introduction and I am sure other honorable members do. I hope that it will have a smooth and speedy passage. When this subject was previously before the House, I took the attitude of leaving well alone, and I should have been quite prepared to continue that attitude, had it not been for the unanimous request of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ League that an appeal board should be constituted. The great majority of the soldiers are satisfied with the administration of the Repatriation Department, particularly since it has been under the control of the present Minister. I have pointed out to the returned soldiers’ organizations with which I have discussed the matter that it would be extremely difficult to find persons to sit on an appeal board who would have had the experience gained by the Minister while he was Surgeon-General of the Australian Imperial Force, and during his long practice as medical practitioner, we have had at least four years’ experience of his sympathetic and careful administration of the department on which to judge him. In many cases in which I tried repeatedly to prove to the department that a man was entitled to receive a pension, it was not until the Minister himself was approached that the applicant was given the benefit of whatever doubt existed.
This bill appears to me to be an attempt to embody in legislative form the benefits of the experience gained by the Minister himself as Surgeon-General of the Australian Imperial Force, and as Minister in Charge of Repatriation. It is evident, also, that attention has been given to the repatriation legislation of the other parts of the Empire. I have myself gone carefully through that legislation, and have prepared a summary of it, which I hold in my hand, but owing to the fact that there are so many honorable members desirous of discussing this bill, I will not detain the House now. I do not propose to discuss it in detail, aud content myself with saying that not in New Zealand, South Africa, Great Britain, or Canada is there any legislation of so generous a nature as is here proposed. I welcome the appointment of two tribunals, but we must remember that the usefulness of these bodies will be governed almost entirely by the class of persons who are appointed to them. Unless we are able to secure the services of the right men, the tribunals cannot be a success. The matter of appointing an appeal board has engaged the attention of the executive of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League for a number of years past. On the recommendation of the Minister, the soldiers’ organization has itself made full inquiries throughout the world, with a view to learning what type of board it thought would be best to appoint in the interests of the soldiers. The result of these inquiries was placed before the federal congress of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League, held on the 28th November, 192S. At that conference 22 resolutions on this question were carried, copies of which were forwarded to me by the general secretary. With one or two minor exceptions, all the recommendations contained iu those 22 resolutions have been embodied in this . bill. It is proposed in this measure to set up two bodies, the first of which is the Entitlement Tribunal, to be composed of three persons, none of whom shall be a medical officer. The reason for this, I understand, is that most of the evidence to be considered by the tribunal will be from medical men, and it is not considered desirable that a medical member of the board should sit in judgment upon the opinions offered by other doctors. The three men appointed to the board should be returned soldiers who have been long associated with the work, and who know the requirements of the men themselves. The other body is the Assessment Board, the chairman of which must have been a solicitor or a barrister practising in the Law Courts. The other two members are to be doctors, who will be selected from a specially chosen panel.
– It is provided, also, that the chairman shall he selected by the returned soldiers’ organization.
– That is so ; he is to be selected by the Government from three persons nominated by the soldiers league. I am pleased that the bill provides that the rules of evidence need not apply to cases heard before the tribunals but that the board must act in accordance with substantial justice, and give to the appellant the benefit of any reasonable doubt. This, I am sure, was the practice by which the Minister was guided during the past four years, and which enabled him to carry out his duties with such conspicuous success. I am glad that the soldiers are to be given the right to be present at the hearing of appeals, and to be represented, if they so desire, by some person, the only stipulation being that the representative shall not be a legal practitioner. Ample opportunity is to be given to the appellant, or his representative, to inspect the files of his case, so that he may know beforehand all the points with which he may be called upon to deal. I approve of the provision that travelling expenses shall be paid for appellants, and that the courts may move from place to place. When this bill first becomes operative, there will, no doubt, be a great many appeals to be heard. For that reason, it may be desirable at first to set up more than one assessment tribunal, so that there may be no undue delay. I recommend all returned soldiers who are not satisfied with the pension they have been awarded in the past, to lodge appeals with this tribunal, and have their cases reviewed. I advise them also not to rush in with their appeals, but to secure the advice of some one acquainted with procedure, some one who will inspect the files on their behalf, and advise them as to what evidence is missing therefrom for the establishment of their claims. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) said that many soldiers had been discharged as fit simply because, being anxious to get out of their uniforms as quickly as possible, they refused to make any claim on the Government, and that subsequently they experienced difficulty in establishing their claim for a pension if their health broke down. I have been associated with the returned soldier movement for years past, having been president of the branch of the league in my own town for four years, a member of the league’s council of Queensland from its inception until I entered politics, and having also occupied the position of Moreton district president for some years. During all that time, I never met with a case in which a man, even though discharged as fit, had received other than sympathetic consideration when he subsequently applied for a pension. My own experience was that I arrived back in Queensland with a batch of others, and accepted my discharge in a few moments. In answer to an inquiry whether i wa* medically fit, I said that I did not want any pension. I had a serious gunshot wound which some time later became troublesome, and I was in hospital for five months. When I was leaving, the medical officer in charge asked me whether I wanted a pension, and he was emphatic regarding what he termed my foolishness when I refused to apply for one. He suggested to me that it was my duty to apply for a pension. That, I think, has been the attitude of most of those associated with the Repatriation Department. There has been no attempt to baulk soldiers in their efforts to secure pensions. The department has been at all times, so far as I have found, willing and anxious to assist the soldiers to establish their claims for pensions.
Regarding the onus of proof, I have always held that the obligation is on the soldier, in the first place, to establish a prima facie case, and it is then the duty of the Repatriation Department to assist him in every way to connect his claim for a pension with his war service. A man should not, in order to establish his claim, merely have to fill in a form saying that he had been at the war, had served at the front, and was now suffering from a disability. He should lodge his application, and then ask the department to assist him with a?l files and documents in its possession, so that he might prove that his disability was due primarily to war service, or that his service had aggravated some old trouble. I should not regard the certificate of the family doctor as conclusive. Too frequently I have found, not only in the case of returned soldiers, but in ordinary invalid cases as well, that the family doctor will endeavour to frame his medical certificate in such a way as to help the applicant, but the necessary data is by no means definite in their certificates. Usually the most valuable evidence is that of the applicant’s own comrades. It is amazing the number of soldiers who kept war diaries, and who have them still. These diaries have been of the greatest help. I know of a recent case in which a soldier died from sarcoma, that is a form of cancer. As the result of inquiries among doctors who had long since left the military hospital and were in private practices throughout Australia, it was found that this man had been sent to a hospital because he was allegedly suffering from tuberculosis. After a great deal of trouble, we were able to get the doctors to prove that the man, besides suffering from sarcoma, was also infected with tuberculosis, and that if he had not died of the first complaint, he would, in any case, have ultimately died of the second. Sarcoma is not considered as a disability due to war service. The Minister granted a pension from the date of the original application, because of the evidence concerning tuberculosis. I could quote many cases of that kind. I have mentioned these instances primarily to prove that the allegation that the department places all sorts of obstacles in a claimant’s way when he is endeavouring to establish his claim to a pension is not fair; the very opposite is true, and my experience has probably not been different from that of other honorable members. “We should give credit where credit is due, and I think the Minister and the department have nobly tried to do the right thing by the soldiers. Evidence of their desire to do justice is to be found in the provision, that in no circumstances shall a soldier be precluded from again applying for a pension. He first applies to the Repatriation Commission; if he is not satisfied with their decision he can appeal. If the appeal fails and he is able to collect further evidence, he can again apply to the department, and if still unsuccessful, can again appeal to the entitlement tribunal. So far as I am able to learn from a comparison of the repatriation laws of various dominions and our allies in the recent war, New Zealand and Australia are the only places where the soldier has a permanent right of application and appeal. Great Britain ha3 definitely provided that no application for a pension may be made after the 31st August, 1928. Canada has no time limit, except in the case of death, and then the application has to be made within three years. The New Zealand law is somewhat similar to the proposal in the bill ; South Africa has no time limit and no permanent appeal board. It is constituted by the Minister as required. In the United States of America no soldier could appeal after five years, and in France not after the 31st December, 1928. The time limit in Italy was the 31st December, 1923, whilst Germany required the application to he made within two years after discharge. During the last four years we have liberalized the conditions governing war pensions and increased the amount of pensions, and have taken many other steps to enlarge the benefits offered to our soldiers. The result is that, notwithstanding the deaths of pensioners, the re-marriage of widows, and the adolescence of children, the annual pension bill is steadily increasing. At the end of June, 1921, it amounted to £7,386,842. In the next three years the amount decreased, but in 1925 it was £7,146,864; in 1926, £7,347,246; in 1927, £7,558,559; and last year it had reached the huge total of £7,690,890. In Great Britain, on the contrary, the pensions bill has been gradually decreasing, as the following figures show:- 1921, £106,645,516; 1922, £95,559,616; 1923, £80,782,442; 1924, £72,447,925; 1925, £69,548,194; 1926, £66,916,268 ; 1927, £63,450,000, and 1928, £57,215,800. The amounts of pensions paid by France and Germany over the same period are very much less than that paid by Great Britain, although both countries had a bigger casualty list. France has paid £450,000,000, Germany £350,000,000, and Great Britain considerably over £750,000,000. Great Britain’s pension bill is greater now than her national debt before the war.
The success of this bill will depend entirely on the persons selected by the Government to serve on the tribunals, and on the sympathetic administration of the act. I’ hope that sympathetic administration such as that of the Minister during the last four years, will he continued by the appeal tribunals. Australia’s effort to assist the returned soldiers has been fair and generous, and second to none in the world, and’ I trust that the high tradition which has been built up will be carried on under the new regime. I have been diffident of supporting the creation of tribunals, because I realize the difficulty of finding persons with the experience of the present Minister for Repatriation. However, I believe that the people of Australia will welcome’ this legislation as a further effort on the part of the Government to afford the soldier every opportunity to secure his pension rights. I am pleased that the tribunals’ are to be itinerant, and I hope that’ in the early stage of this scheme a sufficient number of tribunals will be appointed to enable all appeals to be heard with a minimum of delay. The amendment :to be proposed by the Minister, to allow the tribunal to specify the date from which its decisions shall operate, and also the provision for appeals by representatives of deceased or mentally afflicted soldiers will have my support. I welcome also the proposal of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) to dissociate the appeal tribunals from the Repatriation Department. If the appeal tribunals were connected with the department, I should personally have no objection, but it will be wise to remove all possible cause of suspicion and ensure that the tribunals function without any association whatever with the Repatriation Department, and I feel certain that if the amendment is accepted, it will go a long way to create the right atmosphere for the operation of the new appeal system. I congratulate the Minister upon having introduced this bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr. MCGRATH adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate without requests.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Debate resumed (vide page 1624), on motion by Mr. Abbott -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1!)13-1!)2], it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work, which has been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and in relation to which the committee has duly reported to this House the result of its inquiries, viz.: - Construction of buildings for the Institute of Anatomy, at Canberra.
.- I .intend to say two things which I never thought I would say. First, I never expected to speak in support of the erection of any building in Canberra ; but apparently Canberra has come to stay, and if there is one building that should be erected here before all others, it is that which is to house the Institute of Anatomy. I cannot imagine any greater work that can be done in behalf of Australia and the world than that which will be carried on in this establishment. The project has been before the Public Works Committee on three different occasions, and I can safely say that the members of the committee are unanimously of opinion that this building should be erected at once. The second surprise I am giving myself is that, while I never expected to advocate the conferring of an honour or title upon anybody, I declare sincerely that if the British Empire has one real patriot he is Professor Colin MacKenzie. During his lifetime he has made many sacrifices in behalf of humanity. He has done extensive research work and owns a collection of Australian fauna, the value of which may be conservatively estimated at £100,000. For two specimens alone he has refused £30,000. One might almost say that his collection is priceless; yet he has handed it over to the Commonwealth as a gift. It is essential to preserve the Australian fauna, many specimens of which are fast disappearing. Some are invaluable to the medical fraternity, and the erection of the proposed building will enable Professor
MacKenzie to continue hia very fine work and realize some of his high ideals. I support the motion, and hope that if it is carried, the erection of the building will not be delayed one unnecessary day.
.- I support the motion because the institute to which it relates has been a source of inspiration to me. On the site of the institute is erected a board on which are printed these words : -
On this site will be erected the building of the National Museum of Zoology.
The museum will be the only one of its kind in the world, and will be devoted to the study of Australian fauna and comparative anatomy. Canberra will become the world’s centre for the study of our unique animals in relation to medical and surgical practice. The thought of this school has given a wonderful stimulus to my desire to make Canberra the home of the learned professions whose work shall reflect credit on this great city. I wrote to Professor Colin MacKenzie a letter setting forth my proposals for the establishment of a research farm in the Federal Capital Territory, and he replied in very gracious and complimentary terms. While he was in England telegrams appeared in the newspapers stating that he was entertained by members of the British Medical Association and other scientists. The various speakers warmly praised the people of the Commonwealth of Australia for the establishment of such an institution in the Federal Capital, and said that its value in the cause of humanity could not be estimated. All we know is infinitely less than what still remains unknown. The establishment of this institute will be another means of bringing Canberra to the notice of the Australian people. Yearly, this city is becoming an inspiration to not only Australia but the whole world. Canberra must be made the Australian centre of learning and culture. I have a great respect for the States, and for the work they have accomplished, but in matters affecting the whole of Australia we must look to the Commonwealth, not the States. Moreover, the States have not the means to provide institutions of a national character, however desirable these may be. Some time ago representation was made by the Melbourne Univer sity an.d seventeen other bodies, to the then Premier of Victoria, Mr. Hogan, for an endowment of £112j000 per annum instead of the existing endowment of £45,000 for that university. Mr. Hogan. was sympathetic to their request, but he was unable to comply with it through lack of funds. During the period that Labour governments were in office in the Commonwealth a great deal was done to establish Canberra as the national capital. So many foundation stones were laid” that the Prince of Wales was led to remark that Canberra was largely a city of foundation stones. I have had the privilege of attending every ceremony for the laying of foundation stones in Canberra, and I hope to have the pleasure of seeing the foundation stone of the new institute, of anatomy laid. After Lady Denman had laid the foundation stone of what will be one of Canberra’s monumental buildings, Mr. King O’Malley, at that time Minister for Home and Territories, delivered an address from which I have taken the following extract: -
Living in what is only the infancy of this mighty Commonwealth, we realize that through all successive ages numberless billions, of human beings must appear on this horizon to suffer and enjoy the dispensations that’ belong to humanity. It requires no prophetic: mind to peer into the vista of future centuries to behold stupendous events occurring here.
The work in connexion with the institute of anatomy will be of a national, character, and will benefit, not only this, generation but also future generations. I realize that the visionary who peers into the future does not come much into the limelight, but that will not deter me from contemplating, future events.. When I first . visited Canberra, it was merely an area of bush country, but the day will come when it will rank among the great cities: of the world. I hope that no financial; difficulties will arise to delay the erection, of this building which will house Professor MacKenzie’s wonderful collection. At different times I have spoken to prominent men, both Australians and visitors from other countries, about the future of Canberra, .and the establishment there of various institutes of learning, and culture, and they have agreed that Canberra offers great opportunities in that direction. The newspapers of Australia, for the most part, have expressed similar views. I have passed the allotted span, but I hope that I shall live to see the institute of anatomy completed. I have been a student since I was a boy 17 years of age. During that period I have stored my brain with as much knowledge as I could assimilate, and I have at all times endeavoured to pass on to others the knowledge that I have acquired. I am glad that at last the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) has something good to say of Canberra. I am proud to welcome him as a convert, and I hope to convert some more to my way of thinking. We should cultivate a broad outlook, and combine to make Canberra the home of culture and learning, so that its fame will be spread throughout the world.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed (vide page 1650).
.- This bill provides for the establishment of appeal boards to deal with returned soldiers’ pensions, a principle which has been advocated by various returned soldiers’ organizations for many years. Recently a remarkable change has come over the members of the Nationalist and Country parties in this connexion. Previously, when honorable members on this side of the House urged the establishment of appeal boards, they voted against the proposals, but they have at last given way to the importunate pleadings of the returned soldiers. As a returned soldier, I am pleased that this bill has been introduced, although, in my opinion, it is still lacking in several respects. I have had many bitter things to say about the Repatriation Department, but I do not agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) regarding the chairman of the Repatriation Commission. Particularly during the last two or three years, that officer has gone as far as the act will permit to give soldiers and their dependants fair treatment. I have made many applications to the department on behalf of returned soldiers, and have by no means obtained all I have sought, but that has not been due so much to unwillingness on the part of the chairman to grant my requests, as to the insufficiency of the law. To be complete this bill should throw the onus of proof upon the department, not upon the soldier. I have previously mentioned the case of a soldier named Collins, who, while on active service, had his ankle injured, and was severely gassed. Like many others, he was glad to receive his discharge, shed his uniform, and re-enter civil life. On his discharge he was granted a pension of 4s. or 5s. a week. Later he developed tuberculosis. On his behalf I appealed to the department and to the Minister, and in each case received the reply that Collins had not furnished evidence that he had contracted the disease while on active service. Eventually, the matter reached the court. The judge, having heard the case, practically admitted that the tuberculosis had been contracted by Collins during his period of war service; nevertheless, he lost the case, in fighting which he incurred expenses amounting to £20 or £30. Within a month of the hearing of the case, he died, leaving a widow and two children. Collins was a poor man, and as his dependants receive only a few shillings a week, they are forced to accept charity from the people of Ballarat. I should like to know whether the dependants of that man will have an opportunity to appeal to boards proposed to be constituted under this bill.
– They will have an opportunity.
– I am glad of that. When the case to which I have referred was before the court, a doctor who had had considerable experience in treating tubercular cases said definitely that the fact that Collins had been gassed at the front rendered him much more liable to infection. The Repatriation Department’s own medical officer at Creswick also stated emphatically that his infection was due to his war service. Yet the judge said that the evidence was not sufficient for Collins to establish his case. No honorable member desires that the widow and children of a man who lost his life because he had fought for his country shall starve. The scope of this bill should be wide enough to cover such cases. Unless the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) is agreed to, I fail to see how this woman and her children arc to receive justice. In the Great War, two practices were adopted for the first time in warfare. First, every soldier who left Australia was inoculated, some of them as many as twenty times. lt is too soon after the war for medical practitioners to determine with certainty, the full effect of either gassing or inoculation ; yet some of them have made dogmatic declarations on the subject.
T cannot sec that the passage of the bill will mean very much to the men it is designed to assist. Some honorable members have referred to the cost of repatriation to the community; but they did not protest that loans raised during the war cost too much. We paid only 4£ per cent, interest on some of the money we raised at that time, whereas to-day, we are paying up to 6 per cent, for money. The moneylenders who took no risks made big profits during the Avar, and have made bigger profits since; yet we are told that our ex-service men or their dependants may not be granted pensions except under restricted conditions.
– The interest bill in respect of our war debt greatly exceeds our pensions bill.
– That is so. It may lie argued that the provision in proposed ne.w section 45w which reads -
Subject to this act, an appeal tribunal and an assessment appeal tribunal shall not, in the hearing of appeals, be bound by any rules of evidence but shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case shall give to an appellant the benefit of any reasonable doubt will make it possible for the tribunals to give every consideration to the cases submitted to them. But I should like to know the meaning of “substantial justice “ and “ reasonable doubt.” I trust that the Minister will agree to the elimination of the words “substantial” and “ reasonable.” If there is any doubt whatever in regard to the worthiness of claim for a pension it should be given to the applicant.
– Even a criminal receives the benefit of the doubt.
– That is so. I should like to see a provision included in the bill to the effect that the pensions at present payable should not be subject to reduction. The physical condition of ex-service men who have been receiving pensions for anything up to fourteen years is not improving with the passage of time. As they grow older it becomes more necessary that they shall have their pension continued. 1 should also like to see the abolition of all two-thirds pensions. If a man is twothirds incapacitated be is, to all intents and purposes, totally incapacitated, tor no employer will give him work. Such pensioners should be granted the full pension; or alternatively the Government should provide them with suitable employment. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to this point. i was somewhat amused to hear the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) declare that it was reasonable that applicants for pensions should have full access to the files in relation to their case. The right honorable gentleman said that no one should be stabbed in the back. But during the war he did not hesitate to stab people in the back. He deported many persons from this country, although he refused to bring them face to face with their accusers. Father Jerger was deported without even knowing who had laid a charge against him. The right honorable member’s sympathy with returned soldiers is lip sympathy only. But I agree with his contention that applicants ‘for pensions should be given access to the complete files relating to their case. It is not satisfactory to determine cases on the evidence contained in the medical history sheets. I have known many instances of men being wounded and sent to hospital while on active service without a single reference to it appearing on their medical history sheet. Over and over again these sheets have proved to be inaccurate and incomplete. Consequently, applicants should be given the opportunity of examining them in every case to see if any omissions have been made from them or if they are inaccurate in any respect.
The request of the honorable member for Reid that advisers should be appointed to assist applicants for pensions, is reasonable. I suppose every honorable member has had to fill in pension claims for old-age and invalid pensions, and has also had to assist ex-service men in filling in their papers. Now that Parliament meets in Canberra, we do not come into suchclosecontact with thepeople.This isan additional reason’ why’ the request of the honorable member for Reid should be granted. I am quite sure that a limited number of officers, of the Repatriation Department could be released from their regular duty for specified hours, to assist ex-soldiers and their dependants to present their: claims in proper form.
I trust that the Government will take every care to ensure that- sympathetic persons shall be appointed to these tribunals. I. agree with the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) that the main consideration in making these appointments should be not whether the appointees are returned soldiers, but whether they have a real sympathy with returned soldiers and their dependants. We want men on these tribunals who will not always be counting the cost of granting a pension, but who will do their utmost to see that the promises made to the soldiers prior to their embarkation are fulfilled to the very- letter. I spoke from a number of recruiting platforms during the. war, and. on behalf of the government of the day made promises to the men who were prepared to enlist. Some of these promises have not been honoured, and I shall not be satisfied until they ‘ are honoured. A good many of the people who are to-day crying about the cost of repatriation, complained bitterly at the close of . the war because the peace terms were not dictated in Berlin. They did not, at that time, think about. the thousands of lives that would have been lost in getting to Berlin, nor the cost of continuing hostilities ‘ until that goal was reached. Fortunately, the war ended before we reached Berlin. Icall upon the Government to fulfil every promise made to the men who went on active service.
.- It is satisfactory that ; this measure has received the unanimous approval of honorable members. . In common with other exsoldier members who have spoken to-day, I welcome the bill, although I believe that pur ex-service . men have, hitherto received every possible consideration from the Minister, at present in charge of. repatriation. When,the. establishment , . of these, appeal tribunals was asked forsome time ago, I felt that they were unnecessary because the Minister was himself dealing most sympathetically with all the appeals submitted to him ; but seeing that the soldiers’ organizations have pressed for the tribunal I shall support the bill.
Something has been said to-day about the chairman of the Repatriation Commission (Colonel Semmens). In fairness to that gentleman, I feel it my duty to observe that on every occasion that I have approached him on behalf of ex-service men, I have found him entirely sympathetic. Consequently, I cannot endorse the remarks made about him the other evening by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green). I do not know whether the appeal tribunals will be able to do very much more for the soldiers than the present Minister has done, for he has undoubtedly strained the provisions of the act in order to give decisions favorable to applicants for pensions. But the amendments that will be made to the principal act by the passage of this bill, may permit the tribunals to go somewhat further than the Minister has gone. It is gratifying to us that our Repatriation Act is the most liberal in the world. Our pensions bill exceeds £7,600,000 per annum. I should not complain if we spent an additional £1,000,000 a year on pensions if it. were necessary to do justice to the men who served the Empire in its hour of need. One of the most pitiful sights in our big cities and country towns is the soldier derelict. It is quite evident that these men are not receiving an adequate pension. An examination of their files would doubtless disclose that they . have not been able to prove that their disabilities were caused or aggravated by war service, and the. Repatriation Department has, therefore,, been obliged to disregard their claims for larger pensions. I believe that it is a good thing to separatethe functions of the Entitlement Tribunal from those of the Assessment Tribunal, as that will allow a medical body conversant with the particular kind of disability from which a man suffers to investigate his claims.
Sub-section 2 of proposed new section 45w ‘reads -
Subject to this Act, an Appeal Tribunal and an’ Assessment Appeal Tribunal’ shall not, in the hearing of appeals, be bound by any rules of evidence but shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case and shall give to an appellant the benefit of any reasonable doubt.
An amendment has been proposed by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), which, if accepted, would be equivalent to providing that any returned soldier who applies for a pension should be granted one. I believe that the proposed new sub-section which I have read adequately meets the position by providing that the appellant shall have the benefit of any reasonable doubt, and T feel confident that it will be liberally interpreted. It must be remembered that the tribunals will be presided over by men who have had a legal training, and they will see that the benefit of any reasonable doubt will be extended to the appellants.
Proposed new section 45x reads : -
An Appeal Tribunal and an Assessment Appeal Tribunal shall, so far as is consistent with the interests of the appellant, and with any obligation to respect information given to the Commission upon a confidential basis, make available to the appellant or his representative information contained in the records relating to the case:
Provided that information given to the Commission on a confidential basis ma)’ be disclosed to the appellant or his representative in any case if the person who has provided the information consents in writing.
That is a move in the right direction. I feel certain that the presiding officer will see that the ordinary rules of evidence are properly respected, and that he will not permit information of a confidential nature being used against an appellant without his having knowledge of the circumstances. It may be necessary, in some cases, not to divulge the name of the person supplying confidential information, but its substance should be indicated to the person concerned.
– The name should be supplied to the representative of the returned soldier, so that he may know that the information is bona fide.
– I agree with that. I had experience as a member of a special committee during the first year that I entered this Parliament. It Avas my duty to examine files on behalf of returned soldiers who were bringing their cases before the Minister, and frequently I found in those files information which it would have, been inadvisable to disclose to a man’s family. It ,is mainly for that reason that certain confidential information has to be. kept secret. But when a man is being tried or is making an appeal he should possess a knowledge of any confidential documents which it .is. proposed to use against him.
Preceding speakers on this measure have referred to what I believe to be an excellent procedure, the appointment of a “ soldier’s friend.” Probably many returned soldiers have been induced to join the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League Association, because membership of that league entitles them to all the assistance that a branch can give them. I have been a member of a branch of the league for many years, and I know, what good work it has done in the prosecution of appeals for pensions and in other matters. I do not think that it would be difficult to make provision for a member of the league in each centre to act as a “ soldier’s friend. “ In large centres it would be advisable and necessary to make such an appointment a permanent one.
The other matters covered by the bill have been referred to so adequately by honorable members who have addressed themselves to the measure, that I shall not take up the time of the House in dealing with them. I welcome the bill, more particularly because it has the complete approval of the whole pf the returned soldiers’ organizations of Australia. Had it not been for that I should have preferred to continue as we were. I do not think that ex-service men ever had a better “ spin “ than that which they have enjoyed under the regime of the present Minister /for Repatriation (Sir Neville Howse). Still, as the returned soldiers’ organizations of Australia have unanimously asked of the bill, it is but right that I, as a returned soldier representative, should vote for it, which I shall have very much pleasure in doing.
.- I desire to say a few words on the measure, not as a returned soldier, but as one who has a very clear recollection of the promises made to our ex-service men. I ad-: mit that, notwithstanding the maladministration of this Government, the conditions obtaining in Australia to-day are much better than they would have been had the.
Allies lost the war. I am not enamoured of the proposal that returned soldiers solely should constitute the proposed appeal tribunals. I believe that we have civilians who are prepared to do their best for the returned men, and who would sift the evidence submitted to the tribunal to the best advantage of the appellant. This bill is the outcome of an agitation by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, and I have no hesitation in supporting it, because I believe it to be a step in the right direction. The Government has done the proper thing in acquiescing in the wish of ex-service men. I appreciate the fact, not on my own knowledge, but from reliable information which has been given to me by returned soldiers, that the present Minister for Repatriation (Sir Neville Howse) has done wonderful work for ex-service men since he has occupied that position. I am aware, too, that the honorable gentleman will not always occupy that position, and it is my opinion that a body charged with the definite duty of giving full consideration to the appeals made by returned soldiers will be better able to do justice to those men than can an individual Minister who has the additional responsibility of administering a big department.
I feel that the very kindly suggestion made by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) in regard to soldiers’ friends is worthy of consideration. I know that there are many hundreds of returned soldiers in Australia who are ignorant of the benefits which may justly be theirs, and which could be secured if they were properly advised. I have in mind one or two very sad cases of exservice men who believe that their country has neglected them and has not given them a chance. During the course of conversation with an honorable member opposite, who is a returned soldier, I was assured that such cases would be satisfactorily dealt with if they were brought under the notice of the department. I know of one specific case with which I am particularly concerned, because the person affected is a relative of mine. This man has all his life worked in the open air, and even since the war has not engaged in a sedentary occupation. Before going to the war he was head stock- aft”. Martens man of Eidsvold station, which is in the district from which I come. He stood 6 ft. 1 in. high, weighed 13 stone, was 24 years of age, and a perfect athlete. But during his active service abroad he was gassed twice and wounded once, and returned to Australia but a shadow of his former self. He is now suffering from tuberculosis and is slowly dying. He informed me that he could not get anything from the repatriation authorities because his application had been rejected by the Medical Board. After my conversation with the honorable member to whom I have referred, I shall get into touch with that ex-service man and endeavour to have his case re-presented for consideration. And he is but one of many.
The little extra taxation that it may be necessary to impose on me and other taxpayers of Australia to provide such men with pensions will not be very great, but the benefit will be very great indeed to the individual affected. I speak feelingly. Really, like the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) I believe that there is scarcely any need for an appeal board. The fact that a man was accepted for service abroad indicates that he left Australia physically sound, and with a clean health record. Even when that record was somewhat marred by indiscretion when abroad,’ the soldier suffered the penalty for his misdemeanour. It is my opinion, therefore, that a pension should be paid to any returned soldier who is now suffering from what is obviously, although perhaps not technically, a war disability. The amendment of the honorable member for Batman should meet the case, and T hope that it will be accepted. I believe, with the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Hurry) that ex-service men should have the benefit of the doubt when they present their cases; but I do not think that the tribunals should necessarily be composed of returned soldiers. It is only necessary to choose men who have a broad, humanitarian outlook, and who desire to do the just thing by our returned soldiers.
– The bill which is before the House is an indication of the sincere desire of the Government to give effect to the promise that it made to the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial
League of Australia. I was very glad to hear honorable members during the course of this debate declare that it has been the experience of returned soldiers throughout the Commonwealth, and particularly of those who have had to apply for pensions, that the administration of the department under the present Minister has been of a most sympathetic character. I express my appreciation of the honorable gentleman, not as a member of the Cabinet and as his colleague, but as a returned soldier representing many other returned soldiers. Sir Neville Howse served in a most distinguished manner throughout the great war, and on his return to Australia he gave of his best in the cause of our returned soldiers. I regretted to hear the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) state that any benefit that the returned soldiers of Australia had got through this Parliament had been obtained through the agitation of members of the Labour party. He particularly mentioned three honorable members opposite. When returned soldiers entered this Parliament, soon after the late war, a committee was formed to consider the bills providing for repatriation and war pensions, and every ex-soldier in the Parliament joined in the discussions in that committee except those associated with the Labour party. One returned soldier on the other side said that he did not believe in “ fancy “ treatment of returned men, and that if they wanted justice, they should join the trade unions. I do not suggest that that was the consensus of opinion among Labour members. I give credit to honorable members opposite for their co-operation in all the efforts that have been put forward to help the soldiers ; but they should not say that all that has been done for those men is due to Labour’s advocacy of their claims. The measure before the House has been commended by all parties. By the provision of the central board, and boards in the various States, as proposed under the bill, the ex-soldiers will not receive fairer treatment than has been meted out to them up to the present time. In my opinion, it would be impossible for them to be given a better deal than they have received from the present Minister for Repatriation, who, we must agree, has strained the law on many occasions in granting their applications. This Parliament should see that they receive everything to which they are entitled, because the people of Australia cannot be too grateful for the self-sacrificing work of the members of the Australian Imperial Forces. The way in which the dependants of those who fell have been cared for shows how sincere this Parliament was in its determination to do everything for the men at the front. In joining in the expression of pleasure at the introduction of the bill, I take the opportunity of paying a tribute of praise to my colleague, the Minister for Repatriation, for his excellent administration of the acts relating to returned soldiers, and the sympathetic consideration that he has always given to the appeals brought under his notice by honorable members on both sides. At the last congress of the Returned Soldiers League, 22 resolutions were passed, suggesting amendments to the principal act, and all of them have been incorporated in the bill. This alone shows that the Government is determined to see that the ex-soldiers receive the utmost consideration.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The Minister has attributed to me a statement that I did not make. I did not say that all that the soldiers had obtained had been due to the efforts of honorable members on this side of the House.
– If I have done the honorable member an injustice, I willingly withdraw the statement.
– I am very pleased that the Government has introduced this bill to deal with appeals relating to war pensions. Every honorable member has large numbers of exsoldiers in his electorate, and a great deal of the work carried out by members is done on behalf of those men. I cast no reflection on the Minister for Repatriation because of the dissatisfaction that the men have felt in the past on account of the treatment received from his department, because I have always found the Minister most sympathetic in matters that I have brought under his notice; but it is humanly impossible for him to consider the hundreds of appeals that come to him against decisions of the Repatriation Commission. At times he has been the political head of several departments as well as secretary to the Cabinet, and he must have a large accumulation of these appeals.
– Only 398.
– That is a considerable number. When Parliament is sitting daily, how can the Minister possibly find time to give to those matters the expert attention that they demand? The job is quite big enough to keep a whole-time tribunal busy. Much credit is due to the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) for his persistence in this matter. As a member of the Returned Soldiers League, he originated the proposal embodied in the bill, and for years has been advocating it in this House. When he submitted his motion last year, members on the Government side voted against it; but I am pleased to give them credit for what they are now doing, although the measure was somewhat grudgingly introduced. I hope that the Minister will give favorable consideration to the suggestion that advisers to returned soldiers be appointed to handle their cases. Those of us to whom the cases of returned men have been referred know that a large number of them have not had the necessary training to enable them to present their claims properly, and it would be of great assistance to them if some departmental officer were placed at the disposal of the Returned Soldiers League in each centre for that purpose. Men who are not accustomed to appearing before boards and other tribunals cannot do justice to their claims. We know that even well-educated men are often nervous and at a great disadvantage in appearing before a court or tribunal of any kind. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has suggested an amendment to clause 6 that should commend itself to the House. He proposes to move that the following proviso be added at the end of sub-section 2 of proposed section 45 w : -
Provided that without limitation of the rights in this act otherwise arising where it is proved by or on behalf of the appellant, or a dependant of the appellant, that the member of the forces had served as such member for such period and in such circumstances as might reasonably be expected to bo injurious to health, and was on the date of the applica tion for a pension either deceased or suffering such incapacity as would, if death or incapacity had in fact resulted from any occurrence happening during the period he was a member of the forces, have entitled such member or his dependant to a pension, the appellant or dependant of the appellant shall be deemed in the absence of evidence to the contrary to have established his claim to a pension.
I hope that the Minister will accept that amendment. It would relieve a large number of men who are suffering from war disabilities, and who are unable to prove that their condition is due to war service. I have referred to the departmental cases in which they have contracted tubercular trouble, although they were discharged from the Australian Imperial Force as medically fit. Other honorable members have pointed to instances in which soldiers made no attempt to get a pension when discharged. Although medically unfit they said nothing because of their anxiety to get employment immediately on their return from the front. For years after the war, there was a period of great prosperity in Australia. Returned men of average intelligence who were, perhaps, not more than 60 per centefficient, obtained work as clerks and manual labourers, and did fairly well ; but in times of adversity, they found that they were the first to be thrown on the unemployed market. Although they had been suffering from war disabilities, they had not reported the fact, and they found difficulty in obtaining a sympathetic hearing from either employers or governments. Thus they were obliged to seek pensions. In many instances where they had contracted tuberculosis, they entered private hospitals and engaged doctors, with the result that they contracted debts for medical expenses running into hundreds of pounds. I discussed with the Minister the other day the case of an ex-soldier who had died owing £400 to his medical adviser. As the law stands, his father, who is a struggling settler, is expected to pay. The father believes that the liability should be shouldered by the Repatriation Department, because the doctor who attended this ex-soldier stated in a letter to the department that, in his opinion, death was due to tuberculosis as the result of war service. In the absence of definite proof, the department declined to grant a pension. It is unreasonable that the father should now he called upon to meet this heavy expenditure for medical attention.
– He will be quite safe under this bill.
– He will be if the amendment moved by the honorable member for Batman is accepted.
– Under the bill he will be all right, if he can make out a prima facie case.
– I have no doubt that he can bring his case before the appeal tribunal for consideration, but the onus will be on his father to prove his eligibility.
– And his claim will succeed unless it is negatived by positive evidence.
– -It will be extremely difficult for the father, situated as he is, in the back country of Queensland, living 150 miles from a railway line, to bring the case before the appeal tribunal. He cannot afford to travel to Melbourne or Canberra, or even to Brisbane, and it would be almost impossible for him now to get additional evidence to support his claim. However sympathetic the Minister may be, it is exceedingly difficult in many cases to get sufficient evidence to prove beyond doubt that a soldier’s illness was contracted as the result of the war.
– The present Minister for Repatriation has never required proof beyond doubt.
– I admit that the present Minister has been sympathetic. I have no fault to find with him personally, but. he cannot possibly review every case; but I know that from time to time the department rejects applications on the ground that there is not sufficient evidence that the disability complained of is due to war service.
– Under the law the onus of proof is on the applicant, but under this bill, if an applicant makes out a prima facia case and produces evidence in support of it, he is entitled to a pension.
– I am afraid that, in the case which I have mentioned, so many years have elapsed since it was brought under the notice of the department that it is highly improbable that the proposed appeal tribunal to be presided over by a barrister and two others would treat the application with the consideration it deserves.
– The consitution of the tribunal is a guarantee that an applicant will get justice.
– Let us hope he will. My experience is that with the onus of proof on the ex-soldier or his dependants, it is difficult in many cases to prove the substantial justice of a claim. If, however, the amendment of the honorable member for Batman is accepted, exsoldiers will have an assurance that they will get their rights. Much depends, of course, upon the interpretation of the words, “ substantial justice “ and “ reasonable doubt “ in proposed new sub-section 45w. I am afraid many ex-soldiers will experience difficulty in getting their rights under this provision, and I suggest that the word “reasonable” be omitted. Because of the keen competition for employment it is hard enough for the man in the possession of all his faculties and in robust health to earn a livelihood in certain callings, and it is heart-rending to see ex-soldiers, suffering from disabilities due to war service, no longer able to maintain the pace. Today many of them are in quest of a pension, and because they are unable to prove that their disability is due to war service, their applications are rejected. I sincerely hope that the Government will exercise great care in the appointment of the appeal tribunal. Although a government may introduce and pass measures from the best of motives, the success or failure of such legislation depends largely upon their administration. Especially is this the case with a bill dealing with war pensions. It is conceivable that the members of the tribunal may believe it to be their duty to limit expenditure to the last penny. It is desirable that the fullest consideration should be given to every case that comes before the board. I suggest, therefore, that, instead of endeavouring to secure the services of the most highly qualified member of the legal profession to act as chairman of the appeal tribunal, the Minister should appoint a man of known wide human sympathies, who will give all ex-soldiers the benefit of the doubt and so administer the act in the way that the people of Australia would wish to see it carried out.
.- It is my intention to discuss the measure from the point of view of the returned soldier, and at the same time to offer suggestions to the Government. A number of amendments have been circulated by the Minister and honorable members, including myself. When the bill is in the committee stage I hope that proposals which I intend to submit will receive careful attention. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) said that the charges which I have made against the permanent head of the Repatriation Department were not supported by other honorable members, and suggested that I was not justified in my criticism. My answer to the honorable member is to be found in the bill itself. We should not have been called upon to discuss this measure had the administration of the department been all that we expected it to be, and if the returned soldiers had received that sympathetic consideration to which they are entitled. So convinced am I that my strictures on the department were justified, that I believe, following the appointment of the tribunals provided for in this bill, tho Repatriation Commission will become a subsidiary administrative body. I have heard other members complain about the administration of the department. If the honorable member for Indi believes that it has done all that was expected of it, I advise him to vote against the bill. If he does, he will be alone.
– I said that I welcomed the bill.
– Hitherto there has been a doubt whether the Minister or the commission was responsible for the Government’s policy in regard to war pensions. This bill will definitely settle that doubt. The tribunals will determine policy. I have heard it said that in his administration of the act, the present Minister has contravened the law by exercising his discretion in the granting of applications for pensions, or in referring applicants back to the commission for a re-hearing of their claims. In my view he has not contravened the law. However, this matter will be settled definitely by the appointment of the tribunals. The appointment of advisers has also been mentioned. Under the Canadian law thirteen official soldiers’ advisers are appointed and paid by the Crown. In Great Britain area-officers act as advisers. If an ex-soldier is dissatisfied with the treatment ho is receiving, he may approach these official advisers or areaofficers for guidance as to procedure. I do not propose, at this stage, to discuss the appointment of advisers under this bill, but when it is in committee, I may have something to say on this point. If my amendment is carried the appeal tribunal will consist of returned soldiers, and will sit, not as an actual court of law as we understand it, but in camera, and it will be expected to deal with every application according to the substantial justice and merits of the case. An applicant will know that his case will not be judged according to the strict rules of evidence, but that the tribunal, by means of examination, will endeavour to bring out the essential facts. I should like to hear further argument; on the question whether it is necessary to have an adviser, or some person analogous to the “ prisoner’s friend “ at courts martial. At the present, time my mind is slightly prejudiced against such an innovation, although I know that it is the practice in other countries. Before this bill was introduced, the Minister appointed a sub-committee of returned soldiers who sat on this side of the House, to advise him.
– Why should only those who sat on that side have been chosen?
– The honorable member for Indi has gone perilously close to making this a party question. I do not wish to do so; but if he persists along those lines I shall show just what is the attitude of the official Opposition towards returned soldiers, and I shall surprise not only this House, but the country generally.
– The honorable member can say anything he likes about this party.
– I do not intend to be led astray by the honorable member for Indi.
– We object to this being marie a party question.
– The honorable member is making rash statements.
– They are not rash statements; but I shall choose my own time for making the disclosures. Two points were raised by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). The first relates to the onus of proof, and the second to the making available of confidential documents. I want honorable members to understand thoroughly what is meant by “onus of proof.” At the last annual Federal Con.gress of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, hold in Sydney on 28th November, 192S,’ the following motion was carried : -
That the onus of proving that a soldier’s disability is not due to war service be on the Commonwealth Government, and not on the soldier, a.” at present.
That congress appointed a sub-committee to draft a bill dealing with soldiers’ pensions. They submitted 22 resolutions, and, with the exception of one minor detail, everything they recommended has been included in this bill. They did not submit a recommendation in relation to the onus of proof, because they realized the thorny nature of that particular subject. I discussed the matter with the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) to see if I could draft an amendment that would overcome the difficulty. It is generally believed that the onus of proof is on the soldier rather than on the department. That is largely true ; but there is a slight variation under the bill. An appellant before the board of appeal will know what he has never known before, namely, the reasons which actuate the commission when it declines to grant a pension. In addition, he will be able to supply to the tribunal any of his medical history which does not appear on the files. Very, few soldiers have seen their files, and they do not know whether they are complete or not. That will be revealed by cross-examination, and an appellant will be able to show in what respect his file is incomplete. It can be taken for granted that he will supply any details that are favorable to himself. If he establishes a prima facie case, the onus of disproving it will be on the department. If the whole onus of proof was thrown on the department, any soldier could claim that he was suffering from a certain complaint and that he had contracted it on war service, leaving it to the department to prove that a cause other than the war had been responsible for it. That, of course, would be quite absurd. But if he could supply details that would lend colour to the belief that his disability was due to war service, the onus would be on the department to show that such an assumption was not a reasonable one in view of the period that had since elapsed. I believe that the matter is covered by sub-section 2 of the proposed new section 45 w. I remind the House that for seven years L have been a member of the executive of the Returned Soldiers League in New South Wales. I, therefore, speak with authority when I say that that league has discussed this question from many angles. The agitation for the appointment of appeal boards began at the annual congress of the New South Wales League in August, 1927.
Another important matter dealt with by the bill relates to the making available of confidential files to an appellant or his representative. That, also, is a very thorny subject. In 99 cases out of 100 those who are designated “ mental cases “ will wish to appear personally before the. tribunal. They do not believe that they are at all affected mentally. Would it be wise to make available to those persons who are just on the border line, the confidential information that has been supplied by an alienist? That is one difficulty which has to be overcome. It must also be remembered that information is sometimes given confidentially to the department by the wives of soldiers, and the disclosure of that information would cause grave domestic disturbances. If any of this confidential information has influenced the commission in deciding against an appellant, it should be taken into account by the appeal tribunal. The whole of the files will be made available to that tribunal before the inquiry is held, and it will be able to consider any confidential information which they contain before the appellant appears before it. The chairman or any other member will be able, by cross-examination of the appellant, to test the truth of such information. On no account should it be taken into consideration unless the appellant has been cross-examined upon it or an opportunity has been afforded to the alienist to repeat it in evidence before the tribunal. I believe that the proposed new section 45x will overcome the difficulty to a very large extent.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– Whereas in Canada and Great Britain only one appeal is allowed, and it is final, under this bill an appeal can be made on a number of occasions provided fresh evidence is brought forward. In that respect we have copied the New Zealand legislation. In New Zealand an appeal may be reconsidered if fresh evidence is available, and in 90 per cent, of the cases re-heard that fresh evidence has been medical. I am pleased that this bill has been brought down. In Canada from 20 to 25 per cent., and in New Zealand, from 60 to 64 per cent, of the decisions of the lower tribunal have been reversed on appeal. Despite the good work done by our Repatriation Commission, I am positive that when this bill becomes law a large percentage of the appeals that will be heard in Australia will be upheld. As two of the members of the entitlement tribunal are to be appointed by the Government, I appeal to “the Minister in Charge of Repatriation to be careful in the choice he makes, so that the dissatisfaction with repatriation administration which has been evident from the beginning and still persists may no longer continue. I sincerely hope that the second reading will be carried and tha’t in committee, by agreeing to some -slight amendments, we shall be able to improve the measure.
– I speak not :as a returned soldier, but as the representative of an electorate which contains a large number of returned soldiers. I think honorable members on both sides will agree that we should do all we possibly can to see that justice is done to the men who saw fit to go to the war and are now suffering an apparent injustice in respect to their pensions. I do not suggest, nor do I insinuate, that the Minister in Charge of Repatriation is at fault. In my dealings with him I have always had from him sympathetic consideration and excellent advice, but he is bound to administer his department, not according to his own likes, but according to the letter of the law as passed by this Parliament. One matter that has struck me forcibly during the debate, is the fact that the man who has arrived at that stage when he draws a two-thirds pension, must find it hard to secure a living, particularly at a time like the present. When so many able-bodied men find it almost impossible to secure employment, how much more difficult is it for an incapacitated soldier? If a man’s capacity to earn a living is diminished by one-third, I think it would be better for the department to pay him the full pension rather than throw him on the scrap heap ; because it is impossible for him to subsist Tinder the two-thirds pension arrangement. The second point that has struck me forcibly during the debate is that which relates to onus of proof. One or two honorable members have stressed the difficulty the department would experience in disproving a soldier’s claim that his present disability arises out of his war service. But if the Government with all the machinery at its command, medical and legal, finds it difficult to disprove a soldier’s claim, how much more difficult must it be for the soldier to prove his claim? I feel confident that on this question honorable members opposite should see eye to eye with honorable members on this side. Let us regard the soldier as the people’s responsibility, and if amendments are moved by honorable members of the Opposition, I hope that honorable members on the Ministerial side will deal with them on their merits and not on party lines. Several cases of gross injustice to certain returned soldiers have been brought under my notice since my election. I have had occasion to go to the Minister about them, and he has advised me of the best means to bring them to a satisfactory conclusion.
– He has done that for all of us.
– I have received the utmost sympathy and consideration from the Minister. No matter how perfect our laws may appear to be, there is always room for improvement, and there is always the possibility that something has been overlooked. It therefore behoves honorable members on both sides of the House to take a broad view and do the best they possibly can for our soldiers. I feel very strongly on the two-thirds pension question. If a soldier is prevented by reason of a war disability from earning a living the responsibility for putting him beyond the risk of want rests upon the Commonwealth Government. These are the only two points on which I feel competent to speak, not being a returned soldier, and I have no desire to deal with anything I do not thoroughly understand. I hope that the bill will be given fair consideration, and that a just decision will be reached. Finally, I hope that every soldier who is suffering an injustice will have it removed.
.- We have it on the authority of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) that there is joy among the angels over one sinner that repenteth, and the chief sinner, according to the honorable member, is the Minister in Charge of Repatriation (Sir Neville Howse). The angels, I presume, are honorable members of the Opposition, because I notice that there was much jubilation on their part in contemplating the sinner on the other side of the chamber. I presume, also, that the honorable member for Reid and those who sit with him will regard as repentant sinners those honorable members on the Ministerial side who last year voted against his motion for an appeal board, and now vote for this bill. But for my part I do not want it to go forth that I have been converted by the preaching of the honorable member for Reid. I voted against his motion last year, and propose to vote for this bill, but I object to being regarded as a sinner, repentant or otherwise, because my one and only reason for voting against the appeal board last year was that I believed that the soldiers were better served under the existing system than they would be under an appeal board. 1 vote for the board now not because I have changed my opinion, but in deference to the wishes of the soldiers themselves as expressed through their organizations.
They desire an appeal board, and as they will be the only persons affected by its decisions, I heartily support the bill.
– The wishes of the returned soldiers were expressed last year.
– I do not think so.
– The honorable member for Reid moved a motion for an appeal board on their behalf.
– I discussed this subject with various soldiers who were perfectly satisfied with the treatment that they were getting from the department. During the eleven years that I have been in this House I have brought a considerable number of cases under the notice of the department, and only on two occasions have I been dissatisfied with its decisions. One of the cases I have on hand now, and if 50 appeal boards find against this man, I shall still be of the opinion that he ought to receive the pension that he is claiming.
It has been suggested that the administration of the department is unsympathetic. I am sure that honorable members generally feel that its administration is the very opposite of that. I think it was the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr Hughes) who this afternoon pointed out that the department in its administration was bound by the terms of the act, and that this Parliament, in its wisdom, had said that no soldier would be entitled to a pension unless he could connect his disability with war service. My experience has been that the department does its utmost to assist the soldier to connect his disability with war service. If he fails to do that then there is no option but to refuse the pension. Under the new arrangement I presume that the department, in dealing with applications, will adopt an attitude similar to that of the appeal board. The same onus of proof will apply, and the department will be able to say to the soldier, “ If you can put before us even one fact which raises the probability that your disability is the result of war service, and if we have no information that negatives that probability, then you are entitled to a pension.” It seems to me that, by the department acting in that way, there will be few appeals to the appeal board. The honorable member for Brisbane last year suggested that we should adopt the Canadian plan of assisting a soldier to state his case. That is most reasonable, and I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to that suggestion, because there is an art in putting a case to a tribunal which has to come to a decision. A soldier may, because of sheer inability to present his case adequately, fail to establish his claim, and thus be deprived of a pension to which he is actually entitled. I. was glad to hear the right honorable member for North Sydney suggest that, if the applicant makes out a prima facie case which the department fails to rebut, then the pension should be granted, and I understood several honorable members opposite to respond that that was all they desired. It seems to me that there is little difference of opinion among honorable members. Every one of us really desires to act in the interests of our soldiers. This afternoon I was greatly impressed by the remarks of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) in respect of what is almost the right of the soldier. No matter what has been the cause of his downfall, if he has fallen on evil times, he has almost a right to claim assistance at our hands.
– I referred to cases of sickness.
– I go further than sickness, because I have known cases of able-bodied men, with no disability, being absolutely down and out. Their luck was out. I feel it difficult to resist any appeal made by these men. I only wish that there was a fund established by means of which the department could assist exsoldiers who have no visible means of support. The very fact that the soldier has faced death for his country entitles him to consideration at our hands.
– There are many such men in our old-men’s homes and benevolent asylums.
– That is a great pity. However, I think that Australia has done its utmost in the interests of our soldiers. Thousands of cases, of which we have heard nothing, have been dealt with by the department. We are too apt to forget that the bulk of the applicants for pensions have bee perfectly satisfied with the treatment that they have received. I do not like to hear an honorable member say that the men are not getting justice. It is not fair to say that. The department considers these cases, and after all, it is a question of opinion on the evidence placed before it, and it is because the department is bound by the terms of the act that it cannot accede to some of the claims of returned soldiers. There is no denial of justice.
– There are cases of carelessness.
– There may be, but I have not experienced any.
– An ex-soldier in Adelaide blew out his brains. His wife applied to the department for a pension and, although her late husband had seldom been out of the hospital since the war, she was told that his death had no connexion with war service.
– One is sorry to hear of such a case. Had I been the authority considering that case it would not have taken me long to give my decision. It is our desire to do our best for the soldiers, and I think that the appeal board, which is being established at the request of the soldiers themselves, will go a long way to obviate the dissatisfaction which exists at present.
– I do not wish to destroy the joy that must have taken place in heaven as the result of the speech just delivered by the honorable member for Fawkner.
– I did not mention the word “heaven.” There is more than one class of angels.
– There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance. Tonight the honorable member has seen fit to get up in his place and to repent, and I do not wish to disturb the joy that must be prevailing among the angels. The honorable member admitted that last year he voted against the appeal board. He still believes that the old order of things would be better than the new arrangement, but he has changed his opinion in deference to the wishes of the soldiers. Last year, when the honorable member for
Reid moved a motion for the appointment of an appeal board, he was acting in accordance with a resolution that was carried by the Federal Congress of returned soldiers.
– It was a State Congress.
– The State Congress met first in New South Wales and passed a resolution. It was then sent to the Federal Congress which adopted it, and subsequent to that, the honorable member for Reid moved for the appointment of an appeal board; so that the honorable member for Fawkner, when he says that he has altered his opinion in deference to the wishes of returned soldiers, is evidently under a misapprehension.
– I have not altered my opinion, but I am voting for the appeal board in deference to the wishes of the Returned Soldiers League.
– The honorable member has altered his vote without changing his opinion in deference to the wishes of the soldiers. I would remind him that prior to the vote which he gave against the appeal board last year, the returned soldiers of this country had already expressed their opinion in favour of an appeal board. I welcome the bill and I hope, with other honorable members, that it will be satisfactory to the returned soldiers of this country, who, up to the present, have had scant consideration at the hands of the Repatriation Department. Like other honorable members, I have received from week to week numerous letters from returned men who cannot get satisfaction. I have a typical letter before me. It is from a returned soldier, and in it he makes some observations concerning the appeal board. His service at the front cannot be gainsaid. He claims to have had a longer continuous service with a front-line unit - the Field Artillery - than have most returned men. He had ten days’ leave during his service of one year and nine months in Flanders and on the Somme. He did not miss one day’s duty in the first sixteen months. He served through two winters and he says that for any digger with such a front-line service to be compelled to prove that his subsequent break-down in health, no matter how many years have passed, is due to war service, is a damnably callous thing. He speaks about the onus of proof, and says it is unfair and inhuman. He further states -
I also notice the Minister has again decided on further injustice to the soldiers -
I am using this correspondent’s own words - by putting the onus of proof that his disability is due to war service.
The person from whom I have received this communication says that he has seen a rough outline of what the bill contains. The letter continues -
This is a mean proviso to cheat deserving nien. Those men who voluntarily joined the Australian Imperial Force and offered to make the supreme sacrifice for their country, never dreamed of bargaining for any bonus or compensation. Although serving under the most frightful conditions amid death and destruction, living in a morass of mud, dead bodies, both horses and men - unburied in many cases - overrun with vermin, these men stuck their job and trusted their country. They kept no record of hardships that would undermine the health of the strongest.
When men have returned from such a hell, as did the men on whose behalf he writes, it is impossible, he says, for any one to say that the disability was not due to war service. Only a few days ago I received a letter from a shire council in my electorate covering a copy of a letter from a Sydney branch of the Red Cross Society, appealing to the shire council on behalf of tubercular soldiers in various hospitals who have been informed by the authorities that their disability is not due to war service. I quote the following extract from the letter from the Red Cross Society : -
Although ten years have elapsed since the great war you may be surprised to learn that we have in our care to-day, no less than 25 totally and permanently incapacitated soldiers at Braithwaite Red Cross Hospital. North Sydney; 33 early-stage T.B. soldier cases at Bodington Bed Cross Hospital, Wentworth Falls, and 14 dying T.B. soldier cases at Malahide Red Cross Hospital, Pennant Hills. As the Department of Repatriation does not recognize the disability of these men as being due to or aggravated by war service the cost of their maintenance is not borne by the Federal Government.
The clerk of the council states -
The council is surprised and very annoyed to learn that any returned soldiers who are totally incapacitated have to depend on charity for their care and maintenance. In view of the constantly repeated promise which was endorsed by the people of Australia, that upon their return our soldiers would be generously treated and cared for, the council resents the apparent repudiation of that solemn promise in the case of some of the most unfortunate and suffering returned men.
– When was that written ?
– It was forwarded to me within the last few weeks. It continues -
I have, therefore, by direction, to respectfully request you to strongly and wholeheartedly urge the Government to take the necessary action to ensure that all totally incapacitated returned men should be properly cared for at the expense of the Commonwealth and that those who are slowly passing away shall have every attention and treatment to case their suffering.
I think I have said sufficient to show that there are still many returned men who are not receiving just treatment. The quotations I have given confirm my opinion that there is much room for improvement in the administration of the Repatriation Department. It is unfair and unreasonable to place the onus of proof upon these men.
– Such facts would raise a prima facie case.
– Does the honorable member suggest that men suffering from tuberculosis would be able to approach the Appeal Board and that the onus’ of proof would not rest with them ?
– It would be necessary of course for them to give the board a complete history of their cases.
– Seeing that many of them have not received satisfaction in the past, I trust that their claims will be favorably considered by the appeal board. I intend to support the bill and I sincerely hope that a full measure of justice will be done to those unfortunate men who up to the present have not had a fair deal.
.- Towards the termination of the war it was recognized that one of the greatest problems of this Parliament would be to legislate in the interests of returned soldiers. The experience we have had since the first legislative action was taken to fulfil the promises made to our soldiers demonstrates that the Government has repeatedly and very earnestly rendered signal service to the men who left Australia in the interest of Empire. It was my privilege to enter this chamber shortly after, returning from the war in 1917 when soldier problems became pressing. After my election I had a fair share of the work of handling the claims of returned men, and in fairness to the department, I should say that I believe that fully 95 per cent, of the men were satisfied with the assistance they received ‘ under our repatriation scheme. In view of the varying opinions of political parties, one would naturally expect some men to endeavour to secure a greater measure of justice than they were entitled to. It was recognized that something would have to be done very quickly and that concerted action would have to be taken to deal with soldier problems. In the subsequent parliament of 1919 there were 23 returned soldiers, representing all political parties in this House. These members met in conference and agreed to meet from time to time to discuss matters affecting returned soldiers and to make representations to the authorities in the direction they thought best. Problems affecting repatriation and war service homes were discussed, and the then Minister was to some extent guided by the opinions of members of that committee. I was sorry to hear an honorable member opposite endeavour to give to three members on that side of the chamber the credit for most of the work done by this Parliament in respect to repatriation. I remind that honorable member that there are many ways of doing effective work through a Minister or a department. It need not necessarily be done on the floor of the House. Other members of the committee worked in a quiet way and made our requests to the Minister without publicity. So successful were our efforts that there has, I think, been less dissatisfaction among returned soldiers in this country than probably any other country which participated in the great war. No one will deny that the Australian Government responded generously and willingly to the demands made upon it and recognized the rights of men who had a reasonable claim to compensation. Several honorable members have referred to the action of those on this side who voted against the motion submitted by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) during the last Parliament. I was against the appointment of an appeal board then, and I still am, because I feel that so long as we have in charge of the Repatriation Department a Minister of the capacity and sympathy of the honorable gentleman at present at its head, the soldiers will be better served than they . could be by any appeal board. The experience which honorable members have had when approaching the Minister has been entirely satisfactory, and in behalf of the hundreds of returned soldiers and their families in my electorate, I thank him for his courtesy and generous sympathy in the administration of the Repatriation Department. Throughout the election campaign I was never asked whether I was in favour of an appeal board, but many returned soldiers, collectively and individually, expressed confidence in the Minister, and said that so long as he was able to control the department and personally review each case, they desired no change. However, the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League has requested that an appeal board be established, and the Minister has intimated to the House that he cannot continue to support the load he has been carrying for many months, and that, therefore, he must be relieved of portion of his responsibilities. For those reasons alone I support the bill.
– I would not have spoken on the motion for the second reading had 1 not been provoked by the speeches of some honorable members opposite, who have declared themselves intensely sensitive lest, by accident, any political kudos should attach to members of the Opposition in regard to the introduction of this bill. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) gave us a dissertation on angels - presumably fallen and others - and suggested that the Opposition ranked amongst those who had not fallen, at least not yet. Thinking on that very exalted and detached subject, another line comes to my mind - “And fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” The honorable, member is not to be ranked amongst either the angels or the fools - at least he will not be so ranked by me - but he attempted to justify his vote for the bill and his vote against the motion submitted by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) last year, on the ground that since that motion was defeated the returned soldiers had pronounced themselves in favour of an appeal board, and although he believes the present system is sufficient, if not the best, he defers to the superior judgment of returned soldiers as expressed through their organizations.
I do not intend to make repatriation a plaything of party politics, but I intend that the history of this matter, which has been presented to the House from different points of view, shall be seen in correct perspective by the public and the returned soldiers. That much is due to ourselves and to the country. What are the facts regarding the attitude of the returned soldiers towards .an appeal board? The Federal Congress of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League, comprising delegates from all States, decided in November, 1927, that an independent appeal board should be constituted to determine war pensions appeals. The 1927 State Congress in New South Wales did likewise. The honorable member for Reid moved on the 10th May, 1928-
That a select committee from this House be appointed to inquire into and report upon the operations of the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act, including the method of assessing war pensions and the question of establishing an appeal board in regard to war pensions.
I do not know why, in the debate that’ followed, the motion should have been infected with any party flavour unless it was imported by honorable members supporting the Government. I and many others on this side of the House spoke in favour of it, and I am not aware that any of us introduced any party colour into the discussion. The Government opposed the motion. It was stoutly resisted by the Minister for Repatriation, and overwhelmingly rejected by a combination of members of the Nationalist party, and the Country party. What were the consequences? The New South Wales Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia wrote a strong, and, indeed, biting letter, dated 16th May, 1928, to all newspapers, and senators and members of this House. Amongst other things, the letter stated - the debate in the House of Representatives on May 10th, on the question of pensions appeal boards, showed that the temper of practically all the speakers was in accord with the League’s demands, but to our great regret, as we know no politics, considerations cropped up which forced the vote to party lines.
The Minister for Repatriation cannot altogether escape tlie blame. While we were buoying ourselves up with the hope that Parliament would be allowed to exercise a free vote, we were startled to read in the newspapers, a -week ‘before the debate came on, that Sir Neville Howse had asked a joint, meeting of the Nationalist and Country party for a vote of confidence in his administration of the Repatriation Department,
The move effectually defeated the league’s proposal before it ever reached the House. Though Sir Neville Howse made sure that the party whip would crack, he, during the debate, begged members “to keep the question out. of party politics.” We see a lot of humour in that observation, because the Minister discussed tlie question in Parliament, as if it were impudence on the part of the League to espouse it.
He spoke of “underground engineer ing” and the implication was left open from his phrase that the League had done some wrong. There, lias been no ‘“underground engineering” on the part of the League. The State Congress of Dic Returned Soldiers League pledged itself to further the appointment of independent boards - a decision which received the unanimous endorsement of the Federal Congress in Brisbane last year.
In its ability to express the feelings of returned men in general the League gives ground to no one, whether he be a minister of the Crown or any one else. Its association with hundreds of returned men daily, its investigations of their grievances, leaves the League in a unique position. It is the only organization which can adequately formulate their wants and aspirations.
Therefore, we do not hesitate to join issue with the Minister in his contention that returned soldiers do not want an appeal hoard other than that which is open to them in the Repatriation Commission. We say emphatically that the appointment of appeal boards is an imperative Government duty. The speeches of most members in the House of Representatives’ debate forced recognition of that duty even if their votes, for the time being, did not.
It is perfectly obvious from that letter and the sequence of the events I have related, that in moving the motion last year, the honorable member for Reid (“Mr. Coleman) was merely giving effect, to the clearly expressed desire of the returned soldiers’ organizations throughout Australia, and if they are still waiting for an appeal board, it is because of the dilatoriness of this Government. It is not a mere assertion but an historical fact that the debate in this House and the expressed disapprobation of the returned soldiers were factors which at last moved the Government to action, and caused the Prime Minister to promise, as part of the Government’s policy at the last election, the creation of an appeal board. The agitation had forced’ the Government to this change of attitude, and its reluctance is evidenced by its opposition to the proposal that emanated from this side of the House.
If the Government had stood out consistently against the creation of the appeal board, and remained adamant, it would have been entitled to greater respect than for having introduced this bill, and, disregarding the past history of the subject, presuming to say that no greater credit attaches to the members of the Opposition than to ministerialists for the fact that appeal tribunals are about to bc established. Unquestionably, the returned soldiers are entitled to credit for having initiated this reform, urged it, and persistently and insistently demanded it, and members of the Opposition, notably the honorable member for Reid, may rightly claim to have applied the screw which forced the Government to an eleventh-hour conversion.
The Minister, who has always approached the duties of his high office in a kindly spirit, said that he had given his personal attention to all the claims that had been rejected by the commission during his term of office. If that be so, he has undertaken a mammoth task - a task far too great to be successfully accomplished by any man.
– I did not say that. I said that I had carefully examined every file sent to me in respect of claims supported by members of Parliament, not every claim rejected by the Repatriation Commission.
– -The Minister’s answer illustrates my case more strongly. Presumably a vast number of claims have been rejected by the commission, and most of the claimants have never had tlie good fortune to have their cases get as far as the Minister or supported by a
Minister. Only a comparatively limited number reached him. The letter from which I have quoted goes on to say -
Of the 52,000 claims rejected since 1910, how many can the Minister undertake to personally review among his multitudinous duties as Minister of Repatriation, Health, Home and Territories and Secretary of the Cabinet?
– The honorable member has referred to the number of cases since 193 G, whereas I have been Minister in charge of Repatriation only since 1925.
– The number of claims is so great that effectual examination of them by the Minister is impossible. In any case, I suggest that it is not the function of the Minister to examine them, and no doubt the Minister would be pleased to be relieved of the burden of dealing with them. Seeing that we have set up a commission composed of highly paid public servants, drawn for the most part from the ranks of the ex-members of the Australian Imperial Force, the Minister should be relieved of these duties. It was never intended that the Minister should constitute himself a board of appeal in these cases. The present Minister has been a sympathetic board of appeal, hut the task should not be committed to him. The letter proceeds -
An independent board would certainly broaden the interpretation of what constitutes disabilities from war service. It would not reject the inferences that wallowing in mud and slush, and front line service, were factors in the breakdown of health, even if long after the war. Any impartial tribunal would weigh very strongly in a man’s favour the period of front line service, the exposures he had endured, as contributing to ill health, though his medical history in the Repatriation Department’s pigeon holes showed “ all clear.”
That is why I have always taken the view, in connexion with the vexed question of what is known as the burden of proof, that the principle upon which the burden of proof should move is that the soldier, in the first place, should be called upon to establish certain facts which, for the most part, are obtainable from official records or can easily be established. For instance, every man’s history as a soldier is on record. His medical and surgical condition at the time of his application is a matter for determination with some degree of accuracy by acknowledged experts. Where a man submits evidence that he, in fact, did serve as a member of the Australian Imperial Force in circumstances of such hardship and stress as might reasonably be considered to be prejudicial to health, and where he is, at the time of his application, actually in such a state of health as would qualify him for a pension if the other facts are undisputed, it should be sufficient for him to prove those facts. Having proved his service and his state of health, the burden of proof should then shift from him to the department. The department should be called upon to show why such a man should not be qualified for a pension. 1 do not suggest that the burden of proof be removed to the department, and yet not be disputed by the department. The department might conceivably call evidence detrimental to the soldier, or evidence of a medical, surgical, or pathological character to rebut his claim. Whatever else the bill accomplished, I had hoped that it would meet the long standing complaint that an unfair burden of proof has always been imposed upon the ex-member of the forces. He has always been required to show, it may be long years after his service in the field, that the disabilities from which he suffers are in some way attributable to his service as a soldier. In many cases that, from the very nature of the case, is an impossible onus to discharge. Applied to men who have seen active service under the front line conditions mentioned in that letter, it is not compatible with that measure of justice, not to say generosity, which honorable members in this chamber, and the general public outside, declared they would always manifest to the returned members of the Australian Imperial Forces. The letter continues -
In his speech in Parliament Sir Neville Howse referred to the concessions which had been given to returned men since he took charge of the Repatriation Department. Hie Minister can not deny that practically every concession obtained for returned men has been obtained by dint of hard battling on the part of the League. Can he point to one concession that the Government has given of its own volition ?
That question remains unanswered. The Government cannot point to one concession that it has made of its own volition. I read further : -
Perhaps, within the early future, the Government will be able to boast of its having given another concession, that of independent pension appeal boards.
The letter concludes: -
Returned soldiers refuse to submit their rights to political control. There will be security for them in the determination of appeals by independent boards, which will correct all injustices. In 1920 there were 90.389
Diggers “ on pensions. Last year the number hail fallen to 72,388. The popular notion that the pension bill for “Diggers,” apart from their dependants, is increasing has been effectively exploded.
Thanks to tlie Minister, we now have exact figures as to the number of soldiers and their dependants in receipt of pensions. I shall, therefore, not say anything further along those lines.
I am not entirely optimistic as to the complete success of this bill as an agent for meeting the just claims of returned soldiers. I agree entirely with the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron), who said that unless this legislation is sympathetically administered on lines consistent with the expressed opinion of honorable members on both sides of this chamber, its machinery will be useless. Like other classes of machinery - machine guns and shrapnel - it can be just as effectively turned against our returned soldiers as used to their advantage. Unless this legislation is wisely administered by sane, as well as generous, men, it will not accomplish what Parliament desires.
In the discharge of the important duties which I owe to the general public, and particularly to my constituents, I shall accept no absolute direction, either from bodies of returned soldiers or any one else, in regard to this bill. There are many facets to this question which are fit and meet to be examined, and which ought to be examined by responsible members of this House. It may be that those who have not the honour to be members of returned soldiers’ organizations, would take a wider view of public policy and exercise a more independent and sound judgment than would some returned soldiers. I am not sure that we confer an unmixed blessing on the soldiers and others who will be appellants before these tribunals by insisting that the members of the entitlements board shall, with the exception of the chairman, be returned soldiers. No doubt, in the returned soldiers’ organizations, there are men of outstanding capacity and wide sympathy; but I feel that I express the views of manyof the rank and file of the Australian Imperial Forces when I publicly statethat they would rather submit their cases to the detached judgment of sympathetic non-militarists, than to some gentlemen who served with distinction in the Australian Imperial Forces. The men who served in the higher ranks had a vastly different experience from that of most of the men who will appear before these tribunals as appellants. Weall know that the returned soldier of high rank, with strong opinions on military, discipline, can be very severe in dealing with the claims of his subordinates. These claimants would, in my opinion, be much more sympathetically and equally intelligibly dealt with by men wisely selected’ from the ranks of the general public, than by men selected from military ranks. While, as everybody knows, I held most unpopular views in relation to the war,, and expressed them from a high sense of duty, but with great trepidation, believing as I did that the war was the greatest wrong ever perpetrated by humansagainst humanity, and while I consider and have often said that every participating country, primarily through itsgovernment, but also through its pulpits, press and people must share the responsibility for this mammoth outrage upon humanity, the fact remains that the men whose claims we are considering responded to what they regarded as theclarion call of duty. That should be sufficient for us. If we now fail’ to impress upon this legislation the generous impulses of the people of Australia towards these men, and deal with their claims in a niggardly, cheeseparing manner, according them only the smallest possible measure of redress and recompense for their tremendous selfsacrificein the war - for it must be remembered that many of them suffered almost unbelievable hardships - we should place upon ourselves the ineradicable mark of” ingrates. Whatever our views might have been as to the conduct and continuance of the war, we must not deal with this subject in a narrow, carping spirit. I do not. wish to turn a great Australian question to any party political advantage, although I did, at the beginning of my speech, say a few words with the object of doing justice, and neither more nor less than justice, to the members of my own party who had the courage in the past, though they laboured under the unjust stigma of a lack of patriotism and cowardice, to impress the claims of these returned soldiers and fellow-Australians upon their country.
I hope that the measure will be sympathetically administered. Whatever may be the capacity of the men chosen to fill the important positions on these tribunals, I trust that they will not be wanting in bowels of compassion, and that they will not do their work in the spirit of hucksterers when dealing with these men who served the nation with such splendid spirit, and who did not hesitate to place their lives at barter in this great struggle. I should think that we could rely upon gentlemen of high standing in the medical and surgical profession to give their services to the assessments appeal board in an entirely honorary capacity, as they have done in the past. I hope that the members of these tribunals will, in every case, give first consideration to the welfare of the exsoldiers this measure is intended to benefit.
.- Seeing that we are threatened with an allnight sitting, I shall not detain honorable members very long in discussing this bill, although it offers an enticing opportunity to elaborate one’s views on the conduct of the war, the treatment of ex-service men by the various countries of the world, and other considerations.
I have no axe to grind in relation to the granting of a pension to myself. My acousticon is the present that I received from the admirality. After the war ended I found that something had gone wrong with my head. A medical board considered my case, and the chief medical officer of the Navy Department put me through a very gruelling experience. I suffered a severe injury from shell fire in respect of which the dear old admiralty gave me a grant of £20. My acousticon cost me £30, so I am £10 out of pocket over the transaction.
To illustrate what we returned men have to put up with, I propose to quote a paragraph which appeared in the Sydney Bulletin on the 13th March. How a newspaper of any reputation could publish such a paragraph I cannot comprehend. It is most unfair, as I think all honorable members will admit. It is signed by “ Meddik “ and reads -
As an example of an uncalled-for and all too-common type of libel on the poor old war, take this from the Sydney Morning Herald: -
Mr. W. M. Marks, M.P., is at present confined to his bed suffering from the recrudescence of an old war injury. His trouble has been diagnosed as an inflammation of the inner ear.
I know all about this complaint, being afflicted by it myself. It is caused by a germ penetrating the middle ear, and it leads gradually to deafness. But it bears no more relation to a war injury than baldness or bunions - that is to say, no amount of warfare can either start it, or make it worse once it has started.
That is a despicable statement to publish. I should like to meet “ Mr. Meddik “, for I feel sure that we could have a most interesting five minutes together. I may be weak in the head, but I certainly am not weak in the arm.
I regard this measure as the valedictory of the Minister in charge of Repatriation (Sir Neville Howse). Last year the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) moved a motion to the effect that a board should be constituted to consider appeals against the decisions of the Repatriation Commission in respect of war pensions. Although I was whole heartedly in favour of the motion, the party whip was cracked. The Government considered that so long as a gentleman such as the Minister, Sir Neville Howse, could personally investigate the cases of these appellants, there was no need to set up an appeal board. I also felt that that was so, but I could not see how any one holding ministerial rank could devote to this work the time that it required. However, I am a good party man. I have not voted against my party during the ten years I have been a member of this Parliament, and I fell into line on that occasion. I am delighted that the Government has now decided to establish these appeal tribunals, for I know that my honorable friend, Sir Neville Howse could not continue for any length of time to carry on the work that he has been doing.
The opinion of the returned soldiers on this subject is interesting. I often feel inclined to challenge any honorable members to demonstrate that he has more returned soldiers in his constituency than I have in mine. A very large number of returned men live in Waverley, Bondi, Bellevue Hill and the adjacent localities. Possibly only the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) represents more returned men than I do. I asked many of the returned soldiers in my electorate what they thought about the appointment of appeal boards, and told them that I felt that so long as they had a Minister such, as Sir Neville Howse to give personal consideration to their claims, everything would be all right. They replied, “If Howse looks after the fellows, we shall be satisfied. “ The returned soldiers have absolute confidence in the Minister, and so have I. I have had as many as 70 cases before the Minister at various times, and have had hundreds before the department. The Minister has frequently said to me, “Look here, Marks, I have gone through the files of this man’s case, and I do not think he stands a chance of getting a pension. Take the file, go through it yourself, and tell me whether you think I am right or wrong.” That was fair enough. I have taken the files of many men and spent hours on them, hut in every case I have had to acknowledge that the decision of the Minister was sound. I believe that the Minister has, in many cases, gone against his judgment as a medical practitioner in order to grant a pension to some of the claimants. Nevertheless, in my opinion 99.75 per cent, of the troubles from which ex-service men are suffering are the result of war service. Such honorable members opposite as the honorable member for Reid, the honorable member for Adelaide, and others who saw active service, as well as many honorable members on this side of the House, know what a hell the war was on land and sea. They realize that many men who felt quite fit when the armistice was declared were suffering from a greater strain than they suspected. While the war was on, it was regarded by the boys as a glorious old picnic. They went over the top and enjoyed themselves. But they felt the re-action after the cessation of hostilities. They missed the comradeship of their fellows. In fact, I believe that we are all missing it to-day. During the war there was a great spirit of friendship among men of the upper and lower deck and in all branches of the service. It was that which carried us through until the armistice came. But when we got back into our civil life we began to feel that things were not right. Not all the men who saw service were blessed by having a few bob in their pocket as I had, and when things began to go wrong and they felt off colour, the outlook became very gloomy to them. There can be no doubt whatever that the war has adversely affected many a man who felt quite all right when he was discharged.
I do not know whether these appeal tribunals will give dissatisfied pension claimants any more satisfaction than the Minister has given them. We shall have to risk that. As the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has said, everything will depend upon the personnel of the tribunals. It is beyond question that many a man who was promoted from the ranks became a tall order when he got his tin hat. How some of these men put it over the lads! It may be that they will continue to put it over them if they are appointed to positions on the appeal tribunals. The soldier members may use a rod of iron on some of the boys. But we shall have to chance it, for Sir Neville Howse simply cannot carry on the work that he has been doing. No man could do it.
I hear that there are 18 or 20 amendments to the bill. I do not know why there should be, for in my opinion the measure, so to speak, opens every door and window to let these claimants crowd in. It gives every ex-service man an opportunity to demonstrate his right to a pension. This is a non-party question, and I desire to congratulate the House on the extremely high level of the debate, a level such as one might well expect in a debate of this description. It is generally admitted that no other country has treated its returned men as well as Australia has. Now we are going a step further, the result of which, I hope, will shock the Treasurer to the extent of hundreds of thousands of pounds. It rests with the appeal tribunals whether the honorable gentleman will receive that shock or not. We must realize that in taking this step the intention is to drop overboard the pilot, the man who has so capably guided the ship and given the boys what they have been looking for, with that sympathetic consideration that is inherent in him. Everything will in future be in the hands of the appeal tribunal.
I do not agree with the attitude of the. honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green). I have had considerable experience in the matter, and I am satisfied that, by and large, cases have been dealt with in a very equitable manner by the Repatriation Department. Necessarily the claims of some ex-service men have been rejected, and they are not satisfied. This bill will rid them of that dissatisfaction, and in that respect it will do a lot of good. They may now go before the appeal tribunal and have their troubles thoroughly investigated, in the firm belief that they will receive a fair deal. I welcome the bill.
.- The repatriation laws of Australia have been unanimously passed in this Blouse, and there has never been any difference of opinion, politically, with regard to them. While this is a measure to establish appeal tribunals, I desire to point out that neither the rights nor the rates of the original repatriation scheme have been altered by this chamber, with the exception of an alteration which was made by the Government responsible for the initiation of the scheme granting further concessions to returned soldiers. This debate at one time appeared to favour the viewpoint that the bill under consideration is conferring some new benefits upon Australian returned soldiers. I repeat, however, that neither the rights nor the rates originally set out in the magnificent scheme which was evolved by that great pioneer of repatriation in Australia, the late Senator E. D. Millen, have been altered. At a time when kudos in the matter of repatriation is being sought by some members of this House, it is appropriate that this chamber and the returned soldiers of Australia should place on record their sense of apprecia tion of the labours of that man, who probably went to a premature grave because of his service and devotion to the interests of the ex-service men of this country.
Although in the remarks of some honorable members who have spoken to the bill there seemed to be a tinge of party feeling, I am confident that there has never been any evidence of partisanship manifested in connexion with this important problem. There has been a great deal of confusion of thought as to the operation of the act, but I repeat what I have previously said in thi* chamber, that the administration of the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act is vested in the commission, subject to the Minister. It is not vested in the Minister, who has no power to alter or in any way revise the pension granted by the State board or the Central Commission of Review from the State board. Now we are setting up two appeal tribunals, one to deal with the matter of entitlement and the second with the degree of incapacity. In both those matters returned soldiers are being granted what they asked for, appeal boards independent of the Repatriation Department. If I were again Minister for Repatriation, nothing would please me more than to be relieved by such a board of any apparent ministerial responsibility. I am quite certain that, after his long experience as the head of this department, the present Minister must feel that a great degree of personal work - I was almost about to say political pressure at times, for I know how incessant are the representations made by private members in connexion with individual cases - is involved in the administration of repatriation. The war experience of the Minister and his high skill in his profession have enabled him to aid the commission - I hope that the honorable gentleman at no time directed it - in determining the rates of pensions. The proposed tribunals will not add to the rights or rates initiated by the Hughes Administration, but will provide independent bodies to which individual soldiers may apply to have determined the question of entitlement or degree of incapacity. I am not sure that those tribunals, unacquainted with the working of the-
Repatriation Department and with all the bases that have been laid down in the past, will give the results hoped for, or that they will be as satisfactory as the sympathetic administration of the Minister and the commission. Undoubtedly the close association which existed between the Minister and the commission resulted in the granting of pensions to many whose cases might otherwise have been held over for a long time. It is felt by those mainly responsible for the original agitation that these appeal tribunals are going to do everything that the soldier is looking for, but I sound the note of warning that disappointment may probably follow.
– I thank the House for the manner in which it has received this bill, though there must necessarily be a difference of opinion on a matter so vital as that with which it deals. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) referred to what he was pleased to term the hysterical outbursts in which I indulged Avhen his motion was before us last year. I assure the honorable member, and then I shall cease to refer to him, that the opinions to which I gave expression on that occasion were the result of mature consideration. Having had a further period in which to review what I then said, I am more than ever convinced that I was right. If I were asked my opinion of this measure, introduced on behalf of the comrades with whom I served for over five years in the Great War, and three years in South Africa, I should say that I fear they will not, under the new scheme, receive as sympathetic or as beneficial a hearing as they have had under the present system.
– Why does the honorable gentleman say that?
– I say that as the result of years of experience. I cannot see in any other country which has similar boards in operation, that exsoldiers have been able to obtain as liberal an interpretation of a repatriation act as has been secured under the Repatriation Commission in Australia.
– Why did the honorable gentleman introduce the bill if that is his opinion of it?
– It was introduced at the desire of the men with whom I served. Furthermore, I am unable to continue to do the work. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) would lead us to believe that he entirely forgets the principles that must underlie a repatriation act in any country. In the determination of an application for a pension the question to be considered is not whether the applicant is ill or out of employment, but whether his illness was caused or aggravated by his war service. The only honorable member of the Opposition who has spoken with perfect frankness and fixity of purpose on this question is the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), who reiterated his belief that every man who served at the war, and in whom a disability subsequently manifested itself, should receive an adequate pension. I admire the honorable member for holding those views, but it is impossible to take such action under the existing Repatriation Act. It would be necessary first to introduce an amending measure.
I am glad that the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) paid such a high tribute to the late Senator E. D. Millen, who laid the foundations of our repatriation scheme, the most generous and the most liberally administered in the world. That foundation was laid during the regime of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) who, I regret, to-day referred to the principal act as if he had had nothing to do with it. It was one of the right honorable gentleman’s ministers who brought it down and it will ever stand to the credit of this country. As the honorable member for Wannon pointed out, it alone of all the repatriation acts, of the various countries involved in the great war, has stood the test of time from 1922, when the last amendment was made, until 1929. Other countries have had to amend their acts year after year.
This is a non-party question, and I welcome the criticism that has emanated from honorable members. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) was the only one who thought fit to strike a personal note. No other honorable member has said one word that has not been of some value to the debate and which will not, I believe, assist us when we reach the committee stage. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) suggested that a soldiers’ adviser should be appointed. I believe that it will be wise to allow the tribunals to operate for a period of a few weeks, or possibly months, and if the honorable members then inform me that they consider that the claims of an appellant will be more satisfactorily dealt with in the manner they propose, I shall recommend the Government to appoint advisers, the same as is done in Canada. As every honorable member realizes, no matter what legislation we may pass, its success will be determined by the manner in which it is administered. I hope that the returned soldiers’ organizations will exercise the utmost care in selecting their representative, and that every honorable member will help me to select the two who will be chosen by the Government. I am prepared to take any advice that may be offered, so that we may obtain the services of the most suitable men available. The amendments of the principal act that the bill contains are so clear, simple and beneficial that I have no doubt that the measure will be taken through committee to-night, and that an all-night sitting can be avoided. I have circulated certain amendments, not with the idea of taking credit from members who have similar amendments circulated but because I think that my amendments are most suitably drafted and should be accepted.
– Will the services of the medical men who have given valuable assistance to the commission still be available?
– Yes. Those members of the medical profession, have shown such remarkable ability in dealing with claims for pensions that I hope that their services will be retained.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 -
Section 22 of the principal act is amended. . . .
– I move -
That the following paragraph be added : - and (b) by omitting the words ‘“Member of the Forces’ means” and inserting in their stead the words “ ‘ Member of the Forces’ or Returned Soldier ‘ means “.
This will give the same meaning to “ Member of the Forces “ wherever the term occurs in the bill.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause also verbally amended and, as amended, agreed to.
– As clause6 covers a number of proposed new sections I shall put each proposed section separately.
Clause 6 -
After section Forty-Five of the Principal Act the following …. sections are inserted
Proposed new section 45a.
.- I have given notice of an amendment to insert, after the word “ be “, second occurring in proposed sub-section 2, the words “ returned soldiers and shall be.” The section would then provide that an appeal tribunal “shall consist of a chairman and two other members, all of whom shall be returned soldiers, and shall be appointed by the Governor-General.” The Minister has also circulated an amendment to proposed sub-section 45a, and if in his opinion my amendment will limit the choice in obtaining the best man available in the legal profession to act as chairman of the tribunal, I am prepared to abandon it. That would mean that we should follow the practice in Canada, where the majority of the members of the tribunal must be ex-members of the forces. Two out of the three members would then be returned men. I do not wish to limit the choice of the Minister in selecting the chairman, who, under the bill, must be a person who has been admitted to practise as a barrister or solicitor of the High Court, or of the Supreme Court of a State.
– I think the suggested amendment would limit the choice.
– Then I shall not proceed further with it.
Amendment (by Sir Neville Howse) agreed to -
That sub-section 4, proposed new section 45a, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following: -
The members other than the chairman shall be returned soldiers, and one shall be selected for appointment from a list, containing the names of not less than three returned soldiers, submitted to the Minister by any organization representing returned soldiers throughout the Commonwealth.
Proposed new section, as amended, agreed to.
Proposed new sections 45b to 45e agreed to.
Proposed new section 45f -
.- I move -
That the word “ members “ sub-section 1, proposed new section 45f be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ chairman “ ; that after the word “ years, “ first occurring, the following words be inserted “ and the members shall be appointed for a term not exceeding three years”; and that after the word “ years “, the following words be added, “ and three years respectively “.
The sub-section would then read -
Subject to this act, the chairman of an appeal board tribunal shall be appointed for a term not exceeding five years, and the members shall be appointed for a term not exceeding three years, and shall be eligible for re-appointment for a further term not exceeding five years and three years, respectively.
Honorable members will recollect that various arguments have been advanced to show the value of securing continuity of policy. The present Repatriation Commission has been appointed for three years. Under my amendment, the members of the appeal tribunal nominated by the returned soldiers’ organizations would serve for three years. The other returned soldier members nominated by the Government would also be appointed for three years ; but the chairman would serve for five years. It is conceivable that the Minister might experience difficulty in securing the services of a chairman with the requisite capacity, and in inducing him to accept an appointment for so short a term as three years. For that reason I have suggested that he be appointed for five years. The other members of the tribunal will be appointed for three years, and will be eligible for reappointment, if their services have proved satisfactory. I find that the Limbless Soldiers Association has asked for this amendment.
– It would be better to allow the proposed new sub-section to stand. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to induce any well-known legal man to accept the shorter term suggested. I can assure the honorable member that the returned soldier member nominated by a returned soldiers’ organization will be appointed for three years or whatever period the organization recommends. Honorable members will see that it may be difficult to get a good legal man to give up his present work for an appointment of three years only, and that is why we provide for a term “ not exceeding five years.” If I can get the man who, I believe, is the most suitable as the other soldier member of the tribunal I will recommend his appointment for a term of three years. However, if the honorable member presses his amendment I am prepared to accept it.
– I think the Minister has made a very fair offer. It appears to me that what the honorable member for Richmond desires would be achieved provided the suggestion of the Minister covered both the military members of the tribunal. Naturally, if a man who is approached believes that if he stands out for a term of five years he will get the position, he will be disinclined to accept an appointment for three years. The representative of the Returned Soldiers League will be appointed for three years because the league will say that that is in the bond; but the other soldier member may stand out for the longer term and be appointed for five years. If, however, it is provided in the bill that both members shall be appointed for the same term, we may expect to get a good man because of the prospect of reappointment. I think, therefore, that the honorable member for Richmond should accept the suggestion of the Minister.
– I am prepared to adopt the amendment of the honorable member for Richmond, if he presses it, but I do not believe that it would be in the best interests of returned soldiers to do so.
– They could be appointed for a further term of three years.
– Those in authority could at the end of three years re-appoint them. I am afraid that, if the term is fixed definitely for three years, the field of selection will be considerably restricted. A man who is occupying an important and responsible position is not likely to give it up for a. three years’ appointment.
.- I hope that the Minister will not be too flaccid in dealing with his own bill, and that he will not accept the amendment. It is much wiser to allow the proposed new sub-section to stand. The term is not unreasonable and re-appointment is in the discretion of the Minister.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Proposed new section agreed to.
Proposed new sections 45g to 45j agreed to.
Proposed new section 45k -
A person who has claimed, as a member of the force or as a dependant of a member of the forces, a pension under section 23 of this act, and whose claim has been refused by the commission on the ground that the death or incapacity of the member has not resulted from any occurrence happening during the period he was a member of the forces, or from his employment in connexion with naval or military preparations or operations as the case may be, may within twelve months after -
.- I move -
That after the word “death” proposed new section 45k the words “of the member was not precipitated by” be inserted, and after the word “ incapacity “ the words “ or aggravation of the incapacity “ be inserted.
The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) has an amendment in similar terms. My intention is to widen as much as possible the grounds upon which appeals may be made to the tribunal.
– If the honorable member will read section 23 of the principal act he will find that all he is now seeking to do is covered by that provision.
– The provision in the principal act reads -
Upon the death or incapacity -
of any person to whom paragraph (a) or (b) of the definition of “ Member of the forces “ applies, whose death or incapacity -
results or has resulted from any occurrence happening during the period he was a member of the forces. . . .
The Commonwealth shall, subject to this act, be liable to pay to the member or his dependants, or both, as the case may be, pensions in accordance with this act.
I point out, however, that in this bill we are laying down the grounds upon which appeals may be lodged against the decisions of the Repatriation Commission, and it is desirable that the grounds shall be as wide as possible.
– I can only repeat that section 23 of the principal act covers the whole of the ground included in the amendment of the honorable member for Reid. It provides that upon the death or incapacity of any member of the forces whose death or incapacity - results or has resulted from any occurrence happening during the period he was a member of the forces.
The Commonwealth shall be liable to pay a pension to the member or his dependants. Under the amendment proposed by the honorable member an applicant could not appeal unless he had been a member of the forces. It is unwise to overload the bill in the manner suggested.
– A man could not appear before the tribunal unless he was a member of the forces.
– That is so, and his death must have been due to an “occurrence” happening during the period of service. I am assured by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) that the amendment is unnecessary, because all it seeks to do is provided for in section 23.
.- It appears to me that the definition of a “ Member of the forces “ in the principal act is sufficiently wide to cover the class of persons referred to in the amendment of the honorable member for Reid.
.- The discussion on this measure in the committee stage is the more difficult because if honorable members wish to ascertain the effect of the amendments, they have to scrutinize five or six acts, the provisions of which are being altered by this bill. The acts should be consolidated. To remove any possibility of doubt it would be just as well to insert the amendment moved by the honorable member for Reid.
Mr.Fenton. - Honorable members should have been furnished with a memorandum of the original act, indicating the effect of amendments.
Mr. COLEMAN (Reid).- I had given notice of my intention to move -
That the words, “ within twelve months after -
the commencement of this section; or
the date of the determination by the commission, whichever is the later” be omitted.
My purpose being to make the appeal tribunal as flexible as possible, and to invest it with the widest possible discretionary ‘ authority to hear appeals. Under the Minister’s proposal appeals must be lodged within twelve months of the commencement of the section, or the determination by the commission. That limitation on the right of appeal should be removed. War widows and members of the forces may happen to be outside the borders of the Commonwealth, but that should not be a bar against an appeal being heard and determined. However, as the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) has circulated an amendment which has been adopted by the Minister, I am prepared to accept it.
– I move -
That after the word “ later,” sub-section 1, proposed new sub-section 45k, the words “ or within such further time as is allowed by an appeal tribunal on special circumstances being shown “ be inserted.
Men will not be allowed to appeal every two or three weeks as they are doing now. After the expiration of a year an appeal will be allowed only when the appeal tribunal decides that there are special circumstances which Avarrant it.
Amendment agreed to.
.- I move -
That the word “ shall,” sub-section 4, proposed new section 45k, be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ may.”
I wish the appeal tribunal to exercise its discretion as to whether a claim shall be referred back to the commission for review. I have had experience of appeal boards of various kinds, and I realize the necessity for the expeditious handling of appeals. I admit, of course, that the procedure* laid down in the proposed new section is followed by legal tribunals. This tribunal, however, will not be a legal body in the ordinary sense, but really a board of review. It should have absolute control of its own actions, and should not be subservient to any commission. There will be a great deal of delay in having appeals dealt with if they are to be referred back to the commission. Before they come before the appeal tribunal, claims for a pension will have to be pronounced upon first by a Deputy Commissioner, and then, if he should refuse them, by the commission itself. The appeal tribunal may grant a pension irrespective of any new evidence, but if that evidence should have a substantial bearing upon the appellant’s claim, it will be compelled to refer the claim back to the commission. Then, if the commission should decide against the appellant, the matter will again come before the appeal tribunal for a final decision. That tribunal should have the discretionary power to either refer the claim back to the commission or decline to do so.
– I cannot accept the amendment. The honorable member has possibly overlooked the fact that the appeal tribunal will not only consider the evidence that the commission has had before it, but also have the right to hear further evidence. That evidence must go back to the commission, because it has adjudicated upon the case without it.
– The committee has agreed to an amendment moved by the Minister, which will make it possible for appeals to be lodged after the expiration of twelve months. Should not a similar amendment be made to sub-section 7 of the proposed new section ?
– In that case the claimant would obtain a determination by the commission and thus bring himself within the stipulation that his appeal must be lodged within twelve months of such a determination.
Proposed new section, as amended, agreed to.
Proposed now sections 45l to 45n agreed to.
Proposed new section 45p -
An assessment appeal tribunal shall, after considering an appeal lodged by a member of the forces against an assessment of pension made under this act, decide the appeal and may increase, continue or reduce any assessment of such pension, and the tribunal shall forthwith give notice in the prescribed form to the commission and to the appellant of the decision.
.- I move -
That the words “or reduce,” proposed new section 45r, be omitted.
It should not be the function of the assessment appeal tribunal to reduce a pension. It is assumed that when the commission assesses a man’s disability it does so in the light of the evidence submitted to it, and there is an appeal only when the man is dissatisfied with the decision of the commission. The assessment appeal tribunal should either sustain or dismiss the appeal. I am taking this action as a result of representations that have been made by the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia. It is a very reasonable request, and I commend it to honorable members.
– In both the civil and the criminal juris diction of every court in the world where the right of appeal exists the Appeal Court has the right to dismiss or uphold the appeal or vary the judgment appealed from or, in the case of a Court of Criminal Appeal, to increase or reduce the sentence. There has been a cessation of unreasonable appeals because we have dealt with them by a further assessment. In one case a pension which had been in force for four years was withdrawn recently because the man was perfectly well and suffered no disability whatever.
– Will not the existing machinery for the reduction of pensions still function, irrespective of the assessment appeal tribunal?
– Yes; but the tribunal should have the right to reduce any pension if it thinks fit to do so.
.- The assessment appeal tribunal should not have the right to reduce a pension, no matter what the practice may be in a court of law. It will not be a court of law’. I cannot seriously consider the possibility of its reducing any pension.
– The department does it frequently now.
– Anybody who is in receipt of a pension from the department to-day has thoroughly earned it. I go further and say that no pension should be reduced by either the assessment appeal tribunal or any other board. The men who suffered injury in the war are getting older every day, and any pension which has been in force for ten years should be paid for life. If we take the pension away from a man who is getting weaker every day we shall break every promise and pledge that was made to the men before they enlisted. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) believes that there may be some misapprehension as to the meaning of the proposed new section. It means that if a soldier should appeal against the assessment of his pension, the assessment appeal tribunal will have the right to reduce the pension. At the present time, there is an annual medical examination of soldiers who are in receipt of pensions. I would do away with that practice. The machinery is at present in existence for reducing pensions, and those facilities should not be extended. I urge the Minister to accept this very reasonable amendment and allow the assessment appeal tribunal only to continue the pension as assessed or to increase it.
.- lt may be of interest to honorable members to know why this suggestion was put forward by the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia. A few years ago the State Government granted a re-appraisement board to deal with soldier land settlement. If any soldier appealed for a re-appraisement of his holding, that board had the power to confirm the appraisement, to reduce it, or to increase it. In every case the soldier wanted the capital value of his holding reduced. Although we do not know of any specific case in which the appraisement board increased the capital value of a man’s holding, the fact remains that the act gave it the power to do so, and district surveyors and others held over these settlers the threat that if they went to the court it might increase the capital value of their holdings. This possibility deterred quite a number of soldiers who believed that they had a fair and reasonable chance of getting a reduction of the value of their holdings from approaching the Ee-appraisement Board. Having had that experience of a board, constituted on similar lines to the board proposed to be set up by this bill, one which has the power of reducing or increasing an assessment, the returned soldiers are dubious of the provision in this proposed new section.
.- At first my opinion was that if an appeal were made to a tribunal, that body, after the manner of every legal tribunal, would give a decision increasing, reducing or varying an assessment, but on further consideration, I am inclined to think that we must pay regard to the object for which this appeal board is to be set up, and obviously that is to give the soldier the right to appeal for an increased pension. I think that if the appeal board, on the material in the possession of the commission, upon which the commission has assessed the pension, or upon any fresh evidence that may be brought forward, is satisfied that the claim for an increase should not be granted, the matter should end there. But apparently that is not to be the end of the matter. The commission, now being in possession of further material, may itself decide to reduce the pension and then it will be the right of the appellant to go once move to the appeal board and lodge an appeal against the commission’s reduction. In these circumstances, I think it would be better to limit the power of the appeal board, so that it may not reduce the pension of an appellant. Broad justice will be done in that way, because the commission always has the power to reassess any pension, and by this bill the soldier is given the right to appeal to the appeal board.
.- There is a very important practical side to this question. If the soldier is to make his appeal in trepidation of gaining nothing and losing something, it will be a very serious discouragement to him to seek the benefits of this legislation. I agree, as lawyers generally would, that the right of appeal involves the obligation to run the risk of the appeal board not only dismissing an appeal, but also deciding that already the appellant has been treated more favorably than he should have. been. The important part of proposed new section 45q, is the following : -
The decision of an assessment appeal tribunal shall subject to this section, be binding upon the appellant and upon the commission for a period of six months after the date of the decision.
In any case, therefore, after the expiration of six months, the commission may put in operation its existing machinery and reduce a man’s pension, including the decision of the appeal tribunal, and in those circumstances I think the Minister might reconsider this point. Obviously, no great hardship could be inflicted, and no great wrong done to the community by accepting the amendment.
.. - The way in which the honorable member for Batman has stated the position compels me to accept the amendment because I do not want any soldier to be placed at a disadvantage. I have no desire to prevent any soldier from going to the appeal board because of a fear that he may have his pension reduced.
Amendment agreed to.
Proposed new section, as amended, agreed to.
Proposed new sections 45q to 45v, agreed to.
Proposed new section 45w -
.- I think that this proposed section would be improved by inserting in sub-section 1, after the words “ consideration of an appeal “, the words “ which place shall be as near as may be conveniently practicable to the place where the appellant resides “.
– That amendment is unnecessary. Every- effort will be made to meet the convenience of the assessment tribunal and the soldier.
– In those circumstances I shall not move the amendment of which I have given notice.
.- I move -
That the word “ substantial “, sub-section 2, proposed new section 45v, be omitted.
I shall not press this amendment if a full explanation is given by the Minister as to the necessity for the use of the word “ substantial “ before the word “ justice “. 1 should also like him to explain the use of the word “ reasonable “ in the phrase, “ reasonable doubt “. I take it that the appellant should be given the benefit of any doubt. I am quite aware that both words have a definite legal meaning, but it depends upon the way in which they are interpreted. They can be interpreted in the interests of the soldier, or from the angle of the department. I am rather loth to qualify justice in this way if it is going to act adversely to the soldier, and
I am not prepared to qualify doubt by the use of the word “ reasonable “ unless I am satisfied that it is employed to stretch the objects of the bill as widely as possible.
– The Attorney-General assures me that the word “ substantial “ has been inserted in the proposed section for the definite purpose that a verdict may not be given on technical grounds against an appellant, but must be given on substantial evidence. It is quite clear that its insertion is in favour of the soldier. I cannot accept any proposal to omit the word “ reasonable “. It means that the appeal must be based on reasonable grounds, and not merely on the fact that a man served during the war and suffered a disability. If there is a reasonable doubt the soldier is to get the benefit of it.
.- I wish to say one or two words on this delicate subject in respect of which the Attorney-General has allowed his opinion to filter through the Minister for Repatriation to this committee. I hope I shall not be accused of any professional jealousy when I say that I am not impressed with that filtered information and that I should like to hear the AttorneyGeneral himself and have an opportunity to reply to him in respect of the use of the words “ substantial justice “ and “ reasonable doubt “ as contained in paragraph 2. Before I deal formally with that, I would say a word on the rules of evidence. I do not think that my remarks on this provision will meet with much sympathy from honorable members in this chamber, even from members of my own side. Paragraph 2 reads -
Subject to this act, an appeal tribunal and an assessment appeal tribunal shall not, iu the hearing of appeals, be bound by any rules of evidence.
I remind the Committee that the rules of evidence, which are popularly supposed to be a kind of satanic device to confuse the mind of the average man, really represent centuries of experience and experiment and trial as to what words best serve to elucidate a particular meaning.
– Or to obscure it.
– Not as the Leader of the Opposition, as an uninstructed layman, says, to obscure it. The object is to elucidate it. In modern times legal amateurs have come to think that rules of evidence are so much dry wood placed in the way of arriving at a truth, and consequently they have devised this popular phrase of appointing tribunals which shall not be bound by any rules of evidence. The result of that is that in framing our arbitration and various other acts, into which this free-lance system has been introduced, we have wandered intoall sorts of legal quagmires from which lawyers and the courts have to extricate those who have proceeded too confidently along these popular lines. One honorable member has said that the very fact that the rules of evidence have been excluded from the Arbitration Court has brought about the exclusion of lawyers from that court: As a matter of fact the contrary has been the case, so there has been little or no reduction in the fees drawn by lawyers. I do not propose to deal with the phrase “substantial justice” although the word “justice” is quite sufficient. The other phrase, “shall give to the appellant the benefit of any reasonable doubt” raises this point: A doubt in this case is a doubt to be entertained by the tribunal. That, I think, is clear. Is it too much to ask that the appellant shall get the benefit of an admitted doubt residing in the minds of these presumably expert and trained men who have heard all the evidence? It is too much to say that the appellant shall get the benefit of that doubt without further qualifying the word in any way whatever? I can only assume that the introduction of the word “reasonable” is intended to impose upon the tribunal the burden of justifying by argument the doubt which it entertains. Unquestionably the effect of the word “reasonable” in this provision is to make the position at least a little more difficult for the appellant. If there is a doubt in the minds of the members of the tribunal, the appellant should get the benefit. Of course, in effect, the doubt must be reasonable. Once the doubt is raised the inquiry’ should cease. I ask that the word “reasonable” be omitted. I hope that the amendment to that effect will be pressed, and the committee divided upon it. Perhaps the Minister may agree to the omission of the word “reasonable.”
– I cannot do that.
– I object not to the word “substantial,” but to the word “ reasonable “ as a qualification.
– I shall not press the deletion of the word “ substantial.”
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Mr. HUGHES (North Sydney) [11.58].- I move-
That all the words after the word “ case,” sub-section 2, proposed new section 45w, be omitted with a view to inserting in lieu thereof the words - “ Provided that, if the appellant or a representative of the appellant shall make out a prima facie case in support of his claim that the incapacity from which he is suffering or from which he has died was caused or aggravated by war service, the onus of proof that such incapacity was not, in fact, so caused or aggravated, shall lie with the commission.”
The substance of this amendment seemed to find general favour during the second reading of the bill. The majority of the honorable members hesitate to go too far. Some, it is true, suggest that an applicant should appear before the tribunal, show the wounds and scars of honorable conflict, complain of this or that incapacity that he may have, and say “ This was caused by Avar service, “ leaving the onus of disproof thus with the commission. But that goes too far. On the other hand the present position is most unsatisfactory. It has already been pointed out that it is very often impossible for an applicant to prove that his disability arose from orwas aggravated by Avar service, and it appears to me that it would be sufficient if he makes out a prima facie case.
Sir NEVILLE HOWSE (Calare- Minister in Charge of Repatriation [11.0]. - I am prepared to accept the right honorable member’s amendment if hewill agree to insert it after theword “doubt.” I believe that thewords “ shall give to an appellant the benefit of any reasonable doubt” are distinctly in favour of the appellant.
– I see no reasonwhy I should not accept the Minister’s suggestion. I cannot see that the appellant would be prejudiced by the phrasewhich the Minister wishes to retain, even if it bears the interpretation given to it by the honorable member for
Batman (Mr. Brennan). He will establish a prima facie case, the onus of proof will pass from him to the commission, and he will have the benefit of any reasonable doubt.
– If the right honorable member for North Sydney does not desire the latter part of sub-section 2 to be struck out, the amendment of the honorable member for Reid to strike out the word “reasonable” will have priority.
Amendment, by leave, temporarily withdrawn.
Amendment (by Mr. Coleman) proposed -
That the words “ any reasonable,” subsection 2, proposed new section 45w, be omitted.
– Will the Minister accept that?
– No; I have already stated my reasons for opposing it.
.- There is a clearly expressed desire on the part of the Government and the committee to give to the soldiers the fullest possible measure of justice, and. if the word “reasonable” is retained, it will be an invitation to any person who is timorous or does not understand the intention of Parliament to decide against the appellant. If there is any doubt at all, it cannot be qualified. If we give the soldier the benefit of any doubt we shall be doing him bare justice. We have to remember that before a claim will go before an appeal tribunal, the commission will have already expressed a doubt regarding it. Otherwise, there would be no need for the appeal. The Minister will recollect the case of a tubercular soldier, whose papers I was permitted to see. The Deputy-Commissioner in Adelaide had pencilled on them a recommendation that the applicant be given the benefit of the doubt, but when it reached the head office in Melbourne, that doubt was magnified into a reason for not giving him a pension. If an appeal is rejected and the appellant is told that there is a reasonable doubt in the minds of the commission and the appeal board, he will continue dissatisfied. Why not give to the soldiers the benefit of any doubt? In insisting upon the retention of the qualifying word “reason able,” the Government is not evidencing that generous spirit which animated it when- it introduced the bill.
.- I suggest that the Minister should accept the proposal to strike out the word “reasonable.” The tribunals are not to be bound by the rules of evidence, the object of that instruction being to make the procedure as non-technical as possible. Thelay mind understands what a doubt is, but when it is confronted -with the words “reasonable doubt,” it begins to wonder what is the difference between “doubt” and “reasonable doubt.” The work of the tribunal will be simplified if, on a prima facie case being made out, which raises a doubt in the. minds of the tribunal, the appellant is given the benefit of it unless that doubt be resolved by positive evidence.
.- What is a reasonable doubt? A soldier’s widow applied for a pension and two medical officers certified that the ailment from which her late husband died was due to war service. Still she obtained no pension, although the fact that two medical practitioners thought that she had a claim was surely sufficient to create a reasonable doubt of the justice of that decision. In another case the private medical attendant of the applicant certified that he was fit before he went to the war and a total wreck when he returned. Yet the application for a pension was refused. There again was at least a reasonable doubt of the propriety of the commission’s refusal.
.- Will the deletion of the word “reasonable” prejudice the appellant? I understand that the words “reasonable doubt” have a definite legal meaning, and that if the qualifying word be omitted, the decision of what degree of doubt should go to the benefit of the appellant will be at the caprice of the tribunal. A reasonable doubt, I am told, is a doubt such as would be entertained by reasonable men. I want to do what is best for the soldier, and I want to know whether he will be benefited or prejudiced by varying a well-known legal phrase.
– No. The dictionary contains six pages of definitions of reasonable doubt.
– The appellant would not be prejudiced.
.- I hope the Minister will accept the amendment, otherwise I foresee endless argument before the tribunals regarding the meaning of “reasonable doubt.” A doubt that might be reasonable in the opinion of one man would be unreasonable in the opinion of another. In» those circumstances, who would decide? If there is any doubt at all as to the justice of a claim, let the nation bear the responsibility and pay the soldier a pension. In a criminal court the accused person is given the benefit of the doubt. A soldier is not a criminal; he has served his country in war and is entitled to at least as much consideration as the criminal in the dock gets as a right.
.- “The benefit of any reasonable doubt” is a wellestablished legal term. In this legislation it means that the benefit of any doubt such as a reasonable man would entertain in the circumstances of the case, shall be given to the appellant. If the word “ reasonable “ is omitted, the effect will be that the benefit of any doubt at all - whether reasonable or unreasonable - -must be given to the appellant.
– Does that presuppose that the appellate tribunal itself may have a reasonable doubt and act upon it?
– The appellate tribunal has to determine whether there is any doubt, or a reasonable doubt - according to the words which we may adopt. If the word “ reasonable “ is omitted and a doubt exists anywhere at all - whether in the mind of the representative of the appellant or of any other party - because of that doubt, the tribunal must give the appellant the benefit of it, even though the tribunal itself may have no doubt at all. If a distinction is sought to be drawn between the benefit of a reasonable doubt and the benefit of a doubt, it is a distinction between the benefit of a doubt which a reasonable man might entertain according to the judgment of the tribunal and a doubt which any person, however unreasonable, might entertain. If we omit the word “ reasonable,” the effect of giving the appellant the benefit of any doubt, whether reasonable or not, must be, if it has any effect at all - and I emphasize that point - to admit unreasonable doubt as well as reasonable doubt. I submit that a provision of the kind proposed in the bill i3 absolutely fair. The matter to which the tribunal would have to direct its mind after hearing the evidence would be “Is there a reasonable doubt .which may be resolved in his favour ?” not “ Is there any possibility of coming to a conclusion in favour of the appellant?” If there is a reasonable doubt - a doubt such as a reasonable man could entertain - then the tribunal must resolve it in favour of the appellant. The alternative is that an unreasonable doubt, as well as a reasonable doubt, is something the benefit of which is to be given to the appellant. Unless that is the case, there is no point in the omission of the word “ reasonable “.
.- I have heard of “legal straw-splitting,” another expression the meaning of which we might consider on an appropriate occasion. It is true that the expression “ reasonable doubt “ means a doubt such as a reasonable man might entertain. Is it to be assumed that the appeals tribunal might consist of other than reasonable men, or that they might seek to give effect to doubts which are unreasonable? The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who has, if I may say so, taken a shrewdly practical view of this matter, will be quite familiar with the charge that is frequently given to a jury. Indeed, I have heard the honorable member himself repeat the words that the jury must be satisfied “ beyond any reasonable doubt “ that an accused person is guilty before bringing in a verdict to that effect. I have also heard the same instruction on many occasions from presiding judges. In that connexion no one has ever attempted to analyse the meaning of “ reasonable doubt.” What really is meant by the words is that the jury must not be carried away by their sympathies or prejudices. In this case we are dealing with an appeals tribunal, the members of which are expressly directing to treat cases in the most sympathetic way possible. They are told to let their sympathies have the fullest play. They are expressly informed that they must not indulge in straw-splitting as to the extent to which they can support their decisions by refinements of arguments. In effect, they are addressed thus - “ Gentlemen, if you have an honest man’s doubt about the case, give the benefit of the doubt, without qualification, to the appellant.” It is a little absurd for the Attorney-General to set up this expert tribunal, composed of men both just and capable, and then to tell us that there is a danger that they may decide in favour of a soldier because of a doubt, however absurd or unreasonable it may be. The Attorney-General is reducing his argument to an absurdity. I hope that, simple as the matters appears to be, the committee will stand for the simpler language and insist upon retaining merely the word “ doubt “ without qualification.
.- I know not why we are arguing at such length this point about the meaning of the word “reasonable.” It was settled many years ago by W. S. Gilbert, of whose lines in The Gondoliers I am reminded -
Of that there is no manner of doubt -
No probable, possible shadow of doubt - No possible doubt whatever.
I feel disposed to ask whether in those days matters of this kind were decided on that basis. If the word “ reasonable “ is omitted, the soldier appellant will benefit. Should any doubt arise in the lay minds of the members of the board, the soldier must receive the benefit of it if the word “ reasonable “ is not included. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment. Ever since this Parliament began to legislate in the interests of our returned soldiers, the intention has been to give the soldier the benefit of any doubt. ‘ That that intention has not always been observed is generally admitted. The amendment is fair, for should the members of the board have to argue among themselves because of the existence of a doubt, then the soldier should reap the benefit of that doubt.
Sir NEVILLE HOWSE (CalareMinister in Charge of Repatriation) amendment of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) ; but suggest that the word “ the “ be inserted after the word “ of “. That would make the clause read, “. . . . benefit of the doubt.”
Amendment verbally amended, and agreed to.
– The question is that the amendment of the right honorable member for North Sydney be agreed to.
– I rise to a point of order. It is true that the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) rose with the intention of moving an amendment; but he was unable to move it at that stage, because the amendment of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) was then before the committee. The amendment of the honorable member for Reid was thereupon discussed, and finally accepted by the Minister. The right honorable member for North Sydney did not rise again to move the amendment he indicated earlier that he would move. The important point is that, when the amendment of the honorable member for Reid was disposed of, I rose to my feet to move an amendment of which I had previously given notice. The right honorable member gave notice of his amendment, but did not actually move it.
– The amendment of the honorable member for Batman was printed and circulated yesterday. The amendment of the right honorable member for North Sydney has cropped up at the last moment, so to speak.
– I have moved it three times.
– I submit that the custom has always been to give preference to amendments which have been printed and circulated.
– The right honorable member for North Sydney rose to movethat his amendment be inserted after the word “ case “ ; but the Minister suggested that it should be inserted after the word “doubt.” The right honorable member agreed with that suggestion. I” submit, therefore, that his amendment has not yet been moved.
– I do not know whether this point of order is in the nature of an obscure form of humour, but the facts are patent to any reasonable man. I moved my amendment, and the Minister accepted it, but suggested that it should be inserted after the word “ doubt.” I agreed with that course. A lengthy argument then intervened as to the merits of the word “ reasonable.” When that ended the Chairman, by either a nod of his head or some other esoteric method of communication, indicated to me that he had accepted my amendment.
– There seems to be some reasonable doubt about whether the amendment was actually moved, but there can be no doubt that it was accepted by the Minister, and also by the former Temporary Chairman. I shall be doing substantial justice if I now submit it to the committee.
Amendment (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That after sub-section 2, proposed new section 45w, the following proviso be added: - Provided too that if the appellant or a representative of the appellant shall make out a prima facie case in support of his claim that the incapacity from which he is suffering or from which he has died was caused or aggravated by war service, the onus of proof that such incapacity was not in fact so caused or aggravated shall lie with the commission.
.- I shall be sorry if the amendment of the right honorable member is accepted in preference to that which I have circulated, for the very good reason that although it appears to mean something, it really means nothing. I have no doubt that the right honorable member has submitted it with his usual desire to assist the returned soldiers, but it will be of no help to them, for the decision as to whether a prima facie case has been made out or not will, under the terms of his amendment, rest with the appellant tribunal. That would not be the case if my amendment were accepted. My amendment, which would follow at the end of subsection 2, is as follows: -
Provided that without limitation of the rights in this act otherwise arising where it is proved by or on behalf of the appellant or a dependant of the appellant, that the member of the forces had served as such member for such period and in such circumstances as might reasonably be expected to be injurious to health, and was on the date of the application for a pension either deceased or suffering such incapacity as would, if death or incapacity had in fact resulted from any occurrence happening during the period he was a member of the forces, have entitled such member or his dependant to a pension, the appellant or dependant of the appellant shall be deemed in the absence of evidence to the contrary to have established his claim to a pension.
My object in seeking to have that proviso inserted is to establish certain facts, proof of which would entitle the applicant to a pension, unless they were disproved before the appellate tribunal.
– That would amount to setting up a prima facie case.
– The difference between the prima facie case set up by my amendment and that set up by the amendment of the right honorable member would be that my case would be clearly denned, while the other would be left to the discretion of the tribunal. If my amendment were accepted a returned soldier could produce his record of service to the tribunal and say, “Here is my record. That is the first fact. You can see for yourselves that I am suffering from a disability. This is also testified to by the Medical Advisory Committee. That is the second fact. I therefore claim the pension.” A pension would have to be granted in such a case unless the appellate tribunal was satisfied that such a case was met and overborne. Nobody knows this better than the honorable member for Fawkner, for he has often had to appear before a court of petty sessions, and has argued that a prima facie case has not been made out, but has not succeeded in convincing the bench that it was so. If the bench decided against him, he would bc defeated unless he had the good fortune to be fortified by a statute which would enable him to say “Your worships, these are the undisputed facts. I submit the official records. I have established incapacity. Consequently the virtue and value of my prima facie case must be accepted and your worships must act accordingly.” If my amendment were inserted in the bill, the representative of the returned soldier or his dependants would be able to appear before the appellate tribunal and make such a statement, provided that he had the service record of the appellant, and the medical certificate necessary to show that he was suffering from a disability. The value of the amendment of the right honorable member would be nil, whereas the value of my amendment would be great.
Amendment agreed to.
.- I move -
That after sub-section 2, proposed section 45w, the following further proviso be added: - “ Provided that without limitation of the rights in this act otherwise arising where it is proved by or on behalf of the appellant, or a dependant of the appellant, that the member of tlie forces had served as such member for such period and in such circumstances as might reasonably be expected to be injurious to health, and was on the date of the application for a pension either deceased or suffering such incapacity as would, if death or incapacity had in fact resulted from any occurrence happening during the period he was a member of the forces, have entitled such member or his dependant to a pension, the appellant or dependant of the appellant shall be deemed in the absence of evidence to the contrary to have established his claim to a pension.”
I realize that the acceptance of my amendment might make the re-drafting of the bill necessary as the other amendment has been carried, but I fe.el that it has great merits and I, therefore, submit it to the committee.
– I do not believe that the amendment moved by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), and accepted by the Minister, will effect what is claimed for it. The onus of proof will still remain upon the appellant. I am quite satisfied that the amendment of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) would rectify the position and throw the onus upon the appeal board. It leaves no shadow of doubt about the matter. Honorable members who claim to be so anxious to assist returned soldiers have accepted an amendment, the efficacy of which is doubtful. It is merely an effort on the part of the Minister and the Government to side-track the efforts of the Opposition to confer a real benefit on the returned soldiers, and time alone will prove how correct are the contentious of the honorable member for Batman. Personally, I attach very little importance to the amendment moved by the right honorable member for North Sydney, which has been agreed to.
.- I hope that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) will press .his amendment ; his statements are based on his legal knowledge of the position. It is his belief that a returned soldier, in the circumstances which he narrated, has a prima facie case. The amendment moved by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and accepted by the Minister, is of no avail, and leaves the onus of proof still on the appellant. The appeal tribunal will merely declare that the man has not a prima facie case, and that decision will be final. If the committee has the interests of the returned soldiers at heart, it will accept the amendment of the honorable member for Batman. I should like to hear the Minister the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), or the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) attempt to controvert the opinion expressed by the honorable member for Batman, so that we may know whether the amendment of the right honorable member for North Sydney will really provide a panacea for all ills, as is claimed. I believe that it still allows the element of doubt to remain, and I hope that the committee will demonstrate the genuineness of its desire to assist the returned soldiers by accepting the amendment of the honorable member for Batman.
.- I submitted this amendment, after having circulated it. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) succeeded in having his amendment introduced before mine, and it was accepted by the Minister without explanation. I have debated my amendment as thoroughly as I am able, and have been supported by returned soldiers and other members of the Opposition. But not one word has been said on the merits of the amendment by honorable members opposite. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has interjected, and the Minister himself has asked me to withdraw my amendment.
– The honorable member did withdraw it.
– How can the honorable gentleman say that.
– Because the honorable member said he would withdraw it and then he introduced it again.
– I hope that the Minister will do me justice. I may have been embarrassed by the fact that it was obviously out of place once the amendment of the right honorable member for North Sydney had been accepted.
– That is why I thought the honorable member withdrew it.
– I submitted my amendment because I thought that it would be possible by a re-drafting of the bill, to insert it. It was quite clear that it could not take its stand consecutively with that moved by the right honorable member for North Sydney. Apparently the Government thinks that the last word has been said on the matter, but I believe that it is mistaken, as it has previously been on similar occasions. It is my opinion that my amendment has been treated with gross discourtesy by the Government, the Minister, and honorable members opposite. It has the support and approval of the Leader of the Opposition and of every member of this party.
.- I feel very strongly on this matter.. Most honorable members have read the utterances of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) on the subject, wherein he expressed his anxiety to protect the rights of the returned soldiers. But when an amendment is submitted by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) which would achieve that purpose and afford returned soldiers real protection, the right honorable member for North Sydney interposes another amendment which cannot do what it purports to do. I have previously instanced the case of Collins, a returned soldier victim of tuberculosis. That man would enjoy the advantages of a pension if the amendment of the honorable member for Batman were accepted. He cannot hope to do so under the amendment which has been adopted. He left Australia physically fit, contracted tuberculosis while on active service abroad, and now cannot obtain justice from the Repatriation Department.
– The facts suggested by the honorable member raise a prima facie case.
– Then why does not the Government accept the amendment of the honorable member for Batman?
– Because it is unnecessary.
– Its acceptance would remove all doubt. Collins presented a good case before the court, and was supported by two doctors who stated that there was no doubt about his having contracted tuberculosis abroad, but the learned judge threw the onus of proof on the unfortunate man.
– That occurred under the law before it was amended.
– I do not think the amendment of the right honorable member for North Sydney will alter the position.
– The Committee does.
– The honorable member would be more concerned if he came into contact with returned soldiers who are suffering from these disabilities, as honorable members on this side do. I do not thank the Minister for the bill. The appeal tribunal may be harsher in its administration than was the old order of things. Nor do I thank the honorable gentleman for any amendment which has been accepted to-night. The only principle worth fighting for is that contained in the amendment of the honorable member for Batman, over which the Minister has been extremely discourteous. This vital matter was ably debated by the honorable member for Batman, yet the Minister has not the common courtesy to explain why he refuses to accept the amendment. I speak on behalf of the whole body of returned soldiers, and I am confident -that within twelve months what I am claiming will come to pass. The returned soldiers have been “ sold a pup,” and the Government has failed to redeem its promises. Many speeches of the right honorable member for North Sydney have indicated that he bitterly resented the administration of the present Minister for Repatriation, but now he cooperates with that gentleman and has inserted in the bill a qualified amendment which cannot be of any good to returned soldiers. The very fact that the Minister accepted his amendment and refused that of the honorable member for
Batman affords sufficient reason for the Opposition to insist upon the matter going to a division.
– I do not understand what all this is about. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) knows very well that I consulted him about my amendment, which I should never have moved had I imagined that he would not support it. I also showed the amendment to every returned soldier member of this chamber. Yet, at the eleventh hour, after the honorable member has had ample opportunity to debate the merits of my amendment, he trots out this amendment of his, which he heard me, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr Green) and many other honorable members say could not be accepted. The honorable member for Ballarat said that, if the amendment by the honorable member for Batman were rejected, the best part of the bill would be lost. If I had been responsible for the introduction of the bill, I believe that I. could have brought down a better measure than this; but we must do the best we can in the circumstances. I believe that my amendment will put the ex-soldiers in a better position than that in which they would be placed under the bill as presented to the House. The amendment by the honorable member for Batman has no chance of being accepted by the committee. It is nonsense to say that a prima facie case is as difficult to establish as one that is final. A prima facie case stands, unless evidence in rebuttal can be advanced. If that evidence is conclusive the appeal fails. It is much easier to make out a prima facie case than one that is final and conclusive. I know that it is extremely difficult for a returned soldier to prove his case, but I believe that my amendment will make matters easier for him when he goes before the tribunal. The honorable member for Ballarat said that the Minister’s acceptance of my amendment was a suspicious circumstance. I must say that I was much surprised when he agreed to it. But only two hours ago it was hail-fellow-well-met with the committee, and found favour with honorable members opposite, but now it has fallen under the ban. Let it stop there, and let the soldiers decide between us.
Friday, 22 March 1929
.I cannot allow the statements of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) to pass without comment. He said that he had consulted the honorable member for Batman regarding his amendment, and had expected to receive support from him. But the honorable member for Batman distinctly told the right honorable gentleman that he believed his own amendment was the better one. How could the right honorable gentleman expect the honorable member for Batman to support his amendment in view of that statement.
– Because he said he . would, do so.
– He denies that he said that. He said that in his opinion his own amendment would be more advantageous to the soldiers. Another statement made by the right honorable gentleman was equally inaccurate. It was to the effect that the honorable member for Batman “ trots his amendment out at the last minute.” This amendment has been in circulation for three days. It is significant that the right honorable gentleman can “ trot “ his amendment out at the last minute and receive precedence over an amendment that has been circulating for three days. What is still more remarkable is the fact that not one honorable member opposite, from the Minister down, has examined and discussed one word of the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Batman. What does the Minister say about it ? What do the Attorney-General and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) think of it? It seems to me that it is a well-drawn amendment. It is definite and direct, while that of the right honorable member for North Sydney, which has been so readily accepted by the Government, leaves the tribunal to determine whether a prima facie case has been established. The amendment of the honorable member for Batman sets out in definite terms what the soldier must prove. Speaking as a layman, but as one who is accustomed to reading sections of acts and clauses of bills, I believe that the provision, as drawn by the Government, is preferable to the amendment of the right honorable member for North Sydney, because, with his proviso in the section, the ex-soldier will have, to prove more than he would have been required to prove under the provision as originally drafted. It is time those in charge of the bill examined the amendment of the honorable member for Batman. If it can be shown that it is not better than the amendment that the Government has accepted, it will be withdrawn.
– I do not wish to be misrepresented as being engaged in a vendetta with the right honorable member for North Sydney. He paid me the courtesy of telling me what he proposed to move by way of amendment, and he afterwards showed me a draft of it. There are reasons why the right honorable gentleman may not have gathered precisely what I said. I remarked that I conceived my amendment to be better than his. To repeat my exact words, I said, “I will see the boys about it,” meaning that I would consult my party about the amendment. His amendment having been handed to me hurriedly and casually, I was inclined to think that it was better than anything that had been suggested up to that time by the Minister.
– The honorable member also said that his party could not vote against it.
– I do not say positively, at the moment, that I did not say something of that kind, but my recollection is that I said that I would consider it. What I am hurt about is that an amendment drawn at the last moment should have been given precedence by the Government, to the exclusion of my amendment, and that no member of the Government has had the courtesy, or, may I say, the courage, for political reasons, to address himself to this amendment.
.Unquestionably the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) is preferable to the proposal of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). Its terms are explicit and clear, whereas the value of the amendment of the right honorable member for North
Sydney will be governed by the interpretation of what is a prima facie case. The Minister should give his reasons for refusing to accept the amendment of the honorable member for Batman.
Question - That the amendment (Mr. Brennan’s) be agreed to - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
I move -
That at the end of sub-section 3, proposed new section 45w, the following proviso be added: - “ Provided that the accredited representative of any organization representing returned soldiers may be present during the hearing of any appeal, unless objected to by the appellant.”
This is a reasonable request. In the interests of returned soldiers it is only right that a representative of an accredited organization should have an opportunity to attend the hearing of appeals, provided the appellant offers no objection. Presumably, the hearing of these appeals will not be open to the public, because it is not desired that the medical condition of an appellant should be reported in the newspapers. An appellant may be suffering from venereal or another similar disease and obviously it would not be fitting to give his condition wide publicity. I presume it is because of the private character of these medical investigations that the bill contains a provision to the effect that the hearing shall not be open to the public. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment. The appellant is safeguarded by the qualification that he may object to the presence of a representative.
– I regret that I cannot accept the amendment. It is not desirable that we should throw upon an appellant the responsibility of objecting to the presence at the hearing of a representative of an organization. He has the right under the bill to ask that any person or representative shall be allowed to attend to watch his interests. Therefore, if he does not ask for a friend to be present it is reasonable to assume that he does not wish one to attend.
– I also object to the amendment. At present, unfortunately, there is more than one organization of returned soldiers. It is, therefore, undesirable that the amendment should be accepted.
Proposed new section, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment (by Sir Neville Howse) proposed -
That the following new sections be inserted: - 45wa. An appeal tribunal or an assessment tribunal may specify, in any decision made by it under this part, the date from which the decision shall operate, and the decision shall operate accordingly;
Provided that an assessment appeal tribunal shall not give to any decision retrospective operation for any period prior to the date of lodgment of the appeal unless it has satis factory evidence that the condition of the appellant during that period was such as to justify such operation. 45wb - 1. If an appellant dies after the lodgment of his appeal, it may be continued by any person approved by an appeal tribunal as a proper representative of the appellant, and the approved person shall, for the purpose of the conduct of the appeal, have all the rights of the appellant.
In the case of a mentally afflicted returned soldier, any person approved by an appeal tribunal as a proper representative of the soldier maj’ lodge an appeal on his behalf, and shall, for the purpose of the conduct of the appeal, have all the rights of the soldier.
– I accept the proposed new sections circulated by the Minister, in lieu of those that I have circulated.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Mr. Coleman) proposed -
That the following new section be inserted : - 45wc. The Governor-General may, on the recommendation of the Minister, appoint at such salary or remuneration as may be decided in each case, in each State, an ex-member of the forces, to be known as the official soldiers’ adviser, whose duties shall be generally to advise and assist exmembers of the’ forces in matters pertaining to treatment, pensions, and appeals, and to represent appellants, where requested so to do, before the appeal tribunal.
I stressed the necessity for some such provision during the second-reading debate. I do not now wish to enlarge upon what I then said.
Sir NEVILLE HOWSE (CalareMinister in Charge of Repatriation [12.25 a.m.] . - During the second-reading debate I said that 1 could not accept this amendment; but if, after a month, the tribunal informs me that it believes it will be assisted in any way by the appointment of an adviser, I shall recommend the Government to take that action.
– If the Minister cannot go as far as the amendment provides, will he appoint some officer who will advise appellants in regard to making applications for a pension?
– I shall do that.
Proposed new section, by leave, withdrawn.
Proposed new section 45x -
An appeal tribunal and an assessment appeal tribunal shall, so far as is consistent with, the interests of the appellant, and with any obligation to respect information given to the commission upon a confidential basis, make available to the appellant or his representative information contained in the records relating to the case:
Provided that information given to the commission on a confidential basis may be disclosed to the appellant or his representative in any case if the person who has provided the information consents in writing.
.I move -
That after the word “ tribunal,” second occurring, proposed new section 45x, the words “ and for the purposes of or irrespective of appeal the commission “ be inserted.
My object is to enable ex-soldiers to have access to their files whether or not an appeal is pending. I am indebted to the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) for suggesting the insertion of these words.
– I regret that I am unable to accept the amendment. A returned soldier has the right to see his file when he is appealing, and his representative has the right to peruse all documents, confidential or otherwise. I have no intention of placing on the Repatriation Commission the responsibility of making these files available at any time, when no reasonable purpose can be served.
– I am surprised and pained at the refusal of the Minister to accept this very reasonable amendment. At the present time the file is not produced, and it may not be produced until the matter has come before one or other of the tribunals provided for in the bill. This state of things is open to the very sound objection that a soldier’s file will not be made available to him for the purpose of preparing his appeal.
– I understood the Minister to say that a soldier can get his file at any time.
– The Minister says that he will not place on the commission the burden of having to produce a soldier’s file whenever it is asked for. There is certainly nothing in the bill to give the soldier the right to have his file produced until he actually appeals.
– I have had men inspecting files.
– But only as an act of grace on the part of the Minister. More often the request for the production of files is not granted, because the Minister does not sanction the proposal that a soldier should have the right to inspect his file.
– Not irrespective of appeals.
– If the returned soldier had the right to inspect his file there might be no appeal.
– And it might be necessary for a soldier to see his file before he made up his mind whether he should appeal or not.
– A man might not have made up his mind to appeal until he had seen his file. It is not as if every returned soldier would want to inspect his file. It would only be in rare and exceptional circumstances that a man would want to see it. I claim that a soldier is entitled to have all the facts before him when he is contemplating an appeal. A file can be made available by the Board of Appeal. Why not by the commissioner anterior to an appeal?
– It is unreasonable to ask that a soldier should see his file irrespective of an appeal. If soldiers were to have their files produced on demand a very heavy responsibility would be thrown on the department.
– What responsibility?
– The work entailed would be enormous. It would be an enormous undertaking to produce the files of a thousand men if they all wanted them at the same time. It sometimes takes me from 45 minutes to an hour to go through one file.
– When a returned soldier requires some information from his file is it not now the practice of an officer of the department to interview him and give him all possible information from his file ?
– It seems to me that it would be just as expeditious to produce the file itself.
– There are many files a soldier has no right to see unless an appeal is before the Board of Appeal.
In mental cases it would be impossible to conceive of soldiers perusing their files. They must be protected.
– There ought to be a sufficiently wide discretion in the department to enable them to get over that difficulty, but I hope that we are not here to legislate for the whole body of returned soldiers on the ground that a small proportion of. them are mentally affected. My main argument is that the men have the right to see their files for the purpose of formulating their appeals. Surely the Minister realizes that!
– I do not realize it, and that is why I cannot accept the amendment.
.- In the 1922-25 Parliament the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Hurry), the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) and I were a sort of select committee to look into certain files in the Repatriation Department, and I think the other honorable members associated with me in that work will agree that it would have been a dreadful thing if certain files which we saw had been made available to the applicant, or even to his relatives. In the case of one man who had locomotor ataxia it was clearly shown from his file that he was unaware that his disability had been caused by congenital syphilis. To have made that man’s file available would have done no good to himself or his family.
– But on an appeal, according to the Minister, the file would be used.
– What I said was that once a man appeals the tribunal will decide whether he shall see the file. In any case the soldier’s representative would have the file.
– In Canada there are official soldier’s advisers, who are paid officers of the Government. A letter descriptive of conditions in Canada, and written by Mr. Barrow, has been circulated for the benefit of the Council of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League in Sydney. It says -
Should the appellant desire that his case he handled by counsel or representative other than the official soldiers’ adviser, authority for such counsel or representatives to see the file in the presence of a representative of the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Reestablishments may, in the discretion of the department, be granted by the Deputy Minister. Access to the file of any former member of the forces shall only be granted to an official soldiers’ adviser or other representative of an appellant on his undertaking to respect the confidential nature of any information contained therein or otherwise communicated to him in the course, of his duty, that he will disclose such information to the appellant only in so far as is necessary to enable such additional evidence or proof to be produced in substantiation of the appellant’s claim and will not disclose to the appellant or to any one else except the Department of Soldiers’ CivilRe-establishment, the Federal Appeal Board or the Board of Pension Commissioners, the name of the informant or the source of such information as may be contained on said file.
The amendment moved by the honorable member for Reid actually provides that a returned soldier may see his file at any time, irrespective of whether he intends to appeal to the board. That is an absolutely wrong procedure, and I am in agreement with what has been done in Canada. I trust that the Minister will stick to his decision not to make the files available to returned soldiers except in special circumstances.
Proposed new section agreed to.
Proposed new section 45y agreed to.
Proposed new section 45z - (1.) Appeal tribunals shall furnish to the commission an annual report. (2.) The commission shall include in its report under section fifty-eight of this act, the reports of appeal tribunals and statistics of cases dealt with by assessment appeal tribunals.
Amendments (by Mr. D. Cameron) agreed to -
That the words “ commission an annual report “, sub-section ( 1. ) , proposed new section 45z, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ Minister an annual report, which the Minister shall present to the Parliament.”
That the words “ the reports of appeal tribunals and”, sub-section(2.) , proposed new section 45z, be omitted.
Proposed . new section, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report, by leave, adopted.
Bill, by leave, read a third time.
, - I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I wish to make a personal explanation. Last night I dealt with the case presented to the House for payment of compensation to the employees of Cockatoo Island dockyard, which is shortly to be leased to a private firm, and in reply to an interjection by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), I indicated that no proposals for compensation had been received from the Commonwealth Shipping Board. I am afraid that I left the impression with the House that no representations of any sort had been received from the board. I desire to correct that impression, because representations were received from the board; but for the reasons which I gave last night, the Government did not agree to the proposals submitted to it, because it drew a distinction between the position of the employees of the Cockatoo Island dockyard and that of the shore staff of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line.
– While the Prime Minister was speaking last night I asked him, by interjection, whether the Commonwealth Shipping Board had made any recommendations in regard to the staff of Cockatoo Island dockyard, and the right honorable gentleman replied that no recommendation had been received. He, apparently, made that statement under a misapprehension. Now that it is known that the Shipping Board did make a recommendation regarding the Cockatoo Island staff, the whole basis of the argument that I used last night has been altered, or, at any rate, new light has been thrown on the question whether the staff of the Cockatoo Island dockyard is entitled to compensation. The Commonwealth Shipping Board had jurisdiction over the Cockatoo Island dockyard, as well as the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line, and it made recommendations in both cases. In one case the Government acted on the recommendation and paid compensation; but in the other it stated that there were insufficient grounds to warrant the acceptance of the board’s recommendation. I suggest to the Prime Minister that, in view of the circumstances, he should give some consideration to the staff of the Cockatoo Island dockyard, on the ground that, when we relinquish the control of that establishment the members of the staff will cease to be employees of the Government. It is true the Prime Minister says that an undesirable precedent might be established if compensation were paid, but, I suggest that these employees should be granted an amount equivalent, say, to two weeks’ pay for each year of service. That would not involve a very large sum, and it would to some extent be a recognition of the long and faithful service of the employees and a mark of consideration to them at the time of the handing over of the establishment. If the Prime Minister agrees to my suggestion, I shall convey his decision to the members of the staff of the Cockatoo Island dockyard, and get them to formulate a proposal.
– I desire to interest the Prime Minister further in the case of Captain Daniel, formerly master of theJ ervis Bay, in regard to whose claim for compensation the right honorable gentleman was good enough to grant to me an interview a few days ago. I understand that correspondence has been addressed by this officer to the Prime Minister’s Department and that until a week ago, he had received no reply. Captain Daniel had long service as a master of one of the Bay liners, and a testimonial signed by the Director of the Commonwealth Shipping Line (Mr. G. H. Kneen) on the 7th June, 1928, reads -
Sydney 7 th June, 1928.
This is to certify that Captain F. Daniel joined this service in October,1 916, as Chief Officer of s.s. Australdale. He was promoted to Master and appointed to command of the s.s. Austraglen in March, 1917, and from that date he has remained continuously in command of various steamers, including the Bakara and the Barambah, trading to the United Kingdom and Continent. For the last three years he has commanded the s.s. Ferndale. On 6th June, 1928, he was appointed
Master of the t.s.s. Jervis Bay, and will be bandinghis ship over to the new owners on her arrival in the United Kingdom.
I have much pleasure in certifying that during the whole period of his service with this line, Captain Daniel has given every satisfaction. He has shown himself to bo a capable and conscientious shipmaster, at all times devoted to his employer’s interests, a careful navigator, and strictly sober. I may say that it has been our intention for some time to appoint Captain Daniel to the command of one of the “ Bay “ steamers as soon as the opportunity arose.
I can honestly recommend Captain Daniel to any one who may require his services, and I take this opportunity to wish him every success in his future career.
Captain Daniel claims to be the only master, and, indeed, the only officer in the Service of the Bay line, who has been neither compensated nor taken over by the new controlling company. The Prime Minister has promised to obtain additional information on that point.
– Why is he not employed by the White Star Line? Because of the mutiny on his ship?
– I am not able to answer that question. But if that be the reason, he has been most unfairly treated, because such a thing has not been charged against him. So far as he knows he has an unblemished record of service with the Commonwealth Shipping Line and other shipping companies. Handsome compensation has been paid to the shore staff of the Line and some of the officers have been both compensated and reemployed by the new owners. Captain Daniel, at an age when he is not too old for further service, but yet finds it not” practicable to blaze a new track and fit into a new berth, is excluded from all benefits as if there were some personal reasons for his differential treatment.I cannot imagine any refinement of argument by which he has been so excluded. It is true that he might have been fortunate enough to be given command of a ship by the new owners. But that was entirely a matter for their decision. He has not been employed by them, but he was employed by the Common wealth. The only principle that should apply in this matter is that those who have given to the Commonwealth valuable service over a number of years and against whom nothing is alleged, should receive compensation if their avenue of employment is destroyed by the Commonwealth. I have a distinct recollection that the Prime Minister, when discussing the sale of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, promised in general terms that the employees of the line would be compensated for loss of their positions if they were not re-employed, and if it be true that Captain Daniel is the only one who has been excluded from the generous compensation paid by the Government, the Prime Minister should take prompt steps to have his case further considered.
.At question time on Wednesday, I read a newspaper statement that members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants are shareholders in the coal-mining companies, and I asked the Prime Minister whether, if the statement were true, the Government would nominate an accountant from the Auditor-General’s staff to investigate the books of the coal, railway and shipping companies in conjunction with a nominee of the miners. The right honorable gentleman said that if I was in a position to declare that the miners would accept the auditor’s report on Mr. Bavin’s figures, showing that the mine-owners are not making a profit of more than 2s. a ton, I was in a different position from that of the leaders of the miners. I interjected that I was not in a position to say that, but your stentorian voice, Mr. Speaker, drowned mine. I could not be heard. One newspaper stated that the Prime Minister finished his speech, but it did not record my interjection, although I distinctly said that I was not in a position to make such a statement. I was however, in a position to say that the miners expected the Prime Minister to continue the negotiations with a view to a resumption of work in the coal-mines. Other honorable members may desire to get to bed at this early hour of the morning, but I, who represent constituents the majority of whom are starving through the contemptible action of the coal-owners backed up by the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales, cannot be silent while these things continue. I have been told that I am not polite. I am not here to use polite language. I represent the working class, and so long as I feel that honorable members opposite are unconcerned when 35,000 men, women and children are starving, I shall not mince my words. I shall throw politeness to the four winds. At a later hour to-day, this Parliament will adjourn; but there are many questions yet unanswered and many promises still unfulfilled by responsible Ministers. Has the Prime Minister honoured his promise to give this House an opportunity to discuss the terms of the proposed reference to a royal commission? Has the Attorney-General yet made a statement as to whom it is intended to prosecute, or is he seeking fresh evidence against certain persons? If he wants further evidence apart from that which I have previously furnished to the House, I ask him to read the minutes of the conference held a year ago under the presidency of the then Minister for Labour and Industry in New South “Wales, Mr. Farrar. At that conference, Mr. McDonald, in reply to a question I asked, said that I was working in a colliery which operated every day. That meant that that colliery had a regular trade. If the Attorney-General has not sufficient evidence to prove that that colliery, like others, has a regular trade, and therefore, has no need to close down, Mr. McDonald furnishes in his reply to me sufficient evidence to justify a. prosecution. That can be verified by looking up the minutes of the conference mentioned. In my opinion, and in the opinion of the members of the Miners’ Federation, John Brown has the country bluffed; the various State Premiers and even the Prime Minister himself are afraid to take action against him. He had definitely refused to submit his books to audit. If the Government has the welfare of the country at heart, it should tell John Brown that no longer must he attempt to dictate to the people of Australia. This John Brown is the same gentleman who on one occasion closed a government road in the Northern district of New South Wales and ran a railway over it, making the road unfit for traffic. The people could do nothing against him because he succeeded in his action against the local council for attempting to undermine his railway. In fact he bluffed the local council by threatening to go as far as the Privy Council. It is apparent to mc that the Government is more concerned about the profits of a few people than it is about the welfare of innocent women and children in the coal-mining industry who are starving. Honorable members opposite who condemn the preaching of class legislation, not only preach it themselves; they also practise it, and with a vengeance. They act only in the interests of the class they represent.
– Nonsense !
– It is not nonsense. I have “heard the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) say that he does not stand for the crushing of the workers. Let him raise his voice in the party-room in opposition to the inaction0 of the Prime Minister.
– If the honorable member can give me facts justifying it, I shall stand behind him.
– I have presented facts to show that there is no need for John Brown, the Caledonian Company and the Bellbird Company and others to close their collieries for want of trade. A number of collieries, which for some time have been closed, are now re-opening in order to obtain coal to meet trade requirements, and the owners of those collieries are not seeking a reduction in wages. If the Government, like the honorable member for Fawkner, persists in closing its eyes to facts, in a desire to help the coal-owners, it will reveal its true colours to the people of Australia. I have been obsessed with the idea that all honorable members opposite are class conscious, but I now make an exception of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr.’ Marks). The honorable member said in this chamber, when discussing the coal position, that he was quite satisfied with the returns on his investments in coal-mines, that they were indeed better than he obtained on his investments in city properties. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis) has also substantiated my statements by declaring that the increase in the price of coal in Queensland was only about one-third as great as the increase in New South Wales, although a similar rate of wage has to be paid.
– I did not say that.
– The. honorable member does not deny the fact that the coal-owners of New South “Wales put ls. 6d. per ton on the price of coal to meet a wage increase of ls. 6d. a day to off-hand labour, which the - Queensland owners met by putting on an increase of only 6d. a ton. The AttorneyGeneral lias power under the Crimes Act to prosecute the colliery-owners of New South Wales for locking out their employees, and he should use it, just as he uses the power against the workers. Under the Industrial Peace Act an inquiry may be held to determine whether any increase in the price of coal is justified, but the miners have never been able to get the Prime Minister to set up a tribunal to investigate the matter. When approached by the coal-owners he has allowed them to increase the price of coal from time to time without question. Mr. Justice Edmonds directed in 1920 that an audit should be made of the coal-owners’ books to ascertain whether the increase of 3s. per ton which was made at that time was justified; but his direction was never carried out. But Colonel Ling went to Queensland at the same time and made an investigation into the position there, the result of which was that the increase in that State was limited to 2s. 6d. a ton, while the coal-owners in New South Wales got away with the 3s. per ton. There was an attempt to make an inquiry, but it was never finalized. The whole subject should be inquired into without delay.
The members of the Government will shortly be retiring to their departmental dug-outs, for Parliament will go into recess. I, therefore, take this opportunity of charging the Government in general, and the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral in particular, with having always treated the colliery-owners far more leniently than they have treated the miners and other workers. I suppose some honorable members opposite will shortly be commemorating the sacrifice of our Saviour, Who in the interest of humanity, taught that there should be a more equal distribution of this world’s goods. But what is the position to-day. We find the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer every day. But unless they insist upon the Government providing the starving people on the coalfields with the necessaries of life their worship of Christ will be a mockery and a sham. I urge them to do something to force the Government to protect the people of the coal-fields from starvation, degradation and want. ‘
– It should be recognized that the coal-miners have for very many years been working under a Commonwealth award. Investigations made from time to time into the position of this industry have shown clearly that there is no justification whatever for the closing down of the collieries. That move has been taken to starve the workers into submitting to a reduction of wages. It might have bee.’i necessary for some of the mines to work part time during this period of stress, but that would have been infinitely better than completely closing them. Ever since the development of the Maitland coalfield the industry has been steadily declining. In the old days stock was watered to an amazing extent and bonus shares were issued without any regard whatever to the over-capitalization of the mines. This is the reason why the mines are not now paying the fabulous dividends of other days. If dividends were calculated upon the actual amount of paid-up capital instead of upon the nominal capital of the companies, the position would still be satisfactory. If it were possible to operate the mines profitably on the prices which ruled before the war, it should still be possible to do so. The miners have not got much out of the increased price of coal. Out of the first increase of 3s. per ton the amount paid in additional wages to the staff and miners would not be more than 8d. per ton, and out of the second increase of 4s. per ton, it would not be more than ls. per ton; so that in respect of these two increases alone the mine-owners are showing a clear, profit of more than 5s. a ton.
The Attorney-General promised me this week that he would make a statement before Parliament adjourned as to the action the Government intended to take against the colliery owners who have locked out their employees, but he has not so far kept his promise. If the Government continues to deal with this great national industry in this way it will utterly condemn itself. It will he recreant to its duty if it allows thousands of women and children to starve until their breadwinners submit to the entirely unjustified wage reduction which the colliery owners are endeavouring to force upon them.
– For a good many weeks I have listened to a man whose pleadings have become more and more earnest and articulate, until I am convinced that the matter can no longer remain suspended in doubt. Either there is a great wrong being done, or honorable members have listened to statements which are not based on fact. The matter is capable of solution. I do not stand for the coalowners. I do not know one of them. But I believe that the resources of a country, particularly those which are underground, should not be locked in the possession of any group, if by such action whole communities are deprived of their means of living. No one with a spark of humanity in him could fail to heed the appeals of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). I appeal to the Prime Minister to set his inquiry afoot. We in this chamber stand for the people of the nation, and not for a privileged few. If the coal-owner3 have closed their mines merely to put their businesses on a better profit earning basis they are doing an injustice to the nation for coal is an essential daily commodity. This is not a chamber to be moved merely by sentiment. We must weigh the facts and hold the scales of justice evenly. I hope that the Prime Minister will take action to have this matter cleared up.
Mr. LAZZARINI (Werriwa) “1.28 a.m.]. - The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) has asked for facts. I do not wish to say anything to reflect upon the honorable member, because I believe him to be sincere, but during the last ten years, facts concerning the coal industry have been placed before this chamber. Statistics prove that during the years of the war the coal-owners robbed the coal consumers of at least £7,000,000. . That can very simply be demonstrated. When the coal-miners were granted their first increase of wages in 1924, amounting to ls. a ton, the price of coal was immediately increased by 2s. a ton, which was ls. over and above the additional costs imposed by the new award. It is an easy matter to compute from the volume of coal produced in the following six years that the coal-owners made an illegitimate profit of £7,000,000. They are now closing their mines only to starve the miners into submission. Yesterday the Prime Minister told the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) certain things about members of the Institute of Accountants. The right honorable gentleman said that, their reputation was beyond suspicion. Those men hold big interests in the coal mines, and it is through their astuteness that the income tax departments of both the’ Commonwealth and the States are annually robbed of tremendous sums. John Brown, with the aid of astute accountants, so manipulates the figures relating to his business that he is able to set off against income, the cost of maintaining his racing stable and prize fowls, and so on. I challenge the reputation of those accountants. Many of them may be found who will do any thing that the coal barons wish in the way of faking figures. That is not merely my opinion ; it is a well-known fact. The manner in which the coalowners and shipping companies conduct their businesses indicates that they can buy accountants to do just as they desire. Actually, the collieries dig coal out of the ground and sell it to themselves, under the guise of retail companies. They may make a profit of only a few shillings per ton on the first transaction, but subsequent transactions may show a profit of even 10s. per ton. The Adelaide company has its collieries at Corrimal and Abernethy, and carries coal round the coast of Australia at huge freight charges. It costs as much to freight coal from Adelaide to Melbourne as from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Adelaide.
John Brown definitely stated a few months ago that the workers had to be pressed back, either working or starving, to the 1914 conditions, and publicly declared that he was out to do that. He has deliberately closed his mines for that purpose, and has exhibited his brutality to the world. He may achieve his object, but honorable members must realize that in doing so, he strikes a deadly blow not only at. the miners but at the community ‘ generally. The Treasurer recently presented a host of figures in an effort to demonstrate that in recent years millions of days had been lost through strikes. Not one day in the last five years has been lost in the coal industry through strikes, because the coal-owners never allow the miners to work for any thing like full time. The most tragic feature of the whole position is that the uneconomic mines of Australia are being worked, and are making a profit, while the economic mines are closed down. John Brown is the owner of a huge parcel of war bonds, and many of the other mine-owners hold war scrip. If they could force down the prices of commodities to the 1914 level they would double the value of those bonds, and that is one of the reasons for their attempt to starve the miners into submission. It is scandalous that this Government should persecute the industrialists, as it did in the case of Mr. Holloway, emulating an enthusiastic policeman looking for his stripe. It “frames” legislation to make the effective control of industrial organizations almost impossible, and certainly criminal, and it permits the coal-owners to hold the country to ransom. No body of workers could do that, but the wealthy coal barons are in a position to. do it. Personally, I should like to see the mines nationalized immediately. The owners should bc told that they have brought the industry to a state of chaos, and have committed vandalism by destroying thousands of millions of tons of coal that will never be reclaimed. This has been done to enable them to pay large dividends and to water their stock.
– Have the utterances of John Brown been published?
– Yes ; they could be found by referring to the files of the newspapers; but if the honorable member wrote to this man he would get a reply frankly setting out his views. John Brown makes no bones about his opinions.
– I do not wish to have anything to do with a man who speaks in that way.
– He threatened the miners on one occasion that he would starve them into submission.
– He said that he would make them eat grass !
– The only way in which to deal with the problem is to nationalize the mines. That is the remedy suggested by a royal commission that investigated the conditions in the coal industry in Great Britain. The mineral wealth of the country, and particularly its coal deposits, should not be exploited for gain by private individuals. The great source of power of the future will be mineral oil. It has been proved in Great Britain that every ton of coal in the Maitland seam is capable of producing 40 gallons of motor spirit. Since thousands of millions of tons of coal have been destroyed by the owners, through leaving the pillars standing in the mines to hold up the roof, many millions of gallons of oil have been left in the ground. That is a crime against the nation, and no Government having the welfare of the people at heart would tolerate such action for an hour longer than necessary. Before this Parliament adjourns, the Government should f ake definite action to deal with the coalowners; but, no doubt, it is rushing into recess, because it has not the courage to keep the Parliament in session so that the voice of criticism may be raised. I am convinced that, as soon as this House is closed, the “big stick” will be used all round, and the Government will tacitly support the mine-owners by doing nothing in opposition to their interests. Members prate about the need for goodwill and co-operation between the employers and their men, but no Government has done more than the present Administration to keep them apart. I can only conclude that the Prime Minister was absolutely insincere in his attitude towards the Miners Federation.
.- I listened attentively to the appeal made by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), and I was impressed with his sincerity in the matter which he has so much at heart. Together with other honorable members on this side, I am a firm believer in the principle of arbitration. It has been stated definitely that there is a lockout in the coal industry. Personally I have no knowledge of the facts, and therefore I cannot express an opinion. But this I will say: If it is proved that there is a lockout in the industry the Government should prosecute the offenders with the utmost rigour of the law. If it does, it will have my full support. If, on the other hand, it is proved that there is a strike at any time in any industry, and if the Government prosecutes the offenders with the utmost rigour of the law, again they will have my wholehearted support. Offenders against our arbitration law should be punished. I wish it to be understood that I am not expressing an opinion as to whether or not there is a lockout in the industry, and I protest against the inflammatory accusations that have been hurled against members on this side of the chamber. That is not the atmosphere to ensure a coming together of the parties. Such tactics get one nowhere. Abuse is dispute, not argument. I do not take exception to the language used by the honorable member for Hunter. I believe he speaks from the fulness of his heart, and’ as sometimes I feel that way, too. I like to treat a man as I should like to be treated myself. However, I do take strong exception to remarks impugning the honesty and integrity of my leader. If there is one man in the Commonwealth who has given of his best and sacrificed his time for the good of his country it is the Prime Minister. Whatever his political views may be it is neither fair nor just that he should be charged with insincerity or dishonesty, or with being in league with people who are not regarded as the friends of Australia. The Prime Minister gave abundant evidence of his sincerity and love for the country of his birth during the stress of war. He fought and bled for Australia. I particularly deprecate the terms in which one honorable member, not the honorable member for Hunter, referred to the right honorable gentleman. They were disgraceful. Upon his return to Australia after the war the Prime Minister, had he wished to do so, could have lived a life of luxury; but he took the harder course. He entered public life, and for the last six years has occupied the position of Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, which surely involves the most exacting task that any man could undertake. Any one who reflects upon his sincerity is himself unworthy of respect.
– I ask the Prime Minister to give a definite reply to the pertinent question that has been asked more than once by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and other honorable members. Personally, I commend that honorable member and others representing coal-mining districts for their pertinacity in fighting for the men whom they represent in this House. That they have won the admiration of honorable members supporting the Government, is evident from the generous remarks of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers). A month ago the Prime Minister gave us a definite promise that a royal commission would be appointed to investigate the coal-mining industry and if my memory serves me aright, we were told that the terms of reference would be laid on the table before the adjournment, so that honorable members would have an opportunity to discuss them. A month has passed, and we have not had a further announcement on the subject. I suggest that a month is a long time for starving people to wait. The Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the responsibility of the Commonwealth to people who are in want. I tell him that if ever there was an occasion when the coffers of the Commonwealth should be opened it is now, for the purpose of granting relief to those 12,000 miners who, with their wives and families, are on the brink of starvation. I urge the Prime Minister to expedite the investigation into the industry. In the meantime, he should give some measure of relief to the wives and families of the men who are without work, because of the tyrannical action of a body of men who for years have proved themselves to be callous exploiters of the wealth of this country.
– Within a few hours, the House will be in recess, and in this, the first Parliament with which I have been associated, the happenings of the last few weeks have convinced me of the truth of the saying which one hears outside, that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.
– It has been amply demonstrated in the few weeks that I have been a member of this National Parliament. I tell honorable members now that they may conduct the business of this Parliament under elaborate standing orders and pass legislation affecting the working class of this community, but if Mr. John Brown, whose name has been mentioned in this debate, cares to hold up his hand he can lock out thousands of miners, and this Parliament is impotent to deal with him. The whole thing is farcical in the extreme. It demonstrates to the people of Australia the futility of parliamentary government under our present system.
– What does the honorable member suggest that Parliament should do?
– It should deal with those who are holding this country to ransom. This term was used by the Prime Minister when referring to trade unionists. I now apply it to the coalowners. There was no delay in passing legislation to deal with the waterside workers when trouble occurred on the waterfront last year. A bill was rushed through with all haste, and included provisions under which the Minister was authorized to make regulations. We had the same experience in the timber workers’ dispute, and yet, when I asked the Attorney-General yesterday what action the Government proposed to take against members of the Timber Merchants Association for boycotting certain firms, he informed me that he did not know of any Federal law under which action could be taken. Of course, when it is a matter of taking action against the employers, no law can be found upon which to base a prosecution, and this, I submit, demonstrates the truth of my opening remark that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.
– Nonsense !
– If there is nonsense in the honorable member’s mind, that is his misfortune. It is all very well for him to sit back snugly on a wellcushioned seat while thousands of men, women and children are on the verge of starvation.
– The honorable member is spoiling the fine effect created by the sincere utterances of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James).
– It is not possible to spoil any impression that is in the minds of honorable members opposite. I have spent many years in the workshop, and I know the conditions under which the working class labour. Honorable members opposite move in a different circle, and may be excused on that account for holding a different set of opinions. It seems quite obvious that John Brown is able to do as he likes. If the Government were sincerely anxious to have the mines reopened, it has ample power to take action in that direction ; there would be no need to bring down amending legislation to meet the situation. The events of the past few weeks have shown conclusively that when the workers engage in an industrial dispute, the legislative machine is rushed into action against them; but when the employers offend, the Government sits idly by. The miners have expressed a willingness to return to the jobs from which they had been locked out. That is proved by the correspondence which has passed between the Miners Federation and the mine-owners in the last few days. There is sufficient trade available to keep the mines working. The unassociated colleries ‘ are unable to meet the demand; yet the associated coal-owners are permitted to hold the country to ransom! When a dispute occurred in the mines on the Rand in South Africa some years ago, because the miners refused to use defective blasting material, the mine-owners closed the mines down. Paul Kruger immediately took the matter in hand and told thom that if they were not prepared to operate the mines the Government would step in and take them over. There have been frequent references to the need for a strong man to cope with recent similar developments in Australia. The Government has fully demonstrated that it does not possess one man who is capable of handling the situation.
– The miners are not the only people in Australia.
– They may not be the only people, but they are a big factor in keeping the industries of this country going.
– Why, then, do they not work?
– I judge from the interjections that are made by honorable members opposite that they lack knowledge of the situation. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) shows that he is not fully conversant with the position. He and I move in different circles, and it is but natural that ho should not be able to understand what happens in circles outside his own. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) asked a little while ago whether the statements attributed to John Brown by the honorable member for Werriwa. (Mr. Lazzarini) were published. I can assure him that they were, and that the opinions of that gentleman are well known on the coal-fields and in industrial circles generally. Honorable members who sit opposite are totally ignorant of the problems that confront the working class. Wl) cri the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) stated the case for the timber workers, he was applauded by many honorable members opposite, plainly proving that when the facts are clearly presented even some honorable members on the Government side disapprove of the attempt to lower the standard of those workers and are prepared to recognize the justice of their claim. Similarly, there is no question that the miners have justice on their side. At an earlier stage of this sitting we dealt with the question of pensions to returned soldiers. Numbered among those who are practically starving on the coal-fields to-day, are many who participated in the Great War. Is this to be their reward for having saved Australia for the benefit of John Brown and his class?
– Mock heroics !
– In a few hours we shall be in recess. I invite the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) to visit the coal-fields during the months that Parliament is not sitting; and there give an exhibition of his mock heroics. We shall make every provision possible for him to meet the miners. Let him face those men and see how long he will continue the line of thought he now suggests. It is all right for the honorable member to parade on the Manly beach in white flannels and white shoes; but he would find a different atmosphere if he went into the northern coal-fields. I am pleased to have been born in Australia, because I view the present industrial circumstances from that angle.
– Did the honorable member fight for his country.
– No; and I am not ashamed of that, particularly when I see the reward which has been given to those who went to the front from the north, and are now starving. But there is a limit to the test of starvation, and I feel that in the final analysis these people will be forced to take some other action, because, after all, no matter what view we may take of society, the law of selfpreservation prevails. Men are not likely to let their women and children starve without putting up some sort of fight for them.
– I should like to say a few words in reply to some of the interjections that have been made by honorable members opposite. The question has been raised whether the closing of the mines on the Maitland coal-field has not been justified by the lack of trade. I ask honorable members if mines which were producing 30,000 tons of coal a day, 80 per cent, of the output of Australia, would suddenly close because of lack of trade ? The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) asked what should be done. I have already endeavoured to impress on the Government that the drastic provisions of the law applied to the men should also have been applied to the coal-owners. But the Nationalists have for the mine-owners a different law from that which they apply to miners. When, in 1917, the miners went on strike, the Nationalists were prepared to afford all sorts of police protection to the mine-owners, including Mr. John Brown, to enable them to keep their mines going with “ scab “ labour. They were even prepared to suspend the Mines Regulation Act of New South Wales to enable them to do it. But now that the owners are on strike, the Nationalist Governments of Australia remain inactive. How can we have industrial peace in Australia under such conditions ? In the Sydney press we see references to the fact that a record number of people are now setting out from Australia on tours abroad and that 75 per cent, of them are women. It seems to me that while we have in Australia some people living in unparalleled luxury, others on the northern coal-field are facing unparalleled starvation. Yet a Nationalist Government remains inactive.
– I regret that the atmosphere in which this debate is being conducted is so heated. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), who initiated the discussion, spoke with such feeling about the present position on the northern coalfields that, whether I agreed or disagreed with what he said, I could only approach the question with the earnest desire to deal plainly with the points he raised, and to indicate the attitude of the Government in regard to them. Some of the later speakers, however, have not followed the honorable member’s lead. They have accused the Government of almost every political crime that it is possible for a government to commit. They have suggested that Ministers are insincere in their attitude towards the coal situation, and that the law of the land is not being enforced. They have, in fact, suggested that the Government has deliberately meted out different treatment to different sections of the community. I deny all these charges. There is not the slightest foundation for them. But beyond saying that the Government is absolutely sincere in its attitude I propose to ignore them. The importance of the issues raised by the honorable member for Hunter, however, demands that I should deal with the situation as it stands to-day.
Two considerations confront us; the steps we should take to put the coal industry on a better basis, and the situation that has arisen through the closing down of certain mines. Taking the first, I do not think any one who has studied the position can acquit either the mineowners or the miners of blame. Both are to blame. The present situation has arisen from the fact that for a long period the industry has prospered at the expense of the general community.
For many years both parties in the coal-mining industry nave done very well at the expense of the general public. In support of that statement I would point out that not very long ago, because of the attitude taken by the engineers in the industry, it was possible that a general strike might result. I saw the representatives of the engineers, and we discussed the whole question, when this fact emerged : that the engineers in the coal-mining industry were being paid wages higher than those of engineers working in other industries. An engineer working in a coal-mine in the Newcastle district is getting a higher wage than an engineer doing similar work in the Broken Hill district. Dissatisfaction had arisen because the engineers in the Newcastle district did not get the same margin for skill as those in the Broken Hill district, because the employees of the coal industry of New South Wales come under a special tribunal^ whose awards and rates are not coordinated witu the general awards and rates prevailing throughout the State. The basic wage in the coal-mining industry in New South Wales is higher than that in other industries, and, therefore, although the engineers in the industry get higher wages than other engineers, they do not enjoy the same margin for skill. But while for many years high prices have been paid for coal, a change has now taken place. Trade began to slacken, the trouble became acute, and it has grown more acute during the last eighteen months or two years. There is now intermittency of employment, and notwithstanding the high wages, this has increased to such an extent that nowthousands of men in an industry in which the actual wages are high in comparison, with those of other industries, are not able to earn the basic wage. The Government of New South Wales, therefore, tried whether anything could be done to bring about a re-organization of the industry, to place it upon a better basis. It was clear that without a full investigation, little could be achieved in an industry which had become utterly disorganized and almost demoralized. There was no hope of revival without this. But the Premier of the State was faced with the position that unless immediate steps could be taken to reduce the price of coal, conditions would rapidly become worse. The proposals submitted by him contemplated an immediate reduction of the price of coal, to be brought about, not on a basis of what each party to the industry would submit to as equitable, but on a basis that on the broad, general facts would appear to do reasonable justice, all parties in the industry bearing their fair share of the cost of facing the immediate crisis. It was proposed also that there should be an immediate inquiry to enable the industry to be re-organized, and absolute justice and equity given to each party. Unhappily the negotiations failed. I have mentioned this matter to show that the situation which has arisen was almost inevitable, and that it is useless to say that any particular party in the industry is to blame. It may be found when the conditions of the industry have been investigated that some of the parties are moreblamewor thy than others, but every one connected with the industry has contributed to bringing about the trouble from which weare now trying to extricate it. It does not seem possible to come to an arrangement between the parties for an immediate reduction in the price of coal.
But I have said in this House that the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales, notwithstanding that the original condition of the appointment of a royal commission was an immediate reduction of costs by mutual consent, and that that condition has not been accepted, have determined to carry out the full inquiry. I hope that in the near future it will be possible to announce the personnel of the commission and its terms of reference. It is not the simplest thing in the world to appoint a royal commission capable of carrying out this difficult and complicated inquiry in such a manner as to ensure that, as the result of its investigation, some basis will be obtained for the re-organization of the industry.
– Has not Mr. Macdonald been interviewing the Prime Minister lately ?
– The last time that I spoke to Mr. Macdonald was two days before the conference with the representatives of the mine-owner3 and the miners was held at Canberra. I sent for him and told him that it was proposed to summon a conference to which I expected the coalmineowners to send representatives. That is the only conversation I have had with him for months past. Perhaps the honorable member now realizes that the insinuation he has made is without justification.
– Have any agents interviewed you? Mr. McDonald has been here frequently.
– I regret that the honorable member has made that suggestion, because no honorable member who has served in previous Parliaments would believe that I would say that, I had not interviewed a person if I had, in fact, interviewed him, his agent, or anybody who could convey his views to me.
In regard to the proposed royal commission, I am perfectly certain that when the terms of reference are . published, the representatives of the miners will find nothing of which they can complain. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and the Leader of the Opposition have said that I stated in the House that I would afford an opportunity for a discussion on the terms of reference.
– I said that I understood that the right honorable gentleman had made that promise.
– I have no recollection of having done so, and I do not think I could have done so, because from the beginning I have recognized the difficulty of determining the terms of reference, having regard to the need for agreement with the Government of New South Wales. It is certainly impossible for those terms to be submitted to honorable members for discussion before the House rises, but I again say that I am certain that when they are published, the representatives of the miners and honorable members opposite will have no complaint against them.
The next matter with. which I wish to deal is the existing condition on the coalfields, and the fact that certain owners have closed their mines. Honorable members opposite, have asked what action the Government proposes to take. The insinuation, has been very freely made that the Government is prepared to enforce the law against the workers and trade unions, but not against the mine-owners and employers. I repudiate that insinuation. If any Commonwealth law is being infringed through the action of the mine-owners, the Government will take steps to prosecute’ the offenders. Let me remind honorable members of the procedure preliminary to the institution of proceedings, whether against a mine-owner, an employer, a union, or a worker. Immediately instructions have been issued by the Attorney-General action is taken automatically by the officers of the Crown Law Department to determine whether a prosecution can take place. The evidence available is considered in relation to the law. If the decision is reached that there is ground for a prosecution, a summons is issued. The issue of a summons aud the initiation of a prosecution is not quite so simple a process as some honorable members imagine. For instance, the timber workers were prosecuted; but the summons was not issued on the day following the commission of the offence. Some considerable time is required to deal with such matters. However, all that the House desires to know to-night is the attitude of the Government towards the mine-owners. At a later date, when there is no proposal to prosecute anybody, this House may debate whether the action or inaction of the Government at the present moment is justified. The Government will not shirk the responsibility of such a discussion at the proper time; but now, when it may be - I do not say it is - in the mind of the Government to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth against certain individuals, I do not propose to let those individuals know what action the Government may take. I decline to say to the House or the public at the present time more than that the Commonwealth proposes to enforce the laws of this country against anybody who offends against them, whether mine-owners, proprietors, unions, or individual trade unionists.
I have been asked to state whether the Government will be prepared to render financial assistance to those who are in distress because of the industrial position on the northern coal-field of New South Wales. My answer is that this problem
is being handled by the State Government. The cost to the State of rendering assistance in the coal-mining areas is increasing to an alarming extent, as the Premier pointed out a few days ago when referring to the dislocation caused by the tragic closing down of the mines. Unless the New South Wales Government makes representation to us in regard to this matter, the Commonwealth Government does not propose to take any action.
The suggestion has been made that the Commonwealth Government should step in and do something to terminate the unfortunate state of affairs on the northern coal-fields. Honorable members have said that the Commonwealth has some authority in this matter because a tribunal established under Commonwealth law has certain jurisdiction in the coalmining industry. Whilst that is true, the Commonwealth powers in regard to the existing situation in New South Wales are extremely limited. In 1917 the Commonwealth had absolute and paramount power under the War Precautions Act to deal with coal-mining or any other industry, but that act being no longer in force, our powers are now limited to those set out in the Constitution.
– What about the prosecution of the engine-drivers in this iu dustry about two years ago?
– I must refer the honorable gentleman to the AttorneyGeneral. I am not now speaking about prosecutions or suggesting alterations of our powers respecting them; I am dealing with our power to cope with the situation. One proposal was that the coalmines should be taken over by the Commonwealth. Running through every suggestion there has been the thought of some action on the part of the Government, other than the initiation of prosecutions, that would mean a resumption of work.
– There were prosecutions in 1917.
– We then had absolute power in every direction. The tribunal constituted by the Commonwealth can interfere only when a dispute is of an interstate character. Whether the present dispute comes within that category is doubtful; it appears to be confined to New South Wales. But even if the tribunal had jurisdiction to step in, it is difficult to say what it could do. There is always difficulty when cither side to a dispute can prevent a tribunal from operating by disregarding its awards. It is true that the federal tribunal has functioned for a number of years, but only on the basis of the willingness of the parties to accept its jurisdiction. There is the further complication that merely to prosecute some one would be comparatively futile, since a prosecution would not start the mines again. The point is whether the Commonwealth can do anything to get the mines working again. It may be that we must work through the powers vested in the State of New South Wales. I impress upon honorable members that a settlement of the difficulty is not so easy as many imagine, however great the desire to bring about an immediate resumption. The Commonwealth has no power to step into a sovereign State and take over its mines.
– Is there not power to step in to maintain essential services?
– Unfortunately, the proposals submitted to the people for power to legislate for the maintenance of essential services were not accepted by four of the States. Had the result been otherwise, we should have had power to deal with this industry as an essential service. As it is, the Commonwealth has not that power. Under none of the acts of this Parliament has the Commonwealth power to deal with the coal-mining industry as it dealt with the transport services, which are both interstate and international in character. I have dealt with this matter at some length because of its great importance to Australia, I wish that honorable members opposite, instead of laying charges and making insinuations against the Government, would address their minds to the real problems confronting the industry. I assure the House that the Government has every desire to see the mines working again, and to have the coal-mining industry re-organized.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) has asked with regard to the men at Cockatoo Island dockyard that, if the Government is adamant in its attitude, and will not accept the principle of compensation, it will be prepared to make them some allowance on a basis similar to the furlough allowance granted up to 1923 in the case of some permanent men, and up to 1921 in the case of a number of temporary men who were dealt with for the full period of their employment with the Government, or with an activity of the Government. If the honorable member wiL place his suggestions before the men concerned, the Government will be prepared to consider any representations of that character they might make.
The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) referred to the case of Captain Daniel, who prior to the transfer of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers to the White Star Line was a captain of a “ Bay “ liner. I can only say that Captain Daniel’s case is similar to that of the other captains and officers of the Line who were not given compensation. 1 cannot at this hour explain the differentiation made between the shore and the sea-going staffs, but the action taken followed the principle laid down that no compensation should be paid to the sea-going staff of the Line. Captain Daniel is in the unfortunate position of being the only one of the five captains of “ Bay “ liners who has not been taken over by the new Line.
– Did not Captain Chapman go to Trinity House?
– I understand that of the five captains, Captain Daniel is the only one who has not obtained employment. I cannot now give the reason why he was not taken over by the new Line; but I point out that he is not alone in not receiving compensation or reemployment. I have been unable to ascertain the full particulars, but I know of two officers and one purser who were offered employment, but refused it. They received no compensation excepting the usual allowance to sea-going staffs of one and a half months’ pay in lieu of repatriation. There was no differentiation in Captain Daniel’s case. He was treated on the same basis as the other members of the sea-going staff. I stated last, night the principle governing this matter, and in view of the lateness of the hour I do not propose to repeat what I said then.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 2.41 a.m. (Friday).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 March 1929, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1929/19290321_reps_11_120/>.