16th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W.M.Nairn) tookthe chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs whether representations have boon made by the Premier of Tasmania in connexion with the prices now being charged for firewood in Launceston and Hobart. If they have, what is their nature? Has any action been taken for a re-adjustment of prices?
– I am unable to state definitely whether or not representations have been made. It is more than likely that they have, because the honorable member has mentioned the matter several times in this House recently. I shall make inquiries and reply to him later.
Interim Reports by Auditor-General.
– The annual report of the Auditor-General is presented to this Parliament so long after the expenditure with which it deals has been incurred that it is by that time ancient history. In view of the marked increase of public expenditure - from £100,000,000 in peacetime to £600,000,000 in war-time- will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of arranging for that officer to submit in addition frequent interim reports, so that the Parliament may be advised of any irregularities or misuse of public funds? If an amendment of the act be necessary, will the Prime Minister seriously consider having it made?
– Compliance with the honorable member’s request might involve accountancy as well as legal difficulties.
– I am merely suggesting reports in reference to those matters to which the Auditor-General considered that the attention of this Parliament should be directed from time to time.
– The Auditor-General acts, not under an instruction from a Minister of State, but strictly in pursuance of the statute, which prescribes that there shall be an annual report. I shall consider whether the Parliament should be asked to amend the law.
– The Auditor-General has discretion, under the act, to make reports whenever he thinks fit.
– I could not direct him to supply an interim statement; but he may furnish one if, in his opinion,such a course is necessary or desirable. That he has not availed himself of the discretion allowed to him under the law is, I consider, prima facie evidence that there has not been misuse of funds or irregularity in connexion with the expenditure of public moneys. Insofar as there could be waste, due to the urgency of the administration, it will be recalled that the Parliament itself has set up a committee to report on war expenditure. That committee has made a series of reports, which honorable members have had before them.
– Is the Minister representing the Postmaster-General aware that a newspaper called the Standard has been in publication for the last 36 years? If so, and in view of the representations of its publishers when it was proposed to issue a new publication of the same name, will the honorable gentleman state why the department granted registration to the new publication? Is not this an infringement of the rights of the publishers of the original newspaper, and must not confusion result therefrom? Is the House to understand that the rights of a publisher in connexion with the name under which his publication is issued may be abrogated at any time?
– I do not know whether the Postmaster-General is aware of the circumstances recited; but I shall obtain information on the subject and advise the honorable member.
Civil Constructional Corps : Arbitration Court A.ward; Decision to Stop Work in Sydney ; Statement by Mr. Fallon.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government has been notified of the intention of a body of men, estimated to number 1,000, who are engaged on an allied works undertaking in the metropolitan area of Sydney, to stop work unless the recently gazetted award applying to them is withdrawn? If the Government has been so notified, does it intend to withdraw the award?
– I have not had any such notification. The award has been made and, so far as I am concerned, it will stand.
– Yesterday, I asked the Prime Minister whether he had seen the statement in the Courier-Mail by the State secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Mr. Fallon, that the union was advising its members not to work under the new award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court fixing wages, for members of the Civil Constructional Corps. The right honorable gentleman replied that he had not seen the report, but he promised to ask Mr. Fallon to comment upon it. Has the Prime Minister yet received Mr. Fallon’s reply and, if so, what is the nature of it?
– After giving that answer yesterday, I immediately wrote to Mr. Fallon, but I have not yet received a reply.
Requirements in Queensland.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether, as the Deputy Director-General of Man Power in Queensland, Mr. Walsh, has stated, 11,300 men and women will be needed by the end of June for essential war work in that State, and that, if sufficient volunteers do not come forward, “ direction “ will have to be applied ? If so, will the Minister, in view of the vagueness of Mr. Walsh’s reported appeal, consider the issue of a full list of all unessential occupations from which war workers will be recruited after June if sufficient volunteers do not come forward ?
– I have not seen the statement referred to; but I shall secure the fullest information for the honorable member.
Service Stripes and Exemption from Tax - Enlistments: Medical Examinations - Absence Without Leave : Case of Gunner Bradley.
– Will the Minister for the Army expedite a reply to my representations in this House in respect of service stripes and exemption from tax for the troops serving in Darwin, so as to bring them into conformity with those who are serving at Port Moresby, in view of the fact that Darwin was so heavily bombed yesterday, and the men serving in that area are now in as great danger as are the men serving at Port Moresby?
– Yes, I shall expedite the consideration of the honorable member’s representations.
– Can the Minister for the Army say whether it is possible for a soldier, after serving overseas for eighteen months and being discharged from the Army as medically unfit, to be accepted again as fit for service within a period of eight weeks?
– It would depend upon the report of the medical officers. No doubt the soldier whom the honorable member has in mind was hoarded, and I, as a layman, am not qualified to dispute the findings of the board. If he will give me particulars of the case, I shall have it investigated.
– Is the Minister for the Army aware that twenty men classified as totally and permanently incapacitated after the last war have been accepted by the Army and passed as 100 per cent, fit for service in the present war ? Can he say how it is that doctors can pass as medically fit for service men who are in receipt of full pensions for disabilities arising out of service in the last war?
– I was not aware that what the honorable member states is a fact, but if he gives me the names of the soldiers concerned, I shall make inquiries. Young men who are about to enter the Army first undergo a preliminary examination, and later they are subjected to a more detailed examination, and X-rays are taken. It is possible that some men of the kind referred to by the honorable member may have passed the preliminary examination in the place in which they enlisted. I shall have inquiries made into the cases, and will let the honorable member know the facts.
– I ask the Minister for Repatriation whether he will confer with the Minister for the Army with a view to the compilation of a list of those men who are receiving pensions in respect of total and permanent incapacity as the result of service in the last war, and have been accepted for service in this war, in order that action might be taken against those doctors who passed such men as fit for service.
– I would defy any doctor to know whether some people who are classified by the Repatriation Commission as permanently and totally incapacitated were, at particular times, in fact, totally and permanently incapacitated.
– How then do such men qualify for the pension for permanent and total disabilities?
– Men may be subjected to epileptic fits, but be perfectly sound when they appear before the Army doctor for examination. Mental cases may be perfectly sane when examined. Disabilities can be concealed, and it is difficult for doctors to discover them.
Mr. FORDE (Capricornia- Minister for the Army). - by leave - On the 12th March, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) referred to the prosecution of a Mrs. Bradley, of Cheltenham, Victoria, for having harboured her son, who had been absent without leave from the Army. The honorable member stated that he denied the right of the Government to prosecute any mother for obeying her natural instincts, and that the action in this instance had been made more disgraceful because Mrs. Bradley was a widow and the mother of fifteen children. The case did not come before the Government or myself, but the prosecution was initiated by the military authorities in the usual way.
The honorable member, in criticizing the military officer, said -
We have out-Hitlered Hitler in some respects when we have the widowed mother of fifteen children dragged into court, fined £10, and told by the magistrate that she ought to be sent to gaol. … I wonder what collection of pathological exhibits the Minister for the Army has in his department when it practises such sadism against an Australian woman. I should not speak in this way had I not -recently been made aware of all the circumstances. I hold some high-ranking officers of his department responsible for what has occurred. The Minister should dismiss them. Any government which tolerates such action deserves to be dismissed. I know what would have been done if the Labour party were in opposition and this kind of thing occurred. … I hope that the Government will order that the fine be remitted and that the woman be sent home to look after her little children.
I was very affected by the honorable member’s graphic description of this lonely widow with what appeared to be fifteen helpless children, hanging on . to her apron strings; and I immediately instituted inquiries, and found that the only children known to be living at home and working were two sons, Arthur aged 36 years, and Denis aged 22 years. There was also a married daughter and a fifteenyearold daughter who works. Mrs. Bradley claims that she has fourteen children, not fifteen; but only ten have been traced, and only four are living at home. The honorable member urged that the court martial sentence on the boy of 150 days’ detention for absence without leave should be reduced in view of the fact that he went absent without leave in order to keep the family. The honorable member asked that no other mother should be brought before an Australian court and charged with harbouring her son when absent without leave, and suggested that many men who had fought for their country had been absent without leave at some time or another, and that such absence was not the worst crime in the military calendar.
I now inform the honorable member that I had full inquiries made into this case and have myself examined the file dealing with it. The following are the facts : - Gunner Bradley deserted from hig unit on the 25th January, 1942, and remained absent for 341 days until apprehended by military police at Mordialloc on the 1st January, 1943, following hia conviction on a charge of drunkenness while in charge of a vehicle. During the first ten months of this member’s absence without leave, several inquiries were made at Mrs. Bradley’s house, but she always stated that his whereabouts were unknown to her. It was believed, however, that Gunner Bradley was sleeping at his mother’s home and working some distance away, and parties of military police visited the house on the evenings of the 17th, 21st and 29th December, 1942. On each of these occasions, the military police were so obstructed and abused by Mrs. Bradley and members of the household that they found it necessary to call the civil police.
On the first occasion Gunner Bradley was seen to escape from the back door while Mrs. Bradley held up tha military police at the front door, and during the chase ‘that ensued-, Mrs. Bradley, accompanied by other members of the household, stoned the driver of the military truck, one stone striking him on the temple. It was necessary to call in the civil police, and Mrs. Bradley boasted to them that her son had escaped with her assistance. In written statements made by members of the civil police who were called in on these occasions, they described the language of Mrs. Bradley and other occupants of the house as abusive, insulting and entirely unprovoked.
The honorable member laid emphasis on the dependency of this widow and her family on the earnings of the soldier, and alleged that he went absent without leave in order to keep the family. It appears, however, that on being called up for military service, Gunner Bradley, who was a single man, made no allotment in his mother’s favour, nor has any claim ever been made by the mother for such an allotment to be made. In addition, it does not appear that she has any children who were dependent on this soldier’s earnings prior to his enlistment. In the eight written complaints, all of which I am convinced have no foundation of fact, which Mrs. Bradley has made to me and to the honorable member for Melbourne and others between the 18th December, 1942, and the 13th February, 1943, shehas frequently referred to her ill health. She produced a doctor’s certificate showing that she suffers from blood pressure. But besides assaulting the military truck driver on the 18 !h December, she later assaulted two members of a party of military police who called to arrest Gunner Bradley on the 29th December.
Gunner Bradley was convicted by court martial on the 9th February, 1943, and sentenced to 150 days’ detention. During the five years prior to his military service, he incurred seven convictions at courts of petty sessions. Mrs. Bradley was proceeded against in the Court of Petty Sessions at Cheltenham for the harbouring of her 3on, and was fined £10 with £2 2s. costs, and I note that Ihe magistrate took such a serious view of the facts placed before him, that he said that he would have had no hesitation in sending Mrs. Bradley to gaol except for her age and the state of her health. No evidence was given during the court proceedings that Private Bradley had been supporting his mother in any way, nor that she was in any way dependent on the earnings of her children, although mention was made of the fact that she was an invalid pensioner. On the same day as Mrs. Bradley was fined, the magistrate dismissed with costs against the informant an information by Mrs. Bradley alleging that a member of the military police had used insulting words to her on the 17th December, 1942.
With reference to the request of the honorable member that instructions should be issued that mothers should not be brought into courts and charged with harbouring sons absent without leave, I wish to state that desertion and absence without leave have become a serious problem in the Australian Military Forces. and I am satisfied that it is essential in determined and successful cases of harbouring, such as the one now under notice that prosecution should follow. On perusal of the file, I am satisfied that the action which has been taken was fully justified. I am prepared to make the file available to the honorable member for his perusal if he so desires. It is advisable for honorable members to bring to me in my office any complaints of alleged harsh treatment of Army personnel or their .relations so that the complaints can be fully investigated before much publicity adverse to the Army is given on ex parte statements from interested parties. When these matters are raised in the House, the whole of the facts should, in fairness to the Army officers concerned, be made known to the public.
Mr. CALWELL (Melbourne).- fey leave - The Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) has read a very carefully prepared statement which has been submitted to him by the Army authorities, whom I dared to criticize in this House for their treatment of Mrs. Bradley, of Cheltenham, Victoria. I am not concerned with the type of woman she is or is alleged to be. My complaints were against the action of the Department of the Army in dragging a mother before the court for having followed her natural instincts in harbouring her son, after lie had been court martialled and sentenced for having been absent without leave. I made no accusations in regard to the treatment of the son. In fact, I said that he had been fairly dealt with. I had been in touch with the Minister for the Army in connexion with this case, and had asked that mercy be exercised, but, as to the justice of the sentence, I said that there were no grounds for criticism. I objected and still object to any mother being dragged before the court and charged ‘ with the heinous, grievous and criminal offence of harbouring her son who is absent without leave from the Army. This was the first case of its kind. It is significant that action was taken without reference to the Minister. That shows that we are out-Hitlering Hitler in certain respects in this country. Departures in policy should not be made by any officers without consultation with the ministerial head.
– This was not a matter of policy; it was an offence against the law.
– It is certainly a most important departure in policy that a mother has been prosecuted for having harboured her son. The Minister said that the policy, having been established, is to continue and that we are to witness more cases. The Minister has given an unusual display of strength at the expense of mothers of soldiers. I wish he would show the same strength or more of it when dealing with some of his generals and other officers who do things to which I object. I have received letters about this ease from all over Australia. One person from Queensland sent 10s. towards the payment of Mrs. Bradley’s fine. There is a great deal of public interest in the matter. It is not a passing phase. The people of Australia are struck by the fact that mothers are being prosecuted by the Department of the Army. I asked that the fine imposed on Mrs. Bradley be remitted, because she is an invalid pensioner and is old. I do not accept the accounts given by the military police, even if the Minister does, as to the number of children in the house, or the pathetic statement that a driver of a military truck was hit on the temple with a stone. The story was too graphic to be real. If this woman, an invalid pensioner, was able to defeat seven military police and four civil police officers at the age of 70, what would she be able to do if she were younger and in normal health? Why, she would be able to clean up a whole army! The Minister’s incursions into the realms of sarcasm are not likely to trouble me very greatly. Others are able to exercise the same propensities. I still hold that no woman, whether she has few or many children, whether she is a paragon of all the virtues or not, whether her son has or has not had several convictions before his enlistment, should be dragged, ‘like Mrs. Bradley was, before the court to answer a charge of having harboured her son. No woman should be charged with having obeyed her natural impulse to succour her husband or her son, absent without leave for one day, one week or seven months from military service. Once the husband or son has taken his punishment, the department has no right to make a wife or a mother and the rest of the family answerable to a charge in respect of that absence without leave.
– Then Parliament should not have passed such a law.
– Or the right honorable gentleman should not administer it.
– lt is the duty of the Minister for the Army to ensure that the law shall be carried out.
– With reference to some observations that were made by me in this chamber on Friday last about the alleged harbouring of a delinquent soldier, I ask the Minister for the Army whether he will be good enough to take into consideration the desirability of making a regulation to prohibit the laying of a charge of harbouring against the parent of an alleged delinquent soldier, for anything done by her on her own property and in respect of one of her offspring who has been residing in her house?
– Parliament makes the law and Ministers are required to see that it is observed. I do not think that national security regulations should be issued on this subject. Whilst I have the greatest sympathy for the parents and relatives of soldiers absent without leave, I cannot condone the harbouring of such men. If that were done the number of men absent without leave would increase tremendously.
– Many mothers in different parts of Australia have telephoned me and asked for interviews on this subject. A typical statement, in general terms, is, “ I want to see you, Mr. Forde, because my boy is absent without leave and I want to know what to do about it. I want to get him back in a way which will not unduly penalize him”. I invariably advise such inquirers to communicate with the commanding officer of the soldier. Mothers, generally, prefer their sons to observe Army regulations.
– The Minister has not yet replied to my question.
– I do not think that a national security regulation should be issued on this subject. If the law is to be altered the Parliament should alter it. Until that is done Ministers must give effect to the law.
-well. - The Myer Emporium Limited “ got away “ with £250,000 !
– Has the Prime Minister yet had an opportunity to study the representations of honorable members on this side of the House during the debate last week on the food situation in Australia, particularly the suggestion that a food ministry be set up, and a food controller appointed, who would have somewhat the same authority as Lord! Woolton has in Great Britain?
– I have not been able to give the matter the consideration which it requires, although I have looked into it. Honorable members will realize that I have been fairly busily engaged this week, but I hope to be able to come to a decision on the matter at the week-end.
– Has the Minister for Supply read a statement in the last issue of the Sunday Telegraph that the Government was in difficulties because the price of contract-grown vegetables in Queensland being fixed, when market prices rise, the farmers evade the terms of their contract by selling to private buyers; that the peach-growers in southern New South Wales were evading the transport order and by-passing the Government canneries; that in South Australia the grapes, which were supposed to be frozen for the troops, were being bought up by commercial interests so as to establish reserves of wine; and that Victorian tomato-growers were picking green fruit and sending it to the canneries? Are these things true and, if so, what does the Government propose to do to these saboteurs?
– Those are, substantially, statements of fact. In Queensland, only 18 per cent, of the vegetables grown under contract are being delivered to the Government. The Government supplied to contract growers seed and fertilizers, and guaranteed a price for their products, but we now find that the vegetables are going to the markets if prices there are a point or two higher than the contract rates. These contract prices were fixed by arrangement at a time when the market prices were not so favorable to growers as now. Honorable members will understand that it is impossible to forecast what the future may bring forth in regard to prices.
– In some instances, the market price is lower now than the contract price.
– That is so. Market prices constantly fluctuate. When the market price is below the contract price, we get not only the vegetables for which we contracted, but also, I am told, those that are passed over the fence by the fellow who did not contract to sell them to us. The honorable member asked what the Government proposed to do to meet the situation. As a matter of fact, the arrangement is most difficult to police, and therefore I have discussed with the Director-General of Agriculture, Mr. Bulcock, a proposal to set aside an area in Queensland for the growing of vegetables under government control. The Government exercised its power under the transport regulations to forbid tomatoes from being sent either by rail or road to the metropolitan markets, thus forcing them into the canneries, and the same action was taken in regard to peaches grown in the Leeton district. In respect of grapes from South Australia, the Government took action to limit the quantity supplied to the wineries, basing it upon their average purchases for the previous five years. The Government had entered into a contract with the Government of the United Kingdom for the supply of a certain quantity of dried fruits, and it would have been impossible to honour our undertaking if grapes were to be bought up by private interests which desired, not only to meet the existing demand for wines, but also to accumulate stocks for two years ahead.
– I ask the Minister for Supply and Shipping whether he has noticed statements which have appeared in many newspapers . published in northern districts dealing with the supply of vegetables to the troops. I refer, .in particular, to a report published in the Tweed Daily on the 20th February to the effect that potato-growers had complained that up to that time they, had not been paid for potatoes which they supplied to the department last December. In such circumstances can the Minister wonder that vegetable-growers try to dispose of their vegetables outside of the department?
– I have not noticed reports of such a nature. I would not, for one moment, condone such a long delay in the payment of accounts. The honorable member will appreciate that it is not possible for me to know details of the payment of accounts. I realize, however, that potato-growers. and, in fact, all vegetable-growers, have commitments to tradesmen, banks and others which they must meet. If the honorable member will bring to my notice details of undue delays in the payment of accounts I shall give the matter immediate attention.
– Oan the Minister inform the House of the kind of vegetables treated as he has mentioned in Queensland, and also of the districts concerned ?
– I can produce a statement to the honorable member which will inform him of the kind of vegetables affected, the tonnage contracted, the tonnage supplied, and the districts concerned.
– The Minister overlooked a part of the question that I asked him. In view of the caustic criticism and divers threats made from time to time against coal-miners and other workers concerning strikes, I wish to know whether the Minister will take action, in the national interest, against persons guilty of sabotage in connexion with the supply of foodstuffs to the troops ?
– I have taken, all the steps it is practicable for me to take.
– What about prosecutions ?
– If I may “ pass the buck “ - and I say that without intending to offend - I refer that aspect of the subject to the Attorney-General. However, I shall submit the files to the AttorneyGeneral and accept his advice.
– When the Department of Supply and Shipping embarks upon vegetable-growing in Queensland with labour for which it pays, will accurate returns be kept of the cost of production, and will the Minister for Supply and Shipping undertake that outside growers will later .be paid the same amount for their vegetables ?
– The department will watch costs. It is bound to get the vegetables irrespective of what they cost, because they are needed for the fighting forces.
– Why are not the growers paid a decent price?
– The growers agree to the contract price when they undertake to produce the vegetables.
– Can the Minister for Supply and Shipping tell me what varieties of grapes were diverted, as he said, from the wineries to dehydrating plants? Few grapes are capable of being dried for use as currants or raisins.
– Is the honorable member for Barker in order in asking a question based on a previous question.
– There is no objection of which I am aware to a question being based on a previous question, provided that it does not amount to a crossexamination. A question asked for the purpose of eliciting further information is quite in order.
– The honorable member for Barker is correct. Few varieties of grapes are dried. I shall be pleased to supply the honorable member with the information he desires within half an hour.
– I ask the Minister for Supply and Shipping whether all potatoes in Australia are produced under contract? Does the Department of Supply and Shipping pay to the producer for potatoes required by the Army the minimum rate stipulated in the contract ? Is the honorable gentleman aware that the market price is considerably higher than the minimum contract price ? Can he state by what method the Potato Board determines which producer should sell his potatoes at the fixed price and which shall receive the higher, market price?
– I should not like to say that all potato-growers are producing under contract.
– I have been advised that it would be illegal for me to grow potatoes unless I first signed a contract.
– I understand that there is a regulation governing the acreage which may be sown. Action had to be taken to conserve supplies of seed potatoes, but I am not aware of its having been carried to the point mentioned by the honorable member. 1 concede that the honorable gentleman has an intimate knowledge of the industry, and offhand I would be the last to question his pronouncement. Prices are not determined by the Department of Supply and Shipping, but, as the honorable gentleman is aware, are fixed by the Prices Commissioner. The department is required to supply to the commissioner such information as he considers that he needs. I understand that, through the Potato Board, he usually consults with the growers or their representatives. I expect that he takes all the factors into consideration. There are human factors which may be hard to judge.
– The minimum price was fixed under contract.
– Apparently, the Department of Supply and Shipping must accept the responsibility for having fixed the contract price. I am not aware of any considerable hostility on the part of the growers to the price when it was fixed.
– I do not suggest that there was.
– The honorable mem ber must appreciate that the market fluctuates. A contract price may be fixed which is satisfactory to the parties, but on account of seasonal conditions and other factors affecting production the market price six months later may be several pounds a ton higher. All the factors are difficult to deal with.
– The grower does not get the higher market price.
– Perhaps the growers are not satisfied with the present arrangement. When contracts were made in Queensland, the direction was issued that the growers should receive £10 a ton. When the potatoes had been grown and were ready for delivery, the market price, was £17 a ton. The growers asked for that price, and in this case it was paid to them.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral present to the House a report showing the number of cases of absenteeism occurring in the various States during the New Year period which were reported either to his department or to the Department of Labour and National Service? Will he state also the number of prosecutions launched in each State, and the number of instances in which fines were ignored, or persons placed on bond?
– I shall obtain the information.
– Can the Treasurer say whether it is true that miners and other superannuated workers in receipt of, say, £2 a week for the husband and £1 5s. a week for the wife, will be taxed on the combined income of husband and wife? If it can be shown that the incomes are in fact received separately by husband and wife, will they be exempt from taxation ?
– Under the existing law, pensions are taxable. The matter raised by the honorable member was the subject of discussion between representatives of the Miners Federation and myself some months ago. My information is that the payment is made to the miner, but a part of the money is regarded as an allowance for the wife.
– The wife receives a separate payment.
– According to my information,’ the payment is made to the husband including an allowance for the wife. There is no separate payment for the wife. However, I shall examine the matter raised by the honorable member for the purpose of determining whether a payment made directly to the wife for her maintenance should be taxed.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Supply and Shipping been drawn to the fact that an acute shortage of horse-shoes exists in country districts? Is he aware that, because of this shortage, great hardship is being caused in hilly and mountainous country districts, and that considerable cruelty is being inflicted on horses? I refer particularly to some pastoral districts. WiL the Minister do his best to see that a sufficient supply of horse-shoe iron is made available in country districts?
– Although some honorable members are smiling, I do not regard this as a humorous question.
– Neither do I.
– The honorable member was justified in asking it.
An Honorable Member. - They must be “ Nats “ who are laughing !
– We country fellows know more about the subject! I believe that difficulties have arisen partly because of an effort to standardize horseshoes with the object of saving man-power and shoeing iron. I am aware that many horse-owners have been adversely affected. I believe that the Minister for War Organization of Industry would be interested in this subject. He may, already, have taken some action in regard to it. The question also concerns the Minister for Munitions, because he controls the supply of ferrous and nonferrous metals. I shall bring it to the notice of those honorable gentlemen.
– Will the Minister for Munitions, in co-operation with the Minister for War Organization of Industry, give sympathetic consideration to my representations, in order that sufficient supplies may be available to obviate hardship to settlers or cruelty to horses engaged in work in hilly and mountainous country when utilized in essential services ?
– The answer is in the affirmative.
– In view of the Government’s desire to improve the health standards of the community in both the war period and the post-war years, I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service to ascertain whether sufficient doctors are now in civil practice to provide an adequate medical service for the people? What numbers’ of patients can each doctor be expected, reasonably, to serve in his locality? Are the plans for the education of medical students adequate, in the Minister’s opinion?
– In view of the importance of the question, I shall obtain detailed information and make a statement in the House at an early date.
– I ask the Attorney-
General whether, although the officials of the Prices Commissioner send to Canberra many recommendations for prosecutions for breaches of the regulations, action is rarely taken? Does not the Attorney-General think that the time has arrived, in view of the ever-increasing coat of commodities, to empower inspectors of the Prices Commissioner to take direct action in relation to breaches, such as police officers may take in respect of offence’s in the spheres in which they operate ?
– Recommendations for prosecution which are made by the Prices Commissioner’ are submitted to the SolicitorGeneral, who deals with them. I agree with the honorable member that the procedure should be decentralized as far as possible, and I shall consider his suggestions.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral give me an assurance that long delays will not be permitted in conducting prosecutions for breaches of regulations? Some grocers in my electorate have not been prosecuted until seventeen months after the alleged offences occurred.
– I am aware of the cases to which the honorable gentleman has referred. The delay of which he complains was due to the fact that the hearing was adjourned from month to month pending the determination of a test case by a higher court. When that decision had been given, the hearing was resumed. I agree with the honorable gentleman that a delay of seventeen months should not occur and assure him, as I have assured the honorable member for Hunter, that in future there will have to be greater expedition. Honorable members must make allowance for the enormous burden of the work, and the strain imposed on the various departments. Cases are considered by the Solicitor-General because the
Parliament has made that a condition of prosecutions for breaches of the prices regulations. In a number of instances, the facts have tobe investigated.
– The right honorable gentleman will agree that nothing can justify an overcharge of 2d. being the subject of a prosecution by the Commonwealth seventeen months after it has occurred.
– The matter is determined in all the circumstances. An overcharge of 2d. in respect of certain commodities could be very serious.
Bill returned from the Senate, with a message intimating that it had agreed to the bill as amendedby the House at the request of the Senate.
Debate resumed from the 16th March (vide page 1787) on motion by Mr. Frost -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) on his second-reading speech. It revealed a very close study of the subject of repatriation from its inception in the Commonwealth to the present time, and was a very good statement of the Government’s proposals for the future. I also congratulate the special parliamentary committee upon the work which it did in preparing the foundation for the present proposals. The Minister quoted the late Mr. G. H. Street as having said that the problem of repatriation would be largely solved by trial and error. The edifice of repatriation originally erected after the last war by the Ministry led by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) is like a great house which has become out of date with the passage of the years, and it is now about to be remodelled by the passing of this bill. I agree with the statement of the late Mr. Street, that the act should not be looked upon as static, but should be frequently reviewed. I was pleased, therefore, to hear the Minister say that the Government proposed to keep in existence the
Special Parliamentary Committee on Repatriation, so that it might watch the working of the act, and report to the Government from time to time.
The Repatriation Department hae two great duties to perform. The first is to look after what I may call the wreckage of war - men who are wounded or sick as the result of their war service - together with their dependants, and also the dependants of those who were killed in action or who died as the result of war service. The department’s second and hardest duty is to help soldiers, sailors and airmen to become once more fit for civil life. In the discharge of its first obligation, the vital factor is the pension, and the most important thing about the pension is the rate. This matter has been debated at length. The parliamentary committee recommended an overall increase of 20 per cent., and it has been suggested that, because it was a committee representative of all parties, we should accept its recommendations. However, I do not think that that is a sound argument. If we were to accept without question the recommendations of all parliamentary committees, it might eventually become unnecessary for the Parliament to meet at all, except to say “ Yes “ to what the committees recommended.
In my opinion, a general increase of 20 per cent, is not enough, and I have expressed this opinion in the party room, and as a member of the Parliamentary Ex-Servicemen’s Committee. The Minister for Repatriation said that the Government, in considering the amount of the increase, had regard to the increase of the cost of living since the beginning of the Avar, the general rise of wages, and the present rates of pay of members of the forces; and in another portion of his speech he referred to the recent increase of invalid and old-age pensions. Thus, the Minister gave consideration to many factors in reaching a decision. Last night the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) said that the parliamentary committee, in making its recommendation, had been guided, not by any particular factor, but bv common sense, and he was deputy chairman of the committee. ifr. .17)7)0//-.
In my opinion, pensions should bear some relation to the wage or income out of which they arise. That principle has been recognized practically ever since pensions were first paid. When the pay of soldiers was fixed during the 1914-18 war, and pension rates a little later, there must have been in the minds of the government of the day some association between the two. I do not suggest that rates of pay and of pensions should preserve an exact ratio to each other, but some relation between them should, he maintained. At the present time, the rate of service pay is 41.66 per cent, higher than in 1914-18, and this is a powerful argument in favour of increasing the rate of pension by more than 20 per cent. We have been told that a 20 per cent, increase wall involve an added expenditure in the first year of £1,620,000. This amount would be increased to £3,240,000 if pensions were increased by 40 per cent., and to £4,050,000 if they were increased by 50 per cent., which is the increase asked for by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s League of New South Wales. The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), in his financial statement, said that the estimated cost of child endowment for this year was £12,060,000. I hope that this amount will bc- increased, because if there is one thing that Australia needs more than another it is to keep the cradles filled. However, I point out that an increase of the pensions rate by as much as 50 per cent. - and I aim not suggesting that it should be so much - would cost only one-third as much as is to be paid out in child endowment. Soldiers and their dependants should be treated most generously. I do not suggest that they are not being treated generously under the provisions of the bill, hut there is a case for a further increase of the pension rate. Soldiers and their dependants are the last people in respect of whom economies should be made for the purpose of balancing the budget. During the period of their war service, these men make financial as well as physical sacrifices. Every soldier who is serving to-day, whether in Australia or overseas, is not receiving the benefits which are so easily obtained at present by civilians. If, in future, it becomes necessary for our people to make sacrifices, let us remember, and be generous to the men who have made sacrifices, even of their lives, in this war.
During this debate, the sincerity of some honorable members in advocating an increase of pensions has been questioned. For my part, I am absolutely sincere. Although I do not press for an increase of 50 per cent., I consider that the increase should be greater than 20 per cent., as is proposed in the bill. Two things are required of pensions. First, that they shall be adequate; and, secondly, that their purchasing power shall be maintained despite variations of the value of money. In war-time, depreciation of the value of money cannot be prevented because people are engaged, not in production of wealth, but in destruction. To the degree that money loses its purchasing power, all fixed incomes, particularly pensions, will not buy so much as they did before the outbreak of war. For that reason, the Minister should favorably consider an amendment which I shall move in committee. The purpose is to ensure that the cost of living figures in Australia shall be used as a yard-stick to measure the depreciation or appreciation of the value of money. Any fluctuations of the cost of living figures should be automatically applied to soldiers’ pensions, so that their purchasing power for goods and services will remain constant. Soldiers’ pensions should not be whittled away by rising costs.
– Should pensions fluctuate with the rise and fall of the cost of living ?
– The soldiers’ pension should have the same command all the time over goods and services. It should fluctuate with the rise and fall of the cost of living index figure. The New South Wales returned soldiers’ organization claimed that the clause relating to the proof of a soldier’s claim for a pension is unfair to the applicant. I disagree with that view. If the act be interpreted equitably, it will operate fairly to the soldier and there will be no danger of his suffering hardships. The Minister has stated that the Government proposes to avail itself from time to time of the advice of the parliamentary committee which inquired into and recommended amendments of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. If the provision to which I have referred is found to operate unfairly, the Minister will be able to refer it to that committee for investigation and report. For the present, it is only fair to give the clause, in its present form, a chance to operate, and the committee can watch for anomalies.
The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) referred to the incorporation of the insurance principle in the act. To that provision, the New South Wales soldiers’ organization made particular reference. It urged the acceptance of the insurance principle, which is a cardinal feature of the Canadian act. The soldiers regard it as vital. They contend that the present medical examination is very thorough, and once a soldier is examined and accepted for military service, his health prior to enlistment should not be considered as a factor in determining a claim, provided he has acted in good faith and did not wilfully conceal any defects. In other words, the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia considers that any disability which occurs during service shall be pensionable. That principle contains a good deal of merit, though I know that it can create tremendous difficulties.
When answering a question to-day, the Minister stated that it was impossible for medical officers to discover the presence of certain diseases in the human body, such as epilepsy. Certain hereditary diseases may not reveal themselves until a man in subjected to the stress of battle conditions. I cite a personal experience in the last war. After the evacuation of Gallipoli, I served with the British Army, and I was assigned to defend a man who had been placed on trial for a capital offence. Charged with desertion, he had been sentenced to death. The penalty had been commuted to ten years’ penal servitude in the base, but he had been sent to the front-line, in accordance with an act passed by the House of Commons, which enabled a man to endeavour to re-establish himself by an act of bravery. When the man came into the line and a shell burst near his battery, he promptly bolted, and a fortnight later he was found 20 miles behind the line, hiding in a French farmhouse. The first time I saw him, I noticed his dull and apathetic manner, which was odd in a man who was almost certain to be sentenced to death and executed. At the time I was reading a book entitled Grime and Insanity, by Mercier. The author described epilepsy and the conduct of epileptics. From his description of epilepsy, including the apathetic, dull eye of the sufferer, it occurred to me to ask the man about his medical history. He said that in his youth he had suffered from fits. I discovered the name of his doctor in England, from whom I ascertained that the man’s father and mother had been epileptics, and that he had inherited the disease from them. Although he was not a bad case in civil life, the disease affected him severely under stress of war. He had no control over his actions, and would desert at the first opportunity. The Minister should consider the adoption of the insurance principle of the Canadian act for application to such cases.
– Why could not the Army doctors have obtained the man’s history, as the honorable member did?
– They should have obtained his history when the man ran away the first time, but evidently they omitted to do so.
– Some of them do not want to do so.
– I do not subscribe to that statement.
– The honorable member began to recount a most interesting story, but he did not complete it.
– Modesty prevented me from concluding the tale, because the General Officer of the 2nd Army refused to allow proceedings to follow when the medical history of the man was made known to him. The man was not court martialled.
– Under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act such a case would be accepted as pensionable. A doctor sometimes cannot discover such diseases as epilepsy, particularly if the soldier conceals his medical history. But if such a man under stress of war conditions developed the disease, he would be accepted as being entitled to a pension.
– It is not necessary to press for the inclusion of the insurance principle, because the success of the new act will depend upon equitable administration. The parliamentary committee can .be on the alert for anomalies. Medical services have improved so much during the last few years that doctors are now able to detect a greater percentage of illnesses, other than hereditary defects, than they could previously. Cardiographs now are more effective than they were in the last war.
– Yes, we are accepting more.
– I shall support the amendment in regard to tubercular soldiers which the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) has foreshadowed for many reasons, the principle one of which is that we should give the best possible treatment to all tubercular people, whether they are soldiers or civilians, in the interest of the general health of the community. There is no need for me to elaborate on the way in which tuberculosis spreads. The Government would be wise to accept the amendment.
The second phase of repatriation is the restoration of soldiers to civil life. When war ends soldiers demand two things, their discharge as soon as possible and a civil job. History through the centuries shows that after a long wearisome war soldiers pine for their homes and want to discard in favour of civilian clothes the uniform in which they have suffered so much. After the armistice in the last war there were mutinies in the French Army and countless desertions from the British Army by soldiers who wanted- to get home to their loved ones. From now till peace is declared, the Government should take all steps necessary to ensure that there shall be no avoidable delay when peace comes in restoring troops to civil life and employment. After peace was declared in the war of 1914-18, the then Government had more time to arrange for the reception of our troops because they had to travel from abroad, but, presumably, the end of this war will find most of our troops in Australia or on islands nearby. Therefore, a more urgent problem will face the Government than faced the Government at the end of the last war. The Minister for Repatriation should keep a close watch on the situation so that he and his staff shall not be overwhelmed when the time for mass repatriation comes, for if repatriation arrangements break down, discontent will be rife through Australia.
The inter-departmental committee on training and re-training should function to the full. The Minister for Repatriation said that man-power difficulties had made it impossible for that committee to operate as fully as he would have liked, but, owing to the importance of its work, it is vital that all steps be taken to ensure that there shall be no avoidable delay in bringing the committee into operation. I welcome the census that has been taken of soldiers to ascertain their desires when they return to civil life. I believe that the cards are now being indexed by the Commonwealth Statistician. There will be tremendous work in co-ordinating the information gained and in finding places into which the repatriated soldiers will fit. The matter of vocational training has been taken up by the Repatriation Department. That leads me to impress on the Government and the people that, when the Minister for Repatriation asks for large amounts of money with which to increase the size of his department, so that it shall be able to cope with repatriation in its wider aspects, Parliament must not bc niggardly. Although the Minister for Repatriation is not in control, he is sympathetic . with the educational service which is being carried on in the Army, because what is being done in that direction will tremendously lessen the problems of the Repatriation Department when the war ends. Under the educational service nien are being trained by correspondence courses and otherwise in preparation for their return to peaceful ways of life. There is need for the extension of the service in order that camp-weary troops may have full opportunities for profitable study in rest periods. I am told by one of my nephews that his brother has written home complaining that men hungry for knowledge are unable to obtain it because the camp at which he is stationedin northern Queensland is devoid of books.
Large numbers of men in camps could be given preparatory training in farming and other forms of agriculture with great benefit to Australia after the war, when we shall need all that we can produce.
I agree with the Minister for Repatriation that this legislation is not static and that it must be amended from time to time to meet the changing needs. I trust that no opportunity will be lost to keep the Repatriation Act and administration as a model of repatriation legislation for the rest of the world to follow.
.- 1 support the bill, and, in doing so, take the opportunity to add my tribute to those paid to the special parliamentary committee on repatriation for the report on which this legislation is based. The provisions of this legislation will give to the men who returned disabled from the last war a better deal than they have hitherto received and to those who are returning and will return disabled from this war a measure of hope for the future. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) and the Repatriation Com- mission are, however, having wished upon them liabilities which they, should not have to incur as the result of the accept.tance into the Army of men who should never have been accepted, and who are being discharged broken in health, without having ever seen active service. I know of one man who, although suffering from a heart ailment, was passed as fit for service by the doctor who prescribed for him, and then sent him an account which, incidentally, the man concerned declares he will never pay. After six months in the Army, the man broke down. He was then transferred to another area. If his health fails later, he will naturally apply for a pension. I know of victims of infantile paralysis who have been passed as fit for service. Men whose health failed them even while they were travelling by train in answer to their call-up, are now living on charity. I understood that nowadays the medical test is more severe, and the preliminary medical examination aft local centres has been eliminated because of the futility of examinations which passed men into the Army like sheep through a dip. Doctors who pass as fit for service men suffering serious disabilities should themselves be compelled to pay the pensions to them when their health breaks down. The Government has agreed that the committee of returned soldier members of the Parliament, which reported on the subject, shall continue to function. The committee has already given valuable advice on this measure. We must realize that the work of repatriation has scarcely begun in relation to this war. This will be one of our biggest departments. In my opinion the services of this committee will be most helpful to the Government. I do not suggest that the committee should deal with individual cases; it should concern itself with broad principles.
I shall not at this stage deal with the details of the bill. I agree with the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) that although a good deal is being done for war-broken men, we shall have to do a great deal also for men whose only trouble will ‘be that they are sick of war. A great proportion pf the men who will return to civil life will desire, and be ready for, rapid rehabilitation. They will be young men who will want to settle down to normal family life. As soon as the troopships unload them, they will want to forget their military experiences. If they believe that the Government really desires to help them and is making a worthy attempt to redeem the promises that have been made, they will quickly become assimilated in our domestic economy.
I vividly recall my feelings after my return from the last war. I was a working lad without a profession and with little knowledge apart from primary industries. My idea was to settle upon a holding which would afford me a reasonable living. Thousands of other young men were in a similar state of mind. We all take it for granted that land settlement will play a considerable part in our repatriation programme, but I sincerely trust that we shall avoid the serious mistakes that were made in connexion with the soldier land settlement after the last war. I am thinking of the failure from the point of view of the individual rather than of the nation.
– It was tragic to some of them.
– That is a fact. Many returned men who went on the land after the last war have since left their, holdings. In Victoria the loss on soldier land settlement up to the end of 1938 was £11,408,357. The maximum number of men settled on the land in that State was 12,928, but by the end of 193S the number had fallen to 6,251. It is astounding that more than half the men who were settled on holdings subsequently left them. That, in itself, shows that serious errors were made. Every endeavour should be made to avoid a repetition of such mistakes. I have had a good deal of experience in connexion with soldier land settlement. I have discussed the subject at many conferences and meetings, and with many representatives of government departments. Mistakes were made in several vital matters. Land was bought at unduly high prices. I suppose land-owners consider that the Government is fair game. At any rate they always inflate their prices when they offer land to the Government. Ex-soldiers were not particularly concerned, at that time, about the capital value put on their holdings ; they did not realize how crushing an interest burden could be. Their sole desire was to become settled in normal life. It is true that men were selected, after a fashion. I was amazed at times to find as many as 200 or 300 men applying to a land board for a few holdings. Soon after the last war that was a common experience. Included in the men applying for land would be fellows carrying a walking-stick and wearing boxer hats and tie-pins. Obviously they were totally unsuited for, and inexperienced in, operations on the land. Unfortunately, many holdings were not large enough, and the quality of the land was deplorably poor. The rainfall was deficient in many areas. Plenty of land was available in the Mallee district, but I consider that it was not suitable for closer settlement. Areas south and west of the Mallee were more suitable, and many large estates in those parts of Victoria are still available for resumption. Those districts have an assured rainfall. Many of the men who settled in the Mallee district left their holdings brokenhearted.
– They also lost their gratuity money, and all their assets in trying to pay their way.
– That is true. I went on to a property with great hopes of reclaiming it, but I found out, to my sorrow, what it meant to carry a burden of £180 a year for interest alone. We must- not repeat the mistake of adopting the conditional purchase system in connexion with future soldier land settlement. After many years of experience, I consider that the perpetual leasehold system should be adopted. Under that system the land remains the property of the Crown. There is nothing “ wild cat “ about the perpetual leasehold system. I would be prepared to include a provision in leases that if a lessee desired to convert his lease to freehold he should be permitted to do so on conditional purchase terms at ruling rates of interest. I believe that leaseholders should be required to pay no more than 1-J per cent, interest on their properties. The Government should not consider soldier land settlement as a money-making scheme or even as an investment, except in so far as the settlement of young men. on the land, under conditions which will enable them to establish their families in country areas, is the best investment that a government can make. We must increase the population of this country, and I believe that by making land available on easy terms we shall meet with success. A man can rear a family on a farm much more satisfactorily than in an industrial area of a big city. On a farm sufficient food can be grown to meet the requirements of the family. The secret of success, in my opinion, is in the system of land tenure. My own experience in that regard is typical of the experience of many other settlers.’’ I am one of ten survivors of 30 men who took up selections in my district. The country which the remainder held is reverting to big holdings. I commenced in October, 1920, with a valuation of £3,300 and an immediate liability of £180 a year for interest. I shall not touch on the tragic struggle that the settlers have had, especially in clearing the country of rabbits, which the squatter’s who had previously held the land had allowed to multiply. The productive value of the country has been more than trebled, yet my capital liability has been reduced by only £71 to £3,229, and I found it rather painful recently to make an annual payment of £170. I am no nearer to owning the land now than I was on the day when I took it up. I have 40 years in which to discharge my liability. The system is stupid, and futile. I warn any man who is labouring under the illusion that he is likely to make a success of his operations, that he will never own his farm. I have paid in the aggregate over £2,000, probably £2,500 - almost the capital value of the block - in interest, yet the capital debt is to-day practically the same as when I started. I do not know what is going to happen to the men in my district. We may have a certain equity in our properties, but it is fast disappearing. Men who go on the land should be kept there, and should rear their families on it. All the trouble caused by inflated values is due to trafficking in land by persons who regard the purchase and sale of it merely as an investment. That is what happens under the freehold system. If I sell out at a profit, the purchaser is liable to experience greater difficulty than I have encountered. No bank will lend money on the security of a lease. Under the leasehold system, therefore, land would remain at its true value, which is the productive value. I would institute that system. Probably that is what will happen under the operations of the mortgage bank ; if I am prepared to accept the leasehold principle, I may be able to borrow at an interest rate of 1 per cent, or li per cent. In a year of disaster caused by fire, floods or drought, application could be made for an immediate reduction of the amount of interest payable; and in a good year the payments could be fixed accordingly. At one time I opposed many schemes in the belief that I could make a profit and walk out. Un fortunately, many men. have done that; b7it they have not obtained sufficient to enable them to start afresh elsewhere. The Government has acted wisely in having entrusted the matter of post-war reconstruction to the capable hands of Mr. Wise, Professor Wadham and other gentlemen. They will have told to them a number of home truths by the representatives of the returned soldier land settlement committees in the different States. I am confident that they will do wonderful service if they go into the matter carefully. There are many phases with which time will not permit me to deal. It is my duty as a returned soldier, however, to prevent a repetition of the bitter experiences I have had when young men returning from the present war go on the land. The mistakes that have previously been made can be avoided in the future. The banking institutions, and persons who make commissions from sales of properties, are opposed to the principle which I advocate, because they profit by trafficking in land. I consider that when a man goes on the land he should make his home, rear his family, and produce commodities on it. Action should be taken immediately. As soon as the war ends, a lot of matters will need attention. A survey could now be made of all suitable lands. During my travels in the different States, I have seen magnificent land that is unoccupied for miles - beautiful valleys and river flats growing thistles eight or ten feet high. I can visualize many dairy-farmers raising happy families in such areas. Had it been in Victoria, it would have been taken up years ago. It could be successfully settled under proper supervision and management, with the exercise of care in the selection of the settlers, so that only those who are of the right type would be chosen. Men who do not wish to go on the land should not be compelled to do so. The right use should be made of it, at the right price. If the Government were to act promptly, there would be no danger of vendors assuming that, as it wished to acquire quickly, it would be prepared to pay any price asked. Land settlement is a very important matter to the nation. Even under the system that has so far operated, it has not been a failure altogether, because by the increased production and the number of families that have been reared on settlements in Victoria and doubtless in the other States, the nation has profited to a degree which has more than compensated it for the money it has lost. In my district in Victoria, over 100 children have been born on the soldier settlements, and increased production has also resulted from them. Many of the sons of farmers, in existing circumstances, will never have the opportunity to rise above the status of farm labourers. Having served their country on the field of battle, they will appreciate the opportunity to have farms of their own. Many farmers are not in a position to start their own sons on farms, but an effective system of soldier land settlement would make provision for them, and might point the way for the rehabilitation of ordinary settlers who stand in need of it.
.- The fighting men in the Army, the Air Force and the Navy - and the women attached to those services - are drawn from every party and every class in Australia. Therefore, it is right that our approach to repatriation should be without regard to party. This was so in the first Parliament which sat after the termination of the last war. A committee of ex-servicemen met and discussed repatriation proposals,- and an examination of the division lists in regard to repatriation proposals considered by Parliament will show that issues were decided on their merits, irrespective of party considerations. Therefore, I am pleased that the Government appointed an allparty committee to consider amendments to the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, and also submitted its proposals to a larger committee of parliamentary ex-servicemen.
I am glad that the Government decided not to scrap the act, but to build upon it. That act has been proved to be a monumental piece of legislation. It has been amended frequently during the last twenty years in the light of experience, but its underlying principles have never been altered. I was associated with governments which were responsible for introducing no fewer than ten out of the fourteen amending repatriation bills. I believe that it is better to consolidate the act, and make it easier to read by renumbering the sections, than to redraft it, thus taking the risk of dropping some important provisions which experience has shown to be desirable.
Any one who compares the Repatriation Act of to-day with that of twenty years ago, must realize that our attitude towards repatriation has been constantly progressing. In determining the causation of disease in the soldier, consideration was first paid to his medical history, but that was soon found to be unsatisfactory, and a body of outside experts was appointed to examine applicants for pensions so as to ensure that they received fair treatment. The next improvement was to stabilize pensions, especially indefinite pensions. The purpose was to give the soldier a feeling of security, so that his pension would not depend upon the result of periodic examinations. When his pension had been stabilized, he was able to go ahead with the job of fitting himself into civil life. In 1930, this principle was further extended. Pensions in respect of surgical cases were stabilized, and medical cases, in which there was a disability of not more than 25 per cent., were included. Later, pensions were stabilized in respect of cases in which the percentage of disability was even higher, provided the person’s condition had not changed during a period of five years.
Difficulty was at first experienced in deciding upon a proper rate of pension for soldiers who had suffered amputations. At first it was thought that a man who could be fitted with an artificial limb might be able to take his place in ordinary life without suffering any appreciable disability, but this was found not to be so. As a result, a scale, of rates was introduced covering amputations of various kinds. Then, provision had to be made for cases which had been dealt with before those amendments were brought in, and entitlement and assessment tribunals were appointed to rehear cases previously turned down. They have done a very good job, and have given satisfaction to many men who had lost hope of having their claims recognized.
In 1935, service pensions were granted to those who are described as “ burntout “ soldiers - men whose condition is not directly attributable to war service, but who are prematurely aged as a result of their war service. In the same year, free treatment was provided for tubercular cases whose condition could not be directly connected with war service. They were enabled to draw a service pension, and more liberal treatment was afforded to widows and other dependants in the event of their death.
I agree that the general pension rate should be increased. Since the beginning of the war, soldiers’ pay has been increased, and there has been a definite increase of the cost of living. Invalid and old-age pensions also have been increased substantially. I should like to see something done to make the pension payable to widows correspond more closely to what they were receiving when their husbands were alive. Women who are so unfortunate as to lose their husbands undoubtedly make a tremendous sacrifice for their country, and something should be done to compensate them. If the cost of living continues to increase, the Parliament must consider the position of people who depend entirely upon their pensions. I refer particularly to totally and permanently incapacitated persons. They should be placed on a basis different from that of a pensioner who is able to accept employment and earn money.
The Government should examine the claims of sufferers from tuberculosis and war neurosis and venereal disease on a much broader basis than has been done in the past, because conditions have markedly changed. A more generous policy towards sufferers from infectious diseases would reduce the public health bill of Australia, and remove a great menace to health. The cost of such assistance would be repaid many times by the beneficial effects on public health. Approximately 240,000 troops, who fought in the last war, are still alive, and of that number, one-third receive pension benefits. In addition, many of their dependants also receive benefits. After this war, the Repatriation Commission will have to consider the welfare of between 500,000 and 750,000 men and women. Consequently, the Government and the Repatriation Commission will be responsible for the health of between 900,000 and 1,000,000 ex-servicemen and ex-service women. To that number will have to be added many thousands of dependants. Ultimately, the Commonwealth Government will be responsible for the health and welfare of half tho population of Australia. If the Government has in mind the introduction of national medical health services, it should endeavour to create a model health repatriation service with the object of raising the whole system of medical treatment and nutrition. If that be done, some good will come from the terrible evil of war.
Approximately 10 per cent, of the children of Australia are affected with tuberculosis; but 60 per cent, of the children of tubercular parents suffer from the disease. Deaths from tuberculosis total 3,000 persons per annum, and every year between >9,000 and 10,000 new cases develop. Tuberculosis is a very debilitating disease, which prevents the sufferer engaging in hard work, leads to chronic ill health, and is very infectious. The present repatriation scheme does not cover all ex-soldiers who develop tuberculosis. The occurrence of tuberculosis amongst the sons and daughters of service pensioners is twice as great as amongst children of parents receiving war pensions. Those statistics show the extraordinary influence of a little extra money in the home on the incidence of the disease. Medical opinion insists that tuberculosis can be stamped out by a proper diet and living conditions, combined with appropriate medical treatment. The last war and the present war have caused an increase of the incidence, because of such factors as poorer living conditions and less generous diet, which accompany war. In peace, however, skilled medical treatment, better sanatoriums, proper food, and reasonable living conditions decrease the percentage of sufferers, and I am confident that we can ultimately eradicate the scourge.
When the recipient of a war pension has been in a sanatorium or hospital for six weeks, his pension is reduced from £4 4s. to £2 2s. a week. Frequently, after that period of treatment, the sufferer is making steady progress. His wife tells him of the reduction of the pension, and in order to save her from hardship, the husband decides to return home. If he had remained for a few more weeks, his health might have improved to such a degree that he would not have again “ broken down “. But his premature return home has its effect within three or six months, when he is again obliged to enter the sanatorium.
– Many sufferers return home shortly before the expiration of six weeks in order that their pension shall not be reduced.
– That is so. Their pension should not be reduced, irrespective of whether they are in hospital. When the sufferers have no financial worries, their peace of mind has a beneficial effect upon their physical condition.
In 1935 the Lyons Government introduced the service pension of £1 18s. 6d. a week, which is not affected when the recipient enters hospital. In the interest of public health, and quite apart from the duty that we owe to the soldiers, the country would be well advised to grant the larger war pension, instead of service pensions, to this class because freedom from financial worries induces a peace of mind that is so beneficial to general health. Although the number of sufferers from tuberculosis not directly attributable to war service is one-half of the number whose condition is directly attributable, the sanatoriums treat twice as many service pensioners as war pensioners. It would cost only a small amount to increase pensions of service pensioners to the full amount of the war pension, and I am satisfied that those men would then be enabled either to stay out of hospital altogether or to spend long periods out of hospital. But the important thing is that their children would have a better chance of not being affected with tuberculosis. They would grow into happy, healthy citizens and ensure the continuance of their breed for generations.
The National Health and Medical Research Council has expressed its view very strongly on this point. The council considers that, for the efficient control of tuberculosis, adequate attention must be given to the following considerations : -
The economic factor is definitely the most important aspect of the campaign against tuberculosis. It is necessary that the resistance of all members of the family should be maintained at the highest possible level. The wage-earner of the family frequently will not leave his family so long as he is able to contribute anything towards its support. He is usually unable to do this adequately. Possibly the greatest advance towards the effective control of tuberculosis would be the provision of adequate financial support to ensure the effective nutrition of the family under suitable environmental conditions.
In its report for 1940 the National Health Council strongly recommended that the tuberculosis invalid pension rate should be increased; that the pensioner should receive the pension in full irrespective of whether he is undergoing treatment in a State institution or not. At present two-thirds of the invalid pension goes direct to the State government as soon as a pensioner enters a State institution for treatment. This leaves practically nothing for the maintenance of the family while the wage-earner is under treatment. This is a serious matter in a tuberculous family, where resistance against infection depends so largely on nutrition. This anomaly has always reacted strongly against the entry of patients to a suitable institution for treatment and continuance of treatment. If the State institutions need funds they should be subsidized not by the pensioners but by the Government. I therefore urge that the Minister should do two things: make the full war pension continue no matter how long the tubercular patient is in hospital, and raise the pension of all tubercular soldiers, whether their tuberculosis has been caused by war service or not, to the war pension rate, and induce his colleague, the Minister for Health to do the same for the tubercular patients who get an invalid pension. This money will be repaid many times by savings of the cost of hospital and medical treatment. It will be a definite insurance against the spread of infection.
The Repatriation Department should endeavour to ensure that all soldiers suffering from venereal disease, whenever or wherever contracted, should be treated.
Soldiers are specially tabulated and provided for and are more easily accessible than any other group in the community. There should be compulsory notification by the patient and his doctor and compulsory treatment by the Government to stamp out, or even check, the disease. The damage that one untreated infectious case can cause is incredible except to active general practitioners. In New South “Wales its incidence over the last three years has almost doubled. Infections are also much more obstinate to treatment. Only a man who has been in genera] practice as a doctor, as I have, knows the scourge that venereal disease is. Early in my life as a doctor, I knew of a promiscuous man who was untreated and who, I am satisfied, in the next fifteen years, either directly or indirectly, was the cause of infection of at least 300 people.
I agree with the suggestions that expert psychiatrists should be made available to give treatment ito the patients and advice to the combatant officers in dealing with war neuroses, especially as regards leave, recreation, &c. At the end of the last war our knowledge of the causes and effects of shell-shock and other war neuroses had tremendously increased. Money spent in preventive treatment and in immediate treatment by skilled psychiatrists would be repaid in savings of pensions many hundreds of times. An immediate expense might be incurred, which, by the way, should fall on the Department of the Army and not on the Department of Repatriation, but it would be a justifiable expense.
I consider that it would be in the best interests of the nation if, during the first year after the war, all ex-service personnel were provided with free medical treatment. Many of our men and women will return from tropical and sub-tropical areas where malaria, dysentery and other diseases are rampant. Unfortunately, some of these complaints are incurable, but others would yield to treatment, and if, for twelve months, returned personnel could have free medical attention, the expense involved would be recouped and the nation would be the better for it.
As it is impossible to cover all by legislation, provision should be made by act of parliament or by regulation, for the Minister for Repatriation to grant to ex-service personnel compassionate pensions similar to those which the Treasurer is entitled to grant to aged and infirm people in the community who, for special reasons, are not covered by the provisions of the invalid and old-age pensions law. The power to grant these pensions is exercised by the Treasurer with great discretion, and only a few compassionate pensions are granted annually. I believe that the Minister for Repatriation could be trusted to exercise such a power with discretion.
I trust that the amendments which I have suggested will he made in the bill and that our repatriation plans will ensure even-handed justice to all concerned.
.- I congratulate the committee of returned soldier members of this Parliament on the fine report which it submitted to this Government. I also congratulate the chairman of the committee, the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), on his lucid explanation of the committee’s recommendations. It is gratifying to know that the committee will continue to function. This bill will have farreaching effects on the whole community. 1 regard it as one of the most important measures that this Parliament has considered. We owe such a great debt of gratitude to the men and women who are fighting for us in this war that we shall never be able to repay it. Nothing that we can do will be too good for ex-service personnel, or for the wives who have lost their husbands, or the mothers who have lost their sons in the war. New repatriation problems will undoubtedly arise from time to time, and I am glad that the committee of honorable members of the Parliament will be available to make recommendations to the Government in that regard.
I do not desire to deal in detail with the provisions of the bill. I agree with those honorable members who have said that serious mistakes have occurred in our repatriation administration. It appears to me, however, that one important point has been overlooked in this discussion. I refer to the provision of finance to meet the cost of this scheme. Money can be provided for urgent works whenever necessary. We have been informed, lately, that the Allied Works Council has expended £60,000,000, principally in Queensland, during the last twelve months. In the post-war years, substantial sums of money will be needed for public works as well as for repatriation. We should not assume that the last word on repatriation has been said in this measure. Unless some departure ‘be made from orthodox financial practice, those who administer the affairs of this country in the years to come will find themselves in difficulties. Large sums pf money will be required, for example, to meet the cost of soldier land settlement schemes. The Department of Post-war Reconstruction and the Repatriation Commission will have to work in co-operation if success is to be achieved in this sphere. Whilst I agree with a good deal of what the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) said, I remember that quite recently he observed that this was not the time to undertake water conservation schemes. I strongly disagree with the honorable member on that point. Water is the lifeblood of man, beast, and vegetation which without water could not live. I was glad to notice that the Government of New South Wales decided, a week or two ago, to use the services of all the available qualified engineers in order to prepare water conservation schemes which can be put in hand to provide work for demobilized soldiers after the war. We must provide adequate supplies of water in both city and rural areas. Wherever our returned service personnel settle they will require water. The provision of irrigation schemes should be considered, without delay, by the authorities charged with the responsibility of settling our returned men and women on the land.
In the past many mistakes have been made in connexion with soldier land settlement. I do not blame any particular government on this account. I insist, however, that every- effort be made to avoid such errors in the future. I trust that consideration will be given to the capacity of Queensland to provide for a very much larger population. Queensland is a great State with immense scope for successful closer settlement. I listened with deep interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) on this subject, and I agree with him that over-capitalization caused manyfailures among soldiers who settled on the land after the last war. Although the figures which the honorable member gave in relation to Victoria were astounding, they were not greatly dissimilar from figures in relation to soldier land settlement in other States. Nevertheless, good land must be bought for the soldiers, and the people who have such land for sale ought to be paid a fair price for it. But the land should be made available to soldiers under conditions which will ensure to them a reasonable living. The seller should be paid a fair price by the Government, and any deficiency between that price and the price at which it is made available to returned soldiers, should be charged against the nation as a whole. We have the greatest country in the world, and I am glad to say that we also have the greatest financial institution in the world. I refer, of course, to the Commonwealth Bant. The resources of that bank should be used to release national credit for soldier settlement purposes. The time was never more opportune for the application to the affairs of the country of the national credit resources latent in the Commonwealth Bank. These should be applied to repatriation problems. Seeing that £60,000,000 could be provided for the Allied Works Council, during the last twelve months, for expenditure on war undertakings, we are entitled to ask that money shall be available for repatriation purposes under conditions which will not unfairly increase the national debt. That is the point which I want to make. The same contention applies to our home schemes, our irrigation projects, and our land settlements. A home is the first thing that every man and woman wants; but if they cannot be comfortable or contented because a burden of debt hangs over their heads, a home is no good to them. With a private mortgage, one does not know when one may be dispossessed and lose the whole of the asset. The picture would be different if the Commonwealth Bank held the deeds and charged only the cost of administration. This week, the Prime Minister launched the Third Liberty Loan for £100,000,000. In the course of his broadcast, the right honorable gentleman stated that the Bismarck Sea battle had cost Australia approximately £1,500,000. That money has gone up in smoke or to the bottom of the sea, but the debt still remains. What would be wrong with the cancellation of the debt? I do not consider that this point has had sufficiently serious consideration by honorable members. The burden of debt is an everlasting worry to men and women. If ever there was justification for the use of national credit, it is in connexion with the rehabilitation of returned soldiers who may be’ crippled, maimed or diseased - a condition for which no cash payment would compensate them. I appeal to the Minister either to accept some of the amendments that have been forecast or to give consideration to them later. But for the efforts of our service men and those of the allied nations, we would no longer be living in freedom. They are doing everything possible to preserve our liberty. The least that we, as their representatives, can do, is to give them something worth while when they return to this fair land of Australia. We should say to them, “ You have done your duty. You were prepared to leave your body in a foreign country. We will give you every opportunity in life, and a Commonwealth bond for £1,000 with which to make a start “. I hope that such a plan will be evolved.
.- I appreciate that this is one of the most important measures that could come before this Parliament; but I deplore its introduction in an election year, because some honorable members - fortunately, only a few - have seen fit to make this Parliament an auction mart in connexion with it. I regard the measure as one that is entirely above party politics.
Since the passage of the original act, amendments of it have been made from time to time, and I have no doubt that further amendments will be submitted in the future. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) has been extremely fortunate in having had an investigation of the matter by such an able committee, which during the course of its deliberations consulted returned soldiers throughout Australia and gave every member of this
Parliament an opportunity to state his views.
– I appreciate what it has done.
– I am sure of that. All the members of the committee are returned soldiers. If, in their respective States, they have done as much for returned soldiers as has been done in Western Australia by Senator Collett, they have rendered signal service. From time to time, in this Parliament, they and others have shown the deepest concern for the welfare of returned men.
– There cannot be any picking and choosing. Every member of the committee did his best.
– All did their best, not only on behalf of this Parliament, but also in the interests of the returned men in their respective States. I have no doubt that they were appointed to the committee because of the qualifications that they possess. Therefore, I am prepared to accept, in the main, the recommendations that they have made. Possibly a few amendments will be moved in committee, in an effort to improve the measure. I shall not support amendments that are designed to embarrass the Government and the members of the committee. No man can complain that he has a monopoly of sincerity in desiring to ensure that the returned soldiers shall be given a fair deal. I regret that the occasion should be used in order to place the Minister in an embarrassing position because of his responsibility for legislation on behalf of returned soldiers. I was interested in the remarks of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) in reference to tubercular cases. Under the present provision, tubercular soldiers who are being treated in a . sanatorium must leave the institution periodically and revisit their homes in order that their dependants may continue to draw the maximum allowance. In my opinion, it would be far better to reverse this- procedure, and to pay the full allowance to dependants, provided the sufferer remained in the institution until a cure was effected. I know of one returned soldier suffering from tuberculosis who regularly left the sanatorium where he was being treated in order to return to his wife and small children, with the result that the children, in turn, became affected. For the sake of the future health of the community, this anomaly should be rectified.
In the interests of returned soldiers who, after the war, will be suffering from chest complaints of various kinds, it is very desirable that a policy of soldier land settlement should be put into effect. I know of no healthier occupation than farming, although I admit that it is hard and, under present conditions, a difficult one at which to make a living. However, it is the responsibility of the Government to see that those who are placed on the land are provided with the amenities of life at present lacking in rural areas. The drift of population from country districts is deplorable, and something must be done to check it.
The Government at present owns many undertakings engaged on the production of war materials. I suggest that, after the war, those undertakings which could be carried on profitably should be handed over to groups of returned soldiers. The men would be given an equity in the businesses, and would control and operate them. In this way many returned soldiers would be suitably provided for, and some industries which have been born during the war would be assured of a profitable continuance after the war.
I understand that amendments have been foreshadowed to provide that a soldier’s dependants shall not be worse off financially in the event of his death. With this I agree, and I trust that the Minister will agree to the proposal. I congratulate the parliamentary committee which inquired into the working of the Repatriation Act. The Minister for Repatriation must be indebted to it for having submitted recommendations upon which the present bill is based.
.- This bill is probably unique in that it has the support of all honorable members, at least as far as the second reading. Differences of opinion will probably develop at the committee stage, and a number of amendments have already been foreshadowed. Some of them, the Minister has agreed to accept. I join with other honorable members in congratulating the parliamentary committee upon its report. Its recommendations to the Government form the basis of this measure. The committee made a complete survey of the whole subject, and the success of its efforts is another argument in favour of submitting matters of this kind to all-party parliamentary committees.
I do not like the term “ pension “ as applied to soldiers and their dependants. I favour the use of the word “ gratuity and suggest that any compensation paid to soldiers should in future be known as a “ war gratuity “. The word “ gratuity “ means “ acknowledgment of service “, and the benefits which are provided under the repatriation scheme are an acknowledgment of the service which the soldiers have rendered to their country.
I should not have spoken on the motion for the second reading of the bill had it not been, argued from several quarters that the rate of pensions should be increased by as much as 50 per cent., instead of 20 per cent, as proposed in the bill. As a matter of fact, the general benefits have been so much liberalized that the proposed increase will actually amount to a good deal more than 20 per cent. Those honorable members who advocated an increase of 50 per cent, are rendering a great disservice to the country. They know that their proposal is impracticable. It will only arouse discontent. The parliamentary committee which investigated repatriation matters invited every honorable member to submit suggestions, and at that time, no one saw fit to advocate an increase of the existing rates.
– That is not correct.
– I have verified it. The honorable member for Parkes was one of the very few who even acknowledged the receipt of the committee’s invitation. If some honorable members consider that an increase of 50 per cent, is justified, they should have made the suggestion to the committee. Only one organization in Australia submitted a definite proposal for an increase; and it recommended an increase of 18 per cent.
– Victoria advocated that pensions should be in creased by the same percentage as soldiers’ pay has been increased. That implied an increase of 41 per cent.
– It is useless for the honorable member for Lilley to offer excuses.
– The honorable member for Parkes, who now supports the proposal for an increase of 50 per cent., knows that it is’ impracticable. Honorable members should have some regard for their responsibility as representatives of the people. I have six excellent reasons for being interested in this bill, and I am most anxious that the Government should provide the most liberal terms possible. But as a responsible member of this House and of the community, I must pay some regard to the financial burden that even the committee’s recommendation will involve. The total cost of increasing pensions by 20 per cent., as the committee recommended, is £1,625,000. Some honorable members have overlooked the fact that additional concessions will increase the cost of repatriation benefits in the first year by more than £2,000,000.
– The hospitals have many cases which will become eligible to receive repatriation benefits.
– I agree. This is only the beginning. The annual cost of war pensions for the current financial year will be £9,000,000 ; and the cost of repatriation after the present war will be much greater than it was after the last war. Honorable members must consider the future.
– Does not the honorable member consider that the wages of employees of the Allied “Works Council, some of whom receive £25 a week, should be adjusted before repatriation benefits suffer?
– The honorable member knows that I have directed attention to the extremely high earnings of employees on the Allied Works Council, but that subject is irrelevant to this bill. Honorable members are responsible first for placing the repatriation scheme on a firm foundation, otherwise it will collapse under its own weight. If honorable members yield to popular clamour and vote away the people’s money without due regard to the ultimate results, all pensions will suffer. The parliamentary committee, after a most searching inquiry, recommended an increase of 20 per cent. The reaction of interested parties was that the news was too good to be true. One war widow said to me, “ I would prefer that the Government kept the money for the time being for the purpose of helping to win the war “. Many people show the same spirit.
– There is no cheerchasing in that class.
– That is so. As a member of this chamber, I cannot allow the irresponsible advocacy of an increase of 50 per cent, to pass unchallenged. Those honorable members who persistently recommend that increase are rendering a great disservice not only to the pensioners, but also to the country.
– To make an allegation is to prove nothing. People are entitled to differ from the honorable member. “What proof has he of his statement?
– I should like to see the honorable member for “Warringah (Mr. Spender) examining a witness who had had the same opportunities as he has had to review repatriation benefits but had failed to take action. It is futile for him now, because it is a popular cry in certain quarters, to advocate an increase that he was not prepared to grant.
– Does the honorable member contend that a country that can provide £30,000,000 a year for civilian social service benefits will be staggered by an additional £3,000,000 for repatriation benefits?
– The £30,000,000 for social services has not yet been found.
I urge that we should do all that we can in connexion with vocational training, as any money thus spent will be soundly invested. Many young men enlisted before they had an opportunity to learn a trade or profession, and it is important, not only in their interests, but also in the interests of the nation, that they be given an opportunity to make up for lost time so that they shall not be placed at a disadvantage, and shall become useful citizens.
– Special committees have been appointed to deal with that matter, and I understand that one of them has already furnished its first report.
– Care should be taken to ensure that we shall not put square pegs into round holes. The failure of some of the rehabilitation schemes after the last war was due to the fact that men were allowed to participate in work for which they were not suited. For instance, the failure of the soldier settlement scheme was owing, not entirely to the land selected for the settlement of soldiers, but also to the unsuitability of many men for primary production.
The problem of rehabilitation will be much more difficult after this, war than after the last war. It will be futile to say that every man shall get back the job or position he had prior to enlistment. Unfortunately, owing to the serious industrial disturbances caused by our war effort, many businesses have closed down, and will not open again, so that the old job will not be available. There will be an obligation on the Government to help those men.
There is a solemn and sacred responsibility upon the citizens of the Commonwealth to ensure that the men who serve their country shall not suffer as a result of their war service. The mere payment of gratuities, however liberal, will not fully discharge this obligation’. No compensation, however great, will make up for the loss of a husband and father. There is one section of the community who has made a great sacrifice and receives no compensation whatsoever. I refer to the young women whose sweethearts will not return. Theirs must be a sad and lonely future. They have no expectation of, or entitlement to, monetary compensation, but the least we can do is give some thought to their sad lot.
It is the duty of citizens to take a sympathetic interest in the welfare of the men who have been away from their normal life for some years. “We should be patient with them until they have readjusted themselves to ordinary civil occupations. In dealing with returned soldiers and their dependants the community should develop more of the human touch. We must see to it that, as far as possible, when these men return to their ordinary civil occupation they should not be placed at a disadvantage. It is true that the industrial awards will take care of the wages, but owing to absence from their work or occupation for some years they will get out of touch and will be placed at a disadvantage so far as promotion is concerned.
– And their aptitude will be lost.
– Yes. Australia has a greater obligation than merely to pay gratuities, no matter how liberal they may be. It must take a human interest in those who have fought and in the dependants of those who have lost their lives.
.- As I am anxious that this bill shall be considered by the committee at the soonest possible moment, I shall not speak for long on the second reading. I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the special Parliamentary Committee on Repatriation for the wonderful job it did in making the report on which this measure was framed. I intend to support all the provisions of this bill, but I think that in committee a clause should be inserted in the following terms : -
Wives of ex-soldiers receiving the Second Schedule pension rates and the wives of exsoldiers receiving pensions under he Fifth Schedule of the act, notwithstanding the date of marriage, shall be granted a wives’ war pension.
Under that provision would come two classes of ex-soldier pensioners. The first consists of incapacitated soldiers whose wives die and leave them with the responsibility of bringing up families. Naturally, such men require help, not only to raise their families, but also to look after themselves, and I see no reason why a man who marries again in such circumstances should be deprived of the pension payable in respect of a wife. There would be few such cases, and it seems to me that their plight is worthy of consideration by the Government. The second class consists of other returned soldiers who married after 1938, the year prescribed in the principal act as the end of the period after the last war in which returned soldiers must have married in order that their wives should qualify for a pension.
Why should marriage benefits under the Repatriation Act be conferred on one ex-service man and not another. The intention of the original act was to confer marriage benefits and give compensation to maintain the wife and family of an ex-soldier suffering from war disabilities, so it is manifestly unjust to confer the benefits on those who are able to marry prior to a given date and not on those who marry later. If any soldier was not able to qualify for the benefits prior to an arbitrarily fixed date, it would be for a good reason; in most cases that reason would be other family responsibilities, or chronic war disability concomitant with low earning capacity. Are these to be the reasons for disqualification from pension rights? The date on which an ex-service man married would make no difference to the financial liability of the Government, except in the case of a second marriage, to which I shall refer later. The liability is for the life of a wife and children up to a certain age. Denial of these repatriation marriage benefits in certain cases is grossly unjust.
It is quite understandable that the Government must take notice of cases where there is a deliberate intention to foist on it obligations which were never intended by the act, and which are obviously gross abuses. Such cases might occur in relation to marriages subsequent to the first one. If an ex-soldier’s first wife dies twenty years or more after marriage, and then, late in life the soldier is inveigled into a marriage by a young woman, a further liability might be created for the Government, which it was never intended to meet. Marriage liability in such cases might continue for well nigh a century. All such possible abuses could be provided against, and should not be used as a reason for depriving others, who through war disabilities and obligations to parents and younger brothers and sisters, are being denied benefits conferred on most of their fellow ex-service men.
In the original Repatriation Act no time was fixed beyond which pensions to wives should not be paid, but in 1930 it was provided, . at short notice, that pensions for wives should be payable only if marriages were contracted by the 30th June, 1938. Many ex-service men were in hospital at that date, and some went so far as to celebrate their marriages in the hospitals, at the last minute, in order to qualify their wives for the pension. Others were not able to do even that.
Soldiers who returned in 1918 with apparently minor disabilities were able to resume, fully, their civil life, and to reestablish themselves without any delay. They married, and so their wives became qualified for the full marriage pension if at any time any disabilities of their husbands ‘became aggravated. I ask the Minister to compare such cases with those of men who have suffered from chronic disabilities, whose employment lias been continually interrupted, and whose careers have been ruined and who, still, have carried family burdens. Is their lot to be made harder because, later in life, at some time after the 30th June, 1938, they have found a mate willing and unselfish enough to share their trials and responsibilities?
– In Canada, 1933 was fixed as the final year.
– I am well aware of the Canadian provision, but I consider it most unfair that ex-soldiers who, because of family responsibilities, were precluded from marrying before the 30th June, 1938, should suffer disability in relation to their wives. The remedy seems clear. We should confer marriage benefits for at least one marriage and provide, if necessary, that a second marriage shall not be recognized as a qualification for pension rights after a certain time. This would limit the liability of the ‘Government in an equitable way, and it would not matter whether an ex-soldier took advantage of the marriage benefit early or, through force of circumstances, late. I appeal to the Minister to accede to this request. Such a provision would aPPly to only a limited number of exsoldiers. Seeing that, in the main, the Government has accepted the recommendations of the committee and has introduced an excellent measure, I trust that it will not spoil its job by denying favorable consideration to the relatively few men to whom I have referred.
I do not propose to debate, in detail, any foreshadowed amendment other than that relating to the increase of pension rates. I consider that honorable members who have argued that the increase should be 50 per cent, instead of 20 per cent, have done a great disservice to the country in raising the issue. If pensions are to be bolstered up in that way, it may become necessary to apply a “ means “ test, and ever since the introduction of our war pensions system, returned men have strongly resisted that principle. I trust that they will continue to resist it. If I considered that the financial condition of the country warranted an overall increase amounting to 50 per cent. I should be the first to speak in favour of it, but I remind honorable members that 83 per cent, of the returned men who are receiving a pension to-day are not dependent upon it for their living. I consider that a 50 per cent, increase should be granted, if at all, only to those pensioners who depend upon their pensions for their living.
– That would amount to a “ means “ test.
– I am aware of that fact, but I do not alter my opinion on the point.
– ‘Where does the honorable member stand?
– Exceptions must be made to every rule, as we all are well aware. The fact that only 17 per cent, of our war pensioners are dependent upon their pension for a living might justify an increase of 50 per cent, to them, but I can see no justification for the proposal in relation to other pensioners.
.- I do not propose to speak on the general provisions of this bill. I consider that the measure is sound and that a good job has been done in the drafting of it. The bill is suitable for detailed consideration at the committee stage, and I propose to reserve most of my remarks until that stage is reached. I shall consider any suggested amendments on their merits.
I intend now to deal with the proposal that has been made for an overall increase of the pensions by 50 per cent, instead of 20 per cent, as has been proposed by the Government. I consider it desirable that my attitude on that issue should be stated clearly. An amendment to that effect has been foreshadowed, and I do not intend to support it. I can see no justification for it on the information that I have been able to gather on the subject. If it has arisen from certain activities in New South Wales, I say to those concerned that I regard the proposed 50 per cent. as merely a target figure and not one that can be justified by a consideration of the facts. I shall be frank with the returned soldiers, and say to them that I do not wish to be guilty of urging for them an increase of pension which might be beyond the capacity of the country -to meet. After the war, large sums of money will be required for the repatriation of ex-service personnel and for reconstruction purposes generally. We have not yet reached a stage at which we can assess our liabilities under those headings. Every public man should be reasonably sure that any promise that he makes to returned soldiers is one that the country will be able to fulfil. One would do a great wrong to the returned soldiers if, at this stage, he were to make a promise which the country may not be able to fulfil in its entirety when the full cost of the war, and the accruing liabilities subsequent to its termination, are known. I say frankly, however, that I have not been able to satisfy myself in regard to the increase of 20 per cent. which the committee has recommended. I propose, however, to await the committee stage to give further consideration to that matter. I listened very carefully last night to the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald), who made the clearest exposition I had heard of the methods adopted by the committee in arriving at the increase of 20 per cent. I realize that the committee conscientiously took into account all the factors within its knowledge. Even so, I am not yet convinced that its recommendation completely covers all the circumstances in respect of pensions, which have been static since the end of the last war. Two suggestions have been made as to how the proposed increase of 20 per cent. may be made more elastic than it was when the bill was introduced. I have heard that these may be the subject of proposed amendments. The first is, that the proposed new pension rates shall be subject to adjustment in the future according to movements of the cost-of-living index figures. I have two objections to that suggestion. The first is, that it would have the effect of giving to returned soldiers a high pension in times of infla tion and a low pension in times of deflation. Although I, in common with all honorable members and all other men who are earnestly desirous of protecting the Australian public, will do everything that lies within my power to prevent deflation and some form of depression after the war, the experiences of the previous war must not be overlooked and we must face the facts. We should not be acting fairly to the returned soldiers if we placed them on a scale that would rise or fall according to the movements of the cost-of-living index figures, because in a few years they might find that their pensions had been considerably reduced because of a provision that had been inserted in the legislation at this time. My second objection is that the proposal, if given effect, would encourage the extension of the principle to other fields, and would set up a condition of extreme complication. For example, if the index is to be accepted for the adjustment of soldiers’ pensions, then why should not the same principle be observed in regard to the few hundred pounds in the savings bank from which a widow derives a little interest; why should not she be entitled to the guarantee that the spending power of her money would increase or decrease with the rise or fall of the cost of living? If the principle were accepted in relation to this legislation, it could not be resisted in connexion with many other commercial, industrial and individual activities, and eventually an impossible situation would arise, merely as the result of a well-intentioned desire to do something for the betterment of ex-soldiers.
The second suggestion is, that the allparty committee which is responsible for practically all the proposals in the bill should be reconstituted and be given a mandate to make a periodical review of not only the cost of living, but also all the other factors that bear upon the fairness of soldiers’ pensions; and, further, that it should take into account what is happening in other spheres of government activity - in the realm of social service, of employment and re-employment, and of reconstruction. Many factors will affect the value of the pension of a soldier after the war. The proposal that the all-party committee shall be asked to review the position regularly, and report to the Government from time to time, is the most practical that has been made. I understand that the Government is prepared to agree to the proposition. The committee has already acquainted itself with the details and the policy of pensions administration and finance. It would be enabled to take into account many circumstances in the adjustment of pensions from time to time. The committee should be immediately revived.
– The act should provide for its reconstitution.
– Although I had not mentioned that, I should prefer it.
– Provision is to be made in that respect.
– That pronouncement by the Minister completely satisfies me. From what I have been told, I believe that the cost of living rose by approximately 2$ per cent, between September - when the committee prepared its report - and the 31st December. If one may judge from what one notices, one would not consider it unlikely that there had been a further increase of 2£ per cent, between December and the present date. It is not at all improbable that, were the committee to prepare its report now, being minded as it was in September, 1942, and taking into account the factors which it then considered, it would recommend 25 per cent, as a fair addition to the previous pensions for the purpose of arriving at the new base. I mention that because I have reached the conclusion, after a lot of thought, that the bill would very fairly meet the situation if it proposed an increase of 25 per cent., and made provision for an allparty committee regularly to review the position in the manner I have described. I am quite satisfied, however, to leave it to the committee to deal in the near future with any increase which may have occurred since last September, when it drafted its report, in the hope that, if these factors be still present during the next few months - I believe that they will be - this Parliament may be invited, within a reasonable period, to consent to a further increase related to the altered circumstances. I cannot visualize any precise formula according to which pensions should be increased in the future. I cannot see that they could be increased ‘merely in accordance with the cost of living indexes. I can, however, see that the varying considerations can, and may properly, be taken into account only by a body of men sitting around a table, bending their minds to the problem, and hearing theviews of all the parties concerned. I shall vote for the 20 per cent, increase which has been recommended by the parliamentary committee. I shall do so on the understanding that the all-party parliamentary committee will be reconstituted, and will immediately take into consideration the upward trend of costs since September last, as well as other relevant factors. I do not believe that the public, or the members of the fighting services, will believe that those who vote “for the bill in its present form are any less concerned for the welfare of our fighting men than are those who vote for the amendment to increase pensions by 50 per cent. It is well known that the amendment cannot be carried. It is known that practically all the supporters of the Government will vote for the provision in the bill, and that a majority of members of the Opposition will do so. Therefore, the amendment cannot be carried. It would be easy for me, coming from New South “Wales, to vote for the 50 per cent, increase knowing that it cannot be carried. However, I shall not do so because, if I did, I should be casting an insincere vote. I do not suggest that those who will vote for the greater increase will cast insincerevotes, but I should be doing so if I voted for it. Any promise which I make to the returned soldiers will be very carefully weighed, and I shall need to be very sure that the country can honour it.
.- All honorable members are agreed that the Special Parliamentary Committee on Repatriation did an excellent job, and presented a report, that has been of the greatest assistance to the Government. That is not to say that we agree with all its recommendations. It is probable that the members of the committee did not always agree among themselves - that some of their recommendations represent a compromise. Nevertheless, the bill represents an important step forward.
I am particularly pleased that the matter of eligibility for pensions is now to be regarded from the proper point of view ; in other words, that the onus is now to be placed upon the Repatriation Commission to prove that the disability from which a returned soldier is suffering is not due to his war service. I hope that this provision will be administered in the right way. I agree that some men have for years been drawing pensions to which they are not entitled, but many fine soldiers have on some technical point been denied pensions which they should have been receiving. I know that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) is sympathetically disposed towards them. I trust that when their cases are reheard, they will not have to appear again before the tribunal which originally turned them down. I do not care how fair the members of such a board may be, or how great their medical knowledge; once they have decided a case, they will be reluctant to reverse their decision. Applicant? should be given an opportunity to appear before a new board so that they may bp assured of a fair deal.
I do not agree with those who say that pension rates should be increased by 50 per cent. The soldier who goes away to fight for his country is a reasonable man. and he will be prepared to accept reasonable compensation for his disabilities. On the other hand, I believe that the committee’s recommendation to increase pension rates by 20 per cent, errs on the small side. Provision should be made for reviewing pension rates every year or every two years, either by the parliamentary committee- which it is proposed to reconstitute, or by the authority which is concerned with variations of the cost of living. I believe that an increase of 20 per cent, is too small, having regard to the generosity of the Government when dealing with other social services.
– Returned soldiers will benefit from those social services also.
– “We want to divorce soldiers’ pensions altogether from the cost of living.
– I agree that the cost of living should not enter into the matter. The suggestion of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly), that the money paid to the returned soldier in respect of his disabilities should be called, not a pension, but a gratuity, is a good one. No one has any right to inquire into the returned soldier’s private income.
– That is what we do not want to do.
– If a man with an income of even £.10,000 a year loses an eye in the service of his country, he is entitled to compensation in recognition of his gallant service and his sufferings.
– That is why we do not
Avant to introduce a means test.
– Nor do I. I am glad that it is proposed to extend the benefits of the act to members of the Citizen Military Forces and members of women’s auxiliary services, but in some instances the proposals of the Government do not go far enough. I have received letters from all over Victoria, and have been interviewed by many persons with whom I am acquainted, pointing out anomalies. I have previously referred to the case of Sergeant Owen, of the 2nd MachineGun Battalion, and I was given a reply which I do not regard as satisfactory. I do not care what opinions are offered by medical officers or by the Repatriation Commission; I say that, in the case of this man, lis. for himself and 4s. for his wife is not reasonable compensation. His arm is wasting and is practically useless to him.
A young man in Bendigo joined the forces in October, 1940, as a private, and rose to the rank of lieutenant. In Western Australia he contracted Hodgkins disease which causes an enlargement of the glands in the throat, and is usually fatal. He was ordered into hospital and eventually was sent home. For some curious reason, he has not been discharged from the Army. He is virtually on probation. He does not receive a pension, or any medical service. He visits a specialist in Melbourne, and the treatment costs him £10 10s. a week. Had he been the son of a worker, I do not know what his position would be. He stated that since he was sent home on the 16th October, 1942, he has had no treatment or help at the expense of the Government. He wrote -
My health was very good prior to joining the forces, and also very good whilst in the service up to May, 1942; since then it has been very poor. My own physician, Dr.
Sandner, of Bendigo, whom I saw since returning, lias certified that I was fit (Class 1) before enlisting, having been examined by him just prior to .being examined for the Army. My period of service was one year and ten months.
My correspondent is a fine type of young nian. He rose from the ranks and obtained his commission. I know that he had no “ pui] “ in the battalion. I consider that he is entitled to a pension.
– The disease is so rare that physicians do not know whether it has a tubercular or cancerous origin.
– But it is not regarded as a war disability.
– Four or five similar cases have occurred in Western Australia, so the disease may be caused by a germ. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) stated that doctors are not sure of the cause.
– The causation is unknown and the disease is almost invariably fatal.
– If the cause is unknown, how can doctors declare with certainty that the disease is not a war disability? I cite another case of a man from Kerang, Victoria. His wife writes -
I am writing to you in reference to my husband’s claim for a pension and medical benefits which has been rejected by the Repatriation Department. He was on active service for nineteen months in the Middle East and was discharged on the 28th August, 1942, as “ being medically -unfit for Service notoccasioned by his own default “. He was injured in an air-raid on Tobruk in 1941. During the past four months he has beer employed at his trade of motor mechanic, but owing to his nervous condition, which has become worse since his discharge, he has had to take on fruit-picking. He suffers from sleeplessness, is morose and irritable, becomes quite violent at times. I consulted Dr. Alexander, the repatriation doctor for Kerang, who said he could not do anything to help me, as the’ Repatriation Department apparently was satisfied that any nerve condition was not due to war service. I am puzzled to account for this, for if it is not due to his own fault or to war service, what else?
Dr. Alexander advised me to send my husband to a neurologist in Collins-street, which we find impossible to do owing to lack of the necessary funds. Is it not possible for him to receive treatment nt an Army hospital, where they are treating German and Italian prisoners of war at present for neurosis ? I think that my husband is entitled to consideration as much as these, as he was willing to go overseas to fight for Australia - and, through no 4fault of his, would be fighting still. He is anxious to re-enlist, but, as it is, is not even liable for Militia service. I have heard that you are a champion of the returned soldiers of this war, so I am stating my husband’s case to you in the hope that you will be able to aid.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– I knew a young fellow, a fine athlete, a runner, a footballer and a cricketer, who, after spending two years in the Middle East, was shot in the. shoulder and was sent back home and discharged. He developed a growth where the wound was, but was told that it could not possibly have any association with the wound. He died. His mother wa3 refused, not only a pension, but also the expenses for his burial, until the matter was taken up by the local branch of the returned soldiers’ organization. The examples I have cited are not in the interests of either the forces or Australia a? a whole. Men who serve in the Army must believe that either they or their dependants will receive a fair deal. Otherwise morale will suffer.
I hope that this Government will not repeat the mistakes that were made after the last war and allow men to leave the Army before jobs are available for them. Until jobs are ready, men should be kept in the Army, not on army rates of pay, but a.s a labour army on the basic wage to do public works vital to the development of this country, such as irrigation and hydro-electric schemes. Unless we develop this country and increase its population by at least another 15,000,000 or 20,000,000, we shall soon find ourselves again fighting Japan with its 90,000.000 people, or some other great nation, and, no matter how gallant and prepared our men are, we shall not be able to fight successfully without assistance. We have to thank the British and the American people for their help to-day. When our men return from this war we must not be content with saying, “ Thank you. You have done a wonderful job for your country in risking your lives “. We must also say, “ And here is a great national job for you still to do “.
I shall support an amendment to increase the rates of pension by 30 per cent, instead of 20 per cent. I shall also support the foreshadowed amendment relating to tubercular soldiers. Further, there is not excuse for a country putting a widow and her family in a worse position than she occupied when her husband was alive. I hope that the Government will accept those amendments, because they do not strain the gratitude of the country nor are they beyond its means.
.- I support this measure of 43 clauses, which contains the fruit of the labours of the special parliamentary committee representative of both Houses and all political parties. It is not an ordinary bill. It is a new charter to members of the first Australian Imperial Force, and a better charter than the Repatriation Act, which this bill proposes to amend, for members of the second Australian Imperial Force and the members of the Citizen Military Force;, who are at battle stations inside Australia or in contiguous islands. It is fortunate for Australia that all our army divisions, with the exception of he illfated 8th Division, members of which are imprisoned in Malaya, are back in Australia, or are in the Pacific Islands. Our gratitude to all members of the armed forces who have served this country in distant fields or in parts adjacent to the mainland is equally bestowed.
The bill is based on !: he report of the special committee of returned soldier members of this Parliament, and I understand that that committee’s report won the approbation of the 33 exservice members of both Houses of the Parliament. There may be some disagreement in relation to some of the details of the bill. Some of the amendments which have been foreshadowed are certainly designed to improve the measure. If the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) cannot accept all, I hope that he will approach all sympathetically and, where possible, having ascertained the opinion of the committee, give to all that generous treatment which his demeanour has indicated that he will give. The report of the committee is a splendid one. It is also comprehensive and it has the virtue of being closely and clearly reasoned. The congratulations of this House should go out to the members of the committee and to its secretary, the
Clerk of the House, Captain F. C. Green, whose distinguished war services, as well as ability, made him an excellent choice for the position. I think that the committee would not have been able to report as it did had he not been secretary, and, with all respect, I say i.hat the Minister would not have been able to present such a bill, with such a comprehensive and well-delivered speech, had it not been for the fact that the report of the committee made it easy for the Government to make its decision on all the complex questions involved in repatriation. The Minister for Repatriation has very patiently listened to the speeches from both sides of the House, and, if he has not encouraged honorable members to hope that all their amendments will be accepted, at least he has encouraged them to put them forward in the knowledge that he will at any rate give consideration to them.
Time does not allow me to say all that I should like to say about the -report, but I take this opportunity to congratulate the committee on its decision to recommend that wives of incapacitated returned soldiers shall have their pension increased by 20 per cent. The committee treated similarly the claims of children of incapacitated soldiers. Too often we are inclined to overlook, in our legislation, the claims of women and children. The committee is also to be congratulated on this passage in its report -
The committee found that there was reasonable ground for a general increase of the rates of war pension. An outstanding factor in this regard was the comparison of rates of pay to members of the forces and allowances to their dependants with the same items in respect of the 1914 war.
We cannot be too generous to those who have risked their lives in the defence of the country. I pay tribute to the various members of the Repatriation Commission since the last war, because their experience in the administration of the act has been of value in the framing of this legislation. The decisions of the commission have not always been acceptable to returned soldiers, but, without exception, the commission has given generous and disinterested service to the returned soldiers and to the people of the Commonwealth.
The speech of the Minister, in moving the second reading of this bill, was an excellent utterance, and so also was the speech delivered by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), who is in charge of the measure on the Opposition side of the Bouse. That honorable gentleman has clearly studied all the implications of the bill, and is aware of the ramifications of our repatriation machinery. He rendered good service to all of us by dealing at length, but trenchantly and relevantly, with the measure. I support his view that the family income of widows of ex-soldiers should be increased. The honorable member rightly said that we were not dealing generously with these unfortunate women. He made the comparison between the wife of a soldier who had three children and received £5 ls. 6d. a week, and the widow of a soldier who also had three children to maintain, and received only £4 7s. 6d. a week. The Government should not be able to show a credit in its accounts because a soldier husband and father had been killed, yet, in actual fact, that is the case, for the wife of a soldier with three children is 14s. a week better off than a widow of a soldier with the same number of children. It is not too much ro ask the Government to remedy this anomaly. The argument of the Minister i:i dealing with this question was fallacious, for he included in his calculations 10s. a week child endowment received by a widow of a soldier, although that amount is received also by the wife of a soldier who is entitled to endowment for two children.
The honorable member for Moreton made a telling appeal, also, in the interests of tubercular ex-soldiers. He cited the opinions of two distinguished medical authorities in Canada in support of his case. I shall not repeat the honorable gentleman’s argument, but I support his contention that all ex-service men from the la3t war who are suffering from tuberculosis should be granted the full pension. I know that complications might have to be considered in relation to the dependants of ex-soldiers who have died from pulmonary tuberculosis since the last war; but even if the full pension were granted to all tubercular ex-soldiers from the last war who are still alive and not getting the full pension, it would be something gained. I do not think that more than £200,000 annually would be involved.
– There are only 1,200 of them.
– Thai, is so. A simple arithmetical calculation would indicate the amount of money involved. A good deal of weight should be given to the contention of the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) that if the Government were to pay the full pension of £4 4s. for non-accepted tubercular ex-soldier patients now receiving treatment in sanitoriums, and so make it possible for many of them to return to their own homes, a substantial amount would be saved, as against continuing the payment of their present pensions, plus the expense involved in maintaining them in these institutions. I remind the Government that the Federal Conference of the Australian Labour party held in January hist decided by an almost unanimous vote at its last conference that the full pension should be paid to all ex-soldiers of the last war who are suffering from tuberculosis, whether their condition can be proved to be due to war service or not. Certain decisions of that conference in relation to conscription for military service overseas have been given effect to by the Government, and I urge that the conference decision in relation to tubercular exsoldiers should also be put into effect. The conference was strongly of the opinion that all men who served in the last war and are suffering from this fell disease should be pensionable at the full rates.
– Without requiring proof that their condition was due to war service?
– Yes. The opinion of organized Labour is that this disease is of such a nature that a determination as te the time when a patient contracted it is almost impossible. It is not measurable or provable in relation to the time factor. Medical science is in a much stronger position to pronounce on this disease to-day than it was immediately after the last war. At that time tuberculosis could be diagnosed only by clinical examination, whereas to-day scientific test* of the sputum reveal the existence or non-existence of the disease, whilst the X-ray indicates, with absolute accuracy, whether tuberculosis is present in a person in pulmonary form. Even latent signs of the disease are discernible by X-ray. Every person who enlists for service in this war is examined, or should be examined, hy X-ray to test whether the disease is present or not; and I understand that any person who serves in this war will be able to claim a pension if, at any time subsequent to enlistment, tuberculosis is contracted.
– The disease may easily be aggravated by war service.
Mir. CALWELL.- That is true. I do not desire to dilate at great length on this subject, but I believe that honorable members will be interested to know, if they are not already aware of the fact, that there is scarcely a person in the community who, at some time or another, has not been affected by this terrible scourge. A friend of mine who was a resident medical officer at the Melbourne Hospital for some years, informed me that it had been proved by post-mortem examinations of individuals who had died at the Melbourne hospital from causes other than pulmonary tuberculosis that 80 per cent, of them had been affected by the disease at some time. This was indicated by scars on their lungs. Most people are sufficiently healthy to be able to throw off the disease, but some are unfortunate enough to contract to it. The fact that a very large proportion of people in the community suffer at some period of their lives from the disease has been proved, also, by statistics collected in the public hospitals of all the capital cities in Australia. I hope that the Joint Committee on Social Security will be able to recommend to the Government a plan for the examination, in the postwar years, of all children and adults in order to ascertain whether they suffer from the disease. We have been given to understand that, by systematic examination and disciplined treatment, the disease could be eliminated from this country in two generations.
– -Very many healthy persons carry the bacillus.
– I thank the honorable member for his interjection. He very often supports my contentions. Only the strongest constitutions can resist tuberculosis.
The honorable member for Moreton also referred to war neurosis suffered bysoldiers in this war in particular. He observed that in addition to the obvious effects of the war many men and women also suffered from this serious, if less apparent, disability. There is probably more neurotic trouble in the general community in these days than there was at any time during the last war. The speed at which modern life is lived, the strain of present day society, and the disabilities that people have to suffer in this machine age, all contribute to an increase of neurotic trouble in civilian life. This war is different from the last war, just as the last war was different from the Boer War. Aeroplanes have made such rapid advancement in construction and achievement, even since the outbreak of this war, as to make Jules Verne’s novels, which thrilled us when we were young, seem almost commonplace. The great massing of armaments, the huge size of the projectiles that can be fired from modern guns, and the tremendous speed at which the guns operate, all have a most baneful effect upon the lives of soldiers. It is not surprising, therefore, that war neurosis is regarded as a serious complaint and that the honorable member for Moreton should have requested the Government to engage the best psychologists and psychiatrists to assist in the treatment of the complaint. This is a reasonable request. Even well qualified general practitioners are not the best persons, in many instances, to treat war neurosis. It is the job of a specialist. Just as one would not engage a general practitioner to operate on a cancerous growth, so a board of general practitioners should not be asked to determine the liability of the Commonwealth to the ex-soldier whose complaint is diagnosed as being due to war neurosis. The honorable member argued that the prevention and treatment of acute neurosis should be the responsibility of the regimental medical officers. He went on to say -
Psychologists say that the prevention and treatment of acute neurosis should be the responsibility of the regimental medical officers; but, undoubtedly, company and battalion officers may assist by looking out for men who have become jumpy or who suffer from insomnia, or show other signs of nervous strain. They should see that such men are made comfortable, housed as well as possible, and given the opportunity of frequent baths. The genuine grievances of such men should be redressed without delay.
No one knows how long this war may last; it may continue for a number of years. The problems that now confront us may become aggravated and extended before many years or months have passed. The arguments advanced by the honorable member and other honorable members are supported by quotations from a work published by the Society of Returned Medical Officers in Queensland.
Honorable members on both sides have argued in support of the establishment of a joint parliamentary standing committee to deal with repatriation matters. This experiment was tried only last year, under legislation passed by this Parliament in connexion with broadcasting; a joint parliamentary standing committee was established to deal with all matters affecting broadcasting which may be referred to it by the Minister, by resolution of either House of the Parliament, by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, or by the Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations. The argument is equally strong in favour of a similar standing committee to deal with repatriation matters. I hope that more than 80 per cent, of those who are engaged in the present awful struggle will return to Australia to be re-absorbed in the communal life of this country. Between 800,000 and 900,000 men and women are at present serving in our armed forces. Great as were the difficulties which confronted tha first Repatriation Commission when it commenced to deal with claims of ex-soldiers from the last war, they were slight compared with the trials that will harass the commission when it has to deal with the claims of the vast new army of to-day two or three times more numerous than the returned members of the first Australian Imperial Force. The standing committee would be an integral part of the repatriation machinery established under the act. I am glad that the Minister has expressed his intention to accept an amendment in that form. Such a committee will be helpful to whoever may be the Minister, as well a3 to the Repatriation Commission. Its structure should follow closely that of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Broadcasting - the Minister, the Repatriation Commission, and either House of the Parliament, being entitled to refer any matter to it; and a panel of the organizations recognized by the commission as entitled to express the views and claims of particular sections of returned soldiers - such as the blinded, the limbless, the totally disabled, and the tubercular - should have an equal right to have considered any matter which, comes before them. A great deal of the time of the Parliament would thus be saved. The committee would give to the claims that were advanced that consideration which it gave to the matter which forms the basis of the legislation that is now before us, and would report to the Parliament from time to time. The person to whom credit is due for the suggestion that such a committee should be appointed is Professor F. A. Bland, Dean of the Faculty of Public Administration in the University of Sydney. He saw the effectiveness with which the committee system is operating in the American Congress, and he knows the degree of assistance which is given by it to the British Government in the consideration of its problems in the House of Commons. One successful innovation should be followed by another that would prove equally successful.
There are certain observations which I desire to make upon the claims of some ex-soldiers. I suggest that the wives of ex-soldiers who are receiving second schedule pension rates shall be granted the pension of a wife, notwithstanding the date of their marriage. Being either blinded or totally and permanently incapacitated, these unfortunate men are in a class apart. Their severe disabilities make it imperative that they shall have some one to look after them. The concession would not cost a large amount, because, when the first wife died the pension would have ceased with her death. It would simply mean a. renewal of the pension in these exceptional circumstances, and would not affect any children who might be born of the second marriage. A man who is blinded or is totally and permanently incapacitated often considers that he ought to marry again for the purpose of having a mother to look after his children. The pension is not always sufficient to permit of a housekeeper being employed to perform that service. Men in this class should also have their pensions increased to at least £10 a fortnight, instead of to the £4 16s. a week that is proposed. They cannot work, and owing to the severe disabilities with which they are afflicted they are entirely dependent on their pensions. Their disabilities are war-caused ; otherwise, they would not be receiving the pensions that are paid to them. Almost every pensioner in this class is entirely dependent on the pension of £4 a week. That amount has been found inadequate owing to the depreciation of the currency and the increase of 20 per cent, will not enable the pensioner to live reasonably comfortably in these very difficult days, with the cost of living rising so quickly. Persons who are totally incapacitated should not be asked to suffer as the result of an increase of the cost of living. They are not able to struggle for themselves so well as other people who have full possession of their faculties.
There are others, in addition to tubercular ex-soldiers, to whom I may refer as being worthy of sympathetic consideration. I know that, if the door is opened in regard to tubercular soldiers others may make claims; nevertheless, I ask the Minister not to dismiss the claims of the tubercular men. I do not ask that they shall be regarded as the worst sufferers from the effects of the war, but I do request that they shall be given special consideration. The Minister might also consider the case of ex-soldiers who are blinded but whose blindness cannot be proved to be due to war service. I have taken up with the Repatriation Commission pathetic cases of men who have become blind since the last war, and have since tried unsuccessfully to establish that their blindness is due to war service. Some doctors have said that it is, whilst others have said that it is not. Many honorable members have handled cases of which I was given charge for a period, always with the same result - that, because the victim of blindness could not establish beyond all doubt that his condition is due to war service, he has not received the consideration to which he is entitled. In some instances, this condition is attributed to what the department would describe as “ self-inflicted wounds “. That is the departmental phrase which covers misconduct of various kinds. Many men whose blindness is due to cancer, spondylitis, and other causes, served splendidly and gallantly. As Australia is spending £500,000,000 a year in order to win the war, I do not consider that it should be niggardly in its treatment of the claims of men who come before the Repatriation Commission totally and permanently disabled from blindness or other causes.
I pay a tribute to the work of the Legacy Club throughout Australia. As a member of the Melbourne City Council, one of whose buildings is used by this splendid body of former soldiers who give so much of their spare time to the caro of the children of departed comrades, I know what splendid work is done unobtrusively by them. They neither receive nor desire publicity for it. The work goes on throughout the year, and has done so ever since the foundations of this organization were laid. I visited the club in Melbourne before the war broke out, and was greatly impressed with the vast importance of everything undertaken by it. It deals with every problem which confronts the widows and the fatherless children of men who fought for this country. It not only looks after the education of the children, but also endeavours to procure decent houses for families; it even provided succour in the depression years. In every way, it has shown that the sacred trust of caring for the widows and children of men who fell in battle, or of those who died years after the war had ended, had been placed in good and faithful hands. The Legacy Club may not desire a subsidy from the Commonwealth; perhaps it prefers to make from its own resources whatever payments may be necessary. But if it should ever make an appeal for support to either this or any other government, I hope that the assistance will be given without question. Housing schemes have been briefly referred to by some speakers, but
I do not desire to’ say more on the subject at this stage than that I believe that we should’ put into operation a properly planned housing scheme after the war for the benefit of persons discharged from the armed forces. I trust that an adequate housing scheme will also be developed, for the benefit of members of the general community. If the people are properly housed, and if every person willing and able to work is given it, we shall have a contented community among which disruptive elements will not be able to sow the seeds of disaffection. The way to have a sane and safe Australia is to give social and economic justice to every body. The Repatriation Commission can play its part by providing proper housing for returned soldiers, sailors and airmen, and for the women attached to the fighting forces, because they have equal claims on the country in respect of the services they are rendering.
The Commonwealth should subsidize technical training. It is necessary in the days of peace to prepare for the days of war that are to come. The speech of the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) was a reminder of the probable fate of Australia unless we are able to increase our population of 7,000,000 people. We shall not be able to hold this country as a citadel of European civilization in this part of the world unless we can obtain a population of 15,000,00-0 or 20,000,000 within a generation or so. It may not be only a militarized Japan that will challenge our right to hold 3,000,000 square miles of territory with a population of 7,000,000; we may have to face a militarized Asia, and then, unless our population is much greater than at present, our fate will be certain and unenviable. In the past, technical training has never received the attention which is its due. I trust that the Commonwealth Government will heavily subsidize the State Education Departments, so that every youth possessing the necessary aptitude may receive skilled training, and so that none will be condemned to be a hewer of wood and a drawer of water on the basic wage because he lacked the opportunity to develop his talents. Certain proposals have been submitted to me by the Victorian branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. The branch believes that part II. of the act, relating to administration, should be amended, as also should part III., division 1, section 22. In respect of section 40, the submission of the branch is as follows : -
Section 40. - We consider there is room for amendment in the whole of this section. We suggest the deletion of sub-clause (b) and sub-clause (c) of clause 2 of this section. Clause 5 will need amendments to cover the deletions we suggest in clause 2, and in clause (i we suggest the complete amendment in order that there shall be no interference with the ordinary processes of law in relation to the distribution of a man’s estate in the event of his death.
Other submissions are as follows: -
Section 44, clause 3. - This clause to be deleted.
It is believed that this clause constitutes a requirement which is against ali the principles of common law and justice. Instead of placing the demand on the person accused oi proving the truth of his assertion, the onus of proof that statements are untrue should lie with the authority making the charge.
Division 2, section 45k, clauses 4 and 0. - Clause 0-^-Delete the words after “ appellant “ and insert the words “ the appeal shall be reconsidered by the appeal Tribunal “.
A new section, section 0a, to be introduced as follows: “At any reconsideration of an appeal under the last preceding sub-section the appellant will have the right to appear in person and to be represented at his own expense at the hearing of his appeal by any person other tha.n a legal practitioner.”
The branch has submitted further suggestions of which I hope the Minister will take notice when the bill is in committee. They all have merit, and are not put forward lightly.
.- I do not propose to deal exhaustively with this bill. The real core of the measure is in clause 18, which deals with the onus of proof. I desire, in passing, to congratulate the special parliamentary committee upon its report, and upon the recommendations which it has submitted. Its job was not an enviable one. No other piece of legislation has created so much controversy during the last twenty years as has the Repatriation Act. It would have been very difficult to create a perfect act, seeing that there were so many men to provide for, and so many and such varied claims to be met. In this instance, the parliamentary committee undertook a job which was somewhat like patching up an old boiler; as fast as you patch it up in one place it bursts out in another. However, it did a reasonably good job, and I am glad that its recommendations were reached unanimously, so that no opportunity will be provided for the gaining or losing of political capital. It is not of much use our discussing whether pensions should be increased by 20 per cent., what should be the terms of eligibility, or the compensation due to relatives for the death of a soldier, unless a satisfactory solution is found to the problem of the onus of proof. After this war the same sort of problems will arise as confronted the Repatriation Commission after the last war. Then, some of the returned men, those who were crippled, for instance, possessed indisputable claims, and did not have a great deal of trouble in having those claims satisfied. The same applied to the relatives of those men who, unfortunately, lost their lives. There was another class of men who actually hung on to their position in the forces until the authorities had to seek means to discharge them. I think their action was described as “ swinging the lead “. Some of them, did suffer from some minor disability, and that disability was recognized with a small pension for the purpose of discharging them. Its recognition gave them a claim for a pension, and if the disability increased, so did their pension. Often, such men were much better off than those who really did have a serious disability, but who, because they were si. anxious to get, back into civilian life, begged the medical officers to give them a clean sheet so as to hasten their discharge. I have no doubt that similar cases will arise after this war. Whatever government is in power at the time should take steps to save such men from the consequences of their own folly by insisting that jio one shall be discharged from the forces while there remains any reasonable doubt that he is suffering from :> war disability that might develop in the future. Most of the men I have in mind suffered from gas, or had other disabilities which were difficult at first to detect. However, so anxious were they to get out of the Army that they “ swung the lead “ in the opposite direction, as ir. were. Their position under the act has been hopeless as the years have gone by and their disabilities have increased. When attending returned soldiers’ functions I have noticed that they toast absent comrades in these words -
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
But age does weary’ them. ITo man could endure four years of living hell without being affected in some way, even though he may appear to have emerged unscathed. Few, if any, men could withstand the stress of modern warfare without their expectancy of life being shortened, and their becoming prey to various disabilities. The act has always discriminated against men of. that class. After carefully reading the act and the bill, I consider that the onus of proof has not been removed from the appellant and placed upon the Repatriation Commission or the Appeal Tribunal. Before honorable members deal with’ this clause in committee, the Minister should consider the advisability of adopting the suggestion of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), whose idea appears to attain the objective of the parliamentary committee, namely, to establish the fact that the onus of proof, where any possible doubt exists, shall be removed from the appellant and rest with the commission.
– That is the object of the clause.
– The bill already makes that, provision.
– That may be the intention of the Minister; but the provision is not so clear as the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) believes.
– How should the position be clarified?
– By adopting the suggestion of the honorable member for Warringah. I invite the honorable member to give the Minister the benefit of his suggestion so that the issue may be clarified beyond all possible doubt. The attitude of the Minister demonstrates that he is sympathetic to the proposal. It does not really matter whether we consider that the rate of pension should be increased by 20 per cent, or 50 per cent.
In fact, our views on the general provisions of the bill are relatively unimportant unless we establish for returned soldiers their indisputable right to apply for the benefits provided by this legislation, and declare that the onus of proof shall rest with the Repatriation Commission or the appeals tribunals.
.- If ever a measure introduced in this chamber could be approached in a non-party spirit, it ought to be the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill 1943. Every honorable member represents approximately an equal number of persons who will participate in the benefits of this legislation. The bill is not sectional in character. It is not one in which more industrialists are concerned than farmers, or more clerks than “ navvies “. Every section of the community is represented and, therefore, we ought to divest ourselves of party motives and do what we consider is best in the interests of the returned soldiers. That is the motive which actuated the Government in preparing this legislation.
I congratulate the Government and the Minister’ on their approach to the problem. It could not have been more fair or reasonable. At the outset, the Government appointed an all-party committee, representing the United Country party, the United Australia party and the Labour party, and every member was a returned soldier. Consequently, in making their recommendations, they might have been expected to exhibit a partiality in favour of the returned soldiers. The House can properly feel that whatever omissions or commissions there may be in connexion with this bill, the members of the commitee who presented to the House the report upon which this legislation is based, acted in good faith and with entire sympathy for the returned soldiers. In seeking evidence, the committee obtained the assistance of returned soldiers’ organizations and other bodies interested in the welfare of returned soldiers. The committee took evidence from every one who was prepared to give it. Notable among those who tendered evidence was the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. That body is con ceded to be the representative organization of the returned soldiers of the last war, and I trust that it will be the representative organization of the returned soldiers of this war. I hope that no offshoot organization will arise as the result of various groups desiring something new. As one who has been a member of the league for more than twenty years, I believe that its members will be prepared to surrender all their rights, privileges and authority to soldiers returning from this war so soon as they are prepared to accept them.
The Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia tendered evidence to the parliamentary committee and the majority of its recommendations have been adopted. Some honorable members have debated the wisdom of increasing war pension rates by 20 per cent., 50 per cent, or an intermediate figure. All speakers concede that an increase should be granted, but opinion is divided as to whether it should be substantially greater than the parliamentary committee’s recommendation of 20 per cent. Incidentally, this rate of increase has been approved by the federal executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. The returned soldier is entitled to every reasonable benefit that the country can give to him in recognition of his service to Australia. Having been a soldier, I know that i.he majority of the returned men have a high sense of their civic responsibilities, and they realize . that the Treasury, particularly at the present time, is not overflowing with bullion. That is also the view of the league. There are limits to what the Government can do for the purpose of assisting any section of the community, whether it bc invalid and old-age pensioners or returned soldiers. Many of us would like to bestow greater benefits upon invalid and old-age pensioners, but we must a’ udy the economics of the matter, and the capacity of the country to bear the increased financial burden. If invalid and old-age pensions were increased to £2 or £3 a week, the economy of the country would be seriously affected and ultimately the pensioners themselves would suffer. The same principle applies, in some degree, to war pensions.
The Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia has generally endorsed, with few exceptions, the recommendations of the parliamentary committee. The great majority of returned soldiers are concerned, not so much with a general increase of pension rates, whether by 20 per cent., 30 per cent. or 50 per cent., but with the provision made for the widows and children of their comrades. As a member of the league for many years, I know that the members who have carried on the work of the branches, attended monthly meetings and annual reunions, and kept the league virile and active, were actuated, not by personal motives, but by a keen desire to protect the interests of others who have no one to fight for them. That is the objective of the league. I attach far more importance to the increased provision in this bill for soldiers’ children, wives and widows than I do to an allround increase of pension rates, which may have a popular appeal. I shall read a letter which I received yesterday from a widow of this war -
My husband died suddenly last June and my son, 19 years, is in New Guinea. I have a girl 16 years . . . then I have three boys - one 13, one 12 and one 10 years, and a daughter6 years … I have a war pension, £7 9s. per fortnight. I have been living with my people until this week since my husband’s death, and now I have rent to pay, 23s. per week, and at the present cost of living it is very hard to live. . . . My son put in for an allotment for me and it has not been granted on account of me drawing a war pension. … I am 45 years old and my health does not allow me to work. But I will have to do something, as it is impossible to manage on £3 4s.6d. with rent and keep a family.
The soldier, especially the man with a family, facing the likelihood of death has as his supreme thought what the consequences of his death will be to those whom he leaves behind. This country should so order its legislation that all anxiety shall be removed from the minds of its soldiers. Although I congratulate the committee on its excellent report, I must also say that there is a deficiency in the allowances recommended by it and those which should be paid to the wives, widows and children of soldiers. At present, as other honorable gentlemen have properly pointed out, a woman with three children receives, while her hus band is still serving, £51s. 6d. a week, but, when he is killed or dies, all she receives is £3 7s. 6d. In addition to the loss of her husband, she also faces a condition of almost destitution as a result of his death. That is the present law. I congratulate the Government on the efforts it is making to improve her lot by increasing the allowance that a widow with three children shall receive from £3 7s. 6d. to £4 7s. 6d.
– In addition, she gets an educational allowance for her children.
– Yes, and child endowment, which brings her income to more than £5 a week. In view of the fact that this bill immediately advantages a widow of a soldier by more than £1 a week, I cannot delay its passage.
I have no doubt that the Government is as anxious as are members of the Opposition to do the utmost for the soldiers, but there is a limit to the public purse, and, if the advantages of the soldier or any other section of the community are to be achieved by turning on the machinery of credit expansion, the ultimate result will be that the soldier on a fixed pension will suffer. The man who really needs assistance - the incapacitatedor blind soldier, who is entirely dependent on his pension - would be harmed more than anybody else by inflation. I am reliably informed that 83 per cent. of pensions of soldiers have other avenues of income. Their income from other sources rises and falls according to fluctuations of the cost of living, and they would not suffer nearly so much from inflation as would the totally and permanently incapacitated soldiers who are utterly dependent on their fixed pensions.
– Where would the safety-valve operate on credit expansion!
– That is very largely a matter of judgment. I do not want to enter into an argument now as to the financial policy of this Government, but both the Government and the Parliament have a grave responsibility to the community to hold down the evils of credit expansion, although I realize the difficulties which confront this Government in financing the war.
The bill greatly enhances the prospects nf claimants for pensions. Over the years I have discovered that it is frequently the good soldier who has the greatest difficulty in establishing a claim for a pension. Very often the good soldier refuses to report sick when he should. It is, not till fifteen and twenty years afterwards that he discovers his mistake and finds that whereas if he had reported sick when he felt sick his medical record would have shown the fact, and he would not have had to look around for his old commanding officer or other comrades in order to verify the fact that on suchandsuch a date in such-and-such a place he suffered from a certain complaint. I am glad, therefore, that this bill transfers the onus of proof to the Repatriation Commission. That is the most important advance, regardless of increases of pension, that returned soldiers have achieved.
When a man enters the Army to-day, his chest is X-rayed. Either the Department of the Army or the Repatriation Department, more properly the latter, should ensure that all soldiers on their discharge shall be similarly X-rayed, in order that there shall be positive proof for all time of the condition of the soldier on his discharge.
– That is now a matter foi the Army Department.
– At any rate, it should be done.
– The second X-ray should properly be a matter for the Repatriation Department.
– It would be helpful to us, but until a man is discharged he is under the authority of the Army.
– That ought to be a function of the Repatriation Commission, because on it the responsibility will later -be thrown.
– The record should be obtained whoever is responsible.
– Whatever we do about pensions we should be careful or we shall find ourselves overburdened with pensions of all kinds, and then the remainder of the community not on pensions will have the utmost difficulty in producing the goods and services required to supply the pensionable section. Persons who are entitled to war pensions should be able to get them without trouble; but those who “ swing the lead “ - and some are to be found in the Army, just as they are to be found in other sections of the community - should be treated as they deserve to be treated. We must face the fact that our expenditure on war pensions- will inevitably increase year by year. At the 30th June, 1940, 236,000 individuals, including exsoldiers and their wives, war widows, dependent children, and other dependent relatives, were drawing war pensions in respect of the 1914-18 war. As we sent about 330,000 service personnel abroad during that war, it will be seen that the number of pensioners is still equivalent to about three-quarters of the number who served in the war. We can take it for granted that, with the enlargement of the scope of war pensions provided for in this measure, the number of pensioners will increase enormously. I believe that within a few years 750,000 war pensioners will have to be provided for .in Australia. The question is, how far can we go? We should go to the absolute limit in respect of those who are totally incapacitated, and in respect of war widows and orphaned children.
I shall reserve any other remarks for the committee stage, but I earnestly request the Government to consider making arrangements to have every member of the fighting services X-rayed before discharge. That should be done in the interests of both the person concerned and the nation.
.- So much has already been said on this bill that it is difficult to break new ground. I congratulate the Government on its initiative in deciding to amend the existing act, and also upon its action in appointing the committee of exsoldier members of this Parliament to report upon repatriation matters in general. The all-party committee undoubtedly did a splendid job, and the Government has been greatly helped by its recommendations. The committee invited every member of the Parliament, by circular, to make suggestions to it. If some honorable members failed to accept the invitation, they, not the committee, are blameworthy.
Speaking in general terms, the Opposition has .been fair in its criticism of the measure; but I regret that some honorable members opposite have endeavoured to make party political capital out of it. I consider that the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) engaged in what might be called election auctioneering when he suggested that the all-round increase of pension rates should be 50 per cent. If the Government had proposed 50 per cent., I have not the slightest doubt that the honorable member would have asked for 52-J per cent. It is regrettable that he should endeavour to gain political kudos in that way. The bill is largely the result of the recommendations of the all-party committee, and, for that reason, it should be accepted.
Nothing that this country could do would be too good for the men and women who have fought on the field of battle to protect it. Those who have suffered great sacrifices on this account cannot be recompensed in terms of money. We should, however, do our utmost to avoid repeating the mistakes that were made in connexion with repatriation after the 1914-18 war. In particular, I hope that care will be ‘ taken to ensure that all returned men and women will be able to submit their claims, under favorable conditions, to the various tribunals that have been, or will be, established. Appellants against decisions of tribunals should be provided with free legal assistance, if necessary, in putting their case to the appeal bodies. Under existing conditions, many returned men labour under a great disability, for they are not able properly to present their case, and they cannot afford to engage legal assistance for the purpose. I have in mind the case of a man who, on his return from the last war, was granted a pension which he drew for eight years. He was then convicted of drunkenness, and his pension was- cancelled. Although he has appealed from one tribunal to another, he has not been able to regain his pension. It seems- to me that the appeal procedure under the existing act is tantamount to an appeal from Caesar to Caesar. If, let us say, the Deputy Commissioner for Repatriation in Western Australia makes an adverse report on a certain case, his decision is accepted by the Deputy Commissioners of the other States. In such circumstances, appellants should be provided with legal assistance to ensure the proper presentation of their claims-. I have had a good deal to do with the Workers’ Compensation Act in Western Australia. Provision is made in that measure for claimants to obtain free legal assistance if they cannot afford to pay for such help. A similar provision should be included in our repatriation legislation. Unfortunately, medical opinion may vary in relation to the same individual. I have obtained a different opinion on the same case from several doctors in Western Australia, and I believe that I could obtain ten different opinions from ten doctors in relation to the same set of circumstances. I am speaking at the moment about workers’ compensation cases; but, to a considerable degree, the same is true of medical opinion in relation to claims for war pensions. If claimants are dissatisfied with the treatment they receive, they should be given opportunity, by the provision of legal assistance and otherwise, to obtain a review of their cases.
I listened with great interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Wannon (M.r. McLeod), in relation to soldier land settlement after the last war. The honorable gentleman spoke from practical experience. We all are well aware that many returned soldiers, particularly in Western Australia, were induced by the Commonwealth Government to take up land in what are known as marginal areas. After a heartbreaking battle against overwhelming odds, including high bank interest, and the over-capitalization of properties, many of these men had to surrender their holdings. In fact, they lost all they had.
The development of this country is dependent upon decentralization. For too long has Australia fostered centralization, which has caused very great detriment to its future welfare. The post-war scheme of repatriation should provide that returned soldiers who came off the land to join the fighting forces shall have the benefit of a liberal scheme that will enable them to develop the hinterland. The experience that we have gained will stand to us in the consideration of the claims of exsoldiers in the post-war period. Men will not be sent to marginal areas. The 5’olicy of expending millions of pounds on ams and reservoirs in areas which lack the necessary rainfall, will be abandoned, and these will be built in rainfall areas. Kalgoorlie could not have existed but for the foresight of great men at whose instigation catchment areas were provided where rain fell. If such a scheme could succeed in a mining community, it could be equally successful in a farming community. All these factors must he taken into consideration because, after the war, this Government and country will be faced with the problem of rehabilitating ex-soldiers in such a way that they will have some degree of security in the future.
I conclude by again appealing to the Minister to consider the granting of legal assistance to men who have not the ability to state their case before a tribunal and are not financially able to pay for the appearance of a representative on their behalf. Men who have been able to state their own case or who have had financial backing, have succeeded in obtaining a pension, whereas many deserving men have had to go without it because they have not been able to state their own case.
I congratulate the Government because what it has done must be accepted by the people of Australia. In the first place, it appointed a committee from both chambers representing all parties “in this Parliament. That committee brought down recommendations to which it had given very serious consideration. The chairman of the committee, the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), commands the utmost respect in this Parliament. He has given of his best, and I am sure that every member of the committee worked in complete cooperation with him. Consequently, I consider that the advice tendered is so comprehensive that honorable members have been left without scope for the presentation of a substantial case without reference to the reports.
– I shall show my appreciation of the Minister and the Government, not only by casting a vote in favour of the measure, but also in the few remarks that I shall make concerning it. At the committee stage, we shall have an opportunity that we have not had for years, to attempt to dispose of many grievances. I realize that there is difference of opinion as to the amount by which the pension rates should be increased. The last speaker has referred to some honorable members on this side as having been insincere and merely playing at party politics in their advocacy of an increase of 50 per cent. I do not subscribe to that view. An honorable member on this side can be just as honest in advocating 50 per cent, as another honorable member on the Government benches in advocating 20 per cent. Before the debate commenced, I had intended to advocate an increase of 50 per cent. The ex-soldiers are a well organized body, with branches throughout the Commonwealth, including every part of my electorate. A score or more sent to me weeks ago telegrams seeking my support for an increase of 50 per cent. They did not do that from party considerations. They had studied the measure in their branches, and considered that they were entitled to an increase of 50 per cent. There is strong evidence in favour of such an increase. It would merely maintain the position which the ex-soldiers held a couple of years ago. At the same time, I realize the circumstances of the present day and the difficulties with which the Government is confronted. We may help to mould and shape legislation, but those who have to finance it are financing also the whole of the war operations. Unless we can persuade the Government to make alterations, our efforts will be futile. 1 do not propose to embarrass the Government. I hope that we shall be able to reason with it in committee, and that it may see fit to grant a portion of what is desired. I am not now advocating an increase of 50 per cent., because I realize that we “ could not get away with it “ ; but I trust that there will be some sort of compromise. The Minister has already made certain compromises. He did what was to his credit when he accepted practically 99 per cent, of the recommendations of the joint parliamentary committee. A committee of ordinary members might have made recommendations that would not be so acceptable to the Government. Looking back, one realizes that the hardest friend of the ex-soldier has sometimes been an ex-soldier. When Sir Neville Howse was Minister for Repatriation fifteen years ago, honorable members went to him with case after case. He would turn them down on Monday and Tuesday, but if they kept at him from Wednesday to Saturday, they would generally get what they were seeking. There was a belief among the returned soldiers in the House at the time that he was a hard man to deal with; consequently, it was decided that the matter should be taken from the Minister and placed under a tribunal of returned soldiers. Sir Neville Howse was pleased to be rid of it, because it was such a worrying business soon after the war. Subsequently, our efforts on behalf of ex-soldiers did not meet with equal success. There was no “Monday to Saturday; come again next week”. The ex-soldier put his case to a tribunal, and if it were rejected it would remain in that state. The ex-soldiers on the tribunal were harder upon him than the Minister would have been. On the present occasion, we have had from a committee of returned soldiers what, in my opinion, is a most conservative report. I should like it to go much further ; nevertheless, it is hard to battle against it. The Government, having pinned its faith to the committee and having accepted 99 per cent, of its recommendations, will be difficult to move further. It has, however, made a long step in the right direction. We hope to clear up some of the matters that have been troubling us for a long time. The debate has shown that the measure is not a party one. The returned soldier may rest assured that, having the Parliament behind him, his lot in the future will be brighter than it has been in the past. It is a treat to discuss a measure of this kind. Although our opinions differ, that is only because one wants to outdo the other. The atmosphere is entirely different from that which surrounds the consideration of a measure which causes party feelings to run high. I give to the bill my wholehearted support, and shall endeavour to make it more liberal. Even if I do not succeed, I shall still congratulate the Government on its introduction.
.- Before this Parliament was called together on the last occasion, I was firmly opposed to the results of the committee’s labours, despite the fact that it was wholly composed of returned soldiers from both Houses of this Parliament. I considered that it had not gone far enough. But having read the report and the second-reading speech of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost),- and having attended conferences and party meetings I now consider that the bill is a fine one, indeed. However, there are still anomalies which can be rectified. I hope that some of them will be adjusted by this bill, and those that are not, in the near future.
The House listened for about an hour to the explanation of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), of the circumstances in which the principal act had been passed. He assured this House that it was a very good measure. He broke down a lot of my opposition to the proposed increase of 20 per cent. ; because, if the original act was generous, the existing provision, with an increase of 20 per cent, on the pension rate, must also be generous. I am prepared to give to the returned soldiers of this and the last war, whatever the Parliament may consider they should have. I do not agree with the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), that money is a factor in repatriation. Australia is expending £1,500,000 daily for destructive purposes. Surely when the war is over it will not be too much to ask the people to pay taxes for the rehabilitation of the men and women who have protected them and made this country safe ! Therefore, I do not consider that money is one of the fundamentals of the measure.
Much has been said about the widows and orphans of men who have been killed overseas. I appeal to the Minister not to spoil a good measure by being ungenerous to those pensioners. I realize that he has gone a long way in having granted an increase of approximately £1 to those widows and children. Nothing would compensate a wife for the loss of a good husband, or children for the loss of a good father. Therefore, if it be necessary to make the proposed further slight increase of 14s. on their behalf in order to make the amounts equal to those received during the lifetime of the soldier the Government could well make it. The increase of 12s. 6d. in respect of each child, is generous. But the mother does not receive any child endowment in respect of the first child; therefore, the least the Minister could do would be to increase by 5s. the allowance payable in respect of that child, thus conferring a great benefit on both the mother and the children. I appeal to him to be generous to war widows. The Government should be generous in its treatment of tubercular soldiers. During the last war men who volunteered for overseas service - and all those who served overseas were volunteers - were not X-rayed. There are not so many “ burntout “ diggers receiving a service pension, which, together with the invalid pension, amounts to only £1 18s. 6d. a week. I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis). It would mean a difference of only lis. 6d. a week for each pensioner, or £600 a week altogether - the cost of one bomb. The Minister proposes to set up a medical board so that persons who have previously been turned down may have another hearing. I remind him that, in my part of Queensland, there are only four recognized specialists on tuberculosis. All applicants for pensions have been before these specialists in the past, and it is not likely that the specialists will change their opinion of the cases now. Sufferers from tuberculosis need more nourishment and greater care than do healthy persons, and what is £500 a week in these days? Even after the war, people should be prepared to pay taxes in order to protect those who are now protecting us. I am glad that the Government proposes to make cash advances in certain circumstances to returned- soldiers who marry. Those advances should be available for a period of fifteen years after the discharge of the soldier, or for the same period as applies to other marriage benefits.
– That is provided for in the bill.
– I am glad to hear that. I commend the decision of the Government to allow the special parliamentary committee on repatriation to continue functioning in the future. Anomalies are bound to arise in the administration of the act, and these can be referred to the committee by the Minister for Repatriation or by ex-servicemen’s organizations or by this Parliament. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) appealed to the Government not to place returned soldiers from this war On unsuitable land, as was done after the last war. I suggest that the parliamentary committee on repatriation should investigate various land settlement propositions. There is more justification for the appointment of a standing committee on repatriation than for the Standing Committee on Broadcasting.
The membership of the Repatriation Commission should be increased. Three of the members of the present commission have served on it for over twenty years, but there should also be a member who has served in the present war, some one like Lieutenant Cutler, V.C., for instance. After the war, the commission will have to rehabilitate tens of thousands of women discharged from the various auxiliary services. One woman has already been killed in action. The sooner a woman is appointed to the commission the better. I was pleased to note that it is proposed to place on the Repatriation Commission the onus of proof in regard to claims for pensions.
– I assure the honorable member that the bill will make no difference in that regard.
– The Minister has stated that the onus of proof is in future to rest on the commission, and I am prepared to accept his assurance in preference to the statement of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender). I know one man who served in Palestine and Ceylon for two years. Some months ago, he was discharged from the forces, and was refused a pension for a foot disability on the ground that the disability existed at the time of his enlistment. It seems to me that that man has a just claim for a pension. I trust that the bill will have a speedy passage through the committee, so that it may come into operation as soon as possible. It will be necessary to provide vocational training for many of those discharged from the forces. About 40 per cent, of the men of the first division who went overseas were unemployed at the time of their enlistment. One of the functions of the parliamentary committee on repatriation should be to ensure that men are not discharged from the Army until such time as they oan be absorbed into industry. They should be kept on the pay-roll until a place for them is found in civil life. They should not be allowed to walk the streets unemployed and unprovided for, as happened after the last war. The parliamentary committee has done an excellent job, and has brought in recommendations of great value to the Government. I pay tribute to the Clerk of the House, Mr. Green, for the work which he did as secretary to the committee. I am pleased that the Government proposes to provide free legal advice for returned soldiers and their dependants who apply for pensions.
– I had not intended Ito speak on the motion for the second reading of this bill, because so many admirable speeches have already been made upon it, and all of them in support of the measure. I have risen for the sole purpose of supporting, as strongly as I can, what I regard as a very valuable suggestion, which came from the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), namely, that an X-ray should be taken of all soldiers before their discharge from the forces. Such X-ray records might provide valuable evidence in years to come if a man applies for a pension in respect of some disease or disability which cannot be directly linked up with anything that happened to him during his war service. “While in many instances the X-ray might reveal nothing, there would probably be others in which it would help to decide the issue fairly and properly. I urge the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) to give the proposal full consideration. It was remarked by the honorable member for Richmond, and the Minister -seemed to concur, that the taking of such X-rays would be a matter for the Minister for the Army rather than for the Minister for Repatriation. In my opinion, however, while the taking of X-rays immediately after the enlistment of a recruit is the concern of the Department of the Army, the taking of X-iw.ys prior to the soldiers’ discharge should be the concern of the Repatriation Department. The object of taking another X-ray would undoubtedly be for repatriation purposes. Nothing but good could come from it. Undoubtedly, it would be a big job to take X-rays of hundreds of thousands of men; but if it could be done when they entered the forces, it can be done when they are discharged.
Like other honorable members, I congratulate the parliamentary committee on its excellent job in preparing its report. I also congratulate the Government on accepting so many of the committee’s recommendations. I was particularly impressed by the forthright speech of the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald), when he reminded, the House and the country that every member of the committee was a soldier who saw front-line service in the last war, and who bears on his body the mark of a wound. That, in itself, is evidence that the findings of this committee are based on a sympathetic understanding of the problems. The composition of the committee, in its non-party character, and the unanimity of the views of members, entitle its findings to be treated with great respect. I shall support the motion for the second reading of the bill, but in committee I shall vote for the amendment forecast by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) regarding tubercular soldiers. Too much cannot be done for them, not only in the interests of themselves and their dependants, but also from the standpoint of public health. Steps should also be taken to ensure that a widow and her children shall not be placed in a worse position financially than she was before the death of her husband. These two points should receive attention. I have pleasure in supporting the motion for the second reading of the bill.
– in reply - I do not propose to analyse every matter raised by honorable members in the course of this debate, but I shall direct my remarks to the most important subjects. The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) may have misunderstood me when I referred to the granting of loans, to married soldiers. A gift of £75 will be made to totally and permanently incapacitated men, blinded members, or widows with children, to enable them to purchase furniture ; but no loan will be granted to a soldier who is about to get married. The Government did not accept that recommendation of the parliamentary committee.
After listening to honorable members debate this bill, I am convinced that some of them misunderstand the provisions of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, and the proposed amendments. When introducing the bill, I took the opportunity to give a lengthy explanation of some of the more important matters relating to repatriation, in the hope of clarifying the position; but it appears that there still remains a good deal to explain. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) raised an interesting point relating to the payment of pensions to a member of the women’s services who married a man of the forces, and the eligibility of the children concerned to receive dependants’ allowances. An incapacitated woman member can receive an incapacity pension, and if her husband is also an incapacitated member she is entitled, in her right of relationship as a wife, to receive pension also in rerespect of his incapacity, at the appropriate rate for a wife. In the case of a woman member, the children are not eligible for a pension if the mother’s incapacity is less than 50 per cent. If both the mother and the father of the children are incapacitated members, the children shall receive a pension alt the rate appropriate to the degree of the father’s incapacity or the mother’s incapacity, whichever is the higher, provided the mother’s incapacity is assessed at 50 per cent, or more.
Several honorable members referred to the cost of living, and apparently took exception to certain figures which I cited in my second-reading speech. I desire to make it clear that any figures so cited were obtained by the officials of the Repatriation Commission from the Commonwealth Statistician’s office. I did not contend that the increased rates proposed in the bill are directly related to the cost of living. Of course, it cannot be denied that the cost of living was one of the factors which were considered in regard to the whole matter. It was necessary to make some reference to the cost of living figures in. 1920 compared with those of December, 1942, and also refer to the basic wage for those years, because some extraordinary references to these figures were made by persons who desired war pensions to be increased by 50 per cent. The ‘ parliamentary committee recommended an increase of 20 per cent., and the Government accepted that figure. If honorable members who raised this matter are not prepared to accept the official Commonwealth figures, it is difficult to know what will satisfy them. Although I have made it abundantly clear that the war pension is not to be related to the cost of living, I quote the following figures, which have been officially submitted to me: -
Therefore, ,’the basic wage for December, 1942, is 11.6 per cent, higher than that in 1920.
– How did the Government decide that war pensions should be increased by 20 per cent. ?
– The honorable member does not appear to want to know the answer. The explanation was given last night by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald).
– I should like :the Minister to explain it to me.
– I shall not attempt to do so. The honorable member must be dense if the honorable member for Corangamite could not make him understand it.
– Does the Minister understand iti
– Then tell me.
Mr. FROST. The honorable member does not want to know the answer. He has advocated an increase of 50 per cent., but when he was the Commonwealth Treasurer he made no effort to increase war pensions. If he had a plan, he kept it “ under his hat “. Now, he repeats the silly parrot cry, “How did the Government decide on an increase of 20 per cent, f “. I also mentioned in my second-reading speech that although wages, invalid and old-age pensions and other payments associated with the cost of living or the basic wage would be reduced in the event of a decline of the cost of living, war pensions would not be reduced. Some honorable members have asked whether the pension rates fixed in 1920 were considered adequate. Until the commencement of this war, the question was hardly ever raised, and few requests were made for increased rates of pensions. That, in itself, is evidence that pension rates prior to this war were reasonable. The bone of contention of most persons who have interested themselves in repatriation affairs for many years has been not the rates of pension but the matter of entitlement. Those persons whose claims for pensions were successful were, generally speaking, satisfied.
The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) referred ,to the assessment of pensions by service medical boards prior to the discharge of the member, and the acceptance of these assessments by the Repatriation Commission. He was very much at sea on this matter, especially when he made the point that, because men had been accepted as fit on enlistment when they were actually drawing invalid pensions and special rate war pensions, boards consisting of the services medical men were, in effect, incompetent to express an opinion on the question of assessment. But there is a difference between medically examining a man at the time of enlistment and at the time of discharge. This will be obvious to most honorable members.
As I explained in my- second-reading speech, many disabilities or diseases are practically undiscoverable unless with the full co-operation of the enlistee, and consequently many men suffering from severe disabilities are enlisted” because the enlistee does not disclose the full facts. But, when a man has been examined for discharge purposes, the examining doctors have the whole of the medical papers before them. This shows the details of the man’s own statement in regard to his disability when serving in the forces, either in Australia or overseas, and the reason the man has been admitted to hospital, and various other matters of vital importance. I can only repeat that insistence by the department on the re-examination of all men before pensions could be granted, would delay the completion of claims. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) omitted to state that if a man is dissatisfied with his assessment he can appeal against the rate.
The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) (raised the matter of the onus of proof as applying to cases of aggravation of a prior-to-enlistment disability. I can assure him, and all honorable members, that, although particular reference to aggravation cases has not been made in the new clause dealing with onus of proof, it is covered in a much more satisfactory way. The amendment to section 39b makes it clear that the onus of proof shall lie with the commission, a board, an appeal tribunal, or an assessment tribunal, as to any question whatsoever which arises for decision under his claim, application, or appeal. It -is therefore unnecessary to refer to the question of aggravation specifically. I am prepared to accept the amendment which the right honorable member for North Sydney and the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) have drafted.
The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) and several other speakers referred to the so-called insurance principle in the Canadian act. This matter was so exhaustively covered in my second-reading speech that I should not be justified in taking up the time of this House again in repeating what I then said. I therefore content myself with saying that this principle has been in the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act since 1920, and has wider application here than it has in Canada. Themain difference between the Canadian legislation and the Australian, on this point, is that in Canada it has no application to those who serve in Canada only, but only operates where the member has served in a theatre of actual war, whereas the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act allows of partial application of the principle to those who served only in Australia.
The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) referred to the right of soldier organizations to nominate representatives on the Repatriation Commission, State boards and tribunals. The act already provides that any organization representing returned soldiers throughout the Commonwealth shall be eligible to submit names for selection for these positions. It will be obvious, however, that regard must be given in selecting these nominees to the representative nature of the organization concerned. The honorable member for Kennedy also spoke of the need for extension of repatriation general benefits to home service personnel. I should like to make it clear that this is one of the main features of the present bill, and was fully dealt with in my second-reading speech. There also seems to be some misunderstanding regarding the evidence available to advocates in presenting cases before the tribunals. It is quite unfair to say that when these men appear before the tribunals they are fighting “ something unseen “. All evidence is made available beforehand on the authority of the appellant. I do not know of one case where this has been refused ; but, if it has, it certainly would not have been against the interests of the soldier or dependant concerned. The appointment of legal advocates would not in any way affect the position. Honorable members will be interested to learn that considerable progress has been made in the administrative aspects of educational and vocational training of members of the forces. On the 2nd March, War Cabinet approved that a Reconstruc tion Training Committee should be set up to -
This committee will be responsible to the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction. To assist a committee within the fighting services, which includes the Second Naval Member, the Adjutant-General, the Air Member for Personnel, and also representatives of the Treasury and the Department of Reconstruction, there will be a working committee of the officers of the services who are directly concerned. The working committee will collaborate in the preparation of education and information programmes, as distinct from programmes for vocational and cultural courses, for the services, and for the Department of Post-war Reconstruction in relation to the services. Prior to the cessation of hostilities, vocational training in the services will be limited to the commencement of training of war-damaged personnel, provision for leisure-time activities, correspondence courses, and other methods. Members of the forces who have enlisted or been appointed or called up for full-time duty for the duration of the war and have been honorably discharged after at least six months’ service will be eligible under certain conditions for full-time professional or vocational training or part-time efficiency training. These members of the forces will include the women’s auxiliary services of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. It is not intended to restrict training after discharge to full-time courses; therefore, spare-time training will be available to those who have commenced and shown aptitude for a course of cultural or general education under the services education schemes, or as prisoners of war, and are desirous of completing them. I am most gratified to be in a position to say that training either as full or part time study will be made available to war widows. At the moment the Reconstruction Training Committee is working hard to give effect to these decisions of War Cabinet, which are in keeping with the recommendations of the parliamentary committee; in effect, these are that all members of the forces after discharge who are considered suitable for training shall be eligible to apply.
– Will the principle recommended by the parliamentary special committee be followed by the subcommittee of the War Cabinet?
– 4 Y es. That is being done now. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Beck), asked that the wives of pensionable returned soldiers who married after 1938, the year which the principal act prescribes as the year before which soldiers from the last war must have married in order that their wives should qualify for pensions, be granted a pension ; he said that very few would be affected. If granted, the concession would apply to 2,298 wives, at a cost of £46,000 per annum, and to 8,000 children, at a cost of £65,000 per annum.
– ‘What about the second wives of widowed, incapacitated soldiers ?
– The request made by the honorable member on their behalf was made to me by the organizations representing the blinded and limbless returned soldiers. We are investigating it. We hope to reach a decision favorable to the returned soldiers concerned. I do not know that we could extend the period in which the marriage must have been performed; but we hope to be able to give some recompense to those soldiers for the loss of their wives.
– What about the tubercular soldiers?
– That matter will be investigated. I am as anxious as are all honorable members to do all that can be done to assist tubercular soldiers. I do not know that I have the right to separate tubercular soldiers from soldiers suffering from other grave disabilities. We are following as closely as we can the recommendations of the special parliamentary committee on repatriation. I am glad that honorable members have respected the request I made to them in my second-reading speech that they should deal with this subject on non-party lines. As the result, excellent speeches have been made, and I am quite certain that the representatives of the various returned soldiers’ organizations, who have been closely following the progress of this measure, will realize that all honorable members are resolved to do all that they possibly can for returned soldiers.; I include even the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. .Spender), with whom I have crossed swords. I credit the honorable member with having been sincere in his proposal that the rates of pension be increased by 50 per cent. The return to the chamber of the Government Whip (Mr. Conelan) prompts me to repeat for his benefit that no marriage loans are made to soldiers on their return from war. The Government has decided that a gift of £75 shall be paid to totally and permanently incapacitated soldiers on their marriage.
– Is there a time limit?
– I understand that there is not. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) and the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) asked that the examination by X-ray of troops when they enter the armed forces be repeated on their discharge. I have been informed by my department that arrangements have been made to X-ray the troops on their discharge. I understand that all members of the Australian Imperial Force who have been discharged have been X-rayed, and that the department is endeavouring to X-ray as many members of the home forces a? possible on their discharge from the Army.
– That will not help the soldiers much; in fact, it will be used against them.
– It should help all concerned.
– It ought to resolve doubtful cases.
– Will the Minister consider the desirability of fixing the pension for children .at the flat rate of 15s. ?
– The parliamentary special committee on repatriation recommended 12s. 6d. Previously the pension was 10s. for the first child and 7s. 6d. for each subsequent child. That is a rise of 66§ per cent, for all children after the first child. As the honorable member for Richmond has said, the widow and her family will have a better chance to live under this bill than they have had up to now. I concede that the allowances for widows and children have been rather low. I am impelled to point out to honorable members that a woman who loses her husband is at a disadvantage, whatever her station in life. It is not likely that the country would agree to continue to pay to the widow of an honorable member of this House the allowance that she received through him when he was alive.
– That is hardly a parallel. Surely the widows of men who forfeit their lives on active service are deserving of special consideration.
– We are trying to be fair. Honorable members will realize that I should like to be able to bestow gifts with both hands, but that I must have full regard to what is in the public purse. The standing committee which is to be appointed will closely watch the operation of this legislation, and, whatever party is in power, the first opportunity will be taken to remove any injustice to the returned soldiers.
– Will the appointment of that standing committee be provided for in this measure?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
. -I move -
That the clause be postponed, as an instruction to the Government - that wherever in this bill the rates of pension payable under the principal act have not been increased by 50 per centum they should be so increased.
I wish to address myself to factors which support the views of those honorable members who consider that the rates should be increased by 50 per cent. Those honorable members who have advocated a 20 per cent, increase are no doubt quite sincere in their view, but, on behalf of the honorable members from New South Wales, who have been charged with having adopted a “ popular front “ attitude on this issue, I say that no section of this committee has a monopoly of sincerity. I regret that certain honorable gentlemen have accused me of challenging the whole report of the committee of ex-soldier members of the Parliament which made recommendations on this bill. There is nothing in what I have said or done to support such a charge. The views that have been expressed in support of a 20 per cent, increase may be advanced also to support an increase in excess of 20 per cent. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner) said to-day that he thought 20 per cent, was not a sufficient increase, but that an increase of 25 per cent, would be reasonable. At least the honorable member considers that a figure above 20 per cent, should be adopted. I agree with those honorable members who consider that a proposal for any increase must depend, to a large degree, on arbitrary considerations, but that does not dispose of the equity of the claim of honorable gentlemen who consider that the increase should be 50 per cent. As I understand the subject, the basis upon which the special committee proceeded was that there had been an increase of 11.6 per cent, in the cost of living between November, 1939, and December, 1942. The 8.4 per cent, which made up their 20 per cent, was apparently based on other considerations, but I think it fair to observe, as the honorable member for Robertson said this afternoon, that it is. impossible to ascertain the precise basis on which the committee recommended 20 per cent. I find myself unable to agree that the 20 per cent, has any real basis.
I direct attention to certain factors which, in my opinion, justify an increase of 50 per cent. I am not under any misapprehension about the desire of exsoldiers to avoid a “ means “ test, but I fail completely to understand by what process of reasoning it can be contended that a means test is avoided by an increase of 20 per cent., and not avoided by an increase of 50 per cent. It most be borne in mind that the basic rates are being fixed in this bill and that they are not being tied ir any way to the cost of living index figure or to a “ means “ test. I shall ask honorable gentlemen a series of questions. The first is: Were the pension rates, originally fixed, fair and reasonable? vI agree with those honorable members who have contended that we must be, not merely just, but also generous, in this matter. I have been told that if we increase the rate by 50 per cent, we shall encourage unsound finance. It is also said that the country cannot afford such an increase. I point out that the national income of Australia has increased by more than 50 per cent, since 1920 and now totals more than £1,000,000,000 per anum. As to whether the country cannot afford the increase I propose, I remind this committee that a few days ago a bill was passed through this House which allocated £30,000,000 per annum for various still undefined social welfare measures which include health services, unemployment and sickness benefits, family allowances, and the like. We must assume that that measure will be passed by the Senate. In view of the fact that the Parliament is prepared to set aside £30,000,000 per .annum for general social welfare purposes in respect of the whole community, are honorable members justified in saying that the country cannot afford to provide an extra £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 a year for the dependants of the men who fought and died for Australia, and for other service personnel who will return to this country to take up the duty of providing for their dependants? I submit that we can well afford to increase war pensions by 50 per cent. In the opinion of many people well qualified to express an opinion on the subject, the rates of pension provided in the 1920 act were not, in any sense, generous. I therefore take the point that those of us who are supporting a proposal for a 50 per cent, increase, are not actuated by a mere desire to capture the popular imagination. We believe that the original rates were inadequate.
The next question I ask is: Does the proposed increase of 20 per cent, bear any relation to the improved social outlook of Australia? I do not think it can be denied that, quite apart from statistics, a substantial uplift has occurred in the social conditions of the country in the last 25 years. We are in duty bound, therefore, to readjust war pensions accordingly. I do not desire to labour that point.
My next question is: Has the increase of 20 per cent, been considered in relation to the diminishing purchase power of money? I reiterate that I understand the view of the soldiers in relation to the attachment of the pension rate to cost of living figures. But the Government has made no suggestion that that is being done. Yet it cannot be denied, I think, that war pensions should be related, in some degree, to the diminishing purchasing power of money. This tendency, which has been so manifest for the last two years, will inevitably continue, irrespective of the government in power, and it is a factor that should be considered.
Another question I ask is : Has the proposed increase of 20 per cent, been considered in relation to the increased pay of soldiers in this war, compared with the rates payable during the last war? The special committee reported that present rates of pay for soldiers were 41 per cent, above those received by soldiers in the last war. Surely that is a factor that should be considered in relation to war pensions, but I cannot reconcile it with the proposed increase of 20 per cent. I question whether the special committee fully considered this aspect.
The next question I ask is: Can the rates of pay for soldiers be fairly compared with the rates of pay for civilian workers? That factor should be considered in determining what increase should be made to the basic rate of war pensions. I also ask: Was the proposed increase of 20 per cent considered in relation to the increase that has occurred in invalid and old-age pensions? We have been informed that invalid and oldage pensions have increased 75 per cent, since 1917.
I do not suggest that we shall find a certain guide in the answer to any one of the questions that I have asked; but all these factors deserve consideration in determining this issue. I draw attention to certain results that will accrue under this measure. I asked the Minister whether he would consider an increase to 15s. of the minimum rate for a child. He replied that he had given consideration to the matter, but that the Government would not budge. I cannot understand why such a reasonable request should be declined. A woman whose husband is alive and is in one of the services receives a compulsory allowance of £1 10s. 6d. a week; a dependant’s allowance of £1 lis. 6d. a week; for the first child, £1 ls. a week, and for the second child, 14s. a week; a total of £4 lis. a week. If her husband is killed, she receives £2 10s. a week, plus £1 5s. a week for two children, a total of £3 15s. a week. The Minister has said that if a civilian dies the widow has suffered the loss of the breadwinner. That is true. He has also said that if a member of this House dies it is not suggested that his widow should continue to receive his salary. That, too, is true. But here we are dealing with men who make the great sacrifices which servicemen are called upon to make so that honorable members of this House and civilians may survive. Therefore, there is no analogy between the widow of a civilian and the widow of a serviceman. To my mind, there is no justification for the difference between what a woman widowed in such circumstances receives immediately upon the death of her husband, and that which she receives while he is alive.
I also draw attention to the provisions in respect of men who receive more than the basic rate of pay. According to the schedule, the widows of all ranks receiving up to £4 8s. a fortnight are to receive £5 a fortnight. Therefore, the widows of all men who received between 7s. and 18s. a day will be on exactly the same basis. I can see no justification whatever for that. Men who rise to commissioned rank make a certain allotment from their pay to their wives and children. The wives conduct the household in accordance with that standard; they have their children educated at decent schools and in other respects live up to their income. Suddenly, because of the death of the husband, the widow is reduced to £2 10s. a week for herself and 12s. 6d. a week for each child. I cannot find in anything that has been said during the debate support for such a proposition. If the committee will not go so far as the amendment proposes, it should at least improve the position of widows and children. If a general dies, his widow receives £3 8s. a week, compared with £2 10s. a week for the widow of a private on the lowest pay. That may be regarded by some members as proper provision for the dependants of soldiers, and encouragement to men to rise to commissioned rank, but it leaves me entirely cold.
It has been said that the amendment is certain to be lost. I have yet to learn that that is a reason why it should not be moved. I can recollect many motions being submitted in the five years during which I have been a member of the House, which obviously could not succeed. The important point is, that if one believes in and strongly adheres to a particular view, the opportunity should be given to honorable members to express an opinion concerning it. I hold this view strongly, and I resent very deeply the questioning of my sincerity. Three members on this side of the House have supported my view. I expressed it officially as far back as 1941. I have been asked why I have not spoken about it since, and why I have not engaged in a public campaign. Had I done so, I would have been accused of making a popular appeal. This is the first opportunity which honorable members in this chamber have had to discuss the matter. We should determine whether or not 20 per cent, is a fair increase on the base rates. I hope that if we do not succeed in securing the increase of 50 per cent., we shall at least induce the committee to raise the rate above the 20 per cent, proposed, which I regard as too low.. I am conscious of the fact that I am in the minority; but whatever the views of other honorable members may ;be I cling steadfastly to the opinion that an increase of 20 per cent, is not sufficient. I trust that the Minister will discover a formula for increasing the rates of widows and children; that he will accept my proposition of a basic rate of 15s. for each child, which cannot be gainsaid having regard to the rates paid for the support of a child while the soldier is alive. I urge the committee and the Minister not to leave the matter to be dealt with in the future, but to give consideration to it now. If 50 per cent, is not acceptable, the feeling of the committee will be tested by a subsequent amendment that the rate shall be 33 per cent.
In fixing the rates for incapacitated soldiers, regard must be had to the fact that many of them are only partially incapacitated and are receiving a small pittance under the existing rates. An increase of the basic rates will improve their lot. There is every justification for an increase above the 20 per cent, proposed. The contention that the matter should be left to the proposed standing committee does not meet the case. The rates must’ be fixed here and now. It is idle to contend that we shall have a further opportunity to consider whether or not a further increase should be granted. The determination that the increase shall now be 20 per cent, will be almost an instruction to the standing committee that that, in the view of this chamber, should be the increase on the basic rates of 1920.
– The Government does not intend to accept the amendment. I cannot understand the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) , who repeated at least 50 times that he did not consider that an increase of 20 per cent, is sufficient. He has not advanced any reason for making the increase 50 per cent. He has challenged every honorable member on this side of the committee to show why 20 per cent, had been selected. Six mem bers of this House and the Senate investigated the matter for weeks, and, having given it every consideration, recommended an increase of 20 per cent. The recommendation of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia was that the increase should be 18 per cent. The honorable member knows quite well that the Government is dealing justly with ex-soldiers.
– I do not consider that it is.
– The honorable member stated that the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) had said that the country could not afford a greater increase. Although I listened attentively to the honorable member for Corangamite, I did not hear him make that statement. The Government does not look to what the country can afford in this matter ; its desire is to do justice to the soldiers, and that is what it will do.
The honorable member asked whether the original pension was a just one. I do not believe that the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who was responsible for the rate that was then fixed, endeavoured to squeeze the ex-soldiers; he treated them justly. After the last war, when values were inflated, the men were given a very generous pension. The honorable member has said that it ought to have been more; but it was considered just at the time. He has also referred to an improvement of the social conditions and the depreciation of the value of money. That is a very poor argument. Who will say that money has lost its value ?
– What was previously worth £5 is now worth only £4.
– That is “bunkum”. The honorable member for Warringah is one of those who would do anything to gain their own ends. The £1 has still the same value. He has referred to the increase of invalid and old-age pensions. Labour members had to fight hard to secure the increase to 26s. a week. He has referred also to the increase of pay granted to soldiers. We had to fight desperately to raise the rate above 5s. a day. We had to bluff the former Government. The honorable gentleman was sent to Sydney with the budget that was introduced when he was Minister for Defence. The honorable member changed his mind in the same way as he did last week. When he returned, he agreed to increase the rate of soldiers’ pay, but had it not been for us, the rate would still have been 5s. a day. Now he stands forward as the generous man demanding that the Government shall increase pensions by 50 per cent. In my opinion, he does not mean what he says; he knows that the amendment will be defeated.
– Will the Minister tell me how the 20 per cent. increase was arrived at?
– That was explained by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) and the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), but the honorable member has forgotten already. The Government does not propose to accept the amendment.
.- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I have considered the suggestion that the House should meet at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning, but, as I announced earlier, a meeting of the Advisory War Council has been called for that hour and it is desirable that the meeting be held. There are several Ministers on the council, and also senior members of the Opposition. It is undesirable that any of them should be called away from the meeting of the council, thus interrupting proceedings. Therefore, the House will meet at the usual time to-morrow, and will, of course, meet on Friday morning. The Government will consider how far it is practicable to call the House together in the mornings during next week.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
National Security Act -
National Security (General) Regulations - Orders by State Premiers - South Australia (2), Victoria.
National Security (Supplementary) Regulations - Orders by State Premiers - Queensland, Western Australia.
Navigation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1943, No. 53.
The following answers to questions were circulated: - “ Lusitania “ Victims.
What claims were made by Australia on Germany, and what amounts were received, in respect of the Lusitania victims?
What claims were made on behalf of the Australian victims to the Commonwealth Government?
Was any payment made to the Commonwealth Bank in connexion with these claims? If so, what was the amount, when was it received, and why was it paid to the bank?
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
In 1925 the Commonwealth Government approved of an ex gratia grant to British nationals of Australian domicile who suffered loss or injury as a result of direct enemy action during the 1914-18 war. Included in claims considered were two from passengers on SS. Lusitania. The amounts claimed totalled £23,824. Anex gratia grant of £350 was paid in one case.
No. All reparation payments received by Australia from Germany were paid to the National Debt Commission and applied in reduction of Commonwealth debt.
Have all small boats impressed or taken charge of by the military authorities some months ago been returned, and if so, what was the total amount of compensation paid for loss or damage to those boat owners?
I now desire to advise the honorable member that the majority of the boats have been returned, but there are 200 craft as yet unclaimed. The total compensation paid to date is £5,228.
Australian Army: Clothing
Boards, Trusts and Commissions
Will he furnish a list of all government boards, trusts and commissions appointed by the respective governments since the inception of war, with personnel and remuneration paid!
Statements on Lend-Lease and Reciprocal Lend-Lease have from time totime been made to the House, or laid on the table of the House. Attention is invited in particular to the statement on Reciprocal Lend-Lease which was tabled 3rd March, 1943. The statements already made contain all the information which it is possible to release at present. Further statements will be made from time to time releasing such information as is consistent with the public interest.
Reciprocal Lend-Lease arrangements do not operate between Australia and any other allied country.
House adjourned at 11.20 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 March 1943, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1943/19430317_reps_16_174/>.