18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. DEPUTY Speaker (Mr. J. J. Clark) took the chair at 10.30’ a.m., and read prayers.
Inter-union Dispute in New South “Wax.es.
– I direct the attention of the Prime Minister to an announcement in the press this morning that, according to trades hall leaders in Sydney, only intervention by the Australian Government can avert a Statewide coal strike. Can the right honorable gentleman indicate whether the Government is taking any action to prevent that threatened calamity?
– I have not seen the press statement to which the honorable member tas referred, but I assume that it relates to an inter-union dispute on the south coast coal-fields regarding the driving of a tunnel in one of the mines.
– Yes, and a general strike on the coal-fields is threatened.
– This morning, I discussed that particular trouble with the Minister for Shipping and Fuel. The dispute is between the Australian Workers Union and the miners’ federation, the point at issue being the union to which the men engaged in driving the tunnel should belong. Negotiations are actively proceeding to-day in an endeavour to solve the problem.
Call from the Chair.
– I desire to know whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are aware that the Australian Broadcasting Commission announced during the news session at 7 o’clock last night that an arrangement had been reached between the Government and the Opposition parties to confine the debate on the privilege motion to four speakers from each side of the House, and that the honorable members who would receive the call during the evening would be the honorable member for Parkes, the honorable member for Barker, and the Minister for Information? Were you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a party to that arrangement to stifle a discussion, thus enabling the Australian Broadcasting Commission to forecast correctly what would take place in the House last evening? Do such arrangements indicate that independent members no longer have any rights in this chamber, and are neither consulted nor considered when such arrangements are being made?
– The Chair has no knowledge of the announcement by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to which the honorable member has referred. When a debate is proceeding in the House, I call honorable members as they rise. After four members from each side of the chamber had spoken on the privilege motion yesterday, the Vice-President of the Executive Council moved the closure. The motion was carried on the voices and that concluded the discussion.
– Has the Minister for Immigration been informed by General MacArthur’s head-quarters that two Australian girls whom he is seeking to recall from Japan are employed by the American Bed Cross and not by the American army authorities, and that their dismissal, or the application of economic sanctions to force them to return to Australia, is beyond the jurisdiction of the American army authorities? In view of that fact, does the Minister still intend to ask the American Red Cross to force those girls to return to Australia? Has he seen a report that the Acting Prime Minister of New Zealand said he would not recall New Zealand girls as they were free to come and go as they desired ?
– I a.m not the least bit interested in any opinion the Acting Prime Minister of New Zealand may hold, or in the interpretation which the honorable member for Flinders places upon something he has read in the newspapers that is supposed to have emanated from General MacArthur’s head-quarters.
Attack by Melbourne “Herald”’’.
– Has the Minister for Immigration had an opportunity this morning to read the latest issue of the Melbourne Herald in which a scurrilous article appears concerning himself ? Under the heading “Contempt”, it deals with the statement by the Minister in the House in which he made allegations about “ cracking “ cables with respect to the “ Manila girls and consists of lengthy comment. Has the Minister any statement to make upon it? Further, is the Melbourne Herald owned by Sir Keith Murdoch, who is alleged, in the past, to have stolen documents while on Gallipoli, and is notorious’ for sacking journalists in companies of ten in moments of anger? In view of the scurrilous nature of the article, will the Minister, who is not only the first hut also the finest Minister for Immigration we have yet known, defend himself against this attack?
– I read the scurrilous article to which the honorable gentleman has referred. Obviously, it was written in pique because I had said that as Minister for Immigration I was determined to find out how the Melbourne Herald obtained certain information which could only have been based upon a statement which appeared in a cablegram - a secret document - that passed between the Australian and American governments. It was because of my statement that this vicious and scurrilous article was written, but the Melbourne Herald is notorious for that sort of thing. It is true that in the past that journal has published the contents of stolen documents. It published the document to which I referred last night that told the story of the cables that passed between the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) when, as Prime Minister, he was in England, and the Ministers of his Government in this country. About the same time, that journal also published stolen documents which passed between the then Premier of Victoria. Mr. Hogan, and certain of his Ministers in that State. The Melbourne Herald is adept at that sort of thing, but that is only to be expected because during World War I. Sir Keith Murdoch smuggled uncensored documents from Gallipoli, in defiance of his word to Sir Ian Hamilton. Honorable members who are interested in that phase of past history can find all they want to know about it by reading Sir Ian Hamilton’s Gallipoli Diary, particularly the second volume of it. The ethics of the Melbourne Herald and all the people associated on an editorial plane with Sir Keith Murdoch are the ethics of the gutter.
– That is not scurrilous, is it?
Ma-. CALWELL. - And the attack they have made upon me is particularly filthy. If the honorable member for Gippsland supports that sort of thing he is in the same category.
– I rise to order. The Minister said that the ethics of Sir Keith Murdoch and all associated with the Melbourne Herald were the ethics of the gutter. That is personally offensive to me, as 1. used to work on the Melbourne Herald. I ask the Minister to withdraw that remark.
– I made no reference to the honorable member for Henty.
– The Minister spoke of Sir Keith Murdoch and all those associated with him.
– Order ! The Minister must conclude his answer to the question.
– I am defending my honour. I have been attacked in a most vicious fashion. The honorable member for Henty was once a journalist, but wa3 sacked because he was incompetent.
– On a point of order, I deny that I was sacked by the Melbourne Herald. T left the service of the newspaper to take part in the war. I regard the Minister’s remarks as offensive, and I ask that they be withdrawn and that he apologize for making them.
– I treat that article in the Melbourne Herald-
– Order ! The honorable member for Henty has asked for the withdrawal of a. statement which he regards as offensive. Does the Minister withdraw the statement?
– Does the honorable member object to my statement that he was sacked because he was incompetent?
– I regard it as offensive, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– If it is offensive to the honorable member, I withdraw it; but I still believe that lie is incompetent as a journalist.
– I rise to order. When the Chair gives a direction to an honorable member it is customary for that honorable member, following the procedure laid down by the Standing Orders, to obey that direction without qualification. The Minister has qualified his withdrawal of the offending words and I ask the Chair to take action against him.
– Order 1 ask the Minister to observe the forms of the House and to withdraw the offending words without qualification.
– I withdrew them without qualification.
– The Minister must complete his answer to the question, or resume his seat.
– An honorable member who attacks me-
-Order! The matter is becoming irregular. When a- Minister is asked a question, he is entitled to give his answer without interruption. Any interruption or interjection is disorderly, and the Minister should ignore it. Honorable members who interject will be dealt with according to the Standing Orders. I ask the Minister to ignore interjections, and to either answer the question or resume his seat.
– I have read the article to which reference has been made. I treat it with complete contempt. If its purpose was to try to damage me politically and drive me out of the public life of this country, I have nothing to fear. All such attacks only have the effect of enhancing my reputation.
Mr. Archie Cameron interjecting,
– Order ! If the honorable member for Barker interjects again, I shall deal with him. T hope that I have not wasted my time explaining the position in relation to interruptions.
– If the purpose of the article was to try to drive me out of the public life of this country or to damage me politically, it will fail. 1 do not mind how vicious such attack? upon me may be. I rest my case on truth. I shall continue to pursue this matter of stolen documents, no matter who may defend the theft either inside or outside of this House, until the time has arrived when I shall have the great pleasure of seeing the editor of the Melbourne Herald, and all his associates and stooges in the dock facing charges under the Crimes Act.
Film of Housing - -TR.ANSPORT Services.
– Recently 1 questioned the Minister for Information regarding a film depicting certain houses in Canberra which were described as being slums of the future. I indicated that the film had been made by the Department of Information. As there seems to be some doubt as to the accuracy of that statement, will the Minister state whether the film was made by his department so that this doubt may be resolved ?
– 1 have made injuiries and have ascertained that the film was made by Cinesound, a private company, and not by the Department of Information. The honorable member said that he thought it had been made by my department. It was not made by my department either directly or indirectly. My officers not only state that the film was made by Cinesound, but also that they have little to object to in it, though it may be capable of the interpretation the honorable member has placed upon it.
– Is the Minister for the Interior aware that fifteen Bungendore children, capable of attending schools at Queanbeyan and Canberra, are denied the opportunity to do so because of the late arrival at those centres of the morning train, which takes between five hours and six hours to travel from Goulburn to Canberra? I understand that representations are about to be made to the Government of New South Wales to expedite this service, and I ask the Minister for the Interior whether he will support those representations. Incidentally, and this, of course, is not nearly so important, the speeding up of the train might unable members of the Parliament to reach Canberra at the old time of approximately 9 a.m. instead of 1.1 a.m. as at present.
– Representations have been made to the New South Wales Government for an alteration of the schedule of the train to which the honorable member has referred. The latest information available from the Commissioner for Railways of that State is that arrangements are in hand to improve the service between Goulburn and Canberra on certain days of’ the week, and to provide additional accommodation. It should be remembered, however, that the train to which the honorable member refers frequently carries only a limited complement of passengers. Most members of the Parliament do not travel by train now because the Government has provided free air travel to and from their homes at week-ends. I have no knowledge of school children being inconvenienced by the late arrival of this train. I am sure that if delay had occurred on many occasions, representations would have been made to me in regard to it. No such representations have been made, but in view of the honorable member’s question, I shall investigate the position and, if necessary, endeavour to make other arrangements to ensure that the children shall arrive at their school? on time.
– Will the Minuter representing the Minister for Social Services confer with his colleague with a view to altering the method of paying pensions to aged and other persons so chat, they may have the option of either standing in queues at post offices, as at present, or having the money paid to them by cheque, as some’ other government allowances -are paid? The latter method would obviate a great deal of discomfort that is now experienced by large numbers of old and infirm citizens.
– Tes, I shall certainly discuss the matter with the Minister for Social Services. However, I am sure, even without consulting him, that pensioners who desire to be paid by cheque can arrange to have their payments made in that way. That system was introduced many years ago, and, at that time, some pensioners’ associations objected because some of their members feared that they might be exploited in some way when they cashed their cheques. Therefore, the Government did not make that method of payment compulsory. However, it is available to all those who wish to draw their pension by cheque.
– The local market is now oversupplied with certain Australian manufactures, such as tennis racket, strings, and overseas markets are being lost because of the prohibition of such exports. In order to assist the export trade and prevent unemployment, will the Minister representing the Minister for
Trade and Customs arrange to convene the export committee again to re-examine the general subject of the issue of export licences and particularly to review all applications for licences that have been refused during ‘.the past six months ?
– I shall make inquiries regarding the matter. If it can be demonstrated that there is a surplus of tennis racket strings, the honorable member may rest assured that export permits will be issued.
– I direct a question t.o the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture concerning the ‘announcement by the Australian Wheat Board that wheatgrowers will have to pay cash for their cornsacks this year. The growers in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia have voted in favour of the Australian Government’s stabilization plan, and the Premier of South Australia has promised that his Government will fall in with the scheme if South Australian growers vote in favour of it. In view of this circumstance, will the Minister immediately communicate with the Australian Wheat Board, ot whatever authority is responsible, with a view to arranging that, if South Australia adopts the stabilization plan, cornsacks shall be advanced to the farmers on the basis that payment will be made out of their first returns from the new wheat pool?
M”r. POLLARD - A question along the same line was asked in the House last week, and I replied that the Australian Wheat Board would have ‘absolutely no security for bags forwarded to some wheat-growers, and therefore, it required payment in cash. Other growers have funds standing to their credit with the board, but these may be entirely inadequate to meet the cost of the bags forwarded to them. However, it appears most likely that the States will pass legislation complementary to the Commonwealth act so that the incoming wheat crop will be delivered to the board and thus provide some security against the cost of the bags advanced to growers. I shall discuss this matter with representatives of the Treasury in order to ascertain whether, after the proposed South Australian legislation has been” enacted, arrangements can be made to help growers who do not desire to pay cash for cornsacks before they sell their wheat.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Works and Housing with reference to the impending Public Works Committee investigation of proposals to erect a school, a hostel and a wharf at. Darwin. Will the Minister instruct the Chief Auditor’ at Darwin, who is the representative of the Commonwealth Auditor-General in the Northern Territory, and also the chief costs clerk of .the Department of Works and Housing at Darwin, if such a person exists, to give, evidence to the Public Works Committee, so that the committee may have information of the total cost of the four houses which have been erected by the department- since 1945? They may also be able to supply the committee with figures showing the costs of erection of houses in the Northern Territory by private contractors. Such evidence may assist people who had their homes confiscated to secure their reerection on a replacement value instead of on the basis of 1942 values, which is the Government’s policy at the present time.
– It is not within my power ‘to instruct that the representative of the Auditor-General’s Department should be called by the Public Works Committee. That committee was appointed under an enactment ‘of this Parliament, and it has the right to call before it for discussions, consultations and advice any persons whom it considers would be able to supply valuable evidence. With regard to the cost of the four houses mentioned by the honorable member, I make it quite clear to the House that I should welcome an examination of any building by the committee, first as to construction, and secondly, as to comparative cost as between houses built by the department and those constructed by private persons or private contractors, not only in Darwin, but .also .in any other part of the Northern Territory. It is misleading for i lie honorable member to suggest that only four houses have been constructed by the department in Darwin. There have been more than four built. In addition, over L44 houses which were either bombed, partly burnt, or damaged by white ants, have been completely rebuilt, and are now in first-class condition. As the honorable member knows, a good deal of deterioration takes place in buildings in the tropics because of white ants. That was particularly noticeable when the Army was in occupation of the buildings. Many of the houses had to be stripped to the stumps and foundations. They have now been renewed.
– Are they governmental or private houses?
– They have been renewed and rebuilt by my department. In regard to the matter of replacement, I discussed with private people during my recent visit to Darwin the policy which lias been adopted by the Government in assessing compensation for war damage. Because of the “ New Darwin “ plan, it has been necessary to move certain houses, and to arrange for the acquisition by the Government of certain other buildings. 1. also discussed with them matters relating to rebuilding, the moving of houses on to other blocks, and the resale of the houses back to the original owners. I did not receive one complaint, but during a discussion at a meeting some of the people told me that they had nothing but praise and appreciation for what the Government has done in regard to that- ? natter.
– Recently, the Prime Minister said in this House that many white people in Malaya had gone there only to make profit, and had no regard for the native population. I ask the right honorable gentleman whether he is aware that his statement has created bitter resentment in Malaya, and that, as a result, Australia’s good name has suffered gravely. Is he aware also that many men to whom his remarks could be regarded as applying fought with us in Malaya? Indeed, men with whom I am personally acquainted voluntarily remained behind with the natives and were captured by the Japanese. Some never returned, and others returned broken in health to continue their work in Malaya. In view of these facts, will the Prime Minister withdraw his statement or otherwise make it clear that he intended’ no offence to our fellow British subjects in that area?
– I wish that the honorable member would read the statement that I made in connexion with this matter. I do not recall having said anything about people in Malaya having no regard for the interests of the natives.
– The right honorable gentleman’s recollection is at fault.
– I have a fairly good recollection of what I did say on this subject. I said that many people had gone to Malaya for profit and for business reasons. That is true, of course, of many countries. I said also that some of those people had no love for the country, not that they had no regard for the interests of natives. I did not mention native interests at all. I think that my words were, without being able to remember them precisely, that many people had gone to Malaya to make profit and for business reasons, and not for love of that country. Therefore, I consider that there is nothing that I should withdraw. The comment was not made with any intention to be either disrespectful to, or to reflect upon any of the people to whom I referred. I think it is true, and recognized to be true, that many people go to such countries, not because they love them, but because there is more profit to be made there than somewhere else. Accordingly I have nothing to withdraw or apologize for.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the* Minister for Health, arising from representations which I have received in respect to the toxin known as hapamin, which is used with great success in Tasmania and elsewhere in the treatment of asthma. Is it true that the Government is restricting the importation from the United States of ingredients used by Parke Davis and Company and other firms in making this toxin? I ask that question because a
Tasmanian doctor who uses hapamin for the treatment of asthma was told by a druggist in Tasmania that the Government was holding up supplies.
– I cannot for a moment conceive that the Government or the Department of Health would hold up supplies of a necessary drug. It may be that the department is endeavouring to retain as much of the ingredients as possible for its own laboratories, where it manufactures, many of the up-to-date drugs. I have no details concerning the toxin hapamin, but I shall direct the attention of the Minister for Health to the question and inform the honorable member whether his facts are correct or not.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Fuel, with respect to shipping services to the Queensland ports and districts of Maryborough and Bundaberg. In explanation I remind the Minister that last week I brought under the notice of the Government the fact that two river steamers which are supposed to serve those districts were held up because of union trouble regarding cooks, and that the vessel Babinda was still in Sydney Harbour. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction later informed the House that in respect of Babinda the dispute had been settled and the vessel would pass through Sydney Heads that evening. Does the Minister know that the vessel is still laid up alongside a wharf and is unable to proceed on its voyage? As the Manning Commission which was established under the Navigation Act has been called together since I asked my previous question, and, after taking evidence and making an inspection of the vessel has stated that a union demand for an assistant cook was not warranted and that the holdup was therefore not justified, what action will the Government take to ensure that the union mans the vessel and allows it to proceed on its voyage?
– It is true that last week when the honorable member raised this question I told the House that advice had been received by officers of the Department of Shipping and Fuel thai Babinda would sail on the same day. I do not know whether the vessel actually sailed, but I shall have inquiries made in an endeavour to ascertain the cause of any further holdup.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Immigration by reference to a letter written by Mr. Hollway, the Premier of Victoria, at present in London, and published in the London Times. Because of the overwhelming success of the efforts of the Minister for Immigration and his department. our migration policy has become the subject of discussion throughout British countries. In the course of an article written in reply to Mr. Hollway^ letter, which commented on the splendid work of the Minister for Immigration, the Times stated that “ the feasibility of mass migration to Australia must be doubted “. The article also stated that without reinforcements of immigrants the populations of the Dominions are- not likely to exceed certain specified numbers. Will the Government, therefore, reconsider providing marriage loans as an incentive to Australians to increase our. population? The second question which I shall ask the Minister relates to a subject mentioned by the Prime Minister while he was in London.
– I rise to order. Does the Chair propose to allow members and supporters of the Government to continue to take up question time by making propagandist statements?
– Order : The honorable member is reflecting upon the Chair, and I ask him to withdraw and apologize.
– I certainly do so.
– Order : The honorable member for Parkes should not read from a newspaper while he is asking a question.
– Very well, sir. The matter is important, and I quoted from a newspaper because I desired to bc accurate on the report. The article in the Times went on to state that if Australia required 10,000,000 migrants from the United Kingdom it must be prepared to accept not only fit young men and women, but also a proportion of unfit people, and that Australia must accept mi appropriate share of the British national debt.
– Order ! The honorable member must finish his question instead of making a speech.
– Has the Minister for I mmigration or the Prime Minister any further statement to make on the important question of migration?
– On behalf of the Australian Government I intimated to the British Government last year that nin- migration plans provided for the inclusion of u fair cross-section of the British people. We do not want only young and vigorous men and women and those with special technical qualifications. We are prepared also to accept a proportion of old people and those who ure past their maximum productive age. We should like families with three or lour children to migrate to this country, ;is well as single people and married people with only one child. However, those matters are intimately connected with the local housing problem. Any person or organization in Australia which is prepared to nominate relatives nr friends and can provide accommodation for them is assured of the utmost cooperation of the Department of Immigration. That offer includes families with five or six children. In fact, some families with as many as eight or nine children have already arrived, and we Iia ve been delighted to welcome them. The principal difficulty confronting us is that the British people are not yet themselves convinced of the desirability of dispersing their industry and population to the four corners of the British Commonwealth. All political parties in that country are convinced that Great Britain must hold its present population. To us, who view the problem from afar, it seems impossible that 45,000,000 people cm n continue to exist decently after the loss of the £6,000,000,000 worth of investments which were sacrificed by Great Britain during the recent war. It must be borne in mind that before the war the interest on that huge volume of investments flowed into the United Kingdom in the form of goods and services. Now that Great Britain is deprived of that flow of goods and services I think that 1 am voicing the opinion of most thoughtful Australians when I say that it would lie a good thing for Great Britain ro allow some of its excess population to migrate to the Dominions, which are underpopulated. However, as I say. no political party in Great Britain is yet prepared to accept that point of view. As I pointed out a. few days ago, any political party which expressed such an opinion would deprive itself of any prospect of victory at the next British general election, which is to be held in 1950. The subject of marriage loans is a matter foconsideration by the Prime. Minister, and I shall acquaint the right honorable gentleman with the views of the honorable member. I have read the letter which was published in the London Times to which the honorable member referred. The writer, Mr. Hollway, is the Premier of Victoria, and is visiting the United Kingdom. He ig/ no doubt, anxious to express his support for the idea which I propounded, some time ago. The president of the Liberal party, Mr. Casey, has spoken in the same strain as that, in which Mr. Hollway has written. The Australian Government is prepared to engage in a campaign for mass migration if the British Government will supply ships and the Australian people who have empty rooms in their homes will agree to nominate people from Great Britain who wish to come here.
– by leave - The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) recently announced that the rates of pay of the naval, military and air forces were being examined in the light of variations of civil rates of pay subsequent to the 1st July, 1947, when the post-war scale of pay and allowances came into operation. This review has now been completed and it has been decided that the following increases shall be approved: -
Active Pay. - Seven shillings a week to all members in the three services up to and including brigadier or equivalent rank.
Margins for Skill. - The existing margins for skill and efficiency in arms will be increased by a further 7s. a week for all members up to and including warrant officers and officers promoted from warrant rank.
Members living out. - The existing living-out allowances will also be increased by 7s. a week.
The new rates will take effect from the beginning of the next pay period in the services, which is the 21st October for the Air Force and the 22nd October for the Navy and the Army. The cost of the increases for the remainder of this financial year will be £1,100,000. The revised rates of pay and allowances, taken in conjunction with the retirement gratuity or pension scheme which was introduced on the 1st July last and the special benefits such as free medical and dental treatment, should have the result of maintaining the attractiveness of the services as a career occupation.
Motion (by Mr. Dedman) agreed to - That leave be given to bring in a bill for anact to amend the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act 1946-1947, and for other purposes.
Motion (by Mr. Calwell) agreed to - That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Immigration Act 1901 -1940.
Motion (by Mr. Calwell) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to provide for the deportation of certain aliens.
Bill presented by Mr. Dedman, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill provides machinery whereby any work being performed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research may be transferred from the council to an appropriate department of the Commonwealth service. In a statement on Australian defence policy which I made to the House on the 23rd September last, I said that the Government had assumed a substantial commitment for co-operation in British Commonwealth defence in respect of defence research and development. I then explained that, in addition to the long range weapons project and associated activities, research and development projects include a number dealing with the development and design of aircraft and a large number of other projects relating to armament and other war materiel which on account of security requirements, could not be described in detail. In relation to the very wide field of research covered by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in connexion with primary and secondary industries, the proportion of work which might he related to defence to be carried out by the council would be small. Nevertheless, there is some work which the Government has decided would now be better placed under the Department of Supply and Development which is responsible for defence research. Under the hill, the Governor-General, by notice published in theGazette, may determine from time to time what work of the council should be carried out in a. department of the Commonwealth Service and which Commonwealth department should assume control of that work.
Machinery is provided for the transfer of the work and the officers and employees engaged on it to the Commonwealth Service. Officers and employees so transferred will not suffer any loss in salary or worsening of conditions of employment. Those whose tenure of office is to all intents and purposes permanent will become permanent officers of the Service.
Service which counted for leave and superannuation purposes with the council will be counted in a like manner under t he Public Service Act. The immediate intention is to transfer to the Commonwealth Service about 250 officers and employees of the Aeronautics division of the council. There may be developments which cannot be immediately foreseen which would make it desirable to transfer other sections or divisions of work. The bil] leaves the way open to make further transfers from time to time should circumstances warrant such action. It also provides that all employees to be transferred to the permanent staff in the Commonwealth Service must take an oath or affirmation of allegiance to the King, and to uphold the Constitution of the Commonwealth. Provision is made for an amendment to the Public Service Act to enable the Public Service Board to require all temporary employees of the Commonwealth now employed and those engaged or transferred to the Service in the future to take the oath or affirmation.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 16th September (vide page 530),. on motion by Mr. Barnard -
That the billbe now read a second time.
.- The purpose of the bill is to provide increases of pensions and to effect other changes forecast in the budget. All honorable members will agree that, by and large, the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act is a fair act. However, we cannot allow that legislation to become static. It should be amended from time to time to bring repatriation pensions, which I and other ex-servicemen prefer to call compensations, into proper relationship with the cost of living and the standards of the time. With that object in view, I proposeto move an amendment later to the second reading. I should like honorable members to discuss the whole question of repatriation on a non-party basis. The purpose of my amendment is to provide for occasional, if not almost automatic, adjustments in connexion with which all parties can unite in order to do justice at all times to ex-service personnel. The amendment I move is as follows: -
That all words after “That” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “The bill be withdrawn and referred to a parliamentary select committee of ex-servicemen appointed to inquire into and report upon the present repatriation pension rates with a view to better Adjusting these rates to present living costs “.
I shall preface my remarks on the bill by quoting the official opinion of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia from which body several deputations have waited upon the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard). The league has sent me the following communication: -
You are probably aware that a League deputation met the Prime Minister during the 32nd Annual Congress in October, 1047.
The six main points presented by the deputation were -
An increase of £1 per week in the pension for totally disabled ex-members of the Forces with proportional increases for dependants and percentage pensions.
a minimum pension of £3 10s. per week to all war widows.
Pensions for dependent children of war widows to be £1 7s.6d. per week for the first child, and £1 per week for each subsequent child.
That special consideration ‘be given war widows who because of incapacity or ago are unable to earn a living.
Abolition of time limits in relation to wives married and children born after 1938. (/) Abolition of the means test on all war pensions.
Paragraph (a) refers specifically to totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen with whose position I shall deal in detail later. To that communication the association attached the following statement which was made by its federal president in Adelaide recently: -
The Federal Executive of the R.S.L. at its meeting in Adelaide yesterday unanimously expressed strong resentment at the callous disregard shown by the Commonwealth Government in response to repeated representa - tions for a long overdue and substantial increase in war pensions generally.
Delegates from all States indicated a nationwide resentment expressed at 1948 State conferences of the league that succeeding Commonwealth Governments had failed to show a true appreciation of the unanswerable claims of a section of the community apparently forgotten by the Government. . . .
The general public will be astounded to learn that a comparison of increases in war pensions with the basic wage shows that whereas in the last 25 years the basic wage has increased by 4li per cent, the pension rate for war disabled ex-servicemen has only increased by 19 per cent. For over twenty (20)- years up to 1943 no increase was made to the pension rate, whilst the basic wage has greatly increased. Over the last five years the basic wage has increased by over 20 per cent, but the war pension has remained stationary. It is pointed out that the basic wage is fixed by a judicial body after a scientific inquiry which considers the purchasing power of the £1.
As war pensioners, too, have to bear increased living costs, the R.S.L. asserts that increases enjoyed by other sections of the community should likewise, be granted to this most deserving class, to whom the nation owes its very existence.
I shall not dilate upon the association’s comments, but I and my ex-service colleagues can only express sympathy with its claims and approve of them. I propose to spend my time mainly in dealing with such quotations from statements made on behalf of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia rather than in expressing my own personal views. The statements I have just read represent the opinion of an organization of men whose strength, fully assembled, would be greater than that of any trade union in this country. Yet the association does not engage in strikes, or sabotage industry. The contribution made by its members towards ensuring the safety and the well-being of the nation is. well known. In two world wars they have preserved our way of life, and in civil life they have endeavoured to ensure that the nation is not sabotaged by traitors to Australia. The association wants to expel Communists from its ranks, but action which it took in that direction recently has been declared by the Equity Court of New South Wales to be ultra vires the constitution of the association because its rules do not make specific provision in that respect. I mention that fact in passing in order to emphasize the loyalty of these .men not only in time of external crises but also of internal crises. The history of the British people shows that they have fought tyranny both within and without, and have grown in strength and prestige for that reason. When matters affecting the livelihood of our exservicewell and women come under review in the Parliament, the Parliament should ensure that these people who are not articulate and do not have very much to say on matters generally, shall receive their full meed of justice. When the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) brought down his budget he made a statement which I hope was not made deliberately with the intention to mislead. I do not think thai it was made with that intention. The right honorable gentleman said -
The Government also proposes increases in war and service pensions. General rate war pensions will be increased by about 10 per cent., which will mean an additional 5s. a week for pensioners whose incapacity has been assessed as “ total “. An increase of 5s. » week is proposed in the present special rate war pension for cases of tota.1 and permanent incapacity, the war widow’s pension, and the maximum rate pension for a dependent parent, brother, sister. &c, of a deceased member of the forces.
That statement led most people to believe that there was to be a minimum increase of ail pensions amounting to 10 per cent. I questioned the Prime Minister on this subject because I realized that all pensioners would not receive the full 10 per cent, increase. The only section of the pensioners who are not to receive the full 10 per cent, increase is the one to which I had thought that first consideration would be given. I refer to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, including men who cannot or are not permitted to work. If any of them accept employment, their pensions are reviewed. Honorable members were deceived about this proposed increase. A totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman receives a pension of £5 ls. a week and a pension of 22s. a week for his wife. Under this legislation his pension is to be increased by 5s. a week, and that payable to his wife by 2s. a week. The most elementary arithmetical calculation demonstrates that the percentage increase proposed tn he made in respect of the pension of these men is little more than 5 per cent, and that of their wives less than 10 per cent. In view of that, why wa> the statement made by the Treasurer and published in the press that all pensions were to be increased by 10 per cent.? On the 24th September, I asked the right honorable gentleman the following question : -
I preface my question by stating that, although the Prime Minister and Treasurer said in the course of his recent budget speech that pensions, including war pensions, would he increased by approximately 10 percent., apparently it is intended to increase by only 3s. a week the pensions payable to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, who are physically incapable of supplementing their pension by earning money. Such an increase would represent an effective increase to them of only 5 per cent. Will the Prime Minister examine the legislation which the Government proposes to introduce so as to unsure that the proportionate increase of the pensions payable to totally and permanently incapacitatedex-servicemen will be at least equal to that made to the pensions of civilians and other classes of ex-servicemen ?
The right honorable gentleman replied -
In the budget speech which I delivered some reference was made to an increase of pensions by approximately 10 per cent., and I believe t hat the Minister for Repatriation, who is more conversant with the details of the proposed increases than I am,has placed before the House full information about the increases. Whilst, generally speaking, the proposals which are incorporated in the budget, which is now before honorable members, will be implemented in their present form in the legislation which has been introduced, I shall ask my colleague to re-examine the matter in order to ensure that there arc no extraordinary anomalies.
The colleague to whom he referred was the Minister for Repatriation, who is now in charge of the House. That statement was made more than three weeks ugo. Since then the Minister has had ample opportunity to frame an amendment so that the men who have been deceived about the Government’s intentions may be given justice. I have received numerous letters and telegrams from incapacitated ex-servicemen protesting in the most bitter terms against this proposal. I could read many of them, but I’ do not intend to take up the time of the House in so doing. I content myself with quoting passages from one or two of them. Here is a letter which I have received from a man who is now over 67. The increase of the pension rate will not mean very much to him, he says, as probably he has not much longer to live. His letter is couched in words that should burn into the very soul of the Minister for Repatriation. Writing from Sydney, he said -
The Repatriation Act was born in a nonpolitical atmosphere. It has since been administered by all parties and my remarks therefore can have no political significance. The framers of the Act had no precedent to work upon but, in general, I suggest it has served its purpose well. . .
I respectfully suggest the following alterations to the Act as a reasonable solution to the problem of T.P.I. men -
That, in the case of T.P.I. men fromthe recent war whom the Medical Board (alone) decides that they could possibly earn - or would bo better for trying to do so -
A permanent and unrestricted pension be paid at a rate not less than is payable to them now.
That some medium for the teaching of handicrafts, the arts, or occupa- tions they are interested in, be made available to them, but without any penalty if they do not choose to try.
That all pensions paid should increase, or lessen, to the extent, and in unison with, the variations in the cost of living. …
With such goodwill in framing the Act it is remarkable that major errors were made with a class of men who, of all returned men, are least able to help themselves.
Another letter which I have received from a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman reads -
As a. permanently and totally incapacitated soldier, I would like to point out what tome is a decidedly unfair attitude taken by the Labour caucus - and to be presented to Parliament - to the pensions of T. and P. I. men and their wives. There is no consistency in the proposals because an old-age pensioner couple can earn £3 per week and be entitled to the old-age pension of £2 2s. fid. making their combined weekly income £7 5s. whereas a T. and P. J. man will receive £5 fis. weekly and his wife £1 4s.
This bill increases the pension rate for a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman to £5 6s. a week and for his wife to 24s., making a total of £6 10s. as I have shown. By comparison, a couple receiving the age pension, each of whom may earn 30s. a week, are permitted a total income, comprising earnings and pension, amounting to £7 5s. a. week. Exservicemen incapacitated as the result of war service - they may be blinded or paralysed or in the last stages of tuberculosis - receive less than is granted to an aged couple who qualify for their pensions merely by age. There is not a mere handful of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen in the community. There are 3,245 totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen from World War I., and 857 from World War II. Those incapacitated in World War II. are largely young men who are condemned to spend the rest of their days crippled or blinded, yet they .are treated so inconsiderately by this Government. I quote now from a recent London Daily Graphic the words of Sir Ian Fraser, the blind member of the British Parliament, whom I know personally. Delicately reading with his finger tips, a set of braille notes, Sir Ian Fraser made a passionate and powerful appeal in the House of Commons for bigger pensions for the disabled exservicemen. The Daily Graphic report, reads-
Sir Ian said that the new miners’ pensions scheme would give a blinded miner £1 a week more disability pension than a blinded exserviceman.
Pensions of 050,000 partially disabled men had gone up by only 12^ per cent, in 2!) years, but wages and salaries had risen by 00 to 220 per cent. “ I speak for the British Legion’s L.500,000, for the large membership of the Boya! Air Force Association, for the disabled soldiers’ organizations and the smaller ones which care for the blinded and the maimed. “ I ask all citizens who sympathize with us to join our unofficial union, which will have no less power and influence on the mind of Parliament and the Government than has the Miners’ Union “, Sir Ian said.
Sir Thomas Moore (Cons., Ayr Burghs) declared : “ We are paying the severely disabled less than we pay to a first-class shorthand typist in business”.
Mr. Marquand paid tribute to the bravery if men injured in the war. “They were brave in war, but they are showing even greater courage in peace he declared.
Disability pensions are fixed according to the ex-serviceman’s disability. Every exserviceman who has been wounded or is sick does not receive a pension, as some people seem to think. Pensions are granted only after the application has been made to the Repatriation Department and, if the claim be rejected, after the case has been re-considered by one of the entitlement tribunals. The pension granted may amount to only a few shillings a week or the full amount, depending upon the degree of incapacity in each case. I have had a table prepared showing the relation of the full pension rate to the average basic wage since 1134. In 1934 the full pension rate was £2 2s. and the average basic wage was £3 5s. In that year the pension rate represented only 65 per cent, of the basic wage. With the permission of the House. I shall have the table incorporated in *Hansard because the final figures show that the new 100 per cent, rate of 55s. for incapacitated men who are allowed to do some work, will represent only 42 per cent, of the basic wage. Therefore, disabled men were better off in 1934 than they are to-day.
The Minister for Repatriation has frequently been asked by representatives of war widows to improve their benefits. The honorable gentleman has made some changes, but although he talks about all sorts of benefits that he has granted, they are not receiving substantial justice. As the president of their organization, Mrs. Vasey, has said, they are still in a. slum category. Why should the widows of the men who did not come back, and could have saved their lives by volunteering for safe jobs at home, bc left in their present plight?
– They receive a better pension than any other widows in the world.
– Does the Minister say that the pension they receive now is adequate?
– It is the best in the world.
– The honorable gentleman thinks merely in terms of pence.
He does not think of their disabilities. These occasional haphazard doles do not compensate for the human losses of these women.
– The war widows’ pension in South Africa is better than our own.
– I believe that it is.
-no, it is not.
– I shall show something of the Minister’s unreliability soon when I quote from reports by various repatriation instrumentalities. However, at the moment I am dealing with specific adjustments that are necessary. It is up to the Minister to meet the widows’ representatives on a friendly basis and to call a halt to this wordy warfare with them in the newspapers and by means of interjections claiming that they are treated better than any other widows in the world. Mere words do not put right their wrongs. Much more can be done by the Government. Much is already being done by Legacy clubs, the War Widows Graft Guild, the McCaughey Bequest, the Red Cross, and many other organizations. The Government should work harmoniously with them in an endeavour to make some restitution for the grievous losses of those women.
Another anomaly which should have been put right, but which is not mentioned in the bill, is the application of a means test to the pensions of dependent parents whose sons were killed on service. I know many cases of hardship amongst such people and I shall cite a typical example. Two young men, the only children of their parents, were killed’ on service. They had contributed substantially to the family income, and their allotments were paid to the parents while they were on service. When they were killed, the parents were notified by the Repatriation Commission that they could apply for a pension. The parents did so, but the police constable in the country village where they live then called upon them and asked, “ What are your assets? “ Because a few shillings were coming into the home they were told that they were not eligible for pension. Under this means test they have to prove that they arealmost in a state of poverty “before their applications will he considered. The
Government should look at these cases in a much more sympathetic light. Here is a letter from a man. who ought to be receiving a dependent parent’s pension-
Another scandalous imposition is the application of the Financial Emergency Act, Section 43, to the Repatriation Act, whereby parents who were partly dependent or wholly dependent on their single sons prior to enlistment and unfortunately the lads lost their lives on service, the parents aredebarred from receiving the provisions of the Repatriation Act, both in regard to the 1914-18 and 1939-45 wars, unless they are without adequatemeans of support. . . .Is the Commonwealth in a state of financial emergency? If not then why is this Section 43 still operating?
We have heard loud boasts from Ministers and their supporters recently about prosperity and full employment in Australia. We know that our economy is in a buoyant condition because of the effect of the high prices of wool and wheat and other factors. Everything that we produce is wanted in other countries, and., therefore, prices have increased. This condition is reflected in. every industry and business, and there are plenty of jobs available. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) is one of the few members of this House who were in the Parliament when the economic blizzard swept the world in the ‘thirties and the Labour government of the day had to make certain retrenchments in order to try to balance its budget. It reduced old-age pensions and some service pensions. One of its emergency measures was the application of this means test to applicants for dependent parents’ pensions. As the country climbed out of the trough of the depression, the succeeding anti-socialist Government, the Lyons administration, gradually- restored many of the emergency cuts, and granted service pensions to men who were unable to work even if they had not reached the age necessary to qualify for the old-age pension. I have often advocated the abolition of this means test, and some of the ex-servicemen on the Government side of the House have supported me. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), for instance, will recallthe debate inthis chamber last year when he strongly pressed for the abolition of the test. This is only a small matter involving comparatively few people but it involves humane considerations. The
Government could easily have adjusted the anomaly -long ago and done justice to these elderly people, whose numbers are rapidly dwindling now. Their memories are of young sons who went away never to return. Yet a grateful country gives them no recompense for their bereavement unless they can prove that they are paupers. The Minister has had this matter put before him on many occasions, but he is quite unconcerned. Another anomaly is in the fact that disabled ex-servicemen of World War I., who married after 193S, cannot obtain pensions for their wives. This provision is another legacy of the financial emergency. In these prosperous times, it could well be amended, particularly in view of the fact that small incomes have little purchasing value to-day.
I now come to something very damaging to the reputation of the Minister for Repatriation that has happened under his administration. Honorable members know that I have asked several times for reports of the Repatriation Commission to be laid on the table of this House. The Minister is obliged, under section 122 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, to table all reports from the commission, yet he had not tabled one report luring his tenure of office.
– I have tabled two reports.
– Yes, but when I first asked my question the honorable gentleman, had not tabled even one. I ask him not to try to mislead the House. After r had pressed for the presentation of these reports, the Minister placed one on the table a week ago. It was then about two years old. This week. he tabled another one that should have been presented at the end of June. I asked him many times to table the report of the No. 1 Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, and asked whether it reported adversely on his administration. He replied that we would know all about it when it was tabled, but that he would not do so until he had received the report of another tribunal. Yesterday, almost furtively, it was placed on the table, dragged out of the Minister because this debate was impending and he feared that our relevations might be even more damaging to him if the document were not available. The No. 1 Entitlement Appeal Tribunal is set up under statute and is a pension tribunal above the Repatriation Commission. A. man who wants a. pension makes application to the Repatriation Department. If it approves, well and good, bat if it does not, lie appeals to the Repatriation Commission; if it does not approve, he has the right to appeal to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, a body presided over by a chairman, which hears the case. I shall read portion of the report of the No. 1 Tribunal for the year ended the 30th June, 1947, which was tabled in the House last year -
Omits of Proof -
Prior to 1940 the burden of establishing that the incapacity or death of an exserviceman came within the provisions of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, was borne by the claimant for a war pension.
That is, the man applying for a pension had to prove that he was disabled through war service. It did not rest on the department.
An amendment in 1940 imposed on the Bepatriation Commission the onus of disproving the claim, but this applied only when the claimant appealed to a Tribunal.
That was unfair to the soldier; the department which enlisted him should give the reason for his unfitness if he is unfit to-day. The report continued - in 1943 a vital amendment was made by the far-reaching provisions of Section 47. which is framed in clear and emphatic terms. Thai Section entirely dispenses the claimant for u war pension from the necessity of furnishing any proof in support of his claim, lt imposes on Repatriation Boards, which consider claims in the first instance, and on the Repatriation Commission, which determine* appeals from the decisions of Boards, the duty of establishing beyond any doubt; after drawing all reasonable inferences in the claimant’s favour, that the claim falls completely outside the provisions of the Act.
In 1940 the onus was put upon the Repatriation Commission to which an exserviceman appealed, but in 1943, arising out of an all-party soldiers’ committee recommendation to the Parliament, it was made to apply to the Repatriation Boards as well. I take it that honorable members understand what I mean. Yet the report of the No. 1 Tribunal for the period from the 1st July, 1947, to the 29th February, 1948, shows that the department has ignored that provision. The
Minister apparently suppressed the report because it exposed this matter. I shall now read another pertinent paragraph contained in the 1947 report -
Closer attention to the requirements of Suction 47 would result in a considerable number of these claims being allowed without the necessity for an appeal to this Tribunal. Inseparable from the question of the burden of proof is the matter of representation of parties at the hearing of the appeal.
Despite this, and several other suggestions, which were made in the report, the Minister has refused to take any action, and has apparently dominated the department. The 1948 report that he tabled yesterday contains this passage
Onus ofProof and Benefit ofDoubt (Section 47).
In our last annual report we observed that the provisions of section 47 of the Act were not fully appreciated by the Repatriation Commission and its officers. We pointed out also that proper attention by the Repatriation Commission to those provisions would have resulted in a considerable number of claims being allowed without the necessity for an appeal to this Tribunal.
That is the criticism in this year’s report. It proves that no notice was taken. It continues -
Not only has no improvement since been discerned but the position has deteriorated and is adversely affecting widows, sick and wounded ex-members of the forces and their dependants.
This is a representative super tribunal reporting on the department and the Minister ! The provisions of section 47 are then summarized in the 1948 report, as follows : -
The Repatriation Commission, a Repatriation Board and a Tribunal shall -
In one instance a tribunal had correspondence with the department, hut the Minister refused to answer letters over a long period. Finally, the claim was sub mitted to the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), who ruled that the Entitlement Tribunal was right in its view that generally the onus of proof rested on the commission, not only on the tribunal.
– They were warned of that when the bill went through.
– If honorable members opposite ever appeared before one of these tribunals on behalf of ex-servicemen, they would see how difficult it is for an unlettered man, who may be very sick, to put his case to a body whose members, he may think, are not sympathetic to his claim. He has already received “ knock-backs “ from the board and from the commission. A whole year may elapse before his appeal comes before the tribunal. I have known appeal cases to last much longer than that. Even when it has reached that stage, the decision may be a. long way off despite the trouble and expense he has been caused. The applicant has also been occasioned considerable worry over the period because . the department, abetted by the Minister, has not carried out what the 1943 act has laid down shall be done. The department has evaded its responsibilities in the. matter of onus of proof. I ask honorable members to read the 1948 report, which was tabled yesterday. This is one case quoted in that report: -
The undermentioned case, which has been heard since the submission of the last annual report, is typical of a great number. It serves to illustrate that the provisions of Section 47 are not being applied by the Repatriation Commission.
That refers to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal No. . 1, which the Ministerhas since sacked by the device of not re-appointing the members when their appointments ran out in June.
– Is that because they made an adverse report?
– The chairman resigned in February.
– One of the members of the tribunal who had twenty years’ membership rendered distinguished service in World War I. The chairman who resigned went to another appointment; the board carried on. It was only a change of personnel. This is an indication of what the Minister will tell the House to delude honorable members. The next chairman whom he dismissed is a man aged about 38 years, and a returned soldier of the 1939-45 war. He lost an eye in the fighting. Although he had excellent business prospects, he felt that he had an obligation to the men with whom he had served, and therefore gave up his prospects to accept the appointment on this tribunal. After signing the document that I am quoting from, he was not re-appointed.
– Is the honorable member referring to Mr. Hickey?
– Yes. Another man. who was appointed before Mr. Hickey, resigned. This tribunal was dismissed by the trick, or device, of not re-appointing the members because they conscientiously did their duty and dared to point out to the Minister that a certain section of the department was not carrying out its duty. It was only yesterday, following all the fuss that I have made over the last few weeks, that the Minister disgorged this report. I now revert to the case I was about to quote from it. Excluding the soldier’s name, the particulars furnished are as follow: -
Lieutenant- . DSC., R.A.N.V.R.- 1939
War. (File RX.66328.)
This ex-member of the R.A.N.V.R. served with distinction for over four years. He was engaged on special duties behind the Japanese lines in New Guinea from April, 1942, to August, 1943, and was evacuated by submarine in an emaciated and starving condition. In December, 1943, he again went into enemyoccupied territory and was evacuated with pneumonia in February, 1944. In November, 1944, he re-entered enemy-occupied territory and organizeda guerrilla force, returning to allied territory in May, 1945. He was awarded the British Distinguished Service Cross and lbc United States Distinguished Service Cross.
Is that not a record to be proud of? This man was awarded the British Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross of the United States of America. The report continued -
He appealed to this Tribunal for Defective Vision, “ loss of teeth “, and stated his grounds of appeal to be -
Defective Vision - “that it was aggravated by eye-strain, starvation privations and nervous strain caused by work done by the allied cause “.
Loss of Teeth - “ that it was due to bad food, ill health and lack of dental attention “.
The two members of this Parliament who were prisoners of war in the hands of the Japanese have no doubt seen many cases of blindness among fellow prisoners due to diet deficiencies. This blindness may not be obvious. He may still have some measure of vision, but his sight is not good enough to permit him to read or to carry on his vocation. The report continues-
The tribunal upheld the appeal for both conditions.
So, after finding his tortuous way through departmental channels, the man finally came before the tribunal, and his appeal was upheld. And this is the tribunal that has been dismissed because it dared to do its job by drawing the attention of the Minister to certain deficiencies. The report further states -
This gallant ex-serviceman was greatly upset by the initial rejection of his claims, which on the evidence should have been accepted when he first applied.
Nocontroversial or difficult questions, either of law or fact, which could justify the original rejection of the claims, arose in any one of those cases.
I have mentioned only one case. The report cites quite a number of cases concerning ex-servicemen from the various services. They are all as obvious as the one to which I have referred. I merely picked out the first one on the list. The report continues -
They were simple and straightforward and. on the evidence before the commission, fell fairly within the entitlement provisions of the act. But they were rejected out of hand by the Repatriation Commission without any reasons being assigned.
An intelligent marshalling of the facts, and a proper application of the relevant provisions of the act to those facts in the first instance would have obviated the necessity for an appeal.
The provisions of section 47 bind the Repatriation Commission to probe the merit of every pension claimed before rejecting it. In many cases further evidence could and should have been obtained by the commission before claims were’ ever rejected. Too often the gathering of evidence favorable to a claim is left to the appellant or his representative, usually an ex-servicc organization, and it is produced to a tribunal at a tribunal appeal. If this evidence is substantiated the tribunal is then bound to refer the case back to the commission for review (section 64 (4)). In many such cases the Repatriation Commission then accepts the claim on the fresh evidence which was available and should have been obtained by the commission itself on a.proper investigation of the claim in the first instance.
Then the tribunal deals with the correspondence that it had with the Minister, and concludes by saying -
No reply lias been received to this letter. Those men have been endeavouring to induce the commission to do its work fairly. They are conscientious servants, and want the right thing to be done. Their object, I emphasize, was not to minimize their own work. It would have been quite easy for them to travel along quietly. But they wanted the matter to he dealt with in the first instance by the commission, and because they drew attention to the fact that certain ex-servicemen were not being properly treated, and the commission was not accepting the onus of proof, the Minister found a reason for not re-appointing them, and bas tried to justify his action by claiming that the chairman resigned. The Minister has adopted cowardly ta c.tics. He stands indicted for his administration of this matter. Any Minister who endeavours to justify actions of this kind in his department should be forced to resign by the Cabinet. I say that after very much thought. I know the limitations that a Minister suffers. Very often a Minister finds it impossible to secure the agreement of Cabinet to a proposal which he believes to be right, and is forced to swallow his own opinions, but I’ should like to- know whether or not this matter was ever brought to the notice of Cabinet. If not, the Minister should not be permitted to retain his post. I have been tolerant with this Minister in the past. I realize that he is not very quick on the uptake, but I thought that at least lie was prepared to do what was right and had. a humanitarian, outlook. I cannot understand how he let that report pass him by in view of the many strictures that it contains. The report says that many men whose applications were rejected did not apply again. They were humbugged so much that they did not apply again. No doubt some of them died in the interim; but apparently that did not worry anybody or induce the Minister to lay the report on the table. I regret that I have had to raise these matters in this way. I should have preferred the Minister to tell the House about them. Having failed to do so, he lias been, i consider, recreant to his trust. and should be suspended while this matter is being investigated by the Government. At least, that was my strong feeling yesterday, but to-day he has tabled the report. Honorable members may now read it and judge whether or not I am right. I have received many bitter letters and telegrams, but I have read only a few of them. I have cited the case of an ex-naval man who was shamefully treated. I hope, therefore, that this will be a lesson to. the Minister, and that he will ensure in future that such cases shall receive better consideration. Instead of continuing the present haphazard method of handing out a few more shillings to pensioners the entire matter should be placed on a non-party basis. It is to that end that I have moved my amendment. I hope that it will be accepted by the Government.
.- 1 have listened with great attention to the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. “White), whose interest in ex-servicemen has been long and continuous. I was surprised, however, that having outlined what appeared to be a reasonable complaint, he launched into a vicious attack on the Minister on matters which, in my view, can be explained reasonably. Some of them are not of a serious consequence, and others are highly debatable. I believe that the question of pensions, particularly repatriation pensions, should be discussed in a more sober atmosphere. The honorable member has moved for the appointment of another select committee to examine once again the repercussions and ramifications of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. I believe that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) has done a very good job. I resent the perfervid criticism of him, particularly the nonsensical use of the phrase “ semi-furtively “, in connexion with the Minister’s action in presenting the report of the Entitlement Tribunal. The honorable member ha? made an outrageous attack, and his ridiculous statements are not part of his general attitude towards these matters. His sincerity cannot be doubted, but he spoiled his case by his overbearing manner towards the end of his speech. With regard to the papers that he mentioned, one is dated the 8th October, so his long-winded story about dreary weeks of waiting is all nonsense. Then he read extracts from cases which had been unsuccessfully represented. That sort of thing has been going on for a long time. All honorable members have had experience of cases which, on the surface, appear to warrant better treatment.
In many instances, there have been long-fought battles based on ex parte statements. Even some of the statements contained in the reference read by the Minister show only one side of the story. There are other cac.es that could be adduced in defence of the Repatriation Department, the policy and work of which continue no matter what government is in office. There is no doubt that some of the claims made are overstated, but in the anxiety of honorable members to give at least a reasonable and fair “ go “ to the ex-servicemen, some cases which have no very good basis are enthusiastically canvassed. I have canvassed them myself and shall continue to do so until I find that I am wrong. There are some eases that have been fought out with the department over a long period. There was an instance of one such fight which began immediately after the end of the last war. The man concerned is now receiving a special pension, but I admit that the rebuttals by the tribunal of some of the evidence that 1 produced were valid. That case finally reached the stage where the decision of the tribunal was investigated. I refer to the Farrell case, in which the Minister decided that the applicant had a sufficient case and awarded him an adequate pension. During the whole of the correspondence in that case, which reached the proportion of a foot-high file, various facts had to be brought out and examined before a final decision could be reached. In many instances a most thorough investigation has to be made before it can be decided whether an ex-serviceman is eligible for a pension or not.
It is rather strange that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), who is familiar with the work of the Repatriation Department should begin with an assault on the Minister, and then should discover some glorious qualities in the tribunal. I believe that the greatest lack of all in the system is to be found in the tribunal, but the commission gets the blame for the rather haphazard procedure followed. I consider that the Minister, in his executive capacity, is entitled to decide what he intends to do with the tribunals, or to come to some decision regarding their utility, and I do not consider that he should be questioned about his decision as though he had committed a serious breach by seeking efficiency. Some mention was made of the chairman getting another job. Perhaps the Minister helped him to get it. I do not know. Such matters are well away from the subject that the House should be discussing to-day. The pensions provided in the bill do not mean that any great amount of money is being given to the ex-servicemen, but I believe that what they are to receive is fair, and at a just level in the financial circumstances. The increases of war pensions will cost in a full year, £1,764,000. and certain of the facts that were given by the Minister appear to give him a valid reason for saying that the increases constitute a step forward.
I turn now to the sustenance for ex-servicemen in hospital. There are so many things that run tandem with pension increases that we should be grateful when subsidiary items are adjusted. The Government has found great difficulty, when dealing with the problems, of ex-servicemen, in correcting certain anomalies. Although the ex-servicemen made a common sacrifice and shared common hardships during the war, their problems are by no means common to all. Indeed, they are very individual. Some of the claims made by ex-servicemen are backed up by high advocacy but would not bear full investigation. In other cases, the department has to contend with a legacy of past mismanagement. That mismanagement grew- up because the first repatriation act and the first Repatriation Department were both entirely new to Australia. Prior to World War I. Australia had never engaged in a war of such dimensions. We had to learn the business of repatriation as we went along. I think that all honorable members will agree that despite some anomalies the Government is endeavouring to be as fair as possible to ux-servicemen. One important aspect which I must again mention, because it is one that crops up frequently in the correspondence of most honorable members, is the - question of sustenance for soldiers in hospital. I believe that I am correct in saying that there will be a consequential increase in sustenance allowances because of the increases of pensions.
– That is correct.
– I understand that the Minister is examining the position of exservicemen who enter repatriation hospitals and do not receive pay while they a re there. The Minister is seeking a plan which will remove that anomaly, which is a serious and hurtful one for the individuals concerned. It is bad enough to he sick, but to be sick and worried is doubly tragic, and I am sure that all honorable members will be pleased if a sensible and workable plan can be established.
All honorable members will agree that the Government has made a definite move forward in the rate of sustenance payments for ex-servicemen in hospitals. There is to be an increase of service pensions consequential on the increase of age and invalid pensions. An ex-serviceman, because he is “ burnt out “ as a result of his war service, is entitled to receive his pension earlier in life than other pensioners. The all-round 5s. increase of pensions seems to have been accepted despite the plea, of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and kindred organizations for a much higher rate for ex-servicemen. They may have accepted it reluctantly, hut I believe that they have done so because the increase in service pensions is on the same rate as that of other pensions. The only protests I have received relative to the increase have been from ex-servicemen who receive special pensions. It was stated in a speech by either the Minister himself or the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) that a 10 per cent, increase had been promised and in most cases would amount to 5s. Many men receiving the higher special rate of pension, who are dealt with separately in respect of the increases, contend that the 10 per cent, rate should apply to them ana that they should receive a 10s. instead of a 5s. increase. I am referring to totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. That position has been strenuously contested in many of the branches of ex-servicemen’s organizations in my electorate. I have had a number of representations regarding it, in view of which I would like the Minister to make the position clear. “While not satisfied that we are giving ex-servicemen all that they deserve, I consider that, within the capacity of the budget, the Government has tried to be as fair as possible to them and extend privileges over the greatest area, so that a “ blanket “ increase can apply. The Minister’s remarks concerning repatriation generally were interesting and among them was a particularly interesting reference to the soldiers’ children education scheme. The Minister stated in his second-reading speech -
The third general benefit is the soldiers’ children education scheme, which covers assistance for the education and training of children of deceased, blinded, and totally and permanently incapacitated members. The general plan is supervision and guidance from about the age of ten years, and assistance by way of allowances from the age of thirteen years right through to completion of training with an employer, or to graduation at a university.
Honorable members realize that children pass through several distinct phases of education, and the rate of the allowances is graduated accordingly. I urge the Minister to take a special and paternal interest in this phase of repatriation. Although many of the disablements suffered by servicemen are irreparable, wo can go a long way towards compensating such service men by making special provisions for their children. If they are the children of men killed in action we can help to make them worthy of their splendid parents. By providing special educational facilities for the children we can make it possible for those children to obtain high-level employment, and so compensate indirectly, but effectively, the disabled servicemen who suffered so much for their country. Nothing is so heartbreaking or so shattering to a young wife and children as the loss of her husband and their father. From that day forward the living standards of the widow and her children are, in almost every instance. tragically reduced foi- many years. Of course. ‘Hie community realizes the debt which it, owes to the survivors of those who made such sacrifices, and that is why i hey receive so much sympathy and practical assistance from various organizations like Legacy. However, the principal responsibility for caring for the dependants of servicemen must always rest with the National Government, and I was particularly pleased to hear the Minister’s comments on the soldiers’ children’s education scheme. Whilst the Government, and the Minister have already done a great deal to assist ‘ the dependants of deceased, blinded and totally and permanently incapacitated servicemen, I believe that it may be possible to do even more for those dependants. From my knowledge of the Minister, I know that he will do everything possible to expand the scheme, but in fairness to those families which have been called upon to make -itch great sacrifices, even the most strenuous efforts of the Minister will not 1*> enough. In the administration of any such scheme, the Government should guard against any tendency towards niggardliness. If any child who is eligible to come within the operation of ihe scheme shows any unusual talent, he should not be denied any opportunity merely because of some technical obstacle in Ae scheme. The inclusion of. the children’s education scheme in the bill -should not be regarded merely as an incidental aid for ex-servicemen’s dependants, but as something to which chey are rightly entitled, because of sacrifices made for the country.
– The honorable member should know that five Rhodes scholars were educated by the soldiers’ children’s education scheme.
– Yes. What a. splendid thing! The experience of ‘the last 30 years indicates that, by .some accident of poetic justice, the children of deceased and maimed ex-servicemen are more highly endowed than other children. Of course, the high degree of intelligence and understanding which they display may be due to -the fact that they are frequently deprived of many of the amenities enjoyed by ‘the children of parents ‘in more fortunate circumstances and must fend for themselves. Whatever the cause -of their precocity may be, the members of Legacy and other organizations for the advancement of the interests of ex-servicemen and their dependants, state emphatically that the children of those ex-servicemen who have made the greatest sacrifices are invariably keen to succeed. Indeed, they tell remarkable stories of almost miraculous achievements by young boys and girls.
I note with approval the useful work done by the Repatriation Commission in making loans to ex-servicemen to establish them in business and professions. An amount of £4,200,000 has been expended in that way. Tools of trade have been provided, by way of gift, to the value of £1,610,000, and by way of loans to a value of £204,000. I understand that, in addition, tools of trade are to be provided for the ex-servicemen amongst the stream of migrants from Great Britain. We hope that in a few years that stream will become a flood. I have no doubt that our generosity will be repaid in material results, because it will enable us to utilize the services of many .thousands of British tradesmen to assist us to solve the greatest problem which confronts us at present, namely, the scarcity of housing accommodation.
I pause here to pay a compliment to the Sydney staff of the Repatriation Commission, for whom I have nothing but the highest praise. It used formerly to be said that one “ digger “ did not know how to treat another, and undoubtedly at one time the Repatriation Commission was not always a pleasant body for ex-servicemen to consult. Today it is a larger, more elaborate and more efficient organization altogether, and it -functions much more smoothly. Apart from personal contacts which I have had with the staff of the commission, my impression is confirmed by the experience of the many ex-servicemen whom T have had occasion to refer to the commission. I am more than pleased at the improvement which has taken place in the commission’s method of dealing with ex-servicemen, and undoubtedly much careful thought and organization have been necessary to overcome -the average Australian’s traditional inhospitality when ‘he is placed behind -a counter. lie seems instinctively to feel that the individuals who come to the other side of the counter are seeking to “ put something over him “, and the result is that too often he. seeks to “ brush off “ inquirers. As the result of my personal experience of the staff of the commission before the recent war, I came to the con- elusion that the introduction of a small percentage of civilians would do no harm. However, the complete change of attitude which has taken place since the recent war has caused me to alter my opinion, [n the course of his second-reading speech the Minister said -
In assisting members into employment £503,000 was paid in re-employment allowance and £175,000 in fares and removal expenses.
Some critics of the Government’s treatment of ex-servicemen are in the habit of accusing the Government and the Minister for Repatriation of being “ meagre-minded “ in .such matters, and [ particularly commend to their consideration the huge sums mentioned by the Minister. The amount expended on fares and removal expenses alone is tremendous. The Government has also been more than liberal in its treatment nf ex-service apprentices. In this connexion the Minister stated -
Supplementation of the wages of apprentices has cost £2,770,000, and although the annual rate of expenditure has started to fall a considerable amount has yet to be paid. Grants for ‘ the purchase of furniture for blinded and totally and permanently incapacitated members, and widows, totalled £310,000. [ have no doubt that in the light of the facts which I have stated honorable members will he satisfied that the charges made by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) are not only without foundation but are also silly. The honorable member really desires us to embark on another war, this time with the Repatriation Commission.
– The Minister for Repatriation has misled the honorable member, as I shall explain to him later.
– I do not think that the Minister would mislead rae.
– Yes, he has. I have just discovered proof.
– I am convinced that “the honorable member for Balaclava is misleading himself. There is no doubt of hies ‘enthusiasm for ex-servicemen, but I suggest that some of bis efforts on their behalf are misdirected.
– We cannot get around the official report.
– In the name of goodness I hope that the honorable member is not going to produce a file. Members of the honorable member’s party have had a great deal to say about the possession of documents recently, and, I am afraid, with unhappy results for themselves. I particularly welcome the decision to increase the rate of medical sustenance payments. I should like sustenance to be paid to all ex-servicemen who have to enter hospital so that they and their families may have a decent living standard, during such periods. Service benefits have also been increased, and I am pleased to know that the money 19 being expended wisely. I pay tribute to the personnel of the repatriation institutions, and, in conclusion, I particularly commend the ex-servicemen’s children’s education scheme. I desire to impress upon the Minister that that scheme provides one of the finest means by which we can make anything like adequate compensation to those servicemen who sacrificed so much for us.
.- The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) is an ex-serviceman, and I pay him the tribute of saying that I think he is sincere in this matter and that he has some feeling for pensioned ex-servicemen. However, I do not think that I do the honorable gentleman an injustice when 1 say that he has not the same latitude a..= has a member of the Opposition to criticize a bill that is brought down by the Government. Notwithstanding that, the honorable gentleman had the courage to tell the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) that, in his opinion, certain portions of this bill were not satisfactory, and to ask the Minister to look at them again. That is all that any honorable member can do, and having done it he can only hope that the defects to which he has drawn attention will be rectified.
This bill is described as “ a bill for a-n act to amend the Australian Soldiers” Repatriation Act, 1.920-1947 “, but I am horrified to discover that it proposes to alter the whole basis upon which pensions are at present granted to ex-servicemen. Since World War I. that basis has been recognized as an equitable one. Subclause 2 of clause f> reads -
A service pension shall not be payable in any case to a person the net capital value of « hose accumulated property exceeds seven li hundred aud fifty pounds.
– That sub-clause refers to service pensions.
– It refers to pensions that are granted to ex-servicemen. Such pensions have always been paid because the pensioners are suffering from some disability and not because of their financial position. The Labour party is obsessed by the idea that taxation problems should always be considered in the light of what income is left to the taxpayer after he has paid his taxes rather than from the point of view of whether or not each person is equitably treated.
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.
– In the debate on the Social Services Consolidation Bill, honorable members opposite vied with one another in eulogizing the Government for what they described as the magnanimous treatment that is to be accorded to age and invalid pensioners. They said that age and invalid pensions were paid as a right and not as acts of charity. I have always maintained, and I think the people of Australia generally agree with me, that service pensions are paid as a right and not as acts of charity. However, sub- clause 2 of clause 4 of this bill reads -
A member of the forces who is permanently unemployable and who would, but for the fact that he is receiving an age or invalid pension under the Social Services Consolidation Acf l!)47-4.S, bc eligible for a service pension may -surrender the agc or invalid pension, and, thereupon, a service pension may be granted to him as from the date of the .surrender.
The bill proposes that if a permanently unemployable member of the forces receives an age or invalid pension, he must sacrifice his service pension. That is something of which the Government should be ashamed. ‘ It is treating the (payment of service pensions on the basis nf strict economics. The glib phrases that were used in the course of debate on the Social Services Consolidation Bill mean .nothing. Actions speak louder than words. It is proposed topenalize a service pensioner because he is eligible for an age or invalid pension. I repeat that a service pension is paid because the pensioner has lost an armor a leg, or an eye, or is suffering from some other physical disability. It is paid to him so that he will be placed upon an equal footing with other members of thecommunity. The Government, however., proposes to take that entitlement from him and to make the payment of a service pension conditional upon whether or not he has reached the age of 65 years. If he is entitled to an age and invalid pension, it is said that he ought not also to be entitled to a service pension. That proposal should be contested by all Australian ex-servicemen’s organizations, and they should not cease to contest it until the payment of service pensions is again placed upon a satisfactory basis.
If the decision whether or not to pay a service pension is to be decided by the financial position of the ex-servicemen, it may be said that a man with an income of £2,000 a year is not in need of one. I contend that that is a wrong approach to the problem. I regard the monetary value of my legs as equal to that of another man’s. If my income is £1,000 a year and another man’s income is much less, it does not follow that the. compensation that he should receive for the loss of one of his legs should be greater than that which I should receive for the loss, of one of mine.
The bill pretends to give all exservicemen an overall increase of 10 per cent, of their pension rates, but there is an anomaly to which the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has drawn attention on several occasions. I hope that the Minister will agree that an anomaly does exist and take the steps necessary to .rectify it. The totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen depend upon their pensions more than does any other”, class of .person, but their pensions are to be increased by only 5s. a week. These men, who deserve well of their country, would scorn to accept any form of help from the Government if they were capable of earning a reasonable income. Every one of them would willingly exchange his right to the pittance that he is now receiving for the health that he enjoyed before he enlisted in the armed forces of this country. Let us be realistic and not concern ourselves so much with eulogizing the Minister, however sincere the honorable gentleman may be. I repeat that actions speak louder than words. I propose to read an extract from Smith’s Weekly with regard to this matter. I have read it before in this chamber, and I do not apologize for doing so again because I think it provides a suitable background against which to consider the case of these men.
– 1% Smith’s Weekly always a reliable journal?
– This extract at any rate is reliable. It may not be palatable to the Minister, but its truth can be testified to by every right-thinking person in the community. That article states -
To hundreds of sick and wounded exservicemen, who, in the battle against poverty, have to drag their aching and mutilated bodies to work, this “ five-bob “ insult is a crowning humiliation.
T make no apology for repeating that quotation, because I agree entirely with that view. Who can dispute the truth of that statement? Who can deny that the partial Utopia in which we live has been made possible, by those men who sacrificed their virility in war, have suffered over since from that cause, and because of inadequate recognition resulting mainly from inexcusable ignorance are condemned to an uninteresting, humiliating existence in the country to which they gave of the best that God gave to them - the glory and bloom of their youth? This proposal is a crowning insult to the very men who are completely and totally incapacitated as the result of their service in defence of this country against an enemy who would have trampled it underfoot and probably murdered everybody. We have been saved from the humiliation and degradation of occupation because of the action of these men. And the Government now increases their pension by 5s. ! The increase will not enable them to meet the increase of the cost of living which ha.occurred even during the last few months. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will not allow me to digress to state the reasons why the cost of living has increased.’ I could do so very effectively. The cost of living has increased; and if you, sir, doubt it and tell me to go ahead and prove it, I shall do so. The cost of living has increased by much more than 5s. for each person in the community even during the last few months, yet exservice personnel who are totally and permanently incapacitated, men who may be blind, or suffering from heart and other ailments so severely that they dare not earn any income for fear of the consequences, are now to be given an increase of pension of 5s. a week. And this grateful Government claims that it is thereby doing something for them in return for the sacrifices they made while on war service .’
On a previous occasion, I pointed out that in 1934 the 100 per cent, general service pension, not the pension for totally and permanently incapacitated exservice personnel, was £2 2s. a week, which represented 65 per cent, of the basic wage at that time. But, after allowing for the increase of 5s. now proposed, that pension to-day represent? only 47$ per cent, of the present basic wage. Therefore, these ex-servicemen are immeasurably worse off to-day, in the greatest spending boom in our history, than they were in the darkest days of the depression. No one can gainsay that fact. Honorable members who have regard only for effects and totally ignore causes, may be interested to learn that in terms of purchasing power 15s. to-day is the equivalent of only 5s. in 1920. Yet, supporters of the Government boast that in the recent war it increased the soldier’s pay to 8s. a day. Having regard to the fact that, in terms of purchasing power, the 5s. a day paid to the soldier during World War I. was equal to 12s. during the recent war, the Government, in fact, did not give any increased benefit to the soldier, but paid to him an amount which did not compensate him for the increase of the. cost of living. Apparently, the Government is following that policy in respect of repatriation benefits.
Clause 5 of the bill provides -
Section eighty-nine of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - “89. - (1.) Where a service pensioner or an applicant for a service pension has accumulated property, the amount of the service pension which would, but for this sub-section, he payable to that person shall be reduced -
if the net capital value of the accumulated property of the pensioner or applicant exceeds One hundred pounds but does not exceed Four hundred and fifty pounds - by Nine pence per fortnight for every complete Ten pounds by which the net capital value of that property exceeds One hundred pounds; or
if the net capital value of the accumulated property of the pensioner or applicant exceeds Four hundred and fifty pounds - by the sum of One pound six shillings and three pence per fortnight together with One shilling and six pence per fortnight for every complete Ten pounds by which the net capital value of that property exceeds Four hundred and fifty pounds. “ (2.) A service pension shall not be payable in any case to a person the net capital value of whose accumulated property exceeds Seven hundred and fifty pounds.”.
– That does not affect the general pension.
– I advise the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) to read that cla.use. The Government cannot deny the fact that the basis of pensions for ex-servicemen is being altered under this measure which places the ex-service pensioner on the same footing as invalid and age pensioners so far as the property bar is concerned. The measure provides that an ex-service pensioner who possesses property in excess of a certain value will not receive any service pension whatsoever.
– The service pension and the general pension are altogether different.
– What does the honorable member call the general pension ?
– The general pension is granted in respect of a war-caused disability, whereas a service pension is paid to a burnt-out serviceman who is not suffering from a war-caused disability.
– What is a burnt-out pension?
– A burnt-out pension is the age pension given to an ex-serviceman five years before he reaches the age of 65 years. That pension was instituted by the Lyons Government.
– The Minister bears out what I have been saying. The service pension is not being treated as an entitlement at all. Actions speak louder than words, and such action makes worthless all the Minister’s talk last week about pensions being made available as a right and not as a charity. Under this measure, the Government does not recognize the right of certain classes of exservicemen in that respect. On Wednesday evening it rejected an amendment proposed by the honor able member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) to exclude war pensions from the application of the means test in respect of invalid and age pensions on the ground that the service pension was an economic pension and not an entitlement due to an exserviceman because of incapacity resulting from his war service. The Government is treating the serviceman’s pension in exactly the same way as it treats age and invalid pensions. I have no doubt that all ex-servicemen will object to that attitude, and that the Government will hear more about the matter from them. Consequently, I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava that the bill be withdrawn and referred to a parliamentary select committee of ex-servicemen to inquire into and report upon the present repatriation pension rates with a view to adjusting them to present living costs.
– The amendment will not be accepted.
– That is not surprising. We know that logical and sound amendments emanating from the Opposition are rejected by the Government in this chamber; but we also know that many of them are subsequently adopted by the Government and made in the legislation when it is presented to the Senate. We are. happy about the practice as long as the wisdom of honorable members on this side of the House results in the improvement of the legislation.
– The honorable member is satisfied so long as some one gets the advantage?
– Exactly. We do not care from which, side of the House the amendments may be introduced so long as they are improvements. That practice was adopted in connexion with an amendment proposed by the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons) to a hill similar to that now before us.. After the amendment had been rejected by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), it found its way into the legislation
-(Mr. Clark). - The honorable member may not refer to what has occurred in respect of some other legislation.
– That legislation was of a similar kind to that now before us and accordingly my remarks are pertinent to the subject before the Chair. We do not mind if that practice be continued in this instance as long as the ex-serviceman will get the benefit to which we believe he is entitled.
I should like the Minister to explain the reason for the insertion in the bill of sub-clause 2 of clause 4 which reads -
A member of the Forces who is permanently unemployable and who would, but for the fact that he is receiving an age or invalid pension, under the Social Services Consolidation Act 1947-1948, be eligible for a service pension, may surrender the age or invalid pension, and, thereupon, a service pension may be granted to him from, the date of the surrender, and service pensions may be granted to the wife and children of that member as from the date of his application for a service pension.
Fs this clause intended .to cover burntout ox-servicemen?
– That is so.
– The Minister admits that it relates to burnt-out ex-servicemen who are unemployable as the result of war service. Surely such men are entitled to pensions, not because of their age, but because of their incapacity. When they reach a certain age they should also ,be entitled to receive the age pension.
Mi*. Barnard. - There is no innovation in this proposal.
– If so, why does the Government propose to amend the Principal Act in this way? I object to the whole of the altered basis upon which eligibility for pensions is to be determined. I have no desire to weary honorable members on this subject, but only by repetition can I hope to drive home to the Government the anomaly which it is creating by this legislation. Since World War I. disabled ex-servicemen have received war pensions even if they are in receipt of ?4,000 or ?10,000 a year. The pension was paid to compensate them for disabilities suffered in the service of their country. Upon attaining a certain age all ex-servicemen became entitled to a service pension irrespective of their virility or earning capacity. I have no desire to be unjust in my criticism of this measure but I shall not allow the Minister to .” put it over “ me that a burnt-out ex-serviceman does not. suffer from a disability due to his war service. I shall not swallow that. This bill discriminates against these unfortunate men because should they accept an age pension they become ineligible for the service pension.
– The Government formed by the present Opposition parties inserted that provision in the Principal Act.
– I have been a member of the Parliament only during the life-time of Labour governments and therefore I cannot be held responsible for the sins of omission or commission of the governments which preceeded them. After the next election I shall undoubtedly have something to say to the successor of this Government, and I shall say it to that Government just a9 vehemently as I do to the Government now in office.
The Minister for Repatriation is well aware that the pensions paid to war widows represent a mere pittance. Much has been made by honorable members opposite of what the Government proposes to pay to war widows with four, five, six or seven children. They have endeavoured to create the impression that that is the criterion by which the plight of a war widow should be judged.
– The pensions paid to war widows in Australia are the highest in the world.
– If that be so, then the pension paid in other countries must be exceedingly low. Mrs. Vasey, the president of the War Widows Craft Guild, who should know something about this matter, has stated that even after they receive the 5s. increase in their pensions war widows will be worse off nhan they were years ago. I agree that if a war widow receives £7 or £8 a week she has not much to complain about. Let us rather consider the plight of a widow with one child who receives a pension of £2 7s. 6d. a week. In. order io bolster their case the Minister and hi j- supporters say that such a widow i-; allowed to earn 30s. a week.
– The honorable member’s figures are all wrong.
– I am speaking of i he widow with one child.
– A war widow may earn any amount without having her pension reduced. No meant- test is applied in connexion with war widows’ pensions. The honorable member is confusing the ‘.1,-11 pension paid to ordinary widows with that paid to war widows.
– I. regret that I have made a mistake and apologize to the Minister for confusing civil pensions with those paid to war widows. The civil pension paid to a widow with one child is 47s. 6d. a week and the permissible income is fixed at a maximum of !0s. a week. If a widow is unable to earn i hat amount she may well starve. A war widow with one child receives a pension <>f £3 17s. 6d., which is equal to the total amount an ordinary widow may derive from, both pension and earnings. Having regard to the existing scale of rents and tb e high cost of feeding and clothing herself and her child, such a widow would not enjoy a very handsome -standard of living.
– I do not suggest that -he could.
– At least the rate is Letter than that paid after World War I. when governments formed by the Opposition parties were in office.
– What a tragedy it is that the sole contribution some honorable members can make to a debate is to refer to what may have, happened after World War I.
– Order ! The honorable member must address the < ‘hair.
– I am doing so. 1 am looking straight at you, sir, but I am speaking loudly enough for the honorable member for Herbert to hear what I say. I have already said that 5s. in those days had a purchasing power equal to that of 15s. to-day. Yet supporters of the Government compare pension rates in actual units of money instead of on the basis of value. The Minister would be well advised to accept the guidance of the War Widows Craft Guild, a body which is capable of giving him all the data he requires to formulate a scheme that will at least give some satisfaction to everybody instead of a little satisfaction to a few. The Minister received a deputation of war widows, and I believe he was rather nonplussed. I can understand that, because I have heard Mrs. Vasey speak. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act - National Security (Liquid Fuel) Regula tions - Order - 1.948, No. 2.
National Security (Prices) RegulationsOrder - No. 3411 (substitute copy).
House adjourned at 1 2.50 p.m.
The following answers to questions wen’ circulated: -
Armed Forces : Militia.
– The answers to the right honorable gentleman’s questions are as follows : -
The Minister for the Army - Honorable Cyril Chambers, M.P.. (President).
Chief of the General Staff - Lieutenant General V. A. H. Sturdee. C.B., C.B.E.. D.S.O. (Chairman).
Vice Chief of the General Staff - Lien tenant-General S. F. Howell, C.B., C.B..E.
Adjutant-General - Major-General W. M Anderson. C.B.E.,D.S.O.
Quartermaster-General - Major-General W Bridgeford, C.B., C.B.E., M.C.
The Master-General of the Ordnance - Major-General W. W. Whittle.
The Commonwealth Military Force Mem ber - Major-General G. F. Wootten. C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., E.D. The Finance Member - Mr. J. T. Fitzgerald. M.B.E.
Secretary, Department of the Army (ex officio) - Mr. F. R. Sinclair.
Royal Military College.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 October 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1948/19481015_reps_18_199/>.