20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Arohie Cameron) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– I rise on a point of privilege. Yesterday, I exorcised my right as a private member to address a question without notice to the PostmasterGeneral. I craved the indulgence of the House to read from a letter I had received a few minutes before. The Minister exercised his right and answered the question. I have been informed that both the question and the answer were deleted from the re-broadcast of questions by the Australian Broadcasting Commission last night. I have been informed also that both the question and the answer are to be excluded from the record of the proceedings of the House.Would I be in order if I asked under whose authority the deletions were made?
– The honorable member stated that he wished to raise a point of privilege, He has not yet raised such a point. Has the honorable member a point of privilege to raise?
– I consider that I have.
– It is a question, not of what the honorable gentleman considers but whetherhe has a point of privilege to raise. So far, he has not raised one.
– I have stated my point of privilege. I believe this is the only opportunity I shall have to raise the matter during this session. As this is a matter of urgency to me, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, under whose authority were the question and answer deleted from the re-broadcast of questions yesterday, and under whose authority are the question and answer to be deleted from the record of the proceedingsof the House? If that is not a matterof privilege, will you be good enough to advise me on the action I can take to protectmy rights as a private member?
– The honorable gentleman should know that if he rises to privilege, he must conclude with a motion. So far, he has not raised a point of privilege.
– My question is directed to you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I exercised my privilege as a private member of the House to address a question to the Postmaster-General. I specically craved the indulgence of the House to read from a letter that I had received a few minutes before I asked my question. The Minister, in his wisdom, exercised his right to answer the question.
– Order ! What is the question?
– Last night both question and answer were deleted from the re-broadcast of the proceedings of this House, and the re-broadcast was preceded by a statement that a question had been deleted from it. I have also been informed that it is proposed to delete the question and answer from the record of the proceedings of this House. I now ask you under whose authority the deletion was -made from the re-broadcast of question time, and under whose authority it is proposed to delete the question and answer from the record of the proceedings of the House.
– Whatever happened and whatever will happen has happened and will happen under my authority.
– I address a question to you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the honorable member for Riverina referred to conduct of a praiseworthy nature on the part of a telephone attendant in a post office, and asked if you, sir, would permit the Postm aster-General to comment upon it,. In view of the fact that you ruled part of the question to be in order, is it therefore correct to have such a question and answer omitted from the re-broadcast of questions, or from the Ilansard record of the proceedings of the House? In short, I am asking you whether you might elaborate the answer you gave to the honorable member for Riverina a moment asio.
– What was done was donn in accordance with the rules laid down by the Parliamentary. Broadcasting Committee.
– Which rules, Mr. Speaker?
– The rules approved by this House.
– I rise to order. It may bc within the province of the Parliamentary Broadcasting Committee to determine which matters shall be re-broadcast from this chamber, and I understand that it lias that authority. But surely the decision on which of the questions asked in this House should appear in the records of the House cannot be a matter for the committee. It is surely a matter for this House itself. If you, Mr. Speaker, exercising the authority and discretion that may reside in you, have decided to exclude certain matter from Hansard, then I believe that the honorable member involved has a right to be told why statements made by bini have been so excluded. In addition. 1 think that on this occasion the House would gain information and guidance if it were informed of the principle on which you acted.
– Until I came to the chair this morning I had heard nothing of Hansard in relation to this matter.
– I wish to speak to the point of order. If it is a fact that matter has been deleted from Hansard will you, Mr. -Speaker, restore it to Hansard? Will you also give an assurance that the question asked by the honorable member for Riverina this morning, in which he disputed the propriety of what was done, will not also be excluded from Hansard?
– I ii iso wish to speak to the point of order. You stated, Mr. Speaker, “that what was done a.bout the elimination from the re-broadcast of the question and answer concerned, was done under your authority. May I ask why you did it?
– As I am involved in this matter I consider I am also entitled to some information about the reason for the deletion of the question and answer. I understand that a question and answer should appear in the Hansard, record if the question is in order. Yesterday you ruled out of order the second part of the question put to me by the honorable member for Riverina, but you ruled the first part to be in order. When I was replying to the question I said that I would reply to the first part of the question, which you had ruled in order. Since there was nothing objectionable in the question or the answer, as far a3 I could see, because they merely referred to some very fineservice that had been performed by « telephonist, I should like to know the reasons for your action.
– The reasons are due to mechanics. The matter was put before me some time afterwards, when the preparation of the evening’s re-broadcast took place, and in the circumstances the only thing I could do was to agree that the question and answer should be eliminated. I call the honorable member for Isaacs.
– I rise to order. 1 spoke to the point of ‘order taken by the Minister for Immigration, and asked you whether you would assure the House that the happenings this morning will appear in the Hansard record, and whether you would take action to ensure that if the Hansard record had been the subject of interference, quite apart from the matter concerning your ruling with regard to the re-broadcast of the question, you would see that the deleted matter was again inserted in Hansard.
– I have never yet eliminated anything from Hansard, and I do not propose to do so.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether a high military personage now visiting Australia has expressed concern about the northern defences of Australia, in relation to the security of the British Commonwealth as well as of this country ? If so, and in any event, will the right honorable gentleman emulate the frankness displayed by another overseas personage during his recent visit to this country and take the House into his confidence in connexion with our northern defences? Or is he, like the Minister for the Army, quite satisfied that everything in the garden is lovely ?
– I shall not deal with the comments made by the honorable member, which, I imagine, were out of order. A high military personage now visiting Australia has not commented on the northern defences of Australia. That ‘ story is a singularly imaginative effort by one newspaper. The high military personage to whom the honorable member has referred, in common with all the other high military personages involved in the defence of Australia, is entirely in accord with the principle of mobility in defence adopted by this Government.
– Is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture aware of the serious fall in the market price of eggs exported to the United Kingdom? Does this state of affairs cause some misgivings about the advice tendered to the Government that the price would be in the vicinity of 7s. 6d. a dozen or even higher? As the Minister no doubt realizes that the maintenance of the local industry at this stage is dependent on a fair costofproduction export price, can he state the present prospects and his opinion of the future position of this export market?
– Quite a serious fall in the value of Australian eggs on the United Kingdom market in recent weeks has given serious concern to. myself and the Government as well as to the Australian egg producers. The last sale a couple of days ago indicated some recovery in values. It is hoped that there will be a substantial recovery. On the conclusion of the five-year contract for the bulk sale of eggs and egg pulp to the United Kingdom last year, the Minister of Food in Great Britain decided that there should be derationing of eggs and complete decontrol of the price of eggs on the English market, but that the Ministry of Food would remain the sole importer of eggs for another year. In those circumstances, I suggested to the Minister of Food in London last year that it would be quite unacceptable to the Australian Government for the British Government- to import Australian eggs and perhaps resell them at a profit. He accepted that situation. As an outcome of discussions with him, representatives of the Australian egg producers went to London and negotiated with the Ministry of Food. The Ministry of Food offered the egg producers last year’s price plus a 50-50 sharing of any profit made on the sale of Australian eggs or, alternatively, complete realization on Australian eggs on the United Kingdom market with an ordinary merchandising advance higher than last year’s price. The egg producers elected to take the realization on the English market. They, and all the experts whom they consulted, held the opinion that on an uncontrolled market the value of eggs would rise very high this year. The estimated value of eggs on the English market ranged from 7s. to lis. a dozen. Unhappily, the expectation of the representatives of the Australian egg producers did not prove to be solidly founded. Disappointing sales have followed. As I said yesterday, I have received information that there has been an upward turn in the value of Australian eggs on the English market. If that trend continues, the position may right itself. If not, I assure the honorable member for Mitchell that I shall give serious consideration to the circumstances of the Australian egg producers. I am meeting representatives of the Australian Egg Board this week to discuss the matter.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Social Services a question in relation to the statement that the increased rate of pensions shall commence on the pension pay day after the amending legislation is given the Royal assent. Can the Minister say whether that payment will apply . to the large number of people - I think about 120,000 - who receive part pensions? Is it necessary for those people to make an application setting out their present position or will they be dealt with automatically by the department in every case?
– As the honorable member for Port Adelaide has said, there are about 120,000 people on reduced pensions who will get increases under the amending legislation. In all those cases the department has the records and it will re-assess those pensions without the pensioners having to make fresh applications. Of course, a number of new people will become entitled to a pension, but in such cases it will be necessary for them to submit an application.
– Will the Prime Minister ask the Crown law authorities to examine urgently the proposals of the New South Wales Government to make it compulsory for all employed people to belong to a trade union? Will he ascertain whether such a scheme, be it carried out directly, or by subterfuge under some alleged absolute preference, is not an infringement of Article 20 of the Declaration of Human Rights which reads -
If it is found that the Cahill socialist government’s proposals do amount to an infringement of that declaration, I ask the right honorable gentleman to have the matter examined to determine whether legal proceedings can be taken in the High Court to restrain the State Government from committing an act which is in direct contravention of the treaty obligations of the Australian Government. By way of explanation-
– Order !
– I realize that the suggestion that a State government should be restrained by action through the High Court is a novel one.
– Order! The honorable member is now making a statement.
– I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree-
– Order ! The honorable member is out of order.
– Does not the Prime Minister agree that this field is one that has not yet been fully explored, and will he have the matter considered to ascertain whether an impossible position has arisen of a State government openly defying the contractual obligations of the Australian Government, particularly when they have been incurred on behalf of the States-
– Order ! The last part of the question is completely out of order.
– The suggestion made by the honorable member is indeed a novel one. I shall have a look at it.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether the decision of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration to abandon automatic wage adjustments means a return to the conditions which operated so disastrously from 1912 to 1921 and which caused the then Nationalist Prime Minister, the late Mr. W. M. Hughes, to announce, as his preelection policy on the 30th October, 1919-
– .1. rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is this question within the .rulings that you have given on questions? So far, it has been a political address. It has consisted exclusively of comment, and, therefore, although it may conclude with a rising inflection that may make it sound like a question, it .will be in reality a speech.
– Up to date I have not been able to discover what the question is about. It is a. rather long statement that refers to events 30 or 40 years ago. If the honorable member for Blaxland has a question to ask he may ask it, but what he has said up to date is out of order and will not be re-broadcast.
– This question is of urgent importance at this time. I want to know whether the decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to abandon automatic wage adjustments will lead, in fact, to a return to conditions which operated between 1912 and 1921 and were discarded because-
– All that argument was put to the court.
– Order ! If the honorable member will end his question at that stage, it will be in order.
– I also want to know whether it is a fact that the decision of the court is a complete negation of the decision of the royal commission appointed by the Hughes Government in 1920, which declared that the wage earned should be related to the value of the fi so that it would always purchase the same amount.
– Order ! The Minister may reply to the first question. The second question invites him to express an opinion, I think.
– I understand that the court will give the reasons for its judgment on Tuesday next, and I suggest that the honorable member study those reasons. I have no doubt that the court is keenly conscious of the need for a suitable review bf the basic wage from time to time, and I am equally conscious that, whatever imperfections may have existed in the arbitration system in the past we now have a system that will work admirably if the parties to it are prepared fo abide by its decisions.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether he is aware that of twelve well-constructed army huts at the Portsea, quarantine station, eight are unused. By way of explanation-
– Order ! Explanations are out of order.
– Is the right honorable gentleman aware that four of the hut3 are used by an. officers’ cadet school, which has no apparent use for the unused huts which have not been utilized for many years? Will the Minister discuss thi3 matter with the Minister for the. Army and consider whether the huts may not be released for local use.
– The Minister for the Army and myself have made an extraordinarily good arrangement which has enabled officers to be trained at Portsea for the last two years. If the Minister makes a request of me it will be dealt with in a generous fashion.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether the Government is prepared, at an early date, to submit a report to the House on the progress of the Colombo Plan, in order that honorable members may have an opportunity to learn just what the plan has achieved, and perhaps to make suggestions about its future development?
– My colleague, the Minister for External Affairs, has just attended the last review of the operations of the Colombo Plan. He might give the House fuller and more up-to-date information if he made a statement along those lines immediately after he returns to Australia.
– I address a question to the Vice-President of the Executive Council as Minister in charge of the Royal visit to Australia. Have the Royal tour plans for Queensland been completely finalized ? Is there any likelihood of alterations being made to the plan? If any change or alteration is desired by any community, to whom must the approach be now made?
– The answer to the first of the honorable member’s questions is “ Yes “. The answer to the second is “ No alteration is likely to be made “. The answer to the third is “ Through the Queensland Government”.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether a decision has been made to close a cafeteria, which has been conducted by the Department of External Affairs at West Block, Canberra, since 194S, and which has been run at a profit ? Has the Department of the Treasury declined to make funds available for the construction of a cafeteria adjacent to West Block, the plans for which were approved some time ago by the then Minister acting for the Minister for the Interior? Will the right honorable gentleman undertake to have these decisions reviewed in order that the service, which is availed of by many public servants in a city in which cafe facilities are at a minimum, will not be discontinued.
– The subject-matter of the question is not one for which the Prime Minister is responsible, but the right honorable gentleman may answer the question if he wishes to do so, notwithstanding the fact that it does not concern his department.
– 1 am willing to say that I am not acquainted with the matter. Having regard to the honorable member’s remarks I shall ascertain the facts.
– Thank you very much.
– Will you, Mr. Speaker, consider taking action to improve the lighting of this chamber? The present system is trying to the eyes, and there is evidence that it is oppressive to the mind. Is it not possible to allow daylight to filter through the twelve large windows above the galleries, instead of keeping them heavily curtained, as if this were a house of mourning? Furthermore, could consideration be given to the insertion of a skylight in the ceiling, after the manner of several parliament houses abroad, including the House of Commons? Would you not agree, Mr. Speaker, that with less artificial lighting there may be less theatrical conduct on the part of some honorable members?
– I undertake to have the matter examined during the coming short recess. I can assure the honorable member that two or three other honorable members have complained about the lighting of the chamber. Our difficulty, on past experience, is to evolve a system of lighting that suits everybody. We had a most interesting experience in regard to the new lighting system installed in the Library because those who desired fluorescent lighting to be installed were very dissatisfied when it was put in, and they wanted to revert to the old system. That, of course, could not be done.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that some employers of labour are advertising for staff, and stating that they prefer applicants of Australian and British nationality. In view of the facts that some professional bodies have always taken a strong stand on nationality on the ground of academic qualifications, and that this type of discrimination is likely to become dangerous to the speedy assimilation of new Australians, will the Minister consider the advisability of taking the matter up with the various Chambers of Manufacturers and Chambers of Commerce in the States in order to see whether this dangerous practice cannot in some way be discontinued ?
– If I thought that the practice to which the honorable member has referred was other than of an isolated nature I should certainly give serious consideration to the course he has suggested. I .am happy to inform ‘“die House that employers and organizations of employee’s have co-operated generously in placing new settlers in employment. There has been some reluctance to engage European immigrants for work in the coal-mining industry, but this has been due to the necessity for the general use of the English language in the interests of safety. Generally, the trade unions and employers have adopted the view, which the Government has put to them, that it is necessary for successful assimilation to have new settlers spread throughout the economic life of the country. I have no complaint about the manner in which the overwhelming majority of employers and trade unions have co-operated in this way. The Government certainly would deplore instances of the kind mentioned by the honorable member, but I think that they are so isolated that they do not warrant any special action at this stage.
– Has the Minister for the Army read of a recent statement by United States authorities to the effect that the death rate amongst casualties in Korea was only one-half of the rate in World War II., and that a great part of the improvement was due to the use of helicopters as ambulance vehicles? Is it also true that helicopters can play an important part in other defence operations? Have they not a great part to play in some civil development, and particularly in the prospecting for uranium ore and other ores? Will the Minister confer with other Service Ministers, the Minister for Supply and the Minister for National Development, with a view to establishing an adequate helicopter force in Australia so that we may have the advantage of the new techniques and become familiar with them?
– The honorable member for Mackellar has mentioned the use of helicopters by the Army for the removal of casualties from the forward areas in Korea. The House may not be aware that the casualties in the Korean campaign are the lowest on record. In the 1914-18 war 10 per cent, of wounded soldiers died of wound’s; in thc 1009-4.” war the percentage fell ‘<” ‘< per cent.: and in the Korean War it was only about 2i per cent. Hut that record is not due entirely to the use of helicopters, It is due to the improvement of medical services, and the greater physical fitness of the troops. I assure the honorable gentleman that we are well aware of the value of helicopters for the removal of casualties, and for general war purposes.
This matter has been the subject of close examination by the Department of the Army, and we have most of the United States reports to which the honorable gentleman’ has referred. I shall bring the other matters that he has mentioned to the notice of the Minister for Supply.
– Will the Prime Minister discuss with the Public Service Board the necessity for applicants for permanent employment in the Public Service to be given an immediate medical examination in order to determine their physical fitness? Under the present system, they are not medically examined until some months after they have entered the service, and this delay has a ba-d effect upon persons who have been employed for that period and are then rejected on medical grounds. The adoption of my proposal would improve efficiency, and give greater satisfaction to the employee and the board.
– The honorable member for Phillip has made an interesting suggestion, and I shall discuss it with the Public Service Board.
– My question i.s addressed to the Postm aster-General. Is it a fact that in the new automatic telephone exchange of 4,000 lines which was opened last week at St. Leonards, on the border of my electorate, a new automatic switch gear was used for the first time in the world, and has proved remarkably efficient? How was that new switch developed? Is it proposed to use this gear when new automatic telephone exchanges are installed in the future?
– The switch at the new automatic telephone exchange at St. Leonardo is a very modern development, and is regarded as the finest in the world, lt is proposed to use this gear when new automatic telephone exchanges are installed throughout Australia in the future. The switch was developed by Australian postal engineers who were working in conjunction with the British General Electric Company in England. The equipment is the result of some years of research on the part of both organizations. The present equipment at St. Leonards was manufactured in England, but it is proposed to. manufacture this switch, which is known as SE50, in Australia. We shall then have the advantage of perhaps the finest switch gear in the world for automatic telephone exchanges.
– As chairman, I present the report of the Public Accounts Committee on the following subject: -
Ordered to be printed.
The following bills were returned from the Senate: -
Without requests -
Appropriation Bill 1953-34.
Without amendment -
Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill 1953-54.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether it is true that a Minister in another place has caused to have circulated draft proposals for the sale of the Commonwealth shipping line?
– Order ! The honorable member may not base a question on proceedings in the Senate, or on any matter pending therein.
– In other words–
– Order ! If the question is based on something that a Minister in the Senate has done, it is out of order.
– Is it true that Ministers are very divided on the question–
– Order ! Did the honorable gentleman hear my ruling?
– I did not quite catch it.
– The honorable gentleman commenced his question by asking something in relation to a Minister in another place. That is absolutely out of order in this House.
– I have received a letter from the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) proposing that a definite matter of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely -
The urgent necessity of protecting a national asset owned by the people of Australia by a public assurance that the Government will not dispose of the Commonwealth shipping fleet to a shipping monopoly of private companies.
Is the proposal supported?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the proposal,
.- One of the very few Commonwealth-owned assets not yet shamefully sold out to private enterprise by this Government is the Commonwealth shipping fleet. But it is not the fault of the Government that the fleet is unsold. For eighteen months, the ships have been on the auction block. For eighteen months, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), with a small group of Cabinet members, has been desperately, ruthlessly and cold-bloodedly endeavouring to find buyers for our Commonwealth ships amongAustralian private companies. For eighteen months, the leaders of the Government parties have tried unsuccessfully to silence the Governments of Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, and the people of Australia. They have tried to allay their fears by pious statements to the effect that the people’s shipping requirements and interests will be safeguarded when the Commonwealth shipping fleet is sold. We have absolutely no faith in such assurances, nor have we any faith in this Government or in any of its promises, so many of which have been broken.
For eighteen months, the fate of this fleet has hungin the balance. The ships remain unsold for one reason only, that is the failure so far of private companies to find sufficient capital to purchase them. All the time, the private companies have been stalling, hoping that the Government will weaken and cut the price down. It is quite conceivable that, in a last desperate throw to sabotage this fleet by selling it to private companies before the next general election, the Government will weaken, reduce the price, and ease the conditions of sale. The leaders of the private shipping companies, being hardheaded businessmen, may be gambling on that contingency. In the last two gallup polls, the people of Australia have indicated quite clearly that this Government will go out of office at the next general election. Therefore, the sale of the ships must take place before then. I have authority to state unequivocally that when Labour is returned next year there will be no sell-out of our Commonwealth shipping fleet, and that, on the contrary, its effectiveness will be increased and its competitive influence greatly strengthened. Hence, the shameful, indecent and shabby haste of this Government to sabotage the fleet as soon as possible before the next general election is held. T believe the Government is prepared to use desperate means to achieve that end as time runs faster against it.
It is interesting to note that the Government has no specific mandate from the people to sell our ships. Honorable members opposite are always talking about mandates. Let me quote from the oracle itself - the policy speech delivered by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in 1949. The right honorable gentleman, referring to socialist enterprises, said -
The promise about Tasmania has not been honoured. The point to note is that the Prime Minister made no mention in his 1949 or 1951 policy speeches of a sellout of the Commonwealth shipping fleet.
– Impliedly, he promised to keep it.
– As the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has pointed out, the right honorable gentleman implied that the Government parties would retain the fleet and make it more competitive with private enterprise. The Government has no mandate for the sale of the fleet. It is clear, therefore, that the Government is riding ruthlessly over the opinion of the people on this matter, and that it is deaf to the repercussions that the sale would have on farmers, consumers and manufacturers, who would lose most if a great shipping monopoly were established. The Government is deliberately ignoring the tremendous benefit that a competitive shipping service would bestow on this country. It is following in the footsteps of the BrucePage Administration which, in 1927, sold for a song the first Commonwealth shipping line established in this country. That was a scandal, and the Bruce-Page Government was defeated at the 1929 general election. This is a scandal, and the Menzies Government will be defeated at the next general election.
Let me trace the history of the Commonwealth shipping line. In 1941, a Labour government started to build ships in order to maintain supplies for our troops who were thousands of miles away from these shores. They built the River- class ships, “B” class ships and “E” class ships. They are magnificent vessels. Up to June, 1950, 2S of those vessels had been built, at a cost of £10,242,800. Since June, 1950, seven new ships have been taken into the Commonwealth fleet, at a cost of £2,586,736. Ships now under construction total 23, and their cost will be £20,000,000. Pour of them are being built in the United Kingdom, and nineteen in Australia. The target dates for delivery are between 1953 and 1959. The Australian Shipping Board has four ships under charter. By 1959, therefore, we shall have 62 Commonwealth-owned vessels, which will have cost approximately £34,500,000 of the taxpayers’ money. Since 1951 and up to March of this year, the fleet has made a gross profit of £600,000. That fact highlights the magnitude of the betrayal of the people by the Government in proposing to sell out a paying Commonwealth enterprise that is indispensable in time of war and is an effective competitor with other shipping lines in time of peace. In 1949, the Labour Government brought down a bill to establish the Australian Shipping Board, a statutory body comprised of five members. That act was never proclaimed. The Government was put out of office before that could be done. If the Labour party were returned to office it could, if it thought fit, immediately proclaim that act and bring nil these ships under one control.
The proposed sale has been hidden in great secrecy, but certain facts have come to light through the Prime Minister, in reply to questions, and through other sources. Can the Government, unless it choses to insult the people of Australia by ignoring their vital interest in this scandalous betrayal, deny - 1. That the Prime Minister, in the Senate campaign, announced that the sale would take place? 2. That a. Cabinet sub-committee is having regular secret meetings with representatives of the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited, Mcllwraith McEachern Limited and Huddart Parker Limited? 3. That the total cost of building the present fleet of 39 ships has been approximately .14,329,000? 4. That their market value on to-day’s values would be approximately £22,000,000? 5. That the Minister for Shipping and Transport has informed my colleague, the honorable member for Flinders, that 5 per cent, per annum depreciation on 35 of the 39 ships up to June, 1953, makes their depreciated value £9,749,000? G. That the Government intends to sell these modern vessels to private monopolies for less than the market value of £22,000,000 and even less than the cost price of £14,329,000? 7. That the sellout conditions will put the price nearer the depreciated value of £9,749,000, even though the market value is the basis of all transactions to-day? S. That the Government is prepared to accept £6,000,000 deposit on the delivery date and the balance over ten or twelve years? “We believe that the Government cannot deny those charges. If they are correct, or even almost correct, the whole sordid business is still a scandal of the greatest magnitude.
Already shipping freights have a strangle-hold on the economy of Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia, for which shipping is an economic lifeline. Freights between Tasmania and the mainland have risen an average of 550 per cent. Timber, general cargo, potatoes, jams and fruit have been hit hardest. These exhorbitant costs are passed on to the consumers and the farmers, with a resultant increase in the cost of living. The major shipping companies are paying an average of between S per cent, and 9 per cent, in dividends. The Government and the companies scream about the cost of repairs and labour, but the wages of seamen and watersiders have been increased by only approximately 350 per cent, since 1939. No wonder large dividends are paid, and that the farmers, the consumers and the manufacturers are paying the piper!
If the Commonwealth fleet of 39 ships is sold to private interests, thus creating the wealthiest and most powerful private shipping monopoly in the history of Australia, freights will go higher. The effect on our economy will be calamitous. The Commonwealth fleet has been moving essential cargoes on non-paying, uneconomic routes for a long time. Cargo freights on those routes are lower than the average cargo freights. Certain Tasmanian imports and exports are a case in point. Have honorable members ever heard of a private shipping line continually carrying non-paying cargoes? Certainly not, because profit before need is their maxim ! The Commonwealth ships have been a godsend to certain States in this respect, because the attitude of the Commonwealth shipping line is service before profits.
If the fleet is sold, the private companies’ will do one of two things. Either they will increase freights on those special uneconomic routes to ensure a profit or they will ask the Government to subsidize those special cargoes on those non-paying routes that would mean a heavier burden on the taxpayer and on the consumer. So far, subsidies have never been paid by the Government or the Australian Shipping Board on routes such as those from Melbourne to Darwin, from Adelaide to Tasmania with wheat, gypsum and timber, from Western Australia to Adelaide with timber, or on north Queensland port cargoes or Western Australian to Darwin cargoes. The Minister admitted in a letter, dated the 28th August, 1953, to my colleague the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ewert), that they are . all uneconomic routes. Therefore, the sell-out would mean increased freights or subsidies in order to give private enterprise its profits and dividends. Furthermore, it would mean a reduction of the total tonnage plying around our shores. To-day, 180 ships, owned by the private companies, operate around our shores, most of them being at least 25 years old. The shipping companies are just waiting to get possession of the Commonwealth fleet in order to put new ships on the service. The old ships will be condemned sooner or later, so if the sale takes place there will be a reduction in the total tonnage around our shores. I want to hear the view of the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Kekwick) on this subject.
– Order ! The honorable member for Baes is not under discussion.
– I shall be very interested to observe his reaction on this matter, because he knows that Tasmania will be hit hardest if the sellout takes place. I submit - 1. That the Government has no mandate whatever on this subject. 2. That the fleet is making profits. 3. That the sell-out would be a betrayal of trust. 4. That the price asked is even below the cost of construction. 5. That the sell-out would increase freights or involve subsidies. 6. That the sale would create a great private . shipping monopoly and destroy competition. 7. That the sale would cause economic hardships to Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia. 8. That the sell-out would prejudice the nation’s defence and ability to wage war on its sea-lanes. 9. That the people, particularly the farmers and the merchants, of the distant States are violently opposed to the sell-out and in this respect I challenge the Government, before it sells the Commonwealth shipping line to- hold a referendum on the subject at the next election. 10. That the sale would result in a reduction of total tonnage around our coastline.
For those reasons the Opposition stands absolutely and definitely opposed to this scandalous proposition. To sell out the
Commonwealth shipping line to a private shipping monopoly is against the best interests of the people of Australia.
– I must confess to feeling a little disappointed with the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie). He was, I believe, a member of a very respectable profession. I do not object to that, because I am the son of a member of the same profession, but. the difference between him and myself is that I still retain some lingering respect for the facts and the truth. If I did not know that somebody else had written a lot of material used by the honorable member for Wilmot I should be disappointed, because he has not really dealt with the truth in his speech. He was wildly and hopelessly wide of the mark.
– I object to the imputation of the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) that I have not told the truth. I ask for a withdrawal of that imputation.
– I heard the Minister distinctly say that the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) had not dealt with the truth. They were the words used, and in the circumstances I do not think he should be asked to make a withdrawal.
– This matter has become a sort of compulsion neurosis with the Opposition. This is not the first time that the matter has been raised in the House. It has been raised on adjournment motions on two occasions recently. On one occasion the honorable member for -Wilmot made an almost ‘ identical speech, containing identical misstatements of fact, to that which he has made to-day. The matter has also been raised on several other occasions. It seems to me that honorable members opposite cannot help being overcome by one of those pathological conditions that have beset this Opposition during its inglorious career. It almost appears as though, being completely destitute of any ideas and of any real grounds for criticism of the Government, the members of the Opposition have gone to the musty old cupboard, opened the creaking doors and dragged out this moth-eaten subject, given it a bit of a shake, and thrown it into the ring and said, “ We haven’t got a thing to say, so we shall trot out the alleged sale of the Commonwealth line of ships “. When the honorable member for Wilmot talks about the alleged shameful, indecent and shabby haste with which the Government is disposing of this line of ships, it is interesting to observe that it is no less than two years since it started accusing the Government of contemplating the sale of the ships. That does not sound like shabby, indecent and shameful haste. Obviously, they are not words of accuracy and fact. They are words intended merely to create an emotional reaction on the part of their auditors. But they have fallen flat. This time the Opposition has indulged in a rather elegant variation of its previous attacks, in which declamations have taken the place of statements. This time the Opposition has not so much made a straight-out denunciation of the Government for selling or being about to sell the Commonwealth line of ships. It has made a request for a public assurance that the Government will not dispose of the ships to a shipping monopoly of private interests. [t is interesting to find honorable members opposite becoming so suddenly hostile to monopolies. After all, they are the arch-priests of monopoly. They tried to turn Trans-Australia Airlines into a monopoly to gobble up and smother all competition in this country; and if it had not been for the High Court, that concern would have had a complete monopoly of Australia’s air transport. The honorable member spoke about the Shipping Act of 1949. We debated that legislation in 194.8, and the honorable member knows that if the act had ever been proclaimed, it would have destroyed all private shipping companies in Australia, and resulted in a gigantic shipping monopoly around our coasts. But the then Labour government was not game to proclaim the act. The last Labour Government tried to monopolize the banks, but the people in their wrath threw them out to where they belonged, and where they will stay for quite a while. In New South Wales the Labour paryt is trying - and according to the “ ‘Hear, hears “ that came from honorable members opposite this morning when compulsory unionism was mentioned they will also try in this Parliament, if they get the opportunity - to monopolize trade unionism so that every worker throughout the country will be compelled to join a trade union. Yet, honorable members talk about monopolies !
However, they will tell us that it is a different matter if a monopoly is a government monopoly. Apparently there is something sacred about a government monopoly. But in Victoria the Labour party is proposing to set up a monopoly of “ Tatts “. The Victorian Labour Government is proposing to give a private enterprise organization, Tattersalls, a monopoly of lotteries in that State. In view of all those facts, will honorable members opposite still continue to decry monopolies ?
They are asking for an assurance that we shall not sell out the Commonwealth fleet of ships to a shipping monopoly of private enterprise. Having given myself the pleasure of reminding the House of the position, and the inconsistency of honorable members opposite on the matter of monopolies, I now say that of course the Australian Government will not dispose of the Commonwealth line of ships to a monopoly of private companies. Let that go down on the record. Of course the Australian Government will not do that. Having said that, the matter has been completely disposed of, because that is all that has been asked for. However, that is not what the Labour party is concerned about. Honorable members opposite are concerned with making some poltiical propaganda of a general kind, and 1 therefore take leave to comment on one or two of the points that have been made by the honorable members in introducing this discussion. It has been said by other Ministers and by myself, until it has become what might be described by you, Mr. Speaker, as tedious repetition, that as a Government we do not believe that there is any magic or sacredness about industrial and commercial enterprises that are conducted by the Government. Our philosophy is that all such enterprises should be well run, and they are not necessarily better run because they are run by the Government. Therefore, discussions have been taking place to ascertain whether private shipping interests, and there are eight or nine such which operate on the Australian coast, would be interested in acquiring these ships. We are not displaying shabby, indecent, shameful haste. We are making an intelligent business-like inquiry. However, no final decision has been made. Any one who listened to the honorable member for Wilmot would have considered that a decision had been made. However, no final decision will be made except on terms such as these: The ships will only be sold at a reasonable and fair price, and satisfactory assurances will be required that adequate services will be maintained around the coast of Australia. We owe that to the people of Australia and we shall ensure that they get those assurances.
– The Government could not enforce such conditions.
– If we find that we cannot enforce them we shall not sell the ships.
– The Government will not know whether it can enforce the conditions.
-Order! If the interjections from my left do not cease I. shall have to take some action.
– This matter seems to be irritating honorable members opposite, but unfortunately the truth always seems to irritate them. The Government will insist that services to outports, and developmental services, shall continue, and that the Australian shipbuilding industry shall also continue in operation.
– Who will carry out those activities?
– Arrangements will be made which will ensure that orders will be placed with the Australian shipbuilding industry so that it will be nourished in time of peace and so be available in time of war. Another condition upon which we shall insist is that reasonable freight rates must be charged, and in no circumstances will we allow the ships to be transferred from the Australian coasts. If the Government says, as it does, “ If you people in private enterprise are interested in running these ships on these terms, some sale may take place subject to the provisos that I have indicated “. If we are not able to obtain these terms we shall continue to run the ships. Why should the Government be compelled to run the Commonwealth line of ships if it can ensure that its stipulations will be complied with by private enterprise? The history of the fleet is very interesting, because it indicates that there is no magic about a. Government-controlled enterprise, and indeed, that such enterprises are usually less competently controlled than private enterprises especially when controlled by Labour. During 1947, 194S, 1949 and I960, the Australian Shipping Board operated under the Chifley Government and lost £7,4.00,000 of the taxpayers5 money. That figure includes interest charges on capital. We assumed office at the end of .1949. The figures for the ensuing period are noteworthy. In the year ended June, 1950, we reduced the loss of £2,300,000 in the previous year to a loss of £700,000. In the following year, for the nine months ended March, 1951, we reduced the loss still further to £524,000. In the year ended March, 1952, we made a profit of £400,000, and in the year ended March, 1953, we made a profit of £275,000. These figures show the difference between business-like administration under a government that understands business and muddling under a socialist Labour government which could not successfully run a lolly shop. The Labour party cannot even prevent speculation in its own Australian Labour party branches. I do not propose to say very much more because the mute testimony of figures contradicts the Opposition at every turn. We will continue to run the Commonwealth shipping line if the terms which we have imposed in the interests of the Australian people are not met, and if we do so, we shall continue to operate it efficiently, which is something that the Labour government could never do. Time after time, Opposition members have brought up stories based on falsehoods - a series of vague allegations based upon newspaper reports. I am surprised that the Opposition should base its case -on newspaper reports because, when honorable members opposite were in government, they were always most shrill in their denunciation of the accuracy of statements that appear in the newspapers. I am not too bad at that myself. I share their opinion about the inaccuracy of some statements that appear in the press. But when it suits their purposes they gobble up and swallow, and appear to relish and believe, everything that they read in the press. The facts are as I have stated them. The Commonwealth shipping line will not be sold to the detriment of the people of Australia. Having said that, and also having said that we will certainly not sell the ships in the manner indicated in the motion, to monopolistic private companies, I have said all that needs to be said on the matter.
.-The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) has given us an assurance that the Government will not sell the Commonwealth shipping line to the shipping monopoly, but he said, “ We may sell it to the shipping companies “. Does the honorable gentleman really believe that the nine private shipping companies do not constitute the most complete and absolute watertight monopoly?
– Of course they do not.
– Not a ship is sailed on these coasts, and not a ton of cargo is picked up in any port in Australia, without the direction and consent of the Associated Steamship Owners Traffic Committee.
Mi-. Beale. - That is not .the only association of steamship owners in Australia.
– That association decides the freight rates that are to be charged to shippers on the Australian coast. There is a most complete watertight monopoly in every aspect of shipping as it at present operates in Australian coastal waters. If the Government intends, as the Minister says it does, to sell the ships to the private shipping companies, it can sell them only to the shipping monopoly which operates in Australian waters. The monopoly maintains all the war-time controls which governments in war years imposed on shipping, and it operates as a closely enclosed cartel. This proposal inevitably brings to ray mind an old English verse which reads -
Thu law locks up both mau and woman, Who steal the geese from off the common ; But leaves the greater felon loose, Who steals the common from the goose.
That -exactly describes the proposal of the Government. The Minister says that the Government does not intend to sell the shipping line, and that negotiations are only just proceeding; I say specifically that the first instalment has already been paid on the Commonwealth shipping line. Indeed, not one, but probably many instalments, have been paid on it in the form of very substantial contributions which the shipping monopoly has made, and continues to make, to the funds of the Liberal party. No doubt that is why demands are now being made by those who paid the money for the delivery of the goods. The only mason why the goods have not yet been delivered is described in The Harbour, a magazine which is not a Labour publication, but one devoted to the interests of coal, shipping and steel in New South Wales. In an -article dealing with the sale of the Commonwealth shipping line, the magazine states -
Federal Ministers are reported to be divided mi whether the transaction, if approved by the Cabinet, should be completed soon, ov deferred until after next year’s Federal election. Ministers favouring an early sale-
And there are very many of them, including the Minister for Shipping and . Transport (Senator McLeay), who is quite blatant about the terms of sale. He does not attempt to equivocate about the matter.. He has frankly admitted that he wants to sell the ships on the terms already announced in the daily press. The article continues -
Ministers favouring an early sale believe that the Commonwealth line could ultimately drive the private companies out of business on the Australian coast.
Apparently the shipping combine believes that the ships of the Commonwealth line would be efficient enough to drive it out of business on the Australian coast if they were allowed to operate without restriction by the Government. The article continues -
If the sale was not wade and Labour won next year’s elections, the Government would have lost its opportunity to avert this threat.
The conflict that exists among Cabinet Ministers is between those who know how this combine would continue its piracy if the ships were sold on the terms announced, with dire results for them in the electorate, and those who are continually being told by the shipping monopoly, “We paid hard cash to the Liberal party; we want to be protected against the competition of these ships should a Labour government be elected “. The conflict is between Ministers who say, “If we sell the ships, the wrath of the people will be so great that it will affect our electoral prospects and others who say, “ We have made a bargain. We must deliver the goods as our part of that bargain”. That is the only reason why the Government has delayed the sale of the ships.
Let me give an illustration of the manner in which the monopolistic shipping combine controls the sailings of ships. Prior to the war, the vessel Age was engaged exclusively in the carrying of gas coal from Newcastle to Sydney for the Victoria Gas Corporation. It was built for that purpose. It is a selftrimming vessel, the cost of the operation of which is only one-third of that of a non-self-trimming vessel. The monopolistic private shipowners decided that the gas companies shall be allotted only one journey in ten made by the vessel and they have to pay the full rate for loading and unloading if the service be provided by Age. Where do honorable * members think the shipping monopoly sends Age on the other nine trips? The vessel is used for the transport of iron ore for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited from Whyalla to Newcastle, so that that other monopoly may obtain the advantage of the use of this economically operated vessel. That is a typical instance of what happens when we have monopolistic control of sea traffic.
Freight rates are controlled by the Associated Steamship Owners Traffic Committee. Since 1939 the committee has increased freight rates on coal by more than 600 per cent. The last increase, which was made in August of this year, amounted to ls. 6d. a ton, and it was made in the face of a report by the Commonwealth Shipping Board to the effect that an increase was not justified. The Minister for Shipping and Transport has admitted to me in correspondence that that was the case. The Commonwealth shipping line reported to him that because of the tremendous drop in the cost of chartering vessels from overseas, the increase of the freight rates was not justified. Did that report deter the Minister or the Government, which tells us it believes in free competition and in allowing the people to have the benefits of free competition, and claims it is opposed to monopolies, and would socialize any monopoly that it found to be operating to the detriment of the people? Of course it did not. When that report was made the Minister for Shipping and Transport directed the Commonwealth shipping line to increase its freight charges so as to bring them into line with the increased charges made by the private shipping owners. That action will give the people an indication of the future position if this Government has its own way and succeeds in disposing of the Commonwealth shipping line. If that happens, instead of having a governmentowned line, admittedly hamstrung but still there as a potential instrument to enable control of the rates charged by private shipping lines, the nation would have no Commonwealth shipping line, and would be completely in the hands of the shipping monopolists. The Government has given a very practical demonstration of what lies ahead. It has said, in effect, if the private shipping monopolists want to increase their freight charges then as far as it is concerned they can do so, and the government line will follow suit. The Government has destroyed that free competition about which its members and supporters prate so often in this chamber, and which the Liberal party uses so often in its political propaganda.
I say deliberately that the terms announced for the sale of the line - 25 per cent, on delivery and the balance over ten or twelve years - as well as the price itself, are the terms which the Minister for Shipping and Transport agreed on with the private shipping monopolists, and promised to submit to the Cabinet. Those figures were disclosed more than a year ago, and I am convinced, as a result of conversations with people in shipping circles, including some who are connected with the companies concerned, and from answers to questions asked by newspaper reporters when the terms first appeared, that the original terms are the same terms as the Cabinet is considering. I am also convinced that the Government proposes, in effect, to give away the line at the price mentioned by the honorable member for Wilmot, on terms of 25 per cent, down and the balance of payments over ten or twelve years.
Last year the line made a profit of approximately £600,000, and this year it will make a profit of at least £750,000. The private shipping lines, using the £3,000,000 capital provided by the Government, under legislation passed last session, to the two aircraft companies that are owned by the shipping lines, will be able to pay for the shipping line in twelve years and really get it for nothing, because they can use for its purchase the £3,000,000 they would have had to use for the purchase of aircraft had not the Government made its generous gift to them last year.
.- The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) has treated the House to a demonstration of complete nonsense. He was either talking nonsense deliberately and cynically or because he knows nothing of the subject of shipping. I should prefer to believe the latter. He talked about a monopoly of shipping on the Australian coast. He referred to the monopoly represented by the Australian Steamship Owners Federation. Does he not know that in addition to that federation there is an independent body which represents five separate shipping companies ? Does he not know, also, that from time to time British ships from overseas engage in the Australian coastal trade, and are represented by their own association in Australia; and that individual foreign owners continually take part in our coastal shipping trade ? Does he not know also that Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited is itself a shipowner, and that Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is also a shipowner, independent of the body to which he has referred? All the honorable gentleman’s statements to the House about a shipping monopoly on the Australian coast are completely false and misleading. He alleged that the first instalment of the payment for the line - and this is some nonsensical chimera of his own imagination - had been paid by the shipowners by way of amounts subscribed to the party funds of the Liberal party. Does he not know that the Liberal party does not, and cannot, under its constitution, accept any donation to party funds from any organization ? I know that the Opposition laughs at that statement, but nevertheless, it is true. It has always been true within my own experience and I believe that at any rate while I am associated with the management of the Liberal party in New South Wales it will always remain true.
If the Opposition wants the House to examine methods of collecting party funds we could do no better than turn the spotlight on the methods of coercion used on trade unionists throughout Australia who are members of unions associated with the Labour party, by which union dues are extracted from those workers and are paid to the Labour party. There is also the proposal of the New South Wales Government to make every worker join a. trade union. What about the Six-hour Day Art Union in New South Wales?
– I desire to take a point of order.
– I rise to order. I refer to another matter of interest-
– Order ! I called the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) on a point of order.
– My point of order is that the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) is raising the subject of compulsory unionism and art unions, which are outside the scope of the debate. Is it in order for him to do so?
– Up to date the honorable member for Evans has been in order.
– But you did not hear his statements, Mr. Speaker.
– The honorable member for Yarra has ranged far and wide in this debate without any objection from the honorable member for Wilmot.
– I rise to order in support of the point of order taken by the honorable member for Wilmot.
– Order ! There may be no support. What is the honorable gentleman’s point of order?
– My point of order is that, art unions and compulsory unionism have, nothing to do with the matter we are debating.
-Order ! The whole question of monopoly has been raised, and the honorable member for Evans is still in order.
Mi-. OSBORNE- I did not observe that there was any objection either from the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) or the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) when their colleague, the honorable member foiYarra, raised the subject of party funds. The fact is that any examination of the methods by which the. Labour party collects its party funds is bitterly resisted by honorable members opposite, because, they know that such methods are discieditable to them. The latest example of such methods that we have before us is the attempt of the New South- Wales Labour Government . to introduce compulsory unionism, in New South Wales so that every worker in that State will be forced to contribute to the* Labour party’s funds. However, I prefer to leave this side issue, which was raised by the honorable member for Yarra, and return to the- subject that we are supposed to be debating. The real question is this: Does the Commonwealth shipping line achieve the results that the Opposition claims- it achieves? Does it reduce freight charges around: the coast of Australia, and provide healthy competition in coastal shipping?’ I am absolutely convinced that it does: the .reverse.
– The honorable member does not know anything about the matter.
– The honorable member for Wilmot asked for an assurance that the line would not be sold. I consider that he had done a. notable! public service by raising’ this matter, but: not: for the reason that he raised it. I should like an assurance that the line, will be sold? as quickly as possible.. [Quorum formed.’)^ I remind the House that the honorable member for Wilmot moved a formal adjournment motion in order to promote discussion of a matter of urgent public- importance’. He had the support of at least eight members of his party when he. did so*. Yet fewer than eight members of the Opposition have been present during the argument on this- important matter.. That fact indicates- how little importance the Opposition really attaches, to the- subject. The- honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), as the Opposition Whip-,, called, for a quorum, in order to delay the proceedings, and prevent the- utterance of facts that are highly discreditable to the Labour party.
The truth is that- the Commonwealth line1 of ships was brought into existence as a result of the determination of the Chifley Government to socialize the shipping services of Australia. I admit that there- was a case for government ownership of ships during- World’ War IT. and: immediately afterwards, but the cause of Australian transport has not Been served one iota by the- continued participation of- the Government in this business intime of peace-. The Government, has not provided healthy competition with shipping lines on the coast. How can honorable members opposite expect any private shipowner to pay the enormous capital sums required for the purchase or building of ships when the whole of the shipping industry lies under the constantthreat of nationalization1, not by direct legislation, but by the well-known Labour socialist method of applying the squeeze-, which was used so effectively through Trains- Australia Airlines until the move was thwarted by the present Government? Any. Australian government that is committed^ to a. policy of buying alt the ships built in Australian shipyards: must inevitably, in the course of time, become the only shipowner operating in coastal waters. I remind the House again of the importance of having adequate shipping services around Australia’s coastline. Such services’ can be provided only by fostering healthy competition amongst private shipowners, not- by threatening the entire industry with nationalization by stealth. This is an island continent. Our centres of population and manufacture are separated by vast distances. The only close settlement is in the coastal regions.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Beale) put -
That the business of the day be called on. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Ayes . . . . 49
Noes . . . . 36
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Beale) proposed -
That Order of the Day No. 1, Government business, be postponed until a later hour this day.
.- Does this mean that, if we agree to the motion, we shall have an opportunity between now and 1 p.m. to discuss matters that vitally affect our electorates, or does the Government intend to deprive us of our right to raise private members’ business in a “ Grievance Day “ debate ? I wish to refer to various matters of considerable importance to my electorate, and this probably will be the last opportunity to do so before the Parliament is prorogued.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have moved for the postponement of Order of the Day No. 1 until a later hour this day. The honorable member for Reid. (Mr. Morgan) began by asking a question. That is all very well. I shall be happy to answer it. However, he proceeded to discuss the matters that he wishes to raise during a “ Grievance Day “ debate. I submit, that he was not in order in doing so.
– That is so.
Mr.Thompson. - I rise to order. If the later hour this day mentioned in the motion does not occur until after the suspension of the sitting for lunch, will Order of the Day No. 1 be called on then?
.- I join the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) in protesting against this attempt by the Government to deprive private members of their undoubted right and privilege to. ventilate in this chamber the grievances of their electors. This day is usually set aside to enable honorable members to raise matters of that kind. If we are not given this opportunitybefore 12.45 p.m., the time allotted for “ Grievance Day “ will expire, and the House will proceed to the consideration of Government business. When all is said and done, private members have only limited opportunities to raise matters affecting their constituents, and the Government is treating us unfairly by attempting to deprive us of our right.
There is no substance in the protests voiced by Opposition members against this motion to postpone “ Grievance Day “ to a later hour this day. The protests of honorable members opposite are just a stunt in which they are indulging for party political propaganda purposes. In all my parliamentary experience, no greater opportunity has been given to private members on both sides of the House to raise matters of concern to their electors than has been provided in this long budget session. Many honorable members participated in the general debate on the budget, when they could speak on almost any subject under the sun, and they were able to raise specific matters when the Estimates were under consideration. Subsequently, a number of financial bills to give effect to the budget proposals provided yet another opportunity for a discussion of matters of concern to the people.
Any Opposition member who believes that he has not had ample opportunity to raise matters affecting his electorate should discuss his grievance with the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who has established an all-time record during this sessional period for the number of times he has addressed the House. If one persistent private member is able to speak as frequently as has the honorable member for East Sydney, other honorable members should take a leaf out of his book. Last night, at the close of the normal business, the Government provided an opportunity for a lengthy debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House. Five or six Opposition members took advantage of that opportunity to raise matters which they considered were of importance, but the number of mem’bers of the Labour party who wished to seize this opportunity was so few that a self-appointed acting Leader of the Opposition, in the person of the honorable member for East Sydney, was obliged to whip up additional speakers.
– Order! The Minister may not refer to proceedings in the House last night.
– I rise to order. I regard the statement of the Minister as a gross reflection on myself and on other Opposi- tion members who took part in the debate on the motion for the adjournment last night.
– Order ! Some honorable members tend to take points of order, so-called, which are completely without substance. Indeed, they are not within a thousand miles of the Standing Orders.
– This Government believes in the parliamentary institution, and provides ample opportunity to enable the representatives of the people to raise matters of importance to their electors. No one who has watched the proceedings during the last few weeks, and noted the scanty attendances during debates on a variety of matters which provided considerable scope for discussion, will claim that ample opportunity has been denied honorable members to ventilate the grievances of their constituents.
.- I also wish to lodge my protest against this further curtailment of the rights of private members. I am amazed at the effrontery of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), who has claimed that honorable members have had many opportunities during this sessional period to ventilate their grievances. I was gagged by the Government in the general debate on the budget. I have been gagged on numerous other occasions. I was even gagged last night when I wished to speak on the motion for the adjournment.
– Order ! The honorable member may not discuss the gag, because he will not be in order in reflecting on a vote of the House. The question before the Chair is whether Order of the Day No. 1 shall be postponed to a later hour this day. I ask honorable members to confine their remarks to the motion.
– I am replying to a statement by the Minister for Labour and National Service, who claims that private members have had numerous opportunities in recent weeks to ventilate their grievances in this House. I have not had those opportunities, although I have attended every sitting of the House in this sessional period, and have been in the chamber more regularly than has the Minister. I have not had an opportunity to express views on the part of my electors, and I have been gagged time after time. I protest against the Government’s attempt to deprive private members of their rights.
Mr. Speaker having called the honorable member for Yarra.
– I rise to order.I should like to know whether the House is still discussing the original point of order. You, Mr. Speaker, asked me to resume my seat while you heard the point of order. I should now like to continue my remarks.
– Order ! The honorable member will not be in order in doing so at this stage.
.- If governments continue to use their brutal majorities to deny any rights whatsoever to members of the Opposition, they will not hurt themselves so much as they will hurt the parliamentary institution. Those honorable members who have respect for the parliamentary institution must regret that the opportunities provided for private members to ventilate their grievances in the House are becoming fewer and fewer. After all, decisions on bills are usually made in the party room, and honorable members simply come here in order to approve a decision that has already been made. Honorable members have a right to ventilate the grievances of their electors on “ Grievance Day “. Unfortunately, this Government thinks that it can treat this Parliament as Hitler treated the Reichstag. Decisions on bills are made by the ruling junta, and our only function here is to confirm them or reject them. This Government, if it were really concerned about this matter, and listened to the opinions of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) who is really one of our Parliament men, would not treat the Opposition’s protest against this motion with scorn, but would recognize the undoubted right of private members to raise matters affecting their electors. The Government applies the gag whenever we desire to voice our grievances, and Mr. Sneaker is most restrictive at question time–
– Order ! The honorable member is now reflecting on the conduct of the Chair.
– May I say that the Standing Orders, when they are interpreted rigidly, confine honorable members–
– Order ! The Standing Orders and my conduct, are not under discussion.
– That is unfortunate, Mr. Speaker. Having registered my protest against the manner in which the Government is treating this Parliament, I invite honorable members to support this complaint, and ask the Government to treat this House as a parliamentary institution, and as an assemblage of elected representatives of the people, come to do the people’s business, not just the business that the Government wants to be clone. If honorable members opposite are prepared to support our protests, this will be one of the few occasions when a government has been brought to heel by the rank-and-file members of parties on both sides of the House.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. In one or two of the speeches that have just been delivered, I have been accused of proposing this motion in order to restrict the right of honorable members to discuss various matters on “ Grievance Day “. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) is ill and temporarily absent from the House. I understood from him, and I confirmed it with the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), that an arrangement had been made to enable the Repatriation Bill to be brought on. In view of that fact, the speeches made by honorable members opposite are quite atrocious.
Motion (by Mr. Beale) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 20th October (vide page 1577), on motion by Mr. Francis- -
That thc bill bc now read a second time.
.- The bill deals with matters of both minor and major importance. Provision is made for an alteration of the procedure for the suspension and removal of a commissioner, an acting commissioner, or a member of a board. An amendment is proposed of section 24 of the principal act, which deals with pensions payable on death or incapacity. Alterations are proposed of the , provisions for the suspension and forfeiture of a pension and the termination of a pension upon request or failure to draw it. There is a clause designed to abolish the objectionable practice of officers of the Repatriation Commission snooping, as it is commonly known, on war widows and inquiring into their morals. If, in the opinion of the investigators, the moral life of a war widow is not what they think it should be, action is taken to cancel the widow’s pension. An amendment of the provisions for the cancellation of a pension under circumstances of that kind is most desirable. Officers of the Repatriation Commission are not equipped to do that kind of work. It would be unfair to expect the commission to have on its staff officers who could become, in effect, private investigators inquiring into the lives of widows. Provision is made in the bill for an amendment of the provisions relating to the pensions of men who become inmates of mental asylums and die while in those institutions. The bill deals with the limit of service pension and income and last, but by no means least, with a matter that affects every war pensioner and every dependant of a war pensioner in this country.
As the measure affects 524,000 pensioners and their dependants, it is regrettable that during the course of the debate some political partisanship will be exhibited. Apart from political partisanship, it will be alleged by, I think, honorable members on both sides of the House, that, in view of the extraordinary rise of the cost of living, the increases of -pen sions proposed by the bill are entirely inadequate. It is regrettable that the debate will be more contentious than would have been the case if this Government had followed the example set by the Curtin Government. In 1942, the Curtin Government, notwithstanding that we had entered the. most critical period of the war, decided it was high time to review repatriation benefits. It realized that such a review had not been made since 1920, and that the war had caused changes of economic circumstances. The Curtin Government, taking the view that it was as undesirable in war-time as in peace-time to throw repatriation into the ring as a matter for political contention, appointed, a. select committee to consider amendments of the Repatriation Act. The committee consisted of’ members of both Houses of Parliament, of varying political views. When the recommendations of the committee were presented to the Parliament, they were accepted in their entirety by the government of the day. It is true that there were differences of opinion on certain matters, but those differences were not as extensive as they would have been if the committee had not been appointed. In the drafting of the bill, this Government, through its own action, has been deprived of the advice of members of the Opposition, who are just as interested in repatriation problems as are honorable members opposite. I regret that the Government did not seek the advice of some members of the Opposition’.
The Government parties have often emphasized that many of their members have distinguished records in the last war and the first world war. They have led the people of Australia to believe that this Administration will do more for exservicemen and their dependants than has been done by any previous administration, but when they read this measure the ex-servicemen, and their dependants can do nought but express the gravest dissatisfaction. I express dissatisfaction also, because I am shocked to note that the increase which affects the greatest number of ex-servicemen and their dependants amounts to 2s. 6d. a week. During the second-reading speech of the honorable the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis), he. went to great pains to outline the difference between the 1920 C series index and the present C series index.
– Very effectively, too.
– The honorable member for Fisher said he did so very effectively. I know that to some people 0 series index figures are very interesting, but the average ex-serviceman, who is not skilled in the comparison of statistics, does not quite know what they mean. For that reason, members of the Opposition, and I am sure the majority of exservicemen and their dependants outside this House, prefer to have as a basis of comparison the change in basic wage rates between two dates. During the debate on the bill to amend the Social Services Consolidation Act, one honorable member said that the basic wage rate was fixed to provide for the needs of a man and his wife and child and he accused the Opposition of using that as a basis of comparison for the purpose of determining what would be a fair age pension.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman cannot deal with other debates during the present session.
– I am only making a passing reference.
– It will have to be passed very quickly.
– What the honorable gentleman did not say was that to take the basic wage for a man and his wife and child and some pension or benefit payable at one period and the wage and pension payable 10 to 15 or 20 or 30 years later was a correct basis of comparison. If the basic wage is divided into the portions applicable to the husband and to the wife and to the child at two points of time, the comparison holds good. Members on this side of the House are of the opinion that the more reasonable method is to compare the pension with the basic wage rate. When the right honorable the Minister for the Army delivered his second-reading speech, he went back to 1920 for a basis of comparison. That is a long way to go back. I suggest that a comparison of pension rates should be based on the basic wage rates in 1939 and in 1953. Let me draw the attention of honorable members to the person who is in receipt of a 100 per cent, pension, which pension is known as the first schedule pension.
– It is called a special rate pension.
– It is in the first schedule. Some ex-servicemen receive a 100 per cent, pension, some a 66 per cent, pension and some a. 35 per cent, pension, according to the assessed degree of incapacity. Let us take the 100 per cent, pension and compare that pension with the basic wage in 1939. In 1939 the man in receipt of a 100 per cent, pension received 42s. a week. The measure before the House proposes that his pension should be raised to 82s. 6d. Thus, over a period of fourteen years the 100 per cent. pension has risen by 40s. 6d., an increase of 96 per cent. A man who is in receipt of a 50 per cent, pension also gets a 96 per cent, increase, but the proposed increase is only ls. 3d. A man in receipt of a 66 per cent, pension receives a slightly higher amount. The point I am making is that between 1939 and 1953 the pension rate increased by 96 per cent, and the basic wage rate by 201 per cent. That is a basis of comparison which the ex-serviceman and his dependants clearly understand. The pensioner has fallen behind the basic wage earner. It does not matter whether this Government or any other government is responsible. If this Government desires to make comparisons with previous administrations, the one thing that stands out is that this Government had all the luck in the world. There have been seven splendid years of high income returns to the people of this country. There has not been full employment - that is the Government’s worry - but, generally speaking, there has been a high level of prosperity in Australia. When a high level of prosperity obtains in Australia, I assert, and I think every ex-serviceman in Australia will assert, that there resides in the government of the day a capacity to do the right thing. Some honorable members might ask what were the circumstances surrounding pension increases during the period of office of the Curtin and Chifley Labour Governments. Those members might analyse the position and introduce percentages into the discussion, but whether or not they assert that over a certain period their party gave a certain percentage increase, it cannot be contested that the Curtin and
Chifley Labour Governments occupied office during the war and in the immediate post-war period. I do not think - and I take my share of responsibility - that those governments gave the increases that they should have given. But nothing that can be said will relieve this Government of a responsibility to give greater increases under the much more favorable economic circumstances it has enjoyed.
The recent budget proposed a reduction in taxation. I am sure that the people who would benefit under the proposed reductions would not have been reluctant to accept a lesser benefit so that the pensioners could have been more justly treated.
I have dealt with the ex-servicemen covered by the first schedule. I draw attention now to those who are covered by the second schedule. In 1939 the exservicemen covered by the second schedule received a pension of 80s. a week. In 1953 they were in receipt of 185s. a week, an increase in fourteen years of 105s. or 131 per cent. That is a higher increase than that granted to the man under the first schedule, but totally inadequate when compared with the increase of 201 per cent, in the basic wage over the same period. It seems to me, and I am sure to other members of the Opposition, that these comparisons must be modified because of the fact that this Government had already introduced measures to increase the allowances that are paid to the dependants and the children of exservicemen who are receiving pensions. There is some force in that argument, but the proposed increase is still too small.
Incidentally, I noted in an earlier debate that some members of the Government referred, to the small number of ex-servicemen on this side of the House. The ex-servicemen of this country might like to know that in addition to the Minister for the Army there are eleven ex-servicemen who are members of the Government, but I do not know that there is much to be gained by comparisons of that sort.
If honorable members desire to take another basis of comparison, they might note the fact that in the year 1948-49, the last financial year in which the
Labour party was in office, the expenditure on pensions and repatriation benefits amounted to £19,000,000. As pointed out by the Minister for the Army, the proposed expenditure for this financial year is £33,000,000. In January, 1950, the basic wage was £6 14s. To-day, taking the latest figures for the found cost of living, the basic wage is £11 18s. The basic wage has been nearly doubled in that period. The total sum expended on repatriation benefits has not doubled. The number of pensionable soldiers who returned from World War I. is decreasing and the number claiming pensions for World War II. disabilities is increasing. In all probability, the total number of pensions that are being paid is substantially in excess of those for the financial year 1948-49, but the net cost to the country has not doubled in a period when the basic wage rate has almost doubled. It is no excuse for the Government to say that it has been more generous than the Labour Government in 1948 and 1949, because the fact is that while it has increased pensions in a monetary sense, the pensions will buy less food and clothing than before. In order to show that my criticisms are not completely partisan, I shall show that what I have said has been approved by exservicemen’s organizations of this country.
I know that from time to time exservicemen’s associations have been critical of governments. They are just as critical as wheat-growers, and it is essential that criticism should be levelled by the community; hut there have been few occasions when those organizations, which lean towards conservative government, have been as forthright and condemnatory of a government as they have been of this Government and its parsimonious increase of pensions under the measure at present before the House. They expected something more; indeed, everybody expected something more, but all they got was 2s. 6d. Of course, the special rate pension has been increased by 10s., but even that could have been, much more because the difficulties and disabilities of men under the second schedule are much greater than those of men covered by the first schedule. In the fifth schedule there is an additional allowance of 7s. 6d., but the great majority of ex-servicemen pensioners of this country fall within the first schedule. Indeed, there are 166,000 under the first schedule, according to the 1951-52 report of the Repatriation Commission. Moreover, I do not think that the figures have altered appreciably since that report was published. There are 12,000 men who receive 50 per cent, pensions, 14,000 who receive 35 per cent, pensions, and so on down through the scale. Now let us consider what the representatives of the ex-servicemen have said about the Government’s actions. Mr Laraghy, the federal secretary of the Limbless Soldiers Association, said -
Che miserable increase of 2s. lid., on the 100 per cent, base rate of war pension will mean that a limbless soldier with an amputated leg or arm will receive an addi-tiona! ls. I0$d. per week.
It is a wonder that the Government could spare the money. Sir George Holland, who is by no stretch of the imagination a Labour supporter, and who is the federal president of , the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, said -
The meagre war pension increases were u slap in the face to men and women who had suffered in the war.
Mrs. Neylon, the acting president of the War Widows Guild, said -
War widows will be disgusted by the 2s. Bd. increase in their pensions. This shows more than ever that war widows are a forgotten r.ane.
Of course the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) will talk about the way in which the Labour party treated war widows. He will say that the last Labour ‘Government refused to pay servicemen who were prisoners of war the 3s. a day sustenance allowance, and he might be able to put up a good case from his point of view why it should be paid. But the fact is that it has never been paid. It is true that war widows have never been paid enough by any government, and are still not being paid enough. It is also true that under this measure their percentage increase is greater than the increase given to other classes of pensioners, and I applaud that action of the Government. However. Mr. Wilson, the State president of the Victorian branch of the Returned
Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, said -
The increases are a public insult to men and -women who have served.
Mr. Yeo, the State president of the New South Wales branch of the league said -
L am dumbfounded to hear of such, paltry concessions to war invalid pensioners. J. am also astounded that many ex-servicemen on the Government side of the House should have allowed the Treasurer to get away with it.
There is a consensus of opinion throughout the statements that I have read, even if their necessarily partisan viewpoint is discounted. Nevertheless, those criticisms are stronger than is usually the case, because basically the persons who made them, are responsible people, and are not. unconscious of the obligations of governments. However, they view with horror the activities of this Government, during a time when nature has provided bounteous seasons and everything is in its Favour to make more reasonable and generous increases.
The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) indicated in his second-reading speech, that some alleviating provision was to be made in regard to appeals to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal. I understand that that will be a provision to enable those who have appealed to the tribunal to have their cases reconsidered by the tribunal when that body considers that fresh evidence has been submitted. I believe that that is a very good reform. May I say here that the Repatriation Commission has done satisfactory work within the ambit of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, and considering the wide range of human problems that it has to deal with and the difficulty of giving decisions upon varying medical opinions. To the extent that it does not give the satisfaction that returned soldiers, and I myself, consider it should, that is largely because for many years this Parliament has failed to clarify the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, particularly with regard to onus of proof. Indeed, perhaps this Parliament is more at fault than thiRepatriation Commission or the War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal for not clarifying the onus of proof provisions. This is a. very difficult matter. ii nil 1 hope that later during the debate the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), who is an eminent lawyer, will show to the Government, as he could perhaps have shown to the last Labour government of which he was a member, how this vexed matter can be dealt with. Many ex-servicemen who put their cases before the War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal, do so under the impression that it is a branch of the Repatriation Commission. It is nothing of the sort; it is completely independent. I aru not as enthusiastic about the decisions of the tribunal as I am about some of the decisions of the Repatriation Commission itself, but the final arbiter is the tribunal. The small number of appeals allowed, and the long delays that have taken place because the onus of proof provisions Iia ve not been clarified by this Parliament, have prevented, perhaps, the tribunal from discharging its duties us they should be discharged. There is room for great improvement.
Recently the plight of the family of a first-class citizen was brought to ray attention. Eis dependants had not previously a war pension. Bie had been’ gassed and wounded in the first war, and in an endeavour to save his employer’s property he suffered so severely from burns that he finally died. His widow applied for her rights as a dependant of a returned soldier, and after the Repatriation Commission had rejected her claim, she appealed to the War Service Entitlement Appeals Tribunal and failed again. The fact that this man” had suffered wai injuries prevented him from escaping from the fire, when safety lay only a few yards away. I suggest that in that case there was at least a doubt, and in those circumstances the tribunal should have given the benefit of the doubt to the widow. If that case was rejected because of lack of clarity in the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, then the lack of clarity should be remedied.
– If the honorable member gives me the name of this person, I shall investigate the matter.
– I will supply the name to the Minister. I submitted this matter twice to the chairman of the Repatriation Commission, .and I am sure that -if he had believed that he could have handled it, he would have done so. But an appeal has already been dealt with by the War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal, and no right exists to go back to the tribunal unless fresh evidence can be submitted. The tribunal is the body that should receive the most caustic criticism in such a matter as this - although, of course, I may be wrong. The Minister for the Army has said that if a person is travelling in connexion with medical treatment or pension, his allowance will be increased from 25s. to 30s. a day. If a man is a wharf labourer or a coal-miner, or if he has any job at all, he will earn at least £2 a day. Yet the Minister expects him to recoup his loss of wages out of 30s. a day. The basic wage is the equivalent of £2 4s. a day in New South Wales.
– The honorable member should not forget that the rate has been increased, and that no increase was given by the last Labour Government.
– That may be so, but we are at present enjoying prosperity.
– I take it that the honorable member agrees that no government, including this Government, has yet treated the ex-servicemen properly?
– That is so, more particularly this Government. In 1942, a Labour administration, for the first time since 1920, adequately reviewed the pension system of this country, and provided increases from 19s. a week to 25s. a week. Those increases were accepted almost without debate by this Parliament, and they were more than adequate at that time to match the increases of the basic wage from 3920 to about 1942. Honorable members may check the comparisons for themselves. They arc generally accepted. Front 1943 onwards, the Labour Government made most generous increases in the pension rate, but they were still inadequate by comparison with what they should have been.
The provisions that relate to the estates nf ex-servicemen who die in mental institutions can best be dealt with when the bill is in committee. That is also true of many other provisions in the measure. I trust that honorable members generally will frankly state their views upon this most inadequate measure. I leave the matter there and trust that, at a notfardistant date, further increases of the pensions rates will be made to bring them closer to the prevailing basic wage.
.- It was very refreshing to hear the very candid admission by the honorable member for Lalor (Mrs Pollard), who was a very prominent member of the Chifley Government, that, during Labour’s term of office, it did not increase war pensions as it should have done.
– I did not say that.
– It was also refreshing to hear the honorable member say that he accepted full responsibility for his part in the decisions made by the Government of which he was a member in relation to war pensions. These admissions were as refreshing as they were unusual. In 1949 the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said -
Repatriation remains a great and proud responsibility. . . . We shall see to it that there is speed, financial and human justice and understanding in our administration of soldier problems.
I propose to state the manner in which the Prime Minister and his Government have carried out that solemn pledge. When the Menzies Government came into power in December, 1949, the annual total expenditure on war pensions was £19,000,000. The amount proposed to be paid this year is £36.250,000, which represents an increase of 90 per cent, on the 1949 expenditure. It is perfectly true, as the honorable member for Lalor has said, that during the period from 1949 to 1953 the cost of living has risen. Accordingly, we must deduct from the total monetary increase the amount by which the cost of living has risen according to the cost of living index figures. The figures compiled by the Commonwealth Statistician in relation to the cost of living show that since December, 1949, the cost of living has increased by 62 per cent. So we can say with truth that 62 per cent, of the 90 per cent, increased provision represents additional living costs and that 28 per cent, of it represents the effective increase in pension payments. No other section of the community has had a 28 per cent, increase in real wages or benefits over and above the monetary increase necessary to. compensate for cost of living increases.
It is right and proper that exservicemen who offered everything they had in the service of their country should get the best deal it is possible for us to give them. Some classes of war pensioners have received a very much greater proportionate increase of pensions than have others. That is due to the fact that certain pensioners, such as special rate pensioners, or what are more popularly known as totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners are solely dependent upon the pension for their means of existence because they are unable to work. In reviewing pensions, the Government has given the greatest benefits to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. The next class of pensioners to which the greatest benefits have been given are the widows with children, because they, too, have had to stand the full blast of the increased cost of living, and, in most instances, they are unable to supplement their pensions from other sources. In 1949, the pension paid to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen was £5 6s. a week. Now it is £9 5s. a week. Thus, the rate of pension has been increased during the last four years by £3 19s. a week. The general rate pension has not been increased to the same extent because it is regarded, as it always has been regarded, as a disability pension for injuries sustained or illnesses suffered as the result of war service. No means test is applicable to such pensions, and none should be applied. The general rate pension is paid to ex-servicemen who have suffered serious limb injuries, or have lost an eye or suffered similar severe injuries. Pensions for other disabilities are rated at varying proportions of the 100 per cent., or general rate pension. Every exserviceman in receipt of a 100 per cent, pension is able to work, otherwise he would be entitled to the special rate pension. As general rate pensioners, irrespective of classification, are liable to work, they receive compensation for increases in the cost of living that result from rising prices. When we reviewed the 100 per cent, war pension we did not have to consider cost-of-living increases because they are already compensated for in the wages that the men are permitted and able to earn. But we had to take into account the fact that this pension represents compensation for disability and that, therefore, some reasonable effort should be made to maintain its purchasing value. In Australia, compensation for war-caused disabilities is not paid, as it is in some other countries, in a lump sum. “Wisely, Australian governments decided to pay the compensation in fortnightly amounts during the lifetime of the ex-servicemen. In view of that, an obligation rests upon all governments to maintain the purchasing value of the compensation, as far as it is possible for them to do so.
In .1949, when this Government assumed office, the general rate pension was £2 15s. a week. It is now £4 2s. 6d. a week. Thus, the pension has been increased in the last four years by £1 7s. 6d. a week. The Government similarly increased the pensions paid to the wives of war pensioners. These pensions have increased from £1 4s. to £1 15s. 6d., or by lis. 6d. a week. The pension payable to a dependent child has been increased in the same period from 9s. to 13s. 9d. a week, or by 4s. 9d. a week; and the widows’ pension has. been increased from £3 to £3 12s. 6d. a week. The domestic allowance, which is the compensation paid to cover higher living costs, has been increased from 7s. 6d. to £1 14s. 6d. a week, or by 27s. a week. It is unfortunate that some honorable members have introduced party politics into this debate. They have left us no alternative but to compare the manner in which this Government has carried out its obligation to ex-servicemen with that in which previous governments did so during the four years subsequent to the termination of the war - from 1946 to 1949 inclusive. In 1946, the general rate pension was £2 10s. a week. In 1949, when the Chifley Labour Government was thrown out of. office, the general rate pension was £2 15s. a week. So, in the four peace-time years of the administration of the Labour Government, the general rate pension was increased by only 5s. a week, or an average of ls. 3d. a year. In 1949, the cost of living rose by 9.3 per cent, under the administration of the Chifley Government, but in 1948 and 1949 the general rate pension was not increased by one penny by the Chifley Government. In 1949, the position of the general-rate pensioner deteriorated by almost 10 per cent, as a result of the increased living costs in that year of Labour rule. The special rate pension, or the pension paid to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, upon which its unfortunate recipients depend for their livelihood, was £4 16s. in 1946, and only £5 6s. in 1949. Thus, the pension was increased by only 10s. in a period of four years, or an average increase of 2s. 6d. a year. I invite honorable members to compare the increase in the pension rate of 10s. a week during the four years of administration of the Labour Government with the increase of £2 19s. a week in the four years that this Government has been in office. The pension for wives of war pensioners was £1 23. in 1946 and £1 43. in 1949. Thus, the Labour Government increased the pension of wives by only 2s. in a period of four years. During the four years of office of the present Government the pension of a wife of a member has been increased by lis. 6d. a week. When the domestic allowance was originally introduced in 1943 it was fixed at 7s. 6d. a week.
Sifting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the sitting was suspended, I pointed out that this Government has given totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners increases in every budget that it has introduced. They have been, on the average, greater than the cost of living increases that have occurred during the Government’s term of office. It would be impossible for everybody to be satisfied with a bill of this sort. The measure includes two features about which I am not happy. I urge the Government to give special consideration to war widows with children, and to ceiling rates of pension. It is true that, owing to the tremendous increase of the domestic allowance payable to war widows with children, their position has been vastly improved. The allowance has been increased in four years from 7s. 6d. to £1 14s. 6d. In my opinion it is still too low in comparison with the basic wage, although a great number of benefits are available to war widows and their children which are not available to basic wage-earners, such as educational, health and medical benefits, and hospital benefits, all of which are worth a considerable amount. We owe such a debt of gratitude to widows of men who were killed in the war that we should see that they and. their dependants receive considerably more than the minimum standard. I know that wonderful organizations, such as Legacy and the Australian Army Canteens Trust Fund keep a watchful eye open all the time to ensure that the needs of war widows and their dependants are met.I urge the Government to give special consideration to war widows, particularly those with dependent children, to see whether some increases of allowances may be made at the earliest possible date.
I now turn to service pensions, which are virtually age pensions. They are payable to servicemen at an earlier age than that at which age pensions are payable to age pensioners, because of the assumed shortening of the lives of service pensioners as a. result of war service. The main benefit that the service pensioners will derive from this bill is the easing of the means test provisions, which will enable a single pensioner now to have an income of £5 10s. a week, composed of pension plus permissible income, while a pensioner couple is now allowed a combined income of £11 a week plus permissible income. They will also receive free medical attention and free medicine. I believe that this bill gives service pensioners the greatest real benefit that they have ever had. from any government.
I now pass to another phase of the bill to which I suggest the Government should give consideration. I refer to the ceiling rates. I regard the war pension as compensation for a disability suffered as a result of war service, and I therefore consider that it should not be dealt with differently from superannuation or compensation payable in periodical payments in respect of any other kind of injury. As far as I am aware, ceiling rates have existed ever since the Repatriation Act was passed. The ceiling is the maximum amount that a person may receive from all kinds of pension. The ceiling rate pension is fixed at a maximum of £4 17s. 6d. for a single pensioner, and £8 17 s. 6d. for a married pensioner couple. I know that it is claimed that there must be some limitation of the amount paid in pensions. Bearing in mind, however, that the war pension for incapacity is really a form of compensation, I do not see why it should be treated differently from other income. I urge the Minister to place before the Cabinet the suggestion that the ceiling be reviewed so that a person in receipt of a service pension together with a war pension shall be entitled to receive an income from pensions equal to the age pension plus permissible income. A serviceman in receipt of two pensions is, of course, allowed to earn so as to bring his pension up to the age pension plus permissible income, but there is a very strong case for removing the ceiling to allow a person who has two pensions to receive the same combined pension as the age pension plus permissible income.
This is the first government that has given war widows a war gratuity when they remarry. That concession was introduced in 1950, and amounts to £188. It will enable a. war widow to start off with some money behind her in her new married life. The Government has also removed the time limits in respect of stepchildren and adopted children of members of the forces. That was a burning question before the Government came into office, but I am glad to say that the time limit has now been reduced, at the request of the returned servicemen’s organizations. Arrangements have been made for payment by cheque to pensioners disabled by blindness or other incapacity.
Difficulties were experienced in the past by widows normally eligible to benefit, who could not get free medicine and medical treatment while they were away from their normal place of residence temporarily. Arrangements have now been made for treatment and medicine to be available in such cases. Increases have been made in the allowances for children of deceased members. The weekly rate of pension in 1949 was 17s. 6d. for the first child, 12s. 6d. for other children and 26s. for a child both of whose parents were dead. The rates now are- 26s. 6d., 18s. 6d. and 48s. respectively.
Two of the best provisions introduced by this Government were the recreation transport allowance for people who have difficulty in moving from, place to place, and. the. provision of motor cars for double amputees. Another reform made at the request of the returned servicemen’s organization was the removal of the restrictions in relation to allowances for the wives and children of ex-servicemen of World War I. Previously such a returned man received an allowance only in respect of a wife he had married prior to the 1st July, 1938, and children born prior to that date. That limitation has been removed, and now there is no discrimination against them. In addition, the Government has extended repatriation provisions to members of the forces who, have served in Korea and- Malaya. Provision lias been made for the training of disabled ex-servicemen and war widows to enable them, as far as their medical condition permits to follow normal avocations. Improvements have been made to the rates and conditions of the children’s education scheme. Provision has been made for air travel for relatives in the event of dangerous illness or the death of a. patient. The funeral grant has been increased during the term of this Government from £20 to £25. Provision has been made also for increased sustenance payments for members undergoing medical treatment or attending hospitals for treatment as out-patients
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I shall not discussthe rates of pension at length because the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has already stated the view of the Opposition on this issue. I merely reiterate that the proposed basic increase is hopelessly inadequate in the light of cost-of-living increases in- recent years. Tt is not of much use to make percentage comparisons between the rates fixed by a Labour Government in 1943 and those fixed in subsequent years, as the honorable member for Sturt (Mr.. Wilson), has done. The speech by the
Minister for the Army (Mr.. Francis) showed clearly that.. from the early twenties until 1943, pensions- payable under the Repatriation Act had never been properly reviewed. Great improvements were made in 1943’ under legislation introduced by the Curtin Government, which was based upon a report by an all-party committee of this Parliament. I do not say that any particular pension at any particular time was adequate or inadequate. The circumstances must be considered in each instance. However, I believe that every honorable member will agree that the basic increase for which this biE provides, is inadequate in view of the present high cost of living.
My chief purpose in. rising was to discuss another matter which, though it may not seem to- be so important as the increase of the basic pension rate, is significant in my opinion and deserves the attention of the House. The honorable member for Lalor referred to the administration of section 47 of the Repatriation Act. This is one of the key sections of the act. It was framed originally by the Government of which Mr. W. M. Hughes was. the leader, and it established in fairly clear language the principle that, in the event of any doubt that the disability or death of an ex-serviceman was due to wai’ service, the benefit of the doubt should be in favour of the ex-serviceman or his dependant. That principle was upheld for many years until the High Court, in the well-known case of *Bott, gave an interpretation of the provision which meant that, unless an exserviceman or- his dependant could prove a prima facie case that would, be accepted at law, he could not obtain the benefit of the provision in the Hughes legislation. Therefore, when the matter came up for review in 1943, the Curtin Government deliberately amended section 47 so as to strengthen the law in favour of the ex-serviceman or dependant who claimed, that disability or death .was due to a war injury. I shall quote section 47 in order to demonstrate to the House how insistent the Parliament was - because, although the amendment was drafted by the Curtin Government, it had the warm support of all members of the Parliament - that the benefit of the doubt should be in favour of the claimant.
One of the supporters of the amendment, indeed, was Mr. Hughes, who had helped to draft the original provision.
– The right honorable gentleman is under a misapprehension. The measure was introduced by the Bruce Government.
– But Mr. Hughes was the author of the provision that the benefit of any doubt should be in favour of the applicant. In any case, that does not affect the issue. I ask honorable members to consider the law on this point as it now stands. The section provides - (1.) The Commission, a Board, an Appeal Tribunal and an Assessment Appeal Tribunal, in hearing, determining of deciding a claim, application or appeal, shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case, shall notbe bound by technicalities or legal forms or rules of evidence and shall give to the claimant, applicant or appellant the benefit of any doubt -
That means that the various administrative authorities must give the benefit of any doubt in relation to the cause of disability or injury to the applicant.
-Who makes the decision ?
– It is made, in the first instance, of course, by the commission and later, in the event of appeal, by the appeal tribunal or the assessment appeal tribunal. The section applies to any doubt concerning the extent of incapacity and the possibility of its aggravation by war service. The simple, binding rule which the Parliament has applied to those tribunals is that the ex-serviceman or the dependant must be given the benefit of any such doubt. But the provision does not stop there. The section further provides - (2.) It shall not be necessary for the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof to support his claim, application or appeal but the Commission, Board, Appeal Tribunal or Assessment Appeal Tribunal determining or deciding the claim, application or appeal shall be entitled to draw, and shall draw, from all the circumstances of the case, from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant, applicant or appellant, and in all cases whatsoever the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority who contends that the claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed to the full extent claimed.
The provision was intended to be farreaching, because every member of the Parliament in 1943 agreed that the ordinary presumptions of law should not apply to such claims as they applied to claims for damages due to negligence or to workers’ compensation claims, in which a prima facie case must be proved.
The Parliament declared that the tribunals must start with the commonsense assumption that war service normally would have contributed to any disability. An application might be lodged 10, 20 or even 30 years after the termination of war service. Under the present law, it is not necessary that the disability or death should have been due solely to war service. The claim is valid if war service contributed in any material degree to the incapacity or death. As I said in this House over twelve months ago, when I moved a formal adjournment motion, a doctor would need to be courageous indeed to deny the practical certainty that death from heart disease, for example, had been contributed to in some material degree by war service. I shall not repeat all the arguments that I used on that occasion, because they have been repeated in various ways since then by honorable members on both sides of the House. This has nothing to do with party political affiliations. If we cannot settle this kind of problem in a common-sense way without regard for political consequences, we do not deserve to be called parliamentarians. I have never known anybody whose opinion differed from the views that I have expresed on this issue.The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) has said that the Bruce Government introduced the original provision in relation to the benefit of doubt. At any rate, it was the Curtin Government that tightened up the provision in every possible way. As one of the draftsmen of the 1943 amendment, I assure the House that we set ourselves out to close every loophole. We knew that some tribunals were not giving the benefit of the doubt to claimants as was originally intended. No doubt their decisions were perfectly correct from their point of view. The only trouble was that they were completely wrong in law.
The Repatriation Department, unfortunately, instructed its entitlement tribunals not to alter the ruling that had been laid down by the High Court in the Boil case, which was decided ten years before section 47 was amended in 1943 at the instance of the Curtin Government. I.’n the light of that instruction, it would have been unreasonable to expect the tribunals to give a proper or liberal interpretation of the provision. As I have explained, prior to 1943 every claimant had to prove a prima facie case in support of his application. He had to produce a set of facts that would convince the tribunal that it had a ease to answer. This required the production of positive evidence linking disability or death with war service. The Curtin Government recognized the extreme difficulty of establishing a prima facie case by ordinary legal standards. Dates and times are difficult to ascertain in such cases, and the memory of witnesses is not easy to refresh. Thus, in. such circumstances, decisions had to be based on inferences rather than on evidence. First, the rule in relation to onus of proof was reversed by the 1943 amendment so that the onus rested upon the Repatriation Commission. Secondly, the necessity for the establishment of a prima facie case was dispensed with. Thirdly, it is the bounden duty of the appeal tribunals or the commission to draw all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant. In effect, the onus on the commission is practically the same as the onus placed on the Crown in proving a criminal charge against the person beyond reasonable doubt. That is the substance, and I submit that it is exactly what is intended. The instruction which the Minister produced to the House in 1952 contained certain interesting words, to which I shall refer in a few moments. The instruction was sent to the tribunals, and, therefore, they are not, in the ordinary sense, completely independent bodies. Naturally, they have to look for some legal opinions. The instruction stated, inter alia, that the High Court, in the case of ex parte Bott, had given a judicial interpretation of the section. Although that decision was given in 1943 before section 47 was amended to its present form, there had been no change in the onus of proof in an appeal to a tribunal. That instruction tells the tribunal, in effect, that the onus of proof provision is substantially the same, despite the alteration of the law in 1943. That is clearly wrong. The whole purpose of the legislation in 1943 was to get rid of the requirement of a prima facie case. The instructions, suggestions or interpretations given by the Department of Repatriation are completely erroneous and, in my opinion, have caused dozens and dozens of cases to be decided incorrectly. As far as I know, the instruction has not been changed since the debate took place in this House twelve months ago. The law was completely changed in 1943 for the very purpose of removing the necessity to establish a prima facie case, and making it clear that the benefit of the doubt should, in all cases and in respect of every established case, rest, not upon the claim of the ex-serviceman or his dependant, but upon the Repatriation Commission. We submitted at that time that the instruction was wrong. The honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) has referred to a number of cases, and other members of the Opposition have given illustrations of cases which have not been successful, although there seems to be strong reason for holding, on the documents themselves, that the department had been in error, and that the appeal tribunals had not acted according to the statutory provisions. T suggested last year that the decisions of those tribunals should be subject to some judicial review. In my opinion, section 47 has not been applied to many cases, indeed, far too few cases. How can it be applied? Only by giving to some authority such as a federal court, a federal judge or a special judge who would be conversant with this kind of ca.se, power to take up the matter from the appeal tribunal or the commission with, a view to ascertaining whether the statutory provision made in 1943 has been observed. Under the existing law, an ex-serviceman cannot .appeal to any court from a decision of an entitlement tribunal. Only in a rare kind of case may an order be set aside, the condition being that one side has not been heard. For all practical purposes, there is no appeal. In other words, the entitlement tribunal has the last say. Of course, cases can be, and have been, reviewed from time to time, and a few of them have been reviewed successfully.
I shall cite an illustration from the English law in which an appeal is allowed to a justice who supervises the tribunals, and sees that they carry out the intentions of the act. Medical reports figure largely in cases of this kind. In 1947, Mr. justice Denning, who is one of the greatest English judges, said -
It is useless for a medical man to give an opinion that a disease is or is not attributable to, or aggravated by, war service without giving his reasons. Such an opinion should he disregarded- by a tribunal because it involves not only his scientific knowledge tout also his views on causation, the meaning of “ attributable “. “ war service “, and so forth, all of which are matters for the tribunal a-nd not for him. Such an opinion is merely his view as to the way the tribunal ought to -decide, and is an opinion, which, if rightly formed, could only be drawn from the same premises as those from which the tribunals are to return in the matter. To be of value, n. medical opinion should not be in general terms such as to usurp the functions of the tribunal, but should point out the probable or possible causes of the disease and of any aggravation of it, giving the degree of probability, and then leaving it to the tribunal to decide whether or not on the facts of the particular case the claim should be allowed. t have dealt with the substance of the matter that I intended to discuss, and I should now like to refer to a recent opinion on this vital subject. This opinion is given in an article entitled “ The Compelling Presumption of Attributability in British War Pension Claims”. The author is Mr. A. W. Riordan and the article is published in the Australian Law Journal. In the course of this article, which honorable members should take the opportunity to study, the writer points out that in certain claims under the English law covered by Royal warrant, there is what is called a “ compelling presumption of attributability “. That is to say, the tribunal should presume that the disability or death of a person was attributable to war service, and it is not a mere ordinary presumption, but a compelling presumption. The effect of it was ‘ summarized by Mr. Justice Denning as follows: -
In cases falling under Article 4 (2) and Article i (3) of the Royal Warrant Concerning Retired Pay Pensions, &c, 1943 (which are generally cases where the man was passed lit at the commencement of bis service, but is later afflicted by a disease which leads to his death or discharge) there is a compelling presumption in the man’s favour which -must prevail unless the evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that the disease was not attributable to or aggravated by war service, and for that purpose the evidence must reach the same degree of cogency as is required in a criminal case before the accused person is found guilty . . .
That means that the department must prove a case beyond reasonable doubt against that presumption, everything being deemed to be presumed in favour of the claimant in that kind of case. Mr. Riordan states - lt is hoped to show in a later article that provisions in the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act, which are so similar as to lead to the conclusion that they have been copied from the .British legislation in force at an earlier Ante, are interpreted much less liberally - -a fact which is greatly to the detriment of the Australian ex-serviceman.
That is the considered opinion of a person who has obviously studied this law and British cases most closely. The article by Mr. Riordan continues -
It will be noticed that, in effect, the dictum of Denning, J., implies that where the cause of the disease is unknown the Minister nf Pensions cannot discharge the onus of disproof placed upon him by the Royal Warrant.
I suggest that such a view is not only correct, but is stronger here, because of section 47. The article also refers to the way in which medical opinions should be treated. The tribunal is. never to accept a medical opinion, unless it states the possible or probable disease, the various alternatives, and so forth.
– What is the value «( evidence submitted under section 4S ?
– It would be evidence for the tribunal to examine.
– But the tribunal discards it.
– The tribunal .sometimes discards the evidence without giving its reasons foi- doing so. Generally speaking, that is the position. The article concludes -
The cases here reviewed are only a fraction of the appeals decided under the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act US43, and many other principles can be found. The multiplicity of reported decisions relating to war pensions in the United Kingdom contrasts strongly with the almost complete absence of similar decisions by Australian courts. Only two attempts have been made by Australian exservicemen to invoke the assistance of court* of law when they believed that their claim for a war pension had been wrongly rejected, both attempts failed. The explanation lies in the fact, already mentioned, that there is no right of appeal to a court under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. Bott’s Case (The King v. “War Pensions Entitlement Appeal hoard-. Mr Parte Bott (1933) SO C.L.K. 228), which was applied by the Supreme Court of Victoria in Tanner v. Repatriation Commission. (1930) A.L.B., 492, shows how harshly that Act can lie administered, and it is more than probable that many Australian ex-servicemen would have benefited materially had they enjoyed a right of appeal similar to that granted ten years ago .to their British comrades-in-arms. Tt is surprising that, as yet, there has been ii” demand for such a right, but the silent acquiescence of Australians in a policy which is clearly unjust may he evidence of nothing more Ulan ignorance of the precedent set «n long ago ..hi Britain.
The statute is clear. The Parliament passed the statute to establish a compelling presumption in cases of claims by soldiers or their dependants for injuries that were due to war service, unless the department could prove beyond reasonable doubt that the injuries could not have been due to war service. This has not been done in many cases. I said twelve months ago that the time had come for us to consider the appointment of a federal judge to review the decisions of the entitlement tribunals in order to ensure that justice would be done in accordance with the wishes of the Parliament. This is not a matter of the Minister or administrative discretion. This is a matter of carrying out the law in accordance with the will of the Parliament. I hope that section 48 will be so administered that the ex-serviceman or his dependant will get the benefit of the doubt, and that the instruction given by the Minister will be reviewed. Let the standard of justice in these cases bc equal to the standard of justice which apparently obtains under the English decisions.
– Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for Defence Production) :-3.59;. - The history of the provision relating to the onus of proof is most interesting.- The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), when he was Iiic Attorney-General in the Labour Government, gave a legal interpretation of the meaning of section 47 of the Repatriation Act. It is on record. It is quite clear and unambiguous. The right honorable gentleman stressed that fact, but it seemed to me that he was suffering from a guilty conscience because, although he had given his opinion on how the section should be interpreted, and had done so at a time when he was Attorney-General and Deputy Prime Minister, he failed to ensure that the Government of which he was a member gave effect to his interpretation.
It will be as well to recapitulate what happened. The onus of proof was a live matter in repatriation circles. The Repatriation Commission was not interpreting section 47 in the way in which it. should be interpreted.- The commission insisted that it had no responsibility in this regard, and that the responsibility rested on the tribunal. The tribunal contested that view. Legal opinions on the matter were sought. The opinion given by the Attorney-General of that day. who is now the Leader of the Opposition, was to the effect that the onus of proof rested on the commission, not on the tribunal. Despite repeated letters to the commission, the tribunal failed to get the commission to agree that the onus of proof fell on the commission. In sheer desperation, the members of the tribunal wrote to the then Minister for Repatriation. They told the Minister that, in their opinion, effect should be given to the interpretation given by the then AttorneyGeneral. That letter was acknowledged by the Minister, but no action was taken by him. Consequently, the tribunal was forced, in a statutory report made to the Parliament, to criticize the administration of the Minister. I have a. copy of that report in front of mp. lt is the report of No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal for the period from the 1st July, 1947, to the 2Sth Feb.ruary, 1948. The tribunal stated - [n 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 bv 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. 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.
The tribunal summarized the provisions of section 47 and went on to quote a letter written by the chairman of the tribunal to the Minister for Repatriation. The letter contained the following passage: -
For many years the Repatriation Commission has held, and still holds (despite advice to the contrary from the Federal Attorney-General, Dr. H. V. Evatt) that the commission carries no onus of proof at the tribunal appeal, but that section 47 places the onus of proof on the tribunal itself. The logical consequence of this view (if accepted) is that the tribunal will be placed in the anomalous position of being a contending party carrying the onus of proof and, at the same time, a judge in its own cause. . . . The tribunal is, therefore, obliged to record the strongest protest to you, as the Minister of State controlling the Repatriation Commission [Section 7 (1)] against a state of affairs which is inimical to the best interests of ex-servicemen, and militates seriously against the efforts of the tribunal to administer justice in accordance with the spirit and intendment of the Repatriation Act.
Then the tribunal made a series of recommendations. Immediately the Minister for Repatriation saw that report, he approached the members of the tribunal and told them that unless they were prepared to withdraw and amend the report, he would take drastic action against them. The tribunal was an independent tribunal that was required to make reports to the Parliament. The Minister for Repatriation had the audacity to stand over the tribunal and say that unless it was prepared to alter its report he would take action against it. The tribunal, true to the interests of ex-servicemen, refused to withdraw or amend the report. Thereupon, the Minister dismissed the tribunal.
– So he should.
– I am very pleased to hear that remark. The honorable member for Shortland (Mr.
Griffiths) believes that a war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal should not try to protect the interests of servicemen. Apparently he agrees with the action of the Minister for Repatriation of that day, who declined to give effect to a legal interpretation of section 47 given by the then Attorney-General and Deputy Prime Minister, stood over an independent tribunal, and, when the tribunal said that it could not withdraw its criticism of him, dismissed the tribunal. The honorable member for Shortland has said that he thinks the Minister should have done so in those circumstances. The sooner the ex-servicemen know where the Opposition stands on this matter, the better it will be for them. I hope a record has been made of the remark of the honorable member for Shortland, because it should be circulated to all ex-servicemen’s associations so that they may know exactly where the Opposition stands in this regard. Having dismissed the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal-
– Not for the reason given by the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison).
– I quoted in this House some time ago a letter written to me by the chairman of the tribunal, in which he described the conversation that took place between him and the Minister for Repatriation. The Minister did not deny that that conversation occurred. This Government has instructed the Repatriation Commission to give effect to the opinion of the present Attorney.General (Senator Spicer) on section 47. When wo came into office, we issued an instruction that the commission should give effect to the true legal interpretation of the section. Recently I checked with the commission to ensure whether that was being done and I was assured that it was being done in every instance.
– That is not so.
– I have been told by the Minister for Repatriation that in every instance effect is being given to the true interpretation of section 47. The Leader of the Opposition rose in his place to-day and announced abjectly: “When I was Attorney-General and Deputy Prime
Minister, I gave an opinion on section 47, but a junior Minister failed to observe that opinion “. If the right honorable gentleman could not enforce the acceptance of that opinion by his Cabinet, I say that he gave the opinion with his tongue in his cheek. If he had intended that effect should be given to the opinion that he expressed to the tribunal, he would either have forced his Cabinet to ensure that effect was given to it, or he would have resigned if his Cabinet was not prepared to support him. The right honorable gentleman expressed his opinion, and then sat back. At a subsequent date, he 3ought to take advantage of the fact that he had expressed the opinion. I condemn him foi- failing to ensure that effect was given to his opinion when he was in a position to do so’. He failed to ensure that effect was given to it, but now he comes into this House, after this Government has issued an instruction that effect is to be given to the true interpretation of section 47, and says, with a canting air, that that interpretation should be enforced. [ say to the right honorable gentleman that it should have been enforced when lie was a senior Minister of the Chifley Government. It is being enforced to-day, but not through his efforts.
– It is not happening at all. The Government has not given any such instruction.
– I have a copy of the instruction that has been given.
Mi-. POLLARD. - It is not being carried out.
– Let me read the statement on the matter made by the present Attorney-General (Senator Spicer). It is as follows: -
The Prime Minister has asked me to prepare a statement setting out the legal position under Section 47 of the Repatriation Act in regard to the proof of pension claims.
Parliament has, in Section 47 of the Repatriation Act, established a special code for the hearing and determination of claims, applications and appeals. The section does two important things - (f/i) it places the onus of proof on the person, or authority who contends that the claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed to the full extent claimed; and
it indicates the degree or standard of proof required to discharge that onus.
Ordinarily, the onus lies on the party who makes a claim to prove the facts necessary to support it. Thus, unless otherwise prescribed by Parliament, the onus would be upon the claimant for a pension under the Repatriation Act to establish that the necessary conditions are fulfilled.
In the Repatriation Act, Parliament has completely reversed the normal process. It has expressly declared in Section 47 -
that it shall not be necessary for the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof to support his claim, application or appeal; and
that in all cases whatsoever the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority opposing the claim, application or appeal.
The effect of this is that it is not for the claimant to prove that he is entitled to a pension, but it is for any opposing person or authority to prove that he is not entitled. In every case the question is not: Has the claimant satisfied the tribunal that he is right? but Has the opposing person or authority satisfied the tribunal that the claimant is wrong? fi. Of course, the claimant may find himself in a, position in which it is greatly in his own interest to supply evidence in support of his claim. For example, the opposing person or authority may be able to supply evidence which, taken alone, might discharge the onus of proof which the opponent carried. In such a ease it would be advisable for the claimant to supply evidence which would at any rate raise a doubt in his favour.
The onus remains with the opposing person or authority throughout the proceedings. The claimant need not, but he may, if he so desires, furnish proof in support of his claim. But, whether he furnishes proof or not, the onus will, at the end of the proceedings, still be upon the opposing person or authority to satisfy the determining authority that the claimant is not entitled.
– What was the date of that statement?
– There is no date on this document. I shall obtain the date for the honorable member. The statement continues -
This brings me to the second matter with which section 47 deals, i.e., the effect to be given to the evidence which is adduced. Section 47 does two things -
firstly, it requires that the determining authority shall give to the claimant, applicant or appellant the benefit of any doubt in regard to certain enumerated matters, which, in effect, cover the whole field of matters relevant to the inquiry; and
b ) secondly, it provides that the adjudicating authority shall be entitled to draw, and shall draw from all the circumstances of the case, from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant, applicant or appellant.
To aid the determining authority in carrying out the will of Parliament as thus expressed, section 48 (2) requires a medical practitioner, where he entertains any doubt concerning any of the matters upon which he is required to report, to state that he entertains such a doubt and to indicate, as far as practicable, the nature and extent of his doubt.
A claim is not to be dismissed because the tribunal is left in a state of doubt as to any question whatsoever which arises for its decision. The claimant is always to be given the benefit of any such doubt. As the onus of proof in all cases whatsoever lies on the person or authority who contends that the claim should not be granted and the claimant is to be given the benefit of any doubt, it follows that the claim should be allowed unless that person or authority proves beyond doubt, i.e., beyond reasonable doubt, that the claim is inadmissible. Only if the evidence is such that the determining authority is left in no such doubt that the claim should be refused can it properly dismiss the claim. If the authority has some doubts, that is to say if it is not convinced beyond doubt that it should refuse the claim, the claimant must be given the benefit of the doubt, and his claim must be granted.
– What date was that?
– Why do not they observe it?
– Who circulated it?
– If there are any more interjections, I shall have to name honorable members. There has been a steady flow of interjections for the last quarter of an hour.
– The present Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) sent copies of the interpretation to all War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals. The Repatriation Commission sent copies to all repatriation boards and deputy commissioners and instructed the deputy commissioners to circulate copies to all officers dealing with pensions. The date of the interpretation is being obtained, and I shall give it to the House as soon as I receive it..
– That followed upon my intervention in this House.
– That may be so. This Government took more notice of the right, honorable gentleman than, did his own party when he was Deputy Prime Minister. It is an extraordinary situation, because I find now that the right honorable gentleman, who is leader of. the party sitting in Opposition, could not, whilst Deputy Leader of the Labour party and Attorney-General, direct that a junior member of his Cabinet should give effect to the right legal interpretation. What right has the right honorable gentleman to come into this House now and make the claim that he has made? It is perfectly true that the legal opinion stands, it is perfectly true that it is as it should be, but the right honorable gentleman stands condemned because he did not give effect to it.
– How could I?
– The right honorable member for Barton asks, “How could I?” The right honorable gentleman, as Deputy Prime Minister and Attorney-General and with the weight of High Court judiciary behind him, says that he could not influence his own party and his own Cabinet. That is an indictment of his party and his Cabinet. If the right honorable gentleman says it is not an indictment against him, I say that his party and his Cabinet should stand before the ex-servicemen and be revealed for what they were. If he wants to shed his responsibility and say, “ I am not to blame “, he throws the responsibility on his party and his Cabinet. The right honorable gentleman cannot have it both ways. So, Mr. Speaker, let us have no more of this nonsense. I agree with the right honorable member for Barton that this direction should be given effect, and we have given effect to it.
– You have not.
– I have the personal assurance of the Minister for Repatriation that the direction which has been given by the Attorney-General is being observed in every case.
– What about the tribunal ?
– The War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal has no responsibility in this regard. The responsibility belongs to the Repatriation Commission. The case submitted by the tribunal was that it was being forced to act as a judge in a case where it had to supply evidence. The right honorable member for Barton will agree with what I am saying even though for .some other reason the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) is seeking to establish a” point which is entirely inaccurate. The case submitted by the appeal tribunal was that .the Repatriation Commission said, “ lt is your responsibility as an appeals tribunal “. The tribunal said, “ It is not our responsibility. We cannot be prosecutor .and judge at the same time. It is your responsibility. We act as an appeals tribunal and we judge accordingly”. I hope the House will have a proper sense of its responsibility in this regard. This direction is .being implemented by the Repatriation Commission and I think that the right honorable member for Barton, in view of the fact that he denies culpability, can find some satisfaction from the fact that at least we are supporting his ruling even though his own party and Cabinet did not support him.
– “What is the date of that interpretation?
– It was received by the Minister on the 17th April, 1953, and was circulated to all concerned.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order !
– This is an extraordinary thing. We give a direction that has not formerly been given, and because the date on which we give the direction is marked on the document, honorable members opposite make exclamations.
– It was four years too late.
Mi-. SPEAKER.- . For the last time, I warn honorable members not to interject. Further interjections will result in the interjector being named forthwith.
– The date on which the opinion was given by the right honorable member for Barton is contained in the report for the period 1947-48. The direction that the onus of proof was on the Repatriation Commission has been followed ever since this Government assumed office. When this matter was raised, I communicated with the Repatriation Commission and with the Attorney-General. I asked, “ Is this definitely understood by the commission ? “ The Attorney-General has strengthened the position by giving a further direction so that there will be no ambiguity.
– I am pleased to hear the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) admit that at last the Government has taken serious notice of the motion by the Leader of the Opposition the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), approximately twelve months ago.
– The motion was made in 1952.
– Although it is belated, in embers on this side of the House are pleased to know that at last they have moved the Government to take /some sort of action to help the ex-servicemen. Honorable members hope that, following the admission by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, some of the cases that have been awaiting consideration and some that have been rejected will be reviewed.
The bill now before the House proposes to give very small pension increases. I regret that those increases are not in conformity with the wishes of the various ex-servicemen’s organizations of Australia. It is well known that the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia asked for a 25 per. cent, all-round increase in pension rates. I can prove that, even if that increase were given, it would not lift the pension to the rate that obtained when the Labour party went out of office in 1949.
Let me refer to the promise made by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in 1M9 in regard to repatriation benefits. He took upon himself the onus of doing various things for the exservicemen. On that occasion the Prime Minister said -
Repatriation remains a great and proud responsibility.
The Opposition parties contain a majority of members and an overwhelming majority of new candidates who arc ex - Ker v icem en.
He was speaking of the Liberal- Australian Country party. He continued -
We shall see to it that there is speed, financial and human justice and understanding in our administration of soldier problems.
Current legislation will be promptly overHauled and anomalies adjusted.
We will sympathetically review financial allowances, particularly those related to disability of war widowhood, in the light of all the circumstances, including the fall in the value of money.
The promise to put value into the pension has not been carried out. The Prime Minister continued - li>r advice in relation to them and other repatriation matters, we shall establish exservicemen’s committees of Cabinet and of Parliament, to confer with representatives of ex-service organizations.
We will encourage and speed up soldier land settlement, assist single-farm as well as group settlement, and aim always at proper security oE tenure, without which there is insufficient inducement to effective farming.
I do not know whether that promise was made in good faith, but it has not been carried out, and I shall prove that soon by citing various figures and facts.
The federal president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, Sir George Holland, when referring to the small increases, said they were a “ slap in the face “. The secretary of the Limbless Soldiers Association said -
While we are thankful for small mercies, we did expect that the minimum increase would be 10s. a week in the general rate.
The supporters of the Labour party agree that that should be so. The acting Victorian president of the War Widows Guild, Mrs. J. L. Neylon, said -
I am disgusted. All waT widows will be bitterly disappointed. How can a widow rear a family with the present high rents, gas, electricity, clothing and other essential food?
I should like to refer also to a statement by the New South Wales branch of the War Widows Guild. The members of that branch issued their statement because they compared the present pension with the basic wage and proved conclusively that the present widows’ pension is the lowest ever paid. The value of the pension can be judged only by the amounts of goods and services it will provide. The New South Wales branch of the War Widows Guild said -
The Government of this country took and used our bread winners’ lives to save Aus- tralia - to preserve for its people a minimum standard of living, but this standard was not. for the dead men’s families
Our vaunted gratitude to our heroic dead is surely a mockery when we put their families on the slum standard.
That is the statement of those who are interested in the welfare of ex-servicemen, war widows and their families about the effort of the present Government to carry out the promise made by the Prime Minister.
I should now like to discuss the question of the war service pension. It is really not a war pension, but just another form of the age and invalid pensions. War service pensioners receive the same rate of pension as age and invalid pensioners. Under this bill it is proposed to give the war pensioner the same increase as that proposed for the invalid pensioner, which honorable members on this side of the House say is quite inadequate. If honorable members examine the value of the pension to-day, they will find that it is lower than it has ever been. Quite a number of people covered by this bill are suffering from ill health as the result of war service. Their health has gone. This pension that I am now discussing is similar to the age pension, but the exserviceman Can get it at 60 whereas a civilian gets the age pension at 65. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) tried to tell the House that when ex-servicemen attained the age of 65 they could get the age pension at the ceiling rate as well as the service pension. That is not so. An ex-serviceman can get only a service pension, and if he wants any more money he must work for it. The totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman’s pension has lost value in comparison with the cost of living, and the amount of the pension now as compared with the amounts paid to other persons for industrial reasons is quite inadequate. Under a measure that is at present before the Victorian Parliament, the Victorian Labour Government proposes to pay a man who has suffered an industrial illness or accident, and who has a wife and one child, £12 a week” during the period of his incapacity. That is 15s. 9d. a week more than the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen’s pension. That indicates how a progressive Labour government can look after the interests of ex-servicemen and civilians better than a non-Labour government can.
An ex-serviceman receiving the totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman’s pension, cannot do ordinary maintenance work about his home as can a man who is not incapacitated, and consequently he has to pay for it to be done. That increases his expenses, and he should be re-imbursed for expenses of that nature by an increased pension. Moreover, not only are some ex-servicemen limbless or blind, but they suffer from other complaints and need special diets, ft is expensive to obtain these diets, and again their pensions should take into account that type of expense. Moreover, many persons receiving totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman’s pensions need extra warmth in their houses, and have to pay for more fuel than a normal person. That again should be taken care of in the pensions.
The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) in his second-reading speech, referred to pension standards. In 1920 the special rate pension was 10 per cent, more than the basic wage, but to-day it is about 23 per cent. less. In order to bring the present pension to the standard of 1920, it would have to be increased to £1.3 4s. a week. But the Government has attempted to argue that the value of the pension should, be compared with the cost of living under the 0 series index. Prosperity loadings have been added to the basic wage by special action of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Of course they were necessary, because the C series index regimen is out of date, and inflation has greatly increased the cost of all articles. I believe that the ex-servicemen’s pensions and the age and invalid pensions should be loaded for prosperity, in the same way as the wages of all other persons throughout the community. But at present the totally and permanently incapacited pensioner’s wife gets only £1 15s. 6d. If that is added to the £9 5s. received by the husband, the total is £11 0s. 6d. a week, which is” still less than the basic wage. Moreover, the wife of a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman is not entitled to medical benefits under the repatriation legislation, and has to pay for her medical and hospital attention. Age and invalid pensioners have special concessions for medical and hospital attention, and similar concessions should be extended to the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. The Government has estimated that the health and medical benefits that age pensioners receive are worth 8s. a week. I suggest that 8s. a week should be added, in respect of this matter, to the pensions of the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. The federal secretary of the Commonwealth Council of Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Associations of Australia (T.P.I.), has said- . . our wives, who by virtue of the sickness of their husbands are called on to do a lot of nursing and extra domestic duties and they receive exactly the same pension as the wife of the 100 per cent, pensioner who probably never has these duties to perform, as generally the husband is engaged in industry and not at home sick all the year round, like many of the Totally and Permanently Disabled men on our rolls . . .
Surely that is a very strong reason why, in addition to the temporary and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen getting more because of special disabilities, the wife should also receive an increased allowance. The next class of pensioner is the base rate pensioner. He will receive an increase of 2s. 6d. a week. His present rate is £4 a week, and that will be increased to £4 2s. 6d., which is a very meagre increase and does not cover the increase of 3s. in the cost of living which has accrued since this measure was introduced into the Parliament. To-day the base rate pensioner will receive the smallest proportion of the basic wage that he has received in the history of this pension. The 50 per cent, pensioner will get a paltry ls. 3d. a week, the 25 per cent, pensioner will get 8d., and the 10 per cent, pensioner will get 3d. a week. I understand that the Repatriation Department has stated that these increases are so small that the cost of making the alterations of pensions will be more than the paltry increases.
The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) referred to a paper issued by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), which attempted to show that this Government has done more for the war pensioners than any. Labour government.. If we analyse, the paper we will find that that is not so at all, because there- must be a measuring stick; and if the- living wage is- compared with the pension paid, the- percentage of the war pension to the basic, wage- is. less now than ic has, ever been in the history of the pension. The honorable member for Sturt mentioned the record, of the Labour party during its la3t three years’, of office. Now, in 194.6 the base rate pension was £2 10s. and the basic wage £4. 17s., the pension being 51.5 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1948 the basic wage was £5- 14s.,, and the base rate pension £2 15s., or 4S.2 per cent, of the- basic wage. In 1950, after this Government assumed office, the basic wage was £6 15s., and the base rate pension. £3. 10s.,; or 51.8 per cent, of the basic wage.. Then there was a steep decline of the proportion of the pension to the basic wage, as inflation1 steadily advanced. In 1952 the base rate pension was £4, and the basie wage £11 7s. The. pension then, was 35.2 per cent, of the basic wage- the lowest, proportion in the history of the war pension. Since this measure lias been introduced,, the cost of living has increased by 3s. to abour £12 a week, but under the measure the pension will be £4 2s. 6d., or 34.3’ per cent, of the basic wage. In order to ascertain, the relative value of war pensions we iti ust use an accepted yardstick. I propose to adopt the yardstick of the basic wage. In 1914. when war pensions were first introduced, the war widow’s pension rep-resented 37 per cent, of the basic- wage. Now, it represents the smallest percentage of that wage ever recorded, notwithstanding the fact that this Government claims to be mindful of the interests of exservicemen and their dependants. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) compared the rate of war widows’ pension paid during, the period of office of the Labour governments with that paid during the administration of the present Government. I shall make a similar comparison, but I shall relate the pension to the basic wage. In 1946, when the basic wage was £4 17s. the war widow’s pension was £3 10s., or 51.7 per cent, of the basic wage. During the last year of office of the Chifley Labour Government, when the- basic wage was- £6 4s., the pension paid to war widows was. £3, or 49’..3 per cent, of the wageIn the first year, of office of the- Menzies. Government,, when the. basic wage was £6 15s., the war widow’s pension, was £3 10s., or 51.8 percent, of the basic, wage. From then onwards, however, the percentage steadily declined,, and, in addition, as each, year went by, value receded from the £1 at an increasingly alarming, rate.. Last year,, because of mounting inflation, the basic wage was increased” to £11 7s., hut the war widow’s pension still remained at £3 l;0s-. Thus, it then represented 30’.S per cent, of the basic wage. This year, the war widows pension has reached an all-time low record in relation, to the basic wage. The basie wage is now £12, and the war widow’s pension-, after the paltry increase of 2s. 6d. proposed’ in this bill has been added, will be £3 12s. 6d’.. Thus, the pension will represent only 30.2 per- cent, of the basic wage. This Government, is breaking records in- low- payment? to pensioners of all kinds..
I shall now cite the relevant figures of pensions- paid to- totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen:. They tell the same sorry story. In- 1949, when the Labour Government relinquished: office, the basie wage was £6: 4s., and’ the special rate pension’ which is- paid to totally- and’ permanently incapacitated’ ex-servicemen was £5- 6s., or S’5.5’ ptt cent, of the basic wage. The present basic wage is’ £12, but the special-rate pension, after thepaltry proposed increase has been added, will be £9 5s. Thus> the- specialrate pension will represent 77 per cent, of the basic wage. This class of pension lias also- reached’ a record low level in relation’ to the basic wage because the Government has- failed to restore value to the £S and to arrest galloping inflation.
The figures cited1 by the- honorable member for Sturt were unrealistic because they failed to take into, account the increase of living costs. During the last three years of office of the Labour Government the cost of living increased by 27.8- per cent., and the basie wage increased by £1 7s. a week; but during the last three years of office of the present Government the cost of living increased by 77.7 per cent, and the basic wage increased by £5 5s. a week. That” is the true and sorry story of this matter. 1 join with the ex-servicemen’s organizations in protesting against the paltry increases of pension rates proposed to be granted to ex-servicemen, and their dependants. I trust that the Government will sympathetically consider the case that lias been submitted on behalf of the exservicemen by the Labour party, and that it will reconsider its decision and extend, more generous treatment to this deserving section of the community.
.- The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) apparently has a basic-wage complex, for he has just announced an increase of the basic wage by 3s. a week.
– That is so.
– To my knowledge no increase has recently been made in the basic wage. It is apparent that Opposition members do not know what they are talking about. What they really intend to convey is that the C series index has recently been increased by that amount.
– The C series index is the measure of the cost of living.
– The honorable member related war pensions to the basic wage instead of to the C series index. If he had carefully studied this subject he would have realized that war pensions have never been related to- the basic wage, even- by governments formed by the political party which he supports. I make that statement on the authority of the former Labour Minister for Repatriation, Mr. Barnard, who should have known, something about the subject. In answer to. a question asked by the former honorable member for Balaclava, Mr. White, now Sir Thomas White, Mr. Barnard said - lt is true that ex-servicemen”’ 5 pensions have not been: increased to. the same degree as the cost of living has risen. … I point out to the. House that pensions have never Been related to the basic wage.
– When did Mr. Barnard make that statement?
Mr. -FAILES. - He made it on the 22nd September, 1949-, when- the Chifley Government was in office. In that year,, there had been great criticism of theChifley Government because it had not increased pensions of any kind,, and had refused to respond to the appeals of the ex-servicemen’s organizations that it should rectify anomalies and injustices in the repatriation legislation. Despite that statement by Mr. Barnard., Opposition members condemn this Government on. the ground that its record- in this matter compares unfavorably with that of the Chifley Government.
War pensions have’ never been related to the basic wage, but they do bear some relation to the C series index. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) in introducing this bill in another place, referred to that fact. He took the year 1920 as the base year and stated that the relation between war pensions and the C series index, had varied in the succeeding years. He showed how in some instances pension rates are twice as high as they were in the base year. As honorable members know, the basic wage contains many ingredients which render it unsuitable for use in measuring the value of pension payments. Opposition members know very well that the exservicemen’s organizations are not at all desirous that the basic wage should .be used as a yardstick for measuring the value of pensions, or that pension rates should rise or fall in accordance with the fluctuations of the basic wage.
I had hoped that this, debate would be free of party politics- because it deals with a subject the- importance of which far transcends that; of mere party political, advantage. Unfortunately, however, we do not seem to be able to get away from party politics. War pensions is a matter, not for individual governments, but for the people as a whole. An obligation rests- upon the nation to acknowledge, in many ways and not. only in a financial way, the value of the services rendered by men who fight in wars in which. Australia is involved. In this debate the thoughts of honorable members have been concentrated on the rate of pension that should be paid to exservicemen as compensation for injuries’ or illness arising out of war service.. When our nien1 volunteered for service in firefighting forces their very last thought was that they might be recompensed for theirservice or that they would be granted pensions foi’ injury of ill-health arising out of war service. But from the point of view of people it is right and fair that governments should suitably compensate ex-servicemen who, on their return from a war, suffer from disabilities that place them at a disadvantage by comparison with other members of the community. Governments formed by the parties on both sides of the House have given great thought to that problem, and they have dealt with it as reasonably and as generously as circumstances have permitted them to do. War pensions must be considered in relation to the whole pattern of government receipts and expenditure. It cannot be said that because we pay a pension to a person it should bear a relation to the basic wage, because the recipient of the pension may receive other benefits apart from the pension itself.
I am afraid that many Opposition members do not thoroughly appreciate the fact that there are two principal kinds of war pensions. First, there is the special rate pension, which is payable to totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen who are deemed to he unable to work. Such men may be able to undertake some kind of work, but by and large, their disabilities are such that only by the exercise of the greatest courage are they able to do so. They are entitled to, and they should receive, the most sympathetic consideration. Unfortunately, in the past, these men have not received the consideration to which they are entitled. Secondly, there is the general rate pension, which varies according to the degree of disability su ffered by the ex-serviceman. Pensioners in receipt of a general rate pension have very often received consideration to the disadvantage of the special rate pensioners. A totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman must be maintained. He must be assisted, particularly if it is necessary for him to move about from place to place. If he is married, he needs assistance in the home. His wife and children must he properly provided for. We assumed him to be totally dependent upon, the State. On the other hand, a partially incapacitated exserviceman is able to work. There are many of them in this House. Indeed, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) is himself one of them, and he administers his department with a first-hand know- ledge of the disabilities from which disabled ex-servicemen suffer. It has never been accepted that a partially incapacitated ex-serviceman should receive a pension which would keep him without need to follow some form of occupation. Many pensioners suffer from comparatively minor disabilities. They have been granted war pensions to compensate them for injuries sustained in the service of their country. Let us look at this problem of war pensions as a special problem which requires special treatment and not endeavour to pin the pension rates to some inappropriate base, such as the basic wage. The repatriation and rehabilitation of ex-servicemen are responsibilities that rest on the government of the day. All governments, whatever their political colour, have accepted that responsibility, and all budgets have included provision for ex-servicemen in the way of pensions and other benefits. Governments have shown by their treatment of exservicemen that they realize that war service may easily have had the effect of shortening the active lives of returned men. In addition to realizing their responsibilities to the men who have returned, governments have also realized, and carried out, their responsibilities to the dependants of the men who lost their lives, and have made provision for pensions for war widows and other dependants of deceased servicemen. For instance, this Government provided for the payment of a gratuity to a war widow on re-marriage, the minimum amount of which is £188 10s. That is actually a wedding gift to the widow. The Government has enabled war widows to receive medical treatment at the expense of the Repatriation Department when they are temporarily away from their normal place of residence. Formerly they experienced difficulty in obtaining free medical advice and treatment when away from home. The Government has also widened the eligibility for payment of the recreation transport allowance. An amount of £10 a month is granted to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen who” are incapable of moving more than short distances. The act has also been amended by the removal of the time limit in respect of step-children and adopted children of members of the forces. A restriction previously in existence prevented the wife of an ex-serviceman of World War I., who had not been married before 193S, from receiving any pension. That anomaly has been corrected.
Children of ex-servicemen are able to obtain education at the expense of the Repatriation Department, which is ininterested, not only in caring for the ex-servicemen and their widows, but also in ensuring that the children of exservicemen have a chance in life. Ex-servicemen who were not disabled as a result of war service, nevertheless, actually suffered something as a result of their service. One obvious disability that they suffered was that their civilian lives were upset for years. They had to return to a world different from that which they left to go to war. In effect, they have had to make a new start, and therefore they require rehabilitation. I was secretary of a repatriation committee after the last war, and I am well aware of the problems of ex-servicemen. I know how valuable and helpful to ex-servicemen are such provisions as the war service land settlement scheme, business loans, and sustenance while they were waiting to get back into the swing o’f a civilian occupation again.
– Who made that possible?
– ‘Cannot the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) cease l.o introduce .party politics into this matter? If such a debate as this cannot be held without the introduction of party politics, then there is little hope of conducting the work of repatriation on a decent basis. Such a matter as this should be above party politics. I am not attempting to apportion praise or blame in regard to repatriation. I am merely trying to point out that governments as a whole, throughout the years since the end of World War I., have faithfully carried out (heir growing repatriation responsibilities, and have tried to be fair to ex-servicemen. Among other things they made furniture grants to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen and war widows, and have assisted exservicemen in the establishment of new homes wheal they have returned from war service. They have made available extensive training, through the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, in agricultural, commercial and industrial occu pations. That form of training is still continuing. They have also paid special allowances to enable ex-servicemen to purchase the tools of their trade. They have provided cars for limbless exservicemen who would otherwise not be able to move around. That innovation was introduced only a few years ago. The car granted to ex-servicemen whose disability is either double amputation of the legs above the knees, or complete paraplegia, is a 10 horse-power four-doored sedan Hillman Minx. An allowance of £120 a year is made as an additional grant to cover registration, insurance and general running costs.- I could make a party political statement on that matter, but I prefer merely to say that all these things have been made possible by various governments.
As everybody knows, the Repatriation Commission has done a remarkable job in the provision of medical benefits to exservicemen. Admittedly, these benefits are limited to the treatment of war-caused disabilities, as they must be, but the provisions of the law in that respect are administered with great understanding. We often hear of cases of ex-servicemen who have been in repatriation hospitals for treatment of disabilities that they have claimed were war caused and have had to leave such hospitals because their disabilities have been diagnosed as not due to their wai’ service. Much as we would wish to help in such cases, however, our first obligation is to the ex-serviceman who is suffering from a war-caused disability. The Repatriation Commission is thoroughly carrying out that responsibility. Appeals tribunals have been established to consider cases in which there is any doubt regarding whether or not a. disability is wai- caused, and I have been assured, in every case I have investigated, that the ex-servicemen concerned have been given every opportunity of having their cases thoroughly examined. Although it may sometimes seem to the layman that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, I am convinced that no stone is left unturned to establish the justice or otherwise of a man’s claim. Ex-servicemen have applied to the department for treatment and have been placed in repatriation hospitals for examination and treatment until it has been ‘established whether or not their disabilities were war ‘caused. Some men have spent as much as eighteen months in repatriation hospitals although the department may have considered it to be fairly obvious that their disabilities were not war caused, and have not been discharged until alternative accommodation ha3 been found for them. I think that the department has done an excellent job in that -respect.
As I have mentioned before, we have, as Minister for Repatriation, a man who is himself .suffering from a war-caused disability. He has acted, more or less, as a sort of a guinea pig in trying out a considerable number of artificial aids for limbless ex-servicemen. He is now trying out a type of artificial limb made in Australia. It is a particularly successful limb. The department maintains an artificial limb factory in each of the States, which makes artificial limbs that are said to be the -best in the world. That is another great activity of the department on behalf of ex-servicemen. Repatriation hospitals have the best chest doctors available for the treatment of tuberculosis, which is now regarded in all cases as having been due to war service. No line is drawn in that respect. If an exserviceman is diagnosed as a tuberculosis sufferer he receives free repatriation treatment, which is equal to any treatment he could receive anywhere else. The department has also got one of the finest psychiatrists in Australia working for it.
I mention these matters because there has been too much concentration in this debate on the subject of finance alone, on whether war pensions should be based on the basic wage or measured by some other yardstick, and not on whether the Repatriation Commission or the Department of Repatriation is doing the fair thing by men who have suffered as a result of their war service. In my opinion nothing is too good for ex-servicemen, particularly the totally and incapacitated ex-serviceman who are unable to participate in the ordinary occupations of life because of the sacrifices they made for their country. At the same time, however, all these things “have to be considered in relation to the general economy of the country. We must -ask ourselves how far a government can go in expend- ing public funds on various activities. The Minister for Repatriation has done a particularly good job, and I believe that the Government is entitled to credit for having maintained the level of repatriation services carried out satisfactorily by previous governments.
.. - Were it not for the failure of the Government to provide effectively, efficiently and adequately for the ex-servicemen of this country by the provisions it has made in the budget, I should not be taking part in this debate.
– Well, sit down now.
– It is all very well for the honorable member for Mitchell (Mi’. Wheeler) to tell me to sit down. I shall be interested to hear what he has to say about this matter later on.
Mr. Osborne interjecting,
– Order! I have complained .about interjections already this afternoon.
– This debate should rise above party politics. In the short time that I have been .a member of this House I have endeavoured to do something for ex-servicemen, because I have seen the acute suffering of many hundreds of them throughout Australia. It is useless for .the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) to blame the Labour ‘Government prior to 1949 for failure to implement the provisions of the Repatriation Act. In any event, two wrongs do not make a right. If the Labour Government failed to carry out its duties to ex-servicemen, there is no reason why this Government, after having been in office for almost four years, should not -carry out its responsibilities. There is proof that there is resentment on the part of ex-servicemen’s organizations over the Government’s failure to provide properly for exservicemen, because, before the budget was introduced, various ex-servicemen’s organizations wrote to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) asking for certain things to be done. They asked for an increase of pensions and the rectification of anomalies. One of these organizations is the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Soldiers Association, of Brisbane, of which the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) is a vicepresident. Because of all the factors that I have mentioned, the Opposition considers that greater provision should be made for the needs of ex-servicemen than the Government now proposes.
One of the main points of contention is the interpretation of section 47 of the Repatriation Act. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has taken the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) to task for his interpretation of the section. I discussed this matter some time ago with the Deputy Commissioner for Repatriation in New SouthWales, Mr. Carswell, and asked him to explain how the onus of proof provisions of section 47 were interpreted. He said that, when a repatriation tribunal had determined in its own mind that the onus of proof no longer existed, there was, in effect, no onus of proof. That caused confusion in my mind. Apparently, the tribunal considers the evidence of Repatriation Department doctors but disregards all other medical evidence. This raises also the interpretation of section 48. What weight do the tribunals place upon evidence given on behalf of an applicant by a family doctor or any other doctor who has been called in to operate or give specialist advice? It seems to me that the tribunals disregard the evidence of such doctors.
– Why does the honorable member say that?
– Because I have proof, which I shall produce.
– All evidence is put before the tribunals.
– I refer the Minister to section 48 of the act, which, in my opinion, must be considered in conjunction with section 47. It is as follows: - (1.) A medical practitioner shall, in reporting on any claim in relation to a member of the Forces, set out in his report his opinion -
in the case of a claim in respect of the incapacity of the member - as to the nature, cause and extent of the incapacity, and shall also set out whether, in his opinion, the incapacity from which the member is suffering or from which he has died -
Clearly, a medical practitioner isobliged to report any doubts that he may entertain. Such evidence should be accepted by the tribunal when it makes its decision in relation to the onus of proof.
– It is accepted.
– That is not so. I have here details of the case of the late Mr. N. R. Sutherland, of 32 Turnerstreet, Lambton, a fine citizen who was employed by the Newcastle Gas and Coke Company Limited. He suffered from illness for many years, and the company was very good to him. It paid him for any time that he lost through illness from 1920 until he died this year. Early this year, he came to me and said, “I think I have just about reached the end of the road. I can work no longer. I am finished, and it is due to my war service “. He had applied to the Repatriation Commission for assistance in 1951, but the commission replied to him in the following terms, in a letter dated the 27th August, 1951 : -
With reference to your application for acceptance of high blood pressure as due to war service, you areadvised that, after investigation, the following diagnosis was made: - Chronic nephritis and renal lithiasis.
The letter added that the commission could not accept this condition as being due to war service. Mr. Sutherland appealed against that decision. In support of his appeal he made the following submissions : -
I enlisted at the age of18 years 11 months and saw service in France from the age of 19 yours 10 months with the 35th Infantry Battalion - ‘trenches to early June, 1917 - in action at Messines Ridge battle on 7th June, 1917 - buried by H.E. shell explosion on this day and subsequently evacuated to CCS. thence to No. 7 Canadian General Hospital at Staples. Returned to unit 20th October, 1917. Trenches ‘ during winter of 1917-18 in and around Ploegstent and Armentieres. To Somme Front end of March, 1918, and in action at Villers-Brettoneaux 4th April, 1918. Evacuated with trench fever 11th April to Rouen 12>th April thence to England 19th April to Norfolk War Hospital near Norwich - rejoined unit on Somme 14th July - Trenches at Hamel thence in action, 8 th August, Accroche Wood, Bray, Curlu, Peronne, etc., until the Armistice. Left France for return to Australia 22nd April, 1919, arriving 11th August, 1919. Discharged on 18th September, 1919.
Any honorable member who visits the Australian War Memorial at Canberra can see there examples of the conditions that this man had to put up with in the trenches. Surely nobody who has seen the models of front-line trenches in France at the museum would reject the claim by this man that his condition of chronic nephritis was due to war service. Nevertheless his appeal was dismissed. He notified me of its dismissal on the 29th May, 1952.
Two doctors had been attending Mr. Sutherland. His own physician, Dr. Sullivan, who had been treating him for years, indicated in no uncertain terms that Mr. Sutherland’s condition was due to war service. Dr. D. Henry, a nephew of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) operated on Mr. Sutherland early in 1953 and stated definitely that, in his opinion, war service had caused Mr. Sutherland’s condition. When Mr. Sutherland notified me that his appeal had been rejected, I asked him to see Dr. Philip Rundle in order to obtain further evidence of his physical condition. This is the certificate that Dr. Rundle issued on the 3rd February this year -
This is to certify that I have this day examined Mr. N. R. Sutherland, age 55 years, of 32 Turner-street,’ Lambton.
In consideration of his clinical history and past medical investigations I consider that he is suffering from cardio-renal disease.
I further understand that he has been investigated by the Repatriation Commission during 1951, when it was considered that he was suffering from chronic nephritis and renal lethiasis.
He stated that whilst he was on active service in 1914-18 war he received treatment in hospital for trench fever and I now consider that his illness is an aetiological factor in the causation of chronic nephritis.
I would therefore suggest that his condition now is due to chronic nephritis resulting from the trench fever suffered during the first world war in April, 1917.
It would be appreciated, if policy dictates, that this man be reviewed from the above point of view.
I ask the Minister for the Army to note that Dr. Rundle expressed his opinion in the knowledge that Mr. Sutherland had applied to the Repatriation Commission and had been refused a pension, both in the first instance and on appeal. Dr. Rundle even stated that, in his belief, Mr. Sutherland’s complaint was contracted in France in April, 1917. Nevertheless, the Repatriation Commission rejected that submission. I point out that Dr. Rundle is a specialist and is a member of the Royal Australian College of Physicians. How often have honorable members known the diagnosis of one doctor to be contradicted by other doctors.? One example of such disagreement came to my notice only recently. A government medical officer at Newcastle rejected an application for an invalid pension, and I sent the man to an independent doctor. Although the government medical officer had reported that the applicant was not in. a bad state of health, the other doctor certified that he could work no longer and was fit only for an invalid pension. I submit that, in the case of Mr. Sutherland, there was justification for the application of the provisions of section 47 and section 48 of the Repatriation Act in order to give the benefit of the doubt to the applicant. Apparently the Repatriation Commission is not observing the spirit of section 47. Mr. Sutherland died in June last. On the 23rd July, the Deputy Commissioner wrote to me -
It is desired to refer to your personal representations dated 15th July, 1953, on behalf of Mrs. Gladys Sutherland, who asks that consideration be given to the acceptance of her husband’s death as due to war service.
Mrs. Sutherland’s claim will be investigated, and you will be informed of the Repatriation Board’s decision.
Since then, Mrs. Sutherland has been advised that the commission cannot accept Mr. Sutherland’s death as having been due to war service, so that she cannot be classified as a war widow and receives no form of compensation.
When the Leader of the Opposition discussed the interpretation of section 47 of the Repatriation Act in this House last year, reference was made to certain instructions that had been issued to repatriation tribunals in relation to the onus of proof. Those instructions were not being observed. Although the Leader of the Opposition spoke on this matter on the 9th October, 1952, it was not until the 1 7th April last that the Minister indicated that the Attorney-General had given effect to the wishes of the Parliament.
– It was a confirmation of the policy that had been followed continuously.
– I have proved that the department is not giving effect to the wishes of the Parliament. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has attempted to flay the Leader of the Opposition,but nothing that he has said can conceal the fact that the Minister is not carrying out the intention of the act, and has not issued instructions to the department in accordance with the wishes of the Parliament. If I had my way, I would sack the lot of them, and establish a new organization in order to be sure that ex-servicemen would not suffer as they have in the past. I am deeply concerned about the whole matter. I am endeavouring to speak without heat, although it is difficult for me to do so when I know that ex-servicemen have been suffering because the wishes of the Parliament have not been given effect. The honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham) gave me assistance in making representations on behalf of an ex-serviceman who had been receiving a service pension of £3 or £4 a week since 1940. This man fought in France in World War I. The battalion of some 1,200 men with which he served was decimated in one action, and he himself was seared with gas. But he has not been able to obtain a full pension, because the act has not been interpreted in accordance with the wishes of the Parliament. The Government takes pride in the manner in which it treats ex-servicemen. It has no cause to do so.
Unnecessary delay also occurs in the determination of the claims of exservicemen for repatriation benefits. Section 64 of the act, which provides for appeals, reads as follows: -
A person who has claimed, as a member of the Forces or as a dependant of a member of the Forces, a pension under this Act (other than service pension), and whose claim has been refused by the Commission on the ground -
In my opinion, all that rigmarole is unnecessary. An appeal should go direct to the tribunal, which should be the final authority in these matters. Sometimes years elapse before a decision is finally reached. That is wrong. Matters of this kind should be expedited, otherwise grave injustice may be done to an ex-serviceman and his dependants. I shall cite an example as an illustration of my case. A young ex-serviceman was admitted to the Morisset Mental Hospital late last year. He had suffered certain disabilities, which had been accepted as due to war service, but it was not until I made representations late this year that the department acknowledged his condition. His wife had not received one penny for her maintenance while the ex-serviceman was in the mental hospital. She had worked for some years in order to keep him and the two children. He had not worked since 1951. Prior to that, he had had only casual work. On the 5th June last, an officer of the department wrote to him as follows : -
With reference to your application for acceptance of nervous condition as due to war service, I have to advise that, after investigation, the following diagnosis was made: -
Anxiety state - deflected. Nasal septum.
The above has been accepted as being due to your war service, but, as there is no accessible degree of incapacity therefrom, no pension will be paid at present in respect of such.
Yet the ex-serviceman was in the mental hospital between December and February, and his wife was only allowed to secure his release on licence.
What was the department doing? On the 1st September last, I made representations about this case to Mr. Carswell, and I am bound to state that he dealt with it as expeditiously as possible. But what had the officers of the department been doing all the time ? Neither the exserviceman nor his dependants had received any payments at all. A welfare officer interviewed the wife, who spoke about getting a divorce. The wife complained that her husband had bashed her, and ill-treated her in other ways on numerous occasions, and she said that her affection for him was dead. She had not received any pension payments. The welfare officer replied, “ I am afraid that you are forgetting your responsibility to your husband “. As I have mentioned, the husband had not been able to keep his wife and two children for a long time, and the department, from 1950 until late this year, had refused to pay her one penny. I mention, in passing, that the wife had directed the attention of the Army authorities to the mental condition of her husband in 1943. He was stationed at Darwin at that time, and his letters caused her concern regarding his mental condition. In reply, his commanding officer wrote -
This note is to reassure you that your husband is perfectly all right.
He is, as most of us who have been up in this area for some time, bored with life.
Unfortunately in this area we have very few of the amenities to which we are used in civilian life.
The department did not recognize the wife’s claim to a pension until the 8th September last. The department wrote to the ex-serviceman, as follows : -
Further to a letter forwarded to you on 4th September, 1953, . . . your letter of 1st September, 1953, was treated as a reapplication for war pension and re-submitted to the Repatriation Board which on reconsideration, granted a war pension at 20 per cent. rate as from 4th March, 1953, and arrangements are now being made to make the payment available without delay.
I emphasize that the department granted a war pension at the 20 per cent. rate in respect of a man who had not been able to work since 1951–
It is also desired that the member be reviewed immediately regarding his present assessment and he will receive advice in this respect.
During the period the patient was at Morisset Mental Hospital, he may be eligible for payment of medical sustenance both at ordinary and special rates. The application forms have been forwarded to the wife asking her to obtain her husband’s signature thereto, and return the forms to this office, as soonas possible.
I received a letter indicating that the department had paid the rate applicable while the ex-serviceman was an inmate of the mental hospital, but I point to the fact that some one was responsible for the delay that occurred in this instance. All these circumstances provide strong evidence in support of a revision of the act with a view to the correction of existing anomalies associated with the granting of war pensions. The Government should ensure that section 48 shall be properly interpreted. When I make these statements, I am not endeavouring to make party political capital out of the plight of ex-servicemen. I am not looking for votes. This speech will not gain one vote for me. I am concerned only for the welfare of the people who are in trouble.
I have seen the official records of another man who fought in World War I. The army authorities recognized that he suffered from arthritis and trench fever. The record shows that while he was serving abroad he suffered from pains in the hips and limbs. He has not worked since 1930, and to-day he receives a pension of £3 10s. a week, and his wife receives an allowance of £1 15s. a week. Does any ex-serviceman agree that it is right that a former member of the forces should have to exist on such a miserable income ? The act was amended years ago specifically to provide for the payment of a pension to such a case. The man’s condition is almost certainly a result of his war service. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the matters raised by the Leader of the Opposition, and Opposition members generally, and ensure that the plight of unfortunate ex-servicemen, who have not been able to obtain justice, shall be ameliorated.
– This debate recurs every twelve months. Usually, the argument on the amendment of the Repatriation Act is concerned with little more than whether the amounts of the proposed increase of pensions are adequate. On this occasion, however, there has also been considerable argument about section 47 and section 4S of the act. At the outset, I shall refer to those two sections. The position about section 47 is this: The Repatriation Commission, not the tribunal, has been instructed that the section is to be rightly interpreted. The point made bv the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) was that he had made an effort to have the instruction given, not to the commission, but to the tribunal. It is important that honorable members shall be clear about the difference in that respect, because the tribunal adopted the correct attitude that it could not be simultaneously the prosecutor and the judge. The effect of the efforts of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), had they been successful, would have been to place the tribunal in that anomalous situation. The tribunal rightly objected and, in consequence, was dismissed. But the fact remains that the present tribunal is now in the position where it is not both prosecutor and judge, and if any argument arises in a case, the commission must produce evidence before the tribunal, which gives its decision on the action. I am sure that every one appreciates the sincerity of the honorable member f”r Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) and all the efforts he has made on behalf of exservicemen. Every year, hundreds and perhaps thousands of claims for repatriation benefits are decided, and perhaps we may feel that the wrong decision has been given in respect of some of them. I am certain it would be quite impossible to assess in this House the value of evidence given before a tribunal. If a tribunal came to a certain conclusion, it would be very difficult for us to arrive at a different conclusion, or at any conclusion at all, without knowing the whole of the evidence given by both sides. But I feel that the Repatriation Act is always administered by Ministers who, especially in the case of the present Minister, are only too glad to see justice done under this or any other section of the act.
On these occasions, the argument is frequently confined to the amounts by which payments should be varied and the House often loses sight of the basic principles on which pensions, especially war pensions, are paid. At the outset, we should get into our minds firmly the idea that there is no real principle on which pensions of any kind are paid that links them with a concept such as the basic wage. That is not the basis on which either war pensions or any other pensions are paid. It is not a basis that has been adopted by governments in this country. .It has always been rejected by ex-servicemen’s organizations. The honorable member for- Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and other honorable members opposite have based their arguments on’ the ground that war pensions should be connected with the basic wage. I repeat that that idea has always been rejected by ex-servicemen. The payment of war pensions is based on principles that have been developed since World War I. Prior to that war, no country had been faced with the necessity to provide pensions and compensation to enormous numbers of ex-servicemen or their dependants. Therefore, after the first world war, ,a new basis of providing for those who had been on active service for their country had to be discovered. The foundation on which our repatriation system rests is, broadly, that war pensions and other similar payments should be related, in the first place, to war service. In other words, they are not to be paid in respect of disabilities not caused by war service. It is important to remember that. Secondly, they are paid in accordance with the principle that if a disablement occurs while a man is serving overseas, that disablement, irrespective of whether it arises directly out of his war service, is pensionable. If the disabled man were not serving overseas, the disablement would entitle him to a pension only if it were directly attributable to his war service. There may be some minor modifications of that principle, but, broadly, it is the basis on which our repatriation system rests.
Therefore, it is obvious that, in order to ensure that pensions are paid in accordance with that principle, we must have tribunals that will be able to assess whether any disability in respect of which a claim has been made is due to war service or to something else. As honorable members know, the bodies which decide such questions are, first, the Re,patriation Board; secondly, the Repatriation Commission; and thirdly, the entitlement appeal tribunals, which are the ultimate courts of appeal. There must be an ultimate court of appeal. It would be quite unrealistic to believe that we could get better results than those we are getting by wholesale sackings of entitlement appeal tribunals. It may be that the tribunals, being . composed of human beings, make mistakes occasionally, but, by and large, I think it is true to say that over a period of years a very substantial measure of justice has been done in the assessment of eligibility for war pensions and similar payments. If that were not so, there would be a great volume of complaint about the tribunals and the commission by exservicemen’s organizations. I say without hesitation that there is no such great volume of complaint.
There are two kinds of repatriation pensions. The first is the war pension proper, if I may so describe it. That is a form of compensation for war injuries. It is paid to ex-servicemen and, in the form of subsidiary payments, to their dependants. It begins at what is called the 100 per cent, rate, and goes down through the scale to the lower percentages. Men who are receiving war pensions proper, to which there is no means test attached, are, in the great majority of cases, permitted to have other income, and some of them have a great deal of other income. Except in special cases, such as totally and permanently incapacitated men and blinded ‘men, to whom special payments are made, it has never been regarded by any government as necessary that these pensions should bear any direct relation to concepts such as the basic wage. The other main division of repatriation pensions consists of service pensions, which are, in fact, age pensions paid at an earlier age.
I want to turn to the question of relating repatriation pensions to some other standard. I have already rejected the idea that they should be related to the basic wage. They are not linked directly with the cost-of-living index either, but it is a fact that over the years governments of all parties, in assessing the rates of these pensions, have had some regard to the cost-of-living index. Let me compare increases of the cost of living with increases of pensions. I shall take 1920 as the base year, and assume that in that year the cost-of-living index was 100. By 1953, the index figure had risen to 197, or by about 100 per cent. During the same period, the special rate pension increased also, although there were reductions in some years. By 1953, it was £9 5s. a week, compared with £4 a week in 1920 - an increase of about 130 per cent. These pensions have had some relation to the cost of living, but have not been linked directly with it. It is not desirable that they should be. The test of whether war pensions are adequate is not one that can be applied merely to any one year. The test to be applied is whether, over a period of years, a government has discharged its obligations in regard to pensions. I shall give the House some figures which show that, over a period of four years, this Government has discharged those obligations.
In 1949, the general rate pension was £2 15s. a week, and in 1953 it was £4 2s. 6d. a week, an increase of £1 7s. 6d. The special rate pension, which was £5 6s. a week in 1949, is now £9 5s. a week, an increase of £3 19s. The increase of the special rate pension was much greater than that of the general rate pension. There is good reason for it to be much greater, because people receiving the special rate pension are in greater need than are most of those receiving the general rate pension. The payment for wives rose from £1 4s. in 1949 to £1 15s. 6d. in 1953. The payment for children rose during the same period from 9s. a week to 13s. 9d. a week, the payment to widows from £3 a week to £3 12s. 6d. a week, and the domestic allowance to widows from 7s. 6d. a week to £1 14s. 6d. a week. The gratuity paid to a widow on remarriage was brought up to a minimum of £188 in 1950. The payments in respect of the first and second children of a widow rose from £1 2s. to £1 6s. 6d., and the payment for subsequent children from 12s. 6d. to 183. 6d. During the last four years, this Government has steadily increased the rates of the pensions and has steadily discharged its obligations to ex-servicemen.
I turn to service pensions, the other . class of pensions about which I spoke earlier. The House will be aware that those pensions have been increased to much the same degree as war pensions. The maximum rate now is £3 10s. a week. The income which a pensioner may have in addition to his service pension has risen from £1 10s. to £2 a week, in the case of a single man, and from £3 to £4 a week in the case of a member and wife. In addition, there has been a liberalization of the property means test in respect of service pensioners. The property limit now stands at £1,250 in the case of a single man, and at £2,500 in the case of a man and wife. The value of the property that a pensioner may hold without a reduction of pension has risen from £100 to £150 in the case of a single man, and from £200 to £300 in the case of a man and wife. Those figures show clearly that this Government, during its period of office, has been fully cognizant of the needs of ex-servicemen. I want to direct the attention of the House to the level at which payments made under the Fifth Schedule of the act now stand. They are the payments made to ex-servicemen who are seriously incapacitated. People with the severest disabilities receive £10 5s. a fortnight, plus an allowance of £7. The. payments go down through the scale to £1 6s. a fortnight. The increases have been greatest in the cases of those most in need of assistance and have been, given, not once or twice, but every year’ during the time that this Governmenthas been in office.
Finally, let me mention some of the provisions made by this Government during the years that it has been administering the Repatriation Act. I direct the attention of honorable members to the gratuity to war widows who remarry, to the increase of the weekly allowance for the children of widows, and to the fact that medical treatment for widows has been provided on the same basis as for ex-servicemen themselves, that is, by allowing them to go to the doctor of their own choice. I direct attention again to the provision in relation to cars for double amputees, to the recreation transport allowance and to the various other allowances and benefits provided by this Government. I have refrained from citing the figures, but it is perfectly obvious that this Government has provided more generous allowances than any earlier Australian Government, and has shown a considerably greater understanding of the problems that confront exservicemen.
.- In common with other members of this Parliament, I know and understand the problems of the ex-serviceman, and I think honorable members should endeavour to deal with those problems on a non-party basis. But apart from that, I think all amendments of the Repatriation Act are criticized, and should be criticized, in order to give to the exserviceman the benefits to which he is entitled.
The honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) said that this Government had done more for ex-service men and women than any other government in the history of this country. ‘Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that between 1918 and 1941, when successive non-Labour governments occupied the treasury bench, very little, if anything, was done to increase the benefits payable under the Repatriation Act. It was left to the Labour Government to set up in 1941 an all-party committee to inquire into the affairs of exservicemen with the object of completely overhauling the Repatriation Act. That committee did yeoman service for exservice men and women. Subsequently, the Curtin Government incorporated in the act every recommendation made by that committee as well as other suggestions submitted by various ex-servicemen’s organizations.
Sitting on the other side of the House are honorable members who served this country in the armed forces, but their actions in this Parliament have been criticized from one end of the nation to the other by those who hold office in the various ex-servicemen’s organizations because, since their election, they have, in supporting the policy of the Government, repudiated pledges made to ex-service men and women that their interests would be safeguarded by this Parliament. For the benefit of honorable members I intend to read the promise made by the nonLabour parties to ex-service men and women in 1949. On page 24 of the 1949 policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the following statement appears : -
Repatriation remains a great and proud responsibility.
The Opposition parties contain a majority of members and an overwhelming majority of new candidates who are ex-servicemen. We shall see to it that there is speed, financial and human justice and understanding in our administration of soldier problems.
Current legislation will be promptly overhauled and anomalies adjusted.
We will sympathetically review financial allowances, particularly those related to disability or war widowhood, in the light of all the circumstances, including the fall in the value of money.
During the time that this Government has been in office the basic wage has almost doubled, and the cost of all basic commodities has sky-rocketed, but the value . of the pension has declined by approximately 10 per cent. Members of the Government, who are ex-servicemen, and who were elected on that pledge, have refused to give effect to policies which they knew would honour the promise made by the Prime Minister. I am not alone when I speak on these matters. The press is full of statements by presidents of various branches of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and other ex-servicemen’s organizations in criticism of Government members. It is not necessary for the Government to apologize for not giving effect to those pledges. The Prime Minister, in his policy speech, made the proud boast that 75 per cent, of the supporters of the Government in this Parliament were ex-servicemen. Surely that is a big enough majority to force any measure through caucus if honorable members really believed in it. Yet it is noted that honorable members who pledged themselves to support the cause of the ex-service men and women apologize for the meagre increase by saying that the Government cannot afford it. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder), the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) and other honorable members have said publicly that this Government has let down exservice men and women. The honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham) thinks the same, but he is not prepared to say so. When the Government’s own supporters condemn it on those issues, is it any wonder that honorable members on this side of the House doubt the political sincerity of those ex-servicemen members and ask them why they do not force through the Parliament legislation designed to increase substantially the rates of pension ? The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis), when he held another portfolio, was criticized in this House for evicting ex-servicemen. Such actions do not foster any great hope that the Government will honour the promises on which it was elected. As long ago as August, 1950, The Association News, the organ of the Limbless Soldiers’ Association, made the following statement about honorable members opposite: -
The Labour governments did a good job. particularly under the humane guidance of John Curtin. It seemed prior to December 10th that their record would stand them in good stead. However, the Liberal Party capitalised Labour’s lack of consideration” for war pensioners. Wherever circumstances permitted, a young ex-serviceman was selected a« a candidate for the Liberal or the Country Party.
The report continues -
On December 10th the Liberal and Country Parties succeeded beyond the Labour Government’s anticipation. War pensioners’ hopes ran high when told that 75 per cent, of the new Government members were ex-servicemen. It was believed by both Labour and Liberal supporters that the chiselling of war pensions would cease forthwith . . . Subsequent procrastination in regard to the adjustment of war pensions has made ex-servicemen in the Federal Government look like dumbbells.
That statement speaks for itself. I cite such cases to show that criticism of the rates of pension goes back almost to the time when the Government was elected. The Canberra Times, on the 31st October, 1951, contained the following report: -
Ex-servicemen Pensioners Get ‘raw Deal ‘.
The New South Wales State President of the Returned Servicemen’s League (Mr. W. Yeo), said at the annual Federal Congress of theR.S.L. to-day that ex-service pensioners were receiving their rawest deal since the Repatriation Act was introduced in 1916.
He said that ex-service members of Parliament who had used their ex-servicestatus to win their seats should now use their majority in caucus to see that the pension increases were granted.
They would be letting down their comrades if they did not, he added.
– We have no caucus.
– The honorable member for St. George said that the Government parties have no caucus. I agree with that statement, because honorable members opposite never know what legislation is going to be presented to this House until the Minister in charge of a bill brings it down. Supporters of the Government come into this House blindly supporting causes that they know are wrong, particularly those relating to ex-service men and women. They give lip-service to the legislation that is introduced. Without any prior knowledge of what is incorporated in a measure, they give it their support, instead of considering it on its merits.
I mention those matters so that honorable members will realize that honorable members on this side of the House do appreciate the problems of ex-service men and women, but they may be excused if in all simplicity they wonder why members who are supposedly not subjected to party discipline, as they say members of the Opposition are, and who can vote with complete independence, walk out of the House when some of these issues are being considered. Never once have they exercised their prerogative to walk across the floor of this House and vote for important amendments to the Repatriation Act proposed by members of the Opposition. It boils down to the fact that supporters of the Government are prepared to use ex-servicemen’s organizations to win votes but are not prepared to give legislative effect to their promises. A Government that has allowed the purchasing power of the £1 to drop by about 50 per cent. proposes to give, not only to war pensioners but also to other people dependent on similar kinds of social service, an increase of 2s. 6d. a week - sufficient to buy half a pound of butter! Is it any wonder that returned servicemen’s organizations have lost confidence in this Government, and have realized that they have been sold up the river by members of the Government. Surely the Government should have known better than not to increase the purchasing power of the pensions in order to compensate for the greatly increased cost of living. The president of the War Widows Guild of Australia, after considering the pensions schemes of this Government, said -
The Government of this country took and used our breadwinners lives to save Australia - to preserve for its people a minimum standard of living, but this standard was not for the dead men’s families. Here is the sorry story–
Then this lady detailed the decreased purchasing power of war pensions, and continued -
Our vaunted gratitude to our heroic dead is surely only mockery when we put their families on the slums standard.
That is a very forceful condemnation of this Government by the president of an organization whose members lost their breadwinners in war. Burnt-out exservicemen are to be given an increase of only 2s. 6d. a week, and yet this increase, which is the same as the increase of age and invalid pensions, is praised by the Government as being something substantial. We must also remember that the increases of pension as given by this Government, will continue for an indefinite period because there is no periodic review of pensions as there is in regard to the basic wage. Notwithstanding the efforts of this Government, the cost of living is still increasing, and consequently the purchasing power of the pensions will continue to decrease. The additional 2s. 6d. a week to he granted by this Government will not buy more than another packet of cigarettes each week for the pensioners; but they will not be able to buy their packet of cigarettes for long because costs will continue to increase. To conform to the increase of the cost of living, pensions should have been increased by this Government by much more than 2s. 6d. a week, but the Government has made no attempt to help the pensioners overcome the difficulties raised by constantly increasing costs. Now that the basic wage has been pegged, prices will continue to rise in the ensuing twelve months, and the pensioners will be worse off than ever before in the history of this country. Therefore, this Government, which refuses to protect the interests of ex-servicemen and their dependants in conformity with its pledges, must be condemned.
The Government’s lack of sympathy for ex-servicemen will be written, indelibly into the repatriation legislation by the measures that are at present before honorable members, and the Opposition protests against the way that the onus of proof provisions of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act are being interpreted by this Government. The honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), who has constantly espoused’ the cause of ex-servicemen in this House, has shown clearly how ex-servicemen are not receiving their rights under the onus of proof provision. Hundreds of exservicemen approach me as their representative, and tell me that they are not being given the benefit of the doubt in regard to their applications for pensions. The proposition with regard to onus of proof is quite simple. If a. man has been accepted as fit for war service and is subsequently discharged from the armed forces for any medical reason, then he must have suffered his illness or incapacity while engaged on war service. I cannot understand why the tribunals that have been set up under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act should continually attempt to save a. few pounds here and there at the expense of exservicemen. Section 47 of that act reads, inter alia -
The Commission, a Board, an Appeal Tribunal and an Assessment Appeal Tribunal, in hearing, determining or deciding a claim, application or appeal, shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case, shall not be bound by technicalities or legal forms or rules of evidence and shall give to the claimant, or appellant the benefit of any doubt . . .
If a man is on trial in a court of law charged with having committed some offence, he is given the benefit of any doubt that may arise as to his guilt. Therefore, surely ex-servicemen should be given the same consideration. The simple principles of British justice should apply in any determination involving an ex-serviceman, and if there is any doubt about his case the benefit of it should be given to him. Yet, we are constantly reminded of cases in which men, after having undergone a period of war service, have become ill and are unable to work, but the war pensions appeals tribunals have refused to accept their illnesses or injuries as having been due to war service. There is certainly something wrong in the administration of the onus of proof provisions, and they should be carried out with more sympathy to the ex-servicemen concerned even though one or two may at times take advantage of them. The honorable member for Shortland and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) have shown that the benefit of the doubt is not being given to ex-servicemen, and that there should be an overhaul of the authority of the repatriation tribunals in order that exservicemen may be treated more fairly.
The Government has set up a committee composed of ex-servicemen, and to my knowledge no ex-serviceman from this side of the House has been invited to join in its deliberations, although it is supposed to be an all-party committee. After all, ex-servicemen on this side of the House were the driving force that caused an alteration of the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act after members of antiLabour governments had remained idle for twenty years or so. The onus of proof provisions should be fully reconsidered, and honorable members should give effect to a broad non-party political policy for the benefit of ex-servicemen in general. I appreciate the honesty of those who are members of the exservicemen’s committee, although their recommendations might not necessarily be acceptable to us. But the contributions of ex-servicemen from this side of the House would be most enlightening, informative and educational to the present members of that committee, and would have the effect of further helping ex-servicemen. Although the Government has made many promises to exservicemen, it has not carried out those promises as it was clearly bound to do. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) is very quiet to-day. He has not spoken about ex-servicemen for quite a long time. When he does mention them nowadays his manner of speaking is quite different from the way in which he used to speak about their rights. The same thing could he said about many honorable mem!bers on the Government side, although 75 per cent, of them are exservicemen. Pensions and other repatriation benefits must be substantially increased if this Government is to honour the pledges that it gave to the electors in the 1949 general elections.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. I have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). The honorable member said that I had not spoken for a long time about repatriation matters. On the 1st October, I made a long speech about repatriation. I also referred to the difference between the treatment of ex-servicemen by this Government and their treatment by the last Labour Government. The honorable member for Grayndler said that he was not speaking for himself when he was speaking about repatriation matters, and I completely agree with that.
.- I rise to make a few comments about the theatrical demonstration given by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). Of course, this is not the first occasion that we have heard a speech of that kind from him, because it is very difficult for him to make any contribution to any debate on other than a purely party political level. He made a reference to the ex-servicemen’s committee of this House, and instead of answering the absurd charges that he made I desire to set forth some facts about it. Before 1949, when the Labour party was in power, Labour members withdrew from the ex-servicemen’s com mittee because the interests of the majority of that committee conflicted with the policy of the government of the day. If the honorable member for Grayndler wishes to obtain a clear view of the representations made by exservicemen’s organizations he would be well advised to refer to the statements of the late Mr. Chifley. It has been said that the honorable member for Grayndler was a protege of the late Mr. Chifley, and if he refers to some of the latter’s speeches he will get an idea of what Mr. Chifley thought and felt about the views expressed to the Government by exservicemen’s organizations ‘before 1949. In 1950, honorable members of the Labour party were approached to take part in the formation of a new exservicemen’s committee. Indeed, I spoke to the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) about it myself, and it was with his full approval that an ex-servicemen’s committee was formed. The precise words of the honorable member for Parkes spoken to me at that time were- -
If you want to go and put some pressure on your own Government you can only do it if the Opposition has no part with you.
We found that to he so, as also will honorable members opposite. It is substantially true.
Having disposed of the rather ruderemarks of the honorable member for Grayndler, I should like to clarify the position in relation to the provisions of section 47 of the Repatriation Act. A great deal of criticism has been levelled at the Repatriation Commission, doubtless with sincerity, hut with very little real knowledge of the practices and procedure followed by it in dealing with claims and appeals. It is important that honorable members should understand the procedure. As we all are aware, the Department of Repatriation has established branch offices in all the big cities of the Commonwealth. In each State there is established a State Repatriation Board. When an ex-serviceman applies for the grant of a pension under the provisions of the act, the appropriate State board examines the relevant data and inquires into the available history of the case with the1 object of discovering whether or not there is merit in the claim.
The board does not approach its task with the idea of refuting the claim. Itexamines all available service and medical documents with the object of deciding whether the applicant can establish a right to a pension under the provisions of the act. I have some knowledge of the operation of these State Repatriation Boards. I assure the House that they are very competent bodies. They accept without hesitation approximately 73 per cent, of the claims that go before them. That is an important fact that the House should not lose sight of. A person who listened to the debate on this bill may have gained the impression that we were dealing with a situation in which there are wholesale refusals of claims, whereas, as I have said, approximately 73 per cent, of the claims are approved upon initial examination by the State boards. Of the remaining claims, 15 per cent, are accepted, either by the Repatriation Commission or, ultimately, by one of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals. Only approximately 12 per cent, of the claims are permanently refused.
The Repatriation Commission, when it considers evidence that had previously been submitted to and rejected by a State board, also seeks to establish the authenticity of the claim. After full examination of the facts it notifies the claimant of its decision either to grant a pension or to uphold the decision of the board. Thus, adverse decisions of State boards are reviewed by the commission. When a claimant is notified by the commission that his claim has been refused, he is informed that the next step is to appeal to one of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals, which operate outside the legal jurisdiction of the Repatriation Commission. Any criticism of a tribunal is not, therefore, criticism of the commission. It is true that, for administrative purposes and for the payment of staff salaries and allowances, the tribunals are administered by that commission, but the commission is not responsible for the legal processes followed by them, nor does it influence their decisions. The tribunals act as courts of appeal. The claimant is advised by the organization of which he is a member - The Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, the Air Force Association or the Naval Men’s Association, as the case may be - that it will provide an advocate, usually its pensions officer, to present his case before the tribunal. These officers are experienced in presenting such cases and they are competent in the advocacy of the repatriation law. They attend the tribunal with the claimant and place all the relevant facts of the case, before it. If the advocate presents new facts which have not been considered by the State board or the commission, the tribunal adjourns the case so that the new evidence may be placed before the commission for consideration. The commission may regard the new evidence as substantiating the claim, and it may reverse its decision to refuse the claim. The commission’s decision is notified to the tribunal, w7hich in turn advises the claimant, and the advocate.. If the commission decides to adhere to its original decision, the tribunal .advises the advocate that he may proceed with the case, or it may seek further evidence in the form of additional medical opinions. In the latter event the new evidence is first referred to the commission for consideration. If the commission still adheres to its decision, the case before the tribunal then proceeds.
I come now to the procedure relating to the onus of proof. It has always been my persona] view that the phrase “ onus of proof “ is misleading and confusing unless the proceedings are heard by a judicial authority or body before whom the onus of proof may be discharged to the satisfaction of the claimant’s advocate. In fact, the onus of proof can be discharged only when the claimant’s advocate is present to observe and judge the hearing of the facts, and to exercise the right to cross-question. He must be in a position to assess whether or not the burden of proof is being placed fairly and squarely upon those who represent the Crown.
The amending bill of 1943 is said to have been drafted by the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), who, in this Parliament, has a great reputation as a lawyer. I cannot say that I know of my own personal knowledge that the right honorable gentleman drafted the amending bill, but I have heard him either make such a claim or give the impression that he was responsible for it. My only comment on that aspect of the matter is that the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, before which I appeared as an advocate, did much more than merely act in accordance with the onus of proof provisions. It went out of its way, in a non-judicial fashion, to assist the claimant as much as possible. If the right honorable gentleman had given a little more thought to his task he might have so drafted the amending legislation of 1943 to provide that the tribunals be established as formal judicial bodies before whom would appear those who represented the Crown and those who represented the claimant. Only in such circumstances would it be possible effectively to provide for the discharge of the onus of proof. I submit that in providing for the establishment of the tribunals in their present form the right honorable gentleman was guilty of political chicanery which serves no good purpose. As the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) has suggested, the whole set up should be reviewed and the procedure should be rationalized.
The Leader of the Opposition said this afternoon that the purpose of the law is to ensure that substantial justice shall be done. As approximately 88 per cent, of all repatriation claims are approved, either by the commission or by the State boards, it may be said with truth that substantial justice is being done.
– Quantitative, but not individual justice.
– I am speaking in the quantitative sense. The proposals made last year by the Leader of the Opposition cannot be substantiated. The report of the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) on the proposals, which was prepared as the result of a request which I made to the Prime Minister (Mr: Menzies), shows that if they were accepted, unless it could be proved beyond all doubt tha+ vo applicants complaint had not been aggravated by war service, or was not the direct result of it, a claim would have to be granted. I have in my desk at this moment papers which reveal a most startling and shocking difference of opinion among medical men. It relates, not to a repatriation case, but to the case of a young man in the Postal Department, who was refused permanent status in the Commonwealth Public Service on the ground that the Commonwealth Medical Officer in Sydney had certified him. to be medically unfit for permanent appointment. The young man went to leading Macquarie-street specialists, who, after extensive examination, certified that he was in sound health. In their view the young man was in a state of health sufficiently good for them to certify that it complied with the standards laid down by life-insurance companies for the acceptance of life risks. From, their knowledge of Public Service health standards, they regarded him as suitable for permanent appointment. Who could possibly advocate before a judicial tribunal that, beyond all doubt, the Commonwealth medical officer was right, and that the specialists were wrong? To-day, the Leader of the Opposition did not advert to the proposals he made last year. Instead he spoke about the onus of proof. He made a speech that would sound good from the kind of platform from which my friend, the honorable member for Grayndler would yodel it. If the Leader of the Opposition had really intended that no claims for pensions should be refuted, he should have appropriately altered the law when he had the opportunity to do so. The Repatriation Commission has nothing to be ashamed of.
The honorable member for Grayndler complained earlier that I had not expressed a view on this matter. I have done so for his benefit. I believe that this country since 1919 has had very great and substantial reasons for being proud of all it has done for its ex-servicemen. A comparison of Australia’s efforts and successes in relation to repatriation with those of the United States of America would show that this country compares favorably with the United States of America in many ways, although perhaps unfavorably regarding education facilities and some other matters. In relation to war service homes, for instance, we compare favorably with the United States of America. The Australian repatriation effort also compares favorably with that of the United Kingdom.
The operation of the onus of proof provision has been misrepresented often in this chamber. The number of claims that have been accepted shows that the onus of proof provision is administered correctly with, as the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) phrased it, substantial justice. The charge made by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) in respect of ex-servicemen who are members of this Parliament is one that he ought to carry on further, and level in relation to the Cabinet. Of the 98 members of Parliament on the Government side, 67 are ex-servicemen. In the Cabinet of twenty there are fifteen exservicemen. It is improper for the honorable member to suggest that because everything that everybody wants is not done immediately, all the ex-servicemen in the Government’s ranks are guilty of some form of dereliction of duty. As I have said, a comparison with the United Kingdom’s record will show that this country’s efforts in relation to repatriation have been really splendid. The late Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley, made it clear in 1949 that ex-servicemen’s organizations would carry the fight to every government ever in power in an attempt to get something more from it. I can remember well in that year an occasion on which people came here on behalf of an ex-servicemen’s organization in an effort to get motor cars for double amputees and paraplegics. They were received most courteously by the right honorable gentleman, who told them that they had put their case very well indeed. I seem to remember that there was some story about their having driven back faster than they had come, passing the Prime Minister on the way. In any event, the Chifley Government decided that it was unable to provide these men with motor cars. This Government has seen its way clear to do so. “ I do not think that at that time any one would have accused the members of the then Labour Government of dereliction of duty because they were unable to see their way clear to provide these cars.
Since 1920, the various repatriation benefits have grown, and I believe that we have almost got to the stage where there is little else that we can do. “Whatever is done for ex-servicemen, age pensioners or any one else, must be done in accordance with the condition of the nation’s economy and, consequently, of the Government’s finances. A government must relate these matters to its tax proposals and its revenue receipts. I can remember the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) saying on one occasion in 1949, in reply to an interjection from a member of the then Opposition, that every ls. increase of the age pension cost about £1,000,000. That has to be borne in mind, because we are subjected to all sorts of pressures. I attended, in company with the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) and the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) a meeting in the electorate of Banks at which I was asked what I would do about forcing the Government to do certain things on behalf of exservicemen. I said that I considered that no ex-serviceman who was elected to support a government would seek to break that government on issues of this nature. I still hold that view, and I do not think any honorable member opposite would disagree with it.
Sitting suspended from 5.5S to S p.m.
.- I rise on this occasion to request a broader and more enlightened approach by this Parliament to the subject of repatriation benefits. These benefits are a national responsibility, and we must deal with them according to a national plan. I believe that the time has arrived not only to revalue repatriation pensions but also to revise our entire approach to the subject. As the years pass, the disabilities from which our ex-servicemen suffer become more evident, and the needs of the men become more urgent. The essential characteristic of the Australian soldier, of course, is based upon a spirit of independence. My electoral duties have brought me into contact with many exservicemen who consider that repatriation benefits are too hard to obtain. Therefore, I submit, we should examine the basis of repatriation administration on a non-party plane. My immediate plea is that the meagre benefits for which this bill provides be reconsidered with a view to the granting of more generous increases than the Government proposes. We should consider the financial position of Australia as a nation and ask ourselves whether the nation can afford at this stage to provide more than the proposed 2s. 6d. a week increase. There might he some justification for the Government’s stand on this issue if prices were falling, if the general standard of living was being reduced, and if we found it impossible to grant concessions to other members of the community. However, that is not the situation.
Revenue is buoyant. The Government has been able to reduce certain rates of income tax without reducing revenue from that source. In fact, had the rates not been reduced, revenue from income tax this year would have amounted to £1,063,000,000.
– Order ! The House is not considering taxation.
– We should balance the capacity of the nation to grant concessions against the provisions of the bill. The Government has decided not to grant more than an additional 2s. 6d. a week to repatriation pensioners, but it has found it possible to reduce revenue from all kind” of taxation at existing rates this year by”£81,000,000. The Government should have considered that fact before it framed this bill. The big companies
– Order! These matters have been dealt with already. I ask the honorable member to deal with the subject of repatriation.
– With due respect, Mr. Speaker, I submit that these matters are relevant to the bill. If the Government can grant big concessions to companies, it should be able to grant at least equivalent concessions to war pensioners, if to no other individuals in the community. Over the whole range of repatriation benefits, £2,000,000 less will be expended this year than was expended last year. The concessions for which this bill provides will involve the expenditure only of an additional £900,000, which represents an average of 9d. a week for each beneficiary. In other words, the average war pensioner, service pensioner and war widow will receive an additional £2 a year.
Here was an admirable opportunity for the Government to pro vide a measure of justice for deserving members of our community. Economic conditions are favorable. High prices prevail for our primary products on the world’s markets. We have had good seasons, and incomes are rising, even though their value is sapped by inflation. War and service pensioners have suffered more than other Australians from the inflation of 1951, which has influenced this Government’s budget. These citizens suffered a real loss of income as a result of inflation, and the value of their pensions will not be restored by this bill. Since this Government has been in office, the cost of living, according to the C series index, has increased by 60 per cent. War pensions have not increased to the same degree. But the C series index only partially reflects the cost of living. The basic wage has increased by 86 per cent, over the same period. The Opposition contends that war and service pensioners are entitled to share in the so-called general prosperity of the community. They, if anybody does, deserve to share in the national welfare.
All pensioners must purchase certain basic commodities, the prices of which have increased sharply since 1949, when this Government came to office. Butter, which cost 2s. 2d. per lb. in 1949, now costs 4s. 2d. per lb. Sugar, which cost 4d. per lb., now costs 9d. per lb. The price of tea has increased enormously from ls. 8d. to 4s. 6d. per lb. Eggs, which cost 2s. 2d. a dozen in 1949, now cost 5s. 6d. a dozen. War widows and ex-service pensioners must purchase these commodities regardless of their incomes. Those who are fortunate enough to be able to buy bacon, of course, now pay 3s. 7d. per lb. for it instead of ls. 7d. per lb. as in 1949. Steak costs 3s. lOd. instead of ls. Sd., and the price of milk has doubled from 7d. to ls. 2d. a. pint. The price of bread, of course, has risen from 7d. a loaf to ls. Id. a loaf and probably will continue to rise. Cheese, which cost ls. 7d. per lb. in 1949, now costs 3s. 4d. per lb. A war pensioner could buy a supply of those commodities in 1949 for 12s. 4d. To-day, as a result of inflation, the same basketful of goods costs £1 7s. lid. In other words, inflation under this Government has reduced the standard of living of pensioners of all classes. The Government has not considered it’ desirable to adjust the rates of pensions in order to counteract inflation. The standard of living of a war pensioner is important, not only to himself, but also to his dependants. It is his right to be able to purchase essential food and clothing and at least some of the amenities that the community can provide for him. His family is entitled to at least the standard of living that it enjoyed in 1949.
These pensioners were entitled to expect special treatment from this Government. I remind the House of the promises that were made to them by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his 1949 policy speech. On that occasion, he said -
Repatriation remains a great and proud responsibility.
The Opposition parties contain a majority of members and an overwhelming majority of new candidates who are ex-servicemen. We shall see to it that there is speed, financial and human justice and understanding in our administration of soldier problems.
Current legislation will be promptly overhauled and anomalies adjusted.
We will sympathetically review financial allowances, particularly those related to disability or war widowhood, in the light of all the circumstances, including the fall in the value of money.
The ex-servicemen realize now that the Government has no intention of honouring those promises. No wonder the federal president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, Sir George Holland, said, after this bill had been presented to the Parliament, that the meagre war pension rises provided for men and women who had suffered through the war were “ a slap in the face”. The 2s. 6d. a week rise proposed for some pensions was only pocket money for children, he said. The Victorian president of the league, Mr. N. D. Wilson, said that the proposed increases were a public insult to the men and women who had served their country. He asked, quite properly, why taxes on unessential and luxury items had been substantially reduced when a worthy section of the community wa3 to be denied even a semblance of justice. No doubt he had in mind the Government’s plan to reduce the rate of excise on whisky and the sales tax on luxury items. Other representatives of the ex-servicemen entertain similar feelings of resentment. The secretary of the Limbless Soldiers Association, Mr. H. O. Bennett, commented -
We are very disappointed. While we are thankful for small mercies, we did expect that the minimum increase would be 10s. a week in the general rate.
When this Government first came to office in 1949, it appeared that something would be done for our ex-service men and women, but, after the 1951 general election, the Government apparently no longer acknowledged the need to deal justly with those who had served the country so well.
I draw attention to some of the pension rates and the way in which this Government has allowed them todepreciate in relation to the basic wage. This year, the general war pensioner will be granted an increase of 2s. 6d. a week. This will bring his pension to £4 2s. 6d. a week, which represents 34.3 per cent, of the basic wage, which, incidentally, will be the lowest: relationship of the pension to the basic wage in its history. The pension in 1949 represented 44.3 per cent, of the basic wage. In other words, its value has decreased by 10 per cent, of the basic wage, and its purchasing power has been reduced by one-third. Furthermore, not; all general war pensioners receive the full rate of pension. Only a 100 per cent, pensioner will receive the full increase of 2s. 6d. a week for which this bill provides. The 50 per cent, war pensioner will receive only an additional ls. 3d. a week. The significance of this fact is that most war pensioners receive about 30 per cent, of the full rate of pension. To them, the increase is negligible. I am curious about the administrative costs of reviewing, singly, all these cases. I understand that the officials of the Repatriation Department have been working overtime for weeks, and will probably continue to do so, to grant many pensioners an increase of 3d. a week. The administrative costs of reviewing cases this year could be almost equal to the total so-called benefit bestowed on the pensioners.
A recipient of the 100 per cent, general rate pension received £2 15s. in 1949, and will receive, under this bill, £4 2s. 6d. a week, which is an increase of approxi- mately 50 per cent. The real significance is that the rest of the community have received, in terms of the basic wage, an increase of 86 per cent, in the same period. Most of that increase is the result of the very inflation which the war pensioner is now striving unsuccessfully to overcome. The recipient of the special rate war pension receives a payment for total and permanent incapacity, which, outwardly, conveys the impression that he has gained under this budget; but I find that he received £5 6s. in 1949, and that he will receive £9 5s. under this bill, and consequently, he suffers a reduction of 8 per cent., measured in terms of the .basic wage, in that period.
The service pensioner, who receives an increase of 2s. 6d. a week, suffers in the same way as the age pensioner. He must supplement his income by obtaining employment. However, the opportunities available to a service pensioner or an age pensioner to earn the permissible income have been considerably reduced. I shall cite some figures which I have given before, but which are relevant to this debate. Approximately 27,000 persons have lost their employment during the last twelve months, and 88,000 persons have lost their employment since 1951. Each year, approximately 60,000 additional persons enter the employment market. How can age pensioners, invalid pensioners, war pensioners and service pensioners obtain employment in such a competitive market? How can they supplement their pensions? They have suffered more than any other class from the inflationary and other economic pressures which have been experienced in the last three and a half years. Of all the recipients of repatriation benefits who have sustained losses as the result of the war, the war widow and her children have lost most. Her income was 49 per cent, of the basic wage in 1949, but under this bill it will be only 30 per cent, of the basic wage. No stronger case for a readjustment of pensions exists than that of the war widow. It is true that certain increases and allowances have been granted to her during the last three and a half years, but her income plus allowances totalling £4 5s. 6d. a week in 1949 was 68 per cent, of the basic wage, and her new income and allowances under this bill of £6 14s. 6d. a week will be only 57 per cent, of the basic wage. Those are figures, but they are also facts. The Government has buoyant revenues, and claims that Australia is enjoying a period of great prosperity. In those circumstances, the first duty of the Government is to improve the living standards of war widows and their families, who have lost so much.
I shall now make a passing but an important reference to the onus of proof provision. During the last twelve months, members of the Labour party have taken up with the repatriation authorities on many occasions the claims of exservicemen, and particularly war widows, for pensions. I have been worried, as have honorable members on both sides of the House, about the application of the benefit of doubt provision. Section 47 of the Repatriation Act, which was amended by the Labour Government, provides that ‘ the onus of proof shall rest on the Repatriation Commission to show that the appeal of an ex-serviceman should not be granted. The section also provides that all reasonable inferences which may be drawn in favour of a claimant shall be so drawn. Account shall also be taken of all the relevant circumstances of the case from the evidence furnished, quite . apart from straight-out legal opinions and medical opinions, and, above all, attention shall be given to whether the incapacity of the member of the. forces was contributed to in any material degree, or was aggravated, by the conditions of his war service. The onus of proof provision has not been applied as the Parliament expected it to be applied. The Leader of the Opposition raised this matter last year, and pointed out that the interpretation of the onus of proof provision was not sufficiently in favour of the ex-serviceman. Last April, apparently, an instruction was given to the repatriation authorities in conformity with the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition. We welcome that interpretation, but we consider that the action should have been taken much earlier. That being so a strong case exists for the review of all applications that have been made in the last three and a half years, and even earlier, and for adequate adjustments to be made, if necessary, retrospectively. The effects of war service may not show immediately as a disability. I have in mind certain disabilities which are associated, and are consistent with, service in special areas, such as New Guinea. Unfortunately, the repatriation authorities have persisted in placing a narrow interpretation on section 47 of the act. Therefore, I am bound to criticize the Government from a national stand-point. It has such buoyant revenues, and yet it has failed to increase war pensions by adequate amounts. We call for a sympathetic and effective review of pension rates.
.- The purpose of this bill is to increase repatriation benefits payable to ex-service men and women and war widows, and to improve the Repatriation Act. I am gratified that this debate has been raised above the party political plane to a much higher level than was evident when I became a member of this House after the general election in 1949. Those honorable members on both sides of the chamber who are allowing their better feelings, and consciences, to guide them in this respect, can take pride in thi3 non-party approach to the consideration of the claims and welfare of exservicemen. When I became a member of this House, I expressed the view most strongly that repatriation must be removed from the political arena, and I am pleased that the whole position is improving.
Reference has been made in this debate to the treatment accorded to war pensioners by the present Government, and by the preceding Labour Government. En my opinion, the improvements in repatriation benefits and administration have been secured by pressure that has been exerted consistently and persistently on governments by ex-servicemen’s organizations. For example, the onus of proof provision was one of the principal issues for which ex-servicemen fought more than twenty years ago. The onus of proving that a disability was due to war service should never have been imposed upon an ex-serviceman.
The scale of repatriation benefits, and the administration of the act, have been improved as the result of pressure exerted by ex-servicemen’s organizations on ail governments, regardless of their party political views, and all governments have met the requests, and sometimes the demands, made on them by those bodies. No government would be justified in claiming full credit for all the improvements that have been made in the repatriation legislation. I prefer to believe that every government which has amended the act, has done so from a sense of responsibility and a real sense of the debt that Australia owes to ex-servicemen. Unfortunately, the rights of exservicemen have not always been clearly expressed to them by governments. For example, after World War II., I was a member of a reconstruction and rehabilitation committee in Western Australia and I know that some of the publications issued to servicemen at the time of their discharge stated that the provision by governments for the repatriation and rehabilitation of ex-servicemen must not be considered a reward for service, but merely a measure to re-establish them in civil life. I do not say that such a view was wrong, but I suggest that it was rather a cruel way in which to express the position to men who, when they joined the forces, were assured that the nation would later make provision for their reestablishment in civilian life. Probably, there was no deliberate intention on the part of any government to convey that impression; but nevertheless, the impression was conveyed, and as the result of it, ex-servicemen’s organizations grew stronger, because the men felt that the nation was displaying a lack of interest in their welfare. I do not believe that any government would be so heartless or irresponsible in respect of the needs of ex-servicemen. However, this feeling did not arise, and ex-servicemen now consider that a scale of values must be drawn up upon which a government, regardless of its political views, can assess the degree of priority to be granted to various classes cf applicants for benefits. If it comes to a question of who shall get - shall I say? - the thick part of the steak, the decision must be made on the basis of the Government’s or the individual’s assessment of the degree of deservedness of the various classes of claimant. It has been argued that the Government could have reduced taxation to a lesser degree this year and given ex-servicemen greater pensions increases.
The point of view of the ex-serviceman pensioner may be that he is not worried about the degree to which other sections of the community are being taxed and that the Government should give him what he is entitled to before it worries about other sections of the community. The taxpayers, on the other hand, are eager for taxes to be reduced as much as possible. So the Government is subjected to pressure by various individuals and sections of the community. There would be some justification for saying to the Government that, whilst we recognize it is doing its best for ex-servicemen, we want it to give them a higher place in the scale of values it has established, either as a reward for their services to the country or as a recognition of their rights.
– Something like the com,pany tax reductions.
– I do not suppose the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) has the slightest sympathy with anything that I or other honorable members say in this House on the subject of the welfare of ex-servicemen. The only way in which the problem of exservicemen’s pensions can be removed from the political football ground is to take the task of determining the rates of pensions out of the hands of the Government. When war pensions were paid first, there was no firm basis for the assessment of the rates. It was not suggested that a man should receive a 50 per cent, pension because, as the result of a disability due to war service, his earning capacity had been reduced by 50 per cent. The rate of the pension was assessed on the basis of the injury the man had suffered. Hundreds of ex-servicemen now in receipt of 75 per cent., SO per cent, and 100 per cent, pensions occupy high positions in various walks of life, and have salaries in the £ 2,000-£3,000 a year range. Their capacity to earn has not been affected to a great degree by their war injuries, but they have been given pensions at those rates because of the degree of their injuries. A severe facial disfigurement would not prevent some men from earning a substantial income, yet it is regarded as a 100 per cent, disability. Such an injury would not affect the earning capacity of a watchmaker, so long as his sight was not impaired. A man who suffers the loss of an arm receives a 75 per cent, or 50 per cent, pension, regardless of his occupation. If he is a watchmaker, such as injury deprives him of his livelihood, but if he is, say, a school teacher, his earning capacity is not affected to the same degree. Yet the same pension is paid to both men.
There are two kinds of war pension. There is the economic pension, which is paid to totally disabled men. That pension is to be increased to £9 5s. a week. The Government, quite rightly, had adopted the principle that when there is something to distribute, it should be distributed in quarters where it is needed most. The 100 per cent, general rate pension is to be increased from £4 to £4 2s. 6d. a week. Some honorable members opposite, by talking disparagingly of what they refer to as a mere halfcrown increase of pensions, are trying to give the impression that a man on a 100 per cent, general rate pension is obliged to live on his pension. Very few of these pensioners rely only on their pensions.
– Most of them do.
– I doubt that any of them have no other source of income. If a man can show that he is prevented from earning because of a war-caused disability, he becomes entitled to the special rate pension of £9 5s. a week. The Government has decided to increase the special rate pension substantially, because it recognizes that such a pension is an economic pension. That pension should not be left to the mercy of political considerations. It should be fixed by an appropriate tribunal, and should bear some relation to the needs of the pensioners who are required to live on it. 3 1 is an economic pension. I describe the other class of pension as a compensatory pension. I do not know, and I do not think anybody could tell me, the basis on which the rate of that pension has been fixed. In the event of loss of au arm, a man whose earning capacity depends on the use of bis arms receives the same pension as a man whose livelihood is not affected by such an injur v. The compensatory pension is paid to a man, not because his capacity to earn a living has been interfered with, but because he has, as it were, made some sacrifice. The compensatory pension should not be a party political plaything. I believe that responsibility for determining the rate of both the economic and the compensatory pension should be removed from the political field to the arbitration field.
The bill makes provision, not only for increases of pensions and allowances but also for a number of improvements of the Repatriation Act. It proposes the repeal of the obnoxious section 43, under which inquiries can be made into the private life of a widow, perhaps to an undue extent. I am fairly closely associated with ex-service men and women in Western Australia, but I have not had a case brought to my notice of a widow being harassed by the activities of the Repatriation Department under the provisions of section 43. However, I consider the section to be objectionable and I support the proposal that it be repealed. The repeal will have an important psychological effect, in that it will remove an unsatisfactory and unpleasant provision from the act. I direct the attention of the Minister to subsection (2.) of proposed new section 43, under which the commission or a board would be empowered to cancel the pension of a dependant of a member of the forces if it were unclaimed for six months. I consider that a period of six months is much too short for this purpose. The increase of the sustenance payments for men undergoing medical treatment will be welcomed by ex-servicemen, as will the substantial increases of the subsistence allowance to which men are entitled while they are travelling for purposes connected with medical treatment, and of the allowance paid when wages or salary are lost while undergoing a medical examination. Those are concessions for which exservicemen have pressed for a long time.
I want to deal with the onus of proof provisions. I do not propose to enter into an argument about who is responsible for the existing position, but I say that it is unsatisfactory. The honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham) has referred to the fact that an entitlement appeal tribunal is both judge and prosecutor. [11 those circumstances, such a tribunal, irrespective of the instructions given to it in relation to the interpretation of section 47, is placed in an invidious position.
– Does the honorable gentleman suggest that section 47 should be removed from the act?
– This problem has been tackled by eminent legal authorities. Section 47 was drafted by eminent legal men. I am not a legal man, and I would not attempt to draft another section in substitution for it. All that I desire to do is to point out that the section has given rise to an unsatisfactory position. The operation of the onus of proof provisions is causing some difficulties. In some cases, doctors will not say definitely that a disability is the result of war service, although they imply that it is. In other cases, they say that a certain disability might be suffered by a man engaged in a normal civilian operation and, consequently, will not certify that a disability of that kind that became apparent while a man was on war service is attributable to his war service. I have been asked for advice on dozens of cases of that kind, and I have always advised the people concerned to press their claims for a pension. In nine of every ten cases, the claim has been successful, because the applicant has taken the stand that the responsibility of the tribunal is to prove that his disability would not have occurred if he had not gone on war service. That is very difficult to prove. Many of the disabilities in respect of which claims are made could have arisen in the course of the man’s normal occupation but, because they arose when he was on war service, he is entitled to claim a pension. If he does so, the onus of proof is placed on the tribunal. In the first place, of course, the onus lies on the applicant. Let us assume that a claim is made by a woman whose husband dies from a disease that she believes to be attributable to, or aggravated by, his war service. She must make out some kind of a case in support of her claim for a pension. She must give reasons why she says she believes her husband’s death is attributable to his war service. Before the Repatriation Commission will listen to her, she must make out what the lawyers call a. prima facie case. If that were not so, every ex-service man and woman would be considered to be entitled to a pension in respect of any disability unless it were proved that the disability was not due to war service. If an application were made for a pension, it would be up to the Repatriation Commission to prove that the disability was not due to war service. It just does not work out that way. As 1 understand the position, the law at present cannot be implemented as it should be implemented. The direction given by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) to the tribunals will undoubtedly remove a lot of misunderstanding now in the minds of ex-service men and women, who, ‘because the onus of proof rests where it does, .believe that all they have to do is to send in their application for a pension and the Repatriation Commission will do the rest. They think it is not necessary for them to produce any proof or any evidence, but merely fill in a form. But that is wrong. It is necessary for them to get a doctor’s certificate or some other opinion that the disability is associated with war service. The onus of proof clause requires that the Repatriation Commission shall decide whether there is an element of doubt and, if there is, to give the applicant the benefit of it. Unfortunately, when a dispute occurs, the Repatriation Commission nominates a medical officer and the applicant nominates another, but neither will commit himself definitely and say that one man’s headache or another man’s death is attributable to war service. There is always a reservation. Very often that reservation leaves a loophole by which the commission can avoid the granting of a pension, if it so desires. In many cases claims are made when there is really no connexion between the condition and the war service, but just a faint possibility of some connexion. I should like the Government to look more closely at the onus of proof section with a view to amending it so that the intention of this Parliament will be made clear and so that there will not be any repetition of charge and counter-charge as to who did or did not do anything in the interests of exservicemen.
Repeated requests have come from Western Australia and other States in relation to medical treatment for ex- servicemen at repatriation hospitals. Because of the peculiar circumstances in Western Australia, which has a very large repatriation hospital, I think exservicemen should be allowed to receive treatment at the repatriation hospital for a disability whether or not it is attributable to war service. Ex-service men and women are not asking for charity. They are prepared to pay for the cost of their treatment at the hospital if it is found that the disability is not one for which they are entitled to medical treatment under the Repatriation Act. At present, they are admitted to various other hospitals. Because of the demand for hospital accommodation, some ex-service men and women are unable to get into a hospital if the disability is not attributable to war service. Very often, after they have been admitted to a public or private hospital the doctor has said, “ This disability is caused by war service. You should see about getting into the repatriation hospital “. Eventually, they have been taken to the repatriation hospital, but they have already incurred expense, and have been denied the benefits of the sustenance payments to which they are entitled. I think it should be possible in Western Australia to admit ex-service men and women, whose cases are not chronic, to the Hollywood repatriation hospital for treatment. Provision could be made whereby, if the disability were not attributable to war service, the patient would pay for treatment. I ask the Minister for Repatriation to consider that proposal. I know that difficulty would be experienced in other States, but let us not try to get down to a pattern of uniformity, and say that because it cannot be done in one place it shall not be done elsewhere.
Another important matter is the age limit of sixteen years in relation to the payment of allowances for children of pensioners. That age limit may have been all right 20 or 30 years ago, when it was expected that a child would leave school at fourteen years of age and immediately enter employment. The parent would have had the benefit of the child’s allowance until the child reached the age of sixteen years, and could earn enough to make a substantial contribution towards his keep. Nowadays the average child is wholly supported by his parents until he is beyond the age of sixteen years. Very few children leave school under sixteen years of age. In “Western Australia, the school leaving age is fifteen and the ultimate objective is sixteen years. The time has arrived when consideration should be given to the extension of the age limit to at least eighteen years, so that the Repatriation Act can be brought into line with present-day conditions. Very many pensioners, particularly those in the higher-pension group, are suffering hardship because of time lost from work. The allowance is discontinued when the child reaches sixteen years of age, the time when the parent, because of advanced age and war disability, needs the additional assistance.
I suggest to the Minister for Repatriation also that some of the regulations under the Repatriation Act should be reviewed. I refer to the position of orphans who legally are wards of the Repatriation Commission and who. because they are obliged to live in country districts at a distance from a repatriation hospital, cannot obtain the treatment to which they are entitled under the act and the regulations. I know of one boy whose case 1 shall submit to the Minister later.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I agree with honorable members on both sides of the House that the Repatriation Act should be- overhauled. The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) said that the Government should examine the act with a view to improving it, particularly in relation to the onus of proof section and the granting of other benefits to ex-servicemen and their dependants. The rights of ex-servicemen and their dependants should be above party politics. I agree with the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) that the Government should consider the re-establishment of the all-party committee on repatriation which did such splendid work. That committee was set up by the Curtin Government during the war period, and in 1943, as a result of its unanimous recommendations, the Repatriation Act was substantially overhauled and benefits were increased. I must say, in fairness to the Repatriation Department, that not only is the act itself much wider than it was, but also that the administration is much more sympathetic than in pre-war years. It was the lack of sympathy in many aspects of administration that led to the establishment of that committee. I played some small part in the agitation which resulted in the appointment of the committee, and I know that everybody was pleased to see the amendments to the act, and also the change in the administration.
It is admitted on both sides of the House that there are still some weaknesses in the Repatriation Act and in the administration. As the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and other honorable members have stressed, the onus of proof is defined in section 47 of the Repatriation Act, and that section, if correctly interpreted, should have placed the matter beyond all doubt. Section 47 is as follows : -
It shall not bc necessary for the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof to support his claim, application or appeal but the Commission, Board, Appeal Tribunal ot Assessment Appeal Tribunal determining or deciding the claim, application or appeal shall be entitled to draw, and shall draw, from all the circumstances of the’ case, from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant, applicant or appellant, and in all cases whatsoever the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority who contends that the claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed to the full extent claimed.
One would think that that should put the matter beyond doubt, but it seems that, despite that provision, the Repatriation Commission and the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals continued to place the onus on the claimant or the appellant. The Repatriation Commission prepared an instruction to the tribunals which made the position very clear. I refer to the instruction cited by the Leader of the Opposition last October, which stated quite definitely that in the opinion of the Repatriation Commission, despite an earlier High Court case, there was no change in the onus of proof in appeals to the tribunals under section 47 of the Repatriation Act of 1943. So, for ten years after the passing of the act, the commission, apparently, has been applying the old policy. Doubtless that is why there were many complaints from exservicemen and their organizations about the manner in which the act was being administered by the Repatriation Comission and the various tribunals. Now wo are led to believe that the commission has accepted the interpretation given by the Lender of the Opposition last year. Apparently, in view of some new interpretation or instruction contained in a communication from the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) to the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham), the Government has accepted the interpretation given by the Leader of the Opposition, and that is now the. policy for the handling of claims both by the Repatriation Commission and the War “Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals. However, on the admission of the Repatriation Commission, the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act has been so administered, that for ten years certain injustices have been done to thousands of ex-servicemen. Such a position calls for immediate rectification, and the very facts themselves should be sufficient to induce the Government to establish an all party committee to reconsider the act and its administration. No doubt such a body could decide how to rectify the injustices, and how to carry out the original intention that ex-servicemen should receive all the assistance possible. However, it is satisfactory to be informed that thu Repatriation Commission has now seen the light to a certain extent.
I do not agree with the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) who said that no injustice had in practice, been suffered by ex-servicemen. I believe that an ex-serviceman who claims a pension has substantially to establish his claim, and that a widow applicant has substantially to establish her claim. The applicants have to put forward a considerable amount of evidence, particularly medical e evidence, before they can satisfy the tribunals. I maintain that it should be sufficient for those who served in thu first world war, and who have developed illness or incapacity later, to show that they have merely developed disabilities. It is well known that many men who were discharged .after service in World War I. were rugged types, and did int. want to claim pensions. Many of them hated the idea of being thought to be lead-swingers. They tried to carry on, but they had what might be called latent disabilities. Many of them had nervous conditions that did not develop for some time. They left it too late to apply for their pensions, and when they finally did apply, they were unable to obtain their rights. Many of those men, particularly those who endured the rigours of a French winter in the trenches, or the hardships of the gruelling Palestine and Gallipoli campaigns, although strong and well built, showed in later years the effects of their arduous campaigning. Most of the men who went to World War I. were in the flower of their youth at the time, and if they had not undergone the hardships of war, they would have lived into their seventies and eighties. However, many of them died in their sixties, and, indeed, some of them, who apparently suffered no disabilities, died in their early fifties. I suggest that their lives were shortened by their war service.
I have heard of the case of a widow who was in somewhat similar circumstances to the lady mentioned by the honorable member for Moore. Her husband returned from the war apparently healthy. He did not apply for a pension, although he later developed a progressive nervous condition. A few months ago he broke down completely and died shortly after his breakdown. A pension was claimed, but the application was considered to be too late, and, indeed, the widow has very little evidence to support her claim. On one occasion this man was blown up by an exploding shell and, although he did not suffer any outward injuries, he must have suffered some mental disturbance. No record was made of the incident, and the man was not taken t.i> hospital. Surely this is a case where the widow should get the war pension, although she is debarred from it under the provisions of the legislation. I suggest that the procedure in the measure before the House for a further appeal, does not go far enough, because the tribunal or the commission at present merely gives, as a reason for the rejection of a claim, a statement that the injury or illness was not due to war service. The tribunal does not have to specify why the claim has been rejected. There should bc a provision in this legislation that the judicial bodies should state their reasons for dismissing an application, so that those reasons may be challenged.
Appeals should be heard in open court unless the claimants wish them to be private. We should remember that justice thrives in the light of day. Indeed, I do not understand why there should be any secrecy surrounding the repatriation tribunals. All other tribunals aro open to the public, except those concerned with purely domestic cases, and where the rights of ex-servicemen are at issue there should be no secrecy. It has been said that certain unmentionable complaints might be the subject of inquiry; but that is an unfair reflection on the great majority of applicants, because there would be only an infinitesimal number of such cases. It should be left to the discretion of the ex-servicemen as to whether they want their cases to be heard privately or publicly.
I suggest that ex-servicemen and widows should have the right to be adequately represented before the repatriation tribunals. Section 72 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act provides that tin applicant may be represented at his own expense at a hearing by a person other than a legal practitioner. Apparently only trained advocates are prevented from appearing for a claimant. That is a very singular provision, and I suggest that there should be proper representation before repatriation tribunals, as there is now before arbitration tribunals. I should certainly consider that those best qualified to represent exservicemen should be allowed to appear for them. If the Government desires to engage somebody to advise it about economics, science or health, it engages an economist, a scientist or a physician. If it wants some information about a legal matter, it obtains the services of a barrister. Surely ex-servicemen and widows should be allowed to have the same advantage enjoyed by the Government or anybody else. The Canadian Government has provided in its repatriation legislation that trained legal advocates may appear before exservicemen’s tribunals, and the government pays the fees of all who so appear. I am sure that any tribunal would welcome trained legal assistance in the presentation of evidence, particularly medical evidence.
Those who appear before criminal courts are allowed the services of the public defender, or of their own legal representative. Moreover, persons who need legal advice on other matters are able to obtain it through various government legal aid bureaux. But a most worthy section of the community, the exservicemen, are prevented from obtaining the same facilities. Even learned judges differ in their interpretation of the law, and many intricate matters of evidence and law can be dealt with adequately only by trained legal practitioners. The appearance of legal experts before the repatriation tribunals would be to the great advantage of claimants and tribunals as well. Unless the claimant is represented by a trained advocate the evidence may not be properly presented and sifted. I have in mind an important case which affected thousands of miners employed on the south coast of New South Wales. For many years the miners had unsuccessfully claimed from insurance companies compensation for disabilities from which they suffered as the result of the conditions tinder which they worked. Many of them were suffering from pneumoniconiosis. The local doctors, who knew the medical history of the men concerned, had stated that the disease was due to conditions in the mines, but the insurance companies produced evidence from Macquarie-street specialists that it could not have been so caused. Finally, the men consulted specialists and were given advice contrary to that given to the insurance companies. It is regrettable that many medical and other experts lean towards the side which engages their services. There is an old saying that there are three kinds of witnesses - truthful, untruthful and expert How expert medical witnesses can give opinions which are diametrically opposed to one another I do not know. It was claimed by the insurance companies that pneumoniconiosis could be contracted only in silicon mines. The local doctors claimed that the disease could have been caused by stone dust which was used on the floors of the mines to keep down the coal dust. After a long legal battle, the fa se was taken to the Privy Council which decided in favour of the miners. This case serves to illustrate my point that cx-servicemen can be protected only if they are properly represented by trained advocates.
I shall not deal with the proposed increase of the pension rate at any length.
– It is rather generous of the honorable member to describe it as an increase.
– As the Commonwealth Statistician has already announced an increase of the cost of living index by Ss. a week, the increase of the pension rate has gone with the wind before the cx-servicemen have received it. The exservicemen’s organizations have been very bitter in their criticism of the Government for this miserable increase. The federal president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial teague of Australia, Sir George Holland, paid -
The 2s. Od. rise in some pensions is pocket money for children.
The Victorian president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial teague of Australia, Mr. N. D. Wilson, had this to say -
The increases are a public insult to men and women who have served. Why have taxes been lifted from unessential and luxury items while a worthy section of the community is denied bare necessities?
The secretary of the Limbless Soldiers Association of Australia, Mr. H. O. Bennett, said -
We are very disappointed. While we are thankful for small mercies, we did expect that the minimum would be 10s. a week in the general Tate.
The Government could well have afforded to be more generous. The recent security loan was oversubscribed. If the Government had financed capital works, such as the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, from loan funds instead of from revenue, it would have been able to liberalize war pensions. Posterity, which will reap the benefit of the Snowy Mountains scheme and other great public works, should pay for them. Likewise, if the Government had not decided to grant large remissions of income tax to wealthy companies as the price of the support of their shareholders, it could have granted generous increases in war pensions. The taxpayers would not begrudge the granting of additional benefits to those who served their country in the war and who are suffering disabilities as the result of their services.
I propose now to deal with the subject of medical attention for ex-servicemen and their dependants. Hospital treatment and medical facilities are provided at repatriation hospitals only to exservicemen who are in receipt of war pensions or those who can establish that the disability from which they suffer is due to war service. Many instances have come to my notice of ex-servicemen who have gone to repatriation hospitals for treatment, and who have been told that they will be accepted for treatment of one disability but not for another. It is ridiculous that ex-servicemen should be treated in a repatriation hospital for one disability and should have to seek treatment in a public hospital for another disability. It was said many years ago that when the body is sick in one of its members, it is sick as a whole. If there is a doubt it should always be resolved in favour of the ex-servicemen. At this time, when the Government provides free medical services for the community generally, surely ex-servicemen and their dependants are entitled to nursing and treatment in repatriation hospitals. It is a shocking thing that the wife of a disabled ex-serviceman is entitled to receive treatment in a repatriation hospital only after her husband has died. The Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Soldiers Association recently wrote to the Minister in the following terms : -
We consider that the Government owes a duty to the wives of men and dependent mothers of single men on the special rate pension, on account of the amount of nursing and care of their menfolk in the home and the resultant amount of extra duties they have to perform as a consequence, and we ask that they bi given medical benefits treatment and medicine as granted to war widows.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Honorable members on both sides of the House have, in general, made reasonable speeches on this important subject.
Those who have been in the House for a long time invariably make a reasonable approach to the matters that are placed before them. I exclude from the ranks of such honorable members the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) who always introduces party politics in his consideration of matters which should be beyond the realm of party politics. After years of service in the Parliament an honorable member has a first-class knowledge of past events, and he should act accordingly. The attitude of some new members has greatly puzzled me. They tell us that the nation is in desperate ‘straits economically and financially, but when it suits their purpose to advocate the granting of concessions to some section of the community, which must be paid for out of the funds available to the Government, they say that the country is in a most prosperous condition. We cannot be in desperate straits and in a prosperous condition at one and the same time. Those who listen to the debates in this House know that there is no foundation for the statement that the- country is in desperate straits. The Labour party must make up its mind whether it believes the country to be prosperous or otherwise. Until six months ago, the Labour party said that Australia was on the brink of one of the worst economic depressions it had ever known. If that statement was true, then the Government is deserving of the highest praise for policies which it has applied to stave off the depression and bring the country to a state of prosperity.
I compliment the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) for the very reasoned speech which he has just made on the subject of war pensions. He spoke, not of the rate of war pensions, but of the administration of the Repatriation Act. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) confined his remarks to the onus of proof. Honorable members will recall that he commenced his speech by saying, “ I do not wish to deal with pension rates “. Having regard to the record of the Labour Government of which he was a member, the right honorable gentleman acted wisely in so doing. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is the deputy leader of the Opposition, acted wisely in refrain- ing from participating in the debate. The leaders of the Labour party know that if they regain office they will have to make good their promises and, accordingly, they are being wary on this matter. However, the irresponsible followers of the Leader of the Opposition were not so inhibited. For them, the sky was the limit.
We can never repay the ex-servicemen for what they did for their country by making them a monetary grant. I have advocated the best possible deal for exservicemen at all times. I have concentrated my efforts particularly on obtaining the best deal possible for the totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen. I do not need to give much proof of the correctness of that statement because all honorable members are aware of my record in this matter. In 1949, when I was sitting in Opposition, I discussed the subject on the motion for the adjournment of the House. I then said -
A partially disabled ex-serviceman can supplement his pension by earning some wages, but the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman cannot work at all, and should be given more consideration by this Government.
This Government has given consideration to their needs. I also said in 1949 -
I consider that totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen should receive better treatment than the Government is giving them.
– What is the honorable member’s policy in that regard?
– The honorable member for Grayndler merely adds insult to injury. I have never failed to state clearly my view on this matter. The honorable member is more concerned about the improvement of telephone services in his electorate than about the wider issues that confront us. In 1949 the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Soldiers Association wrote to me on this matter in the following terms : - - My executive requests me to place before you the economic position of totally and permanently incapacitated personnel who receive a special pension of £5 6s. a week, which is inadequate to cover their present living costs.
I have always advocated that totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen should get the best possible treatment, and that when a government is in a position to make extra benefits available to anybody they should be made available to these ex-servicemen and to the generalrate pensioners before they are granted to anybody else. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has been very busy making interjections. If I desired to do so I could make him look tremendously foolish, because I have been quoting only from Hansard. The Hansard record shows that on occasions on which I was pleading the case for exservicemen I was not supported once by the honorable member for Grayndler. He was silent on the needs of ex-servicemen when the Government of which he was a supporter was in office. If a Labour government were in office now it could not do any better for ex-servicemen than this Government is doing.
– It w-ould have done a lot better.
– We know where the sympathies of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) lie. I have not heard the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) say anything on this matter because he knows in his heart that Labour probably could not have done as well as this Government has done. The evidence of the past shows clearly what Labour would do for the exserviceman if it were in office now. In the last four years of Labour rule, from 1946 to 194!9, the Chifley Government increased the general pension rate by an average of ls. 3d. a week each year. This Government, in its four years of office, has increased the rate by an average of 6s. 10-Jd. a week each year. During the last four years of Labour rule the pensions payable to a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman in respect of himself, his wife and two children, were increased by 12s. a week, or by an average of 3s. a week for each year.
– Where is the honorable member getting those figures from?
– I obtained them from the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) and they can be vouched for. If the honorable member wants a copy of the document that contains them I shall be pleased to supply him with one. In comparison with an average increase of 3s. during the last four years of the Labour Government’s rule, this Government has increased the pensions payable to a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, wife and two children in its four years of office by an average of £1 5s. a week for each year it has been in office, or a total increase of £5.
Since the budget was introduced honorable members opposite have been repeating ad nauseum that pensioners are to receive an increase of only 2s. 6d. a week. They overlook the fact that that increase must be added to the other increases given by this Government since it took office before it can be properly appreciated, and before it can be realized properly how the position of pensioners has improved under this Government. The Labour party adopts a similar tactic in relation to reductions of income tax. It always looks at the total amount that the people are still paying in income tax, and does not consider the advantage of tax reductions from the point of view of the individual. I propose to take a leaf out of Labour’s book, and deal with the total amount of pensions paid over the years by various governments. In 1938-39 war pensions accounted for £7,750,000, in 1948-49 for £19,000,000, in 1949-50 for £20,750,000, in 1950-51 for £27,7,50,000, in 1951-52 for £30,250,000, in 1952-53 for £34,500,000; and it is estimated that in this financial year they will account for £36,250,000. Similar figures in relation to service pensions are - 1938-39, £440,000; 1948-49, £1,500,000; 1949-50, £1,500,000; 1950-51, £1,500,000; 1951-52, £2,000,000; 1952-53, £2,250,000; and in this financial year it is estimated they will account for £2,750,000. I do not believe that we should make such comparisons, and I certainly would not make them unless I had been provoked into doing so, because I do not believe that what Labour did in 1949 really matters now. What we really want to know is what the ex-serviceman is getting. However, I am forced to adopt that tactic because members of the Opposition continue to play politics with this important subject.
The budget included many benefits for ex-servicemen, yet the Opposition had the temerity to suggest that the Government should withdraw and recast it. The reductions of sales tax, income tax and company tax are of benefit to hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen. Most general rate exservice pensioners are engaged in industry, and the Government gives them relief in other ways than by increasing their pensions. For instance, it has relieved them by abolishing entertainment tax and reducing income tax. Reduction of company tax will foster employment and so will be of indirect assistance to ex-servicemen. The Opposition talks a great deal about company tax. I remind them that many shareholders in companies are ex-servicemen. Australia’s work force numbers 3,500,000, of whom 500,000 people are shareholders in companies. That is a ratio of 1 in 7. There is nothing to be gained by always quoting figures, but I again remind honorable members that this Government increased the pensions of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen by an average of 25s. each year it was in office as against an average of 3s. each year by which it was increased during the last four years Labour was in office.
I agree with the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) and other honorable members that the time is not far distant when the whole business of pensions should be put on a different basis. The trade unions have the benefit of an arbitration system that fixes wages, and I do not see why some similar system, should not operate on behalf of ex-servicemen, for the fixation of pensions. I .am not suggesting that the amount of pension awarded by a tribunal would be more than the Government is awarding, but at least the adoption of that system would take pensions out of the ring of. party politics, and men who sincerely wish to help ex-servicemen would not be put to what I call the degradation of coming into this House to be attacked by people who use the problems of ex-servicemen only as a matter of political expediency.
I turn now to the onus of proof provision in the legislation. We all know of people who have had their claims rejected by repatriation tribunals. I cannot see how a layman on either side of the House could be in a position to decide whether a tribunal is right or not. Somebody must make that decision, and the act provides for appeals from the decisions of tribunals. I was told recently by Mr. A. R. ‘link, secretary of the Dads Association in the electorate of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), about a man whose application was rejected by a tribunal. Mr. Tink is a personal friend of mine, so I was not encroaching on the preserves of the honorable member for Lalor. He told me that this ex-serviceman with an excellent record had returned from the war in good health, but met with a motor accident shortly after his discharge, and is at present in a public ward in Footscray public hospital. Attempts have been made to get him into a repatriation hospital, but without success, because his injury was not a result of his war service. It would be good if we could give exservicemen such as that man a right to be treated in repatriation hospitals for injuries that were not caused by war service.
The record of the present Minister for Repatriation is a splendid one. As the Minister has stated in the document that has been circulated to honorable members, special attention has been given to the plight of seriously disabled ex-servicemen . Double amputees and complete paraplegics have been granted a motor car and an allowance of £120 a year to cover registration, insurance and running costs. A deputation came to Canberra on the 28th September, 1949, when the Labour Government was in office, seeking such a benefit for these ex-servicemen, but it met with no success. In September, 1950, less than a year after this Government came into office, the concession was granted. The Government has also provided a special recreation transport allowance of £10 a month, which is granted to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen who are incapable of moving more than short distances with the aid of crutches or walking sticks. That is a fairly wide provision.
Anybody who examines the record will agree that this Government’s efforts for ex-servicemen have been splendid. The only people whom I know who do nol fully realize the value of the Government’s efforts are those who have not studied the matter properly, and do not know the full range of benefits available to them. Every ex-serviceman and exservicemen’s organization should obtain a full list of the benefits obtainable, because I know there are many exservicemen who are not aware of all the benefits that are available to them. I compliment some honorable members opposite who have dealt with this matter in a way that shows that they realize that it would have been hard for a Labour government to have done as well as this Government is doing. I appeal to honorable members in future, whatever government may be in office, to forget party strife, and to realize that this Parliament would probably not be here at all had it not been for the valiant services to Australia of our fighting men in two world wars.
.- Mr. Speaker–
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
.- I should like the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) to clarify certain provisions of the bill. I refer in particular to clause 8, which will repeal section 34 and insert in its place a new section. Section 34 now provides -
If any pensioner is convicted of an offence and sentenced to any term of imprisonment, the Commission or a Board may suspend his pension during the term of his imprisonment or any portion thereof or forfeit any instalment thereof accruing during such term or portion :
Provided that -
in the case of a pensioner under this Division who hasdependants - the amount forfeited during the term of his imprisonment may be paid to the dependants; and
in the case of a pensioner under Division 5 of this Part who has a wife or any child as defined in that Division dependent upon him - the amount forfeited during the term of his imprisonment may be paid to the wife or child.
Clause 8 provides that the proposed new section 34 shall include the following provision : -
Where suspension or forfeiture of an instalment of a pension is ordered in pursuance of the last preceding sub-section, the Commission may, if it thinks fit, pay the whole or a part of the instalment to -
It appears to me that the new provision will extend the category of dependent persons to whom payments may be continued during the imprisonment of a pensioner. I am concerned because it appears that the commission may, if it thinks fit, deprive dependants of a pensioner found guilty of a civil offence of all pension payments. The terrible sufferings of dependants, particularly wives and children, of men who are imprisoned for civil offences should not be increased, prolonged, or intensified. Under proposed new section 34, the Repatriation Commission may, according to its whim, penalize the dependants of a pensioner imprisoned for a civil offence. I realize that there is no likelihood of the Government accepting an amendment of the provision at this stage. Therefore, I hope that the Minister for the Army will indicate the intention of the Government. Does it intend that the commission shall be harsher than it has been hitherto, if, in fact, it has been harsh? I trust that the honorable gentleman will assure the committee that he will indicate to the commission the Government’s intention that dependants of imprisoned pensioners shall continue to receive the portion of the pension to which they are normally entitled. This aspect of the law in relation to pensioners and their dependants has interested me for many years. In the old days, wives and children frequently were left in dire distress, under the law in relation to invalid and old age pensions, if the pensioner upon whom they were dependent was imprisoned. In fact, I was responsible for the inclusion in the law of provision for the payment of a special pension to the wife of a prisoner. Of all people in the community, these should not be subjected to additional suffering. I hope that the Minister will announce a liberal policy in this matter as an indication to the Repatriation Commission of the Government’s wishes.
.- I refer briefly to an aspect of the bill that was debated during the second reading stage. We now know that the interpretation of section 47 in relation to the burden of proof and the benefit of the doubt has recently been changed.
– That is not so.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) stated this afternoon that an opinion which confirmed the opinion that. I expressed in this chamber last year had been given as recently as the 11th April by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer). In the opinion which I expressed to the House last year, I pointed out that the instruction which had been given by the Repatriation Commission was entirely erroneous. The commission, in its written instruction, said that the act of 1943 dealing with those two important .matters - the benefit of the doubt and the onus of proof - had to be interpreted in a way which, in my view, was not sufficiently favorable to an exserviceman or his dependant. It is most important that the position should be clearly understood. The whole point of the observation by the Vice-President of the Executive Council was that an opinion which I expressed last year, and on an earlier occasion, was correct, and that an opinion has been obtained recently from the Attorney-General which, in substance, confirmed my view, namely, that in all matters, the benefit of the doubt had to be given against the Repatriation Commission and in favour of the exserviceman or his dependant.
I have only to contrast the opinion given by the Attorney-General on the 11th April last with the interpretation by the Repatriation Commission, which was brought to the notice of the House in October, 1953. The opinion and the interpretation are different in vital respects. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), and the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) have indicated that. I am not pointing out that difference in order to argue the case again. I merely remind the Minister for the Army that, substantially, the opinion of the AttorneyGeneral, given on the 11th April last, was not made public until this afternoon. It was sent to the repatriation authorities, including the tribunals, but so far as I am aware it was not made known to ex-servicemen’s organizations or the public. I claim that the opinion, so recently given, is correct, and that it should be made known widely.
The next point for consideration is: Is the instruction being carried out in practice now? Certain cases which have been cited by honorable members during this debate show that the instruction is not being carried out. Let us assume that the opinion given recently by the Attorney-General is correct. In my view, it is clearly correct. At any rate, it was substantially the opinion given last year -when this matter was analysed by me. So, over a period of years the wrong principle has been applied, or the right principle has not been applied, in thousands of cases. That fact should make it incumbent on the department and the Government to ensure that an adequate review shall be made of such cases. I am sure that the Minister recognizes the force of that argument. I suggested the practical way of dealing with it this afternoon. That is to adopt the English practice under which the onus of proof, oi” the benefit of the doubt, does not rest merely upon a medical report showing that the incapacity was not due to war service. Mr. Justice Denning has stated that any other interpretation would be clearly contrary to the doctrine of presumption of proof. The doctor must set out the facts, and the possibilities, and the tribunal itself decides how the -benefit of doubt provision is to be applied. A decision is also subject to review by a judge. I believe that the cases in Australia, which cause so much anxiety and uncertainty, should be subject to review by a federal judge. Over a long period since the act was amended in 1943, a too narrow interpretation has been placed on certain parts of the legislation. The Minister has blamed the previous Government for the position. The same criticism may be levelled against the present Government, because it has been in office for four years and has not remedied the situation. However, no one wishes, by word or deed, to deprive an ex-serviceman and his dependant of their rights. The opinion of the Attorney-General is wel come, but it is important to ensure that it shall be made applicable to all cases which come before the commission, and that decisions which have been against a serviceman or his dependants on the benefit of doubt or onus of proof provision, shall be reviewed according to that opinion. In addition, that opinion should be widely publicized and all exservicemen’s organizations should be informed of it. The repatriation tribunals should also apply it. Every honorable member has been striving to ensure that such a provision shall be given effect, not only according to its letter, which is clear, but also according to its spirit. If the provision is carried out according to its spirit, much of the cause for dissatisfaction with the act will be removed.
– The statement of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) is not in accord with the facts. No change has been made in the instruction to the Department of Repatriation. All that has happened in this case may be told briefly. The honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham) asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to approach the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) for a statement, in simple language that the ordinary man could understand, as distinct from the legal phraseology of the legislation, of the policy of the Government on this matter. That policy has not been arrived at idly. For many years, these two important matters - the onus of proof, and the benefit of the doubt - have come before this Parliament. I recall distinctly that the issue first arose in 1929, when the Bruce-Page Government was in office. At that time, the appellant was given the benefit of the doubt, and if he made out a prima facie case of incapacity, the onus of proof rested, not upon the ex-serviceman, but upon the Repatriation Commission. The first Lyons Government went a step further in 1934, and added to section 45w, relating to the consideration of appeals, the following proviso : -
Provided further that in the case of the death caused by an accident, of a member of the forces who is wholly or partially incapacitated as the result of war service, the burden of proving that such incapacity did not contribute to a material degree to the death of the member shall lie upon the commission.
In 1938, the Lyons Government again amended the act so as to ease the onus of proof and the benefit of doubt provisions. The Repatriation Commission was to give the appellant the benefit of any reasonable doubt. Two years later the Menzies Government made a further effort in this matter. A prima facie case in appeals before a tribunal was defined in the legislation, and the affirmation of the appellant alone was sufficient. In 1943, the Curtin Labour Government, under pressure from the Liberal party and the Australian country party, introduced legislation to amend the act. The VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) showed in the secondreading debate that the Curtin Government had not been giving effect to the onus of proof provision. I shall cite evidence of the tangle into which the Labour Government had got itself. I refer to the report of the No. 1 “War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, the members of which were Mr. G. J. J. O’sullivan, a legal man who was the chairman, Mr. E. J. Dibdin, the deputy chairman who was the nominee of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, and Mr. M. A. Hickey. The report stated -
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 ite 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 of an appeal to this Tribunal.
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.
The tribunal cited a substantial number of cases in support of this report. It was clear that the government of the day and the department should have approved the granting of pensions to many exservicemen. In due course, the present Leader of the Opposition introduced legislation in 1943 to modify the onus of proof provision. I think that his legislation in that respect was good, and I claim that it has been implemented by this Government, without any variation, ever since it has been in office. All that we have done has been to act on the request, of the honorable member for St. George, and that was to obtain from the AttorneyGeneral a statement, in plain straightforward English, on the policy of the Government in this respect, as a guide for himself. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), when he received this document, saw fit, as a sensible act of administration only, and not with any idea of changing the interpretation, to make this simply worded explanation of the onus of proof provision available to the two tribunals. Then the explanation was made available by the commission to the boards in the States, and to every officer in the Repatriation Department who was dealing with pensions. It was an added instruction, confirming all that we had been doing in the past to give effect to the legislation. That is the simple story of the events.
– Why did not the Minister carry out the instruction?
– The instruction has been carried out. The honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) worked himself up to a fever-pitch of excitement about an ex-serviceman named Sutherland. The facts have been made available to me by the department. I express regret, in passing, that because of the limited time at my disposal, I cannot answer in detail the sixteen or seventeen honorable members who have referred to other cases. However, the honorable member for Shortland, by interjection, referred to the Sutherland case while the Leader of the Opposition was speaking. I shall state the facts. This member of the forces, during his service, contracted trench fever, but recovered from his illness. He went to England on the 3rd April, 1919, and appeared before a medical board. The board reported, “Disability nil, incapacity nil “. On the 11th August, 1919, this member of the forces landed in Australia. He stated - “ I am not suffering from any disability due to or aggravated by war service. I feel fit and well “. He appeared before a medical board in this country. The board reported, “Disability nil, incapacity nil “. He was discharged from the forces on the 18th September, 1919. Nothing involving the Repatriation Department happened until the 23rd April, 1951, or 31 years after his discharge. He had had no association or contact with the department in the meantime. He alleged that he was suffering from Bright’s disease, high blood pressure and a stone in the kidney. But any person is heir to all those disabilities, whether he has had war service or not. Those complaints are not, of necessity, associated with war service.
– But they could have been.
– This man had been examined on three different occasions by medical boards, which reported, “Disability nil, and incapacity nil “.
– When was he examined?
– He was examined three times in 1919, and the report of each hoard was “ Disability nil, and incapacity nil “. On that evidence, the Repatriation Commission determined that the disability that he claimed then, 31 years afterwards, was due to his war service, was not, in fact, due to that service. He was advised to exercise his right to appeal to the Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. He did so, and the tribunal, on the evidence brought before it, agreed that his disability was not due to war service. If he can produce further evidence, he can make a further appeal to the tribunal. We desire that every man who is entitled to a pension in respect of a disability due to war service shall be given a pension.
It has been said that medical evidence made available from time to time in this case was not reviewed by the appeal tribunal. I have been assured by representatives of the Repatriation Department - and I know from my experience as Minister for Repatriation in the Lyons Government .that the assurance is correct - that every document received in support of a member’s claim is placed on his file and that the file is made available to the Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. When the case is heard by the tribunal, no representative of the commission is present to argue the case on behalf of the commission. The only advocate who appears is the one who is supporting the exserviceman’s claim.
– The tribunal will not, listen to him.
– That is untrue. Aa the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) has talked nonsense of that kind, it is obvious that he has never been near an entitlement appeal tribunal. A tri.bunal consists of three members. The chairman is a lawyer, trained in sifting evidence. The other two members are exservicemen, one of whom is a nominee of an ex-servicemen’s association. The ex servicemen’s associations have direct representation on the tribunal. Every member of the Repatriation Department, which collects evidence and deals with correspondence in these cases, is an exserviceman. Every member of the Repatriation Commission is an ex-serviceman, as also is every member of the tribunals. I say from my long experience of this work that these men give the best service they can give. It would be of no advantage to them to act unjustly or unfairly. Having regard to the evidence contained in the file relating to the case that has been mentioned to-night, I do not think any honorable member could say that the claim has been treated unfairly. A certificate from another doctor was read. I am advised by. the commission that that certificate was placed before the tribunal.
The purpose of the amendment proposed by clause 8 of the bill is to enable the commission to make provision for the maintenance of persons who are dependants of a member of the forces as defined in the act, or who are, or have in fact been, dependent upon him in cases where the member is sentenced to a term of imprisonment. As the act stands, the pension of a member who is sentenced to a term of imprisonment may be suspended for the whole or a part of the term - in which event the member, on his release, collects the amount that accrues during the suspension - or the commission or a board may order any instalment to be forfeited. Where an instalment has been forfeited, the amount forfeited may .he paid to the member’s dependants in the case of a war pension or, in the case of a service pension, to his wife or child, if dependent upon him. Section 34 requires amendment for several reasons. First, it is not clear on whose authority payment may be made to dependants; secondly, the procedure for ordering the forfeiture of a pension instalment by instalment to make payments to a dependant is unnecessarily cumbersome and costly; and thirdly, as the “section stands, it appears that the whole of the forfeited pension is to be paid to the- dependants, whereas they may not bo in need of more than a portion of it. Under the proposed amendment, the right to order forfeiture or suspension will be retained, but provision will be made for the commission, out of a forfeited or suspended pension, to make allowances to persons who have, in its opinion, a just claim on the member for support.
– I want to make it quite clear that, in the view of the Opposition, the instructions most recently issued by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) differ entirely from the instructions issued by the department last year. They are more liberal and more in accordance with the terms of the act. They correspond to the view that I expressed during the debate on the Repatriation Bill 1952. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) said this afternoon that the instructions had been changed recently. Finally, it appeared that they were changed in April of this year. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) has said that they have not been changed. I do not criticize the humane approach of the Minister to these matters, but the case raised by the honorable member- for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) illustrates the vital importance of this point. I shall not mention the ex-serviceman’s name.
Mr. -Francis. - It has been mentioned.
– He enlisted in the forces at the age of eighteen years, and was sent to France. He was in action there from the age of nineteen years. He set out the particulars of his service in one of his letters to the commission. Apparently he died from chronic nephritis. The case put to the tribunal was that the disease from which he died was due to a previous attack of trench fever. The fact that he underwent a medical examination after the attack of trench fever does not show that the disability from, which he suffered later was not due to the conditions of his war service. The act does not provide that it must be proved at the time that there is a connexion between a war injury and the illness from which a man diessubsequently. In many instances - perhaps this is one of them - the effect of active service conditions, especially at Messines and other places on the western front during “World War I., does not become evident until many years later. That is why the benefit of the doubt provisions have been inserted in the act. Neither an ex-serviceman nor, in the case of death, his dependants, have to prove affirmatively a connexion between war service and disability or death. The onus is placed on the commission to negative such a connexion.
In this case, the tribunal stated that the appeal in respect of the condition of chronic nephritis had been disallowed. That was not the way in which to determine the case. There was no finding that the man had suffered from chronic nephritis. We were still left in the dark. The English court that deals with pensions appeals would send such a case back to the tribunal and tell the tribunal to specify its finding, setting out the various aspects of the case in full, so that the judges of the court could decide whether the law had been complied with. The Minister for the Army believes it. has been shown conclusively that in the case raised by the honorable member for Shortland no evidence was adduced to support the applicant’s claim, but if we exclude the possibility of malingering, as I think we should - certainly the tribunal must do so under the act, unless malingering be proved - it appears that there was a case for the Repatriation Commission to answer. That is only -one case of many. I ask the Government to look at this matter again in the light of the opinion expressed recently by the AttorneyGeneral which, in my opinion, is correct but which, I believe, is not yet being complied with. Certainly it was not complied with in the case to which I have referred. That case was not dealt with in accordance with the letter and spirit of section 47.
– The explanation of section 47, given at the request of the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham), which expresses the meaning of the section in plain and straightforward English, is not a new instruction. The honorable member for St. George said he wanted an interpretation of the section in plain and clear’ English, not in legal jargon. That is all that the document issued by the Attorney-General purports to do. lt was never intended to be an instruction. It was made available to the honorable member for St. George, at his request, by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), as a matter of sound, sane administration, gave instructions for copies of the document to be made available to the tribunals and the boards. because he believed it should be valuable to them. A copy has been given to every officer who deals with pensions.
Let me turn to the case to which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has referred. It is alleged that, in that case, we did not comply with the provisions of section 47. The case was raised by the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) at about 4.20 p.m. to-day. The facts that I have stated to honorable members were given to me over the telephone by the Repatriation Department shortly afterwards. The offices of the department closed at 5 p.m. Therefore, it was impossible to obtain information about the other cases that have been raised. I repeat that this ex-serviceman was medically examined on three occasions during 1.9:19. On each occasion he was medically boarded - once in the United Kingdom and twice in Australia. On each occasion it was declared that his disability and his incapacity were nil.
– I am more amazed than ever by the attitude adopted by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) to the case to which 1. have directed his attention. I claim that the submissions of three doctors - Mr. Sutherland’s medical practitioner; Dr. Henry, who operated on him earlier this year; and Dr. Philip Rundell, a specialist of Newcastle - should have been considered by the tribunal. Otherwise, why is section 48 included in the act? The Minister ha3 said that because the man was allegedly examined three times in 1919-
– Not allegedly.
– The man stated that he did not appear before a medical board prior to his discharge, because he was anxious to resume civilian life. Thousands of men who served in “World War I. were not medically boarded before discharge. They were eager to get out of the forces, and the military authorities were eager to discharge them. Is it to be said - and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) has suggested it - that, because the man did not go to the Repatriation Commission for over 30 years, he was never ill? I do not know what the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) would say. I .understand that during World War 1. very little was known about trench fever, but I am led to believe that it was caused by exposure to damp and cold and wet conditions. This man lived under those conditions month after month and year after year; yet, because the condition cleared up in 1918, and because the exserviceman worked for employers who were prepared to pay him for all time lost, is it to be inferred that he has not suffered over the years? I do not know whether the Minister for Repatriation ‘ wants me to obtain a record of the time lost by this ex-serviceman while he worked for the Newcastle Gas Company.
I refer also to the case of two exservicemen, brothers-in-law, who enlisted at the same time and who had the same service. One died in 1941, and the department said that he did not die as the result of any war-caused disability. When his brother-in-law, who had never been near the Repatriation Department since his discharge in 1919, went before them in 1948 at 61 years of age, he was considered to be suffering from a heart condition due to war service. When he died some eighteen months later, his wife was treated as a war widow. Yet the Minister would tell us that, because the first man did not go before the medical tribunal for 30 years, it could be said that his complaint was not caused by war service.
– It was for those reason* that provision was inserted to give the applicant the benefit of the doubt.
– Who knows what the result of trench fever might be? Dr.
Philip Rundle has had experience in World War II. and there is every reason why his evidence should be considered by the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. Even if he alone thought that Mr. .Sutherland contracted chronic nephritis and renal lethiasis as a result of war service, that should have been sufficient to satisfy the onus-of-proof section, and the applicant should have been declared a war pensioner, and his wife a warwidow after his death. Six months elapsed between his ceasing work and his death. We are asked to believe that his condition was not caused by war service, simply because he worked and did not worry the Repatriation Commission over the years.
These cases should be reviewed, and something should be done to make sure that consideration is given to the hundreds of such ex-servicemen who are suffering from heart conditions and other disabilities because they have been buried or blown up by high explosive shells. The Repatriation Commission should do something to ensure that the onus-of-proof section is applied so that there will not be any need to come into this House and air these cases in this manner.
– I want to make the position quite clear. To try to put words into my mouth - i -
– I did not try to put words into the Minister’s mouth.
– All I said was that the facts stated by the honorable member this afternoon were not in accord with the information tendered to me by the Repatriation Department. I made no other statement. I have shown that this man had three medical examinations.
– In 1919.
– Tes, in 1919, and 1 made no other comment.
– When did he have trench fever?
– Early in 1919. He was examined first on the 3rd April, 1919, in England, again on the 11th August, 1919, in Australia and again on the 18th September, 1919. I said that for 31 years he had made no application to, nor had he received any assistance from the Repatriation Commission, but I made no further comment. I have not said, as the honorable member said I did, that those are reasons why the pension should be rejected. I have not said that the pension should be given or that it should be refused.
.- I do not know why the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) is quibbling about these cases. If the Government wants to extend justice to the ex-servicemen, as it claims, why is it hiding behind technicalities and refusing to give them something which they urgently need when they become ill in the declining years of their lives? The Minister depends on medical opinions for the rejection of certain applications for war pension arising from disabilities that honorable members claim are war caused. I did not hear the Minister citing the result of the medical examinations when those men enlisted, and when they were found to be 100 per cent, fit for service. The only medical opinions we hear him citing are those given after the men have completed their service. Usually, where the medical opinion is in favour of the ex-serviceman it is rejected, but where it is against the ex-serviceman it is accepted.
I have here papers relating to a case that the Minister for the Army will not find as easy as the other cases to dispose of. I refer to the case of two brothers by the name of Mathers. I do npt know whether the Minister can recall thi.* case. These particular men enlisted together, they had approximately the same service, they were both stretcher bearers in the same unit, and the only time they were apart was for a period of approximately two weeks when one had pneumonic influenza, and was receiving treatment in a military hospital in London. When the brothers returned to Australia they were suffering from a cardiac condition, and I think both applied for a pension. One was granted a pension for total and permanent incapacity, the highest rate of pension he could, get, and the other brother was refused a pension on the evidence of Sir Charles Blackburn, who was of the opinion that the ailment was hereditary. There was a conflict of medical opinion.
Other doctors examined Mr. W. Mathers, some of them having been commanding officers of the unit with which he served. Not only would those doctors have been able to express a medical opinion, hut they would have had first-hand knowledge of the conditions under which the man served. Let me cite some of the opinions. This is the opinion of Dr. ‘Winston Walsh, “I’ J 6 Prince-street, Cronulla -
Mr. W. M. Mathers was a stretcher bearer with the 8th Field Ambulance while I was associated with that unit from December. 1917 to July, 1018.
During that period he was in the front line as a stretcher bearer, not only with the 8th Field Ambulance, but also on loan to the 14th and 15th Field Ambulances.
His duties were very strenuous.
He was under my treatment at the Sti Field Ambulance Dressing Station at TinMills in DAORS suffering from the effects o: Mustard Gas and Phosgene Gas poisoning foi some weeks early in 191S. He bad extensive burns about the body.
In my opinion the strenuous condition? of service us a stretcher bearer, the effects of gaspoisoning and the after effects of pneumonic influenza contracted in 19 IS were all factors causing his present condition.
Surely there could be nothing more authoritative than that. 1 cite also the following opinion of Or. J. R. Barriskill of S6 Percival-road Stanmore -
Mr. W. M, Mathers was with nic in the Sth Field Ambulance A.I.F.
He was under constant strain stretcher bearing under front-line conditions for lon;; periods and never spared himself, often working and carrying when he should have been resting. lie was hospitalized in 1!)1S suffering from pneumonic influenza.
I had occasion to examine him at my surgery about six weeks ago, and found that he was suffering from high degree of hypertension with symptoms.
I am of opinion that his strenuous and selfsacrificing work in the war has contributed to his condition.
Let me read also the opinion of Dr. F. R. McKenzie, of 15 Lord-street, Roseville
Mr. W. Mathers and his brother were stretcher bearers in “ C “ section of the Sth Field Ambulance .during my association with it.
They both worked hard and conscientiously, both in the front line and out of it. They were with me at Bernafay Woods, Bullecourt - Passchendaele - during the 1910-1917 winter - amidst snow, frozen mud, &c.
In my opinion their hard work during this time and during their long service in the ambulance under such conditions contributed to Mr. W. Mathers’ present disability.
They are the opinions of three doctors under whom Mr. Mathers served in the unit in which those brothers were stretcher bearers. When that exserviceman came back to this country and was fighting for justice from the Repatriation Department, other opinions were obtained. Opinions were given also by Dr. Graham and Dr. J. P. Shelton, both of Macquarie-street, Sydney. They confirm the opinions of the three doctors under whom this nian served in the army. The only opinion not in favour of the ex-serviceman that I have been able to ascertain is that of Sir Charles Blackburn, who questioned him about, his father’s death and about other members of the family, and expressed the opinion that his condition was not attributable to war service, but was hereditary. What better case of doubt could be i,-,1 i kid ? Surely even the Minister for the Army would not say that there was not a doubt. But the department is qui bill ing.
I have here a document, sent t.’> :ne by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). Although it is marked “ Personal and Confidential “, I assure the Minister for the Army that, I have the authority of the Minister for Repatriation to use the contents of it. I wrote to the Minister for Repatriation and have here his reply dated the 28th September, 1953, authorizing me to use the file.
– 1 have the file here.
– The Minister for Repatriation said -
The two brothers served in the same unit, and their war service was practically identical. They are both suffering from a cardiac disability.
The Repatriation Board, New, South Wales, accepted the cardiac condition of Thomas Mathers as being due to war service. The acceptance was against the medical evidence.
It seems to me to be an amazing situation.
The letter continues -
I can only conclude that after considering all the evidence the Board had some doubt which it could not resolve. - and consequently determined in favour of the applicant.
If the board could determine the doubt in favour of the one brother why could it not determine the doubt in the case of the other? One brother got the totally and permanently incapacitated pension, and the other got nothing at all. We have heard much talk about the onus of proof, but surely this is a case which illustrates that the provisions with regard to the onus of proof are not being properly applied. We do not want to hear all about what different governments have done in regard to the onus of proof ; we want the Minister for Repatriation to deal with the realities of the situation. Ex-servicemen still have to apply to the various tribunals that have been established to deal with their cases, and they still have to prove that their disabilities are attributable to war service. I. suggest that the tribunals should have to prove that they are not so attributable. In other words, the onus of proof should rest on the tribunals. The repatriation authorities examine these applications in the same old way that they have always examined them. They question the applicants and ask them to produce evidence that their disabilities are attributable to war service. The applicants still have to prove their cases.
– I desire to refer to a few remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). In the most extravagant language he spoke about thousands of cases in which a wrong principle has been applied under section 47 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. Surely no honorable member of this House, and nobody outside this House, believes that a wrong principle has been applied in thousands of cases. In fact, nobody believes it at all, because it is merely an extravagant charge and utter nonsense. Indeed, I do not think that the right honorable gentleman believes it himself. He suggested that a federal judicial tribunal should be set up to review cases in which an application for a pension has been refused. Did he really mean that? Of course he did not. Nobody believes that there has been any miscarriage of justice as between the repatriation authorities and the exservicemen. What the right honorable gentleman really wanted was a tribunal io lie established to act a3 judge and advo cate simultaneously. I suggest that any tribunal might quite rightly refuse to act in such a dual capacity. It is one thing to point out that the Repatriation Commission must follow ‘the direction that has been laid down in section 47 of the act, but it is quite a different thing to do as the Leader pf the Opposition wanted us to do, that is, to force the tribunal to be both judge and prosecutor at the same time. Therefore, I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition has put himself into an entirely false position.
All honorable members of this committee recognized the sincerity of the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) when he said that a man could contract trench fever in World War I., bc examined by a tribunal in 191.9 and be refused a pension, but could die of chronic nephritis caused by his trench fever 34 years after he contracted the trench fever. The honorable member for Shortland may believe that, but all I can say is that I cannot think that medical opinion would support his view.
– The honorable member for Shortland has the opinion of four doctors to support his view.
– I cannot conceive it likely that chronic nephritis could last for 34 years and could be attributable to an acute illness that occurred at the beginning of the 34 years. It is quit, easy to be actuated by the highest motives of sympathy in all cases such as this, but this committee is not the tribunal to decide the medical causes of disability or death. We have listened to a diatribe by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) that amounted to a declaration that the final court of appeal in the case of ex-servicemen who desire to have their pension rates assessed, should be, not the legally constituted authority, not the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals or the Repatriation Commission, but this Parliament itself. Surely it should be plain, even to the honorable member for East Sydney, that it is quite impossible for the Parliament to give a judgment on such a matter. The only body capable of doing so is the commission in the first instance, and the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals in the final instance. It is all very well for honorable members opposite to say that the
Entitlement Appeal Tribunals are unsatisfactory, and that the only real court of appeal is this Parliament, but that is a completely unreal and wrong approach to the needs of ex-servicemen The only proper tribunals to consider their cases are those set up by this country under the repatriation legislation. If. we believe that they are sometimes not acting correctly, that is not a reflection on the Repatriation Commission, because during the course of many years it has served ex-servicemen in a magnificent fashion. It does no credit to any member of the Parliament to attack the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals, because if there had been any widespread dissatisfaction with them, that dissatisfaction would have been expressed by every exservicemen’s organization in the country. But such a thing has not happened. I speak as an ex-serviceman, and as a member of ex-servicemen’s official organizations, and 1 say quite plainly that for many years those organizations have been on the whole thoroughly satisfied with the mechanisms of the Repatriation .Department, and the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals in particular. It is very easy to cite particular instances, and say that the repatriation mechanism is functioning unsatisfactorily, hut the test does not lie in one or two instances, it lies in the whole record of the Repatriation Commission and the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals. If the ex-servicemen’s organizations should be asked whether the repatriation machinery has satisfied this country and the great body of ex-servicemen over the years, the answer will be a definite “ yes “.
.- I am sure that most people, laymen in particular, place great reliance in the opinion of the members of the medical profession. However, laymen also know that medical practitioners’ opinions differ as widely as opinions held by members of the legal profession. However, no doubt all doctors act according to their lights. The honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) has referred to the Assessment Appeal Tribunals. This debate is not in relation to the findings of Assessment Appeal Tribunals, but to the decisions of the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals. It is quite true that the honorable member for Oxley has seen war service, but so have many other honorable members. I know from personal experience that in the battle areas of Prance from 1916 onwards the Australian Army suffered very greatly from trench fever. This disease incapacitated about 50 per cent, of the Allied armies on the Western Front, and no doubt it finally culminated m the pneumonic influenza epidemic People, including soldiers, died like flies from this disease and only the strongest survived. Consequently, it is reasonable to expect some residual deleterious effect from trench fever contracted in the battle field. Therefore, men could be affected for a long time after the disease had attacked them. Perhaps some organ could be permanently affected by the ravages of this fever.
I do not believe that any medical practitioner, whether it be the honorable member for Oxley or the greatest medical specialist in the world, could say. that the effects of trench fever would not last for many years, or could not ultimately play some part in the death of a mau. After a frail mechanism like the humanbody has sustained damage, it remains weaker than it would have been had it not suffered damage. If this building should be damaged it could be repaired and made stronger than before, but I do not believe that members of the medical profession can so repair human bodies. Under those circumstances, and in view of the fact that the members of the medical profession put forward strongly divergent views from time to time, there is an element of doubt in the case described by the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths). It is absurd to say that if a man had trench fever in 1919, its effects could not manifest themselves 31 years afterwards.
– He had been suffering for years.
– That is so. When the Australian Imperial Forces returned to Australia the cream of the men did not scheme and plot for advantages. They said, in effect, “ To Hell with your pensions! Give us an opportunity te re-establish ourselves in civil life as quickly as possible”. Many of them, because of their eagerness to be back at work, neglected to establish pension rights, but as the years went by and their health broke down as the result of their war experiences, they had the greatest difficulty in proving that their disabilities were war-caused. I am aware of the difficulties that confront the Repatriation Commission and the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals in discharging their functions. I have always believed that in making their decisions those bodies largely reflect, as does the High Court of Australia itself, the decisions and wishes of the Parliament. It is good to have in this Parliament men like the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), the honorable member for Shortland and other honorable members on this side of the chamber who, in no uncertain manner, have stated that eventually this Parliament must express the view that the decisions of these tribunals are not as generous as they might be, in the hope that, in due course, the commission and the tribunals will give more liberal decisions.I regret that the otherwise amiable honorable, member for Oxl ey should have exhibited so much venom when he was dealing with the case submitted by the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for East Sydney on behalf of the war pensioners. It will be recalled that the honorable member for East Sydney referred to the case of two brothers who had served under identical conditions in the Field Ambulance in the 1914-18 war. He told us that both of them developed a heart condition years after their return to Australia and that, when they appliedfor war pensions, one was granted a special rate pension as a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, and the claim of the other was refused on the medical testimony that his heart condition was hereditary. I hope that as a. result of this debate, repatriation legislation will be more sympathetically administered in the future. The honorable member for Oxley who referred to the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal, when he obviously meant to refer to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal said that the tribunal should be established as a prosecuting authority–
– I did notsay that. I said that the Leader of the Opposition had made such a statement.
– I cannot see how, in any circumstances, the honorable member could attribute such a statement to the Leader of the Opposition. The right honorable gentleman has never suggested that the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal should be constituted as a prosecuting authority, nor has such a proposal ever been made by an honorable member on this side of the House. The War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals are in the same category as the High Court of Australia. They determine the case presented to them in accordance with the law passed by the Parliament. They decide whether on not, in their opinion, the Repatriation Commission has made correct decisions in relation to applicants for war pensions. All that the Leader of the Opposition suggested was that a judge should be appointed to ensure that cases shall be properly presented and the evidence properly sifted and weighed so that fair decisions may be made.
This debate should be productive of good results, and on no account should the Government attempt to curtail it.I trust that the Lord High Executioner, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison), will not swing his little axe and prevent honorable members who wish to participate in the debate from making their contribution to it.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. WhenI was addressing the committee I inadvertently referred to the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal when I meant to refer to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. It was merely a lapsus linguae.
.- Mr. Chairman–
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
The following bills were returned from the Senate: -
Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill 1953.
States Grants (Special Financial Assistance) Bill 1953.
Loan (Housing) Bill 1953.
Without requests -
Sales Tax Bills (Nos. 1 to 9) 1953.
Customs Tariff Validation Bill (No. 2) 1953.
Excise Tariff Validation Bill 1953.
– As Chairman, I present the Seventh Report of the Printing Committee.
Report read, and - by leave - adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Habrison) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to a date and hour to be fixed by Mr. Speaker, which time of meeting shall be notified by Mr. Speaker to each member by telegram or letter.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) agreed to -
That leave of absence be given to every member of the House of Representatives from the determination of this sitting of the House to the date of its next sitting.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Habrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Speaker–
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Meat Export Control Act - Eighteenth Annual Report of the Australian Meat Board for year 1952-53, together with Statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of National Development - M. F. Wall.
Public Service Arbitration Act - Determinations - 1953 -
No. 68 - Australian Broadcasting Commission Staff Association.
No. 70 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association and others.
No. 71 - Meat Inspectors’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service.
No. 72 - Australian Broadcasting Commission Staff Association.
No. 73 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
No. 74 - Australian Federated Unionof Locomotive Enginemen.
No. 75 - Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia and others.
No.76 - Electrical Trades Union of Australia.
No. 77 - Professional Officers’ Association. Commonwealth Public Service.
House adjourned at 11.23 p.m. to a date and hour to be fixed by Mr. Speaker.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
Nation al Service.
d asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. There are64 cottages at Dapto which are substantially complete but which have not been handed over by the contractor and have, therefore, not been occupied because some work, principally the construction of a sullage system, remains to be completed. It is not agreed that the site is unsatisfactory for a housing project. On the contrary, it is regarded as a very good site for the purpose, but the nature of the soil is such that it has a very low capacity to absorb drainage water. It was intended that a complete sewage installation should be provided, but because of the time required to complete the treatment plant, it has been decided to provide only drainage for sullage and storm water at this stage to permit of occupation of the cottages. it is anticipatedthat the cottages will be occupied in a few weeks.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
-The honorable member has already been furnished in my letter of the 26th August, 1953, with full information on most aspects of this case. The investigation into certain other features is still being conducted by officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service and my own department.
s. - On the 20th October, the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) asked the following question : -
My question, which is addressed tothe Prime Minister, relates to the trust fund for ex-prisoners of war which has been established by the Government. Will the Prime Minister consider making a statement to the House about the amount that has been distributed so far to ex-prisoners of war from the fund, the number of men who havebeen assisted and the cost of administering the fund?
I can now inform the honorable member that up to and including the 22nd October, 1953, 4,312 applications for assistance were received. Grants have been made in 1,919 cases and the amount granted was . £147,367. Applications for grants are still being received and it may be desirable to continue the activities of the fund after the 31st December, 1953. The cost of administering the fund during the 1952-53 financial year was £2,300. An amount of £3,000 has been placed on the Estimates for the current financial year.
– On the 21st October, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) asked the following three questions relating to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund : -
With regard to the first question, I can inform the honorablemember that the United Nations General Assembly unanimously decided on the6th October, 1953, to continue the fund indefinitely. Australia co-sponsored the resolution providing for the continuance. The answer to the second question is “Yes”. With regard to the third question, approximately 3,000,000 dollars have been provided from the Children’s Fund for Emergency feeding for approximately 2,000,000 children and pregnant and nursing mothers in Korea. The Children’s Fund has just investigated the problem of malnutrition amongst these children and mothers and has developed a plan for a daily milk ration. Children’s Fund allocations toIndo-China total about 500,000 dollars and cover programmes of maternal and child welfare services and anti-tuberculosis vaccination undertaken in conjunction with the World Health Organization. No information regarding Children’s Fund expenditure in Kashmir is at present available.
n asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
What amount would be required to remove the ceiling limit so that allage and invalid pensioners entitled to war pensionscould claim the full amount of such pensions?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
It. is estimated that the cost of removing the ceiling limits applying to age and invalid pensioners who are also receiving warpensions would be approximately £140,000per annum. The same ceiling limits,however, apply to service pensioners under the Repapriation Act who are also receiving war pensions. If, therefore, the ceiling limits applyingto age and invalid pensioners were removed, it would probably be necessary to alsoremove these limits in relation to service pensioners. This would add considerably to the cost.
y asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answersto the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Mr.Curtin asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice - 1. (a) How many vessels on the Australian mast are at least 25 years old? (b) How many are passenger ships and how many cargo ships? (c) How many are in each of the following categories: - Over 10,000 tons displacement, between 5,000 and 10,000 tons, between 2,000 and 5,000 tons, under 2,000 tons?
y. - The Minister for Shipping and Transporthas supplied the following information : - 1.(a) There are at present 70 trading vessels on the Australian coast thatare 25 years of age or more. The total deadweight tonnage of these vessels is 165,954 tons. (b ) With the exception of three vessels which carry both passengers and cargo all these vessels are cargo ships. (c) None of these vessels is of greater than 10,000 tons deadweight, fifteen are between 5,000 and 10,000 tons deadweight, thirteenbetween 2,000 and 5,000 tons deadweight and 42 are of less than 2.000 tons deadweight.
Mr.Creme an asked thePostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
y. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. I understand that the reason announced by Westclox (Australia) Proprietary Limited for its decision to cease manufacturing alarm clocks at its factory in Melbourne was that the company was unable to compete satisfactorily in the Australian and overseas markets with overseas manufacturers of alarm clocks. The honorable member will appreciate that it is not my function or that of my department to investigate the reasons forthe company’s decision. The position of the industry was, however, examined in 1951 by the Tariff Board when the company made application for increased rates of duty on imported alarm clocks and the honorable member will find in the Tariff Board’s report of the 19th May, 1951, on alarm clocks, a detailed analysis of the problems of manufacturing alarm clocks in Australia.
s asked the Minister for
Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
October commenced hearing the counter-log filed by the colliery proprietors. When the tribunal adjourned on the 20th October the third witness for the colliery proprietors was being cross-examined by the general president of the federation. I am not able to say how many witnesses will be called, nor am I able to say when the Coal Industry Tribunal might be expected to deliver his decision. I do know that he may still have to take further evidence in Victoria.
s. - On the 25th September, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) asked the following question : -
The question that I shall address to the Prime Minister relates to an incident that occurred recently when a number of public servants volunteered to search for some people who were lost. I understand that the Government decided that they should not suffer a loss of salary for the period that they were engaged in the search, but that the Public Service Board implemented the regulations and they have lost pay. Does this indicate that the Public Service Board has become so powerful that the Government is not now in a position to give effect to its desires? Has the Prime Minister personally considered this matter? If not, will he do so, in order that people who are prepared to volunteer in such worthy causes will not be the losers in consequence?
I am now able to inform the honorable member that provision is made under the Public Service Regulations for special leave with pay up to three days in any one year to be granted at the discretion of the chief officer in certain circumstances. It seems to me that the discretion of a chief officer might well be exercised in favour of granting special leave in cases such as that referred to by the honorable member where human lives are involved. I am unaware of any instances in which the discretion of the chief officerof a Commonwealth department has been exercised to prevent special leave being taken in these circumstances. If the honorable member could let me have any specific instances where this has occurred I would be happy to consider the matter further.
– On the 14th October, the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) asked the following question : -
Is the Prime Minister aware that the Government of New South Wales has recently announced that work is to proceed on the great Keepit; Dam project? Does, the honorable gentleman regard this as evidence of the fact that the dispersal of finance for public works in New South Wales as in every other State in decided by the State Government concerned? Does he find that this is difficult to reconcile with the oft-repeated story of the availability nf insufficient finance to the States? 1 now inform the honorable member as follows : -
did see a recent newspaper report of the New South Wales Government’s decision to proceed with work on the Keepit Dam project. Despite that Government’s prior statements that lack of finance would prevent the work proceeding, the- announcement to carry on occasioned me no great surprise. It has become a practice of some State governments to declare from time to time that works of national importance must cease because of the Commonwealth’s niggardliness. Such declarations usually precede Loan Council meetings. I can only repeat, and I have said this often, that the manner in which State governments allocate the funds which the Commonwealth strains its resources to provide is entirely a matter for the States. I find no difficulty in reconciling the decision to continue the work on Keepit Dam with the prior statement that there were no funds available for the work because I have often heard similar stories in the past.
Commonwealth of Australia to wit.
W. J. Slim
By His Excellency the Governor-General in and over the Commonwealth of Australia.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 October 1953, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1953/19531022_reps_20_hor1/>.