21st Parliament · 1st Session
Answers to Questions ‘ 1759
Thursday, SO September 195?.’
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m.) and read prayers.
– I desire to announce that during the absence from the House of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) because of illness, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) will act as Postmaster-General and will represent the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce end Agriculture.
– Can the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service inform me whether a decision has yet been reached, about the future - of, the Australian ‘Stevedoring Industry.: Board? If legislation, is to be introduced during the present session, will honorable members be given ample time to examine it, so that they may be able to get all the information possible on the matter?
– This matter, as I informed the House recently, is at present under the consideration of the Government. When a decision is made, and if and when legislation is introduced, I have no doubt that honorable members will have -proper time in .’Which to consider the legislative proposals.
– Is the Prime Minister in a -position to give any further information to the House regarding the proposal to set up a joint all-party parliamentary committee to examine the matter of constitutional reform?
– That matter has engaged the attention of Cabinet, and all that is needed now is that I should find an opportunity to have a talk with the Loader of the Opposition, .with whom I should like to confer on the subject. I hare one or two proposals- which I desire to put to him about the constitution and the functions of the proposed committee. As soon as that is done, we shall proceed.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation advise the House’ whether a sum -of money has been set aside from the vote of the Department of Civil Aviation for the acquisition of a site for a civil aerodrome at Hexham, near Newcastle, during this financial year? I point out that this site has already been surveyed, and agreed upon by ‘the authorities.
– A tremendous lot of consideration has been given to this matter. Survey work has been canned out, and officials of the. department have been to the place. I am sorry that I cannot”’ say offhand whether a . sum of money has been included in the vote for the Department of Civil Aviation this year for the acquisition of the site; but I shall - obtain the information for the. honorable member.
– I ask the Minister for -Civil Aviation Whether it is a fact, that the new Handley-Page “airliner which has been- designed to replace the D.0.3 has a remarkable take-off and - landing performance and could operate from fields Which are not now regarded as being up to the civil aviation licensing standard. Is it likely that these aircraft will be operating in Australia reasonably soon, -as councils could spend large sums in bringing -their aerodromes,^; to;D.G.3standard and could then find that , the money had been wasted?
– Yes, it is true that there is an aircraft known as the Heron, which is made by the Handley-Page organization. It is a four-engine aircraft which has been designed to take the place of the D.C.3. It has a remarkably good performance, but whether any of these machines will bo introduced into Australia in the near future I do not know. I do know that certain Australian - airlines are very interested in them, and in the Fokker Friendship and the French Hurel Dubois, which have been designed also to replace the D.C.3. There are representatives of the Handley-Page company in Australia at present, and I think it is quite likely that some of these machines will bc put into operation here.
– Has the Minister for Civil1 Aviation yet received a report on the air accident which took place some months ago, with large loss of life, at Kalang aerodrome, Singapore, on the British Overseas Airways Corporation Constellation service which runs parallel with the Qantas Empire Airways service? As l-he inquiry concluded some time ago, if the Minister has not yet received the final report, can he inform the House whether any preliminary report -has been made on the probable cause of that unfortunate accident?
– As the honorable member will know, an inquiry such as the one he has mentioned into an accident on an international service is carried out by the authorities in the country concerned. Therefore,, the Australian Department of Civil Aviation is merely an interested party and has not been actively associated with the inquiry. “We have received from the authorities at Singapore an outline of the inquiry and the findings of the committee of inquiry, and I shall be pleased to let the honorable member have a look at the documents as soon as possible.
– Because the Maryborough aerodrome in Queensland is important to our defence, as was exemplified during the last war, will the Minister for Civil Aviation consider, as an urgent work, the wiring of the runways for electric lights in place of the outmoded and unsuitable kerosene lights that are now in use?
– The Maryborough airport was of great significance during the last war, and might have some significance in any future war, although I do not think that that is likely. It is not possible for the Department of Civil Aviation to supply all the runway lighting that could be used in airports. We have to maintain about 1600 miles of paved areas which are similar to roads ; that is greater than the distance from Adelaide to Sydney. Runway lighting on those strips now exceeds 1,000 miles. The lighting of runways is a very costly business, and I do not think, that there is a likelihood of putting in new lighting at Maryborough.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether steps can be taken to avoid the blackout of radio contact that occurred when a Lockheed Hudson was lost recently on a newspaper delivery flight to Taree?
– I am not certain what the honorable member means by the term “ blackout “ in this connexion. The facts are that the aircraft left Sydney for Taree and was in contact with the aeradio system of the Department of Civil Aviation until 2.45 p.m. From that time onward the aeradio system could not contact the aircraft. Nothing more has been heard of that aircraft, which must be regarded as lost, but I do not think that it can be assumed from that that there was any blackout of the aeradio facilities in either the plane or the department. No doubt that is the sort of thing that will be studied during the departmental inquiry.
– Is the Minister aware of the move by Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited to carry another sixteen passengers on its DC4 aircraft on the Melbourne-Sydney run, thus raising the seating accommodation on these aircraft from 44 to 60? Does he know that a reduction of standards of service is involved in this move, which is part of a cheaper fare war? Has thi Department of Civil Aviation approved of these greatly increased loadings on DC4’s?
– I understand that both of the major airlines, TransAustralia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, have started, or intend to start, what they call a “ coach service “ on the east coast routes between Melbourne and Brisbane via Sydney. There will be an increase of seating accommodation and, I understand, some reduction of services now provided, in the. way of meals and so on, and a consequent reduction of fares, which I think should be a good thing. There may be people who find the present fares a little high, and would prefer to have less in the way of meal service and so on if they could thereby have the benefit of cheaper fares. However, that has nothing to do with the safety factor. AH aircraft, whether operated by Trans- Australia Airlines, Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited or any other airline, must be licensed, and must conform to the standards laid down by the Department of Civil Aviation.
– Will the Minister examine the existing practice followed by both Trans-Australia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited in respect of the carrying of radio officers in DC4s, which are large aircraft, and inform the House when the practice of having a radio officer in addition to the pilot and co-pilot ceased? Will he examine this matter again from the point of view of the safety of those larger planes which fly on the east coast routes? Radio officers are, of course, carried on longer hauls, but I suggest that the matter, as it applies to the east coast services, should be examined again.
– I do not know when the practice of carrying radio operators on the large ah’i-ss ceased. I think that, it would hi: vo coincided with the introduction of the voice radio in place of the old fashioned morse code. To-day, as the right honorable gentleman probably knows, there is what is virtually a loud speaker in the cockpit of an aircraft, and the second pilot usually is in constant radio communication with the ground. It is no longer a matter of sending out a series of dots and dashes. The pilot merely speaks into a telephone, and the reply comes back immediately through the loudspeaker. However, I shall ascertain when the practice of carrying radio operators ceased.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation ascertain whether it, is a fact that when a passenger aircraft disappeared some years ago and was found to have crashed in the mountains near Tamworth, it was subsequently discovered that the beam from the air beacon at Kempsey was not accurate, and that this was believed to be a contribuing factor to the disappearance and wreck of that aircraft in very bud weather? Will he also ascertain whether it is a fact that the wavelength of station 2AD Armidale was reported to have been very el rise to the wavelength of that beacon, and that since that time, the broadcasting station bad increased its power from 200 watts to 2,000 watts? If the Minister finds these to be facts, will he ascertain Low far they have a bearing upon the unexpected disappearance of a Lockheed aircraft recently, and ‘also whether it indicates the necessity for urgency in completing the air beacon at Point Lookout between Coffs Harbour, Armidale, Tamworth and Kempsey?
– I shall be pleased to investigate all the matters that the honorable member for New England has raised, and see whether I can obtain an answer for him. I am sure that the area to which he has referred is far better served now than it was when, the D.C.3 aircraft “ went in “ at Tamworth. The introduction of the D.M.E., for instance, would not be affected by the wavelength of any commercial broadcasting station. I think that it was never established that radio interference had anything to do with the crash mentioned by the honorable member, but I shall find out exact details and supply him with an answer.
– Can the Minister for the Interior inform, the House whether there have been any further developments in the negotiations that were taking place between the principal States and the Commonwealth on war service land settlement ?
– The Government gave very careful consideration to the different proposals which were put forward, in the main, by the governments of Queensland and New South Wales, suggesting certain variations of the original agreement between the Commonwealth and the three principal States in connexion with war service land settlement. Both of those governments, and to a certain extent the Victorian Government, made different proposals in which they suggested that they should get the benefit of the . agreement in respect of principal States as well as of the agreement in respect of agent States. However, after the Government had given careful consideration to those proposals, it came to the conclusion that, at thi? late stage, it would cause confusion and difficulty if any substantial alterations were made in the original agreement. As a result of those deliberations, the Government decided, as I informed the State Ministers .for Lands at the conference that was held early this month, that in order to try to speed up war service land settlement in the principal States, the Australian Government would agree to advance as from the 1st July next, £.1. for every £2 found, by those States for this purpose up to a maximum of £2,000,000 for three years in the case of Victoria, and New South Wales individually, and £1,000,000 annually for three years as from the same date in the ease of Queensland. Such advances would be repayable generally in the terms of the loans that are made for housing, except that the rate of interest would be at. 3$ per cent. The Prime Minister has submitted those proposals to the Premiers, but. fo far as I know, no reply has been received from them. I understand that the proposals were sent to them on the ot this month. Consequently, we should receive replies from them in the near future. The reason why it has been decided that the new proposals should operate as from the 1st July next is that the three principal States, in their submissions to the Australian Loan Council, would have determined their requirements for loan funds on the basis of providing a certain amount for war service land .settlement, as they have clone in previous years.
– Oan the Minister for Social Services inform me of the benefits that, are made available to British immigrants under the new reciprocal agreement that has been entered into with the United Kingdom with respect of social services payments ?
– A wide range of social services benefits is made available to British immigrants to Australia both under the Social Services Consolidation Act and under the reciprocal agreement with the United Kingdom which came into force as from the 1st January last. For instance, child endowment is payable immediately to a British immigrant couple who have children. Similarly, a maternity allowance of from £15 to £17 10s. is payable to such a couple ; and in the case of multiple births an additional £5 5s. is payable for each additional child. In the case of a large number of multiple births, as happens on momentous occasions when quadruplets, or quintuplets, are born, I understand that the Prime Minister intervenes personally, as he did in the case of the Sara family, and makes a special donation. Sickness and unemployment benefits are also payable to British immigrants. For example, in the case of a man with a wife and one child an amount of £4 15s. a week is paid subject to the means test. Payment of the age or invalid pension depends upon British citizenship and also upon fulfilment of the provision in respect of the periods of residence, which in these instances, are twenty years and five years. I point out that the British pension, is lower than the Australian’ pension, but that under the reciprocal agreement with the United Kingdom, the British pension is increased to the equivalent of the Australian age and invalid pension. In the case of a wife who was not insured under the British scheme, a percentage payment is made on the basis of the amount that such a person would receive under the British scheme. I know that the honorable member has a large British immigrant centre in the electorate that he represents, and therefore I think it might be better if I treated the question as being on notice and gave him a pretty well prepared reply.
– Has the Minister for Defence had an opportunity to peruse the recent statement made by the United States Director of Civil Defence in regard to the emergency measures which must be taken for the protection of the population against atomic attack? In view of the magnitude and immediacy of this problem, will the honorable gentleman take steps to inform the Australian public more fully in regard to it and put in hand measures in order to mitigate as far as possible the dangers to our people from it?
– The Minister for Defence has suggested that I should answer as the Minister in charge of civil defence. The Government, as I have said before in this House, bas been taking whatever measures the Defence Committee has decided are necessary in order to provide training and safeguards for civil defence in this country. Recently it was decided to start a civil defence school in order to train key personnel in the most up-to-date methods of civil defence. I am not quite sure at the moment of the locality of the school, but it will be in operation, I should say, by the end of the year. I have not actually seen the statement referred to by the honorable member, but I shall discuss the matter with the Director of Civil Defence and provide him with any information he wants at a later date.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether any officer has charge of the motor parking arrangements in Canberra. If so, will the Minister direct that officer to investigate the parking arrangements at Parliament House, particularly on the House of Representatives side of the building? Would the Minister favour a complete overhaul of the existing arrangements if that were considered necessary?
- Mr. Speaker approached me about this matter approximately six weeks ago. I understand that the parking arrangements on the House of Representatives side of Parliament House are being reviewed by the House Committee, and I shall confer with Mr. Speaker and the members of the committee on the committee’s suggestions. It may be possible to take action, when the House goes into recess after to-day, in an effort to relieve the existing position. There is no officer in charge of parking at Parliament House. The problem concerns the layout of the lawns and the position of certain trees, which, I think, cause most of the trouble, because they restrict the available space as compared with the extensive spaces that were provided some time ago for parking on the Senate side of the building. I do not know whether more motor cars are parked on the Senate side of the building than on this side.
– I desire to direct a question to the Minister who represents in this House the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. By way of explanation to the Minister, who may not be familiar with the circumstances, I wish to point out that an announcement was made recently that the Government had rejected proposals for the payment of subsidies to the egg, dried fruits and pig meat industries. It was stated that the proposal for a subsidy on eggs would be re-examined following a new survey of costs, and that a study would be made of methods by which the price of feed wheat to poultry and pig farmers might be substantially reduced without reducing the return to wheatgrowers. I ask whether a statement might be prepared indicating the substance of the terms “re-examined”, “survey” and “study”. In the meantime, if these exercises would involve protracted deliberations, will the Minister keep in mind the old proverb : “ While the grass grows, the steed starves.” ?
– I shall refer the question to the Minister who is acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and shall ensure that the required information is given to the honorable member.
– Can the Minister for Territories say whether it is a fact that some cattle recently were shipped from the port of Darwin by a company using an L.S.T.? Were the loading operations in this instance conducted direct from the shore of the harbour? Pending the construction of the proposed new wharf at Darwin, are any facilities available for loading cattle onto normal cargo vessels from the existing wharf?
– The answer to the first question is “ No “. So far as my memory serves me, since 1947 there has been no shipment of cattle from Darwin by L.S.T. I think the honorable member may have in mind a recent shipment from the Ninety-nine Mile beach in Western Australia of cattle from Anna Plains station. Full particulars of that shipment are available in the files of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. So far as the Darwin wharf is concerned, with minor adjustments such as the construction of a race or ramp, there would be no great difficulty in shipping cattle from the existing wharf should the need arise.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Supply. Is the production of water and gas piping, galvanized iron, fencing wire and steel fencing posts, still short of Australia’s requirements? If so, will the Minister take the necessary action to ensure that no further permits shall be granted for the export of these products from Australia until the requirements of the home market are fully met?
– This matter has been raised before in this House, and it concerns the administration of my colleague the Minister for National Development.
I shall draw his attention to the honorable member’s question, and ensure that a reply is given to the honorable member.
– My question is directed to the Minister far the Army. In view of the statements of a national service trainee in a statutory declaration held by me, that in a recent military manoeuvre in which three national service trainees lost their lives, liquor was on board the vehicle concerned, the vehicle was overloaded and it had not been properly serviced, will the Minister examine the document with a view to holding a public inquiry into the circumstances, or appointing a parliamentary select committee to examine and report on all aspects of the disaster?
– If the honorable member will give me the statutory declaration to which he has referred, I shall examine the matters that he has -raised by way of question.
– I have the statutory declaration here, and I shall hand it to the Minister.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Territories by saying that I understand that one of the main reasons why cattle are not being shipped from Darwin is that there aire no holding paddocks or pasture areas close to the port. I understand that there is suitable country close to Darwin which could be treated for pasture improvement and so converted to suitable paddocks for holding and fattening cattle from the southern areas. Will the Minister inform honorable members whether any investigations ha ve been made along the lines that I have mentioned, and is any planning contemplated in that regard?
– Until comparatively recent months no need has arisen to ship cattle from Darwin, as most of the cattle from the territory are sent out by other routes. During recent months some discussions have ensued about the possibility of ‘reviving the export of cattle on the hoof to the Philippines. If that trade were revived it would be necessary to have holding paddocks in the vicinity of
Darwin, and I am sure that the Northern Territory Administration will give very close attention to the suggestions made by the honorable member.
– I address my question to the Minister acting for the Treasurer. In view of the fact that the amounts owing in respect of hire purchase agreements in Australia now total £129,000,000, which is 10 per cent, higher than it was six months ago, or £12,000,000 more than it was then, will the Minister consult with the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank with a view to directing the Commonwealth Bank and private trading banks to make more money available to co-operative building societies and private home builders and less available to those engaged in financing hire purchase agreements on the extensive and expanding scale that is now operating?
– I understood that some figures with regard to the allocations indicated by the honorable member were mentioned last week. I shall obtain the official figures in order to correct the impression that the Commonwealth Bank is withdrawing its support wholly or partly from co-operative building socities, or building in general.
– I did not say that.
– That has been suggested in the House, and I believe that the suggestion is entirely without foundation, but I shall get the figures and facts and put them before honorable members.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister Commerce and Agriculture lay on the table the file relating to the ban on the export of merino sheep, the subsequent departure from the terms of that ban, and the circumstances in which government officials have allowed the export of such sheep?
– I shall refer that matter to the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and see if the honorable gentleman’s request can be met.
– Will the Minister acting for the Postmaster-General ascertain when action may be taken to provide a rural automatic exchange at the village of Tharwa, in the Australian Capital Territory? A proposal to instal the exchange was deferred in July, 1952, for further consideration. Will he also state when automatic telephone facilities will be extended to the village of Hall and to the farming settlement of Ginninderra, which extension was promised for completion at the end of 1952?
– I shall obtain the information for the honorable gentleman, and let him have it as soon as possible.
– Earlier this year, the Minister for Supply was instrumental in bringing out from England an expert on the marketing of mica, with a view to advising the Government on the best method of putting the mica-mining industry in Central Australia on a sound basis. Can the Minister inform the House whether he has received the report of this expert, and if he has, what were its conclusions?
– I thought that a press statement on this matter was to have appeared this morning. What has happened is that a very distinguished English mica expert was brought out to advise the Government on the Australian mica industry. He made his report which, in due course, came to Cabinet. Yesterday, Cabinet made a decision on the matter, involving the re-organization of the mica pool on a co-operative basis with the people working in the industry and with some Government support, and the extension of the pool for five years. Other decisions were also made. We hope, in that way, to put the industry on its feet. If the press statement has not been issued, I shall let the honorable gentleman have a copy of it.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question concerning the growing danger to Australian security from the advance of communism towards South-East Asia, which has been given special emphasis by the Prime Minister’s own recent statement, by the Seato conference, and by the warnings of a Marshal of the Royal Air Force and others who speak with authority. Will the Government give early consideration to the urgent need for knowledge and understanding in Australia of the South-East Asian countries, where our frontiers may now be said to be, and about which most of us are lamentably ignorant, and the advantage which would accrue from a visit to those countries of a selected delegation of members of this House and the Senate? Will the Government consider sending such a delegation?
– The proposal made by the .honorable member will receive consideration. That is all I can say.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Is it true that a recent shipment of butter exported to Japan was rejected by Japanese health authorities as not fit for human consumption? Is it also true that the Japanese market up to this time constituted a substantial market for Australian butter? Has that market, due to the inferior nature of this product, been lost to Australia? If those are the facts, will the Minister take immediate steps’ to ensure that Australian exports of primary products shall be kept up to the requisite standard? Will he also ensure that the quality of butter shall be maintained, not only for consumption in Australia, but in order to improve Australia’s exports overseas ?
– I shall ascertain the facts in relation to the matters that the honorable member for Dalley has mentioned, but I can assure the House that close supervision is exercised over the export of all butter from this country, and that the quality of this product is always up to the standard thai is supposed to be maintained.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to Tuesday, the 12th October next, at 2.30 p.m.
That Order of the Day No. 1.-
– (Hon. Archie Cameron) . Order ! What is the point of order ?
– I shall state my point of order. Are you, Mr. Speaker, going to deal with the notice which I handed to you last evening in relation to business under Standing Order 106a?
– The standing order to which the Leader of the Opposiiton refers reads as follows : - 100a. A member may propose to the Speaker that a definite matter of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion Such a matter may be submitted to the House only after Petitions have been presented and Notices of Motion given and before the Business of the Day is called on. The Member proposing the matter shall present to the Speaker at least one hour before the time fixed for thu meeting of the House a written statement of the matter proposed to be discussed; and if the Speaker determines that it is in order, he shall read it to the House. The proposed discussion must be supported by eight members . . .
In this case, as I told the right honorable gentleman this morning, I have decided that it is not in order.
– You have decided that it is not in order, but you cannot tell the House-
– No, I am not obliged to tell the House.
– As you have ruled that something is not in order, I now propose to move dissent from your ruling.
– 1 simply say that the motion is out of order, because no point of order is involved. I ask thu Leader of the Opposition to resume his seat. He has spoken of a letter that he sent to me last night. I examined it, and as I told him by telephone this morning. I have decided that the matter which he desires to raise is sub judice, and, therefore, is not in order and cannot come be fore the House. So, in my view, no point of order is involved. I cannot bring it before the House, because Standing Order 106a provides that unless a matter is in order, I do not bring it before the House.
– I rise to order. You have really given two rulings, Mr. Speaker. You have ruled to be out of order something about which the House does not know, on the ground that the matter is sub judice. How can that be challenged by the House in its deliberative capacity? You have ruled, first, that the House cannot even know what the Chair has given its ruling upon. All that the House knows is that you have ruled a matter to be incompetent and out of order because it is sub judice. Secondly, with the greatest respect, you have by your conduct kept back from the House the substance of that very matter.
– I simply point out that the relevant standing . order provides that if the Speaker determines that the written statement of the matter proposed to be discussed is in order he shall read it to the House. It follows from that, that if the Speaker determines that the matter is not in order he shall not put it before the House.
– I again rise to order, Mr. Speaker. You have now given three rulings. First, you have ruled that because this is a pending matter it cannot be discussed by the House; secondly, you have kept back from the House, the substance of the matter which I proposed to raise, and, thirdly, you now claim that under the standing order, the Chair is the sole judge in this matter. Each of those decisions is a ruling. Honorable members opposite should listen to my submission, because their rights and the rights of the House might be involved. I move -
That Mr. Speaker’s ruling which precludes the discussion of the matter mentioned in the Leader of the Opposition’s letter to the Speaker dated 29th September, 1954, under Standing Order 100a and referring to the principles which will be placed before the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in the forthcoming case on margins, be dissented from.
– I second the motion.
– I rise to order. The motion that the ruling of Mr. Speaker be dissented from must, surely, he directed to a matter upon which the ruling of Mr. Speaker is open to canvass. In other words, on many occasions what arises is that the Speaker exercises a discretion or. gives an interpretation of words in the Standing Orders which are ambiguous or admit of argument. In those circumstances, the House can, on a motion, over-rule a decision of Mr. Speaker. I direct attention to Standing Order 106a, which is a new standing order, having been adopted on the 28th May, 1952, after it had been considered by the Standing Orders Committee. That standing order reads -
A member may propose to the Speaker that a definite matter of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion. Such a matter may be submitted to the House only after Petitions have been presented and Notices of Motion given and before the Business of the Day is called on. The Member proposing the matter shall present to the Speaker at least one hour before the time fixed for the meeting of the House a written statement of the matter proposed to be discussed; and if the Speaker determines that it is in order, he shall read it to the House. The proposed discussion must be supported by eight Members, including the proposer, rising in their places as indicating approval. The Speaker shall then call upon the Member who had proposed the matter to speak.
The key words there are “ and if the. Speaker determines that it is in order “. That, plainly, and nobody could argue about the matter, is a provision which leaves it to the Speaker and to nobody else to determine whether a matter is in order. This is a case of a completely unfettered discretion on the part of the Speaker and not the House, to determine whether a matter is in order. Therefore, what is involved here is a provision which leaves the decision to the Speaker; and it is an uncontrollable decision, because the whole discretion is reposed in the Speaker. Now sir, I put it to you that, where that is so, no motion to overrule the decision of Mr. Speaker can be in order because, if such a motion were made, and put and carried, it would amount to altering the Standing Orders. It would amount to saying “ if the House determines “, whereas Standing Order 106a says, “ if the Speaker determines “. The motion must be out of order because it may, in the event of it being carried, constitute an alteration of the Standing Orders themselves.
– Mr. Speaker, I rise to order. What the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said, in effect, is that the motion, which has to be determined by the House under Standing Order 101, cannot be determined. In other words, the Prime Minister begs the question. He gives his interpretation of Standing Order 106a, and, because he thinks that is the correct interpretation, he says the House cannot even review it, which is the real object of the motion of dissent. Let mc refer to the important standing order in connexion with any ruling of Mr. Speaker. It is Standing Order 101, which states -
If any objection is taken to the ruling of the Speaker, such objection must be taken at once and in writing-
That has been done. It continues - and a Motion of Dissent moved, which, if seconded, shall be proposed to the House, and debate thereon shall proceed forthwith.
That means that every ruling of Mr. Speaker can be objected to under the procedures outlined in Standing Order 101. Then, if that is done, the matter goes on to decision by the House, of which Mr. Speaker is the servant. I turn now to Standing Order 106a in order to examine the Prime Minister’s argument a little more closely. He says that it provides, as it does, that a member may propose to the Speaker that a definite matter of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion. These are the dominating words - that a definite matter of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion.
That provision replaces the old procedure for moving the adjournment of the House on such a matter. It is only if the matter is of urgent public importance that it may be debated, and, in the long run, it is the House, and not Mr. Speaker, which determines that. The standing order then goes on to indicate the procedure to be followed. The Prime Minister has pointed out quite correctly what has to be done. A written statement has to be sent to the Speaker within a certain time. The standing order then provides - if the Speaker determines that it is in order, he shall read it to the House.
It states, not that the matter shall be debated, but that the Speaker shall read it to the House. You, Mr. Speaker, refrained from reading the written statement to the House in this instance. The standing order does not provide that, if the Speaker determines that the matter is not in order, the House cannot examine it. That is a completely absurd construction to place on it, and the very question at issue on this motion of dissent from your ruling, Mr. Speaker, is whether that construction is right or wrong. If you ;give another ruling to uphold the Prime Minister’s opinion as to your final and exclusive authority under Standing Order 106a, we can move dissent from that ruling because the House does not accept the Prime Minister’s interpretation, or your interpretation, as final. There must be an opportunity ultimately for the House to determine the issue. I hope honorable members will follow that point. If the Prime Minister’s argument is right, the fact will be determined by the House on the motion of dissent. But the Prime Minister wants to short-circuit the argument on the meaning of Standing Order 106a in the light of the other provision. He hopes that Mr. Speaker’s assumption of the right to give a final and binding decision on the interpretation of Standing Order 106a will be confirmed irrevocably on his point of order. But that would only postpone the decision. If you rule in accordance with the Prime Minister’s contention that the motion of dissent is out of order, Mr. Speaker, an objection to that ruling, under Standing Order 101, would bring the same matter up again. Therefore, I ask you to allow the motion to be put to the House in order to determine whether the Prime Minister’s view is correct. We say it is wrong. I have not elaborated my argument, because all it means is that it is a convenient procedure for Mr. Speaker to say that the written statement of a matter of urgent public importance is in order and read it to the House. I submit that you, Mr. Speaker, cannot prevent the House from reviewing your decision by ruling the motion out of order. The purpose of Standing Order 101 is to enable the House to review such decisions. I ask you not to rule in favour of the Prime Minister’s point crf order, because objection to such a ruling would merely bring the original matter up for decision. Surely you could not rule that second motion of dissent out of order. Whilst this may seem to be a highly technical matter to honorable members if the actual provisions of the Standing Orders are not before them, all that is involved is the very important right, not of an individual member, but of the House, to review the ruling of Mr. Speaker in relation to another important right, which is given to every honorable member, to bring before the House a definite matter of urgent public importance by means of a procedure which has replaced the old method of submitting a formal motion for the adjournment of the House. I want the House to decide the extent of Mr. Speaker’s power in this matter ; I do not want the Prime Minister to prevent us from debating the point and reaching a decision on it.
– Mr. Speaker-
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! It appears that the House is tending to get a little out of control. I assure honorable gentlemen that I am in control, not only of myself, but also of the House.
– The last point mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) does not affect the point of order raised by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). In other words, members’ rights are not being infringed in any way. What matters in this case is that the House has made a decision, by confirming the recommendations of the Standing Orders Committee, and has thus given you, Mr. Speaker, certain power which only the House, by amending the Standing Orders, oan upset. This is not a matter for a motion of dissent. You, Mr. Speaker, a-re obeying the rules just the same as you, or the Chairman of Committees, obey the rules in the Standing Orders by calling upon one member when several rise with the object of addressing the House or the committee. The occupant of the chair, in his discretion, determines who has the right to be called. In effect, the matter is one for your choice and not a matter that is liable to dissent, because your power in this instance has been- decided by the House, which can deprive you of that power only by amending the Standing Orders.
– If the argument of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that you, Mr. Speaker, have an uncontrollable discretion in this matter is ‘right, then you could, if you exercised that discretion, prevent any proposals for the discussion of matters of urgent public importance from ever coming before the House. Honorable members could submit 20, 30 or 40 notices on as many different subjects, and you could refuse to permit any or all of them to be discussed. In that case, it would become farcical to have a provision in the Standing Orders to permit the discussion of urgent matters of public importance if the proposals are supported by a. certain number Off members. I am sure that- the provision–
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. Would you please mind exercising the same control over the House while members of the Opposition are speaking as you exercise when members of the Government are speaking?
-Order! I have called honorable members to order previously, and I may say that the next interjector will be named.
– If the Prime Minister’s contention is right, then we ought to forget all about the possibility of any honorable member raising urgent matters of public importance under Standing Order 106a at any time. We should have a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee and remove the whole provision from the Standing Orders, because the ruling that we are discussing will not apply to this occasion only. It is a ruling which will have .general application from now on, and it is a very dangerous ruling which we think the House ought to dissent from.
– I have heard the discussion, and I am bound to say that I agree with the point taken by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). It is my view that the Standing Orders Committee, and the House when it adopted the Standing Order in question, must have intended that Standing Order to mean what it says, in relation to a written statement of a matter proposed to be discussed, which is .that -
If the Speaker determines that it is in order, he shall read it to the House. :
If it is not in order, he does not read it to the House. Consequently, I did not read this letter to the House. I rule that the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) is out of order.
.: - I move -
That Mr. Speaker’s ruling upholding the Prime Minister’s point of order on the motion of ‘dissent moved >y the Leader of the Opposition be dissented from.
Dr. Evatt having submitted in writing his objection to the ruling,
– I second the motion.
– I do not propose to do more than state shortly the implications of the position taken by you, Mr. Speaker, in which you are supported by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). One of the fundamental rights given to honorable members, irrespective of party considerations, is that an honorable member, if he is supported by seven other honorable members rising in their places to indicate their support, may obtain discussion of a. matter of urgent public importance. The effect of the ruling is that that right shall depend on the discretion of the Speaker. The House already knows, broadly, the ground upon which you, Mr. Speaker, have acted. You indicated it earlier. I can understand that the Speaker might regard discussion on a matter pending in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration as being not permissible, but I think that that view is wrong. I informed you earlier Mr. Speaker, that I considered your decision to be wrong, and I indicated that the Opposition would canvass it in the House. We are bound to do that. I do not want to elaborate that matter at this stage, because a narrower point is now before the House. You, Mr. Speaker, with the support of the Prime Minister, claim the right to make a decision on a matter of this kind outside the House, without the opportunity for any discussion or for the House or honorable members generally to express a view, and you state that, that decision having been made, the matter is ended. That view is not in accordance with the terms of Standing Order 106a, although the standing order might be open to criticism on the grounds of ambiguity. It lays it down that if the Speaker determines that discussion of the matter proposed is in order, he shall read to the House the written statement of the matter handed in by the honorable member who proposed it for discussion, it does not follow that if the Speaker determines that discussion of the matter is out of order, that is the end of it. In the view of the Opposition, the matter is then before the House, on the normal reading of the words -
From those words has been built up the theory that, if Mr. Speaker, in his uncontrolled discretion, without hearing argument from the House, decides that the discussion of the subject proposed for discussion as a matter of urgent public importance, would not be in order, that is the end of it. That cannot be the end of it within the meaning of the words of Standing Order 106a, as they could be interpreted by the House after consideration. On this point, I rely on Standing Order 101, relative to objections to the rulings of the Speaker. You, Mr. Speaker, this morning ruled my proposal for discussion of a matter of urgent public importance out of order. From that ruling I moved dissent, in the following terms : -
That Mr. Speaker’s ruling, which precludes the discussion of the matter mentioned in the Leader of the Opposition’s letter to the Speaker, dated 29th September, 1954, under Standing Order 100a. and referring to the principles which will be placed before the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in the forthcoming case on margins, be dissented from.
You, sir, ruled discussion on the matter in question out of order on the ground that it related to a matter pending before the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. I submit that my motion of dissent from that ruling was in order. Standing Order 101, which relates to the main power of the House to object to rulings of the Speaker reads -
If any objection is taken to the ruling nf the Speaker, such objection must be taken at once and in writing, and a Motion of Dissent moved, which, if seconded, .-hall be proposed to the House, mid debate thereon shall proceed forthwith.
In short, the House must determine the validity of rulings given by the Speaker under every standing order. You, Mr. Speaker, have stated that you are the sole judge of the meaning of any standing order, and you are interpreting Standing Order 106a to mean that you have an unchallengeable discretion to decide the matter. The question before the House is : .Does the Speaker possess that unchallengeable discretion? I can understand the argument that he does possess it, but in the view of the Opposition that argument is wrong. Is the Speaker to lie the sole judge whether a matter proposed for discussion is in order? If he is to be the sole judge, the rights of honorable members will be limited. Therefore, I submit that this motion of dissent, which is consequential upon the Speaker’s upholding the Prime Minister’s point of order on the first motion of dissent, should be agreed to by the House. The position has been reduced to absurdity. You, Mr. Speaker, stated, in effect, “I am the sole judge”.
– Mr. Speaker did not say that.
– That is the effect of your ruling, sir. Standing Order 106a lays down the basic right of honorable members to obtain the discussion of matters of urgent public importance. You, Mr. Speaker, stated that as to whether matters proposed for discussion are in order you are the sole and absolute judge. That is a possible construction of Standing Order 106a, and the Prime Minister supports that interpretation. But the Opposition maintains that that interpretation of the standing order is wrong. Who is to determine the point?
– Order ! That matter is- not at present under discussion.
– I am aware that it is not. I submit that it is for the House to determine the matter. You, Mr. Speaker, in effect, say that you shall determine it, and you are supported by the Prime Minister. I state that your ruling on that matter, and all other rulings given by the Speaker in accordance with the Standing Orders, are subject to review in this House. ‘ The motion is not merely a technical one. It is important. To-day, margins are the subject of a proposal for discussion, and next week another matter of equally urgent public importance might be raised by an honorable member under Standing Order 106a. Margins are a question of vital importance.
– Order ! The Leader of the Opposition may not discuss margins in addressing himself to the motion now before the House.
– I am aware that I may not discuss margins at this stage, and I am not attempting to discuss them. I merely mentioned the subject-matter out of which this discussion arose. I ask honorable members to support the motion in order to preserve inviolate the right of the House to determine whether any ruling of the Speaker is correct. That is the basic right of honorable members under Standing Order 101. Your ruling, Mr. Speaker has challenged that right, and I regret to say that the ruling seems to have the support of the Prime Minister and Government supporters generally.
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the motion of dissent be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) put -
That the honorable member for Hindmarsh be suspended from the service of the House.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 10
Mr. Fuller having moved from his seat,
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the ruling of Mr. Speaker that the honorable member for Hindmarsh leave the buildingbe dissented from.
The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) thereupon withdrew from the chamber.
Dr. Evatt and Mr. Calwell rising in their places.
– I move -
That Order of the Day-
– I move -
That the Vice-President of the Executive Council be no longer heard.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman’s motion is out of order.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 29th September (aide page 1754).
.- Last evening, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) made out a case for the Government’s policy on social services. The position adopted by the Opposition is that the bill does not give justice to all those people who are entitled to justice.
Order! The honorable member will not be in order in replying to statements made in the second-reading debate.
– I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your intervention in this matter. I point out that approximately 350,000 pensioners will not receive any benefit from this legislation. Those people are good Australians. They have served Australia in industry and in war. They are the mothers and fathers of many Australians who served in World War II. They are the parents of a number of young Australians who are giving good service to this country in industry. Therefore, we think that their rights should be preserved and protected. But this Government is giving them no protection. We consider that the Government, if it has £36.000,000 to give away in the form of benefits, should not deny the claims of those people, who are entitled to at least an additional 10s. a week in order to give their pension the same purchasing power as it had in the days of the Chifley Government. The Government should not refuse those people an increase of 10s. a week.
We also believe that people who are over 70 years of age should get special consideration by way of the abolition of the means test. People who have passed the’ allotted span should receive the pension, and the means test should not be applied to them. I do not think that, on humanitarian grounds, that request could be refused. Many men aged 65 years, and many women aged 60 years, can do some work, and help themselves in various ways, but people, when they are over 70 years of age, must have assistance of various sorts. They have to pay for the assistance in order that they may continue to live, but the Government will not grant them a pension because they have some means. We think that state of affairs is altogether wrong. We believe that, as a corollary of these proposals of the Government child endowment payments should be increased. Child endowment in respect of the second and subsequent children of a family under the age of sixteen years has remained at 1.0s. a week since 194S. Yet the cost of keeping children-
– Order ! The honorable member’s remarks are outside the scope of this clause.
– No. The committee is considering the bill as a whole. I remind the Chair that the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser)–
– Order! The honorable member for Eden-Monaro moved an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill, and that has been dealt with by the House.
– That is right, but I submit that if the amendment was in order in the House, surely a passing reference may be made to it when the bill is being considered as a whole in committee.
– Yes, a passim; reference, but the honorable member may not canvass a decision made by the House.
– I shall not canvas.” anything beyond saying that there are certain corollary benefits which, we feel, should be given to persons entitled to social services benefits, and amongst those persons are civilian widow pensioners and the mothers of small children for whom they receive child endowment. We think that the whole social services payments should be reviewed sympathetically and that it is far better, if the Government has money to give away, for the money to be paid to those who need it most. That would be good from an economic standpoint, because the money would be spent Very little of it is saved. The fact is that social services payments are spent, and that helps the business of the community. It is a revolving expenditure. The money goes into and out of the bank accounts very quickly, and, to that degree, helps to maintain full employment. Some of the other benefits which the Government has given to the wealthy section have not the same beneficial effect upon the community life.
For those and other reasons which we have already advanced, we urge the Government, even though it will not concede our points now, to bring down a supplementary budget very soon, because it has grossly underestimated its revenues, and give the benefits in part at any rate, to this section of the community for whom we plead, and who, for the most part, are in the evening of their days. They have not been able to work for quite a number of years. Many of them did npt receive the high wages that are obtainable to-day, and any savings which they have were made when the basic wage was perhaps £6 10s. a week, or even £4 a week. Some of the savings may have been made in the depression days when the basic wage was only £3 a week, if the people were lucky enough to be working for £3 a week in those times. We believe that the whole weight of argument is on the side of more generous treatment for those people who have been forgotten in this year’s budget. They are the aged, the invalid and the civilian widows, and mothers with small children for whom they receive an inadequate amount of child endowment.
.- Mr. Chairman-
Attention having been called to the state of the committee, and the bells having been rung,
– I direct your attention, Mr. Chairman, to the fact that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) is leaving the chamber.
– Order! The honorable member for Henty must remain in the committee.
– I violently disagree with the approach of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) to this problem. He has obviously failed to make a proper appreciation of the situation. He has suggested that our social services legislation should be directed towards those persons who are most in need of assistance. Nobody disagrees with that statement. Everybody considers that our social services legislation should be directed towards giving the greatest- possible assistance to the people who need it most. The honorable member made his mistake when he suggested that it is the persons in receipt of a full pension who are most in need of assistance. That statement is absolutely untrue. An aged married couple receive from the Government in the form of pensions a joint income of £7 a week, and, in addition, are provided with medical and pharmaceutical services without charge to themselves. Some elderly couples also own their homes and personal effects, so that, with the combined pension and free medical and pharmaceutical services, they are not really badly off. I make that statement without fear of contradiction.
The people who are really suffering are those who have proved themselves to be the best citizens. They are the people who have endeavoured, by prudent management of their finances, to save some money for their old age. I referred last night to an old couple, who had been able to save £3,000 and invest it in government bonds at 3$ per cent., in the hope that it would provide them with some income to sustain them in their old age, so that they would not be a liability on the community. To-day, they are in an unenviable position. The £3,000 worth of bonds returns them an income of approximately £96 a year. Because they have property to the value of £3,000 they receive social services payments totalling only £104 a year, thus they have a joint income of less than £4 a week. That is an example of an anomaly. They would be better off financially if they threw the £3,000 worth of bonds into an incinerator, because immediately they destroyed their assets, they would be entitled to receive from the Government a total income of £7 a week. But social services anomalies have been even more serious in the past. I commend the Minister for his most humane approach to this problem. The married couple to whom I have referred have in the past been forced to live on a total income of £96 15s. a year, hut their income will be supplemented by the Government in future, and ;they will have the advantage of free medical and pharmaceutical services. They will be better off, and, indeed, every .pensioner will be better off because there is more social justice in Australia to-day than at any previous time in our history.
The Government frankly acknowledges that serious anomalies still exist in the social services field, but we are overcoming them in such a way as to benefit those people who have been described by the honorable member for Melbourne as the persons who are most in need of assistance. We are trying to help them. We are not trying to make the headlines in the newspapers, and get votes from =the poor old age pensioners, who have been described by the honorable member for Melbourne on many occasions as the pioneers of this country. We are not looking for votes. We are trying to treat the people justly and honestly, and to look after the section of the community which really needs help. The extremely vocal members of the Labour party claim that they are the only persons in this Parliament who have the interests of the pensioners at heart, but last night the honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. Cremean) told us-
– Order ! The honorable member may not refer to the second-reading debate on this bill.
– The Labour party has made it clear that the only time any social justice is achieved by legislation :in this Parliament is when Labour is in opposition. That is true. All the greatest social reforms in Australia have occurred when Liberal party and Australian Country party teams have been in power. They are the people who have shown -consideration for the pensioners, and have made the greatest single strides, in legislation, to bring about a state of social justice. This bill is in keeping with that record.
The Minister himself has frankly stated that we realize that anomalies will continue to arise. We shall iron them out as fast as the economy of the country will allow. We realize, and every responsible member of this Parliament realizes, that a government cannot with one stroke of the pen abolish every anomaly. There is a limit to which the economy of a country can be strained in making a contribution to social justice. I ask honorable members to keep in mind the fact that in this year alone payments from the National Welfare Fund will total approximately £184,000,000. We must also realize that only about 3,500,000 persons, who are the workers in the community, contribute to that fund. Those -people have’ to find all the money that is required to meet that cost. They have to contribute £1S4,000,000 a year to provide social justice in this country. Only as our economy expands, can the Government continue to contribute more to the National Welfare Fund. The Government is obliged to meet other commitments, such as for instance, those in respect of defence.
– Order! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the question before the Chair.
– I am indicating that there is a limit to the volume of money that can be provided for social services. In addition to defence, the Government has to meet commitments for national development and for the maintenance of our standard of living.
– Order! The honorable member is not entitled to make a second-reading speech in committee.
– The honorable member for Melbourne advanced many arguments that were completely specious. The Government must give first consideration in the provision of social justice to indigent people.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I should not have risen to speak had I not heard the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) say that the persons who have no other income apart from their pension of £3 10s. a week with which to provide for their upkeep were not the most deserving section in the -community.
– I did not say that.
– I do not desire to do the honorable member an injustice. He said that persons who have nothing but their pension on which to live were not entitled to first consideration. I do not know what sort of ivory tower the honorable member lives in. or the complexion of his electorate, but I assure him that if he tried to live on the pension of £3 10s. a week, or, in the case of a married couple a pension of £7 a week, he would soon find out which is the most deserving section in the community. There is, probably, a greater concentration in my electorate than in any other electorate of aged persons who have nothing but the pension to support them. I can say from personal experience that hundreds of age pensioners, particularly old ladies, are living in substandard rooms for which they pay rental from £1 to £2 and are endeavouring to meet their requirements of food and clothing with the balance of the pension. If the honorable member says that those persons are not a deserving section and are not suffering great hardships’ as a result of the inadequacy of the pension, all I can say is that he is living in an ivory tower and is not aware of what is going on in the world, or he deliberately neglects the claims of that section of the community. The Australian Labour party has taken the stand that the most deserving section of the community is entitled to first consideration, and that, undoubtedly, that section is composed of persons who have the smallest income. It is ordinary mathematics than the pension, regardless of the thriftiness through -which they may have acquired that income of only £3 10s. a week on which to maintain themselves. I say to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) who, perhaps, makes a more realistic approach to this problem than do some of his colleagues who deliberately neglect the claims of persons who are obliged to live on a pension of £3 10s., that if he had to live in a so-called furnished room of the type in which most pensioners are obliged to live and. pay for firewood in order to keep a fire going in such chill and damp con ditions, and, at the same time, try to feed and clothe himself on the pension, he would find that, without receiving outside help, it would not be possible for him to do so.
I know what I am talking about in this respect because the municipal council which controls the greater part of my electorate provides meals daily for pensioners in the Richmond Town Hall. Old people in that area, when they learned that that service was being provided, instantly took advantage of it. Old people, hardly able to walk, who were stuck in a single room staggered to the Richmond Town Hall to obtain a meal. The improvement in their health and energy was very noticeable a few weeks after they had been able to obtain at least one good nourishing meal daily. Numerous pensioners who are infirm and unable to get around are more or less incarcerated in sub-standard rooms. In the inner industrial areas of metropolitan districts, those persons form a considerable proportion of age pensioners. In some municipalities in Melbourne, a service known as “Meals on Wheels” is provided for age pensioners. The Red Cross Society co-operates in operating that scheme under which hot nourishing meals are provided at certain centres or are delivered to aged persons who are too ill to cook meals for themselves or who have not sufficient money to purchase firewood for that purpose. I should be only too pleased to take the honorable member for Lilley around my electorate and let him see at first hand how these persons are endeavouring to live on the pension. If he made such a visit, he would change his mind about the adequacy of the pension.
From my own personal knowledge I know that if the municipal council in my electorate did not provide pensioners with firewood free of charge during the winter months, or did not give them the opportunity to obtain a hot nourishing meal for a nominal charge of approximately ls. or, did not provide infirm pensioners with meals in their rooms, quite a number of those persons would die from sheer malnutrition. It is not only a question of the pensioners having sufficient money to purchase foodstuffs, but also a question of cooking meals and delivering them to pensioners who are too infirm to leave their rooms. The lives of thousands of pensioners are being considerably shortened and their happiness is being shattered because of the fact that they are unable to care- for themselves, or because of the fact that the pension is not sufficient to enable them to purchase the necessaries of life. Whatever has been the experience of the honor.orable member for Lilley, every member of the Opposition who represents a metropolitan electorate, particularly electorates which embrace industrial areas, oan assure him from their personal experience of the terrific hardship which the inadequacy of the present pension inflicts upon these persons. The lot of pensioners who have other income or who live with relatives is much easier, but thousands of pensioners in the capital cities are not living with relatives and are entirely dependent upon their pension. In most instances, they have to pay a high rental for sub-standard rooms. In slum areas, age pensioners are obliged to live in rooms for which they are being charged inordinate rental. At the same time, they are trying to maintain themselves on the balance of their pension. Of course, they find it impossible to do so.
I remind the Minister that the Government’s responsibility to this section of the community will not cease with the passage of this measure. If the Minister regards the Opposition’s arguments as being tinged with party politics and refuses to accept them, and if the Government is not prepared to appoint a joint parliamentary committee to inquire into this matter, he should arrange for somebody to investigate the position of these people whose plight I have mentioned. I am certain that if the Minister had an intimate knowledge of their difficulties, he would not be happy about introducing this measure under which no provision is being made for any increase in the rate of the age pension. It is still not too late for the Government to investigate this matter. It can always introduce Supplementary Estimates in order to make financial provision for various matters that may arise. Therefore, it should not wait until the next budget before it does justice to this section of the community.
I have engaged in much discussion on the means test, At one time, I was secretary of a public service organization and of a superannuated officers’ organization, both of which had the greatest interest in the means test. The problem of avoiding penalizing thrifty persons in this matter is difficult. Unless the means test is abolished, I do not know how the Government can do justice all round and, at the same time, avoid penalizing persons who have been thrifty or who have had the good fortune to acquire money, or property. But, however desirable it may be to avoid penalizing such persons, the first call upon the services of the nation must be that of those who are most deserving. Needs must be the criterion to be applied and must be the determining factor when the Government hands out money which it gathers from the taxpayers to provide social services benefits. I am surprised to hear any one argue that the most deserving section of the community is not those persons, who have no other income but the pension.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
I am sorry that almost all the members of the Opposition are absent from this debate and that. apparently, honorable members opposite are more eager to take party political points than to do something practical for the section of the community whose interests this measure seeks to serve. I was surprised that the honorable member for Yarra took the line that he did, because only a few months ago he supported Labour’s proposal for the complete abolition of the means test. If that proposal had been given effect to, it would have prejudiced the interests of those whom he professes - I think with genuineness - to be desirous of helping. Apparently, he does not see any contradiction in his attitude. I do not impugn his motives in the matter in any way at all.
I want to say something constructive to the committee. The most urgent matter towards which the Government is moving, and which, I believe, should not be prejudiced, is the provision of accommodation for elderly people. The proper accommodation of elderly people is the most important single factor that we have to face. That appeared quite clearly in the speech of the honorable member for Yarra, because he drew attention to housing difficulties. I want to make a concrete suggestion to the committee. The Government for the first time has set aside money to provide proper accommodation for elderly people. I believe that we can go further than that. We should be encouraging-
– Order ! If the honorable member is discussing homes for the aged, his remarks are obviously outside the scope of the bill.
– I am discussing the proper application of the moneys which the Government has at its disposal for this purpose. All these matters are connected. You have allowed debate on this subject previously, Mr. Chairman, and I suggest that I am in order-
– I have not allowed a second-reading debate, and I cannot allow discussion of this subject to become too wide. The honorable member must keep his remarks relevant to the subject before the committee.
– I rise to order, Mr. Chairman. The point that the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Went worth) is trying to make is the inadequacy of £3 10s. a week to provide proper accommodation for elderly people. He is urging that something be done in addition to the provision of a pension of £3 10s. a week.
– Order! The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) has not raised a point of order.
– I shall make a constructive suggestion in regard to. the subject-matter of this bill. I propose thai proper provision be made for aged people, and I point out that this is a bill to amend the Social Services Consolidation Act, which provides benefits for such people.
I suggest that it is possible for the Government, as part of its scheme for the development of the social services programme, the first instalment of which is now under consideration by the committee to the setting up of co-operative societies financed by debentures, which would be free of the means test. I have already been in communication with the Minister and the department in this regard, and he has agreed that housing debentures of this kind would count in the same way as the home of a pensioner in which he resides. If a pensioner used his money to take out debentures which would give him accommodation free of rent and other charges, those debentures would not count as property for means test purposes. I suggest that this is a method which could be very much more freely used because it would meet the case of those who have a little property in bonds or in some other form which they do not want to dissipate because they want to leave it to their children, but which, at present, debars them from the pension. If these people were able to invest that money in debentures which would give them proper accommodation for their lifetime, and which would not be dissipated on their death, so that they could leave it to their children, their lot would be very much improved. Provision of proper accommodation which is suited to the needs of elderly people is one of the most urgent tasks that lies before the country in dealing with the whole problem of how best, to help aged folks in the last years of their
Jives. Co-operative societies of the character which I have suggested would ensure not only that members would have more resources, but also that they would have a happier and fuller life.
I do not believe that our present public homes for elderly people are satisfactory. This comment refers to public homes, not to those private homes which are run by churches and other organizations and which, in many cases, are admirable. The large institution is wrong. The institution which separates a husband and a wife in the last years of their lives is wrong. I believe that, in the place of such homes, we could, with very little extra expenditure but simply by the better mobilization of the resources which are at our hands, set up a system of small groups of co-operative dwellings, preferably ground-floor flats with small gardens, where people could live together. A person who has £2,000 or £3,000 could invest it in a debenture, receive the full pension, live rent free, and at the same time form part of a group where people of the same age and interests could be brought together and where those who are incapacitated in the last years of their lives could more conveniently receive the nursing and similar services which they require. There could also be proper facilities for part-time employment; for example. These are the little things which make for happiness, because people in their old age do not want simply to be put on the scrap heap. Many of them would like to have light part-time duties which would bring them in a little extra income, which would not overtax their resources, and which would allow them to feel that they are still useful members of the community in which they have spent their earlier years.
– I support the assertion by the honorable member for Tarra (Mr. Keon) that- the most deserving sections of the community have been ignored by the Government in this bill. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. “Wentworth) has said that we have to approach the problem of social services from the point of view of the resources at our disposal. I suggest that we have to approach the problem from the point of view of the use of the resources at our disposal in the most just way. It can be said of this bill that it will merely make the betteroff relatively better off than they are now. It may also be said of this Government that the method that it has chosen to increase pensions under the bill is intended to cover the most people in the cheapest way. It will not necessarily administer justice in the way that the cost of the proposals warrants.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) has estimated that the extra costs will amount to £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 in a full year. The Opposition has pointed out that the cost of raising the basic rate of pension from £3 10s. to £4 a week would have been only about £13,000,000 a year. It would have been more just to raise the pension payable to those who have no other resources than to modify the means test in the way that the bill provides, because everybody who will benefit from the measure is already better off than persons who are entirely dependent on the pension. Therefore, it can be said logically that the aim of the Government, in increasing expenditure on social services, is, not to do justice to those who most need help, but to improve the lot of those who are already more favorably circumstanced than others. The Government proposes to do this in the name of thrift, or something of that kind. The modifications of the means test for which the bill provides are not altogether logical. The means test operates in two ways, as honorable members know. It operates in relation to property possessed by an applicant, and in relation to income from sources other than the pension.
What sort of logic is it that holds it to be more just to pay the full pension to a person who already has a separate income of £3 10s. a week than to pay only a part pension to somebody who owns property valued at between £200 and £1,750? What sort of logic is it that prescribes that one person who has invested in a superannuation fund, for example, and draws from that source a pension of £3 10s. a week or more, is more thrifty or more deserving of consideration than somebody, probably less fortunately circumstanced, who has accumulated a savings fund of between £200 and £1,750 ?
It is at least deniable that the proposal to raise the upper means test limit on the value of property from £1,250 to £1,750 will provide the maximum measure of justice in the distribution of the additional money to be provided for pensioners. Would it not have been more just to raise the floor level of the means test, as it were, rather than to adjust the ceiling level, so that people with property worth £500, instead of £200, would be able to draw the full rate of pension? All that this bill will accomplish in respect of the lower limit will be to exclude the first £200 worth of property instead of the first £100 worth.
There are two main strands of thought on the subject of social services and the means test. The first is the line to which the Opposition broadly supports which is that benefits should be based on social needs. The second, which the Government follows, is based on the abstract argument that thrift should not be penalized. I doubt whether honorable members on either side of the chamber have properly ironed out in their minds the pre-suppositions that underlie both these lines of thought. This leads me to suggest, as I have done previously in this chamber, that there ought to be a committee of inquiry into social services. Sometimes it is said that we spend approximately the same amount on social services as we spend on defence, but, of course, there is not necessarily any connexion between the two sums. The sum that ought to be spent on social services should be conditioned by the needs of members of the community at various stages of their existence - almost from the cradle to the grave, in the terms of the welfare state. I do not think that anybody will deny that this is the proper approach to the subject of social services.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C.F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 17
Further remarks having been inaudible,
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 12.50 to 2.15 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 28th September (vide page 1658), on motion by Mr. Francis -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Haylen had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “ That “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: -“a Parliamentary Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the decisions and interpretations made under Section 47 of the Repatriation Act.”
.- Mr. Speaker, during the course of this debate the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) made a speech, certain parts of which were extremely interesting to me because he praised the conduct of the Repatriation Department. He showed quite clearly the great consideration that is given by that department to the claims made upon it by ex-servicemen, and the great courtesy given by officers of the department to those who make the claims. Indeed, I believe that every honorable member will agree with the praise he gave to the department. That department is administered most efficiently and well. It does its work in a businesslike manner, and endeavours to do its best for all those who approach it. And its officers show the utmost courtesy to those with whom they deal. It is important to remember all that, when bearing in mind the suggestions that are contained in the amendment now before honorable members to the effect that the work of the department is not carried on well insofar as its administration of the onus of proof provision is concerned.
Before dealing with that matter, I point out that the honorable member for Ballarat said that during the progress of the investigation of claims on the department that he was interested in, it was indicated to him in certain ways that some of those claims were deficient in evidence but were possibly lawful and proper, and that if the necessary evidence were produced it should be possible to grant the claims. The honorable member stated that evidence had been produced, sometimes after a very difficult search, and in all cases but one the claims were granted. With regard to the claim that was not granted, the honorable member was told that while there was some doubt, that doubt was not sufficiently substantial to result in the claim being allowed. I again remind honorable members that the description of the Repatriation Department by the honorable member for Ballarat indicated the efficient manner in which the department approaches claims, and its constant endeavour to assist in obtaining sufficient evidence for claimants to enable them to obtain the great benefits of the Repatriation Act.
Not a great deal of evidence is needed, because of the onus of proof provision, to enable an applicant to establish a case for a pension or other relief. But the onus of proof section has been greatly misunderstood, and therefore, it is important to know just what its terms are. It indicates first that the benefit of any doubt should be given to an applicant; secondly, that all reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favour of the applicants ; and, thirdly, that the onus of proof should lie on the Repatriation Department. Having said those three things it does not go beyond them. But, in saying them it has said a tremendous amount in the favour of applicants, and towards helping them to have their claims allowed. However, the legislation does not indicate that all that it is necessary for an applicant to do, in order to get his pension or whatever else he might claim, is to put in an application. An applicant’s disability must have some relation to war service, and there must be some evidence it is due to that service before the repatriation tribunal. The whole speech of the honorable member for Ballarat showed quite clearly that the Repatriation Department is desirous of getting the minimum amount of evidence which should enable the onus of proof section to be applied so that the claim can be allowed.
I emphasize that interpretation of the section, because the interpretation of the onus of proof provision now being applied by the Government was the interpretation given to it when the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) was AttorneyGeneral in the Chifley Government. The right honorable gentleman interpreted it at that time in the way that I have given to the House. He said that it was to be applied according to its wording. In other words, the onus of proof should not be of such a nature that instead of there being an onus of proof in favour of the claimant there will be irrebuttable proof in his favour. The section does not mean that, and a great mistake is made by any person who imagines that an onus-of-proof provision means that the claimant’s adversary cannot win because there is irrebuttable proof in favour of the claimant. However, the Leader ofthe Opposition has given, in this House, that latter interpretation to the onus-of-proof provision ; he has not adhered to the interpretation that he gave when he held the responsible position of Attorney-General. The right honorable gentleman now says that the onus-of-proof provision means that if a disability can possibly be regarded as due to war service, the applicant’s claim must be granted. That is not the correct interpretation.
Let us consider how the Leader of the Opposition attempted to justify his present interpretation in the speech that he made on this measure. He put before honorable members some decision upon an English act, and said that a leading English judge had given that decision. I suggest that it is not disrespectful to that judge to say that his opinions are more frequently canvassed than those of perhaps any other judge in the British Empire. The Leader of the Opposition also quoted, in support of his case, an article in a law journal by a Mr. A. W. Riordan. That was the first time that I had ever heard of that gentleman being regarded as a legal authority. Nevertheless, on those two opinions he based the extravagant notion that he has put before the House. I prefer to base my opinion on the interpretation of the act by the right honorable gentleman when he was Attorney-General in 1946. At that time he was bound, as a responsible Minister of the Crown, to give a sound opinion, and not a vote catching opinion, which a tribunal would be able to act upon. I repeat that the opinion that he gave then was exactly the same as the opinion of the present Government, and is the working principle of repatriation tribunals. Therefore, the whole claim made in the amendment before honorable members falls to the ground.
I desire to inform honorable members how, in 1946, the gentleman who was Attorney-General came to state his opinion of the onus-of-proof provision. It is important to know that, because during the course of his remarks in the House in this debate the Leader of the Opposition was so bold as to call upon the name of justice. It is high time that people who call upon- justice, and do. not want justice, are shown up in their true colours. After the Leader of the Opposition, as AttorneyGeneral, had given his opinion about this matter in 1946, the then Minister for Repatriation stated that he would not act on the opinion because it was not his view of the interpretation of the section. He said in effect, that he was not so favorable to the returned soldier as the interpretation indicated, and that he would not act on it. The then Minister for Repatriation thereupon dismissed the tribunal which had sought the opinion from the Attorney-General. What did the then Attorney-General, who called on this House in the name of justice, then do ? Of course, as well as being AttorneyGeneral at that time he was Minister for External Affairs, and was enjoying himself touring around the world with all the perquisites of a great position in the land. Did the right honorable gentleman say “ Justice must fee done. I shall resign my office. I shall make a stand for justice “ ? What a magnificent opportunity for any man who believed in justice to stand up for it and say “ Here is an injustice to returned soldiers, and I am prepared to sacrifice myself to get justice for them “ ! However, the right honorable gentleman did not find it convenient to do so; and that is his value of justice - convenience.
I now pass to another subject, the method of operation of this Government as contrasted with the methods of previous governments. As I have said already, the conduct of the Repatriation Department under the present Minister has been most praiseworthy, and the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) indicated how clearly that was so in his factual speech. What a contrast there is between the administration of the department now and its shocking administration under Labour repatriation Ministers, when there were cries for royal commissions into its administration! Indeed, when election time came round in 1946 and 1949 the Labour Ministers for repatriation lost their seats.
With regard to the manner in which pensions have been granted by the Government, I refer to the position of totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen and point out that after this Government assumed office the special rate pension for those ex-servicemen was immediately made double the general rate pension, and has continued so ever since. In fact, the special rate pension has advanced a little too quickly compared with the general rate pension, and because of that the Government proposes to increase the general rate pension under this measure. Notwithstanding the proposed increase the special rate pension will continue to remain more than double the general rate pension. Let us see whether or not the increases of the special rate pension have kept pace with rises in the cost of living. In 1920, when war pension rates were overhauled, the top rate for totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners was fixed at £4. The cost of living index figure was then 1022, compared with the present figure of 3324. If the 1920 pension of £4 a week were taken as a base, and increased in accordance with the cost of living increases that have occurred since 1920, the present pension would be £9 2s., whereas in fact special rate pensioners to-day receive £9 5s., which is 3s. more than they would receive if their pensions had been fixed strictly according to the level of the cost of living.
It is equally illuminating to compare conditions in 1949, the last year of the Labour Government’s term of office, with present conditions. In 1949 the special rate pension was £5 6s. Had it been increased strictly in accordance with the cost of living figures it would now be £8 15s. 6d., but it is actually £9 5s. The special rate pension to-day, therefore, is 9s. 6d. higher in value than the similar pension paid under the Chifley Government. The reason for that hig discrepancy is that in 1949 Mr. Chifley refused to “increase pensions. It was in - that year that the cost of living began to jump rapidly. Cost of living index figures rose by about 10 per cent, in 1949, and one would have thought that the Chifley Government, in the light of that fact, would have given better treatment to service pensioners. But Mr. Chifley said that he would grant them no increase of pension. It is because of the harsh attitude of the Chifley’ Government in 1949, and the shocking maladministration of the Repatriation Department under that Government, that exservicemen have no faith in the Labour party. We may profitably contrast the position in 1949 not only with the administration of the department to-day, but also with the fact that in each year of this Government’s term, of office some increase of pension rates has been granted.
.- The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) attempted to make out a good case for the defendant, in this instance the Government, which stands charged with neglect of its duties and failure to honour the promises that it made to exservicemen. The honorable gentleman, however, did not succeed in freeing the Government of guilt. I join with the honorable member in praising the officers of the Repatriation Department in respect of their attitude to the onusofproof provision in the legislation. In fact, I have nothing but praise for the officers of every government department with which I have had dealings officially as a member of Parliament. The service and courtesy that departmental officers give is most praiseworthy. But the officers of the Repatriation Department are not responsible for the interpretation of section 47 of the act, which contains the onus-of-proof provision. That responsibility lies with the entitlement appeal tribunals. So, we are not making any charge against the departmental officers. Our charge is against the people who interpret the onus-of-proof provision. I shall refer to that matter later.
We know that the Government has failed to honour the promises that it made to ex-servicemen. The parties now in office promised that they would increase pensions, and would see that such increases as they gave would retain their value. They said that when they granted an increase of ls., that increase would be actually worth ls. We know that that has not been the case. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in his 1949 policy speech, spoke about repatriation. I shall quote his statement so that honorable members may be able to judge to what degree the promise it contains has been honoured. 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 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.
It would be possible to contradict every line of that statement by reference to events that have occurred since it was made, and to prove that the promise has not been carried out. The pension paid to the ex-servicemen to-day has nowhere near the value that it had when the Labour party was in office.
I propose to support the amendments that the Opposition intends to move to this measure. Our reason for moving the amendments is that they are in line with the requirements of the exservicemen’s organizations. The Labour party supports the policy of those organizations, and the projected amendments will give to the ex-servicemen in the Government’s ranks, to whom the Prime Minister ha3 so often referred, an opportunity to vote for an increase of pension and a measure of justice that we believe exservicemen lack. Before speaking further about the amendments, I wish, however, to refer to some statements that were made by the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison). He did not put up much of a case for the Government. He was mostly illogical. His arguments were factless. His speech was a mixture of bluff and boloney. He tried to bulldoze an argument across, but he did it mainly for the amusement of the honorable members who sit behind him. He criticized the Labour Government, and actually said that when Labour had the opportunity to help the soldiers it failed to do so. He claimed that the Labour party did little about the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen after the last war. As a matter of fact, the achievements of the Labour Government in rehabilitating the ex-servicemen after World War II. were the greatest in the history of repatriation in this country. A comparison of the Labour party’s achievements in rehabilitation after the last war, with the rehabilitation achievements of the non-labour government that was in office immediately after World War I. shows that the non-Labour Government’s efforts compare unfavorably with those of the Labour Government. The Chifley Labour Government went so far as to establish a Ministry of Post-war Reconstruction. The work of that ministry, and the names of the men associated with it, will go down in Australian history. The names of these men are immortal. Among them were Mr. Curtin, Mr. Chifley and another man whose name is sometimes despised in this chamber. I refer to Mr. J. J. Dedman, who was Minister for Post-war Reconstruction in the Chifley Government. His name also will live in history because of the work he did in connexion with post-war reconstruction. A publication which was issued in 1949 by the Ministry of Postwar Reconstruction sets out details of the good work of the Labour party in rehabilitating ex-servicemen after demobilization, so as to fit them for a return to civilian life. It says -
Since our last “ Report to the People “ - in August, 1947 - there has been significant progress in the re-establishment of exservicemen’ and women.
A measure of the extent of assistance over the whole field of re-establishment is gained from the money spent on it - £78,250,04.2 to the 31st March this year. This represents an increase of nearly £50,000,000 in two years: the figure in May, 1047, being £28,062,406.
Representative leaders of all sections of the community, as well as ex-servicemen and women, are unanimous in their praise of the success attending the over-all re-establishment programme.
C.R.T.S. The Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme commenced in March, 1944.
Since that date the Scheme has developed steadily into a Commonwealth-wide organization working under a democratic administration of representative committees and providing free tuition and living allowances for a small army of trainees.
At the end of March this year more than 150,000 ex-servicemen and women were engaged in full and part-time training at Universities, Technical Colleges, Rural Training Centres anr! at approved training institutions: a total of more than 320.000 ex-servicemen and women and war widows had been accepted for training.
It is well known that many of the men who returned from the front received, as a result of the Labour Government’s rehabilitation scheme, the first opportunity they had had in their lives to learn a trade or profession. The success of the scheme is shown in the following statement regarding the chief scholarship.? available in Australia. It reads -
The Rhodes Scholarship, highest University honour in Australia, has been almost monopolised since 1945 by C.R.T.S. student?. Seventeen of the 30 Scholarships awarded since that date have been won by C.R.T.S. exservicemen.
That was made possible because the Labour Government had made the necessary provision. That Government had a plan for the rehabilitation of exservicemen, and every man who returned from the war got an opportunity under Labour’s rehabilitation scheme, to fit himself for civilian life. I had experience of how the scheme operated in the Commonwealth Public Service, when I worked in the Postal Department. That department provided a school to give refresher courses to every returned man. The men who attended the school were paid full award wages for up to twelve months while they took the course. They were given excellent training. Not only did the Labour Party have a training scheme to fit returned men for employment in industry, but it also adopted a policy of full employment. For the first time in the history of Australia we had, after World War II., a position in which everybody, including ex-servicemen, could get jobs if they wanted them. The records show that never before in Australia’s history had this country enjoyed full employment. The first non-Labour Government that was in office after World War I., which was not known as a “ Liberal “ Government, because non-
Labour forces have adopted many aliases in the past in an effort to cloak their bad records, did no such fine work in the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen. I have some newspaper clippings that will support that statement. Many of us know, from practical experience, that after World War I. many returned soldiers were forced to hawk bootlaces and toothpaste from door to door in an effort to earn a living. They were, to all intents and purposes, driven to begging for their livelihood. The plain truth of the matter is that they were reduced to begging.
I have been delving into history, with some interesting results. I find that the Melbourne Argus of the 4th April, 1922, reported the visit of a deputation of mayors representing 26 municipalities, headed by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, to the Victorian Premier to urge the Victorian Government to co-operate in providing as much work as possible for unemployed ex-servicemen. The deputation also tried to see the Prime Minister, Mr. Hughes, but was unable to do so. The Lord Mayor informed the Premier that between 1,100 and 1,200 returned men with families were on the verge of starvation. The Argus reported the Lord Mayor of Melbourne as having said of unemployed ex-servicemen -
With the approach of winter their outlook is not a happy one. They want work, nol charity … It is necessary for the Government to take a serious view of the unemployed “ Digger “ and assist the municipalities in their efforts to find him work.
Those conditions existed when a Liberal government was in office after World War I. A comparison between the attitude of the Labour Government to exservicemen after World War II., and the attitude of a Liberal government to exservicemen after World War I., convinces us that the Liberal party has always shown lack of sympathy for them. The conditions under which many exservicemen lived after World War I. were positively disgraceful. I could read evidence for a long time on the lack of consideration shown by the Liberal party for ex-servicemen.
I shall now discuss reasons why repatriation benefits should be increased substantially. The Labour party suggests that ex-servicemen should receive more than the benefits proposed in this bill. I shall read a letter which I have received, not from an ex-serviceman, but from the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers’ Association of New South Wales. Some eminent persons are associated with that organization. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) is one of the patrons, and I note that the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) is numbered among the distinguished persons who hold office on its executive. I do not know why the association continues to retain him as an office bearer, in view of the manner in which he has neglected its claims. The union of which I was the president would have got rid of me, if I had not backed its claims. I think that the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers’ Association of New South Wales should review the position of the Vice-President of the Executive Council after he votes against the amendments that are to be moved by the honorable member for Parkes. The letter that I received from that association reads as follows: -
I am directed by the members of this Association to write to you in protest against the omission by the present Government to make any provision for an increase in the Special Bate Pension. We know that provision has been made for an increase in the Base Kate Pension. How the Government can justify its failure to provide for an adjustment to meet the spiralling cost of living for totally and permanently disabled exservicemen is completely and utterly beyond us, particularly as many of the members of the Government are themselves ex-servicemen, and know what all of us should realize, that without the ex-servicemen, this Australia, of which we are so proud, could be no longer free - this British Empire, to which we all owe allegiance, would no longer exist.
It is apparent to the meanest intelligence that any person who is in receipt of a War Pension AND IS ABLE TO EARN receives cost of living adjustments in the very salary or wage which he does earn. On Hie other side of this very inequitable balance we find the Special rate pensioner, who is unable to earn, who is thrown on the industrial scrapheap, who endures without complaint the disabilities, the vicissitudes, the illnesses and the pains attributable solely to his war service, and who we find has been completely and utterly neglected by the Government in its proposals for the forthcoming budget.
Also markedly conspicuous by its absence is any attempt on the part of the Government ‘ to provide any medical and hospital benefits for the wives of totally disabled ex-servicemen - women who have themselves borne a large part of the impact of war, through the illnesses and disabilities which their husbands suffer. Who have themselves borne with fortitude the arduous task of nursing sick and ailing men, men, I repeat, whose bodies are maimed because of their service to their grateful (?) country.
My committee and my members know that this sin of omission is not done by the will of the people whom you and your fellow Party members represent. We feel that you may, with us, regard this as an issue which is above Party politics. We feel that you will be sufficiently interested to inquire into this matter. We hope that you may be stirred by this letter to raise the matter on the Floor of the House when Repatriation matters under the Budget are being discussed.
If the House is told in no uncertain terms that it is to these men and their comrades in arms, some of whom were fortunate enough to come through the war unscathed, that they owe the fact that they have a country to govern, then perhaps the necessary amendments will be made to the proposed Budget, and what is only bare justice can bc done.
In conformity with, the request of that organization, the Opposition proposes to endeavour to have incorporated in the bill amendments to give effect to those matters. Government supporters who are exservicemen will have an opportunity to comply with the wishes of their friends.
The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) has tried to prove that repatriation benefits are adequate. If he examines the position, he will find that the purchasing power of repatriation pensions has never been lower than it is at the present time. The totally and permanently incapacitated pension in 1920 was 10 per cent, above the basic wage, and to-day is 23 per cent, below the basic wage. That reduction is vital. When the Labour Party was in office in 1949, the purchasing power of the totally and permanently incapacitated pension was greater than the proposed rate in this bill. The basic wage in 1949 was £6 4s. a week, and the rate of the totally and permanently incapacitated pension was £5 6s. a week. The totally and permanently incapacitated pension was 85 per cent, of the basic wage in that year, but the present rate of £9 5s. is only 78 per cent, of the basic wage of £11 18s. a week. In view of the reduced purchasing power of money, ex-servicemen’s organizations have a just claim for a greater increase of benefits than is proposed in this bill. The Labour party, on their behalf, will attempt to amend the bill accordingly. Persons injured in industry receive greater compensation than is paid to ex-servicemen who are now suffering serious disabilities as a result of their war service.
I shall now make some comparisons in respect of the base rate pension. These comparisons are taken from the 37th annual report of the federal executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. Under this bill, the base rate pension is to be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, but the purchasing power of the pension will still be inadequate.
– Is the honorable member referring to the latest report?
– I shall give the latest information. In 1952, when this report was printed, the base rate pension was 35.2 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1949, when the Labour party was in office, the base rate pension was 44.3 per cent, of the basic wage. The Labour Government did not have an opportunity to increase the base rate pension in relation to the basic wage, as it would have done, if it had not been defeated in the general election in that year. The new base rate pension is to be £4 10s. a week, and the basic wage is £11 18s. a week, so that the pension will be only 38.6 per cent, of the basic wage. Any comparisons that honorable members opposite like to make will only prove that ex-servicemen were better off under the Labour Government. °
Time will not permit me to discuss all the matters that I should like to raise on this bill, but I desire to direct attention to section 101 (1.) (c) of the Repatriation Act, which relates to persons who serve in theatres of war outside Australia in the forces of another member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. One of my constituents has the great honour and distinction to have served in the forces of Canada, and he was awarded a pension by the Canadian Government for the disabilities that he suffered in that war. He came to Australia, fought in the next war, and again suffered a disability. But the pension which he receives from the Australian Government in respect of the second disability is reduced by the amount of the pension that he receives from the Canadian Government in respect of the first disability. I believe that a man who is courageous enough to fight in two wars, and is granted pensions in respect of disabilities suffered in each of them, should be entitled to receive the full pensions. I ask the Government to reconsider this matter. The Repatriation Department cannot tell me how many ex-servicemen are affected, but the number would not be large. The additional cost would not bc substantial if the Government paid them the full pension.
I should now like to refer briefly to the professional and vocational training scheme for ex-servicemen. One of my constituents was in the Australian Regular Army. He served in Malaya for about eighteen months, and when he returned to Australia he remained in the Regular Army for over two years. He is now about to be discharged, but he is not eligible to receive training under the scheme, because the act provides that ho must make application for training within a period of two years. This young man. is about to be married, and he is eager to learn carpentry. Under present conditions, he is not eligible for the allowances and privileges provided under the act. I believe that a man who serves in the Army for six years, including service in Korea, should be entitled to that right even if his need for it arises three years after the date of his discharge.
I support the claims of the exservicemen, and I shall have great pleasure in supporting the amendments that have been forecast by the honorable member for Parkes on behalf of the Opposition. I have already stated reasons why Government supporters, who are exservicemen, should also support those amendments. They are completely just. The first of them seeks to provide that -
The object of the Opposition in proposing that amendment is to give to permanently and totally incapacitated ex-servicemen a pension the value of which will be more in keeping with the present cost of living. Secondly, the Opposition intends to move an amendment in order to provide -
That the pension of a partially blinded soldier who has lost an eye, or the sight of an eye or who is suffering 50 per cent, loss of efficiency from an eye injury bc classified as 75 per cent, to bring him on the same level as a limbless soldier who has lost an arm below the elbow or a leg below the knee.
Whilst surgical appliances are available to assist to some degree the armless exserviceman, no similar assistance can be given to an ex-servicemen who has lost an eye.
– -Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I think that it is quite obvious that those honorable members with the least responsibility unfailingly put forward the viewthat makes the greatest appeal to the greatest number; and I regret to have to admit that that greatest number has a voting power to which such honorable members make their appeal. I am rather disturbed that the repatriation of our ex-service men and women should be discussed in that strain every year in this House, and is regarded not as being the sacred obligation of all parties, but as an expedient to gain party political advantage. There is no escaping that fact. The pious platitudes of honorable members opposite and their appeals to keep this subject out of party politics are nauseating.
– Satan reproving sin.
– I do not claim to be “ Holier than thou “. I certainly use a little party political matter in this House, but such matter that I do use is always factual. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis), in his secondreading speech, simply set out the advantages and improvements which the Government seeks to provide under this bill. The measure is simple, and it should not be held up indefinitely, as I am afraid would be the case if the Opposition had its way. However, in spite of the simplicity of the measure, honorable members opposite have brought forward a pathetically weak instrument which they have dignified with the description of an amendment, and their only purpose in doing so is to try to delay the granting of these proposed increases of service pensions. I believe that I know the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) well enough to disbelieve that he, personally, could be responsible for this absurdly weak thing which the Opposition calls an amendment. I believe that it has been born of desperation in the Opposition caucus room, and that when honorable members opposite tossed up to see who should bear the odium of presenting it to this House the honorable member for Parkes lost out. The amendment proposes that all words after “That” be left out, and if it were carried it would moan that the whole bill would be scrapped. And for what purpose? The Opposition asks us to follow that course in order that a parliamentary select committee may be appointed to investigate decisions and interpretations made under section 47 of the principal actHonorable members opposite have not told the House why that section could not be debated after this measure had been passed. What is to prevent such an investigation, as the Opposition proposes, from being made at any time? Why does the Opposition desire to hold up this bill? Such a committee, as I have said, could be set up at any time to consider .the matters indicated. But why should honorable members opposite, simply as a means of making party political capital, ask the House to hold up the bill indefinitely?
The weakness of the amendment was revealed by the manner in which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) entered the lists. He did not participate in the debate in an endeavour to improve the bill or to say anything about it, but lie recognized the weakness of the case that the honorable member for Parkes had put up and he desired to defend that honorable member from attack. What was the result of this intervention on the part of the Leader of the Opposition ? He gave a long dissertation on the amendment which caused greater confusion in the minds of the people. Perhaps, many people do not know that the Leader of the Opposition is a doctor of laws. If he were asked to interpret, an intricate legal matter and some layman, or even a medical ‘practitioner, criticized his interpretation, he would have nothing but contempt for them. Yet, he does not hesitate to cast aspersions upon the sincerity of purpose of medical specialists in their interpretation of section 47 of the principal act. The right honorable gentleman made a flat statement in this ‘ House that those specialists do not properly interpret that section either in the letter or in the spirit. I reiterate, for the benefit of those persons outside who may be deceived by the right honorable gentleman’s title, that he is a doctor of laws and that he knows nothing about medicine. He was guilty of making a most cowardly attack upon the members of the repatriation tribunals, when, as a layman in the medical sense, he said that those specialists were not sincere. Ho could not possibly be qualified, unless he possessed medical knowledge equal to that possessed by those whom he criticized, to say that certain disabilities can or cannot be attributed to war service.
The various repatriation tribunals must make their judgments on the evidence that is presented to them and if the medical officers cannot attribute a disability to war service, a tribunal has no alternative but to act on that evidence. I deplore the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, who does not possess any medical qualifications whatsoever has, over the air roundly condemned .the Repatriation Commission and said that it was not doing its job. My experience has been that the repatriation tribunals are meticulous in their desire not to miss a single link in arriving at their determinations. I, personally, have handled cases before those tribunals and I know that, however much in need the soldier may be, a tribunal invariably determines, on the evidence presented to it, whether a disability is attributable to war. service or not. I have heard of the most fantastic claims being made. I do not need to be told of the case of the man who was shot in the too, and who later got an abscess in his ear and claimed that the latter disability was attributable to service in World War I. 40 years ago. All honorable members have heard of absurd claims that have been made. The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) and other honorable members opposite, have made allegations against the sincerity of medical specialists. Obviously, in this matter, those honorable members do not know what day it is. It is an accepted principle of British justice that even if nine guilty men are allowed to go free one innocent person should not be convicted. Applying that principle in this instance, it is better that nine applications should go through the repatriation tribunal, perhaps unjustifiably, rather than that one deserving case should be rejected. It can be agreed that some undeserving cases get through and that a deserving case here and there is rejected. But who is in a position, other than the medical officers concerned, to say that that is actually the case? I believe that whenever a reasonable doubt exists in respect of any application, the repatriation tribunals invariably give the benefit of the doubt to the applicant. However, I repeat that when no doubt arises, no matter how deserving the case may be, the tribunals must decide against the applicant. I do not say that it is not the responsibility of the authorities to find other means of compensating such a man. Nevertheless, when a tribunal is tied down to a specific method of dealing_with matters of this kind, it is cowardly for any honorable member to condemn it, particularly when such an honorable member cannot know anything about the medical history of particular applicants. I dissociate myself entirely from the Opposition’s contention that misinterpretations of section 47 of the principal act on the part of repatriation tribunals are rampant. I have had experience to the contrary.
Members of the Opposition have been entirely dishonest in their endeavour to relate the rate of the war pension to the basic wage. That practice has not previously been followed. The exservicemen’s organizations, themselves, objected to any proposal to relate the rate of pension to the basic wage. That objection was based on the same ground which Mr. Chifley advanced for dissociating the ordinary age and invalid pension from the cost of living. Pensioners would not desire such a system because they fear that if the cost of living declined the rate of pension would be correspondingly decreased. I emphasize that a pension, is not given to an ex-serviceman as a means of living but as compensations for a disability that he has suffered as a. result of war service. No one would say that some honorable members who receive a war pension are really in need of it.. Similarly, there are individuals with an income of up to £20,000 a year who’ are in receipt of a war pension. Thus, the argument that has been advanced by the members of the Opposition in this matter is false. It has been presented solely with the object of misleadingpeople who know nothing about the subject. The pension is payable throughout the life of the recipient as compensation: for a disability that he suffered in the defence of his country.
– Whether he can live on it or not.
– He is not expected to live on it.
Now I want to deal with the paymentsto totally and permanently incapacitated’ ex-servicemen. For want of a better term, I shall use again that word that I have used rather frequently to-day - cowardly. It is cowardly of the Opposition to protest that totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen have been neglected by the Government in this year’s budget. Honorable members opposite say that these pensioners, who are suffering all the ills of the world, have been callously neglected and’ thrown to the wolves. Although they go on with that sort of talk, not one of them has had the courage to say how much a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner receives. The least that is paid to a single pensioner in this category is £9 5s. a week. No honorable member opposite has said that a single man, if he is so badly incapacitated as to need transport, receives in addition an allowance of £10 a month, which raises his income to £11 lis. a week. A totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner with a wife but no children is paid £13 6s. a week. Anybody on the Opposition side of the House who has the temerity to say that two people cannot live on £13 6s. a week might as well give the game away. A married man who is eligible for the transport allowance is entitled also to claim £1 15s. a week on behalf of his wife as an attendant’s allowance. If he has one child, his total income is raised to £16 15s. 3d. a week. That is why the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman does not join with the Opposition in shedding crocodile tears on his own behalf. Honorable members opposite are merely trying to gain a cowardly advantage for themselves. They are using these unfortunate men as mere tools in a political game in order to influence the voters at future elections.
– What about the letter we have quoted?
– How many years old is that letter? It referred to the Governor-General, but obviously it was not the present Governor-General, and the letter was probably written before World War II.
I admit that we cannot go forward by looking backward, but I think I should be dishonest to myself if I refrained from applying the test of sincerity to the Opposition in this instance. Let us recall the time when there was a Labour government in office. These honorable gentlemen who pretend to feel so keenly for the poor ex-serviceman to-day, and who are so determined that section 47 of the Repatriation Act shall be implemented both in spirit and in the letter, have no cause to be proud of the former Labour Government’s administration of that act. I took part in a debate on this subject some years ago, as you probably did, too, Mr. Speaker, and I vividly recall the ruthless treatment of a war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal by the Minister for Repatriation at that time. That tribunal decided thai section 47 of the act should apply both in the spirit and in the letter. The Labour Government objected to that. During the debate which I have mentioned, copies of letters exchanged between the Minister and the tribunal were produced in this chamber. They showed that, because the tribunal had insisted on interpreting section 47 as it should have been interpreted, it was dismissed forthwith. It had no chance to defend itself. It was not allowed to do so. The Minister told it to come to heel or be sacked. But the members were honorable and honest men, and they insisted on carrying out their duty as they saw it, and so they were discharged forthwith by that Labour Government, some of whose members and supporters are seeking to have the bill now before the House postponed in order that a committee may consider the proper interpretation of section 47 of the Repatriation Act - the very section that was the cause of the unjust dismissal of the tribunal that I have mentioned. I know that we shall not get anywhere by going back over the years like this, but I have mentioned these facts in order to expose the lack of sincerity of honorable members opposite. The amendment that has been proposed on their behalf is shameful. Other amendments have been foreshadowed for the committee stage, which shows that they recognize the weakness of the one now before the House. I cannot believe that a gentleman of the calibre of the honorable member for Parkes could himself be in any sense responsible for such a stupid proposal.
Mr. STEWART (Lang) [3.211.- It seems rather odd that a gentleman who has been in this House for such a long time as the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), and who acts as Speaker in your absence, Mr. Speaker, should have so little knowledge of the forms of the House as to chide my colleague, the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), for having moved an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill. The honorable member must know that the forms of the House demanded that this amendment be moved during the second-reading stage and that further amendments, which the Opposition contemplates, be moved during the committee stage. But it is typical of the attitude of many members on the Government side of the House that they bypass the truth in order to gain some political advantage. Together with all other members of the Opposition, I must protest against the proposed meagre increase for one section of war pensioners and the complete ignoring of the most worthy of these men - the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, the blinded ex-servicemen and the tubercular ex-servicemen.
The proposed increase of the basic rate of pension is far below the amount requested by the various ex-servicemen’s organizations. The claims of the exservicemen who are covered by the second schedule to the Repatriation Act have not been recognized by the Government, and they are not to be given any increase. Yet this Government claims that it is interested in the welfare of exservicemen ! I shall quote from the policy speech delivered by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in 1949 in order to expose the pretexts which helped this Government to gain office. The right honorable gentleman said at that time -
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.
Many honorable members on the Government side of the House have distinguished war records, and I give credit to them on that account. However, they have formed themselves into a committee which is known as the Government members ex-servicemen’s committee. This committee is supposed to safeguard the welfare and interests of ex-servicemen, but the actions of its members over the past few weeks have shown that they are mainly concerned with the fact that its existence enables them to parade and preen themselves as ex-servicemen. They have failed to make any protest against the refusal of the Government to grant any increase of the pension payable to totally and permanently incapacitated and other ex-servicemen, but they were very loud in their condemnation of the Government for its decision to curtail the intake of national service trainees. Of course, they have to make some pretence of being interested in ex-servicemen and in the defence of Australia, and that was one way in which they could do so. But their comrades in arms who were maimed and incapacitated during World War II. are so far out of their thoughts that these honorable gentlemen, who take pride in parading and preening themselves before the public, dressing themselves in their service uniforms, polishing their buttons and wearing their swords, do nothing in protest against the meagre increases, or total absence of in- creases, proposed by the Government for ex-servicemen’s pensions.
If that is typical of the activities of the ex-servicemen’s committee of Government supporters, it would be preferable if it did not- function and if its members decided instead to stand up for the principles that they proclaim and to be truly grateful to those ex-servicemen who are now suffering from injuries sustained during World War II., instead of taking every opportunity to pat themselves on the back for their own war records. Until they do that, I shall be forced to believe that they are only a bunch of flag-wavers and are not sincerely interested in exservicemen. It is no wonder that the Government is having trouble in obtaining sufficient men for the permanent armed forces, because it is full of promises before the event but has shown that, when the war is over, and our injured comrades come back to take their place in the community, it fails to do anything for them. It would appear that honorable members opposite are interested only in men who can still fire guns, and that is probably why so many of them protested against the decision of the Government to curtail the intake of national service trainees. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes affords members of the committee of ex-servicemen on the Government side an opportunity to prove the sincerity of their declarations on behalf of ex-servicemen.
It is a practice of many Government supporters to criticize the Labour party for things that it failed to do when it was in office during the war years. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), a man who has made many speeches during my short term as a member of this House, has on no occasion contributed a constructive thought to debates in which he has taken part. He invariably indulges in personal abuse and muck-raking. And this gentleman is one of our knighted gentry ! I had always been of the opinion that, before a knighthood was granted, some of the attributes that were essential in the recipient were culture, breeding and education, but, having witnessed the example set by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, I am forced to believe that, in future, the attributes of culture, breeding and education will be a hindrance rather than a help in obtaining a knighthood. As I have said, Government supporters have a practice of criticizing the Labour party for things that it failed to do during its term of office. But this Government has been in power now for five years. When it took office in 1949, the basic rate of war pension represented 44.3 per cent, of the basic wage. This year, after making allowance for the increase for which this bill provides, the basic rate of war pension represents only 3S.6 per cent, of the basic wage. It would be preferable if members and supporters of the Government, instead of criticizing the Labour party for its past failures - and I do not doubt that there were failures when Labour was in office - would get on with the job of helping exservicemen.
Let us have a look at the record of the Australian Labour party. I shall take only two or three examples from legislation introduced by Labour. The Labour Government, in 1943, introduced legislation that embodied section -47 of the principal act, which is the onus of proof section, and also made provision for automatic entitlement to pension in certain cases of pulmonary tuberculosis. Between 1945 and 1949 the Labour Government put into effect and wisely administered the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme. Many professional men and tradesmen throughout Australia owe their good fortune to the Australian Labour party. Were it not for Labour’s efforts they would not have had the opportunity to become professional men and tradesmen, and so better provide for the needs of themselves and their families. Had the Liberal and Australian Country parties been in office at the conclusion of World War XL, the same course would have been followed as was taken after World War I., when an antiLabour administration allowed exservicemen to fend for themselves and to battle as best they might to obtain employment and the necessaries of life. After the end of World War II., the Labour Government had the task of transferring to civilian employment the many thousands of servicemen who were discharged from the armed forces.
All honorable members know that section 47 of the principal act is not being interpreted as it was originally intended it should be interpreted. The thirtyeighth annual report of the federal executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia for the year ended the 31st December, 1953, embodied statistics published by the Repatriation Commission, which showed that up to the 31st December, 1953, 19,973 ex-servicemen of World War II. had appealed to the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals. Thirteen thousand five hundred and eighty appeals were disallowed, and only 3,122 were allowed. Certain Government supporters make it appear that all of the 13,5S0 appeals that were disallowed were made by men whose disabilities were not caused by war service. Do Government supporters seriously suggest that all those appellants were trying to put something over? If the onus of proof section - section 47 - had been interpreted as it was intended to be interpreted, I am certain that a far greater percentage of appeals would have been allowed than has been the case. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the decisions and interpretations made under section 47 of the principal act is worthy and well-timed. If honorable members opposite are sincere in their statement that they are really trying to do something to help ex-servicemen, they should vote for the amendment.
A great deal has been said, also, about the wonderful work that this Government has done for ex-servicemen. Let Government supporters inquire from the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia whether the league is satisfied with the Government’s treatment of its representations for the acceptance of all mental illnesses of ex-service men and women as a repatriation responsibility; whether it is satisfied with the reply to its request that the amount payable for funeral expenses be increased to £40; whether it is satisfied with the treatment of claims for sustenance under regulation 71 (4) under the principal act; whether it is satisfied with the rejection hy the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) of its request that service pensions be paid for 85 per cent, permanent incapacity, as is done in relation to invalid pensions; and whether it is satisfied with the Government’s treatment of the request that war widows be granted radio listeners’ licences for a fee of 10s. a year. Many other examples of the dissatisfaction of ex-servicemen with the treatment accorded them by this Government under the Repatriation Act might be cited. It is time Government supporters sympathetically considered the many problems of ex-service men and women who were maimed and otherwise incapacitated on war service. Government supporters, instead of criticizing the Australian Labour party for the things that they allege Labour has not done, should ensure that this Administration, after five years in office, shall at long last do something for ex-servicemen.
It is no good for Government supporters to talk about the benefits paid to totally and permanently incapacitated returned servicemen. Admittedly, those benefits might be sufficient for the upkeep of some incapacitated exservicemen. But we must remember that those men received their injuries while they fought to safeguard Australia’s shores. Merely because the Government considers that they are receiving adequate pensions, they have to eke out a miserable existence, and the Government’s claims that they are being satisfactorily treated gives them no satisfaction. Ex-servicemen who suffer from injuries and disabilities caused by war service, deserve the utmost consideration that we can give them, and their pensions should be sufficient for them not to have to count every penny and to budget parsimoniously day in and day out. Their sacrifices should be repaid, so far as is possible, by the payment of reasonable pensions. Only eight of the 67 Government supporters are at present in the House.
– Order ! If the honorable member indulges in those tactics, I shall indulge in tactics of a particular kind also.
– “Why should the honorable member for Lang not have made that observation ?
– Order! The remark of the honorable member for Lalor has nothing to do with the matter.
– The honorable member for Lang made a perfectly pertinent remark, and I do not see why you, sir, should object to it.
– Order ! The honorable member for Lalor is out of order.
– I am not. I am very much in order. Similar remarks about Labour members have occasionally been bandied about.
– The important point is that many Government supporters appear not to be interested in the problems of ex-servicemen. In deference to you,. Mr. Speaker, I pass to another point. Totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen deserve better treatment than they are receiving at the hands of this Government. It is of no use for this Administration to claim that it is giving incapacitated ex-servicemen just treatment. Honorable members have received copies of a letter in which the secretary of the Federated T.B. Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Association of Australia, Mr. Little, writes -
To be seriously handicapped with a war disability is bad enough of itself; to be so affected and in receipt of a Special Bate of War Pension which does not amount to sufficient to meet everyday requirements is not good either, but it is very much worse from the point of view of health recovery to be left out of the increase in general War Pensions.
Returned servicemen who are suffering from war injuries, particularly those who are totally and permanently incapacitated or blinded, or who suffer from tuberculosis, deserve the thanks of the Government for the sacrifices that they have made, and they should receive better treatment at its hands. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes and further amendments that will be moved by the Opposition at the committee stage will afford Government supporters who are sincere in their claim that they are endeavouring to safeguard the welfare of disabled ex-servicemen, the opportunity to prove their sincerity. I challenge them to prove it ‘by voting for the amendment.
– I do not think that, at this stage in the administration of the repatriation legislation, many years after that legislation was introduced and after the Repatriation Commission was established, it is really very profitable for us to be concerned about who did what for exservicemen at different times, what government introduced what measures, and whether in fact one set of measures was better than another, although every year a good deal of time is devoted, during debate on repatriation bills, to bringing up all this sort of thing and to endeavouring to make capital out of it In that connexion I want to say only that the fact that this is done is surely evidence that there is very little of real substance that any one can object to in the Repatriation Act as it stands at present. In fact, it has virtually ceased to be a matter of controversy. The fact is that the Repatriation Act has developed and been added to over the years. Throughout Australia it commands a very high and widespread measure of satisfaction. I think its principles are not really a matter of controversy, but I want to emphasize the basic conception behind them, because the amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) in fact constitutes an attack on the administration of the principles of the act. The principle behind the Repatriation Act and other repatriation legislation is surely that such legislation is meant to provide a reparation and a compensation in some measure, at any rate, for war-caused disabilities. It is not something more than that. It may be that, in inadequate measure or in full measure, but unless we alter our whole conception of the processes, requirements and purposes of repatriation, it is not anything more than that. It is often said, and I suppose it is almost trite to say it, that no measure of compensation can be adequate for warcaused disabilities. But this does not alter the principle. [Quorum formed.’]
The amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes is virtually to the effect that the principles of the Repatriation Act are not being carried out. That honorable member who led the attack for the Opposition did two things. First, he moved an amendment to the effect that those principles are not being carried out, and, secondly, he spoke about some anomalies which he declared existed under the act. We could never have an act that had no anomalies in it, and there are probably still some in the Repatriation Act. But, I repeat what i said earlier that by and large throughout the country, the administration of the Repatriation Act gives immense satisfaction to all those who are concerned in any way at all with it. It gives such satisfaction because it is administered in accordance with its principles, and I want to ‘remind the House of what the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) said earlier about the outlook of the Repatriation Department. The experience of- the country, the experience of ex-servicemen and the experience of all those in any way concerned with the administration of repatriation, is that the department has in fact performed its task magnificently over .the years. Also, wherever there has been any doubt in the administration of the act, it has been common experience that the department has almost invariably given the exservicemen the benefit of the doubt.
Let me say something about the alleged anomalies “that were brought before the House by the honorable member for Parkes. First he wanted to spread the operation of the act from its main objective, that is to say to deal with the effects of war-caused disabilities, to disabilities not properly to be regarded as war-caused. He spoke about spreading the benefits so that all oases of neurosis occurring in ex-servicemen might be brought under this act, and treated as though they were cases of war-caused disabilities. If we are to do things like that, we are going to depart at once from the principles of the act, because the state of mind, or disease, commonly known as neurosis, is just as common, if not commoner, in the civil population among people who have had nothing whatever to do with the experience of war, ns it is among ex-servicemen. Indeed, it is quite impossible to say, unless there is some evidence of it being so, that this so-called neurosis developing in later years has really anything to do with war service at all. I do not say that there are not cases where it has occurred on war service, and has been properly .regarded as due to war service, but if we are to bring in conditions like that and treat them all as war-caused whether there is any evidence of them being war-caused or not, we are going to abandon the real principles of repatriation and saddle ourselves with a responsibility which will grow out of all proportion to the financial responsibility that a government should ‘have.
The honorable member for Parkes also spoke about blinded ex-servicemen. He said that a man with one blind eye is more difficult to absorb into industry than a man who has suffered the amputation of an arm or a leg. That is not a fact on any assessment, and it is not the opinion of industry itself. It is in fact easier to find employment for men with one eye than for men with one hand or one foot. Therefore, there is no factual justification for regarding a man who has lost one eye as being more disabled than a man who has lost a limb. Also, there is a generous scale of allowances for those who have been blinded in one eye and who are losing some or all of the sight of the other eye.
The honorable member for Parkes said that he was in favour of extending the facilities of repatriation hospitals to the dependants of the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. But again, if we are to administer this act in accordance with any principles at all, no matter how much sympathy we may have for other people and for the dependants of ex-servicemen, many of whom are deserving of great sympathy, unless we are prepared to adhere to the basic principles of the act we shall wander far and wide into fields which repatriation was never meant to cover, and revise the whole basis on which we provide finance for repatriation in this country. The approach of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) was that, having decided that we should have repatriation, it did not matter about the cost - everything was to be put in. No responsible government could approach repatriation or any other social service on that basis. If we are to hand out large sums of money every year for the treatment of ex-servicemen, as compensation for war disabilities and for medical rehabilitation, of course we must decide how much is available before we decide how much should be apportioned to the various classes. No government can approach repatriation, any more than it can approach any other social service, on the basis of financial irresponsibility. It is quite obvious that the Opposition not long ago did approach this matter on the basis of financial irresponsibility, just as it approached the whole question of social services on that basis. When the matter was submitted to the electorate at the last general election the electorate did not accept the Labour party’s submissions.
– The majority of the voters voted for the Labour party candidates.
– The fact is that the electorate of Australia decided that it would stick to sound finance, and would not have the idea of taking a sum out of the air and saying, “ We shall see you get that “. No government could administer social services on that basis, and the people have clearly indicated that they do not want their social services administered on that basis - nor their repatriation services.
I come now to the amendment of the honorable member for Parkes, because his reason for moving it was his claim that in fact there was not a sympathetic administration by the Repatriation Department in respect to the claims of ex-servicemen. I tlo not believe that any one seriously entertains that view. I believe that, by and large, throughout the country, people believe that exservicemen and their claims are not ill-received by this Government nor have they been ill-received by any other government. In fact I believe that there is a great measure of satisfaction with our repatriation services. A great number of men suffer from disabilities which have followed disabilities which they suffered during the course of war service, and it is a perfectly natural attitude of mind that because one thing follows another in time one is therefore the effect and the other the cause. Of course that is an attitude of mind that has no basis in fact at all. It is not a medical fact that because one disease follows another, the second disease is caused by the first. Although we may have the utmost sympathy with these people, and although they may be in necessitous circumstances, that does not make it follow that a second disability arose from a first disability or that in fact the second disability “was war-caused. If we have a tribunal set up, as we have under the Repatriation Act, and that tribunal has been given specific directions, it is not good enough to say, as it has been said in effect by the Opposition, that the tribunal must accept every case brought before it.
The onus of proof provision does not mean that where there is any doubt at all of a case it should still be accepted, and it does not mean that no evidence can be rejected by the tribunal. Of course the tribunal has a right to reject evidence, and of course it is proper that we should support the tribunal when it does so if we are satisfied that it does so on good grounds. Steps have been taken by this Government, and by other governments, to make sure that the tribunal has good grounds for rejection of a claim, because it is always possible for a man whose claim is rejected by the Repatriation Department to produce fresh evidence and have the claim re-opened. I draw attention to the fact that the fresh evidence only needs to be slight evidence. All that a rejected applicant need do is to get an opinion from another doctor to say that his disability may have been war-caused, and the whole matter can again be brought before the tribunal. There is no basis for saying that the tribunal is not discharging its functions properly. I want to ask the House if the special committee were to be set up as suggested in the amendment, what on earth it would have to do? How could it improve the results that are at present being obtained from the Repatriation Department ?
During a good many years I have had much experience of repatriation cases as a local repatriation medical officer, and I have been amazed at the number of cases that have been accepted as due to war causes without ever having to go before a tribunal at all. While we may say that the tribunal rejects some cases, it is only fair and right to the Repatriation Commission to say that the commission accepts thousands of cases which could quite easily be rejected if they went before the tribunals. So, on the balance, it is true to say that there is no country in the world whose exservicemen get a more generous deal than they do in Australia, as far as the acceptance of the disabilities being due to war causes is concerned. The Opposition’s amendment has been moved obviously for one reason. Honorable members opposite have been able to find no real fault with our repatriation system as it is at present being carried out. Therefore, they have claimed that the tribunals are not fulfilling their functions and not giving all the latitude that they might. So they propose the setting up of a select committee to get some different results. It is beyond the bounds of all reason to accept the proposition that a parliamentary select committee could improve a situation which I do not believe is in fact capable of being improved.
Repatriation in this country has progressed to a point at which I believe the only further alteration that could be made would involve altering the basic principles on which the Repatriation Act is constructed. If the community is satisfied to bring under its repatriation legislation people whose disabilities or illnesses or ailments have no connexion at all with wai”, then we are moving into a new conception of repatriation and social services, and merging the one into the other. If we are to use our repatriation services for the treatment of disabilities that are not caused by war, or for the treatment of relatives of ex-servicemen, or for similar purposes, we might as well abolish the Repatriation Act and put the whole population on some other basis. If we decided to do that, it is another matter. But as long as we have a Repatriation Act like the existing statute it will be difficult for us to find a great deal of fault with it. I believe the act, as it stands at present, both in its rates of pension and in its provision of medical services, and in its general administration, it leaves very little to be desired.
.- The honorable member for Oxley (Dr.- Donald Cameron) has said that he sees no reason why a parliamentary select committee should be appointed to examine the administration of the
Repatriation Act. In 1942, a Labour Government considered that there was a need to appoint an all-party committee to examine that act. According to honorable members opposite great good resulted from the investigations made by that committee and the resultant amendments to the act. If that be so, why should they now object to the appointment of another all-party committee which would be authorized to investigate .whether or not effect is being given to the intentions of the legislation in accordance with the wishes expressed by the select committee in 1943? All honorable members have come in contact with cases that have left a doubt in their minds about whether or not effect is being given to the true intentions of the act. I have on numerous occasions cited cases in which I considered that ex-servicemen had not been given the benefit of the doubt, as provided for in section 47 of the act. The honorable member for Oxley dealt also with the claim, that neurosis should not be .accepted as due to war service. He said there are thousands of ex-servicemen who suffer from neurosis that is not connected with their war service. Many people suffer from industrial neurosis and from other forms of neurosis.
– Political neurosis.
– Probably the honorable member is one of those who suffer from political neurosis, and it is not unlikely that his electors will discover that fact in good time . and will deprive him of his seat in this chamber. When a man has had war service and is known to be suffering from neurosis, whether industrial or political, at least consideration should be given to the fact that he has had war service.-
– That is especially true in view of the hardships that some of these men. went through in New Guinea during the last war, and in France during World War I. The honorable member says “ Rubbish ! “. I do not know whether or’ hot he experienced life at the front. I did not experience it, but at least I have read of the conditions under which the men in the front lines during World War I. lived, and I also know of the conditions faced by the men who fought in the last war. Long before I became a member of this Parliament ex-servicemen were coming to me with problems that arose from neurosis. I consider that if the act were properly applied, any doubt in connexion with the claims of ex-servicemen who are suffering from neurosis would be resolved in favour of the claimants. I regret to say that the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), saw fit to say in this chamber some time ago that he regretted that the subject of repatriation was not being treated in this chamber on a non-party basis. He said that it was repeatedly being used by those who have the least responsibility as an instrument for political propaganda. I certainly do not use it for that purpose. Many of us who have had long years of experience in industry, and have had close contact with the men who came back from the war, are familiar with the circumstances under which they tried to fit themselves into civilian life. We realize how ex-servicemen have suffered. We know full well that those of us who live in highly industrialized areas see more of that side of the matter than does the honorable member for Gippsland, who lives in the bush, or close to it. It ill behoves the honorable member to come here and say that we, who governed during the war, and ensured that the men and women of the fighting services were properly provided for on their return, and who established a Ministry of Post-war Reconstruction to smooth the change-over from war to peace, do not deserve credit for our efforts. Our interest in this matter is the interest of ex-service men and women.
Honorable members opposite have made many statements to the effect that should the amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes be carried the payment of the increased pensions would be delayed indefinitely. That is not true. If the Minister and the Government were prepared to agree to the appointment of an all-party committee the increase could be paid at the time intended, and the committee could get down to work and examine many of the proposals that we are prepared to put before it in an endeavour to iron out some of these vexed questions. It is natural to ask why, when possibly 70 per cent, of Government supporters are ex-servicemen, the Government opposes the appointment of an allparty committee to review the administration of section 47 of the act. The budget provides for the expenditure of a total amount of £170,982,000 on war and repatriation services. An amount of £42,130,000 out of this total is being provided for war and service pensions. The remainder of £75,852,000 is to be expended on administration, interest on loans for war and repatriation services, and miscellaneous commitments. An amount of £43,684,000 is to be expended on interest on loans for war and repatriation purposes. I believe that that amount should be put aside. I do not (think that moneys out of current revenues, which are providing for the payment of war and service pensions, should have to include an amount in respect of loan commitments of any kind.
Too much money is being expended on the administration of the Repatriation Department. When the administration of this department costs a greater amount of money than the amount being paid to the beneficiaries under the act an investigation is necessary. I believe that on this occasion the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners have been struck a body blow by the Government, because they are to receive no increase of pension. The totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner and his wife receive £11 0s. 6d. a week between them, but the wife is not entitled to free medical and and hospital benefits such as are available to the wives of age and invalid pensioners. For the information of the House I shall quote from a letter that was written by the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), on the 11th June last, to the president of the Newcastle Council of ex-Servicemen’s organizations. It reads - :Dear Mr. Bartley,
I refer to your letter dated 29th April, 1954, written on behalf of your Council concerning the entitlement of dependants of totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen to receive benefits of the pensioner medical service.
This service was designed to meet the needs pf that group of pensioners least able to bear the financial burden of medical expenses. Consequently, the relevant legislation provides that only those classes of pensions that are subject to the application of a means test, i.e., age, invalid, widow’s and service pensions and tuberculosis allowances, entitle the recipients and their dependants to the benefits of the service. Therefore, it will be seen that all persons entitled to the benefits of the pensioner medical service have a limited income and they are unable to augment their income to any great extent.
I ask honorable members whether it is thought that totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners have unlimited incomes. Many of them are suffering from malnutrition. The totally and permanently incapacitated pension is only a 100 per cent, pension plus medical benefits. Ex-servicemen’s wives, who are between the ages of 50 and 60, find that they are put to great expense in order to obtain medical and hospital treatment. Why should not they be provided for in the medical benefits and hospital benefits scheme? The letter continues -
The general question of providing free medical attention to the dependants of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen has recently been under consideration by my colleague, the Minister for Repatriation, and myself. However, he advised me that there is no provision under the Repatriation Act and regulations for medical and pharmaceutical benefits to be made available to such dependants and he considers that if the Government were to agree to such provision, requests would be received, in all probability, from the limbless soldiers’, tubular soldiers’ and other associations and also from ex-servicemen in receipt of the special rate pension, payable under the second schedule to the Repatriation Act, that similar provision be made for their dependants.
The provision of medical benefits to dependants of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen under repatriation legislation cannot be supported by my colleague, and it is not possible -for such persons to receive the benefits of the pensioner medical service, for reasons outlined above, unless they are in receipt of one of the prescribed pensions or allowance.
Nevertheless, it is possible for the dependent wives of these men to receive Commonwealth medical benefits by becoming members of registered medical benefit organizations, and as their husbands receive all medical attention from the Repatriation Department, they would be eligible to join an organization in their own right and so contribute at the single rate.
It is easy to see that the Minister for Health and also his colleague, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) are deliberately denying to the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners the right to receive medical and hospital benefits. Why are they doing so? Is it expected that out of the miserable income received by totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, and after they have met all the commitments that they have to meet, they can afford to pay for such services, even though they may contribute at only the single rate?
I turn now to the onus of proof provision that is contained in section 47 of the act, in relation to which the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has moved an amendment. I say to honorable members opposite, and in particular to the honorable member for Oxley, who is a medical practitioner, that the two medical men on the other side of the House could do a good job if they were to agree to the appointment of this committee, and were to serve on it. Honorable members opposite have stated time after time that the benefit of the doubt is given to the ex-serviceman. I say that it is not given, and probably has not been given, in many cases. I find, on reference to the booklet, War Pensions Entitlement Appeals, that the Repatriation Act is becoming more complex every day. The booklet has been written on the Repatriation Act by Mr. Gr. J. O’sullivan, LL.B., Sydney, Barrister-at-Law, who was the chairman of the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. I do not know whether he was sacked or whether he resigned from that position, but he is now a judge in the courts of New South Wales. Mr. O’sullivan has written as follows: -
In certain respects this Act is surprisingly technical, and its true construction difficult. The Act is used for the most part by people with no legal training (legal practitioners arc not permitted to appear for appellants before any tribuant ttribunal under the Act -s.72) and it is hoped that this publication may prove a useful guide to those who plead before an Entitlement Appeal Tribunal . . It is a piece of social legislation designed to rehabilitate and as.-‘ist members of the fighting forces and their dependants who have been handicapped’ in civil life consequent upon the members joining those forces.
That view of the purpose of the act is very important. Honorable members opposite make the accusation that we are not sincere when we ask for a better deal for ex-servicemen, and that we are not intent on ensuring that the true ur- poses of the act shall be given effect to. That accusation is contradicted in the foreword to this booklet, which was written by the then Attorney-General, Dr. Evatt, in 1944. The right honorable gentleman then indicated the intention of the labour Government in respect of the administration of the Repatriation Act, and he wrote, in part, as follows: -
It represents the desire of the Australian people, through their National Parliament, to ensure that members of Australia’s gallant lighting forces who have become wounded or sick as the result of their service shall be properly cared for, and that they arc their dependants, and the dependants of deceased members, shall be provided for by a war pension and otherwise assisted in the economic struggle of life.
Many ex-servicemen are not being assisted in the economic struggle of life.
– The Labour party was in office for nearly five years after that foreword was written,. How did it assist ex-servicemen in the economic struggle of life?
– We are repeatedly asked about the policy and the achievements of the preceding Labour Government. I do not think that any Labour government has ever done nearly as much as it should have done for ex-esrvicemen. But that is no reason why we should continue a policy or a practice that has probably been wrong in the past. I believe that we must go forward. There is no going back. In going forward, we must ensure that men who have served their country so well in war shall be entitled to the security to which the former Attorney-General referred in the foreword to the booklet. I notice that Mr. O’sullivan stated that an ex-serviceman is entitled to a war pension. He said -
Where the origin of the cause of the incapacity or death existed prior to enlistment, if the “incapacity from which the member is suffering or from which he died “ has been “contributed to in any material degree” -jr has been “ aggravva ted “ by the conditions of his war service: provided that neither the incapacity or death nor the origin of the cause of the incapacity or death was due to the default or wilful act of the member . . .
Later, I hope to refer to some illustrations given by the former chairman of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal.
– Lid not the Labour Government dismiss him?
– The honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) has not enough in his top piece to blow it off. I am trying to discuss repatriation matters in a logical manner, and he interrupts with a futile and silly remark. I wish to show that, in many of these cases, the medical evidence of the doctors who are treating the ex-servicemen is not being listened to by a board, the commission or an appeal tribunal. 1 find that the board or the tribunals are discharging the provision in respect of the onus of proof in their own way after they obtain their own evidence. Ironically enough, this booklet indicates that no depositions are taken before an entitlement tribunal, so that no record is kept of the evidence submitted in an appeal.
I now propose to refer to the case of an ex-serviceman named Neil Sutherland, who was known to me for many years. He died a couple of years ago from chronic nephritis. Dr. Philip Rundle, of Newcastle, together with Dr. Henry, a nephew of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), and Dr. O’sullivan, also of Newcastle, indicated that, in their opinion, there was no doubt that this exserviceman had died of war-caused injuries. However, the boards and the tribunals, discharging the onus of proof, said that, in their opinion, the man had not died from war-caused injuries. T contend that, as long as one medical practitioner, irrespective of who he is, can advance reasons why he believes that an injury to, or the death of, an exserviceman is due to his war service, there is still a doubt, and it has not been discharged. Dr. Rundle wrote as follows : -
This is to certify that I have this day examined Mr. N. B. Sutherland, agc 55 years, of .”(2 Turner-street, Lambton.
Tn consideration of bis clinical history and past medical investigations I consider that lie is’ suffering from cardiorenal disease. (Blood pressure - 210/150 nuns of bg. cardiac enlargement, mitral systolic murmur etc., albuminuria. )
I further understand that he has been investigated by the Repatriation Commission during 1051 when it was considered that he was suffering from chronic nephritis and renal 1 eth i asis.
He stated that whilst he was on active service in the 1!H4-1S war he received treatment in hospital for Trench Fever and I now consider that this 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 W ar in April, 1917.
It will be seen that Dr. Rundle fixed the year, even the month, when that man first contracted his complaint. I hear the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) laugh. This is not a laughing matter. We are trying to show that the deceased serviceman did not receive his just entitlement.
Why should not the proposed allparty committee be appointed to examine the whole matter of onus of proof? If we are wrong, no harm will have been done. At the present time, there are 17,177 service pensioners in Australia. That figure does not include the number of persons who receive a pension on account of age. Can it be said that those men are not suffering from complaints which are due to their war service? The report of the Repatriation Commission for 1952-1953 shows that at the 30th June, 1953, 88 servicemen were receiving a service pension for disabilities due to wounds, 94 for accidental injuries, 51 for new growths and cysts, and two for the effects of gassing. Can it be said that men who are affected by gas, are not entitled to a pension ? The report of the Repatriation Commission also shows that twelve men were receiving a pension for diseases due to infections, 69 for pulmonary tuberculosis, nineteen for skin diseases, and 52 for venereal disease. Can it be said that if a man contracted venereal disease on the other side of the world in World War I., it was not probably due to the fact that he was abroad because he was serving in the war? Cannot the disease be connected in some way with his war service, and should he not be given the benefit of the doubt? The report also shows that 149 members of the forces were receiving service pensions at, the 30th June, 1953, for disabilities in connexion with the alimentary system, and 345 for disabilities in connexion with the respiratory system. A serviceman who was affected by gas, or was in the trenches in France in 1917 or 1918, could easily have contracted bronchial troubles. It seems ridiculous to me that many exservicemen, who are suffering from some of the disabilities I have mentioned, have not been granted a service pension. The report of the Repatriation Commission also shows that 491 men were receiving the service pension for disabilities in respect of muscles, fasciae, joints and bones. The honorable member for Henty again laughs. If he had been in the trenches in Prance in 1917 or 1918, he would, probably, have known what it was to be exposed to the snow and the cold. I can visualize those awful conditions from my reading of them, and from the exhibits in the Australian War Museum. I do not think that this is a laughing matter, but Government supporters appear to be highly amused.
I have here the post mortem report on an ex-serviceman, Edward Bannister, who died in 1949 at the age of 54 years. The diagnosis was aortic stenosis of undetermined aetiology, which means that the doctors were not able to determine the cause of death but according to the description given in this report, his heart was enlarged and his lungs had been affected. He had been shot up rather badly. He had been wounded in the chest and the arm, and had suffered considerably after his return from the war. Many thousands of men are in a similar plight. My brother-in-law, when he- returned to Australia from World War I., got out of uniform and did not appear before a medical board. Many servicemen in those days wanted to get out of uniform as quickly as possible. Thank goodness, the young fellows who fought in World War II. were more or less looked after, and were “ boarded “ before they were discharged. Many of the men who got out of uniform as quickly as they could after World War I. were unconsciously standing in their own light, because they encountered difficulty afterwards when they applied for pensions.
I have here an extract from the official file of Daniel Crook which states that he had suffered with rheumatics when he was serving in France. The document reveals that he had trench fever in 1917. He was in pain for nine days. His heart was bad on the 7th September, 1917. He suffered again from trench fever. His legs ached at night, and he had scabies. He returned to the lines. A few days later, he again had pain in the hips at night. All this is evidence, that many men were affected in various ways by their war service. This man. although he has not worked since 1927, has never been granted a war pension and has lived only on a service pension. I do not know whether the provisions in the act are being properly interpreted, and whether the onus of proof is being discharged correctly. I consider that the inquiry should be held in order to ascertain whether or not ex-servicemen have been wrongly treated, when their applications for pensions have been rejected on the ground that their disabilities have not been due to war service. One man suffered for twenty years from chronic bronchitis. He would not go to a doctor, but used to treat himself with medicines that he purchased from a chemist. He applied for a pension in 1934, but his application was rejected. He was told that the repatriation authorities could not connect his disability with war service. The last case to which 1 desire to refer is still being examined. I shall quote from a letter which Mr. Bruce Graham, the former member for St. George, wrote to me in respect of it. He is still interested in the case.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- First, I should like to congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). He has shown not only to honorable members but also to people outside, particularly ex-service men and women, that he has the interests of former members of the services at heart and that he is one of them in more ways than one. He understands their problems, and he is progressively rectifying anomalies under the Repatriation Act. He has done a remarkably fine job in this field. Further, the Repatriation Department as a whole should also be commended in respect of the various ways in which it provides treatment, assistance and rehabilitation. As the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) has said, our repatriation set-up is one of the best in the world. I have had experience of the working of similar departments in the United Kingdom, and I have found that the services provided by those departments, in their efficiency and generosity, are not comparable with those provided by the Repatriation Department in this country.
The honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) said that totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen had complained because they are not to receive an increase of pension under the current budget. I shall read a letter which I received from the Minister for Repatriation dealing with this subject and, in doing so, I shall take the opportunity to correct an inaccurate statement that the honorable member made when citing certain figures. The M’inister, in his letter to me, stated -
I refer to your recent personal representations and presentation of correspondence you have received from Mr. F. Storer, honorary federal secretary of the Commonwealth Council of Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers’ Associations of Australia, in which he expressed dissatisfaction owing to the fact that no increase is contemplated in the special rate war pension under the present budget proposals.
In comparing the special rate pension with the general rate pension, it should be pointed out that with the exception of 1947, the pension payable to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, was less than double the general rate pension. It was increased to double the general rate pension in 1950, in which year tie general rate was increased to £3 10s. per week, and the special rate pension to £7 per week. In 1951, the special rate pension was increased to £8 15s. per week, which was more than double the general rate. Under the proposed increase of the general rate pension to £4 10s. per week, through legislation now before Parliament, the special rate pension will be 5s. more than double the general rate.
For some years increases of war pension have borne some relationship to decreased purchasing power as a result of the rising cost of living. The pension for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen in 1920, when war pension rates were overhauled, was £4 per week. The cost of living index figures for 1920 was 1,022. It is now 3,324. On the basis of the cost of living index figures, the present equivalent of £4 per week in 1920, would now be £9 2s. per week. It will be seen, therefore, that these special rate war pensioners are receiving an amount of 3s. per week more than they would on a strictly cost of living basis.
Again in 1949, in which year the Labour Government concluded its term of office, the pension for special rate pensioners was £5 6s. per week. On the basis of the cost of living index figures an equivalent amount for the present time would be £8 15s. 6d. per week, whereas it is actually £9 5s. per week. Consequently, the special rate pensioner is 9s. 6d. in pocket on the basis of that comparison.
In addition to the war pension aspect of the matter, it must be remembered that quite a number of this particular class of exservicemen are so incapacitated, that they have difficulty in travelling and receive also an allowance of £10 per month, or £2 6s. per week. The present Government has greatly liberalized the conditions under which this allowance may be paid. Those pensioners who are totally disabled are also entitled to an attendant’s allowance of £1 15s. per week. These allowances bring the total amount of pension received by a single man, who is very seriously disabled to £13 6s. per week.
A man, with a dependent wife, who receives transport and attendant’s allowance, receives a total of £15 ls. 6d. per week. A married man with one child, fifteen years of age, and attending school, received a total of £16 15s. 3d. per week.
A married man with two children receives a pension of £18 10s. 6d. a week and a married man with three children receives a pension at the rate of £20 5s. 9d. a week. It was in this connexion that the honorable member for Shortland cited a figure of £11 0s. 6d. I do not know where he got that figure from, but it is inaccurate. The Minister’s letter continued -
The question of hospital and medical benefits for wives of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen has been discussed with me by the federal president of the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Soldiers’ Association, on a number of occasions, and the association is aware that I am at present negotiating in the matter with a view to seeing what can be done to assist in this direction. An announcement in regard to it will be made in due course.
In order to give an indication as to the manner in which the present Government has honoured its obligation to ex-service men and women, I enclose for your information, a booklet entitled, “ Repatriation under the Menzies Government 1940-1953.” Reference to page 5 of the booklet will disclose that the rate of war pension payable to special rate pensioners has been increased by the present Government during the last four years from £5 6s. to £9 5s. - an increase of £3 19s. per week. The increase to general rate pensioners and war widows has not been so materially pronounced over the period in question. This is one of the reasons that the latter two classes of pensioners have been given the benefit of an increase this year.
I have taken the opportunity to read that letter, because I think that it should be widely publicized. I say without hesitation that many ex-servicemen who are not entitled to receive a pension are receiving one. Unfortunately, a small number of ex-servicemen, when they were in the services, did not go along to see the medical officer on every occasion that they contracted a cold, or had a pain in the tummy, but stuck it out and did their job. They left the service with no medical history with the result that they now have the greatest difficulty in trying to obtain a pension on genuine grounds. Thus, whilst there are some ex-servicemen who should be disgusted with themselves for accepting a pension to which they are not entitled, others who are deserving of a pension experience extreme difficulty in obtaining one. That is not the fault of the Repatriation Department.
With respect to the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) I say frankly that, from time to time. I have come across a number of cases in which, when they were first presented to me, the applicants appeared to have been treated unjustly. At first, I could not see why their applications had been rejected. In each case I obtained permission of the applicant to examine Iris medical record, and when I sought to examine that record I received the greatest courtesy and assistance from the department; and, on such occasions, the departmental medical officers were able to prove to my satisfaction that the decision of the repatriation tribunal in rejecting the application was not wrong. I arn still dealing with two cases. All I can say is that in the cases that I have investigated personally, departmental officers have proved to my satisfaction that the decision of the repatriation tribunal has been just. I shall reserve judgment on the other two cases, until I have completed my examination of them.
I do not think that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes is necessary. I believe that a solution of the difficulty to which lie refers would be found if the persons concerned made known their feelings to the Minister, or if honorable members to whom representations are made followed the course, which I have found to be helpful, of making a thorough and personal investigation of cases that are referred to them. Consequently, I do not think that there is the slightest need for the appointment of a select committee to investigate matters of this kind. However, as I have said, cases arise from time to time in which it would appear, on the surface, that an injustice has been done.
– The honorable member might have much to contribute to a select committee, if it were appointed.
– I have yet to be convinced that the appointment of such a committee is necessary. I do not agree that it is.
The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) did two things that were contemptible. First, he attacked the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) in a personal way. I say, frankly, that such an action on the part of an honorable member is out of keeping with a due sense of responsibility and decency and a true conception of the duties of a member of the Parliament. The honorable member also attacked the Government members’ ex-servicemen’s committee and, again in doing so, showed that he was talking about something of which he had very little knowledge. For that reason, I propose to tell the House a. little about that committee, lt was set up just, over four years ago. Its first meeting was convened by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) who, at present, is the chairman of the committee and has done a very good job in that capacity. Every honorable member on the Government side of the House, who is an exserviceman, is a member of that committee. The committee works not only as a -whole but also through a number of subcommittees which deal with such subjects as repatriation, personal problems of ex-servicemen, war service homes and war service land settlement. Until fairly recently, a sub-committee was dealing with defence. During the last four years, the committee has held over 40 meetings whilst its sub-committees have met on innumerable occasions. I do not think that there is one association of ex-service men or women which has not at some time thanked the committee for the work that it has done on behalf of ex-service personnel. We do not deal only with general problems. We have been of considerable assistance to individuals as well. The committee, I say in no sense of boast-fulness, has also helped the Government greatly in formulating policy in some directions. I cannot understand the honorable member for Lang, who is himself an ex-serviceman, being - I shall not be as rude as I was going to be, because I think he is a bit ashamed of himself already - so contemptible as to attack a body of ex-servicemen which he must know, from his knowledge of ex-servicemen generally, has worked genuinely in the interests of exservicemen of Australia as a whole.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), and I shall begin by remarking that, in my opinion, and indeed in the opinion of many people who have some knowledge of this subject, the Repatriation Act should be completely overhauled. As a result of two world wars, a considerable number of anomalies has arisen, and they are reacting unfavorably to the interests of ex-service men and women. One would expect that ex-servicemen, in view of their sacrifices for the country, would receive every consideration from the Government, but that is not the case. In fact, 1 believe they are receiving less consideration from this Government than are many less deserving sections of our community. I have no doubt that my view is widely shared by the responsible organizations which represent the exservice men and women of Australia. Indeed, these bodies have seen fit to submit to the Government what they describe as a fifteen-point programme with the comment that, in their opinion, the position of ex-servicemen has considerably deteriorated since 1949, and that, apparently, the Government is not moving to improve it. I am deeply concerned that these responsible organizations can point to at least fifteen features of the Repatriation Act which are reacting against the interests of their members. In view of their attitude, it will be difficult for Government supporters to challenge my statement that the act should he completely overhauled.
Since 1949, war pension increases have lagged far behind the upward trend of the cost of living. To put it in another way, the decline of the purchasing power of pensions of all classes is quite evident. After this Government was elected, the basic wage was frequently adjusted, until recently, through the processes of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. Social services pensions also have been adjusted from time to time, though to a lesser degree than the basic wage. I have mentioned these facts because later in my speech I shall compare the increase of the basic wage with the increase of war pensions over the same period. Quite obviously, hardships are imposed to-day on war pensioners of al) categories, because the basic rate of pension is not sufficient to enable the recipients to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Clearly, if wages and costs rise as they have done during the term of office of this Government, while pensions remain stationary, pensioners are inevitably penalized. Such is the position to-day, and I regret that the influence of the responsible Minister has not been sufficient to convince his colleagues in the Government of the indisputable fact that thousands of disabled ex-servicemen to-day are not being assisted as they should be assisted.
I acknowledge that the Repatriation Act contains many features of a commendable nature which reflect great credit on all governments that have administered the act, as well as on those organizations that have been able to exert sufficient pressure on governments to cause them to eliminate anomalies which have become obvious from time to time. But, undoubtedly, the bill before the House can be improved, as I shall proceed to show. Comparatively little material assistance will be afforded under the bill to the most deserving of all repatriation pensioners - the totally and permanently incapacitated. In general, the increase for which the bill provides will not apply to those pensioners.
Let us consider how the purchasing power of pensions has been allowed to decline since 1949 in relation to the phenomenally increased cost of living. In 1949, the 100 per cent, war pension stood at £2 15s. a week, and at present it is £4 2s. 6d. a week, an increase of £1 7s. 6d. The rate of special war pension in 1949 was £5 6a. a week. To-day it is £9 5s., an increase of £3 19s. Persons in receipt of the 100 per cent, pension will benefit under this bill by 7s. 6d. a week. In other words, an ex-serviceman in receipt of the full general rate under the first schedule to the act now receives £4 2s. 6d. a week and will, after the bill becomes law, receive £4 10s. a week, which, as the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis ) pointed out in his secondreading speech, is 35s. higher than the 1949 rate. However, I point out that the basic wage, which was £6 8s. a week in 1949, has risen to £12 2s. a week. That is an increase of £5 14s. Those are the figures for Tasmania. The basic rate of pension in 1949 represented 43 per cent, of the basic wage. It has now fallen to 37 per cent, of the basic wage. In other words, it has lost value by 6 per cent, of the basic wage during the term of office of the present Administration.
The increase of the special rate of pension since 1949 has been £3 19s. which, at first glance, would appear to be very generous. However, it can be shown that this increase has not been commensurate with the phenomenal increase of the cost of living over the same period. The percentage increase of the special rate of pension since 1949 has been 74.7 per cent., hut the basic wage has increased by 89.1 per cent., a figure which does not reflect the complete increase because adjustments of the basic wage through the processes of the arbitration court were abolished in 1953. In view of these facts, it will be difficult for Government supporters to vote against the amendment, which has been so ably submitted by the honorable member for Parkes and which provides that the pension rate for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen shall be raised to £12 10s. a week. This, if agreed to, will have the effect of restoring the pension to the level at which it stood in relation to the cost of living when this Government assumed office in 1949. It is pointless for Government supporters to accuse members of the Opposition of insincerity. The amendment is in conformity with the pledges given by the Leader of the Opposition during the recent general election campaign. In any case. Government sup- porters cannot be absolved of their responsibility to consider the amendment on its merits, and, up to this late stage, I have not heard one Government supporter who has been able to present any reason that I could consider io be valid for refusing to adjust the pension rate to the reasonable and common-sense level that we suggest.
At the commencement of my speech, I mentioned several anomalies which are now apparent in the Repatriation Act. I shall illustrate one example by referring to the case of a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner with one dependant and comparing it with the situation of a married couple in receipt of the age pension. The totally and permanently incapacitated pension rate is now £9 5s. a week. The allowance for a wife is £1 15s. 6d., which makes a total income of £11 0s. 6d. a week. The age pension is £3 10s. a week, and, therefore, the complete pension income for a married couple is £7 a week. However, under the terms of the Social Services Bill which this House has passed, that couple will be permitted to earn an additional £7 a week, thereby making their complete income £14 a week. I have no objection to that provision, believing as I do that such extensions of the means test are steps towards its ultimate abolition and, therefore, are in conformity with Labour’s policy. The totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, as every honorable member knows, is completely restricted to his pension. The very nature of his classification suggests immediately that he is in no position to supplement his income, even if he were permitted to do so under the Repatriation Act. Therefore, the complete income for such a. pensioner and his wife is only £11 0s. 6d. a week. Thus, the married couple in receipt of the age pension is entitled to receive £2 19s. 6d. more than is available to the ex-service pensioner. That is one anomaly which I consider to be of sufficient importance to merit the immediate consideration of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper).
Here is another anomaly. I refer now to the basic wage for the six capital cities, which is £11 16s. That is £2 Ils. in excess of the pension payable to a single totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, and 15s. 6d. in excess of the pension for such a pensioner with a wife. I have frequently heard honorable :members on the Government side of the -House say that they have not received any representations from ex-servicemen in relation to the Government’s proposals for war pensions. They say, therefore, that ;there have been no complaints. However, I have before me a copy of a letter which appeared in the Tasmanian press ;two or three days ago, and which I consider to be of sufficient importance to warrant my quoting it in this House. It reads -
On a repatriation allowance of 358. lid. per week the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen must work or starve. If they have no private means, and are ..aged, ailing and infirm their only hope of relief is death. The individual totally and permanently incapacitated pension of £481 per annum, if not princely, may be adequate for a single man but does not leave much for a wife’s sustenance.
A small number of totally disabled soldiers with strong mentality, are able to increase their income by self-employment: a big majority are unable to do so. I suggest that Federal politicians prepare a brochure for distribution to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen’s wives, entitled “ How to live on £92 a year “.
I should like to mention the position of two totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioners who received treatment in the Launceston General Hospital. “The first pensioner’s illness was sufficiently serious to keep him in hospital for seven weeks. Upon his discbarge, and despite the fact that for a number of years he had been classed as a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, he was presented with two bills, the first for an amount of £11, and the second for ;an amount of £115, making a total of £126. Obviously, it is not humanly possible for him to find such a large sum of money. I can only hope that the bills were an unfortunate mistake on the part of the hospital office or that they will receive the immediate attention of the Repatriation Department, to which urgent representations have been made. The second case is that of another totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioner admitted to the same hospital, presumably because insufficient accommodation was available at the Hobart Repatriation General Hospital, to which
I shall refer further in a moment. The pensioner was admitted to hospital for treatment of his accepted war disabilities. The doctor informed him, while he was in hospital, that certain drugs were needed for the relief of his complaint, but before those drugs could be administered he had to complete an official form. After completing the form and being given the drugs, the pensioner was presented with a bill for the cost of the drugs. I have no doubt that the doctor was concerned that his patient should recover completely, and, that being so, the pensioner should be relieved of all responsibility to meet the cost of the necessary drugs. That cost should be borne by the Repatriation Department. I recommend to the Minister for Repatriation the suggestion that the department should accept responsibility for such expenses. Totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioners must be placed on exactly the same basis as persons who receive social services benefits. The very nature of the disabilities of totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioners suggests that this should be the position. In any event, those persons are not accepted as members by medical societies, which take the view that they are chronic sufferers.
I want to deal now with the position at the Repatriation General Hospital in Hobart. For some time I have interested myself in the position at that hospital, particularly in relation to the treatment of war widows and certain exservice women. I have before me a letter written by the Minister for Repatriation early last year in which he expressed himself as follows : -
You are no doubt aware that in certain circumstances war widows and other dependants may be admitted for treatment as in-patients of Repatriation General Hospitals. Briefly, the conditions are that the patient must be suffering from an acute or sub-acute condition and that a bed in a suitable ward, which would otherwise remain vacant, is available. Unfortunately,-
I emphasize this point - there is no female ward in the Repatriation General Hospital, Hobart, and consequently this added facility for treatment is not available to female dependants in Tasmania.
That position should be rectified immediately. I have before me another letter written by the Minister in answer to certain questions that I addressed to him on this subject. The first question related to the number of patients awaiting admission to the Repatriation General Hospital in Hobart. The part of the Minister’s letter relevant to that matter reads -
Fifty-nine patients are at present awaiting admission to Repatriation General Hospital, Hobart. The waiting period varies from -a few days to two months.
The waiting list mainly comprises nonurgent cases in which the patients have previously been notified of the date of admission. If it should happen that a bed is not available for an urgent case, arrangements are made for in-patient treatment at another hospital until admission to Repatriation General Hospital can be arranged.
An amount of £14,835 0s. 3d. was paid during 1053-54 to other hospitals, both private and public, in respect of Repatriation patients. This does not include an amount of £0,010 17s. paid to Mental Institutions in Tasmania for the same period, but includes payments for those patients in country centres where adequate facilities are available, who request treatment close to home or whose disability makes them unsuitable for the journey to Hobart.
If it is possible to provide the amount of approximately £15,000 to meet the cost of admission of patients to institutions other than the Repatriation General Hospital, surely it is possible to spend an equivalent amount on extensions to the Hobart Repatriation General Hospital to accommodate those patients. Urgent representations have been made to the Minister on numerous occasions to have extensions made at that hospital, and the Minister has informed me that that provision will probably be made in 1955 or 1956. I suggest that the matter should not have to wait until 1956, because it is far too urgent. It should receive the Government’s immediate consideration. I suggest that the two totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioners to whom I referred earlier would not have been presented with the bills that they received for treatment had it been possible for them to gain admission to the Hobart Repatriation General Hospital. I conclude by commending to the House the amendment so ably proposed by the honorable member for Parkes.
– I want to address my remarks to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). In all my experience in this House, I have never seen so clear an indication as is given by this amendment that the Opposition is desperately endeavouring to justify complaints about the administration of the Repatriation Department. In previous debates in this chamber, the Opposition has seen fit to make a whole series of complaints about the department’s administration. Of course, those complaints were never established. On this occasion the Opposition has met in caucus, and considered the bill and the remarks about it made by Government supporters, and it desperately comes in to the attack with this old dragnet proposal, acting on the principle that attack is the best form of defence. The Labour Government was smitten hip and thigh for its administration of the provisions of section 47 of the principal act, and the Opposition now throws up a smoke screen in an effort to hide from the Parliament and the people the Labour Government’s foul administration of that section. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), following the reply made by my colleague the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) to the remarks of the honorable member for Parkes, in desperation tried to defend the very weak case that had been presented by the honorable member for Parkes. After floundering about for some time, the Leader of the Opposition took up from the table a copy of a speech that he had made last year and the year before, and repeated it almost verbatim. That clearly demonstrated that the Opposition could advance no sound reasons for the appointment of the select committee that has been proposed.
– The Minister said all this last year.
– The amendment of the honorable member for Parkes was not under discussion last year. I have never seen a more hopeless, ineffectual and incomplete case than the Opposition has presented in this debate. None of the many returned servicemen’s organizations, which are doing their very best to ensure that the interests of their members are properly advanced, has made one complaint to the effect that the Minister for Repatriation, or the Repatriation Department has not administered the terms of section 47 of the principal act to the satisfaction of those organizations.
– They are tired of complaining.
– The Opposition entirely lacks support for its amendment. This Government is giving the utmost care to the administration of section 47 of the principal act to ensure that it shall be properly administered. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) personally asked the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) to set out his views on the manner in which the section should be administered so that the Government might ensure that it was administered in that spirit. The Attorney-General prepared a statement of the legal position in relation to section 47 as it concerns the proof of pension claims, and the Attorney-General’s views were made available to the members of the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals and the chairman and the members of the Repatriation Commission. The chairman forwarded those views to the deputy commissioners of repatriation in all the States, so that every one concerned would know the Government’s wishes in respect of section 47. The opinion of the Attorney-General was as follows : -
Parliament lias, 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: -
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.
The Government accepted the AttorneyGeneral’s view on the onus of proof, and instructed the Repatriation Department accordingly. The opinion continued -
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?
Of course, the claimant mayfind 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 carries. In such a case 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.
The onus of proof was the next matter raised. About that the Attorney-General said -
This brings me to the second matter with which Section 47 deals, i.e., the effect to he 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
secondly, it provides that the adjudicating authority shall be entitled to draw, and shall drawfrom 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 i.s 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 doubt, 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.
The Government is at present carrying out that interpretation, and I remind honorable members that the opinions that I read to them have been embodied in instructions which have been issued to all members of all tribunals, to the Repatriation Commission, to deputy commissioners and to all those responsible for dealing with claims for pensions. That is my answer to honorable members opposite who say that section 47 has not been properly implemented by the Government. Moreover, not one ex-servicemen’s organization in the Commonwealth has objected to the way in which this Government is administering the Repatriation Act, and not one is supporting the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Parkes. Therefore, the case for the amendment of the Opposition falls to the ground. Let me remind the House again of the main reason why the amendment was submitted. “When honorable members opposite were in office in this country, a certain war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal pointed out to the then Government that it was not implementing section 47 of the Repatriation Act. The chairman of that tribunal, the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, was Mr. G. J. J. O’Sullivan, an ex-serviceman and a practicing lawyer; the deputy chairman was Mr. E. J. Dibdin, and Mr. M. A. Hickey was the third member. That tribunal saw fit to attack the previous Labour Govern- ment and smite it hip and thigh from Dan to Beersheba because it had failed to do its duty towards ex-servicemen. The tribunal 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 its officers. We pointed out also that proper attention by the Repatriation Commission to those provisions would have resulted in a considerable number of claims being allowed without the necessity for an appeal to this Tribunal.
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.
Honorable members will perceive what this tribunal thought of the way in which the previous Government was administering section 47, the onus of proof provision, of the act. ‘The report continued -
The undermentioned cases, which have been heard since the submission of . the last Annual Report, are typical of a great number. They serve to illustrate that the provisions of section 47 are not being applied by the Repatriation Commission.
The report then quotes five cases merely as typical cases to serve as illustrations that the Repatriation Commission was not applying the provisions of the act as it should have applied them. The report continued -
No controversial or difficult questions either of law or fact, which could justify the original rejection of the claims, arose in any one of these cases. They were simple and straightforward and, on the evidence before the Commission, fell fairly within the entitlement provisions of the act. But they were rejected out of hand by the Repatriation Commission without any reasons being assigned.
This matter became so bad that certain honorable members of the parties which support the present Government who were in opposition at that time, attacked the then Labour Government day in and day out about its administration of the Repatriation Act. The present Leader of the Opposition, who was then Attorney-General, considered this matter and gave his opinion about it in a letter that he wrote to the then Minister for Repatriation. The letter read -
I desire to inform you that with reference to the objection taken by Mr. O’Sullivan, Chairman of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, to a statement in the Commission’s annual report to Parliament for the year ended 30th June, 1943, I am directed by the Attorney-General to inform you that the Attorney-General agrees entirely with the views expressed by Mr. O’sullivan.
This Government has done all that is required of it. It has carried out the spirit and letter of the law, and has implemented section 47 in such an effective way that the Opposition, having no other way to attack the Government has brought its present amendment forward to do so. The extracts that I have read show quite clearly that the attitude that the Opposition is attributing to this Government was in fact the attitude of the previous government towards exservicemen. Honorable members should also remember that two Repatriation Ministers of the previous Labour Government, both from Tasmania, failed at the polls because the people were dissatisfied with their administration of repatriation in this country.
The present Minister for Repatriation is a badly disabled ex-serviceman himself. I know that he was a very brave soldier, because I had the privilege of fighting with him in the same battalion. He lost his leg through war injuries, and therefore he can sympathize with the problems of all ex-servicemen. It shows how futile is the case of Opposition members when they charge the Minister for Repatriation with not administering section 47 of the Repatriation Act in a proper way. He is doing so with all the sympathy in the world, and we shall not find any exserviceman in the Commonwealth who will support the attack of the Opposition on the Minister for Repatriation.
– We get dozens of letters of complaint every day.
– That is sheer humbug and nonsense. Not one protest has been made about this Government’s administration of the Repatriation Act. The honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) produced two letters during this debate, and when I asked the officers of the Repatriation Department to look through Hansard they showed me where he had quoted the same letters two years ago. Even the Leader of the Opposition had to pick up a copy of Mansard from the table of this House and read from some speech that he had made previously because he could not think of any charges that he could advance with any truth against the Government.
.- I affirm the Labour party’s belief in the principle that no ex-serviceman or exservicewoman should be denied a pension to which he or she is entitled. I believe that all honorable members should adopt the same attitude. Government supporters profess to be the champions of the ex-servicemen, so it is strange that they should disapprove of an amendment that seeks the appointment of a parliamentary select committee, representative of all parties in the Parliament to investigate the imperfections of the Repatriation Act, and to decide whether ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen are receiving the benefits to which they are justly entitled. This is a testing time. It is the time for honorable members on the other side of the House to show definitely where they stand. References to the occurrences of the past do not meet the needs of to-day. The important matter is whether the ex-service men and women are today receiving justice. That is the test that the Government has to face. It is idle for the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) to claim that section 47 of the Repatriation Act is being applied in the spirit in which it was originally intended to apply, wholly in favour of the applicants. Is it not a fact that exservicemen’s associations have repeatedly made representations to honorable members on both sides of the House, directing attention to the need to make the onus of proof provision work in the proper way - which means that the onus of proof will lie on repatriation authorities and not on the applicant for a pension. Often exservicemen who make a second application for a pension receive notifications from the Repatriation Department that no new or material evidence is available in connexion with their claims. What does that mean if it does not mean that the onus of proof lies on the applicant? It is strange, therefore, for honorable members opposite to attempt to deny our claim that the onus of proof provision is not being applied properly. Honorable members opposite are not doing themselves justice in respect of this matter, and I think they would be playing a much more important and worthy part, that would be more in keeping with their selfappointed role as champions of exservice men and women, if they were to support the amendment so ably moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). After all, we all want to see to it that every person entitled to a pension receives that pension. There is nothing wrong with trying to reach that goal.
I wish to pay a tribute to many vary sympathetic officials of the Repatriation Department who are doing the right thing for service pensioners. I wish also to pay the greatest possible compliment to the local repatriation.- committees in the respective towns and villages, the members of which give up their time to the advancement of the cause of exservice men and women. Whilst I admit that there are many people who are doing their utmost to assist exservicemen, the fact remains that, as long as there is even one person who is not receiving the benefits to which he or she is entitled, surely this House, which speaks for ex-service men and women as a whole, should appoint a committee on a non-partisan and nonparty basis, which can try to iron out any difficulties that may exist.
The past belongs to the past. A recital of the happenings of five, six or seven years ago will not solve the problems of to-day. If honorable members opposite are really interested in doing a good job for the diggers, they will be alive to their responsibilities and will not allow themselves to be bogged down in the musty, old documents of the past. They will leave the past in the pages of Ilansard as a monument to the work done for the diggers after World War II. by the Labour Government. A comparison of repatriation legislation placed on the statute-book by the Labour Government after the last war with similar legislation placed on the statute-book by a non-Labour government after World War I. will show that ex-service men and women of the last war got a far better deal than did ex-servicemen after World War I. I think that it is generally conceded that the treatment meted out to ex-servicemen had greatly improved by the end of World War II., especially in connexion with the trade . courses and similar matters that were ignored after World War I. While most honorable members would be prepared to admit that progress has been made in relation to repatriation, and that a worth-while job has been done in some directions, still not enough is being done. I therefore return to my earlier statement that, as long as there is one person entitled to a pension and not receiving it, we should continue to apply such remedies to the faults of the system that every person will receive the benefits to which he or she is entitled.
Repatriation poses many and varied problems. It is silly for the Minister to say that the Opposition has not made out a case. Last year in this chamber, I referred to the case of a constituent of mine, who was thrown into the harbour at Port Moresby by a bomb blast during an enemy raid. He had been accepted into the services as medically fit Al. As a result of that bombing raid his nerves were completely ruined, but despite all his efforts to obtain a pension, he has been unsuccessful in doing so up to the present. If the onus of proof provision worked as it should work, and the responsibility of proof lay on the department, and not on the applicant, that man would certainly be receiving a pension now. I have in my hand a letter from a constituent of mine who had five years’ excellent service in the military forces. Shortly after a period of service in the northern areas it was found that his nerves had deteriorated. As a consequence of this condition he was transferred to Moorebank camp in New South Wales, a3 a storeman. That transfer was an admission that his health had deteriorated during his service. By the end of the war he had become a complete neurosis case. He is trying to be admitted to Concord Repatriation Hospital but has been unable to gain admittance and, as a result of the department’s attitude, he is now in the reception house in Sydney.
Honorable members opposite claim that the onus-of-proof provision is operating fairly and justly. I should like to see it operate in fairness to, and in favour of, this constituent of mine, who is suffering so grievously to-day because of the interpretation placed by the department on section 47 of the act. So long as anomalies of this kind exist, all honorable members have a responsibility to see to it that they are corrected. 1 mention this matter in the hope that something may be achieved thereby. 1 know that Cabinet will not vary its general decisions. It has a fixed and immovable policy in regard to this matter which it is not likely to change at a moment’s notice. The Government has decided that it will devote a certain amount of money to payment of pensions, so it all comes back to the attitude of the Treasurer. 1 think it is regrettable that, instead of the needs and the sufferings of the ex-servicemen being used as the measuring stick to decide what should be done, the decision is made on the basis of the allocation of a certain amount of money for a certain purpose. The whole position is outstandingly bad and I hope that the Minister will be able to do something about it.
I know how difficult it is to get the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to deal with these matters. He is most reluctant to deal with them. On many occasions it has proved difficult to obtain a reply from him. I have here the details of a most important case that concerns a lad who had two years’ service in Korea. He was a member of the Permanent Military Forces. Following his return to Australia from service overseas he was sent to a certain army establishment. Because he was a. member of the Permanent Military Forces, and had not been discharged therefrom, he was unable to make application for a trade course. He had been back in Australia for two years and still had not made his claim because of that bar. I have written twice to the Minister for Repatriation in regard to this matter, first on the 19th August and later on the 14th September. I have not even received an acknowledgment of either letter. I think it is a scandalous state of affairs that a man who, having rendered exceptional services to his country in Korea, should come back to Australia, fulfil his responsibilities in the permanent forces and then, after having applied for a trade course on the first day after his discharge, be told that he has applied too late, and should have applied within two years of his return from Korea. This clear-cut case shows the need for amendment of the act, but it is the sort of thing that leaves honorable members opposite unmoved and indifferent. I shall not use the word “ callous because I know it does not fill the bill. They are not prepared to meet honorable members on this side of the House to consider matters that are of grave concern to the men and women who served this country so magnificently in war-time. I can only hope that my remarks to-day will bring about a change of heart in honorable members opposite. I know that it is extremely difficult for them to achieve any change of attitude on the part of the Government, but surely this is an occasion on which a changi; of attitude is justified. I say that, even at this late stage, the well-reasoned case advanced by honorable members on this side of the House, in relation to the need for an all-party committee to examine the administration of the Repatriation Act, should be earnestly considered. After all the war was an all-party effort. That remark applies to World War I., World War II., and the Korea war. They were all-Australian efforts. Surely it is not too late for an all-Australian effort by all members of this Parliament, or at least by a select band of them, drawn from each side of the Parliament, who could get together and iron out anomalies, and meet the Minister and his responsible advisers to see just how a better deal may be given to people who urgently need it.
I have here the details of a case that relates to an ex-serviceman named Green, a constituent of mine, which is in urgent need of consideration. The question about the delay in replies to correspondence addressed to the Minister is one for the Minister himself to answer, but the attitude of the Minister in failing to reply to our correspondence is, I believe, indefensible. I do not intend to criticize the Minister as a man or as a soldier, but I do denounce him for his failure to reply to representations made on behalf of people who have served this country so faithfully and well. The whole matter certainly requires review.
The Federated Tubercular Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Association consists of persons who are worthy of consideration, and every honorable member has received a communication from that organization which directs attention to the urgent need to review the plight of its members. I wish ‘that this matter could be considered away from the dictatorial caucus attitude of the central authority on the Government side. The Prime Minister rules with an iron rod the members of the parties on the other side of the cham!ber, and they are afraid to blink an eyelid less they incur his displeasure. If we could get Government supporters to adopt the attitude-
– Like Labour members in caucus meetings?
– Members of the Labour party have the utmost freedom of debate, and receive the greatest possible consideration in their caucus meetings. There is no doubt about that. The Labour party believes ‘in the freedom of the individual. Various matters are discussed very frankly at caucus meetings, and every Labour member who washes to express an opinion has an opportunity to do so.
Ma-. SPEAKER.- Order! I ask the honorable member to relate his remarks to the bill.
– I shall return to the matter that I was discussing when I was diverted from it by the interjection of the Vice-President of the Executive Council. If Government supporters would consider the gravity of this situation and the needs of ex-service men and women, they would take their courage in their hands, and we should not see these palace revolts which fizzle out overnight, when brave words are uttered one day, and retreat is sounded the next day. Government supporters would then be prepared to meet members of the Opposition with a view to doing something really worth while for ex-service men and women.
I am most concerned about the delays that occur in obtaining decisions on applications for pensions. The Repatriation Department seems to be very remiss in that matter. I think that the department fails to take into consideration the expert and intimate knowledge of the local medical officers. Throughout Australia, those doctors have been a tower of strength to the department, and most helpful and sympathetic to ex-service men and women. Apparently, the department considers that the local medical officers are too sympathetic towards the “ diggers,” because it refuses to co-operate with the doctors to the fullest possible extent.
I have in my hand a number of letters written by a doctor in connexion with an ex-serviceman who requires some special treatment. He has certain spinal defects, and has been required to wear a plaster cast. He had this cast for some time, and the department then decided that he should have an improved type of aid. The ex-serviceman agreed to comply with the department’s requirements. His plaster support was taken from him, and he agreed to have a Taylor brace. When his plaster cast was removed, he was (permitted to go to Mackay in Queensland, and his spine had no support of any kind. Eventually, it was necessary for his doctor to write to the department in an effort to ascertain why the Taylor brace had not been supplied to the ex-serviceman. A considerable time had passed since the plaster cast had been removed, and the ex-serviceman was suffering great inconvenience, and even ran the risk of injury. The medical officer suggested that when an appliance is changed, as in this instance, the department should keep the ex-serviceman in hospital, or a similar institution, where he could receive expert attention and be under expert supervision. That was not done in this instance. The ex-serviceman was permitted to go to Queensland. I shall read an excerpt from a letter that his doctor wrote to me. It is as follows: -
I should think a responsible minded Minister could find something more profitable to do than write such tosh, about any L.M.O. struggling to do satisfactory work in spite of the stupidly devised procedures which seem to his Deputy Commissioner more important than the welfare of ex-servicemen his department exists to help.
I now enclose a copy of a letter I have written to the D.C. in Sydney, which is I think self-explanatory.
I am waiting to read or hear that you are moving in the house to deduct a portion of the salary of the Minister and giving as your reasons, some of the evidence you have had sent you by me in support.
-Who was the doctor ?
– I have his name, and I am prepared to state it in the House. The doctor also wrote the following letter to theRepatriation Department : -
I beg to bring to your attention the following facts regarding ex-Lieutenant Stewart, A. M., N453982 N.G.V.R., whose present address is 53 Shakespeare-street, Mackay, Queensland.
At the advice and request of your consultant Dr. Dowling, this patient was for some time given a plaster support for his spinal defect which was the war disability for which he was pensioned and for which we treated him while living here.
Before he left early in May this year that support was removed at Grace Buildings and an order was presumably made for a Taylor Brace, for which he was measured at the Surgical Instrument department of your Branch.
On 1.6 June, 1954, he wrote to me saying there is up to now no sign of this brace being available for him to wear.
The removal of a support after over 18 months wearing some support or other is not merely uncomfortable but actually likely to lead to an increase of this man’s disability.
If he was to be kept without support he ought to have been nursed on a proper bed and prevented from doing himself injury by walking about without some form of efficient brace or corset, for the simple reason that the muscles would he unable owing to their long period of immobilization, for the work of proper maintaining his spine in good position.
May I request that some officer in authority be instructed to see that this instrument reaches him forthwith. His L.M.O. states he is quite unable to treat him satisfactorily in the absence of the X-rays which alone could give him guidance as to the progressive development of this man’s skeletal defects.
As will be very well known to your department this is not the first time in this one case that I have had to challenge the departmental procedure which denies to the L.M.O.’s and consultants who are asked to serve this patient, the opportunity of having before them the guidance which those X-ray films alone could provide.
The letter is signed by Dr. S. Boyd, and speaks for itself. It clearly indicates the need for the department to appreciate these problems, and to take the local medical officers into its confidence. Who are better suited than those doctors, who live in the same communities as the ex- servicemen to look after their needs? I submit-
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Mr. Haylen’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Sitting suspended. from 6.9 to 8 p.m.
Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 (Pension for pulmonary tuberculosis).
.- I move -
That before sub-clause (1.) the following sub-clause be inserted: - “ (1a.) Section thirty-seven of the principal act is amended by inserting in paragraph (b) of sub-section (3.), after the words ‘pulmonary tuberculosis’, the words or mental or nervous disorder’.”.
The amendment seeks to amend section 37 of the principal act, which relates to special types of disabilities, which are pensionable automatically; and its purpose is to include “mental or nervous disorder” in that category. The amendment does not represent a sudden decision on the part of the Opposition. The Repatriation Committee of the Opposition discussed this matter more than two years ago, and it has had many conferences with service organizations on the subject. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in his last declaration of Labour’s policy included a statement with respect to the provision of automatic entitlement for pension for mental illness. I shall read that statement as it indicates the line of the amendment, its stability and the research that preceded the decision that the Opposition has made on this matter. I make that observation because, very often, amendments of this kind arc treated in a cavalier way by the Government. This is a serious matter. The statement made by the Leader of the Opposition to which I have referred, was as follows: -
In 1943, the Labour Government accepted for automatic entitlement certain cases of pulmonary tuberculosis. To-day, there are ex-servicemen suffering from nervous or mental disorders which cannot be fairly dissociated from the rigors of war service. The conmonsense view is that these cases of latent illness should be regarded as attributable in part at least to the strain of active warfare. We shall, therefore, legislate for automatic acceptance to entitlement in these cases.
I have searched in every appropriate quarter known to me in order to gain information about this widespread neurosis which occurs among members of the forcesand among ex-service personnel.
There is a very clear division of opinion among medical authorities on this subject. I have read through various books in an endeavour to obtain a clear picture of the matter. There is a good deal of confusion on it among the medical authorities. I think that the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) will agree with that statement. However, as far back as 1918, this disorder concerned the British authorities and the Minister for Pensions in Great Britain issued a booklet describing what we now know to be an accepted fact, that is, the deterioration of neurosis cases and the treatment that is undertaken as the best, means of curing that complaint. I admit that the British booklet to which I have referred is a somewhat thin document; but, since that time, a study of this subject has uncovered a world of information, about the complaint.
Mental- or nervous disorder is a tragedy caused by all wars. Perhaps, it was not so much pronounced following .World War I. as it has been since World War II. Here is a mental wound that does not show. Its impact is terrific, yet the sufferer from it does not have the glory of a wound stripe. The disorder is not apparent as is the case when a serviceman has been wounded physically. The sufferer may be, in turn, aggressive, pleasant, dangerous, placid or extremely violent. He may present a real problem to his parents. Youthful sufferers from the disorder during World War II. and since give an indication of its seriousness. The Repatriation Department has not yet got a clear view of the matter, and I think to some degree the department has by-passed this disorder. Recently, a reference to it by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia drew a negative reply. The Sydney branch of the league asked the Minister for Repatriation whether it would be possible to accept mental or nervous disorder as a pensionable disability, and to that request the Minister replied - 1 have given careful thought to the resolution and also have considered other factors which would be involved. I do not consider it would reasonably be possible to limit the suggested extension to “ mental illnesses “.
The basic principle for pension and treatment under the provisions of the Repatriation
Act is that the incapacity must be due to war service, and, after having regard to all aspects, I am sorry that I cannot support the resolution.
The growing number of cases and recent discoveries by medical men of the impact of the terrors and frustration of war, and the accumulated area of neurosis that can be brought about by modern warfare present a problem in the complete loss of efficiency of these men. Sufferers from this disorder are unable to work and are, therefore, not full citizens. Many of these men were physically fit when they joined the armed services, and many are still under 40 years of age. They present a problem which the Repatriation Department has not measured up to. When Labour was in office, the then Minister for Repatriation made a survey of this matter and appointed doctors to go into it. I understand that the area of research has since been widened. I now ask the Government whether anything can be done in this matter, or whether it is to be left to rest on the bald statement made by the Minister of Repatriation that it is not known whether the injury is due to war service and that the department cannot accept the responsibility of treating it as a war disability because of the numbers and the different nature of the disorder. That is not the way to tackle a problem of this kind. This disorder is something new and terrifying that has come into the arena of war in the complete disability of sufferers, and the anxiety of parents of young sufferers who go off the deep end, as it were, and are unmanageable at various times, and some of whom finish up in mental institutions where, because they are not in receipt of a repatriation benefit, they are treated as civilians. The work of the Northcote Neurological Clinic of New South Wales is an example of the work that is being done in respect of this terrifying war injury. That clinic has accepted this disorder as a new and terrifying aspect of war.
Therefore, the Opposition submits that it should be a pensionable disability. The reply made by the Minister for Repatriation to the Sydney branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia is simply buckpassing. The disorder is not tangible as v. is a physical disability, because it involves all sorts of circumstances and because medical experts have not arrived at the opinion that it is due to war service. A variety of opinion exists among the medical experts.’ Some of them, when a case is brought to their notice, want to investigate the whole history of the sufferer. But there is overwhelming evidence that the disorder is caused by the terrors of war and, in the circumstances, the Government should give increased attention to it. The Government should not dismiss the disorder as being of no importance. It is very serious, and involves many people. It is permissible in debate upon repatriation for honorable members to recount cases of sadness resulting from war service disabilities. On this occasion, I shall permit myself to refer to one case. It is that of a man who lives in my electorate. He returned from war service as a neurosis victim, and the pathetic aspect is that the family life of that man’s relatives has been completely shattered. He is not in receipt of any pension, and is not considered to be in any way a responsibility of the Repatriation Department. He is not yet 35 years of age. Frequently, when he suffers an attack, he hides in the back of the house, or cowers in the park in front of his home, and, on occasions, even climbs trees in order to hide himself. Upon thatsimple story alone, the department should pursue its investigations in order to see whether mental or nervous disorder cannot be treated as a pensionable disability without going into the case at the most tortuous length. That is what happened with respect to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. These neurosis sufferers should be placed in a separate bracket for treatment as pensionable cases. In 1943, we found that we had to do that with respect to tubercular patients. I am sure that the Government will have to consider the question of neurosis and take similar action in respect of such a disorder.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– As no other honorable member has risen, I shall take my second period now. I ask the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis), when he is replying to my remarks, to indicate the implications that will be involved financially in the provision of medical care for these cases. If that is done, we shall know where we are going. It is the studied policy of the Opposition to press this amendment; and when Labour is returned to office it will act in the direction that I have indicated. Persons outside with no party political beliefs are struggling with this problem. Therefore, I urge the Minister, if he cannot accept the amendment at this stage, to give a full explanation of the course that is being pursued by the department and its medical and scientific experts. We must ascertain how many persons are affected by the disorder, how many are likely to be saved and how many have crossed the Rubicon and no longer can be given effective assistance. Mental or nervous disorder is a pathetic war injury. The young men who suffer from it do not look like heroes of war. But they are the wrecks of the terrors of total war. I can well understand why ex-servicemen’s organizations are determined to press for the treatment of mental or nervous disorder in the same way as sufferers from tuberculosis and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen are treated. I urge the Minister, when he is replying to my remarks, to give full information on this subject. I press him not to treat this amendment as being of no consequence. This disorder is so important, serious, urgent and dominating in the field of repatriation that it demands immediate attention. The evidence to that effect is specific, and I ask the Minister to inform the committee of the plans of the Repatriation Department in respect of it. I urge the Government to accept as pensionable this disorder which involves many persons. The provision of pensions to sufferers from it will, perhaps, involve the expenditure of a substantial sum of money, but we shall not have discharged our duty to ex-servicemen who suffer from this disorder if we fail to provide compensation in some form to them. At present, sufferers from this disorder receive no compensation whatsoever. They are outside the pale of repatriation. They are, by all our experience and understanding, the most vulnerable section of sufferers from war service. Their disorder is the hidden wound, the mental wound, which, so far, repatriation has not been able to touch. Is that failure due to lack of imagination, or is it due to the difficulties that are involved and which call for the closest investigation? The Opposition submits this amendment in all sincerity. Provision for such cases will be a tardy recognition of something that should have been done long ago, as it has been done in the United States of America. Some compensation should be made to sufferers from this disorder and provision should be made for the care of sufferers from mental illness as the result of service in both world wars. If we act in that direction, we shall have added to repatriation something which belongs to this century and which should be tackled by the Government, the medical profession and the community in order to rehabilitate these ex-servicemen. However, if that is impossible because some of these cases are too far gone, at least we can give the men the comfort of a secure pension provided under the blanket provisions which deal with permanently and totally incapacitated exservicemen.
– The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) started off by saying something about denning neurosis, and he referred to me as if he hoped that I might be able to do it for him.
– I went through all that literature as a layman.
– I disclaim any ability to define neurosis be-‘ cause it is not capable of precise definition, but I do not think that the definition of it is the essential basis of this matter. I think that a sort of rough definition of neurosis is that it is a disease of maladjustment and that it is not, primarily at any rate, a physical disease. It is primarily what we call a functional disease. But it is a long step from saying that, to drawing the conclusion that all cases are hopeless and that all should be classed as totally and permanently incapacitated.
I want to say at the start that I agree with the honorable member for Parkes that, where the case is due to the effects of war, certainly it should be treated by the Repatriation Department, and, of course, every effort should be expended to cure it. But I remind the committee that this so-called neurosis, which term I use for lack of a better one, is just as common in the civil population as it i3 amongst ex-servicemen, or as it was in the armed forces during the war. I want to make the point, too, that it was just as common in base area troops, and, in fact, I think probably commoner than it was amongst front-line troops. Therefore, when we use phrases like “ something new and terrifying “, I think, if I may say so, we are laying it on a bit thick, because it is neither new nor terrifying any more than any unknown thing is terrifying, and the more our knowledge about it extends the less terrifying it becomes. I admit that those whose mental capacity to cope with the ordinary events of life is broken down are certainly pathetic people, but it seems to me a curious step to take that we should, therefore, say that every one who has been involved in military service and subsequently develops a neurosis is suffering from a disease due to his military service.
The Parliament, I know, has decided that all cases of tuberculosis should be regarded as being eligible for repatriation treatment, but that is a rather different thing. In the first place, there is no basis of comparability between the two diseases, and it would be, I think, probably very difficult to say of those who have been exposed to all sorts of conditions of climate and physical stress in which tubercular infection may be acquired, that their war service had nothing to do with the lowering of their resistance so that they might become more easily subject to that infection. Even so, I think that perhaps it would be difficult sometimes to establish the fact that their infection was really due to war service. However, the benefit of the doubt has been extended to them. But if we are going to extend it to this illdefined group of conditions - because it is not .a single condition - then we have to ask ourselves where we are going to stop the process. What other diseases are we going to extend it to?
I agree with everything that the honorable member for Parkes has 3aid about the pathetic nature of cases which cover really well-developed neurosis, butthere are lots of other cases with minor degrees of neurosis - I arn talking not of war-caused neurosis but of neurosis as such - who, with excessive sympathy and looking after, will not be cured but will have their disease perpetuated. That is an aspect that we should not forget. We have under the Repatriation Act an excellent method of determining whether compensation is to he made for a disability, and that is by the tribunal set up under section 47. Whilst I have every sympathy with those who suffer from t] is disease, just as I hope I have every sympathy with those w’ho have lost an eye, an arm or a leg, or suffer from some other war-caused disease, I believe that, while we have this mechanism under section 47 of the act to make the decisions, we should stick to it. After all, the fact that a neurosis may be a very bad disease is not in itself a reason for upsetting the whole method of deciding whether we are to give repatriation benefits for it. That is not to say that the disease does not require treatment. Of course it requires treatment and investigation. But does it require it under the Repatriation Act? Is it, in fact, a war disability? In many cases, it was not the war that gave ex-servicemen neurosis. It was something that happened in their civil life.’
– How can we decide the cause?
– Of course, that is the question. AVe have established a tribunal for the purpose of making the best decision possible, and that tribunal is charged with the duty, where there is any doubt, of giving the ex-serviceman the benefit of the doubt.
I carmo t see any earthly reason why we should upset that arrangement. What would we gain by it? We would promptly bring in all sorts of people under the Repatriaton Act for treatment by the Repatriation Commission. Now repatriation has a basic principle. It is something given for war disability. If this is clearly not a war disability - and in many cases that will be so - then there are other appropriate media by which it can be handled. If we are going to extend repatriation benefits merely on the ground of sympathy, Ave are going to stultify the basic principles of the Repatriation Act, and, if we are going do that, Ave might as well move away from the principle of repatriation altogether and embark on some entirely new method of supplying medical services and social services. If we agree to do that, well and good, but as long a? we have a repatriation act and a commission which interprets and administers thai act very sympathetically, then I cannot see that we have any ground for altering the the basis on which we administer it. As I said before, this is not a. question of lack of sympathy. It is a question of method, and if we have a method, as we have, whereby we expend enormous sums of money every year on repatriation, then it is right and proper that, unless we have some basic alteration of principle, we should not extend that expenditure into channels which are not at present governed by the administration of the act. So, while I have sympathy not only with those who suffer from this disease, but also with the honorable member for Parkes in his Herculean attempt to read that enormous pile of literature—
– Love’s labour lost, 1 am afraid.
– Yes, I think so. I say with all clue respect to the honorable gentleman that he has established no case whatever for treating non-war-caused disabilities under a commission which is set up for the sole purpose of looking after the effects of war.
.- The committee is indebted to the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) for the approach that they have made to this most difficult subject. The honorable member for Oxley has quite frankly admitted that neurosis, or mental illness, is a real problem. During the course of his learned discourse he was careful to point out that maladjustments are the cause of mental disorders in civil life. He indicated to the committee that there have been cases in military establishments in which nien have suffered from neurosis, or mental trouble, long before they departed for the front. To that degree, I suppose, we may assume that it could be claimed that their neuroses were not due to war-caused trouble. However, I suggest to the learned doctor that the mere fact that some men were called up during the war for military service, ultimately to serve in a theatre of war, was sufficient to throw them off balance, upset their adjustment, and so, in many instances, bring on mental disorders for life.
In my opinion, a mental trouble has a much more serious impact on a man’s existence even than a physical disorder, which is material and can be seen, dealt with and understood. In these circumstances, I suggest that we might be a little more liberal in our understanding than we have indicated our willingness to be up to the present. I know that, amongst old-time medical officers and military commanders, there is a longstanding belief that what the learned doctor is pleased to term “ excessive sympathy” may tend to prolong the mental trouble of a neurotic person. There is, perhaps, some foundation for that belief, which is entertained by many members of the medical fraternity, in some cases no doubt with justice; but. in other cases, I think the benefit of the doubt should be given. Fortunately, many of us are mentally well-balanced and hardly know the meaning of nervous disorder. Metaphorically speaking, such men are capable of going through hell without showing any apparent mental effects. But there are others in the community who are so mentally balanced and constituted that the slightest disturbance of their way of living causes a maladjustment which sends them off the deep end. That was the case with many troops who suffered nervous disorders merely because they were called into camp. The mere thought of the horrors of war had an impact on them.
I have seen an example of that sort of thing on the battlefield. The instance I have in mind is that of a son of a former member of this Parliament, whom I saw approach within half a mile of a battle front. A shell had not burst within 100 yards of him, but I saw him disappear to the rear a total mental wreck. That was not a temporary matter. He came to the unit to which I belonged apparently a fit, hale and hearty man, capable of remaining well adjusted during his period of training and service. But, as soon as he approached the theatre of danger, he went off balance mentally. I frequently wondered what had happened to him after he became ill. Probably five years later, when I thought he might have recovered and returned to civil life in a normal state of health, I saw him walk from the kerb in Collins-street, Melbourne, to board a tramcar. He was a pitiable sight physically, shaking from top to toe. I asked him about his health, and he told me that he had never been cured of his mental disorder. I asked him whether he was receiving a pension and he replied that he was not. How he has fared since. I do not know. He is probably dead. That ex-serviceman should have been eligible for a pension. Though he had not suffered from physical wounds as had many soldiers, his condition was infinitely more pathetic than that of many ex-servicemen who received physical wounds. A man who has never been on the battlefield, but has been only in training camps where a shot has never been fired in anger could be afflicted by nervous or mental trouble. Such sufferers should at least be treated on the same basis as ex-servicemen sufferers from tuberculosis, all of whom are eligible for war pensions. There is no difference between the two classes of sufferers, butonly those who have contracted tuberculosis are given the benefit of the doubt. There are many instances in which it is impossible to say that neurosis or a mental disorder was not caused by war service, and former servicemen who suffer from those afflictions should be given the benefit of the doubt.
– Suppose there is no doubt that the disability was not caused by war service. Would the honorable member favour the payment of a pension in such an instance?
– The honorable member and I are among those who have been lucky, according to our own assessment, and nave suffered no mental disorder - though other people may have doubts about that - as a result of war service, and we should be the worst possible -judges of such a matter. We possibly should not have enough sympathy for those who are mentally afflicted, and we might ask why they are not constituted as we are constituted. Yet, on mature reflection, we have to admit that many persons who were never in the forces, in certain circumstances, lose their mental balance. How much easier is it for a person with a similar mental constitution, who has been called to the colours and seen service, either in camp or on the battlefield, to lose his mental balance as a result ‘of his service in the forces. Ordinary men like the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) and myself could not determine whether such a person’s mental disability was the result of war service. For the reasons that I have advanced, the Opposition argues that mentally deranged exservicemen should be given the benefit of the doubt about whether their disability is due to war service.
The learned doctors may be sympathetic, but the old attitude sometimes persists. Among the newer recruits to the medical profession, a much more liberal and kindly outlook exists than among the older hands. I do not accuse doctors of unkindliness, but the older medical practitioners have not the rather more liberal outlook of their younger colleagues. A completely new attitude towards mental diseases is developing, and a greater sympathy for persons who are afflicted with mental disorders is becoming evident in the community. More scientific treatment is available to them and they receive a more humane approach. At one time, mental disorders were a matter for reproach, and persons afflicted with them were cast out of the daily life of the community, as it were, and kept hidden in places of retirement. But to-day those who have been more fortunately treated by Providence realize that mental derangements constitute a form of incapacity. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes is designed to ensure that exservicemen who suffer from mental disorders shall be accepted as eligible for war pensions and that their condition shall be deemed to have been caused by service in the forces. I appeal to medical practitioners and to all honorable members to approach the problem in the humane manner in which it is approached bv the honorable member for Parkes. This is not a matter for party politics.
Doubtless the ultimate cost to the community of this proposal will be considered. If ex-servicemen who are mentally afflicted are not assisted, many of them will eventually be placed in mental institutions. We might just as well remove their fear complex and improve their economic conditions, and thereby, perhaps, ensure that many who would otherwise enter mental hospitals shall be saved from incarceration in either private or repatriation mental hospitals, where, in any event, they will be a heavy burden on the public purse.
I freely admit that at one time I might have been one of those who would have suggested that a man who developed nerves when he approached the front line was a malingerer or a coward. I recollect that when my unit was at Pozieres in World War I., a serving soldier aged seventeen dashed to the rear of the lines. In a more hardened age he would have been reported to the commanding officer and undoubtedly, in the British Army, would have been courtmartialled and shot. When the battle had ended, I went to the colonel of the regiment and suggested that the soldier in question, on account of his youth, should be transferred to a section of the unit in which the danger and the degree of contact with battle were considerably less, and where the young soldier would have less occasion for fear. As a consequence, that man to-day is hale and hearty. Later in the war, he rejoined the fighting section of the unit. Had it not been for the understanding inspired in myself and the colonel of the unit, that soldier might have become a complete mental wreck, and might have been completely useless as a soldier or in civilian life. There is need for members of the Parliament and the people generally to view the problems of mentally deranged ex-servicemen more sympathetically than they have been viewed in the past.
Mr. FRANCIS (Moreton- Minister for the Navy and Minister for the Army) S.35] . - The Repatriation Department has given more consideration to the problems of mentally diseased exservicemen than it has given to many other problems. It is sad to think that former servicemen sometimes become completely neurotic and have to’ be treated in mental hospitals. Every mentally afflicted ex-serviceman receives medical treatment and a war pension unless it can be proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that his disability was not due to war service. Every case is dealt with on its merits, and psychiatric specialists are consulted by the department. One of these specialists is Dr. Alan Stoller, one of Australia’s outstanding psychiatrists. His advice to the department is that it is not advisable to regard mentally afflicted ex-servicemen collectively as being entitled to pensions, and that it is better to deal with them as individuals. Any exserviceman who can establish a case for assistance is readily given it. The department almost falls over backwards in its endeavours to give former servicemen who suffer from mental and nervous disorders the treatment to which they are entitled.
– Why is a different attitude adopted towards ex-servicemen who have contracted tuberculosis?
– As the honorable member should know, it is much easier to prove that tuberculosis was due to war service. According to the records, many more civilians than ex-servicemen are afflicted with neurosis. Many mental breakdowns are clearly related to environmental pressures, physical constitution and personality type, and have no possible relation to war service. Other derangements are the result of hereditary factors. The inclusion of all mentally afflicted exservicemen in benefits provided under the Repatriation Act would require the payment of benefits to a large number of criminals without social rseponsibilities who were misfits in the Army, as they are in civil life. The Repatriation Department has consulted all the expert advice available, and it treats mentally afflicted ex-servicemen as generously as it is humanly possible to treat them. It gives them the benefit of every doubt. In addition, the department has appointed in every State groups of experts to deal with this type of case, and in some of the States it conducts special mental hospitals for the treatment only of ex-servicemen. When I was Minister for Repatriation I adopted this policy, which my successor has continued. I was responsible for the establishment of the first repatriation mental hospital, which is situated at Goodna, in Queensland. This Ls a very fine hospital with a staff of specialists, who give excellent care and treatment to their ex-servicemen patients. I could say much more, but I do not think a lengthy discussion is necessary. I am satisfied that the Opposition has not established a case in support of the amendment. The methods at present adopted by the Repatriation Department in relation to the treatment of mentally ill exservicemen are approved by specialists in these problems. No advantage could be gained by accepting the amendment, and I ask the committee to reject it.
.- I support the most commendable amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). Much of what I intended to say has already been said by that honorable member and the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). Two matters arise out of the remarks of the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) and the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis). Exservicemen generally are treated sympathetically. I know from my experience and my knowledge of many former servicemen who suffer from war disabilities, that many of them, who are afflicted with nervous disorders have received sympathetic treatment from the Repatriation Department and are receiving repatriation benefits. The number of exservicemen afflicted with nervous disorders who do not receive benefits is extremely few. I have been able to find no statistics from which the number might be learned. I have had to rely only on my own observation, and I think that the number is few. Occasionally a case arises in which a sufferer is unable to obtain benefits, because it is difficult to establish his case. If it is difficult to establish a case for those ex-servicemen, and they are few in number, the Government, for the sake of giving benefits to all ex-servicemen, should accept the amendment’. I do not agree with the honorable member for Oxley that the sympathetic approach to these problems should be abandoned. It would be a very good thing if social services and repatriation benefits were combined in one scheme, and any proposal to give repatriation benefits to more exservicemen would commend itself to me. The position of ex-servicemen afflicted with mental disorders is precisely the same as that of those who suffer from tuberculosis, to whom repatriation benefits are paid. Little increase of the vote of £39,000,000 for repatriation benefits would be needed if all mentally afflicted ex-servicemen were deemed eligible for benefits. It is difficult to determine why some ex-servicemen lose their mental balance, but the fact is that they have done so, and the consequences to them are very serious. They should be given repatriation benefits.
I turn now to . the position of the families of incapacitated ex-servicemen. The proposal for their benefit that is contained in the amendment should commend itself to the Government. The wife of an ex-serviceman who suffers from a mental or nervous disorder is subjected to a tremendous strain. She must be his keeper and look after him in every respect. That is her contract with him, and the load is a very heavy one for her to bear. I call attention also, in asking for a sympathetic approach to this problem, to the fact that the mental condition of .some ex-servicemen’s wives is not good. Many of the wives, with great detriment to their future lives, contracted mental disorders during the war because of the absence of their husbands overseas. I hope the day will come when consideration will be given to their needs and to the needs of wives who have to care for ex-servicemen who suffer from mental and nervous disorders. If they have children it makes it so much harder for them. We ask for repatriation assistance in the form of a pension, and I believe that the wives of those ex-servicemen whom I have been describing, well deservethat assistance. The Government should realize that the care given by these wives to their husbands saves the country the expense of caring for such exservicemen in public institutions. I suggest that the cost of institutional care would be much greater than the cost of giving pensions to the wives. Therefore, even on the ground of economy it would be a good move by the Government to accept the Opposition’s amendment.
We should not lose sight of the fact that ex-servicemen gave the best years of their lives in the service of the country during war-time, and if their health becomes reduced through nervous disorders they should be cared for by the nation. We should not split straws about how they should be treated. I support the amendment principally because of the benefit that legislation of that kind would. confer on the wives and families of exservicemen.
Another reason for my support is that ex-servicemen who are suffering .from nervous disorders cause grave social problems. There are perhaps three categories of these men. First, there is the exserviceman who has to take a day or two off each week. Such a man finds it difficult to get employment, and generally ends up as the man you get to do a job when there is nobody else offering. That is not much of an existence for any man. Secondly, there is the man suffering from a nervous disorder who cannot do any work at all, and is looked after at home by his wife. We are not sure whether his ill health is due to war service or not, so we split straws about whether he should be given a pension or not. In the third category is the ex-serviceman who suffers a. complete cerebral atrophy. He is a complete invalid, and needs constant attention.
I want to speak about the second group because it is too frequently brought to our notice that some men suffering from nervous disorders, while appearing to be in good health, eventually deteriorate until they do something very terrible either to the community or to themselves. Every possible effort should be made to ensure that their circumstances are as good as possible, so that they may have the best chance of improving their health. Again I say that these men gave the best years of their lives to the country, and it is not fair for us to forget them. The care of the mentally affected is the responsibility of the Government, as the honorable member for Oxley has told us. It does not matter whether the State Government or the Australian Govern.ment looks after them, but in the end it is a governmental and social problem and funds should be found to carry out that work. The Australian Government, through the Repatriation Department, has the facilities necessary to treat ex-servicemen, but the States have not the same facilities. The States are trying to catch up with the problem but, according to the report of the Repatriation Commission, it is the Commonwealth which has all the necessary facilities and is able to treat ex-servicemen very well. Ex-servicemen who apply for repatriation benefits undergo very thorough examinations, and in that respect the Repatriation Department does a good service to the community. It is only a small step forward for the Government to apply the repatriation benefits in the form of treatment and pensions to the men that I have spoken about, from the day that the department is notified of their illnesses.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– This is possibly one of the most difficult subjects that any ex-serviceman or non-ex-serviceman could talk about. I do not believe that any of us can approach the matter with an easy mind, because of the emotion and sentiment that must enter into any such discussion. It is fair to say that anybody who permits any kind of suggestion against any increase of benefit to these people can be accused of all sorts of unkind things, but I want to. say, as sincerely as I can, that the basis of repatriation surely is to give benefits and treatment directly to people who suffered disabilities actually caused by a war. I believe the honorable member for Lalor took the matter too far when he said that men who were called np, or enlisted, knew that the possibility of conflict was before them and consequently underwent an emotional experience which might have upset them mentally. I would never endeavour to go into personal experiences, or to detail experiences that I know of, but the exact cause of neurosis is not known, and the medical profession has no exact knowledge of it as yet. Perhaps the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) might agree .with me about that. However, in repatriation we must be concerned about getting repatriation benefits or pensions to the persons who have some disability, whether it be mental or physical or otherwise, caused by war. If there is any doubt, it must be resolved in favour of the person applying for the benefit. I believe very firmly that that should be the approach.
In my own experience of the Repatriation Department I have discovered that what the Minister has said about the department is perfectly correct. The department, and its officials, lean over backwards in borderline cases in order to help the applicants. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) said that there were three categories of people in the neurosis group. He said that there were those who took a few days off each week, those who for the greater part of their lives were looked after at home, and those who were permanent invalids. I venture to suggest to the honorable member that in each of those three categories there is provision made under the Repatriation Act for them to be treated and get benefits. A strong plea has been made by honorable members opposite that the Government should treat neurosis cases on the same lines as tuberculosis cases who come within the tuberculosis pensions scheme. I cannot agree with them, because tuberculosis is easily identified and can be clearly proved to be present. In 99 cases out of 100 tuberculosis in ex-servicemen has been caused by war service, but I do not say that in all cases nervous disorders in ex-servicemen were necessarily caused by war service. However, I admit freely that wherever there is the least element of doubt, the doubt must be resolved in favour of the ex-serviceman. This i3 an extremely difficult matter to talk about, but I believe, from my experience, that the Repatriation Department does lean over backwards to meet the situation in the cases that this debate is concerned with.
.- Ex-servicemen’s organizations have been trying for years to have mental and nervous disorders accepted for automatic entitlement to pensions under the Repatriation Act. The Minister, in reply to representations made by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, said that the basic principle behind the Repatriation Act is that incapacity must be due to war service and if, having regard to all aspects, it is not due to war service it should not come within the provisions of the act. Can any one suggest that there is no nervous strain in a man on active service? Take for example the men who served in the jungles of the islands to the north of Australia. Men in infantry battalions were forced to .sneak and crawl and creep through the jungles watching and waiting for the enemy to appear from behind trees or out of foxholes, sleeping in the open and seeing their mates shot down beside them. Then there were the men in the Royal Australian Air Force - bomber crews and fighter pilots all taking part in raids over enemy areas who were wondering whether their next minute would be their last. Then there were the men in the Royal Australian Navy, patrolling the seas who were wondering at what moment they would strike a mine or be attacked by submarines. The nerves of those men would be continually on edge, and they would be virtually living on their nerves. Then there were the men in non-active units, who would see their mates going out to contact the enemy and would wonder whether they would come back.
– Surely the honorable member does not suggest that that was a reason for a breakdown?
– Perhaps in the case of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) and the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) and many honorable members of the fail lament it would not have been a reason for a breakdown, but not one of us is made of the same stuff. Some of us have weaknesses in one form or another. Perhaps there are men who have not the make-up of the honorable members that I have mentioned. Some of the men to whom I have referred may have been protected while they were children and were not allowed to mix and fight with other boys. Perhaps because of their early lives they developed nervous troubles that other servicemen were free from. We cannot apply a rule of thumb to all ex-servicemen, and I suggest that because the honorable member for Henty ov the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) do not suffer from nervous disabilities, all other exservicemen should not so suffer. Then there are those who, after coming back from the war without showing sign of nervous disability, suffered domestic upsets and economic troubles or sickness, and consequently had nervous breakdowns. Could anybody justly deny the fact that their nerves were affected by the things they were forced to do, and the conditions under which they were forced to live, during their war service? In normal conditions they would not have been forced to do these things or to live under these conditions. Oan any one seriously suggest that their war service has not played a part in their mental breakdown?
I shall not go into the details of cases of prisoners of war who were ill-treated by the enemy, and who suffered from malnutrition and in other ways during their captivity. These men, too, can be expected to have suffered a great deal of disability and nervous upset as a result of their war service. We are unable to judge exactly how a particular set of circumstances would affect any individual, and for that reason alone I commend to the committee the amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes. I realize that acceptance of the amendment by the Government will mean ah increase of expenditure on repatriation, but I consider that such an increase is merited.
.- The Opposition has clearly devoted itself to this subject with moderation and sincerity, and I wish to make the few remarks that I have to make in a similar vein. I do not in any sense wish to ridicule the remarks of the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart), but I cannot agree with his contentions. He talked about the great stresses of war, which are undoubted, but he went a good deal further than most of us on this side of the committee are prepared to go. He said, for example, that people, who are not actively engaged against the enemy, but have to undergo the strain of watching others engaging the enemy, may have incurred some mental damage, or damage to their nerves, which ought to make them eligible for pensions. I cannot accept that proposition. One might as well say that, for the same reason, the wives and mothers, and other members of the families of men who were engaged in active service, are eligible for a pension. I suggest that the families of men who saw action against the enemy suffered at least as much mental strain as was suffered by people who watched, from some vantage point, our soldiers doing the actual fighting. If we were to accept the eligibility of wives, mothers and other members of the families of soldiers for pensions on that ground, there would be no end of the matter. The fact is that life is full of stresses and strains, both in war and in peace, and human beings have to put up with, at any rate, a certain minimum of such stresses and strains. That is the situation, whether we like it or not.
I am not unsympathetic in relation to this matter. I know how extraordinarily difficult it is for us to address ourselves to the subject of neurosis because, as the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron), and the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder), have pointed out, we know so little about it. The proposition put by honorable members opposite is that ex-servicemen who suffer from nervous disorders should be put on exactly the same basis as those who suffer from tuberculosis. There is a great difference between those two categories of exservicemen. For a start, if those who are suffering from tuberculosis are allowed to go untreated they are a great menace to the community. They will spread their affliction among the members of their own families and the public at large. They have to be treated in the national interest, whether their condition is attributable to war service or not. They might just as well be treated in hospitals that have facilities for treating them. The most readily available of such hospitals at the moment are repatriation hospitals, and I believe it to be perfectly right that they should be treated there.
There is another aspect of this neurosis matter on which I wish to touch. I repeat that it is extraordinarily difficult to address ourselves to this subject, because we know so little about it. I do not believe, however, that whatever the causes of neurosis may be - and I admit that the effects are just as disastrous when carried to an extreme degree, as are fatal disorders - it does a patient or a sufferer any great service to let him know that he can fall back all the time on the Government or the Repatriation Department for assistance. From my experience - not from what I know, which is nothing, or from what doctors have told me, but from what I have been told by people with whom members of Parliament so often come into contact - I believe that a solution of the matter must rest to a great degree with the individual. I do not think that it really helps to say that every man who served in the forces in the way that the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has mentioned should draw the same rate of pension, or receive the same repatriation benefits that a sufferer from tuberculosis receives.
How does one define neurosis? T doubt very much whether any honorable member could do it. But this I know, that a person can convince himself that he has neurosis. We all know that to be true. I believe the honorable member for Lang would agree with me. I repeat that I doubt very much whether we are doing this particular category of persons any good service by putting into their heads the belief that their condition should make them as eligible for pensions as are sufferers from tuberculosis. In any event, as the honorable member for Oxley has pointed out, if they suffer from neurosis which, by any stretch of the imagination, can be regarded as a result of their war service, under the existing act they get the benefit of the doubt and are treated in repatriation hospitals. Therefore, believing as I do that it is not to the interest of sufferers from this complaint to receive carte blanche in the matter of eligibility for pensions, and also as I believe that it is impossible to define neurosis with precision, I am unable to support the amendment.
Question put -
That the sub-clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Haylen’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the negative.
Mr. Haylen. - No.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses1 to 19 agreed to.
New clause 13a.
.- I move -
That after clause 13, the following new clause be inserted: - “ 13a. After section one hundred and eight of the Principal Act the following sections are inserted: - “109. - (1.) A person is eligible for benefits under this section if he or she - (a.) is a member of the family, as defined in section twenty-three of this Act, of a pensioner who is in receipt of a pension in accordance with the Second Schedule to this Act; and
has the care of the pensioner. (2.) The provisions relating to the pensioner medical service contained in Part IV. of the National Health Act 1953, and the provisions relating to pharmaceutical benefits contained in Part VII. of that Act, shall be deemed to apply in relation to persons eligible for benefits under this section in like manner as they apply in relation to pensioners as defined in that Act. (3.) The Commonwealth shall, as soon as practicable after the commencement of this section, propose to the States a variation of the agreements with the States relating to hospital benefits that are in force under section forty of the National Health Act 1953 so that the hospital benefits provided under those agreements in respect of pensioners under the Social Services Act 1947-1954 shall be applicable, subject to similar conditions, to persons eligible for benefits under this section. 109a. A member of the Forces, and the widow of a member of the Forces, is entitled, subject to such conditions and restrictions as are prescribed, to accommodation and treatment at a hospital established for the purposes of this Act in respect of any illness or injury (including an illness or injury to a member of the Forces not connected with his war service).’.”.
This proposed new clause is rather extensive, and a good deal of machinery is involved to obtain a very simple result. The purpose of the clause is to provide benefits for persons who have care of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. I thank the Parliamentary Draftsman for his attention and courtesy in this matter. A great deal of study and planning of various acts has been necessary to enable this clause to be drafted in the way which will achieve the objective that I have in mind. Generally speaking, the wife of a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner would be eligible for social services benefits as an aid to an invalid pensioner. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis), who is in charge of the bill, will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that some Consideration has already been given to this matter by the Repatriation Department. How far that consideration has progressed, we do not know. I hope that the Minister will give us some information, about that matter in a few moments. However, I know that there is a sympathetic drift in this direction.
I think that there are approximately 11,000 totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, and, in the main, the person ( who looks after an ex-serviceman in that category is the wife, daughter or female relative. Frequently, the female attendant is as sick as, or even more sick than, the ex-serviceman himself. Her problem is a peculiar one, and comes well within the ambit of the Repatriation Department. There is no need for me to- stress this matter unduly, except to make it abundantly clear that this is something which can be done on the basis of common sense, so that the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, who is on a relatively high level of pension, will not have to worry if his attendant becomes ill. The granting of the benefits proposed in the clause will also be a humane act in recognition of the years that wives or other female relatives have devoted to the sick men. Some ex-servicemen have been totally and permanently incapacitated since World War I. Others have come into that category only recently. Their rate of demise is high. Their wives, early in their married life, were faced with the tragedy of a badly wounded husband, and are now in the group approaching eligibility for the ag-?. pension.
It is not a simple matter to achieve my purpose. An amendment of th, principal act is necessary, the National Health Act is affected and the agreement made by the Commonwealth with the
States in regard to health matters and hospitalization must be varied. Simply stated, however, all that is required bv the Opposition is that the wife or. attendant of a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner shall have the same social services - free medicine and hospitalization - as are granted to age and invalid pensioners. I understand that the Minister has some knowledge of all those matters. I have moved tha amendment on behalf of the Opposition in order to egg the Government on to a decision, and to ascertain whether there is any movement on the issue, or whether it is static. The case for the acceptance of the new clause is unassailable. I am sure that the Government will not shelter behind the Repatriation Department, and what it is alleged to do, and not to do.
The extension of the benefits to persons who have care of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners will not involve great expenditure. On,honorable member suggests that repatriation benefits and social service benefits will become interchangeable and almost indistinguishable in a few years’ time, because of a growing movement from one class of social services to another class. It requires many words to express what is simply stated in the marginal note to the new clause. This is a matter of granting a social service to the aged or sick relatives who care for a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, so that they may have a benefit which is really their right, but which has not been given to them because of their special circumstances.
A .similarly strong case can be made out for the extension of the provisions relating to hospitalization to persons who care for totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. That would give a great deal of relief to the older group of persons, and would involve a good deal of hospitalization and, I dare say, treatment. But if they were not recipients of benefits under the totally and permanently incapacitated provisions of the act, they would be getting those services as age pensioners. My purpose in submitting this amendment is to bring the two circumstances together. I hope that this amendment will be considered on a nonparty political basis. The Minister has come almost half-way to a decision on the matter. I ask him to agree to the amendment.
– Is the honorable member speaking of proposed new section 109 or 109a?
– The two proposed sections are included in the new clause with- the marginal note, “ Benefits for persons having care of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners “. Honorable members may wonder at the length of this proposed clause. That is due to the definition of a “ dependant “. We have been most generous, as has the act, in this matter. If we begin to tinker, and give a concession to the wife, sister, or female relative, of a pensioner, we encounter all sorts of trouble. The repatriation authorities have discovered long since that there is no possible chance of getting a short definition of “ relative “ or “ dependant “. That applies in life as well as in the Repatriation Act. It is only a matter of time when the people concerned will become eligible for the pension, and it is only a matter of mechanics to change their rights under social services legislation to repatriation benefits. I ask the Minister to give favorable consideration to my representations.
– The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) has advised that this matter has engaged his attention for a considerable time. Many difficult problems have to be overcome before he can make any recommendation to the Government on the matter. The new clause proposed by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) would not achieve the result that he desires to achieve. It would not extend to the wife and children of a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner the benefits of the pensioner medical service under the National Health Act 1953. It would extend the benefit to persons who come within the definition of “member of a family” in section 23 of the act, and care for a pensioner. Although the definition of “ member of a family “ includes a number of relatives, ranging from wife and children to mother-in-law, the quali fication “ care of a pensioner “ would limit the number of persons to be benefited. Obviously, the young children of totally and permanently incapacitated members are excluded. Yet they are the very persons whom any honorable member would desire to see benefited by any legislation. Even if the amendment were agreed to, it would not confer immediate benefits on any one. All that section 40 and Part IV. of the National Health Act do is to enable the Government to enter into an agreement with the States to provide hospital treatment, and with the medical profession to provide medical treatment. This amendment would not mean that those additional persons would be included in the existing agreement.
For some time, the Government has’ been giving consideration to the matter of the medical treatment, not of the persons looking after a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, but the wife and children of the member.* The whole matter is very complicated. There are several agreements with the medical profession and the States which have to be worked out, and I am informed by our legal advisers that there is no need for this clause, because the aim of the honorable member for Parkes can be achieved by way of regulations. I ask him not to press this amendment, but to accept the assurance, which has been given to me by the Minister for Repatriation himself, that he is vitally interested in this problem and is most sympathetic towards the persons whom the honorable gentleman has in mind. He has the whole matter under consideration at the present time and hopes that any action, if it can be taken, will be effected by regulation. I hope that the honorable member will accept this assurance.
– I regret that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) has not seen fit to accept proposed new clause 13a. It has been drawn up by the Parliamentary Draftsman with a full knowledge of all the implications of the National Health Act 1953 to which the Minister has referred. I cannot see that the difficulties are so great as the honorable gentleman has stated. It is true that there may be some necessity for consultation with the States regarding hospitalization, but the Opposition prefers the Minister to accept the amendment, as drafted. It is all very well for him to say that it does not include the children of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, who are now named as dependants in section 23 of the principal act. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) has it in his power to alter those circumstances by regulation.
An indication has been given by the honorable senator that he has come our way to some extent. He may be willing eventually to go further than the proposed clause seeks. I think that is correct. He has indicated that he is favorably disposed to our request, and I trust that if it is possible to give effect to our proposal, or, better still, enlarge upon it by way of regulation, he will honour his undertaking. Perhaps when we .re-assemble the week after next, he will .be able to announce proudly that, despite the rejection of the new clause this evening, he has seen the light iri the meantime and that the necessary regulation can be drafted to bring a new group of pensioners within the ambit of the Repatriation Act.
– So long as the honorable member for Lalor gets the credit for it.
– I am not concerned with credit. I have always been most impartial in my approach to ‘all matters raised in this Parliament. My main purpose is to see that people get the benefits to which I consider they are entitled. That is why we shall not demand a division on this new clause. We desire people to get the benefits to which we consider they are legally and morally entitled. The Minister has shown that he is likely to yield. We shall be satisfied if we have a firmer undertaking than has so far been given that this proposal will be given effect.
We hope for the best, but we shall inquire at a later date about what has been done. I do not .believe that the cost of granting these benefits to persons who care for totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners will be very great. Some of them, at least, will become eligible under Commonwealth acts and State legislation to some of the bene fits set out in the new clause. The important matter to the people concerned is that they receive the benefits as a right, because of the war service of the member. Some people are so foolish as to think that these benefits are in the nature of charity, whereas they are, in reality, social services. flr. DONALD CAMERON (Oxley) 9.30], - I was glad to hear the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) say that the Opposition will not press the amendment to a division. I want to say only two things. The first is that the amendment is one with which most honorable members would feel a good deal of sympathy, because the position of dependants of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen with regard to medical service is often difficult and the provision of medical service for them would be consistent with much of the fine legislation that this Government has brought into effect for pensioners. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) has clearly shown that the amendment, as it stands, will not achieve its objective, and, therefore, there does not seem to be good reason to press it.
– It will achieve its objective, if it is pressed. It is specific, and has been planned not by the Opposition but by officers of the department.
– The second thing I want to say is that the Minister has given an undertaking that the matter is being considered sympathetically by the Minister, for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) and that suitable regulations are under consideration. Whilst, of course, I have no authority to speak for either the Minister for Repatriation or the Minister for the Army, I am quite sure from my knowledge of both of them that they will be quite willing to listen to representations on this matter. I again welcome the assurance that the Opposition does not intend to press the amendment to a division.
.- The Opposition accepts in good faith the remarks that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) has made and his promise of performance. The committee of members of the Opposition which considered this matter evolved the amendment as one way of getting round the necessity for promulgating regulations. Honorable members on this side of the chamber are aware of that difficulty. However, we do not want the Minister to take the view that this is a sort of dillpot amendment which can be easily knocked over. The Opposition has given serious consideration to this matter and has submitted its amendment as being the only way of avoiding the trouble of running into regulations. We are prepared to accept the Minister’s assurance and I hope that the Government will not delay in the matter. Much has been said about the position of children of service pensioners. Provision can be made along these lines later in respect of children. The thought that was uppermost in the minds of honorable members on this side of the chamber was that something should bc done first for ageing dependants of war pensioners. We regarded that asbeing the first step that should be taken. If the Government can make provision for all classes of dependants of war pensioners at the same time, so much the better; but, as a first step, we ask, and have now received an assurance from the Minister in this direction, that female relatives of totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioners shall receive medical treatment and hospitalization. Such provision would be a godsend to them; and the Opposition has pressed the matter to the point at which the Minister recognizes that such action should be taken. We welcome that assurance.
,- I rise to make it clear that whilst I assure the Opposition that the provisions of proposed new section 109, which relates to benefits for persons having care of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, is under consideration by the Government, I can hold out no hope that the Government can provide treatment in repatriation hospitals for relatives of a member of the forces. It would be impossible to do that at this stage. For instance, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) pointed out earlier that it was not possible to meet all requirements at the Hobart Repatriation Hospital. The provision contained in proposed new section 109a raises a separate problem entirely. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) assures me that attention is being given to the expansion of hospital accommodation. Thi3 matter may be raised and considered when such additional accommodation becomes available.
– I am sorry that the assurance given by the Minister does not apply to proposed new section 109a which provides for the hospitalization of a member of the forces and the widow of a member of the forces. In that, event, the Opposition will press for the insertion of that proposed new sub-section.
.- Proposed new section 109a reads -
A member of the Forces, and the widow of a member of the Forces, is entitled, subject to such conditions and restrictions as are proscribed, to accommodation and treatment at a hospital established for the purposes nf. this Act iii respect of any illness or injury (including an illness or injury to a member of the Forces not connected with’ his war service).
The Opposition regards this provision as being vital and, therefore, it will press it to a division. There is a great call for the treatment of the widows of members of the forces in repatriation hospitals, and I do not believe that it is beyond the capacity of the Repatriation Department to provide the requisite accommodation for this purpose. Of course, in the present circumstances, it may not be possible to give effect immediately to this provision. As honorable members from Victoria are aware, there is accommodation to spare in many repatriation hospitals. I believe that is the case at the Heidelberg Hospital. Indeed, such accommodation is available to the degree that civilian cases are being taken at that institution. In those circumstances, why should it not be possible to make such accommodation available for the treatment of widows of members of the forces in preference to civilians?
– The Minister is treating the Opposition very well in this matter.
– Honorable members on this side of the chamber are not looking for good treatment, but are asserting the rights of dependants of servicemen.
Tho Minister has assured the committee that the Government will endeavour to implement the provision contained in proposed new section 109, but he now gives a blank refusal in respect of proposed new section 109a. Therefore, I do not know how the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand) can say that the Minister is treating the Opposition very well. I suggest that the Minister, after a little further consideration, mav see fit to assure the committee that the Government will make provision along the lines suggested in proposed new section 109a. After all, that will not involve very much. In normal circumstances, the widows of members of the forces are entitled under State law, and to some degree under Commonwealth law, if the are members of approved societies, to free treatment in civilian hospitals. Surely, they should be eligible for treatment in repatriation hospitals in which spare accommodation is available. I hope that the Minister will reconsider his attitude and not force us into calling for a vote of the committee.
– I hope that honorable gentlemen opposite will not consider it. necessary to force this matter to a vote. The amendment proposes that hospital treatment should be provided foi1 all ex-servicemen and their families, whether the disability from which the ex-serviceman suffers is due to war service or not.
– I did not say anything about their families. I referred to widows.
– I shall leave out the reference to families and shall answer the proposal of the Opposition that we should provide immediately hospital and medical treatment for all ex-servicemen and widows. The repatriation medical institutions were set up to provide treatment for ex-servicemen whose disabilities have been accepted as being due to war service, and also to enable diagnosis to be made on conditions claimed by exservicemen to be due to war service. If the proposed amendment were to be accepted, it would mean that all exservice personnel would have equal rights to treatment at repatriation medical institutions, and this could result in exservice personnel with disabilities which were accepted as being due to war service being unable to gain admission to repatriation medical institutions, because such institutions would be full of men who were there for treatment of disabilities not due to war service. It is possible that ex-servicemen who were in great pain and difficulty because of loss of a limb would be unable to obtain such treatment. I do not think that any honorable member would want to deny medical treatment to an ex-serviceman who was suffering and in urgent need of such treatment, because repatriation hospitals were full of ex-servicemen with disabilities not due to war service.
It would be impossible, at this stage, to implement the scheme as a whole. We have not sufficient beds available at repatriation medical institutions to meet the demand that would result. There would be approximately 1,000,000 members and 40,000 widows, widowed mothers and children eligible for treatment, and on the normal civilian basis of nine hospital beds for each 1,000 of population, a total of 9,360 beds would be required throughout the Commonwealth. As at the 30th June, the designed bed capacity of wards in repatriation general hospitals which could be used for treatment of patients, was 4,311. Because of the shortage of nursing staff, and also lack of staff accommodation in some States, it was only possible to have equipped wards with a designed capacity of 3,926 beds as at that date. Of the latter figure, 3,648 arc occupied to-day. The number of vacant beds which could have been used for the treatment of persons referred tn in this amendment would be only 278. This figure would fluctuate from time to time. It must be realized that the vacant beds would be spread over various types of wards, such as surgical, medical, skin, psychiatric, tuberculosis, and male and female.
If staff and staff accommodation were available, another 3S5 beds could be provided at repatriation general hospitals. Additional staff of approximately 200 would be required. Difficulty is being experienced already in obtaining nursing staff for repatriation medical institutions. In fact, this is general at all hospitals, including public hospitals. Because of the shortage of nursing staff, it has been necessary, in some repatriation general hospitals, to place more beds in wards than the number for which the wards were designed, and this is not conducive to good nursing or proper treatment. At the repatriation general hospital in Hobart, there is a shortage of beds for the treatment of ex-service personnel with disabilities accepted as due to war service. Therefore, it would not be possible at this stage to implement in Tasmania the scheme proposed in the amendment.
Even if the scheme were to be introduced immediately, it would be only a very restricted one, and difficulties would be encountered in administering it. Priority of admission would have to be determined by the department, and this would necessitate increasing the number of administrative staff at the repatriation branch offices. Each request for admission would have to be carefully checked for eligibility, and this could cause delays, especially in relation to Navy and Air Force cases in which the member had not previously approached the department, as service documents in respect of such persons are not held by the department. The only persons whose admission could be approved would be those suffering from acute or sub-acute conditions, as admission of patients suffering from . chronic conditions would result in the hospitals being filled with patients who would occupy “beds for very long periods, if not for the rest of their lives. Because of the restrictions which would have to be applied in relation to priority and nature of condition - and admission would depend on whether a bed in a suitable ward was available - many members would complain because they could not be admitted to repatriation general hospitals.
At present the maximum number of beds that could be utilized in repatriation general hospitals in all States is approximately 660, provided that staff could be obtained, but as these beds would be in various categories,such as surgical, mental, psychiatric, tuberculosis, and male and female, it is obvious that only 400 or 500 could be filled at any one time.
Taking, say, 475 patients as being the daily load, the cost to the Commonwealth per annum would be approximately £650,000. To provide a scheme whereby all members could be treated would require the erection of new hospitals to accommodate 5,049 patients, and this would mean a capital cost of approximately £29,000,000, whilst the additional annual cost for treatment would be approximately £6,000,000. Additional staff of approximately 6,160 persons would be required. For those very clear reasons, the Government is not prepared to accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Haylen’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chair-man - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
New clause 16a.
.- I move -
That, after clause 16, the following new clause be inserted: - “ 16a. The Second Schedule to the Principal Act is amended by omitting the words ‘Rate for Special Pensions - Eighteen Pounds Ten Shillings per Fortnight.’ and inserting in theirstead the words ‘Rate for Special Pensions - Twenty-five Pounds per Fortnight.’.”
The proposed new clause is designed to amend the second schedule to the act, which relates to the rate for special pensions. The purpose is to increase that rate from £18 10s. fortnightly to £25 fortnightly. This is in line with the policy announced by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) during the general election campaign, which has been confirmed subsequently in frequent statements made by members of the Opposition in this chamber. The proposal has been canvassed and argued at length on earlier occasions and, as other members of the Opposition wish to engage in the present discussion, I shall explain briefly that this is a most reasonable request which deserves consideration for two important reasons. One of these reasons is the diminishing number of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. These men have special requirements which have been well considered, up to a certain point, by the department and by all governments. The Opposition’s argument is based largely on the need to restore the former percentage relationship of the rate of pension to the basic wage. We know that percentages can be tricky and often do not mean what they appear to mean, but, in this instance, we believe most firmly that there is every justification for establishing and maintaining the rate of pension as a definite proportion of the basic wage.
The amount of expenditure involved in our proposal is not great. It does not represent a sum that could not be included without difficulty in any budget. If there is all-pervading prosperity in Australia, as the Government claims, we should at once restore the pension paid to totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen to the percentage of the basic wage- at which it stood when the Labour party was in power. That is the object of the amendment. The proposal has been worked out scientifically, and it was pronounced upon as early as April this year. This matter was discussed exhaustively during the second-reading debate, and I need not elaborate further at this stage. The Opposition would rather press its proposal to a vote of the committee than continue to talk about a subject that has been well discussed. I leave the matter in the hands of other members of the Opposition who wish to comment on it.
.- I support the amendment which the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has moved in respect of the special pension payable to totally and permanently disabled ex-servicemen. At present, the rate for the special pension is £18. 10s. a fortnight, and I think it must be conceded by all members of the committee that this amount is too low. A favorite tactic of the Government every time an amendment of the Repatriation Act is proposed is to plead two excuses. One is that Labour did no better, and the other is to say, “ Well, we cannot do it without the co-operation of the States “. Neither plea serves in this case. At this time five years ago, when the Chifley Government presented its last budget, the rate of the special pension for totally and permanently disabled ex-servicemen stood at £10. 12s. fortnightly. That was 83.4 per cent: of the average basic wage for the six capital cities. At present, the rate stands at only 76.3 per cent. of the average basic wage, which represents a drop of 7.1 per cent. Now, in five years there has been plenty of opportunity for the Government to prove the sincerity of its policy in respect of pensions for exservicemen and other persons in the community. In this instance, we see that, after those five years, the percentage of the basic wage which is received each week by totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen in receipt of the special pension has dropped by over 7 per cent.
Those pensioners are in a particularly poor position, because they are not allowed to earn any other income. It is true that there is no means test applied to the receipt of this pension - that is, if the pensioner happens to be a person with inherited wealth. Then, I suppose, the fact that the pension has remained static involves no very great hardship to the recipient. But there are not very many totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen with independent means. They are not allowed to earn any money by their own efforts, and, in that respect, they stand alone among persons who receive pensions from “the Department of Social Services and the Repatriation Department. Everybody else - to a certain extent, at least - can earn other income. These people cannot do so. After five years of this tory Government’s administration, their pensions - that is, their margins, which are in the hands of this Parliament, not in the hands of an . assessment tribunal or an arbitration court - have been decreased by the action of the Parliament. Not so very many persons are totally and permanently incapacitated, within the meaning of the Repatriation Act. Acceptance of the amendment would riot ma lee a very great difference to the financial position of this country.’ It would, however, make a very great difference to the financial position of those ex-servicemen who cannot earn other income and who, in most instances, depend entirely on their pension. There can be no excuse for reducing the value of the pension; it should be increased to the figure that has been proposed by the honorable member for Parkes.
I take this opportunity to emphasize, as I have done before, that it is regrettable that every time a budget is introduced, or the Repatriation Act is amended, there are recriminations in this place about the relative values of various pensions compared with the value of pensions that were paid under previous governments. I believe that the way to remove some of the rancour which is always imparted into these debates would be to fix the pensions under the Repatriation Act and under the social services legislation at a percentage of the basic wage or the cost of living. I know that the Minister will say, as he has said before, that the ex-servicemen’s organizations do not desire that to be done. That is not altogether true. It is not even a half-truth.
– The New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia has, for several years, resolved that the rates of pensions should so be fixed, and some of the other branches of the league have resolved similarly.
– The federal executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia has- not clone that.
– No. Like the Parliament, the federal executive does not give equal weight to every individual’s point of view. It is constituted, as is another place, on a States’ basis, and accordingly, it is impossible for. the federal executive of the league to get a completely democratic or balanced expression of opinion ; the majority view may be overridden. But it cannot be gainsaid that, for some years, New South Wales, which is the biggest State, in terms of general population, ex-service population, and membership of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, has been in favour of the proposal. Other States, al:0. are coming round to that opinion. There can be no question that, if the proposal were adopted, instead of pensioners having to wait for up to two years before their pensions were altered, there would be an automatic and more harmonious adjustment. It would be a perfectly just method. The unseemly recrimination that occurs here would, perhaps, not be eliminated entirely, but at least it would be modified. Ex-servicemen would not be put on the auction block during every budget debate or debates on proposed amendments of the act. They would get their just requirements automatically, as happened for at least a generation in regard to persons working under industrial awards. There was not so very much controversy over the matter then. In making this suggestion, I have the concurrence of very many members of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia in the eastern States. I believe it is something that the Government should consider. It could be brought about by a very simple amendment of the schedule. In the meantime, at least justice should be done to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen pensioners in the terms of the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Parkes. As I have pointed out, at present the special rate pension stands at 76.3 per cent, of the average basic wage for the six capital cities. Five years ago, when Mr. Chifley introduced his last budget, that pension was equivalent to S3. 4 per cent, of the basic wage, or approximately 1 per cent, more than at present. Why the decline? Cannot the country afford to give justice to those ex-servicemen? Are the special rate pensioners in no need ? Do they not deserve an increase? By the adoption of the proposed simple, specific amendment justice would be done. The country can afford the proposed increase.. The committee should be ashamed to divide on such a meritorious proposal.
– I wish to correct an impression that has been created by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). He stated that he had been authorized to speak on behalf of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia.
– I said that I had the concurrence of members of the league.
– Why split straws? The Government discussed the proposals with the federal executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia.
– Did the federal executive concur -with the proposal to leave the special rate pension at £9 5s. a week?
- Mr Yeo, the president of the New South Wales branch of the league, was present. The question was raised as to whether the league wanted the amount of the special rate pension to be pegged to the basic wage or the cost of living, and rise and fall accordingly. Although some members of the federal executive were emphatic that that should be done, Mr. Yeo raised no protest against the Government’s view that it should not be done. By his silence, he consented to a continuance of the present practice. The honorable member for Werriwa has attempted to mislead the committee on this issue. I wish to make only one other observation. The total amount payable in respect of the pension of a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, his wife and child, attendant’s allowance, transport allowance, and education allowance, is £16 15s. 3d. a week. Under the proposed amendment, the amount payable would be less.
.- The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) has conveniently seized upon the remarks of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) regarding the feasibility of tying pension rates to the cost of living, in order to throw a screen over the real issue before the committee, which is. whether the present rate of pension payable to a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman should remain at £9 5s. a week, or be increased to £12 10s. a week, irrespective of the additional amounts payable in respect of his wife and children. Do honorable members consider that £12 10s. a week would be too much, having regard to the high cost of living? We have heard all the stories about the rate being less during Labour’s term of office, and more during the Menzies Government’s period of office. But that is not the issue. As this country has enjoyed unparalleled prosperity during the last five or six years, the Government could well afford to be more generous in the matter of the pensions that it pays to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. Some people fear that there may be a. recession, caused by a fall of prices for our commodities on overseas markets. On the contrary, already we have received the good news that the wool market has stabilized at about the level of the opening sales for the current season, and the recent trend in wheat prices has been slightly upward. I do not believe that the prices paid in overseas markets for the primary products from which we obtain a great part of our national wealth, will fall disastrously. The capacity of mankind to produce goods and services is infinitely greater now than ever before. Leaving out of consideration the fact that wives and dependent children of incapacitated returned servicemen also should receive benefits, surely this nation can afford to pay totally and permanently disabled ex-servicemen the amount of pension proposed in the amendment - £12 10s. a week.
Men in civilian life ‘ who have never served in the armed forces and are fortunate enough to be physically fit, even if they are mere basic wage earners, may receive £11 16s. a. week, which is. the basic wage based on the weighted figures for the six capital cities. Many totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen would have been professional men, artisans and tradesmen were it not for their war-caused disabilities. What are the earnings of persons in those classes? Plumbers earn £30 a week, and the demand for their services is so great that at the week-ends they can earn an additional £10 or £15. So buoyant is the building trade, that carpenters and skilled building workers may earn substantially more in margins for skill than the equivalent of double the pension rate that is at present paid to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. Some incapacitated ex-servicemen, had it not been for the disabilities that they suffered as a result of war service, would undoubtedly have been doctors, lawyers, scientists and members of other professions. The incomes of professional men, heads of departments in the Public Service, and the like, probably range from a minimum of £1,500 a year to as much as £4,000 a year. Assistant heads of departments and public servants such as the senior officers of the Repatriation Department, receive from £1,500 a year up to about £3.000 a year, with the inclusion of travelling and other allowances. The Government takes the view that totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen, whose prospects in life have been ruined by the disabilities that they have suffered as a result of war service, shall be allowed pensions of an amount only a few miserable shillings above the basic wage for labourers, and less than is paid to workers who receive margins for skill. Is it suggested that a large proportion of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen would not have earned margins for skill had they returned to civilian life fully fit? Even process workers receive margins for skill, and rightly so, because they require skill to tend the machines for which they are responsible. They receive substantially more than the basic wage of £11 16a. a week.
Government supporters remain silent,, and well they might. They receive substantial incomes from their parliamentary allowances, and many of them spend more in the parliamentary refreshmentrooms in a day or an evening than totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen are able to spend in twelve months on the pleasant things of life. Yet Government supporters have the effrontery to sit in their seats like a lot of dummies. When a division is called, not one of them will have the courage to vote for Labour’s amendment, which is designed to ensure that totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen shall receive .pensions of £12 10s. a week. Government supporters repeatedly have cast aspersions across this chamber at Opposition members, and have held up the Curtin and Chifley governments to odium.
– Order! The honorable member’s remarks are wide of the clause under consideration.
– They are not a bit wide of it, and I do not care whether you, Mr. Chairman, like it or not.
– Order! The honorable member will apologize to the Chair and confine his remarks to the clause.
Mi-. POLLARD. - I have to apologize and I do apologize.
– Order! The honorable member will apologize without equivocation.
– I do apologize. I cannot apologize abjectly. Surely it is enough that I have apologized.
– The honorable member : is now becoming contemptuous.
– I know that I am getting under the skin of the honorable member for Evans. Never mind whether I am contemptuous. The question whether the honorable member is contemptuous will be determined by the manner in which he votes.
Motion (by Mr. Francis) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 11
Questionso resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Mr.
Haylen’s amendment) beso inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the negative.
New clause 16b.
– I move -
That, after clause 16, the following new clause be inserted : - “ 16b. The fourth schedule to the principal act is amended by omitting the words -
Loss of vision in one eye . . 50 ‘ and inserting in their stead the words -
Loss of vision in one eye . . 75’.”.
This motion has been moved in accordance with the studied opinion of the partially blinded ex-servicemen who contend that the loss of vision in one eye is a disability equivalent to the total loss of efficiency of one limb. They ask that if they should lose the total use of one eye they should get a 75 per cent. pension instead of a 50 per cent. pension. They have pointed out to me and to other honorable members to whom they have made representations that the partial amputee who has lost an arm to the elbow or a leg to the knee is granted 75 per cent. of the base rate. Yet a man who is blinded in one eye receives only a 50 per cent. pension. I think that the claim of the partially blinded exservicemen is reasonable. When members of the Partially Blinded Soldiers Association visited Canberra I was given glasses to wear, one frame of which had been blacked out in order to demonstrate to me the loss of equilibrium and the strange feeling of disorientation that occurs when one is blinded in one eye. This test, which was made by several other honorable members, illustrates how serious is the loss of the sight of one eye.I hope that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) will reply to this request before the committee votes on the proposed amendment.
Mr. FRANCIS (Moreton- Minister for the Navy and Minister for the Army) [10.301. - I have listened with great interest to what the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has said. I have read the notes of the deputation and also the debate in the Senate about this matter, and I am satisfied that the Government has given every consideration to the merits of the case. I remind honorable members that a 50 per cent. pension is not the greatest pension that an ex-serviceman who is blinded in one eye can ever receive. If the other eye of the unfortunate man is affected he can receive up to 100 per cent. pension. The Government has taken every care to ensure that if his other eye is affected he will get treatment and spectacles and up to a 100 per cent. pension. On the merits of this matter, and having regard to the relationship of this pension with other repatriation pensions, I cannot accept the proposed new clause.
Question put -
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Haylen’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority .. .. 11
Question so resolved in the negative.’
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill received from the Senate and (on motion by Mr. Townley) read a first time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill, which has been received from the Senate, contains provisions’ to increase the general rates of pensions payable under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, to Australian mariners incapacitated, by war injury, and widows of Australian mariners. The Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, which first came into operation in 1940, has since been amended on five occasions, the main purpose, of the amendments in each instance being to maintain pensions and benefits on the same level as those applicable to corresponding classes of the ex-members of forces and their dependants under the Repatriation Act. The latter act is being amended to implement the Government’s decision to increase war pensions, and this bill provides for similar increases.
The general rate of pension of an Australian mariner incapacitated by a war injury, is assessed on the basis of percentage of incapacity. The totally incapacitated mariner receives a full pension which is at a rate within a scale ranging from £8 5s. to £10 ls. a fortnight. The Government has decided on an .allround increase of 15s.. a fortnight and pension rates will thus be increased to range from £9 to £10 16s. a fortnight. An increase of 15s. a fortnight is also being granted to widows of Australian mariners, and this will increase the existing rates, which now range from £7 5s. to £9 ls. a fortnight, to rates ranging from £8 to £9 16s. a fortnight.
In the case where a pensioner is partially incapacitated and is in receipt of a pension computed on the basis of the percentage of incapacity, he will receive such percentage of the increase of 15s. a fortnight as corresponds to the percentage of his incapacity.
Provision has also been made in the bill to enable an appropriate adjustment to be made in a case where a mariner or his spouse is in receipt of a pension or benefit under -the Social Services Consolidation Act, and is granted a pension or an increased pension under the Seamen’s War Pensions and’ Allowances Act, with retrospective effect. In any case where the whole or portion of the pension or benefit received under the Social Services Consolidation Act would not have been payable if the pensioner had been receiving a pension or a pension at an increased rate under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, provision is made for an adjustment to be made by way of deduction from the pension, allowance, or gratuity payable under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. Similar provision is being made in the bill to amend the Repatriation Act. The increased rates will be payable from the first pension pay day after the bill receives the Royal assent. The pension increase proposed will, I am sure, receive the support of all honorable members, and the bill is recommended for favorable consideration.
.- This bill suffers from the same disabilities as those that are to be found in the repatriation measure that has been passed to-night. It follows the same schedule of payments. A statutory increase of pensions of 7s. 6d. a week is provided in all cases. The Opposition believes that the increase is inadequate and that all the comments that honorable members on the Opposition side have applied to the Repatriation Bill apply also to this companion measure. The Opposition is concerned, however, that the bill will not take effect until it receives the Royal assent. As the bill should be passed in such a way that the increases may be made at once, I shall merely state that the increase of pensions is meagre and unsatisfactory. In view of the overweening circumstances, however, the Opposition will agree that the bill pass through all stages.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Mr. Townley) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I desire to take this opportunity of correcting a number of misstatements that have been made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in connexion with the security service. The Prime Minister, in refusing to answer any questions on this matter, has tried to establish that there has been no change in the administration of the security service since it was established by the Chifley Labour Government. I have gone to the trouble of perusing various volumes of Hansard, and the reports to which I propose to refer prove conclusively that the Prime Minister has been misleading this House in stating that it has always been the practice to refuse to give any information whatever about the security service.
Motion (by Mr. Townley) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . 14
– Order ! The honorable gentleman should not make such comments.
– It will keep.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Immigration Act - Return for years 1947 to 1953.
Nationality and Citizenship Act - Return for year 1953-54.
Overseas Telecommunications Act - Eighth Annual Report of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia) for the year ended 31st March, 1954, together with financial accounts.
House adjourned at 10.53 p.m. to Tuesday, 12th October next, at 2.30 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Prime Minister acting for the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following information : -
Prices are the simple average of twelve monthly prices, f.o.b. for bulk and f.a.q. wheat.
Wheat for stock-feed was sold at the same price as wheat for human consumption until the end of November, 1951. All States, except Western Australia, by uniform legislation, fixed the price of stock-feed wheat for the 1951-1952 season at 12s. a bushel. In addition, the Commonwealth Government, under the terms of the Wheat Bounty Act of 1951, agreed to pay a subsidy on wheat used by the dairy, pig and poultry industries during the 1951-1952 and 1952-1953 wheat seasons. The subsidy was limited to 26,000.000 bushels of wheat in respect of each season. The purpose of the subsidy was to bring the wheatgrowers’ return from the sale of such wheat to 16s.1d. a bushel. For the 1951-1952 season the rate of subsidy was 4s.1d. a bushel - i.e., the difference between 16s.1d. and 12s. In the case of Western Australia, the price of wheat for stock-feed was fixed at 10s. a bushel, and consequently the growers’ return from the sale of stock-feed wheat in that State was 14s. 1d. a bushel. For the 1952-1953 season, the rate of subsidy was 2s. 2d. a bushel, equal to the difference between 16s.1d. and 13s.11d., the price ruling in all States from 1st December, 1952, for stock-feed wheat for use by the dairying, pig and poultry industries. The price for the 1953-1954 season was fixed at 14s. 1½d. a bushel bulk basis, the same as the price for human consumption in that season, df this, lid. a bushel is to be used to meet freight charges incurred on wheat shipped to Tasmania.
d asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following information : -
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the Minister representing the Minister forRepatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Thefigures of doctors and nursing staff have been supplied by the respective State authorities. The term “nursing staff” means the nurses and attendants who are responsible for the everyday care of the patients. Patients who become physically ill are placed in special infirmary wards.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 September 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1954/19540930_reps_21_hor5/>.