23rd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– My ques tion is directed to the Minister for Works. Does he understand that the dismissal policy now being followed by the Department of Works is completely undermining the morale of those who are to remain in the service? 1 ask specifically: As this condition applies to employees who are constituents of mine, when can I expect a reply to my question of 18th August concerning employees at the Newington depot?
– The department has not a dismissal policy and it is quite wrong to say that it has. The fact is that at certain places and in certain areas in New South Wales, there are men who are surplus to our requirements. I would be very surprised to hear honorable members opposite advocate that we should keep employed in the Commonwealth Public Service people who are not necessary to carry out the work. Indeed, it is frequently said throughout the Commonwealth that: we have too many civil servants of one sort or another. We try to keep a stable labour force to carry out the work as required, and in these cases, as I explained to the House last night, a situation has arisen where, to try to keep a stable labour force and to get down to something that is reasonably suited to our requirements, we have had to effect retrenchments in certain parts of New South Wales.
– Has the Minister for Social Services recently given instructions to the rehabilitation section, of his department that will have the effect of placing a very definite limit on the number of persons who will be accepted for rehabilitation training by the department? If so, why?
– I have given no instructions of the kind suggested by the honorable member for Griffith. The position is that there are six rehabilitation centres, one in each State, and there are, unfortunately, physical limitations on the number of people who can be accommodated from time to time. The accommodation is always used to the full capacity, and there are no instructions to the contrary.
– I ask the Attorney-
General whether his attention has been drawn to a statement by a justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria last week that a law suit over an amount of £8 brought by the Commonwealth against a Melbourne businessman for goods bought at a Department of Supply disposals auction was a shocking waste of the Supreme Court’s time and of hundreds of pounds in legal costs. If so, will he consider amending the existing legislation to end the present scandalous situation, whereby a person with a claim against him for £5 or £10 or £15 is denied any relief in law unless he is prepared to go to either the Supreme Court of a State or the High Court of Australia, in which event, even if he is successful, the costs he will have to pay will not and never can be fully recouped? Finally, does he agree that something should be done to end this unjust and unfair position, particularly as its effects are felt most harshly by the little people who are always so numerous, so important and so valuable in the community?
– I did read the statement made by Mr. Justice Dean in the Supreme Court of Victoria and, on looking at it, I did think that I would take in hand the consideration of some of its aspects. I think it is proper, however, that I should point out two things-. First, the number of. small claims that are likely to arise against the Commonwealth is itself very small. Generally speaking, the Commonwealth, if I may say so, is an excellent litigant and does not litigate unnecessarily. Secondly, traditionally the Crown could not be sued, but the Commonwealth, through the Constitution and the Judiciary Act; has until now been in the forefront in ameliorating the. position of the subject in relation to the Crown. The Commonwealth could: be sued, both in contract and tort, by a subject; whilst the same was not always true of the States of the Commonwealth. However, the States have progressively eased their restrictions on suits against the Crown and, strangely and ironically enough, the latest to do so was the State of Victoria, its most recent amendment relating to the matter being in 1955. However, it does seem, to my mind, proper that we should consider now whether the traditional restriction of action against the Crown to suits in the superior courts might not be removed, and 1 shall give consideration to that.
– When are you dealing with liability to third parties?
– In due course.
– Will the Prime Minister, in his capacity as acting Treasurer, give consideration to the Commonwealth’s meeting the legal costs of both parties in cases where the Commissioner of Taxation appeals to the High Court of Australia against a Taxation Board of Review decision that is favourable to the taxpayer? I believe that the Ferguson Royal Commission on Taxation between 1934 and 1936 made a recommendation to this effect which has never been adopted. Without the assurance as to costs, taxpayers can have little confidence in appealing to a Board of Review, knowing that if the board’s decision is favorable to them they will face the possibility of an appeal by the Commissioner of Taxation to the High Court, thereby involving them in further legal costs.
– The honorable member raises a very interesting question. I had not recalled, until he mentioned it just now, that this matter had been referred to by the Ferguson commission. I will have a look at it myself and see whether I can form some views about it.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Trade. At least six months ago in this House I requested that some action be taken in regard to a very extensive export trade in Australian bird life, the result of which was alarming in the destruction of our native bird population. I have not yet heard the outcome of the inquiries which the Minister who was then in charge of the House promised to put in train. As the Minister for Trade controls exports, I now ask him what has been done. If nothing has been done, why has nothing been done?
– I have a recollection, but not a very vivid one, of this question being asked by the honorable member some months ago. I think I also remember saying that I believed it was not a matter within my portfolio responsibility or authority, but that I should have inquiries made to ascertain where the control lay, whether with some Federal authority or with State authorities. I understood that there has since been a conference with the States. I regret that I am not in a position to inform the honorable member in full about this matter, but I undertake that either I or the appropriate Minister will furnish him with full information.
– Is the Minister for Defence aware that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the minds of people employed in the aircraft industry in Australia because of the failure of the Government to reach a firm decision on its future plans for the industry? Will the Minister use his best endeavours to see that the industry is given further orders to stimulate production and at the same time give encouragement and confidence to the people employed in it?
– I remind the honorable member that either the Prime Minister or I made a statement last year on behalf of the Government which indicated that, as a matter of Government policy, the aircraft industry in Australia would be maintained. That is not to say, however, that every element of the industry can be maintained. It would be quite fatuous to suggest that we make aircraft just for the sake of making them, if we have no customers for them. However, the whole future of the aircraft industry in Australia is constantly before the Government. I think that if the honorable member gives a little thought to the matter he will realize that, far from there being a run-down of the industry, in the last couple of years it has expanded tremendously. It has produced the “ Malkara “ weapon, which is an aircraft, and the “Jindivik”, which is also an aircraft. In addition, there has been an enormous expansion of Trans-Australia Airlines, whose workshops are bigger than ever before, and the extension of Qantas services. Those two concerns must be regarded as a part of the aircraft industry of Australia.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. The Minister will remember that recently he visited agricultural research farms at Kerang and Swan Hill, in Victoria. Is he aware that local committees operate those farms, that contributions are made by local residents for their upkeep, and that some government aid is given also? Can he suggest any way in which greater aid could be made available for the conduct of the research work being done at those farms, research which is so necessary to the primary production of that district and, of course, ultimately to primary production all over Australia?
– I remember visiting those two research farms. I was greatly impressed by the fact that voluntary effort and voluntary donations were greatly responsible for the research work being done there. With regard to finance to assist the farms in their vital work, the only suggestion I can make is that representations be made to the Rural Credits Department of the Commonwealth Bank. A percentage of the profits of the Rural Credits Department of the bank has been donated for such research purposes. I understand that the farms have been given some assistance from that source, and I hope that such assistance can be continued, at least at the same level as previously. To my mind, the work being done at the farms is of vital importance, having regard to the difficulties experienced in that part of the country, where salinity is affecting the fertility of the soil. That is the only suggestion I can make to the honorable member.
– My question is to the Minister for Primary Industry. In view of the serious plight of the lamb industry, will the Minister consider amending the act constituting the Australian Meat Board to allow the board to lead an active campaign in Australia to encourage the consumption of lamb in Australia?
– In an answer to a question yesterday, I made reference to the lamb industry and said that the Australian Meat Board would be approaching me on the subject. Last night, I discussed the position with the board for an hour, in the light of the depressed prices on the Australian market as a result of very dry conditions in lamb areas, and also depressed prices in England. The board made a submission to me that it provide some finance so that a campaign for the promotion of sales of lamb on the Australian market could be undertaken. The board suggested that funds that were provided by the Commonwealth Government in 1947 for the Minister to use in projects to assist the meat industry, and which are held in the Meat Industry Trust Account, could be used for such a purpose. I shall examine the possibility of so using those funds.
– Does the Minister for Works recollect that some time ago he promised to investigate the possibility of including safety clauses in contracts let by his department? Will he now tell us whether such consideration has been given, and what is the result?
– I am sorry I cannot tell the honorable member the exact position, but I shall make inquiries and let him know their result.
– I ask the Minister for Trade whether there is any possibility that the prolonged steel strike in the United States of America will enhance export prospects for Australian steel. At the same time, I ask him whether Australian steel is equal in respect of price and quality to that produced in any other country.
– I am sure that the metallurgical qualities and industrial usefulness of Australian steel are at least equal to those of steel produced in any other country. The fact ‘that we are able to export steel shows that our prices are competitive.
The serious and regrettable strike in the United States steel industry has led to an increase in Australian exports of those steel items which are surplus to our own requirements. 1 understand that we could easily be selling galvanized and unga.vanized sheet, but I think the local demand, plus the New Zealand demand - Australia has traditionally supplied New Zealand - is such that we have not a surplus of these items. I understand that orders coming from the United States for steel tubes and pipes have .grown measurably as a result of the steel strike, although orders, .particularly from the west coast - subsequent to a recent trade mission - were growing anyway.
– Did the Minister say “ immeasurably “ <or “ measurably “?
– I said “ measurably “. The figures 1 have in mind are that three years ago we exported 22,000 tons of steel tubes and pipes to the United States. Last year, we exported 35,000 tons and I think that a total of 40,000 tons is in sight for the current year. That is partly attributable to the strike in the United States, but principally it exhibits the competitive position of this Australian industry.
– Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that recently in the Calcutta Parliament the Government brought down a very unpopular measure which resulted in members of the Opposition- throwing their boots and shoes at Ministers, and that the Ministers retaliated by throwing them back at the Opposition? Will you take steps to ensure that in no circumstances will you allow Government members in this Parliament to retaliate should members of the Opposition desire to throw their shoes .at them as a protest against any unpopular legislation?
-The answer is, “ No “.
– I address a question to the Minister for Trade. Has the right honorable gentleman seen a report in the daily newspapers that Monsieur Bignon, Chairman of the French Cotton Export Board, has criticized the alleged lack of Australian advertising in Europe? Can the Minister give the House any information about this matter?
– My attention has been directed to this reported criticism by one who, I understand, is a distinguished French industrialist. I say immediately that any comment, even though it be critical, from someone equipped to comment on our trade activities overseas is treated as worthy of careful study. So I do not resent the criticism. But I point out that Australian trade with the continent of Europe is principally in items which do not lend themselves to the normal form of display advertising. We have an immense trade in wool, and prodigious sums are spent on wool publicity, largely from the funds of the Australian wool-growers, at whose request this Parliament has levied taxes upon their own sales for this purpose. Wheat does not lend itself to advertising, and a Frenchman may have an inadequate understanding of what Australia is doing in this regard, for France, although a big buyer of wool, is, owing to her policies of agricultural protection, rather an exporter of wheat than a market for wheat. Normally, France is self-contained in dairy products, meat and fruit. These are the principal things that we have for sale. In respect of the more minor items that we could sell in France, such as canned fruit and candied and dried fruits, unhappily, over the last ten years, the circumstances of France’s balance of payments have been such as to make it impossible for French importers to obtain licences to import and sell these commodities in that country, and there is no dividend for us in advertising in any country something that that country is unable to buy, anyway.
In the United Kingdom, which is our biggest market, an immense advertising campaign is in progress. This year, £1,250,000 will be spent on advertising, and even with the expenditure of that huge sum. .the volume of trade in a number of Australian products is such that it would ! be purposeless to advertise those items all over the United Kingdom for twelve months of the year. We just have not enough of those products to supply the volume that would be required if this were done. So, acting on commercial advice, the Australian statutory marketing boards and other exporters restrict the supply and their advertising to certain zones within the. United Kingdom - in short, concentrating where they can supply for twelve months of the year and where they can get the best results.
– 1 ask the Minister for Defence: Does he recall making a statement, when he was Minister for Social Services, that he had a plan to abolish the means test and that the Government would take action on that plan? As it is now several years since the honorable gentleman made that statement, will he, if he has not already done so, inform the present Minister for Social Services of the details of the plan so that the long overdue action can be taken; or was the statement made at the time purely in order to hoodwink the people of Australia?
– I was Minister for Social Services some years ago, and, in the course of my occupancy of the portfolio, I no doubt made many statements. I have no recollection of the one that the honorable member mentions. But, if it was made, it would have been made with a due sense of the responsibilities attaching to the matter.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. I ask the right honorable gentleman: Has the Government any information which would confirm that the Communist Chinese Government is now operating a nuclear reactor supplied by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and that that reactor is capable of producing fissionable materials?
– I will inquire from those who may know the facts, and will reply to the honorable member.
– I address a question to the Minister for Health. I am moved to ask it by the lament of the president of the Federated Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia that the 5s. flat charge for drugs will have disastrous effects on chemists. I ask the Minister whether the guild has agreed to further negotiations and whether it has supplied full information relating to the price to be paid by the Government to the chemists. In reviewing their margin for skill, use of containers, wastage and surpluses, will the Minister pay due regard - but no more than due regard - to the pitiful plight of these struggling shopkeepers?
– The matters mentioned by the honorable member are, of course, factors to be taken into account in computing the price which the Government pays to pharmacists for dispensing pharmaceutical benefits, and the price is, I think, a reasonable one. 1 am reinforced in this view by the fact that if a pharmacist opens a new dispensary, invariably the first thing he does is apply for approval to dispense pharmaceutical benefits. I think it is fair to say that pharmacists would regard cancellation of that approval as probably the severest penalty that the Government could inflict on them. There. is an arrangement, referred to by the honorable member, for arriving at the price to be paid to pharmacists for dispensing pharmaceutical benefits. That arrangement has worked very smoothly and satisfactorily between the guild and the Government over a considerable number of years. It is obvious that under the Government’s new proposals there will be need for negotiation between the guild and the Government on several matters, not merely with regard to price. I have extended an invitation to the guild to discuss these matters with me and, in fact, some preliminary discussions have already taken place. Those discussions are not helped by powerful denunciations of the Government which may appear in the press. These matters of price are perfectly capable of negotiation between the guild and the Government on a basis that is fair not only to pharmacists, but also to the taxpayer.
– My question is directed to the acting Minister for External Affairs.
In consideration of the recently reported typhoon damage and loss of life in the Republic of Korea, will the Minister send an appropriate message of sympathy from the Australian people and make inquiries as to what other assistance Australia could render to the Koreans during their time of need?
– There has been a report of a very severe typhoon causing considerable damage in the Republic of Korea and involving not merely stock and buildings but also, evidently, injury to persons and perhaps some loss of life. 1 am quite sure that 1 express the feelings of the Australian people when I say that we have the greatest sympathy for those folk in their time of need. 1 will see that a suitable message is sent to the Koreans at the appropriate level. I have made some inquiries into this matter and have ascertained that the Australian Red Cross has already sent some relief to Korea and is exploring other avenues by which it may assist these people. I will keep the matter under review.
– I ask the Prime Minister, in his capacity as acting Treasurer, whether it is a fact that a company referred to as Lombard (Aust.) Limited has announced that it will accept deposits, at 3i per cent., from the public; also, that it will lend to the public for many purposes. Will the right honorable gentleman agree that this establishes prima facie evidence of banking activity? Has the company applied for a licence, under the Banking Act, to carry on banking? If not, will the Government require it to do so? Has the Government considered the whole question of the development of these companies in relation to the meagre control of banking that it at present retains?
– I am not familiar with the particular case referred to by the honorable member but we have been exercised for some time now about the emergence, or possible emergence, of some - to say the least - borderline cases. They are currently under examination by my col league, the Attorney-General, with a view to seeing how far they fall within the law, or what could be done about them.
– 1 address my question to you, Mr. Speaker, by mentioning that a former distinguished member of this House confided to me that as soon as he entered the chamber he became susceptible to a sleeping gas, or similar influence, because of the bad ventilation. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that rumours, probably without foundation, are circulating that the Government on the one hand, or the Communists on the other, have introduced a sleeping gas to render honorable members more pliable to their wishes; that at the late hour of half-past ten certain members, including the honorable members for Mackellar, Moreton and East Sydney, who are possibly stronger than are some others, wake up and react in various ways, and that, in protest against the ill effects from which they have suffered earlier, they exercise, till half-past twelve or later, their right to speak in this chamber. I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether there is a deleterious influence in the air of this chamber, and if so, whether it may be investigated and removed. If it is caused by bad ventilation, as is probably the case, can the ventilation be improved?
-The problem to which the honorable member refers is under consideration. It is not an easy one to solve, but we are dealing with it. I may add that if the honorable member knows of any gas that will effectively keep people quiet, I should be glad if he would tell me about it.
– In view of the value to Australia of the tourist industry, and the encouraging prospects that exist for its expansion, will the Minister for Immigration remove irksome restrictions affecting the entry of Asians for holiday purposes only? In short, will the Minister, in view also of the goodwill and trade which may follow greater tourist activity, review the present regulations?
– The Government certainly recognizes the value of the tourist industry and its potential for Australia. I think it can fairly be claimed that within the last two years the Government has made a positive contribution towards its advancement. So far as the honorable gentleman’s own particular problem is concerned - a greater activity on the part of tourist agents - I would remind him that some time ago we effected a positive amelioration of our general visitors’ entry policy and that tourist agents would, of course, benefit by the relaxations that my department promulgated at that time.
– In addressing my question to the Minister for Trade, I refer to the statement made by the Tariff Board in its annual report tabled in the House yesterday to the effect that import licensing has not given substantial protection to industry outside the tariff system. In view of the importance of this matter in relation to the costs of our export industries, can the Minister say whether this optimistic view of the consequences of import licensing is shared by the Government?
– The Government respects the expert comment of the Tariff Board on this matter, the board being close to industry, but the Government has always taken the view that import licensing can, and probably will, give an unplanned protection to Australian industry. Indeed, I think that the Tariff Board, at a further point in its annual report, makes the comment that there is in certain industries an incidental protection flowing from the fact of import licensing.
It is not the policy of the Government that import licensing should be recognized as a medium of protection to Australian industry. That has been repeated so often by the Prime Minister, by myself and by other spokesmen for the Government that policy on this point is, I think, clearly understood. As to the general situation at the moment, the most critical fact is this - there has been such an improvement in our balance of payments situation that to-day there is no restriction whatever upon the importation of many items that are most essential to Australian industry. Speaking from memory, I would say that altogether some 430 items are now either exempt from import licensing or are on a basis of import replacement, which means that they are not restricted. These items cover rather more than £400,000,000 worth of our import trade or, in short, about half of the value of the total imports to Australia. Being practically all in the essential category, they are no longer restricted, so at least in that group of goods there is no import licensing circumstance which leads to protection of Australian industry through that medium, and no artificial raising of costs here.
Eradication of Rodents
– My question is directed to you, Mr. Speaker. I ask you: Can you say what arrangements are made for the detection, storage and removal of bodies when deaths occur within this building? Have you had reports that some rats occupying quarters in Government portions of this building have departed the parliamentary life unpensioned but not unheralded? As happenings of this kind place this House in bad odour, can you say what steps are being taken to remove rodents and other pests from the building while they live?
– When the occasion arises, the responsibility falls upon the Speaker, and he deals with the matter efficiently.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Health by referring with appreciation and, I believe, a well deserved measure of congratulation, to the Minister’s recent announcement that in Australia the number of deaths due to tuberculosis fell from 2,169 in 1948 to 538 last year. As a result of recent isolated criticism of mass X-ray schemes, is the Minister able to indicate the value of mass X-rays in relation to the outstanding achievement in the eradication of tuberculosis?
– I do not think it would be too much to say that practically the entire success of the antituberculosis measures depend upon mass X-ray. Early diagnosis is the key to the whole structure.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. In view of the over-production of sugar in the last two seasons, will the Minister explore the possibility of selling our surplus supplies of this commodity to our Asian neighbours on long term, interest-free loans?
– The marketing of the sugar production of Australia is handled by the responsible authorities that have been appointed, and in the terms of the International Sugar Agreement. The Commonwealth Government and the State of Queensland combine in that arrangement which, I think, is working quite satisfactorily. We could easily get to the stage where there was a glut price, and the whole industry would suffer as a consequence.
– I should like to ask the Minister for Primary Industry a question. In view of the need to adopt the most modern and efficient method of transporting beef in the north of Australia, will the Minister ask his officers to follow closely the development of the machine known as the hovercraft?
– As I have never heard the term, Mr. Speaker, I shall have to examine the honorable member’s question and see what it is about.
– My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Will he clarify the phrase that he used in explaining Government policy in his reply to a question I asked last Thursday? The Minister said that it was intended to -
Does this not mean a departure from the policy of full employment, which is advocated by the Opposition, and to which Australia, as a member of the United “Nations, is committed?
– I can only repeat what I have already said - that we do our best to sustain the highest practicable level of employment. That does not mean departing from the concept of full employment that is accepted by both sides of this House and by the United Nations.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Trade a question without notice. Does he expect the forthcoming visit of a German trade delegation to lead to increased sales of Australian goods in Germany? If he does, can he say what commodities or goods are likely to be affected?
– I cannot anticipate the negotiations with the German delegation, but I am able to say that I approach them with considerable confidence. West Germany is an importer of important commodities which Australia has for sale - cereal grains, meat, on occasions dairy products, and fruit. Our opportunities to sell in West Germany, as in many European countries, have been limited partly by local policies of rather extreme agricultural protection - in the case of West Germany, policies of licensing which we have felt have been discriminatory on occasions. The forthcoming negotiations will lead to a sorting out of these issues. I am confident that we can expect to sell still more grains - wheat, barley and perhaps oats - to Germany, and that we may have a more predictable market for our fruit and our meat. It is essential that those who have goods for sale shall be able to make their plans with some assurance in respect of markets. Too often in the past no one has known how much he could sell, or even whether he could sell, until some ad hoc governmental negotiations on a particular licensing matter had been concluded.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to authorize the raising and expending of a certain sum of money for defence purposes.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a .second time.
As was explained in the recent Budget speech, the Government is budgeting this financial year for an overall cash deficiency of £61,000,000. That is to say, total receipts of the Commonwealth from revenue, public borrowings and other usual sources are expected to fall short of total expenditure commitments by £61,000,000. The intention is to finance this deficit by borrowing from the Central Bank. In this bill the authority of Parliament is sought to make the borrowing of £61,000,000 required to meet the estimated deficit, and to expend the proceeds of the borrowing.
The manner in which the proceeds of the borrowing will be applied was explained in the Budget speech and in statements 2 and 4 attached to the speech. They will be used to finance expenditure on defence services to the extent of £37,000,000 and to finance redemption of maturing securities to the extent of £24,000,000. The maturing securities, redemptions of which are to be financed from the proceeds of the borrowing, are Commonwealth securities that were issued originally for war purposes. The borrowing, therefore, is to be wholly for defence purposes of the Commonwealth.
Total expenditure on defence services in 1959-60 is estimated at £192,800,000. Details of this estimated expenditure are set out in Part 1 of the second schedule to the Appropriation Bill 1959. Of the total estimated expenditure of £192,800,000, an amount estimated at £37,000,000 is to be charged to Loan Fund where it will be financed from the funds raised under the authority of this act. A similar procedure of charging part of defence expenditure to Loan Fund was followed last year and in some of the war and early post-war years, when total estimated receipts were inadequate to meet total estimated expenditure. lt is estimated that, in addition to utilizing the current receipts of the National Debt Sinking Fund, it will be necessary to call on the balances in that fund and in the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve to the extent of £24,000,000 to finance redemptions of Commonwealth securities issued for war purposes. As these balances are invested, it will be necessary to realize some pf the investments of these funds. The borrowing of £24,000,000 for redemptions would provide cash to enable this realization of investments to be made. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the law relating to income tax.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is designed to give effect to a number of income tax proposals outlined in the course of the Budget speech last month. Among the important amendments is a proposal to increase the retention allowance to which private companies are entitled for the purposes of undistributed income tax. The plan for taxing the income of private companies involves a primary rate of tax levied on the taxable income derived. Additional tax is charged if a private company does not make a sufficient distribution of its profits as dividends. A portion of the profits may, however, be retained free from undistributed income tax. The amount that may be so retained is the retention allowance.
Private companies, like other enterprises, need increasing amounts of capital if they are to achieve steady expansion and higher production. An increase in the retention allowance will assist private companies to re-invest in their businesses a larger proportion of profits. It is accordingly proposed that the minimum rate of retention allowance in the case of trading profits be raised from 25 per cent, to 35 per cent. Entitlement to the increased allowance will commence to apply for the 1958-59 income year. It is not proposed to vary the existing 10 per cent, retention allowance provided in relation to income from property, such as rents, interest and dividends from public companies.
A further provision of the bill relates to capital expended by mining enterprises in providing housing and welfare in the vicinity of the mine for employees and their dependants. Under present provisions, this expenditure may be recouped over the life of the mine. By way of comparison, I mention that capital laid out on plant and development of the mining property may, if the mine-owner chooses, be recouped in the year of expenditure. The continued expansion of our mining industries is heavily dependent on adequate housing and amenities being available to attract the required work force and this is particularly so in the more remote areas. It is accordingly proposed that mine-owners be given an option to deduct housing and welfare expenditure in five equal annual instalments.
The alternative basis will be available to mine-owners for the 1958-59 income year and will thus be reflected in assessments to issue during the current financial year. Housing and welfare expenditure incurred during the 1955-56 and subsequent income years may, where a mine-owner so elects, be deducted under the new basis to the extent that it does not also qualify for deduction from income of years before 1958-59.
It is also proposed by the bill to extend the scope of the deductions for capital contributed to companies for oil exploration purposes. Under provisions enacted last year, residents of Australia who contribute capital direct to companies engaged principally in oil exploration in Australia or Papua-New Guinea may be entitled to a taxation deduction for the full amount of that capital. The present law operates where the capital has been contributed after 30th September, 1958, on shares allotted after that date. The provisions now proposed will allow deductions for amounts contributed after that date without regard to the date of allotment of the shares.
A further extension of the deductions relates to companies incorporated in Australia but in which non-residents of Australia have a controlling interest or own more than one-half the subscribed capital. These companies are not entitled, under the 1958 legislation, to deductions for capital contributed by them for oil exploration purposes. A review of the basis upon which taxation allowances are available outside Australia to these companies has demonstrated the need for Australia to widen its law so as to bring these companies within the ambit of the deductions permitted by the Australian law. The provisions of the bill are designed to achieve this result. Capital contributed by nonresidents will remain outside the scope of the deductions.
Entitlement to deductions is provided in some circumstances where capital is contributed to a company that is not itself engaged in oil exploration activities, but which subscribes capital received by it to a second company that is so engaged. Shareholders in the first company may, however, avail themselves of the deductions only after the money has been passed on to the operating company. If capital subscribed to the first company in one income year is not re-invested by it until a subsequent year the operation of the present provisions is impeded. The bill proposes procedures that will facilitate the allowance of deductions for the year in which the capital is contributed to the first company.
In conjunction with the deductions for capital contributions for the purposes of oil exploration, the bill includes provisions ensuring that the benefit of these deductions is preserved in the case of dealers in shares. Where deductions have been allowed under the provisions I have just discussed, a share-dealer is not entitled to offset the cost of the shares in ascertaining the taxation profit or loss arising on the sale of the shares. The benefit of the deductions is, in effect, nullified. The bill contains a provision to overcome this unintended result and so place share dealers on a basis corresponding to that applied where a primary producer dealing in rural land has been allowed deductions for the cost of developing land sold by him.
I turn now, Mr. Speaker, to a proposal to assist aged persons who incur heavy medical expenses. At present, the maximum amount of medical expenses that may be deducted by a person in any one year in relation to himself, a dependant or a child under 21 years of age is £150 a person. This limitation is to be removed in respect of medical expenses paid by a person over 65 years of age in relation to self or spouse, if the spouse has also attained that age. The amendment will apply to medical expenses paid during the 1959-60 and subsequent years of income.
The list of funds and organizations to which gifts, subject to income tax allowances, may be made has been enlarged by the Government on a number of occasions. A further extension of the list is proposed so that deductions will in future be allowed for gifts of £1 and upwards to the following: -
The National Trusts established in Western Australia and the Northern Territory,
Public funds providing money for approved marriage guidance organizations;
The Australian National Committee for World Refugee Year; and
The Council for Jewish Education in Schools.
Gifts made to these organizations during the current financial year and subsequent years will be deductible. An increase from £300 to £400 is also proposed in the maximum permissible deduction for life assurance premiums, superannuation contributions and other life payments. The increased maximum deduction will commence to apply for the 1959-60 income year.
A number of residents of Australia are in receipt of allowances paid by the West German Government as compensation for injuries and losses suffered as a result of Nazi persecution. These allowances are technically within the income tax field. The payments have their origin in very unhappy circumstances and the recipients may well be left to enjoy the full amount of the allowances without diminution by taxation. It is accordingly proposed by the bill to treat allowances received on and after 1st July, 1959, as exempt from income tax.
The remaining provisions include amendments consequential upon the proposed 5 per cent, reduction in the tax payable by individuals for the current financial year. I do not, however, propose to comment on those provisions but I have arranged for a memorandum explaining technical aspects of all clauses of the bill to be circulated for the information of honorable members. I should, perhaps, add that provisions to impose a withholding tax on dividends paid to non-residents are not included in the bill. It is the Government’s intention to introduce legislation for that purpose later in the present sittings of the Parliament.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) proposed -
That Order of the Day No. 1 - Supply (“ Grievance Day “) - be postponed until a later hour this day.
.- I oppose the motion. This is another instance of the Government deliberately impinging on the rights of private members. I cannot remember when the last “ Grievance Day “ was held, because on many occasions lately the Government has moved a similar motion. If honorable members on both sides of the Parliament continually give up their one opportunity during the month to debate questions of interest to their electors, they are giving away a right that will be hard to restore. I have on my files about twenty matters which 1 wish to discuss in this Parliament. I have looked at the files on the desk of the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), and I know that he also wants to speak on a number of matters. I know, too, that every honorable member has at least one matter of vital concern to his electorate which it is necessary for him to discuss. Yet a member of the Ministry has moved that Government business shall take precedence and that Grievance Day shall be postponed.
The sittings of the Parliament are very short. We sit for a month and then adjourn for a week. We constantly see curtailment of debates on the motion for the adjournment of the House. Only a few speakers are heard on each night that there is an adjournment debate, because of lack of time. Grievance Day provides honorable members with an opportunity, under Standing Order 291, to discuss matters of particular interest to their electorates. I protest at what is taking place. I am surprised, that on this occasion the Government will not give us an opportunity to discuss matters of real interest. On what grounds does the Government justify the denial of Grievance Day, and the opportunity for honorable members to discuss for a couple of hours matters of importance? I say to the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney), who is interjecting, that I am prepared to sit here till Christmas, if necessary. The Parliament should not adjourn for a week in the week after next. We should have our Grievance Day to-day and we should continue to sit during that week.
The trouble is that the Government is anxious to avoid criticism. It wants to stop honorable members from voicing their views on matters of general interest. The Government is eager to get into recess. It wants to have the least number of sitting days that it is possible to have. For my part, Mr. Speaker, I wanted to speak this morning on matters pertaining to the dismissal of certain men. I wanted to speak on matters appertaining to medical benefits for pensioners and others. I have matters of vital interest concerning aged people in my constituency, and I can raise them only on an occasion such as Grievance Day. Yet here we have the government of the day refusing honorable members this right. We have sat quietly by far too long while arrangements have been made to debate other matters, and we are not allowed to discuss the matters that we want to raise.
I lodge my protest and ask the Government to review its decision. I oppose strongly this infringement of the rights of private members. The Government is showing absolute contempt not only for the Opposition but also for other honorable members who desire - and sincerely desire - to raise matters of vital concern. Some honorable members who sit on the Government side of the House speak of freedom, the rights of the individual, and the need to have open debate in this Parliament. But they are as silent as the grave when this gross infringement of the rights of members is perpetrated by the Government of the day. I should like: to hear the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) express his views on the action of the Government in taking away the right of members to speak on this occasion.
I should like to hear the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) on this matter. I should like to hear these members tell us what they think of this action by the Government. They say that they are supporters of democracy. The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) who moved this motion is a man who believes in human rights, and in the privileges and rights of members. However, the Government is completely ignoring our rights on this occasion, as it has in the past. I register my protest and hope that the motion will be defeated.
– On this occasion, I do not support my colleague, the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). The Government has advised the Opposition through me that certain measures must be passed to-day so that those entitled to increased social service benefits and repatriation benefits may receive these increases next week. I am sorry that I was not able to tell all my colleagues that as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) is absent this morning meeting Princess Alexandra at a function in his electorate, at Cooma, the Government has agreed to postpone the debate on the second reading of the Social Services Bill, so that he need not be present in the chamber. The business of the House has been re-arranged and the Repatriation Bill is to be brought forward.
– How much time will they give us on the Repatriation Bill?
– I am in no better position than anybody else to say how long we will- get, but I do know that the Government has intimated that the measure will go through to-night. In the circumstances, I agreed to the wiping out of Grievance Day to-day so that we could have more time to debate repatriation and social services. I concluded that they were the important matters that had to be discussed.
That is the first reason. The second reason - and it is a very good one - is that during a Budget debate there is never a
Grievance Day under any government. So I ask my colleague to maintain a little patience on this matter now. When the Budget debate is over, we will have Grievance Days again, and 1 hope that no further Grievance Day will be postponed for the rest of this session.
Quite frankly, as a member of this Parliament, 1 want to use the opportunities provided by the facilities of radio and the like to reach the people on matters on which the Opposition can state a good case, and1 it can do so on pensions and repatriation benefits. I thought it was better that that should be done than that some honorable members should talk about the need for a post office in some place or other and pull the old parish pump, as does sometimes happen. The important thing is to let the people know where we stand on those measures. I have an obligation to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and I intend to honour it.
– Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honorable member claim that he has been misrepresented?
– Yes, Mr. Speaker. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has implied, in effect, that I knew of the arrangement.
– No, I did not.
– I do not know whether arrangements were made, but I am in complete disagreement with them.
.- I support the contention of the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). There is a serious lack of opportunity to discuss grievances that arise in electorates, as we know. Too many arrangements are made without the rank and file on both sides of the House being aware of them. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who likes a poetical phrase, will realize that unless we grieve here the flesh will grieve on other bones than ours. In a democratic parliament, opportunities should be provided for honorable members to raise matters, no matter how pressing is the time factor for the passing of legislation. If, this morning, honorable members were able to bring problems arising in their electorates before the House, a worthwhile purpose would be served. This morning, the Prime Minister is present introducing legislation, and this would be a golden opportunity to tell him directly of many of the problems that are facing us in the electorates.
We feel that a very useful part of parliamentary procedure, Grievance . Day, has been sub-edited until gradually it has almost disappeared. Many people are assailing the institution of Parliament as such. I do not refer to its traditional forms on which I recently made some comment, but in the general sense we believe in a democratic parliament. We must, therefore, stand up to the argument that is constantly put before us that this is becoming merely a place where bills are put through by the Executive and that rank and file members, whether they be back-benchers on the Government side or members of the Opposition, may as well be at home in their electorates because they have no effective voice in the conduct of Parliament. Every time the Government takes a right to discuss vital matters away from this Parliament - this Parliament, venerable in tradition in the real sense - it takes away something of importance. It is no good debunking Grievance Day as the parish pump day; it is the opportunity for the voice” of the people to be heard, although sometimes the parish pump is pulled in a general sense. It is also futile to say that we must give priority to legislation covering repatriation benefits. If this principle is adopted, we will do only the big things. The great big wheel comes nearer and nearer and we become more like a churning machine or a political corncracker than a parliament.
One of the treasured times in the debates of this Parliament has been, from time immemorial, the opportunity to talk on Grievance Day. I think the honorable member for Grayndler is perfectly correct. He has a busy electorate, as I have. We have similar problems which we would like to bring before the House, and we will do so if we are given the opportunity again. I hope the institution, Grievance Day, will be restored; it has been almost abolished now. If it is, we will guarantee that the debate will be of interest both to members of this place and to the public. Once again it is made obvious that as soon as Grievance
Day comes along, an attempt is made by the Government, connived at by our own representatives, to control us so that we must agree to cut out Grievance Day on all occasions. I thoroughly support the honorable member for Grayndler.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. 1 have never connived at anything in this Parliament at any time. It is wrong for the honorable member to say that I have connived with the Government in regard to depriving honorable members of their rights. All I do is to accept the decisions of the Government and to make the best possible arrangements for my colleagues that I can from day to day in connexion with the business of the House. I hope that up to date I have given some satisfaction. (Several honorable members rising in their places) -
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John MacLeay.)
Majority . . . . 23
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
.- I move -
– (1.) That, in this Resolution- “ co-operative company “ have the same meaning as in Division 9 of Part III. of the Assessment Act; “friendly society dispensary” mean a friendly society dispensary to which Division 9a of Part III. of the Assessment Act applies; “ life assurance company “ have the same meaning as in Division 8 of Part III. of the Assessment Act; “ mutual income “, in relation to a life assurance company (other than a mutual life assurance company), mean -
Imposition of Income Tax and Social Services Contribution.
– (1.) That a tax by the name of income tax and social services contribution be imposed at the rates declared in this Resolution. (2.) That, notwithstanding anything contained in this Resolution, income tax and social services contribution be not imposed upon a taxable income which does not exceed One hundred and four pounds derived by -
Rates of Tax and Contribution Payable by Persons other than Companies.
Limitation of Tax and Contribution Payable by Aged Persons.
– (1.) That this paragraph apply to a taxpayer who -
Rebate of Tax and Contribution Payable by Persons other than Companies.
Minimum Tax and Contribution.
Rates of Tax and Contribution Payable by a Company.
Elimination of Pence.
– (1.) That the provisions of this paragraph apply in relation to -
Tax and Contribution where Amount to be Collected or Refunded would not exceed Two Shillings.
– (I.) That, notwithstanding anything contained in the preceding provisions of this Resolution, where a person has, in accordance with section two hundred and twenty-one H of the Assessment Act, forwarded to the Commissioner a tax stamps sheet or group certificate issued to him in respect of deductions made in a year from his salary or wages, and the differences between the available deductions and the income tax and social services contribution which would, but for this sub-paragraph, be payable by that person in respect of the taxable income derived by him in that year is not more than Two shillings, the income tax and social services contribution payable by that person in respect of that taxable income be an amount equal to the available deductions. (2.) That the last preceding sub-paragraph do not apply -
Levy of Tax and Contribution.
Provisional Tax and Contribution.
General Rates of Tax and Contribution Payable by Persons other than Companies.
The rate of income tax and social services contribution for every £1 of each part of the taxable income specified in the first column of the following table is the rate set out in the second column of that table opposite to the reference to that part of the taxable income: -
Rates of Tax and Contribution by Reference to an Average Income.
In the case of a taxpayer to whose income Division 16 of Part III. of the Assessment Act applies, the rates of income tax and social services contribution are -
Rate of Tax and Contribution by Reference to a Notional Income.
For every £1 of the taxable income of a taxpayer deriving a notional income, as specified by section fifty-nine ab, section eighty-six or section one hundred and fifty-eight d of the Assessment Act, the rate of income tax and social services contribution is the rate ascertained by dividing the tax and contribution which would be payable under the First Schedule upon a taxable income equal to his notional income by a number equal to the number of whole pounds in that notional income.
Rate of Tax and Contribution Payable by a Trustee.
For every £1 of the taxable income in respect of which a trustee is liable, in pursuance of either section ninety-eight or section ninety-nine of the Assessment Act, to be assessed and to pay tax and contribution, the rate of income tax and social services contribution is the rate which would be payable under the First, Second or Third Schedule, as the case requires, if one individual were liable to be assessed and to pay tax and contribution on that taxable income.
Rates of Tax and Contribution Payable by a Company other than a Company in the Capacity of a Trustee.
This resolution is submitted to the committee for the purpose of declaring the rates of income tax and social services contribution payable for the current financial year 1959-60. As my colleague, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), announced in his Budget speech, it is proposed that the tax payable by individuals for the current financial year be reduced by 5 per cent. The reduction will be effected in the form of a rebate of tax of1s. in the £1. This rebate will be based on the amount of tax before deduction of any other rebate or credit to which the taxpayer may be entitled. Salary and wage earners will receive the benefit of the proposed reduction from the first pay day of next month when lower tax instalments will be deducted from their earnings. Amounts of provisional tax in respect of 1959-60 incomes, which will be notified in assessments to be issued on 1958-59 incomes, will also reflect the 5 per cent. reduction.
Another feature of the resolution to which I would like to draw the attention of honorable members is the provision for an increase in the exemption levels for aged persons. At present no tax is payable by aged persons receiving £410, or £819 in the case of married couples. These amounts coincide with the total of the present annual rate of age pension and the maximum permissible income for age pension purposes. It is proposed to increase these exemptions to £429 and £858, respectively, to accord with the increase in the age pension announced in the Budget speech. The age allowance may also provide a measure of tax relief when the net income of a person, qualified by age, is somewhat in excess of the exemption point. The maximum net income for which this relief may be available is £485, which may be compared with the present limit of £460. In the case of married couples, the relief may apply where the net income does not exceed £1,181, that is, an increase of £75 over the corresponding 1958-59 limit.
The total cost to revenue of the proposals I have mentioned is estimated at £20,550,000 in a full year and £18,300.000 in the current financial year. Apart from the proposals I have discussed, paragraphs of the resolution relating to individuals are, for practical purposes, the same as those adopted by the Parliament last year. So far as concerns companies, the resolution proposes the same rates of tax as applied last financial year and I do not propose to discuss in detail the paragraphs of the resolution declaring those rates.
I submit the resolution for the consideration of the committee.
Debate resumed from 22nd September (vide page 1218), on motion by Dr. Donald Cameron -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The first comment I want to make on this extremely important measure is in the form of a protest on behalf of the Opposition at the lack of courtesy shown by the Government. According to information that I have received this morning, the Opposition will have no more than three or four hours in which to debate this measure, which affects every repatriation pensioner in the Commonwealth. The Government ought to have shown more consideration to a section of the community to which its members and supporters frequently refer as being worthy of every consideration. We find the Government confining us to a mere few hours for a debate on a measure which involves increases of pension rates paid to every class of ex-service pensioner as well as important matters affecting other recipients of repatriation benefits.
The Opposition is being denied a proper opportunity to state its views on the measure. Obviously, in the very limited time that the Government is making available, no more than two or three members of the Opposition will be able to participate in the debate during this secondreading stage. J understand that the Government intends to bring the social services legislation on again this afternoon, so that less time will be available for debating this repatriation measure this afternoon than I believe should be available to members on this side.
I therefore wish to take this opportunity to register a most emphatic protest at the Government’s action. I believe that the fact that the debating time for such an important measure as this is restricted in the way intended by the Government should arouse a protest from all honorable members, including those members who comprise the ex-servicemen’s committee on the Government side. In my opinion, they should join with members on this side in protesting at the action of the Government in so limiting the number of speakers on such an important measure as this.
At this juncture, Mr. Speaker, I take the opportunity to move an amendment on behalf of the Opposition which will register our protest against what we regard as the inadequate pension rates for repatriation pensioners provided for in the Budget. I move -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide, as from the first pension pay day in July, 1959, that the minimum payment for totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners be the equivalent of the basic wage and that the rates of all other repatriation benefits be adequate to present living costs and represent a fair and reasonable share of the national income.”.
I move that amendment on behalf of the Opposition because we do not believe that the increases to be granted under the Budget proposals are adequate, having regard to the decline in. pension values that has taken place during the period of office of the present Government. We believe that far greater increases should be given, particularly to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, war widows, and the wives of service pensioners.
You will notice, Mr. Speaker, that with the exception of the T.P.I, rate I have not suggested any specific increases. I hope to be able to demonstrate in the course of my remarks that the benefits payable to the general rate pensioner, commonly known as the “ 100 per cent, pensioner”, and indeed to war widows, as well as to service pensioners, have decreased in value during the Government’s period of office. I contend, as we have contended on other occasions, that the T.P.I, pension should be no less than the basic wage. That point of view has been stressed by us in this Parliament during the last few years in every second-reading debate on a repatriation measure. In. fact, we are now reiterating the view expressed at the general election in 1958 by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), that the T.P.I, pension should be immediately raised to the level of the basic wage. It is obvious, of course, that Cabinet has decided that certain pension increases are necessary, and has moved accordingly to give effect to recommendations in that direction, but it is because we believe that the proposed increases are inadequate that the Opposition submits the amendment that I have moved.
We believe that the T.P.I, pension, having regard to the disabilities that the totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman suffers from, is completely inadequate. After all, there are only 12,000 ex-members of the forces in receipt of the T.P.I, pension, and an increase of the pension to bring it up to the level of the basic wage would not involve the Government in an outlay that would be substantial having regard to the national revenue.
To-day the T.P.I, pension is £1 lis. 6d. a week less than the basic wage. I know that it may be argued - probably successfully - that all governments, irrespective of their political colour, have been at fault in regard to repatriation pensions. However, the fact that other governments have been niggardly in their attitude to repatriation pensioners is no excuse for this Commonwealth Government in 1959 to adopt the same attitude. I believe, therefore, that the proposal from this side of the House that the T.P.I, pension be at least equivalent to the basic wage warrants the support of honorable members opposite who comprise the Government’s exservicemen’s committee, which advises the Government on repatriation matters.
– The allowances paid are much greater to-day.
– I am referring to the T.P.I. pension. I know that certain allowances are made available over and above the T.P.I. pension; but what we are debating is the maximum amount payable to T.P.I. ex-servicemen. The question of the allowances paid to wives of special rate pensioners has, in my opinion, nothing at all to do with the pension rate. I know that the honorable member has made the suggestion that these allowances should be taken into consideration when we are discussing the rate. I noticed a distinct improvement this year in that the Minister introducing this measure has, for the first time that I can remember since I have been in this Parliament, made no reference to child endowment payments received by ex-servicemen. Nevertheless, he has again on this occasion referred to the wife’s allowance. That has nothing to do with the pension paid to special rate pensioners. The T.P.I. pension to-day is £11 10s. Under this measure, it would be increased by 15s., raising it to £12 5s. a week. As I understand it, the basic wage is considerably in excess of that amount, and therefore it cannot be successfully argued by Government supporters that the Menzies Government has maintained the level of the special rate pension, in relation to the basic wage, that applied in 1949 when the Chifley Government’s last Budget was brought down. This Government has allowed the total and permanent incapacity rate, as indeed it has allowed all other repatriation pensions, to decline during its term of office. I know that in 1955 the Government introduced an. amendment to section 91 (a) of the Repatriation Act in order to raise the ceiling limit to £15 10s. a week, but I point out to honorable members that the Government was not amending the act merely because it wanted to give an increase to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen and other repatriation pensioners. The Government merely adjusted the ceiling limit because, earlier it had increased total permissible income of age and other pensions to £15 a week, including their social service payments. The Government adjusted the total and permanent incapacity rate merely to bring it into line with the adjustments it had made to social service payments.
The Budget presented by the Treasurer only a few weeks ago makes provision for increasing the total and permanent incapacity rate to £12 5s. a week. Therefore, the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman and his wife are entitled to payment of part of the service pension. If the wife is over 60 years of age, she is entitled to part of the age pension. But the ceiling limit will still be the same as that applied to recipients of social service benefits. The Government has not given any special consideration to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen.
In those circumstances, I. reiterate that the question that has to be decided by this Government is whether the rate for totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen is equitable, having regard to the increased cost of living and the national income available to the Government. Having pointed out that the Opposition is of the opinion that the total and permanent incapacity rate ought to be increased immediately to an amount equal to the basic wage, and that we shall therefore take the opportunity to refer further to the matter when we go to committee, I leave that point.
The second point to which I wish to refer relates to the general rate pension commonly known as the 100 per cent. pension. This pension is paid to the greatest number of recipients of benefits under the Repatriation Act. The general rate pension is to be increased under this legislation by 7s. 6d. to £5 10s. a week. 1 suggest that the proposed amount is also completely inadequate, having regard to the disabilities suffered by many of the ex-servicemen who are in receipt of the 100 per cent. pension. I think all honorable members have some knowledge of the disabilities suffered by ex-servicemen. It is possible for an ex-serviceman who is in receipt of the 100 per cent. pension to be completely incapacitated. For instance, although he may suffer from several disabilities, it may be that only one of those disabilities has been accepted by the Repatriation Commission; and because the commission is of the opinion that the one which it has accepted does not warrant the granting of a total and permanent incapacity pension, he can only supplement his income to the extent of part of the service pension. There are many general rate pensioners who have no income except their 100 per cent, pension rate which, under this legislation, will be £5 2s. 6d. a week, plus the supplementary allowance from the service pension. An ex-serviceman who suffers from several disabilities and is therefore totally incapacitated, although only one disability is recognized by the Repatriation Commission, is unable to earn any more. We believe that the 100 per cent, pension is completely inadequate. I have not suggested what the increase should be, but I hope to be able to demonstrate in a few moments that the value of the present pension has also deteriorated during the term of office of this Government.
I move from there to the matter of the war widow, probably the most deserving of all repatriation benefit recipients. Under the legislation before us, her maximum rate is to be increased by 7s. 6d. to £5 5s. a week. It is true that in some cases a domestic allowance is to be paid. That domestic allowance is to be increased by 7s. 6d. a week. The Minister pointed out in his second-reading speech that approximately 90 per cent, of the war widows in Australia are receiving a domestic allowance. But I suggest that this Parliament should give consideration to the 10 per cent, who do not receive it. If they were receiving a domestic allowance, they would be enjoying a widow’s pension of £5 5s., plus a domestic allowance of £2 15s. a week, giving them a total income of £8 a week. As I indicated earlier, 10 per cent, of the war widows of Australia do not receive the domestic allowance and I repeat that they are the people to whom this Government should give some consideration. Their only income in future will be £5 5s. a week. It is true also that if they have children certain allowances will be paid in respect of them. Let me discuss that point for a moment because it is extremely important. Very little reference has been made to this matter in the Minister’s second-reading speech. The reason for that omission is understandable because the allowances for wives and children have not been adjusted by this Government, if I remember correctly, since 1952. Under the act, a widow will receive £1 lis. 6d. for the first child and £1 2s. 6d. for each subsequent child. I repeat that these rates - have not been adjusted by this Government since 1952, and I suggest in all seriousness that even the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth), who is sitting at the table, would protest emphatically if he were asked to maintain a child on £1 lis. 6d. a week. Nevertheless, he will vote for this measure and against any amendments that may be proposed by honorable members on this side for the adjustment of this rate to something more equitable. The Government ought to adjust the rates for war widows, and especially the allowances for children. Such rates have not been adjusted since 1952 and I am sure all honorable members will agree that there has been a tremendous increase in the cost of living in this country during the seven years which have elapsed since the Government adjusted those payments.
Parliament should adopt the attitude that the widow or the man who has lost his life as a result of war service should receive an amount that would compensate for the disabilities she suffers through loss of income as well as the normal disabilities suffered as a consequence of having to rear her children without the aid of her husband. The amount now payable to war widows is certainly far below the amount that should be paid by any government that is prepared to take those factors into consideration.
At this stage, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to turn to the service pension, because I believe that, here, too, the Government has failed to take into consideration the matters that I have already mentioned - the upsurge in the cost of living and the increase in prices. The Government has completely failed to take into account the effect of these things on people who have no income other than the service pension. The health of many service pensioners has compelled them to give up work at 60 years of age and to depend on a pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week, at the present rates, and £4 15s. a week at the rates provided for in this measure. I wish to deal particularly with the position of the service pensioner whose wife is under the age of 60 years. If the service pension were paid on the basis of permanent incapacity, the wife would be entitled to an allowance of £3 lis. a fortnight. The total income of the couple would be the service pension of £4 15s. a week and the wife’s allowance of £1 15s. 6d. a week. The amount of the allowance has remained unchanged throughout the term of office of this Government. The Opposition suggests that the wife should be paid a minimum amount equivalent at least to the pension paid to the ex-serviceman.
I believe that common justice demands that the Government should immediately review the allowance now paid to war widows, and the Opposition will give further attention to this matter when the bill reaches the committee stage.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, in order to substantiate what I have said about the decline in pension values during this Government’s term of office, let me compare the values of repatriation benefits in 1939 with the values of the same benefits in 19S9. 1 adopt this twenty-year period for the purposes of comparison because I believe that most members of the Parliament take the view that repatriation matters should be kept above the realms of party politics. In the twenty-year period that I have taken, governments of all political colours have held office in this country. I think it may be said, in fairness, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that in 1939 - the year in which the Second World War began - Australia was certainly not as prosperous as it is to-day. For example, 10 per cent, of the work force was unemployed, and the national revenue was insignificant compared with the national revenue available to this Government to-day. Yet, in 1939, the special rate pension payable to a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman was £4 a week, and the basic wage was £3 18s. a week. In 1959, the pension payable to a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman at the rate provided for in this measure, is £12 5s. a week - an increase of 201 per cent, since 1939. As I indicated a moment ago, in 1939, the basic wage was £3 18s. a week. The basic wage in 1959, averaged over the six Australian capital cities, is £13 16s. a week - an increase of 254 per cent, since 1939.
I repeat, for the benefit of Government supporters, that the value of the pension payable to a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman has declined considerably in the twenty years between 1939 and 1959. I believe that the Government has a case to answer and that it should explain why the value of this pension has decreased so greatly although, as T have already pointed out, according to the Treasurer and, indeed, all honorable members on the Government side of the chamber, this country is certainly far more prosperous in 1959 than it was in 1939. If the pension payable to a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman had increased in the same proportion as the basic wage has increased, the pension would be, not £12 5s. a week, but £14 3s. a week, or 7s. more than the basic wage.
The same situation exists, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in respect of the general rate pension. In 1939, the 100 per cent, general rate pension paid under the Repatriation Act was £2 2s. a week. In 1959, at the rate provided for in this bill, it has increased to £5 10s. a week - an increase of 161 per cent. As I have already indicated, the basic wage has increased, over the period of which I am speaking, by 254 per cent. If this pension rate had increased in the same proportion as the basic wage has increased, it would be, not £5 10s. a week, but £7 8s. a week - substantially more .than the Government undertakes to pay under the terms of the measure which we arc now debating. I may point out, also, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, although the 100 per cent, pension will be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, the 50 per cent, pension rate will be increased by only 3s. 9d. a week, the 20 per cent, rate by ls. 6d. a week and the 10 per cent, rate by only 9d. a week. I should point out at once, too, that the statistics contained in the report of the Repatriation Commission indicate that 18,000 persons receive the 100 per cent, pension and no fewer than 37,000 ex-servicemen receive a 10 per cent, pension. In other words, the great majority of pensioners under the act will receive only an additional 9d. a week. I doubt whether they will regard that as an indication of generosity on the part of this Government.
I turn now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the position of the war widow, and to compare the value of the war widow’s pension in 1939 with its value in 1959. In 1939, the war widow’s pension was £2 16s. a week. At the rate prescribed in this measure, in 1959 it will be £5 5s. a week - an increase of only 87 per cent., although, as I have pointed out the basic wage has increased by no less than 254 per cent, in the same period. If the war widow’s pension had increased in the same proportion as the basic wage has increased, obviously, the war widow would have received substantially more than the Government proposes to pay her. As I said earlier, other allowances are paid to war widows, but the thing that this Parliament must take into consideration is the base rate of pension payable to the war widow in her own right. I have already stated that in my opinion the fact that war widows may be in receipt of child endowment has nothing whatever to do with the payment of repatriation benefits. The point that must be considered by this Parliament is whether in 1959 the war widow’s pension rate is equitable bearing in mind the tremendous increase that has taken place in the cost of living and in the basic wage since 1939. I believe that it is fair and reasonable to refer to 1939. I know that honorable members opposite prefer a comparison with 1949 but I have already admitted that Labour governments may not always have been generous in their approach to these matters. I am prepared to acknowledge that one reason why Labour lost the election in 1949 was because pension rates were not adjusted in that year. But the attitude adopted by other governments is no excuse for this Government in 1959, or this Parliament, failing to adjust repatriation benefits.
Let me turn now to other serious matters concerning repatriation. I want to take this opportunity to refer briefly to a matter that is raised each year when repatriation matters are under discussion. I refer to section 47 of the Repatriation Act, which deals with the onus of proof. I have already indicated that in the committee stages of this bill the Opposition will move an amendment dealing with this most important section of the act. It is not that we think that tribunals are unsympathetic towards ex-servicemen. Indeed, I have said in this House on other occasions, and I repeat it now, that in my opinion tribunals are most sympathetic in their approach to the problems presented to them by exservicemen. All honorable members who have appeared before tribunals, as I frequently have, will appreciate that the exserviceman is given every opportunity to present his case fairly and reasonably and is always given an attentive hearing. But the fact remains that section 47 is still in the act and according to the interpretation of a former Attorney-General in the Menzies Government, Senator Spicer - now Mr. Justice Spicer - an ex-serviceman who claims that his disability is war-caused must be given the benefit of the doubt by the Repatriation Commission if there is no evidence to the contrary. That is the process and there is no other process.
An ex-serviceman applies to a repatriation board to have his disability accepted as being due to war service. His application is examined by the board and if it is rejected, the ex-serviceman has the right of appeal to the Repatriation Commission. His application is there further considered and either accepted or rejected. If it is rejected the ex-serviceman may take his case to an entitlement appeal tribunal. It is not until he reaches the entitlement appeal tribunal that he has the opportunity personally to state his case. I repeat that in my opinion the ex-serviceman is given every opportunity to state his case, but we on this side of the House, and, I am sure, honorable members opposite also, think that the onus of proof section is not being applied as this Parliament originally intended it should be applied. That is no criticism of the tribunals at all. I suggest that honorable members who have the opportunity to do so should give serious consideration to the annual report of the No. 2 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal of 1956, because, immediately after Senator Spicer gave his interpretation of section 47, that tribunal submitted its interpretation of this controversial section. Whilst I have not the opportunity at this moment to deal in detail with that tribunal’s submissions in respect of that matter, it may be said at once that the tribunal has indicated that it is not possible for it to interpret section 47 in the way suggested by members of this Parliament.
Therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Opposition will take the opportunity during the committee stages to move that section 47 be further considered to give ex-servicemen whose appeals have been rejected by the commission and by an entitlement appeal tribunal an opportunity to submit their case to a judge of the High Court or of a State Supreme Court. The
Opposition believes that a judge of the High Court would be able to decide at once whether the onus of proof had been applied as this Parliament intended it should be applied. I know that in some cases it is extremely difficult to prove that a disability has been caused by war service. For example an ex-serviceman may have a disability which at the time of his discharge was not of great significance but which in later life causes him extreme difficulty. A serviceman, upon receiving an injury, may have done no more than approach a regimental aid post for attention, in which case it is most unlikely that any record of the injury would appear in his medical history. Yet the fact that he received attention at a regimental aid post would have a substantial bearing on any claim that he might submit later in life. Unless an exserviceman’s history is complete it is extremely difficult to prove before a commission or before a tribunal that his disability is due to his war service.
All honorable members know of particular cases and at this stage I propose to mention the case of a man who suffered with spondylitis. That man had been a stretcher bearer. He had had the misfortune, while acting as leading stretcher bearer, to fall into a shell hole. His fellow stretcher bearer and the wounded exserviceman being evacuated fell on top of him. Obviously he would suffer a disability and indeed his medical history showed that, as a result of that accident, he had been admitted to a general hospital for treatment. He did not apply to have his disability acepted as war-caused until he was no longer able to follow his normal occupation. His application was rejected because in the opinion of the doctor his disability was due to age. But I was able to show the tribunal that that ex-serviceman had been seeking medical attention since 1920 - only two years after he had been dis.charged. The tribunal said that in that case the disability obviously was not due to age. Nevertheless, the man’s application was rejected.
That is a case in which the onus of proof provision should have been applied. If the onus of proof had been applied in the way intended by the act, on the evidence available that man’s condition would have been accepted as due to war service.
Every honorable member has, at one time or another, given details in this chamber of similar cases. Indeed, the Parliament has had this onus of proof clause intermittently under consideration for almost 37 years. Therefore, the proposed amendment should receive the approval of all.
We believe that ex-servicemen from tha 1914-18 war - who are becoming fewer in number each year - should receive free medical and hospital treatment. The repatriation hospitals of the Commonwealth, with the exception of perhaps one in Tasmania, which has only limited accommodation, are no more than half-full. That fact emerges if the position is. examined carefully. We suggest at once that an exserviceman of the 1914-18 war who has a disability, whether it is accepted as warcaused or not, should be admitted to a repatriation hospital free of charge and thus compensated in part for the service that he rendered this country during a period of extreme peril. After all, it would not involve a great deal-
– How many would be involved?
– I have not the exact figures. We are not concerned with the numbers because we know that the repatriation hospitals have the necessary space available. We believe that the cost to the Government would not be very great. It is a matter that will be dealt with fully by the Opposition during the committee stage, when Government supporters will have an opportunity to recognize the service rendered by these men, whose numbers are decreasing annually. It would be the least that we could do in that direction.
As I have been dealing with the question of medical entitlement I might mention that the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen are denied the free medical’ attention that is normally offered to some classes of social service beneficiaries. Before 1955 they were provided with free medical attention but, as a result of the means test applied by this Government in that year, they no longer receive the free treatment card’. As 1 pointed out a moment ago the extension of such a concession would not involve very heavy expenditure. The Government might well extend that privilege to the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen.
Honorable members who follow me will no doubt refer to other matters, equally important, concerning the various classes of repatriation pensions, which I have not been able to mention in the time available to me. I merely reiterate that though the Government has given some consideration to the question of increasing repatriation pensions the rates are not equitable, having regard to the increased cost of living. We believe that T.P.I, pensioners should receive at least the equivalent of the basic wage. All honorable members should appreciate the merit of that submission, which deserves the careful consideration of the Government.
We do not suggest specific increases for the pensioner on the 100 per cent, incapacity rate, or the service pensioner, but we do suggest that the. Government ought to reconsider the rates of pension paid to them also. The Opposition believes that, in view of the disabilities suffered by them, the existing rates are inadequate.
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
.- I listened with great interest to the way in which the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) elaborated the amendment that he has proposed, but 1 do not think that he introduced anything really new. I have been a member of this Parliament now for almost ten years, and the same old’ points are always brought out by the Opposition. Annually they complain- that the benefits payable’ to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen are inadequate. Section 47, relating to the onus of proof, has had yet another run. That, to me, is a very old bone of contention. A little later T shall refer to the 1955 debate, when the present Leader of the Opposition expressed complete agreement with the interpretation given by the then Attorney-General, Senator Spicer, of that section. I shall postpone reference to that matter until later because a brief allusion to it during the limited time available before the luncheon adjournment might result in my remarks being misinterpreted.
The amendment, except for the fairly definite plea that the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman should receive a pension equal to the basic wage, is so vague as to deny it very much consideration from the House. What is meant by the phrase, “ the rates of all other repatriation benefits be adequate to present living costs and represent a fair and reasonable share of the national income “? In all my experience I have never known such an indefinite amendment to be put before this House. Certainly, towards the end of his remarks, the honorable member for Bass sought to excuse the Opposition for not having made the amendment more specific but, in general, its terms are so indefinite as to give us very little to consider. How much would it all cost? Who would benefit from it?
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Mr. Speaker, in continuing my remarks I should like to say that each year since this Government took office nearly ten years ago increases in repatriation benefits have been provided. The bill now before the House provides for further substantial increases, as were outlined briefly by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget speech. It makes provision for sound increases- in pension rates and’ other benefits including increased allowances. It provides also for additional facilities for medical” treatment in certain cases. Iri addition, it removes anomalies in relation to pensions received from overseas, and pensioners formerly domiciled in Australia who may have left this country. I shall have more to say about that’ matter later.
At this- stage I think it worth while to recapitulate briefly the benefits- contained in the bill. The’ second schedule to the act is to be amended to provide for the special rate pension, commonly known as the T.P.I, pension, to be increased by 1 5s. a week. As all honorable members know, this pension is paid to ex-servicemen who are totally and permanently incapacitated, or who have been blinded as a result of war service. The new T.P’.I. pension fate1 will1 be £12 5s. a week for an unmarried pensioner, and £L4 0s. 6d. for a married pensioner. In addition, as was provided for in 1955, a T.P.I, pensioner may qualify also for an age, invalid or service pension. Subject to the conditions of the means test, which takes into account war pension, they may qualify for an additional civil or service pension of up to £2 9s. 6d. a week, bringing their total pension to £16 10s. a week. These amounts are not affected by any pension or educational allowance payable for children. It is worthy of note also, in view of the amendment that has been proposed by the Opposition, that the total pension of £16 10s. to which I have referred is free of income tax.
Secondly, ex-servicemen suffering from tuberculosis, who are capable of performing work of only a light or medium nature and who come within the class B rate for tuberculosis, will have their pension increased by 10s. to £8 12s. 6d. a week. Wai widows will receive an increase of 7s. 6d. a week, and the domestic allowance, for which 90 per cent, of all widows qualify, will be raised also by 7s. 6d. a week.
Pausing here, I should like to ask the Government to consider what I regard as a very important matter. Generous allowances, quite apart from the war pension, are payable for the children of war widows for educational purposes. These educational allowances cease when the child reaches the age of sixteen years. However, if the child goes on to higher studies, the allowance increases to over £4 a week. That is a tremendous help, and it enables the child of a deceased ex-serviceman to carry on quite comfortably while engaging in higher studies at universities for professional careers and so on. I suggest to the Government that it would be a humanitarian gesture if the benefits to which the children are entitled until they reach the age of sixteen years, namely, dental, medical and hospital benefits, were continued beyond that age in the cases of children engaging in higher studies. This would be of tremendous advantage to the widow concerned.
At this point, I should like to pay tribute to the wonderful work that Legacy does for the wives and children of deceased ex-servicemen. Legacy does its work anonymously and almost under cover, and I believe that this organization is one of the most wonderful in which ex-servicemen can participate. I am not suggesting for a moment that the Government should restrict its liabilities because of the wonderful work that is done by Legacy. 1 mention Legacy only to pay tribute to it.
The general rate war pension, which is frequently miscalled the 100 per cent, rate, will be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, bringing it to a total of £5 10s. a week. General rate pensioners may qualify also, as may T.P.I, pensioners, for an age, invalid or service pension, subject to the means test, up to 7s. 6d. a week. As honorable members know, the civil or social services general pension will be increased by 7s. 6d. a week. The family income is also supplemented by the children’s pensions. ft is pleasing to note that amputees, and those who have suffered ‘ partial loss of vision as a result of war service who are paid amounts under the fifth schedule of the act in addition to the war pension, will have those amounts increased by from 5s. to 15s. a week according to the nature of the disability. An interesting innovation is the new clothing allowance, to which no reference is made in the bill because it will be implemented by regulation. This allowance will help to meet the cost of repair or replacement of clothing that has been affected by oils or ointments that are used in the treatment of a war disability, or where friction from an artificial limb causes early wear. For two or three years the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia has been asking the Government for an allowance along these lines, and it is pleasing that the Government has acceded to the league’s request.
A substantial increase will be made in the allowance paid to persons travelling in connexion with medical treatment, for pension purposes or in order to attend hearings before boards, commissions and tribunals. The maximum rate will rise from £1 10s. a day to £2 14s. a day. In addition, compensation for loss of wages when attending hearings for these purposes will be increased generally by 25 per cent. As in the case of the proposed clothing allowance, these increases are not provided for in the bill because they will be effected by regulation. The additional facilities for medical treatment for war widows, the children of deceased ex-servicemen and those widowed mothers who are entitled to free medical treatment, as detailed by the Minister when he introduced the bill, will be welcomed. They will all add to the comfort and the welfare of those concerned.
Additional amendments to the act will remove anomalies in respect of the residential qualifications of what we call dual pensioners. For instance, ex-servicemen who served in the 1914-18 war with British Commonwealth forces, as distinct from Australian forces, and who were domiciled in Australia prior to enlistment, formerly lost their pension upon departure from Australia. The amendment that is proposed in the bill brings those pensioners into line with ex-servicemen who served in the 1939-45 war, and who are protected in this respect under section 102 of the act.
Mr. Speaker, the honorable member for Bass spoke in relation to the Opposition’s amendment which is before the House about the T.P.I, rate of pension - the general rate pension - and family allowances. I think he said that family allowances had not been increased for some years. That is so, but I should like to point out to the House that the honorable member made no mention of the lifting of the ceiling rates by this Government in 1955.
– Yes, I did.
– The honorable member certainly did not point out the great benefits which have accrued by virtue of the lifting of those ceiling rates. Acting on the old Labour principle that no member - or no person, indeed - in the Commonwealth could or should draw two Commonwealth pensions at the one time, the Labour Government imposed ceiling rates and these bore down very oppressively on repatriation beneficiaries. For instance, a T.P.I, pensioner was quite unable to participate in a normal service or social service pension. In addition those who were on the general rate did not qualify for any more than the very slightest benefit from a civil pension by reason of the ceilings imposed by the Labour Government. These ceiling limits were . completely lifted in 1955 by this Government, with the direct result that the T.P.I, pensioners and their families are able to get the service pension that was previously denied by the Labour Government. The general rate pensioners are able to-day - they have been able since 1955 - to get considerably increased rates of service pension for themselves and their dependants. lt might be of interest to the House if 1 quote very briefly the T.P.I, rate which is presently paid to an ex-serviceman, his wife and two children who, shall we say, are of the ages of twelve and fourteen years. I choose the ages of twelve and fourteen years, because that would mean that they would be getting the education allowances. Taking into account the war pensions for the member, his wife and two children, the service pensions applying to all four, and the education allowances applying to the two children aged twelve and fourteen years, I find that the total pension payable to that family is £21 3s.
The honorable member for Bass, in presenting his amendment to the House, also spoke of the plight of the war widows, with whom we all have tremendous sympathy. I believe he said that the widow’s rate of basic war pension has increased by 87 per cent, since 1939. I think I am right in saying that. Here again, he completely disregards the fact that a domestic allowance of £2 15s. a week, which was not payable at all under his own government, is now payable. After all, 90 per cent, of the war widows receive these domestic allowances which, together with increases of basic pension which have taken place since 1939 represent an increase not, as he said, of 87 per cent, in total, but of nearly 400 per cent, over the rate payable in 1939.
– Does that apply to all war widows?
– As 1 have said, 90 per cent, of them receive domestic allowances.
Mr. Speaker, I said that I would have something to say about section 47 of the act, which deals with the onus of proof and the benefit of the doubt and so on when ex-servicemen make application for a pension to the Repatriation Department. I find now that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) and the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) who are members of the legal profession will be speaking of these matters and I think they will be able to discuss them far more effectively than I could do.
All these provisions about which we have spoken, and which are contained in this measure and in the principal act, go to make up a very great repatriation scheme, unequalled by that of any other country. These provisions include the general pension plan for incapacity and death due to war service; the service pension; general medical treatment for members provided through our repatriation hospitals, clinics and the local medical officers scheme; the service provided to the limbless through our artificial limb factories; vocational training; and the education and training - including higher education - of the children of certain classes of ex-servicemen; recreational allowances; and the provision of cars for paraplegics. I was pleased to hear to-day that we have provided 114 of these cars. It is also interesting to know that most countries have a time limit of from ten to fifteen years after the cessation of hostilities for the acceptance of disabilities caused by war service. That is not so in this country.
I should like now to make a brief reference to some statistics which may interest the House. It is estimated that In this financial year 628,000 war pensioners will draw £59,000,000, and 42,000 service pensioners will draw £7,000,000 - a total expenditure on war and service pensions for the year of £66,000,000. The total expenditure on repatriation, including benefits other than those I have just mentioned, medical treatment, running the department, and capital works and maintenance is set down at £83,000,000 for this financial year.
Before I sit down, Mr. Speaker, may I extend briefly a compliment to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper). Since his appointment to this portfolio nearly ten years ago, he has done a magnificent job. This is generally recognized throughout Australia. He himself is a limbless soldier. He enjoys the great respect of all people who are interested in the welfare of ex-servicemen and exservicewomen.
I should also like, if I may do so, to express my very great pleasure at the appointment in May of last year of Brigadier F. O. Chilton as Chairman of the Repatriation Commission. I had the honour to serve under him during the last war. He had a most distinguished Army career and he has the great ability and a sense of the humanities that will enable him to preside over the commission to the best advantage of the hundreds of thousands of persons who have dealings with it.
I made mention of the estimated total expenditure of £83,000,000 on repatriation matters in the current financial year. This amount, plus amounts of £35,000,000 for war service homes and £13,000,000 for war service land settlement, make a most impressive total of £131,000,000. I suggest to the House that these figures provide abundant proof that this Government, throughout the past ten years, has honoured and creditably discharged its responsibility to the exservicemen and ex-servicewomen of Australia.
.- The honorable member for Higinbotham (Mr. Timson) said that our repatriation system is unequalled by that in any other country. That may well be so, and indeed it ought to be so if this country is as wealthy per head of population as figures show it to be. If we consider the percentage of the population that is intimately concerned with the work of the Repatriation Department, it will be seen that we have also got an unequalled responsibility to do something about repatriation. I agree with the honorable member for Higinbotham (Mr. Timson) that some features of the repatriation system give little cause for complaint. In all my dealings with the Repatriation Department, both as a former member of the services and .as a member of this House, I have been shown complete courtesy. I have found that its officers have always tried to do their job in the way expected of them.
The general feeling of members on this side of the House and the consideration we have given to repatriation have moved us to bring forward the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard). We feel .that the system is at fault in many respects, not so much in respect of the man or woman inside the system but in relation to those excluded from it. Our objective is to widen the system to include more people. Therefore the amendment has various clauses. Firstly, we believe that these pensions should be paid retrospectively. A second very important consideration is that the acceptance of certain diseases should be widened. As an example, we have mentioned cancer. Thirdly, we believe that the system requires some new form of appeal, some reassessment of it by which people may become entitled to benefits. Lastly, there is the suggestion of lowering the minimum age at which people may receive a service pension.
Another point on which members on this side of the House feel very strongly is the acceptance of a particular duty to people who served in World War I. by widening hospital benefits for them. I say again that it is the system which beats the soldier or the former serviceman. For nearly 40 years now we have attempted to build up a system which will give justice; one which will look fair, be fair and be easy to operate. Out of it all we have built up a system of astonishing complexity. The schedule at the front of the act shows that since 1920, when the principal act was passed, there have been 37 amendments. Those 37 amendments have been made over a period of 39 years. Some of them have been simple changes in rates which have naturally stemmed from changes in money values; but many of them represent continuous and continuing attempts to answer the problem of giving justice to everybody. So far, 1 believe that we have failed to find that answer.
The repatriation system has become unwieldy. We have the Repatriation Commission with its subsidiary boards, the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals and various other organizations which deal with ex-servicemen. But in some way we have removed the immediate responsibility from this Parliament. I direct attention to the difference in our approach to social services. The Minister for Social Services has a wide discretionary power in granting social service benefits but the Minister for Repatriation has no discretionary power in respect of repatriation benefits. Admittedly, that is part of the search for a system which will be free from political or any other form of interference and which will give justice. But, in fact, the system which has evolved is one under which the Parliament has handed over responsibility to some one else. Now is the time to make a reexamination of it.
– What would you suggest?
– If the honorable member listens, he will hear. I agree that there are some points of difference between social services and repatriation. The main question in social services is generally one of needs; the main question in repatriation benefits is one of right. I suppose, in some respects, these are almost different in kind as well as degree. But we ought to be able to analyse the position and bring the responsibility for action back to this Parliament. We should not try to shelve it on to boards or on to the medical services. We should lay down some proper principles upon which we shall work, write them into an act of Parliament, and then see that they are administered correctly.
In this amendment the Opposition is seeking to broaden the acceptance of certain diseases. We want also to admit to medical benefits certain categories of former servicemen. There are lots of reasons for this. I am particularly interested in the ex-serviceman of World War I. I believe he served under much more difficult and dangerous conditions than the serviceman in World War II. - of course with some exceptions. There are honorable members in this House who served in World War I. and others who served in World War II. Some served in both, and I think these latter would agree that the privations, hardships and rigours of World War I. were much more severe than those of World War II. I confess to a sneaking sympathy for the men who served in World War I., and as well I bring to this debate a simple study of the statistics as I see them set out in the various reports of the Repatriation Commission. From an examination of those statistics I believe that I can show that the ex-serviceman who is now in his sixties has not had an equal chance with ex-servicemen of my generation when it comes to repatriation and medical benefits.
In thinking about World War I. servicemen, we have to try to understand the extreme privations under which most of them served. When we consider the general relationship of support troops and equipment to the number of people in the front line, I think it will be generally agreed that there was a higher proportion of personnel actually involved in the front line in World War I. The exceptional conditions under which they served must have had a serious effect upon their physical condition. If any honorable member takes any volume of the official war history of Australia, even a brief perusal of the index will provide plenty of examples of the extreme conditions under which those servicemen saw action and which must have affected their health. On page 890 of Volume IV. of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, I readIt was on the Menin Road that I first noticed the condition in which our men were coming back. A couple . . . passed us, going very slow. They were white and drawn and detached, and put one foot slowly in front of the other, as I had not seen men do since the Somme winter.
That extract shows the effect of service in World War I. on the servicemen. On the same page, the historian records -
Having no overcoats, they carried their waterproof sheets as capes, and returned at dusk to find their shell-holes drenched. They slept there, some with their feet in water, and the next day were sent to bury cables and work on the tramway.
The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) who, I have no doubt, served his country gallantly, might consider the condition of those poor foot-sloggers in 1917. On page 43 of Volume V. of the same history, the record reads -
Farther north the flats were even more marshy, and in rainy weeks the movement of patrols was difficult. Early in December the country froze, and the going became firm, but the cracking and creaking of the ice on the shell-holes, whenever it took a man’s weight, furnished a new difficulty.
If anybody peruses these volumes he will see pictures of the country and the conditions where these men served. All honorable members should occasionally browse through records like these before they come into this House to participate in debates on repatriation and the issue of whether servicemen in World War I. had to endure real privations. I almost wish that some of these extracts and pictures could be incorporated in “ Hansard “.
I put forward this proposition in all seriousness. If we read about the conditions under which these men served and consider the number of casualties in relation to the number of men who served, and also give some thought to the progress of medical science in its research into various diseases such as cancer, heart disease or rheumatism, we should surely feel that we have some special responsibility to the men who served in World War I. I refer honorable members to the statistics that are published in the recent report of the Repatriation Commission in relation to casualties in the first world war. They show that in the first world war, some 330,000 men served overseas. Of those, 59,330 were killed, while those wounded or gassed numbered 166,819. The number of sick was 87,957. Other causes accounted for 218. Of the 330,000 men who sailed from these shores, 314,324, or 95 per cent., became casualties. We should keep in mind that wounds accounted for more than 166,000 men, and that the deaths numbered more than 59,000.
Now let us consider the statistics for the Second World War. A total of 993,000 people joined the services, of whom 30,689 were killed.
– How many went overseas?
– I cannot find the exact figure. I presume that if we were to examine the figures relating to entitlement to the various war medals we would be able to find it, but, of course, people who served in the northern parts of Australia and at bases of the Air Force, the Navy, and so on also faced an element of danger. The number of prisoners of war in World War IT. was 22,430. The wounded and injured numbered 25,662. Therefore, not only was the number killed only one-half the number of Australians killed in World War I., but, in addition, the number of wounded was only about one-sixth as great. It ought to be possible to examine the pensions that have been payable over the years to people who served in each of those wars and determine whether those relative proportions have received pensions.
– I am putting the point of view that, statistically, the generation which served in the First World War had less chance to become entitled to repatriation benefits than did that which served in the Second World War. If the casualty rates, the number of pensions and the number who served do not give an indication of that, I do not know what does.
In 1930, a grand total of 74,578 people who served in the First World War were receiving pensions. From that point, the number rose by a couple of thousand, but since 1940 it has been slowly decreasing, which is natural. At the present time, it is estimated that approximately 55,000 receive pensions out of a total of 124,000 who are still alive. That is, at its peak, from )70,000 to 74,000 pensions were allotted to forces which had 314,000 casualties, including 166,000 wounded, and which served under conditions of great hardship and privation. The grand total of pensions payable to former service men and women of World War II. was 147,000 in 1958, or almost twice the number of pensions payable to the First World War men, whereas the casualty rate, as regards deaths, was 50 per cent., and the casualty rate, as regards wounds, was from 16 to 20 per cent.
An examination of those figures moves me to believe that over the 30 or 40 years since World War I., since those who served in it started to feel the pangs of their service, they have not had an equal go with the people who served in the Second World War. Therefore, there is a valid reason to support the amendment that we have moved for the purpose of giving full medical benefits to the people who served in World War I. But there are other factors which lead me to believe that, statistically, that course should be followed. A couple of years ago I asked the Minister for the number of cancellations of pensions in each year. The particulars are printed in “Hansard” for 1st May, 1957. We see that the number of cancellations in 1929 was 4,339; in 1930, 4,236; in 1931, 5,182; and in 1932, which saw the advent of a new government, 12,347. The year 1932 was a particularly bad one in the government of Australia. It is reasonable to assume that at that time there was a much more rigorous scrutiny of applications for repatriation benefits. In the following year the number of cancellations was 4,800. while in the year after that it was 3,000.
What has happened to the 3,000 exservicemen who, to use a colloquialism, were scrubbed in that year? What has happened to their widows, if they are still alive? What is the position in which they find themselves? First of all, it is a long time since World War I. The servicemen are much older. The Repatriation Commission, the department, and all the rest of them, might well say that these men are suffering from the diseases of old age. On the evidence that I have given, and on a simple examination of the statistics, i think that there is a strong case for a revaluation of our approach to the pensions and medical benefits of the First World War soldier. That is the reason why the Australian Labour Party included reference to that matter in ‘ its last election policy, and why it has moved the amendment now before the House. As there are possibly 124,000 people involved, and as their medical requirements no doubt vary from individual to individual, I do not suppose that in the long run it would impose a great strain on the medical services of the country to care for them, considering that we have very large repatriation hospitals - perhaps the best hospitals in the country - which, according to figures produced in the House from time to time, have much greater capacity than their present occupants require. Therefore, there is a strong case for the acceptance of the point of view that has been put from this side of the House.
The other point that I want to make concerns the question of the onus of proof. I am not going to join issue with the lawyers on the exact meaning of each of the terms that are used in the act.
– They do not know themselves.
– After all, I am expressing the view of the lay person in the community who is interested not so much in legalism as in trying to give, not only justice, but a generous interpretation of justice to the people who served in two world wars. Because of the long time that has elapsed since World War I. ended, this matter particularly affects ex-servicemen of that war. It particularly affects, too, the widow of the First World War soldier, who is left in a difficult position as she now tries to prove that her husband was suffering some disability or other when he came home from the war but did not bother the doctors in the Repatriation Department because he had always had a reasonably good job.
Section 47, the onus of proof section, of the Repatriation Act, states - (2.) It shall not be necessary for the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof to support his claim, application or appeal, but the Commission, Board, Appeal Tribunal or Assessment Appeal Tribunal determining or deciding the claim, application or appeal shall be entitled to draw, and shall draw, from all the circumstances of the case, from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant, applicant or appellant, and in all cases whatsoever the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority who contends that the claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed to the full extent claimed.
– Perfectly clear!
– Yes, perfectly clear. Let us consider cancer, a subject which this side of the House has chosen as a battleground, shall we say, on this particular occasion. At various times we have asked the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) for his interpretation of the cause of cancer. In April, 1959, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) asked the Minister the following question: -
I now ask him whether, as a medical man and as the Minister for Health, he knows the cause of lung cancer. Does he know of any other doctor m the world who knows the cause of lung cancer? If the Minister does know the cause, will he tell us what it is?
The Minister for Health- replied -
The ultimate cause of lung cancer, or indeed of any other cancer, is not known.
In- the face of that answer, and in the face of the expert information contained in the opinions promulgated to that date by medical authorities, to the effect that the cause of cancer is not known, how can any repatriation tribunal say that cancer is not war-caused? We do not need to take only the opinion of the Minister for Health on this matter. Under the heading “ Can? cer” in “Chambers’s Encyclopaedia” for 1955 we have the following opinion expressed: -
In the overwhelming majority of cancers in the human subject the cause is quite unknown or obscure.
That opinion was given by Percy Stocks, C.M.G., M.D., F.R.C.P., Senior Research Fellow, British Empire Cancer Campaign, &c. Therefore, the commission, the boards and the appeal tribunals have no right to reject a claim in respect of an ex-serviceman who died of cancer or is suffering from cancer. If the provisions of the Repatriation Act are applied to the consideration of cancer, then it must be accepted as a war-caused disability because no one can say how cancer originates. An ex-serviceman suffering from cancer should, therefore, receive full repatriation benefits. This has been done with tuberculosis, with especially good results for the sufferers from this disease. But the medical profession is in no position to say what causes many conditions other than cancer. For example the entry under “ Diseases of the Heart “ in the “ Encyclopaedia Britannica “ says -
Rheumatic Fever. - Its cause, and therefore means of preventing it, have not been discovered.
How then can any repatriation tribunal say that a person suffering from any of the various forms of rheumatism or rheumatoid arthritis is not suffering from a warcaused disability? The entry in “ Chambers’s Encyclopaedia “ relating to rheumatoid arthritis reads - secondly, the form of which the cause is not actually known at present ….
Later, it says - and conditions undermining the general health and powers of resistance such as shock, anxiety and long hours of work under unhealthy conditions.
These are considered to be contributory factors. The point I was making, though apparently it did not get through to some of the distinguished gentlemen opposite, is that the privations and hardships, which were endured in the front line more particularly between 1914 and 1918, were just the conditions which medical science is prepared to say may well be the cause of some of the sufferings that now afflict ex-servicemen.
– They may well have contributed to the development of the condition.
– Yes. It is not a matter of whether a man of 70 years may well have had a heart attack anyway; the effects of privation and hardship at least during World War I. and to a large extent during World War II. could well have accelerated the onset of the condition. As far as I can learn, no body of research can prove otherwise. Therefore, it is wrong to assert that an ex-serviceman’ of World War I, who would now be in his sixties, is not suffering from a war-caused disability. I put these points to honorable members- on both sides of the House. I have a great deal of sympathy particularly for members of- the older generation who not only served in the forces- but later went through times of extreme economic hardship and who found during that time that administrative systems built up for their protection and benefit were not as generous-spirited as they obviously are to-day. If 147,000 valid cases for pension emerged from World War EL, then certainly a valid case for a pension exists for almost every one who served in the forces during World War I.
Our amendment contains other points to which I wish to draw particular attention. The first relates to the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. In 1955, the legislation was amended so that wives of ex-servicemen who were in receipt of the T.P.I, pension before the 31st October were entitled to medical benefits, whereas wives of men who became pensionable after that date were not. I understand that of about 17,000 or 18,000 T.P.I. ex-servicemen in Australia, some 7,000 or 8,000 have wives who are concerned in this matter, and that only about 40 per cent, or 50 per cent, of the wives are entitled to medical benefits. This is anomalous. It means that some wives receive these benefits and others in similar circumstances, and perhaps even living in the. same street, do not.
I wish to direct attention particularly to another point. In almost every street in my electorate one cam find some T.P.I, exserviceman who has become bedridden in his late sixties. He is being cared for exclusively by his wife. If he had no wife, he would have to be admitted to a repatriation hospital at a cost, I assume, of about £30 a week for his bed. We are saved this cost because he is cared for at home by his wife. The least we can do - it is little enough surely - is to entitle her to medical benefits as some recompense for her devotion to the duty that she has accepted. Indeed, this is a good economic proposition. Although we might pay £40 or £50 a year in medical benefits to a wife, we are saved £20 or £30 a week because the exserviceman is not in a hospital. We have the anomalous position that the moment the man dies, his wife is accepted for medical benefits under the Repatriation Act. We should also give some thought to the transfer of this system of medical benefits for the wives of T.P.I, ex-servicemen from the provisions of the Social Services Act to the Repatriation Act. It is a repatriation matter; it is not a social services matter.
These are matters to which I know all honorable members on both sides of the House direct very close and sympathetic attention. I agree that in many respects the recipients of repatriation benefits are fairly well served by the Repatriation Department. The department does an especially fine job and I suppose the repatriation general hospitals are the best hospitals in the Commonwealth. But we must make benefits more widespread and we must resolve the question of appeals. We suggest that a system of judicial appeals be adopted, but T believe that the responsibility should come back to this House. The act should be amended so that it will be explicit to exservicemen that if, a- condition is correctly diagnosed it will be accepted as a warcaused disability. We should remove the mysteries that have been built up over the past 30 or 40 years in our attempts to produce a just system. Unfortunately, our attempts have produced a system of complexity and confusion for the person who seeks relief under the provisions of the Repatriation Act.
.- The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) has just delivered’ a speech- filled with quotations and’ statistics. But his argument in support of the amendment moved by the Opposition is unconvincing. I support the motion for the second reading of the bill. We have a most efficient and satisfactory Repatriation Department and 1 believe that we are very fortunate to have the services of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper). The dissatisfaction of some disgruntled people is undoubtedly caused by lack of knowledge. I was pleased to note that the Minister said that ex-servicemen comprise 99 per cent, of the staff of his department. I was also pleased to note his announcement that Australia and New Zealand were the only countries accepting, new disabilities under repatriation legislation. I believe that this is a very important issue, because it is only with age that the disabilities caused to some ex-servicemen during their service in World
War I. become apparent. These individuals, on their discharge many years ago, thought that they were medically fit, but I understand that one of every three ex-servicemen discharged medically fit after World War I. is receiving some repatriation benefit to-day.
At this stage, I should like to congratulate the ex-servicemen’s organizations on the wonderful part they play in the care of exservicemen and in directing the notice of governments to the various problems of their members. I was very interested to see in the precincts of the House to-day the federal secretary of the returned servicemen’s league. There is no doubt in any one’s mind as to the efficiency of the league in watching the interests of ex-servicemen and in making recommendations; to various governments, whether they be of the right or the left.
– It is rather better than some members on the other side.
– Quite so. In addition to this famous organization, there are other very worthy bodies. I was very pleased at the reference by the honorable member for Higinbotham (Mr. Timson) to Legacy. If it were not for the work of Legacy and of other organizations concerned with exservicemen and their families, the problems that the Government now faces would be much greater than they are. Just before the suspension of the sitting, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) moved an amendment to provide that the pension for a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman should be at least as much as the basic wage. I should like to direct the attention of the House to a few figures that the honorable member for Bass may find illuminating. The average basic wage to-day is £13 16s. Under this legislation the T.P.I, rate is to be increased from £11 10s. to £12 5s. I understand that the basic wage is based on the needs of a married couple with one child, so when making a comparison with the basic wage it is only fair to consider the income of a married T.P.I, pensioner with one child. We cannot make a true comparison between one man on one side and three individuals on the other. A T.P.I, pensioner receives £12 5s., his wife £1 15s. 6d., and the first child 13s. 9d., making a total of £14 14s. 3d. I have already mentioned that the average basic wage is £13 16s. If a T.P.I, pensioner had more than one child, naturally his income would be increased, but the basic wage applies irrespective of the number of children in the family. Generally speaking, the T.P.I, pensioner is reasonably well off. Added to the T.P.I, rate is the age or invalid service pension, bringing total income to £16 10s., free of tax, whereas, of course, the basic wage is subject to tax.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, 1 direct attention to the state of the House. This is a very important matter, in which Government supporters should show more interest. [Quorum formed.]
– It is a pity that some Opposition members are not game to listen to the attack on their amendment or to plain facts. It is difficult to understand why they should invoke the forms of the House in a manner that can only result in delaying consideration of their own amendment. I should like next to direct attention to the position of the war widow. Under this legislation she will receive £5 ‘ 5s. a week and £1 lis. 6d. for the first child. In at least 90 per cent, of cases, she will receive the domestic allowance of £2 15s., which will bring her income to £9 lis. 6d. a week. In addition, in appropriate cases an education allowance is payable according to the age groups of children. For children aged from twelve to fourteen, 16s. 6d. a week is payable. For children aged from fourteen to sixteen, £1 5s. a week is payable, and for children between sixteen and eighteen still attending an educational institution, £2 15s. a week is payable. Added to £9 lis. 6d., these payments, where applicable, produce a reasonably high figure. We must not overlook the fact that anomalies always arise in the administration of legislation of this type. Whilst 90 per cent, of war widows do receive the domestic allowance, the unfortunate 10 per cent, do not. This 10 per cent, comprises mostly widows under 50 years of age who have no children attending school and who are able to work and supplement their incomes. A widow who is unemployable, even if under 50 years of age, may apply for the domestic allowance and I understand that most such applications are received favorably by the department.
The general rate pension will be increased also by 7s. 6d. to £5 10s. , along with the other pensions. Again, in relation to this pension, the wife’s allowance stands at £1 15s. 6d., and the allowance for the first child at 13s. 9d., making a total of £7 19s. 3d.
I should like at this stage, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to repeat a statement that I made in my speech on the Budget recently - that I believe that the time is ripe for a thorough investigation of the general rate war pensions. The basis on which these pensions are paid should be reviewed, on the ground that the compensation paid for incapacitation, in the form of the pension, is not in accord with the degree of disability suffered by the pensioner. The receipt of a 100 per cent, disability pension does not adequately compensate the man who has a 100 per cent, disability, because to my mind a man with such a disability is 100 per cent, unable to work. There is, I believe, too big a difference between the rates of pension paid respectively to a T.P.I, pensioner and a 100 per cent, pensioner. If pension rates in such cases were brought more into line with the actual disabilities that they are designed to compensate in each case, ex-servicemen would be much better off than they are. To-day there are many persons in receipt of the 50 per cent, incapacitation pension who do not think that they are receiving enough to compensate them for such a degree of incapacity. So, I repeat, it is time to investigate the possibility of altering the conditions governing these pensions.
I turn now to the subject of free hospitalization of veterans of the first world war, which has been discussed quite freely all over the country. I believe that most people genuinely support free hospitalization of those veterans. However, many problems are involved in this. One is the total number of veterans who would be eligible for free hospitalization in repatriation hospitals for treatment of all illnesses. I understand that there are in the vicinity of 120,000 veterans of the first world war, and that at present about 18,500 of them are receiving free hospitalization as recipients of the T.P.I, or the 100 per cent, pension. It should be our ambition to give free hospitalization to all of those veterans, but I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if that is impossible now, the service pensioner should first be considered for free hospitalization. The service pensioner is one who receives the age pension at the age of 60 instead of 65, having satisfied the conditions of the means test. Any war veteran who is not eligible for the service pension is naturally not in such a financial position as to make it necessary for him to receive free hospitalization, but the service pensioner is genuinely in need of free hospitalization. The service pensioners could well be the first group to be considered for this benefit. 1 understand that the number of people that this proposal would affect would be about 20,000.
I also believe that Boer War veterans have been neglected, due to the fact that they are in a somewhat different situation from other war veterans. I strongly recommend to the Government some form of agreement so that we can include Boer War veterans within the ambit of the repatriation benefits available to veterans of the Second World War, the Korean War and so forth.
I should again like to remind honorable members of the importance of this bill and of the impracticability of the amendment. I believe the bill is a further honest attempt to improve repatriation facilities for our returned men, so I shall support it and vote against the amendment. I think the Opposition’s attitude to this measure is a case of a sham fight against the Government.
.- I am pleased to support my colleague, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who has led for the Opposition in this debate and has moved, on behalf of the Opposition, an all-embracing amendment which directs attention to a number of glaring anomalies in repatriation. Like the honorable member for Wimmera, (Mr. King), I am very pleased to see in the gallery the national secretary of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, because I believe that it is important for representatives of that great organization to see for themselves that there are members in this House - and only Labour members - who are prepared to advance the pension plan drawn up by the organization. That pension plan is a matter to which I wish to refer during the course of my contribution to the debate.
Throughout the Budget speech delivered by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and, indeed, throughout the speeches on the Budget made by other honorable members opposite, constant reference was made to the general prosperity prevailing in Australia - to the fact that loans have been filled to overflowing, that export earnings are high, that company profits have soared to new and unprecedented heights. They have said that the harvest has been so rich and rewarding that overseas investment is pouring into the Australian economy and that industrial peace is cow the order of the day. They have said that primary and secondary industries are now at their peak and that wool and wheat prices have reached the highest possible level for some time. Prosperity prevails throughout Australia, they declare! Australia Unlimited is on the march!
Having listened to this drivel for so long, I think the Opposition is entitled to ask, “ What of the underprivileged people in our community? What of the recipients of social service and repatriation benefits?” They surely are entitled to some consideration and some share of this so-called national prosperity!
The purpose of this bill is belatedly to give effect to the Budget proposals as they affect ex-servicemen, but it falls dramatically short of the pensions plan of the returned servicemen’s league. I believe that it also falls short of the average citizen’s concept of a fair go for exservicemen. The bill leaves many major problems affecting ex-servicemen completely unattended and deals mildly, if not in fact insufficiently, with the special rate war pension payable to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen and blinded ex-servicemen. It also deals very moderately indeed with the general rate war pension, war widow’s pension and the domestic allowances. All have been modified only slightly and the cost of the modifications represents no fabulous sum. For this financial year it will be £3,016,000 while the cost involved for a full year will be only £4,021,000.
I think it is important that I take advantage of my debating opportunity to direct attention to the absence of an uptodate report from the Repatriation Commission. It is an important omission that figures should not be available to us for reference in this very important debate. The figures being used are those taken from the commission’s report for the preceding year, and that is not good enough. After all, other departments have been able to submit progressive or interim reports. Three months have passed since the end of the financial year, and, that being so, it is fair to suggest that some interim reports could have been made available so that a more accurate picture of the pension situation might be put before honorable members for debating purposes.
I should like to refer to the 1959 pension plan submitted by the returned servicemen’s league. It is because the R.S.L. brought this matter so forcibly to my attention that I have decided to participate in this debate. As a general rule I do not participate in debates on repatriation matters. The R.S.L. has done very well indeed in drawing up its plan. It has presented a concise and comprehensive synopsis of the problems of ex-servicemen. I think that its report and claims are very moderate indeed.
– We put them all in our policy speech last time, too.
– That is so. As the honorable member has reminded me, the vast majority of the points which the R.S.L. makes in its pension plan were incorporated in the Labour Party’s policy speech for the last general election. This plan is subscribed to by members of the league all over Australia, regardless of their party politics. Whatever way they vote at an election, they feel that this is a fair log of claims for the league to pursue.
I do not know whether honorable members on the Government side are aware of the details of this plan. I am inclined to think they have not taken advantage of the opportunities available to learn the details of it. But it is true that the attention of Cabinet has -been directed to this matter. On 6th May, 1959, when eleven Cabinet ministers were present, this plan was presented in full by the R.S.L. I do know, too, that the very large and important Southern District Council of the R.S.L. in New South Wales invited members of Parliament from both sides of the House to attend a meeting. While there were five members from the Labour Party present, not one member of the Government bothered to come along. This fact caused great concern amongst important representatives ot the federal executive.
After all, the R.S.L. is not a noisy and irresponsible rabble. It consists of many men who have devoted their lives to the welfare of ex-servicemen, both on the local level and on the higher plane. When ali is said and done, it is a fact that this Government has recognized the services of these men. For instance, the national president, Sir George Holland, C.B.E., M.M., has been rewarded for his work on behalf of ex-servicemen. He has been knighted upon the recommendation of this Government. If honorable members look at the names of the members of the federal executive of the league, they will find that eight or nine of them have been honoured by this Government. In those circumstances, surely their submissions in the form of the R.S.L. pension plan are worthy of the consideration of the Government.
But I understand that a short time ago the president of the New South Wales branch, Mr. Bill Yeo, C.B.E., after having heard the Government’s Budget proposals, said, “ The Budget is lousy “. With other members of the league who attended that congress in Sydney, he called for an immediate meeting on the national level to review this situation.
I should like to refer to some of the matters with which the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. King) dealt, but I shall deal with them in a more realistic way - in a way that I hope might achieve more results for the ex-servicemen and their families. First I should like to refer to the allowance paid to wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. It stands to-day at £1 15s. 6d. a week, and is not being increased.
– Shockingly inadequate!
– It is shockingly inadequate for a woman who often acts as a full-time nurse. Deprived of the opportunity to work, as she is,, and. serving in a full-time capacity a husband who has been afflicted and incapacitated by war service, such a woman is entitled to more consideration. Her devoted attention and loving care very often obviate the need for the husband to go to hospital for treatment at great expense to the Government. These women are often very skilled, for they take the trouble to learn handicrafts and to devise ways and means of entertaining their husbands and assisting their rehabilitation. In those circumstances, it is fair to suggest that the R.S.L. pension plan, so far as it relates to the allowance for wives of T.P.I, pensioners, is most reasonable. The league is asking that these women be paid £2 10s. a week. That is not a substantial increase on the present rate of £1 15s. 6d. a week. On the contrary, it is a very moderate request. Is any Government member prepared to stand up, after I have finished speaking, and say that £2 10s. a week is too great an allowance for the wife of a T.P.I, pensioner? I think not. The plan submitted by the league also asks that the allowances paid to children be increased from 13s. 9d. to 17s. 6d. a week. This plea has also been rejected.
I come now to the T.P.I, and blinded personnel. According, to the last available report of the Repatriation Commission, these unfortunates total 16,183. They receive a special rate pension. As they number over 16,000 they are an important section of the Australian community and. the fact that they receive a pension lower than the basic wage is a matter for which not only this but also preceding governments stand condemned. So inadequate has been this Government’s consideration of exservicemen that even with the 15s. increase foreshadowed in this measure, the special rate pension will be 31s. less than the basic wage. It will be only £12 5s. compared with the basic wage of £13 16s. The R.S.L. pension plan asks for £13 a week. I submit that any honorable member who cares to examine the league’s pension, plan will admit that the submissions contained in it are most reasonable.
Let me now discuss the Labour Party’? position. We have made our attitude to this matter perfectly clear. In his policy speech, delivered in Sydney, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) had this to say -
We are specially concerned about the pension for totally and permanently incapacitated returned soldiers. This will be raised immediately to the basic wage as an irreducible minimum.
That is what we of the Australian Labour Party stand for, and we most certainly accommodate the pensions plan of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia when we put that point of view. Of course, the real hope of T.P.I, repatriation pensioners and all who depend on pensions and social services generally is to remove this Government from the treasury bench. Until that is accomplished, nothing worth while can be done. Regard for the deserving and underprivileged persons in the community ought to be manifested by the relief of some of the hardship that they suffer and by the correction of apparent social injustice. Imagine an ex-serviceman who is totally and permanently incapacitated and deprived of his ability to work, as a result of the service he has given his country, being required to sustain himself on less than the basic wage. That is an incredible state of affairs. When all is said and done, even State compensation laws applicable to people injured in government or private employment provide a much more adequate insurance. We have a tendency to regard repatriation measures as social services rather than as measures designed to ensure proper standards for people who have been adversely affected by their service to their country, as we should regard these measures. We must rejuvenate our thinking about these problems and get the right slant on them in order to ensure that repatriation benefits are increased to rates which will provide a decent standard of comfort.
We cannot help recalling the promises made by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his policy speech for the 1949 general election. As we look back now, we can see plainly that he was in a reckless and irresponsible mood when he dealt with repatriation, and said -
Repatriation remains a great and proud responsibility. … We shall see to it that there is speed, financial and human justice and understanding in our administration of soldier problems.
Ten long years have passed since thoseeloquent words were spoken, but the T.P.I, pension - the special rate pension - remainssubstantially below the basic wage.
When we relate the T.P.I, pension rate to the basic wage, we are in for a shock. We find that, instead of increasing, the proportion that it bears to the basic wage has deteriorated markedly over the years. During the war, the T.P.I, rate stood at a higher proportion of the basic wage than ever before in its history. Statistics published in the Commonwealth “ Year Book “ indicate the level of the basic wage at various times. Averaged over the six capital cities, it stood at £4 18s. a week in 1943. At that time, the special rate pension was £4 16s. a week, or 98 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1947, the basic wage was £5 9s. a week and the T.P.I, pension was £5 ls. a week, or 91.7 per cent, of the basic wage. That is no reflection on the Labour Government. Under this Liberal Party-Australian Country Party Government, the percentage of the basic wage represented by this pension rate has deteriorated still further. In 1952, the federal basic wage was £11 lis. a week, and the T.P.I, pension was £8 15s. a week, or 75.7 per cent, of the basic wage. The federal basic wage is now £13 16s. a week, and, after the increase provided for in this measure, the T.P.I, pension will be £12 5s. a week, or 83.3 per cent, of the basic wage. So the rate has declined from 98 per cent, of the basic wage in 1943 to 83.3 per cent, of the basic wage in 1959. The real position, of course, is much worse than appears on the surface, because the basic wage is not as high as it should be. This Government has abandoned quarterly adjustments of the basic wage in accordance with movements in the cost of living.
– The basic wage is higher than it would have been if it had followed the C series index.
– What nonsense! I challenge the honorable member, if he intends to participate in this debate, to substantiate his contention when he has an opportunity. Anybody who knows anything about these things knows that the basic wage should be substantially higher than it is and that, to-day, it is not related to any price index, because we have resorted to some mumbo-jumbo about the capacity of industry to pay. As a consequence of this, T.P.I, pensioners have suffered even more than the figures obtained by a comparison of their pension with the basic wage indicate. As most honorable members understand, this consideration applies not only to repatriation pensions but also to almost every social service benefit on the statute-book.
The bill will also raise the general rate war pension from £5 2s. 6d. a week to £5 10s. a week - an increase of 7s. 6d. a week. But everybody who receives a general rate war pension will not benefit by this amount. As the honorable member for Bass pointed out, there are more war pensioners in receipt of a 10 per cent, pension than there are in receipt of a 100 per cent, pension, and those who receive a 10 per cent, pension will receive only an additional 9d. a week.
– I am one of those who receive a 10 per cent, pension.
– Then the honorable member and the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant), who, also, I think, receives a 10 per cent, general rate pension, will find, along with thousands of others, that they will benefit by only an additional 9d. a week. That is a poor reward indeed for people who have served their country in war.
The pensions plan proposed by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia provides for a 100 per cent, general rate war pension of £6 a week. Surely a war pensioner is entitled to that. The value of the general rate pension has deteriorated, just as the value of the special rate or T.P.I, pension has done. Here are the figures to indicate the degree of deterioration. No one can deny the basic wage figures, because they are taken from an official source - the Commonwealth “Year Book”. In 1943, the federal basic wage was £4 18s. a week, and the general rate war pension was £2 10s. a week, or 51 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1947, the basic wage was £5 9s. a week, and the general rate pension was £2 10s. a week, or 45.5 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1952, the basic wage had increased to £11 Ils. a week, and the general rate pension stood at £4 a week, or 34.6 per cent, of the basic wage. The basic wage is now £13 16s. a week, and the special rate pension payable following the passage of this measure will be £5 10s. a week, or 39.9 per cent, of the basic wage. In other words, the general rate war pension has fallen from 51 per cent, of the basic wage in 1943 to 39.9 per cent, of the basic wage to-day. I do not think it is possible to reconcile the policy speech made in 1949 by the present Prime Minister with this disturbing situation. Every ex-serviceman who receives a general rate war pension at less than the 100 percent, rate is affected similarly.
The annual report of the Repatriation Commission for the year 1957-58 shows that 204,439 ex-service men and women of the 1914-18 war, the 1939-45 war and the Korean and Malayan campaigns received in that financial year £29,900,000 in general rate war pensions. I do not take into account service pensions or pensions payable to the wives, children, mothers or fathers of ex-service men and women. I venture to say that the vast majority of the 204,439 persons who receive a general rate war pension feel that their disabilities are greatly under-estimated and under-valued, because this Government’s policy has forced them to undergo a formidable series of medical examinations and tests in order to establish any sort of disability and have it accepted as being attributable to or aggravated by war service. If an exserviceman is not sick when he begins to run the gauntlet of entitlement appeal tribunals, assessment appeal tribunals and the like, he is certainly sick by the time he is finished. I am sure that every honorable member has experienced, on countless occasions, the frustration of interviewing disappointed, disillusioned and despairing ex-servicemen whose appeals have been rejected by the tribunals.
– The first two are only trial runs.
– As the honorable member says, the first two are only trial runs. In most instances, it is impossible for a tribunal or anybody else to say whether arthritis, rheumatism, osteoarthritis, osteomyelitis, cancer or cerebral complaints are due to or have been aggravated by war service. The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) is shaking his head. Not long ago in this House, in answer to a question, he admitted that that certainly was the case so far as cancer is concerned. If he is able to throw some light on these matters and is prepared to tell the ex-servicemen of this country that a heart condition would not be aggravated by war service, we will be pleased to hear from him. We are not just attempting to .make political capital out of this issue. Like many honorable members opposite, we on this side of the House are genuinely concerned about the welfare of ex-servicemen. The fact of the matter is that the ex-servicemen are not getting the benefit of the onus of proof provisions of the Repatriation Act.
I do not propose to say much about the comments made by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) and the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) on the occasion of the last debate on the Repatriation Bill. They directed attention to the fact that some tribunals have deliberately flouted the onus of proof provisions of the act. Those provisions should be relaxed as far as 1914-18 diggers are concerned. What chance has a First World War digger of proving 40 years after the event that his disability was caused by war service? If he does not receive the benefit of the onus of proof provisions his application has as much chance ot success as a ticket in a certain Sydney art union, which is notorious for not placing all the butts in the barrel.
I want to give some figures to show the extent to which the onus of proof provisions are not being adequately exercised. These figures involve the assessment appeal tribunals. They appear at page 25 of the report of the Repatriation Commission and they relate to the year ended 30th June, 1958. With respect to 1914-18 veterans appearing before the assessment appeal tribunals, 1,159 appeals were allowed, 1,063 were disallowed, 114 lapsed or were withdrawn and 949 awaited attention at the end of the year. Obviously no benefit of the doubt was extended in those cases because nearly as many appeals were disallowed as were allowed. With regard to 1939-45 veterans, 3,414 appeals were allowed and 2,482 were disallowed. It is obviously harder for the 1914-18 veterans to establish their claims than it is for the 1939-45 veterans. A survey over the years of -the cases appearing before the assessment appeal tribunals directs attention to this situation - and this is the total situation up to the end of December, 1958. In respect of 191-4-18 veterans 59,461 claims were lodged. Of that number. 26,848 were allowed and 32,613 were disallowed. The figures are indisputable. With regard to 1939-45 veterans, of 85,024 claims submitted, 52,592 were allowed and 32,432 were disallowed.
When we come to examine the claims before the war pension entitlement appeals tribunals from the time of their inception to the end of December, 1958, a most disturbing state of affairs is revealed. Of 48,431 claims submitted in respect of 1914-18 veterans, 7,926 were allowed and 40,505 were disallowed. With regard to 1939-45 veterans, 5,495 claims were allowed and 27,079 were disallowed. In respect of each tribunal, First World War veterans appear to have been penalized by the passage of time and consequent inability to produce indisputable proof. Labour’s twopoint plan would be of great assistance to ex-servicemen.
First, the plan provides for a special judicial commission or officer to conduct inquiries in each case where there is some concern that the onus of proof or benefit of the doubt provisions , have not1 been properly applied. I think most honorable members are aware that in the United Kingdom, as a result of Lord Denning’s activities, it has been shown that there is plenty of scope in this field. Similar provisions in the United Kingdom legislation were not being properly applied and Lord Denning was appointed to examine the matter. As a consequence the welfare of ex-servicemen has been effectively safeguarded. Labour would, at the first opportunity, appoint this special judicial officer through whom ex-servicemen could lodge an appeal and obtain some justice and redress. That is most necessary in view of the fact that the onus-of-proof provisions are not being properly applied, as has been conceded by honorable members opposite,by a former Attorney-General, then Senator Spicer, and by war pension entitlement appeals tribunals, one of which has admitted unhesitatingly that it had been flouting the relevant section of the act.
The Labour Party will also attempt to strengthen the Legal Service Bureau, which is available to serve the needs of exservicemen with regard to their repatriation claims. The Legal Service Bureau, which was established by a Labour government in 1942 to provide legal advice and representation for ex-servicemen, can do a better job than it is doing now. I do not doubt that it is already doing a very good job. We on this side of the House want to ensure that whenever an ex-serviceman goes to the Repatriation Department to submit a claim he will be told that experts are available to him at government expense to ensure that he obtains justice.
There are many other repatriation matters about which I should like to speak this afternoon. There has been a general deterioration in the rate of repatriation pensions as a proportion of the basic wage since this Government has been in office. For that reason alone the Government stands indicted and condemned.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Snedden) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 23rd September (vide page 1335), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Allan Fraser had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof; - “ the bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to take effect from the first pension pay day in July “.
.- Mr. Speaker, I want to make a serious charge against the Government-
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put -
That the question be now put. “
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Allan Frasers amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.) Ayes .. .. ..59
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 - (1.) Subject to the next succeeding sub-section, this Act shall come into operation on a date to be fixed by Proclamation. (2.) Sections one, two, four, six, nine, eleven, fourteen, twenty and twenty-four of this Act shall come into operation on the day on which this Act receives the Royal Assent.
– I move -
In clause 2, sub-section (2.) omit “ come into operation on the day on which this Act receives the Royal Assent “, insert “ be deemed to have come into operation on the first pension pay day in July, One thousand nine hundred and fiftynine “.
When this matter was being discussed at the second-reading stage of the debate, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) took refuge in the fact that eleven years ago, when Mr. Chifley was the Prime Minister, the then Labour Government had rejected an amendment that was moved on behalf of the then Liberal Party and Australian Country Party seeking exactly the same result as this proposed amendment seeks, namely, to make the pension increase retrospective to the first pension pay-day in July. There was not much refuge for the Minister in that argument since all that he proved was that the then Labour Government had declined to accept such an amendment, and that the then Liberal Party and Australian Country Party both supported strongly the amendment that had been proposed.
The facts in 1948 were entirely different from the facts to-day. We were not experiencing then a period of inflation. The increases that were necessary in the pension from time to time were not nearly so large, nor was there such urgency for the increased payment to be made. Parliament, therefore, adopted the practice that the pension increase should operate from the first pension pay-day after the act had received the royal assent. Since then, the position has changed entirely. Since then, the Labour Party, at least, has adopted the policy that pension increases in the future shall be dated back to the first pension pay-day in July of the year in which the increase is granted. Since then, the Parliament itself, with the unanimous approval of all parties, has adopted the principle of retrospective payments. The increased salaries of judges were dated back for, I think, as long as twelve months. The increased salaries and allowances of members of Parliament were made retrospective. From the day on which Parliament adopted that principle of retrospectivity, no honorable member any longer has any ground upon which to stand in justifying the refusal to apply the same principle to the pensioners of this country. The Parliamentary Allowances Act received the royal assent on 24th April of this year, but it was deemed to have come into operation on 1st March. As a result, every member of Parliament received the increased salary as from 1st March.
At that time the Labour Party, while supporting the Government’s proposal in relation to retrospectivity, stated clearly that the principle then enunciated must be applied in future to the pensioners of this country if justice were to prevail. The opportunity has come now for members of Parliament to decide whether they will give to the pensioners of Australia the same measure of justice that they gave to themselves such a short time ago, because exactly the same principle applies now as then. We dated back our increased salary from 24th April to 1st March. The Labour Party now asks the Government, by this proposed amendment, to date back the increased pension to the first pension pay-day in July last.
It cannot be argued that the cost that will be imposed upon the Government will be excessive. I think that each pensioner would gain about £5 if our amendment were accepted. I think that the total cost to the revenue of the country would be not more than £2,500,000. However, if the amendment were accepted, it would do two things. First, it would establish the consistency of the Parliament and would remove from us the charge that we did something for ourselves out of selfishness which we are not prepared to do for the most needy section of the community. Secondly, it would eliminate the necessity to curtail the debate on any future occasion in order to ensure that pensioners received their increase as early as possible. On those grounds, there is an overwhelming case for the adopting of the amendment that I have proposed.
– What did the Labour Government do in 1948?
– I have already dealt with that matter. The honorable member is too late.
– I must go through the normal processes of a Minister in charge of a bill of this kind and indicate to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) that the amendment that he has proposed is not acceptable. It is rejected in the full knowledge of the historic fact that it is the responsibility of a member of the Opposition to propose an amendment along the lines of the amendment now before us. No one knows better than the honorable member for EdenMonaro, no one knows better than every informed member of the Opposition that such an amendment would be unacceptable to any responsible government.
It is the responsibility of the Minister for Social Services to make some calculation as to when any variation in pension rates should begin in any financial year. His submissions must be consistent with the result of that calculation. Any alteration of that, Mr. Chairman, could only do one of two things; it could cause the Minister to vary his submissions consistent with retrospectivity, or to reject the suggestion of retrospectivity and keep his submissions as high as is possible and consistent with the capacity of the community to pay.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), during the brief periods he was in the House during the secondreading debate, must have heard every member of the Opposition who addressed himself to the bill quote from the past when a similar amendment was moved. I refer to the period when the Opposition formed the government of this country. On every occasion, without a single exception, a similar amendment was rejected. And it is rejected again. I remind the committee that the Government’s commitments are considered when the Budget is framed. The adoption of the amendment - a major alteration - would incur additional expenditure
– Of £2,500,000.
– As the honorable member for Eden-Monaro says, the additional expenditure involved would amount to £2,500,000, all of which would have to be found by the working people of our country; and it would be inconsistent with the calculations that were made by me and by other Ministers when the Budget was being framed. The adoption of the amendment is quite impracticable and, of course, such a procedure has been consistently rejected over the years by successive governments of various political colours.
– I desire to support the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), f thought that this Parliament would look to the future and not be bound by the decisions of the past. I assume that the majority of honorable members opposite support the contention of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) that the pensioners should wait for their increases because decisions ot the past ordain that no award to pensioners should be made retrospective. The decisions of the past, which may have been justified at the time, cannot justify the rejection of the Opposition’s amendment on this occasion.
Is this Parliament expected to follow in perpetuity the precedents that were established years ago? This Parliament should not be bound for the next 100 years to carry out something that was said in 1900, 1910, or 1948. After all, the membership of this Parliament varies from time to time. Arguments that were valid to the membership of the Parliament in the past cannot be related to the present membership and to the conditions of the present era. We have to remember that, as a result of increased productivity and increased national income, this country can afford to give to the pensioners more than it was’ possible to give them in past years. Even if certain things were done and said in the past, surely we have the right to correct the mistakes of the past. If mistakes were made ten or twenty years ago, we as a Parliament should not be expected inevitably to adopt the points of view then expressed. Does the Government contend* that the decisions of the past are as inviolate as the laws of the Medes and the Persians? The Minister for Social Services did not say that the Government could not find the additional amount of about £5 per pensioner that would be required if our amendment were accepted because of lack of money, but because of some tradition of the past. The Minister has said to the .pensioners, in effect, “ You are going to be deprived of this money until the National Parliament thinks that you should get it - on 8th October or thereabouts.”
This Parliament incurred a terrific amount of public hostility when honorable members raised their own salaries and, m doing so, made the rises retrospective. We shall incur further odium if we do not apply to the pensioners the principle that we applied to ourselves. After all, the rises that we gave ourselves were considerably larger than the rise that we are giving to the pensioners. This Parliament is the master of its own destiny. We have a right to pursue any line of policy on which we may decide. I personally do not believe that 1 am tied or bound hand and foot to a decision that was made by the Parliament even under a Labour government ten or eleven years ago. After all, the personnel on. this side has varied during that period.
I also point out to the committee that many awards are now made with retrospective application. Only recently, a municipal officers award in Victoria was made retrospective to 1st February last - a period of about eight or nine months. Yet this Government is not prepared to give to the people on the lowest rung of the financial ladder the miserable rise of 7s. 66. a week from 1st July. I say that the Parliament should throw off the shackles of the past and do the right thing by the pensioners.
.- I wish to support the amendment that has been moved, by the honorable member for Eden.Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). The explanation of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) that our amendment is being rejected on the ground that a Labour Government did something like this eleven years ago- is no excuse for the Government following that procedure at this time. In 1948, things were greatly different from what they are to-day. At that time, the Australian Government was rehabilitating the country after a great world war. The Labour Government of that time was committed to great expense for the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen and it was reasonable for it to adopt the policy to which reference has been made. But to-day we are living in a period when inflation is galloping on very swiftly all the time.
Since the Government made up its mind to increase pensions by 7s. 6d. a week, there has been an increase of 15s. a week in the basic wage in Australia. This means that the cost of living is now 15s. a week higher than it was, and the pensioners will have to meet the impact of the higher costs with an increase of pension of only 7s. 6d. a week. There are plenty of precedents to enable the Government to accept our amendment. As was mentioned by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, we made the increases for judges - to take their salaries up to £6,000 a year - retrospective. There was no need to hurry increases for them, because they enjoy far more than a subsistence standard. The judges could easily have waited until a forward date for their increases. But the increases were applied retrospectively to them; That was a variation of the precedent. I remember when this Government brought down legislation to rationalize air services. At the time, Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited owed this Government for ground fees something over half a million pounds. As a result of that legislation, a rich airline operator benefited to the extent of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro also mentioned the fact that increases of parliamentary salaries were applied retrospectively. That is another precedent. Therefore, I believe that the Government should introduce some consistency in its decisions.
– In Lord Bruce’s case, the Government went back over 30 years.
– As the honorable member for East Sydney reminds me, in that instance the Government went back 32 years in order to apply a benefit to a man who is almost a millionaire. Yet, the Government considers that an additional £2,000,000 is too much to pay to pensioners out of a Budget of £1,600,000,000. I do not think that the economy would be affected adversely by back dating the increase of pensions. On the contrary, I think that the giving of just a little more to the pensioners would stimulate the economy.
The other point is that if this bill had been dated back to 1st July, there would have been no need to rush it through now and we could have given it mature consideration. I was deprived of the opportunity to put the point of view on this matter of the people I represent because the Government said there was not enough time to debate, it as it wanted to get the measure through in order to commence payments in October. If the date of payment had been made retrospective to 1st July, there would have been plenty of time to debate the measure fully. The Minister is refusing to change his mind. Somebody has said that he has broken the record of Ministers for Social Services in this place. I can quite understand that, because I believe he has got possibly the hardest heart of any Minister for Social Services in the history of the. Commonwealth. That is why the Government allows him to remain in this portfolio. I condemn the Government for its failure to accept this amendment, but 1 re-affirm my support for that amendment.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Allan Frasers amendment) stand part of the clause.
The. committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.) Ayes . . - . . 57
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Amendment negatived. Clause agreed to. Clause 3 agreed to. Clause A -
Section eighteen of the Principal Act is amended -
by omitting from paragraph Ob) of the definition of “ income “ the word “ or “; and
by adding * the end of the definition of “ income ;’ the following word and paragraph: - “or (1) an amount payable by the Repatriation Commission as a clothing allowance to a member of the Forces whose clothing, because of a disability from which he suffers, is subject to exceptional wear and tear or damage; “.
– I move -
In clause 4 before paragraph (a), insert the following paragraphs: - “ (aa) by inserting in paragraph (a) of the definition of ‘ income ‘, after the word payment ‘, the words ‘ (not being a payment of an annuity) ‘; “ (ab) by inserting in paragraph (b) of the definition of ‘ income ‘, after the word payment ‘, the words ‘ (not being a payment of an annuity) ‘ ; “.
The purpose of this amendment is to clarify the definition of “ income “ in paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 18 of the Social Services Act. A further purpose is to assist friendly societies and trade unions which may wish to provide annuities for their members on the same basis as that on which annuities can be purchased from other sources. The purchase of an annuity is purely a commercial transaction, completely divorced from normal benefit procedures whereby, for a small contribution over a period of time, risks are undertaken and rights are acquired to some benefit or service on the happening of some particular contingency. By placing annuities purchased from friendly societies or trade unions on precisely the same footing as other annuities the treatment of these payments will no longer be in doubt, and the organizations and the public will be able to transact their business without being uncertain as to the effects of the means test. The capital value of an annuity is already excluded on the computation of property for pension purposes under sub-section (1.) of section 30, but provision is made by virtue of the definition of “ Income derived from property “ in section 1 8 for an annuity payment to be treated as income. However, because of the exemption from income of a payment received by the way of a benefit from a friendly society and certain payments by trade unions, some doubts have been expressed as to whether an annuity payment received from one of those sources is not likewise exempt under the income means test.
The exemption from income of payments received from friendly societies and trade unions was meant to cover comparatively small sums by way of sick pay and age benefits to members who had made small contributions over a long period of years. It was never contemplated that this concession might be interpreted to include annuities which had been purchased by ordinary members of the public on the payment of a lump sum premium, which could be a very considerable sum for a very considerable annuity. Such arrangements are no different in character from ordinary commercial transactions.
This amendment, Mr. Chairman, will simply clarify the section, removing any existing doubts. Persons purchasing an annuity will continue to have the capital value of that annuity disregarded. In addition, the treatment of the annuity payment itself will be clear, irrespective of the body or organization from which it is purchased.
Incidentally, the definition of “ income “ is the same for widows as for age and invalid pensioners.
– The effect of the amendment which the Minister has just moved is to reduce the area of a benefit which has been enjoyed by trade unionists and members of friendly societies for very many years.
– No. They will still get the benefit.
– I differ from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), and 1 accept the statement made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), when he explained the amendment to the committee. The purpose of the amendment, as I understand it, is to remove a position which now appears to exist, whereby an annuity paid by a trade union or a benefit society is not regarded as income.
– It has never been interpreted in that way.
– If the amendment was not designed to alter the law in some way, why would the Minister be moving it? As the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) says, the Minister is moving it to make certain that these conditions shall not operate in the future.
– No, it is simply a clarification.
– Is it certain that this position has not existed in the past?
– If it is certain that it has never existed in the past and has never been the law, there is no need to move the amendment.
The Minister made a series of dogmatic statements. He said that it was never intended that this should be so, and that all that was being done was to clarify the obvious intention of the law. We do not accept that. This amendment has been sprung on the committee by the Minister. He gave no notice whatever of it in his second-reading speech. He gave no indication until just now of the reasons for the amendment. From our point of view, it is perfectly clear that something which may have been enjoyed in the past by trade unionists and by members of benefit societies is now for certain to be taken away from them. We do not accept that, and we will oppose the amendment.
– I am sorry if the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) or any other honorable member does not entirely understand the purpose of this amendment. It is intended purely and simply to clarify a situation that has arisen in the course of the last few weeks. Never at any stage of the proceedings has there been an attempt to reduce the area of benefits enjoyed by friendly societies, trade unions, or any other organizations.
When the act which is now interpreted as the first Social Services Act was introduced in this Parliament, benefits from friendly societies and from trade unions were exempted for the purposes of the income test. That has never been violated by any government, and it is not being violated now. Indeed, I introduced an amendment lifting any restriction as to the benefit that might be paid by a friendly society or a trade union to its contributory members. Because of that liberalization of a privilege enjoyed for many years, a situation has been created whereby some friendly societies, and maybe, for all I know, some trade unions, might be encouraged to engage in the commercial operation of writing what is described as annuity business. That is an excellent idea, and I would be the last man in the world to try to dissuade them from that splendid purpose. This Government would be the last government in the world to try to dissuade any reputable organization from such a purpose.
I have given an interpretation that if that kind of business is undertaken and written, it will be treated in precisely the same way as business of the same kind written by anybody else. Because there is some slight doubt in the matter, I have thought it wise, in the interests of the friendly societies and trade unions, to ask the committee to approve of this simple clarification - neither more nor less.
– It is a pity that we did not have earlier the explanation that the Minister has just given. When I received a copy of the amendment from the Minister yesterday,
I picked up the act and wondered what he was .getting at. I could not make out what was intended. All I could think of was that the amendment applied to a case in which an officer of a friendly society or a trade union had been given so much a week on retirement, and that that payment would be regarded as an annuity. That is the only thing that I could envisage the Minister as driving at.
To-day, the Minister has explained that if a friendly society is prepared to deal with individuals as insurance companies deal with them, and to say, “ For every £100 you pay us we will pay you £8, £9 or £10 a year “, the friendly society will be permitted to do that, and every £8, £9 or £10 that the individual receives will be classed as income. I think that is exactly what the Minister has been explaining to us. If that was the whole purpose of the amendment, I do not think we could object. It would be just a matter of a commercial or business transaction, of a person contributing to an organization and the organization saying, “ If we get £10,000 now and we have to pay out only about £10 a year for each £100 during the life of the contributor, we may be lucky. He may die quickly, and we will have the lot. That is the case with insurance companies. But it he lives longer than the stipulated period, we shall have to depend on the law of averages to see whether we come out on the right side.”
As we know, insurance societies pay varying amounts for each £100 of contributions that they receive. I have a schedule in my office which shows, in respect of a woman who takes out an annuity at 60 years of age, how much a year the insurance society concerned would pay her. If she had reached 70 years of age for every £100 she paid in, she would get about three times as much as she would if she had taken the annuity at 60 years of age. That is all worked out in their calculations. But we are concerned about the implication that weekly payments by a friendly society or a trade union from its funds to a retired person, which have not been considered as income in the past will, in the future, be so considered. I do not know what attitude has been adopted but the provision is -
A payment in respect of illness, infirmity or oldage from any trade union;
The words “ not being a payment of an annuity “ are now being added. In the past, a union was not prevented from paying a benefit to a secretary or organizer when he retired. I wondered whether the Government was trying to correct something done by a union in that way, or whether that does not come into the picture.
– It does not.
– That is the assurance of the Minister and I hope it will be the position.
– The existing provision is that a payment by way of benefit or a payment, as the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) said, from a trade union is exempt. We ordinarily know what a payment by way of benefit from a friendly society is. It is a payment which results from joining a society and paying subventions over a long period of years. Friendly societies and trade unions have not previously gone in for the business of selling annuities; that is to say, taking a lump sum and paying an actuarially calculated amount for the life of the annuitant commencing immediately after the down payment of the lump sum.
– Has any of that been done?
– No, that has not been done in the past. When friendly societies proposed to enter this field of business, it was thought wise to look at the statute to see whether, on a strict reading of it, quite outside its intention in a general sense, these annuity payments might be classed as payments by way of benefit from a friendly society. Opinion was divided on this. Some would say that it did not look like a payment by way of benefit and others would say that it fairly fitted the idea of a payment by way of benefit. No one intended from the beginning that a friendly society or a trade union should be able to sell an annuity for any weekly or monthly amount and that that sum would be exempt from the computation of income for these purposes. An annuity paid by a life insurance company is not so exempt.
I give a simple illustration: Suppose that a friendly society took £5,000 from a person and said, “ In consideration of that, we will pay you an annuity of £43 a month “. That is a figure I happen to have seen in a brochure. That may be thought, on a strict view of the language of the act, to be a payment by way of benefit, but it is clearly outside the intendment of the statute. The way in which the two are reconciled is to exclude annuities from payments by way of benefit, because ordinarily these payments by way of benefit are not annuities, nor are sums paid by trade unions. The effect of this is not that any existing practice of the unions will be disturbed but that, should the unions wish to enter the field of selling annuities for large or small amounts, in the ordinary sense of annuity, they will not be able to confer exemption on the recipient any more than a life insurance company can.
– That means that they will suffer a disability that they do not now suffer.
– No. Suppose I said to a union, “ Here is £5,000. Get your actuary to work out how much a week you will pay me for life for the £5,000. “ It was never intended that I should get so much a week and not have it computed as income.
– To make it clear, we assert that the payment of the annuity under this amendment will be considered as income.
– That is right.
– That is exactly what we say.
– That is because it would be so considered if the payment were made by any other person who sold an annuity.
– The Minister was trying to argue that this was a concession to the trade unions.
– I did not say that. But do not let us worry about it for the moment. Let us be quite clear. This provision does not interfere with the ordinary payments that the unions make.
– That is right - or the payments by way of benefit that the friendly societies make. What it does is to prevent either of these bodies from entering a new line of business - the commercial business of selling annuities for any amount and then conferring on the recipient of an annuity exemption for the purposes of these benefits. That is fair enough.
Mr. WHITLAM (Werriwa) M.49]._Mr
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put -
That the amendment (Mr. Roberton’s) be agreed to.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.) Ayes . . . . . . 56
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 5 to 24 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
New clause 3a.
Section proposed to be amended - 17.- (l.)….. (3.) A person shall not, and while he is, or after he ceases to be, an officer, be required to produce in court any claim or determination of a claim under this Act or under any Act repealed by this Act, or to divulge or communicate to any court any matter or thing which has come under his notice in the performance of his duties, or in the exercise of his powers or functions, under this Act or under any Act repealed by this Act, except where it is necessary to do so for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of this Act.
– I move -
After clause 3, insert the following new clause: - “ 3a. Section seventeen of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (3.) and inserting in its stead the following sub-section: - (3.) A person who is, or has been, an officer shall not, except for the purposes of this Act, be required -
to produce in court any document that has come into his possession or under his control in the performance of his duties or functions under this Act or any Act repealed by this Act; or
to divulge or communicate to a court any matter or thing that has come under his notice in the performance of any such duties or functions.’.”.
I regret that I have to delay the committee, but these are matters that arise and are of some urgency, and the first opportunity must be taken to make the necessary amendment.
– Why not allow the AttorneyGeneral to explain it in the first place? Then you will get over the delay.
– Let us be honest from the beginning.
– Order! There will be less delay if honorable members remain silent.
– The purpose of this proposed amendment to section 17 (3.) of the principal act is to ensure that the records of the Department of Social Services may be protected from production in court. I need hardly stress to the committee that much confidential information comes into the hands of the department. Some of it is obtained under the statutory powers under the act. It may relate to a claimant or pensioner’s financial affairs, to his matrimonial relationships, to illegitimacy, to medical records and history, and to other private matters. It is Wholly desirable that not only claimants and pensioners, but also other persons who might be required to give information, should know that the department cannot be required to divulge that information. The Department has worked for many years on the assumption that its records were so protected. However, a decision of the New South Wales Supreme Court on 8th September was to the effect that section 17 (3) of the act protected from production in court only two types of document - claims and the determinations of claims. The amendment I have moved will have the effect, Mr. Chairman, of extending the protection to all the documents of the department.
.- I do not disagree with the provisions of this amendment, and I am in complete sympathy with the reasons that have given rise to them. Nevertheless, I am prompted, Sir, to presume to sound a note of caution about the philosophy that is resident within this proposed new clause. I do not speak with the settled authority and prestige of the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), but I hope that it will be a tolerable act of presumption if I sound a note of caution. I have at least some backing from great names in the British courts of justice. I call the attention of the committee to an appeals case on this very matter that was decided in 1942. I refer to the case of “ Duncan and Cammell Laird and Company “, reported in Appeal Cases 1942, at page 625. This is what the House of Lords had to say, dealing with the production of departmental records in court -
An objection validly taken to production on the ground that it would be injurious to the public interest is conclusive. The mere fact that the minister or the department does not wish the documents to be produced is not an adequate justification for objecting to their production. Production should only be withheld when the public interest would otherwise be damnified, as where disclosure would be injurious to national defence or to good diplomatic relations, or where the practice of keeping a class of documents secret is necessary for the proper functioning of the public service.
The report continues -
In such a case the court should not require to see the document, for the purpose of ascertaining whether disclosure would be injurious to the public interest.
When the Crown is a party to a suit, discovery1 of documents cannot be demanded by the other party as of right, although in practice, for reasons of fairness and in the interests of justice, all proper disclosure and production would be made.
Under this proposed new clause, as I see it, speaking with the shaky authority of a mere student, a complete blanket is put on the production in any court of any document which may be required by any person engaged in a case, involving the Department of Social Services. 1 presume to draw the attention of honorable members to a celebrated case that was heard in the Queen’s Bench Division fairly recently. Lord Justice Singleton cited a passage from the judgment delivered by Mr. Justice Devlin, the judge of first instance. It was -
But before I leave this case I must express, as I have expressed during the hearing of the case, my uneasy feeling that justice may not have been done because the material before me was not complete, and something more than an uneasy feeling that, whether justice has been done or not, it certainly will not appear to have been done.
Singleton L.J. observed on that -
That is a serious thing for a judge to have to say as to the administration of justice in his court.
– And what did Killen J. say?
– The honorable member for East Sydney may care to laugh, but this goes to something fundamental. Of course, if he ever went to something fundamental, he would find himself most uneasy. I am referring to the statement made by Lord Justice Singleton in the case of Ellis versus The Home Office. He said -
But one thing which the courts in this country have sought to make clear, generation after generation, is that there ought to be fair play.
One of his brother judges declared -
On the question of privileged documents . . . it is clearly essential in the public interest that responsible government departments should be entitled to claim privilege for documents the disclosure of which would be against the public interest; and it is clearly right that the decision of the responsible minister on the question whether privilege should be insisted upon or not in respect of any particular document should be final. But I would urge that in the interests of justice - particularly in a case like the present, which concerns a claim by one of Her Majesty’s subjects against a government department - documents within the ambit of privilege should be most carefully scrutinized, and the person entrusted with that task should, in regard to each document, ask himself whether it is relevant to the plaintiff’s case, whether the plaintiff’s case will be hampered or impeded if it is not made available, and, if so, whether the probability of any harm being done to the public interest by disclosing it is sufficient to out-weigh those other considerations.
Well, Sir, I have sounded my note of caution. Now I go further. I presume to suggest to the Attorney-General that, with a view to regularizing the procedures regarding the disclosure in courts of documents involving government departments, this Parliament might well move to pass legislation in keeping with the United Kingdom Crown Proceedings Act. At least that act provides for the exercise of a measure of discretion on behalf of the Minister,
I do not like the philosophy behind this new clause. If the development of the modern State means that the individual has to surrender some rights and privileges to which he is accustomed, I think we should proceed with caution.
New clause agreed to. New clause 5a.
Section proposed to be amended -
– (1.) An age pension shall not be granted to a person -
– I move -
After clause 5 insert the following new clause: - “ 5a. Section twenty-two of the Principal Act is amended by omitting paragraph (g).”.
I have been hammering away for this amendment for a long time, and I am pleased to see that I have some support from the Government side on this occasion. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has a similar proposal for a new clause with exactly the same wording. Many years ago when I was asked for my strongest impression of the Parliament at work, making laws, I said, “ I think that one of the greatest difficulties in Parliament arises when you make laws which draw a line of demarcation “. When the Parliament draws a strict line of demarcation, it can mean that one person with, say, £51 will not get a pension, whilst another with £49 will get a pension. That is the kind of thing that my amendment is designed to correct. Section 22 (g) of the act states that a pension shall not be granted to a person - if, not being a permanently blind person, the value (determined in accordance with section thirty of this Act) of the property of that person exceeds Two thousand two hundred and fifty pounds.
That means that if such a person has more than the prescribed limit, he or she cannot get a pension. Honorable members may ask what my intentions are with regard to the line of demarcation. At present, a person who has £2,250 in property can receive a pension of £22 10s. a year. However a person who has £1 more than that in property gets no pension. Under the amending legislation we are now debating, which will increase the pension by 7s. 6d. a week, a person with property worth £2,250 may receive a pension of £42 a year, but a person with £1 more than that in property will receive nothing. A man and his wife may jointly have property totalling in value £4,500 and receive pensions amounting to £84 a year, but if they have £1 more than that they will get nothing. I think that those who are responsible for this provision have fallen into the trap that they fell into years ago, when I took the same matter up. The amount of pension is being increased, without increasing the permissible property limit: If the committee accepts my amendment, it will mean that a man who has £2,250 in property will still be able to receive a pension of £42 a year. For every £10 over £4,250, he would lose £1 from the £42. If my suggestion is accepted, the maximum amount of property permissible, instead of being £2,250, would be £2,670 and a pensioner would automatically lose his pension by a process of deducting from the pension £1 for every £10 in the value of his property.
The present anomaly should have been rectified years ago. I have advocated the abolition of this provision ever since I have been a member of this Parliament because I do not think it fair that one man with a little property is eligible for a pension of £15; £20 or £40 a year, whatever the case may be,, but another man with property worth £1 more, cannot have any pension at all. A man who has only £200 can have full pension. If he has £500 he loses £30 a year from his pension, and so on. But when the sum of £2,250 is reached, that method of calculation is dropped. I submit that we should carry it on until £2,670 is reached. At that figure any right to a pension automatically disappears.
I think the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has assimilated what I have assimilated in connexion with this matter, and the second amendment I propose to submit relates to qualifications of the invalid pensioner. The third amendment I shall suggest will be consequential upon the acceptance of the others.
– Order! The honorable member will please deal with one amendment at a time.
– I was about to state that if my first amendment is defeated and if the committee insists that the limit shall be £2,250, then it will be of no use my dealing with the second amendment or the third amendment because the committee will have decided already against them. The honorable member for Mackellar has a suggestion- which is more or less in line with my second proposal.
I hope that the proposal I have put to the committee will be accepted. It does not go nearly as far in many directions as I should like it to go, but I do ask the Government to abolish this sudden ending to entitlement at £2,250 - this sudden going over the wharf into the river, as it were. I sincerely suggest that the calculation should continue until the right to pension fades out. 1 am not in a position to say what my proposal, if adopted, would cost, but I do think that the suggestion I have offered would be far more satisfactory than the present method. Some years ago, the limit was £1,250. When the Treasurer of that time said that the Government had decided to ask Parliament to increase the pension, I said to the then Minister for Social Services, Mr. McMahon, “ What do you propose to do about the deduction for capital? It is no use saying that you are going to give them that amount of money because their pension will run out before the property limit is reached.” The property limit was then increased to £1,750. At that time, the Government amended the rate of reduction of pension - £2 for every £1 1 of property - to a reduction of pension by £1 for every £10 of property. Under my proposal, by a process of deducting £1 from the pension for every £10 in value of property over a certain amount, the pension would disappear by effluxion, as it were, instead of on sudden arrival at a prescribed amount.
– There are two suggested amendments standing to my name. As the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has just said, the -first is the same as the amendment he has submitted to the committee. Although my two proposed amendments are interlocked to some extent it is true that the first could stand on its own feet. In obedience to your ruling, Mr. Chairman, I shall not speak about the second one. I shall endeavour to speak about them separately. I shall speak about the first in isolation and later point out the way in which it is interlocked with the second.
The proposal submitted by the honorable member for Port Adelaide is similar to the one standing in my name. I agree with what the honorable member has said. This is not a great matter. The extra expense that would be incurred by accepting it would certainly be less than £500,000 a year - probably a great deal less than that. -I do not think there is much I can add to what he has said on that score.
This is a small anomaly in the act which should not be permitted to continue because there is really no sense in it at all. As honorable members know, the procedure under section 28 of the act is to reduce the pension by £1 a year for every £10 of property over the value of £200. This means a reduction of approximately 4id. a week in the pension. That goes on in an even progression until we reach this magical sum of £2,250. Then, suddenly, the whole thing cuts out! It is quite unreasonable. There is no logic in it whatsoever, and I do not know why the provision is permitted to stand in the act. .If we were to remove this provision from section 22 and the corresponding provision from section 25, then make the consequential amendment to section 28 as suggested by the honorable member for Port Adelaide, the pension would still be diminished by the same even sum of approximately 4id. a week for each £10 of property over £200, and would fade away at £2,670 instead of being cut off, as with a knife at £2,250. There is no reason at all why we should have any great regard at all for this figure of £2,250. I have not heard the Minister or anybody else advance any sensible reason why we should include this arbitrary sum. Since only a small amount of money is involved, I suggest that we should accept the amendment.
I also suggest to the committee that it is not a great matter about which the Government need be concerned one way or another. I think that we should accept it for, by accepting it, we shall cure a small and rather silly anomaly that has been allowed to creep in because we have not adjusted that provision from time to time as we have adjusted the rates of pension. I think the anomaly is, possibly, the result of an oversight, but, whatever the cause, it should be removed, and I ask the committee to bear with me and do just that.
– The Government’s decision in connexion with this Budget was to concentrate all available resources upon giving the greatest possible increase in the maximum rate pension. Both the proposal before us and the proposed amendment to section 25 of the act are, in effect, alterations to the means test which it is not proposed to liberalize this year. The situation referred to by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), who has made an intense study of the general question of social services, and the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), arises as an inevitable consequence of the liberalization of the means test in the first place and an increase in the pension rate in the second place. These things must happen as a natural consequence of events. Every time the means test is liberalized, this situation is created in part, and every time the basic rate pension is increased the same situation is created.
So, the Government having given due consideration to these things, it was found necessary to confine our activities this year to the general base rate pension.
.- Mr. Chairman, I think that the argument oZ the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is somewhat at fault. It u obvious that, in reality, the Government never thought about this matter. If it had, it could have raised the property limit above which the pension is affected beyond £2,250 by altering the steps by which every £1 reduction in the pension is made. It is obvious that the Government did noi realize the difficulties caused by the present property limit. When the difficulties were pointed out, the Minister sought to evade the issue instead of saying, in effect, “ Wc did not realize the difficulty, but we intend to stick to the position as it stands “.
– Mr. Chairman, I just want to intervene very briefly to say something on behalf of the Government in this matter. The honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) appears to be under the impression that the point that has just been, under discussion has never been considered. I can assure him that he is wrong. Very many aspects of this law have engaged very close attention. But I think it is necessary to point out that, when a Government produces a budget, it does not consider social services alone; it considers the whole range of financial and economic activities in the country, and it has to arrive at a balanced conclusion as to the terms of a budget which it thinks will be best for the country. In doing that, it cannot concentrate on one matter to the exclusion of others. It does something useful, as it hopes, in relation to each matter, and on this occasion, we have done something useful, as I believe, and as I think most people believe, in relation to the rate of pension.
In previous years, we have made changes in the means test and we have dealt with other aspects of the social services law. I know, Sir - nobody knows better - that there are great differences of opinion around the chamber on the matter of the means test. The property means test has been very much discussed of late. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has given notice of an amend- ment in relation to it. Another amendment is down in the name of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). 1 am very well aware of these differences of opinion. Some of my own friends have very strong views on them.
All I want to say, Sir, is that we gave considerable thought to these matters as part of the general Budget preparation. The Budget has been presented; this is one of the Budget measures, and, naturally, the Government stands by it. A vote against it is a vote against the existence of the Government. That is elementary in parliamentary practice.
– Look at the sour faces on Government supporters now.
– I thought that some of the new boys opposite might not know that. That, of course, is an elementary observation, Sir. I apologize for having felt obliged to state it. But I want to say this: Although the Government has not felt able to deal with the means test or, in particular, the property means test, in the Budget and in this measure, that does not mean that we regard the problem as closed or as finally disposed of. On the contrary, there are still many problems to be worked out, and this, no doubt, is one of the most contentious of them.
I have, some time since, agreed with my colleagues in the Cabinet that it is not always satisfactory to deal with the intricacies of the social services structure at the time when you are considering the broad sweep of Budget preparation, and I therefore propose to have this problem, and those problems allied to it, very carefully examined by the Government well before the preparation of the next Budget I say that because I know that the problem is difficult, and I believe that it requires concentrated attention and a good deal of close study.
I want to make it quite clear, Sir, that, when I say that, I am making no commitment. I do not undertake to say what the result will be.
– Two bob each way.
– Of course, if I undertook to say what the result would be, it would be mere humbug to engage in the investigation; and I do not propose to engage in humbug at this late stage of my political life.
Mr. WENTWORTH (Mackellar) [5.30J. - Mr. Chairman, 1 am very much shocked at what the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has just said. I have put forward two amendments relating to this subject, in terms identical with those of amendments in the name of the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson). The second one, which has not yet come before the committee, is a substantial matter. In regard to that, I feel that what the Prime Minister has said is relevant, because the means test is something in respect of which a major change ought to be made, and the undertaking that the Prime Minister has given represents a substantial move forward. I am so confident of the justice of the case that I think there can be only one outcome of the investigation proposed by the Prime Minister.
– Back to your kennel.
– Order! I demand that honorable members be silent. They are creating far too much noise for the committee to get on with the business before it.
– 1 am so confident of the outcome of the investigation that I accept .the Prime Minister’s offer very gladly. However, I still do not feel that what he has said has much relevance to the amendment at present under discussion, because we are not at present discussing anything that affects the Budget structure. This is a trivial matter in itself. It is the curing of an anomaly which should never have been allowed to appear in the act. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) was wrong when he said that the property means test could not be adjusted with the pension rate. It can be adjusted every time the pension rate is altered, and this anomaly remains in the act simply by an oversight or a piece of departmental* carelessness.
This, Sir, is not a matter which affectsthe existence of the Government. It is a small anomaly in the act, and I do not think that it is right for the Prime Minister to say that it is a matter which affects the existence of the Government. I admit freely that there is a tradition in regard to important budget matters. I respect that, and, because of that, it is not my intention to press my other amendment. But, in regard to the matter now before the committee, which is a small matter, I do not think that the Prime Minister does justice to the committee or to himself by taking the view that this is so important that the fate of the Government must be decided on it. This is a trivial matter of an anomaly, and I propose to vote for the amendment.
Question put -
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Thompson’s amendment) be so inserted. ‘ The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.) Ayes
Question so resolved in the negative.
The- CHAIRMAN.- That has been withdrawn.
Mr. WENTWORTH (Mackellar) [5.421. - I do not propose to proceed with my amendment, which is in quite a different category from the amendment last before the committee. I* believe that budget matters of a substantial character do partake of the nature outlined1 by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and I regard his assurance as breaking the log jam of the means test.
New clause 6a.
Section proposed to- be amended -
– (1.) Subject to this Part, a wife (not being an age or invalid pensioner) whose husband is an. invalid’ pensioner- shall, so long as her husband continues to be an. invalid pensioner, be qualified to receive a. wife’s allowance.
.- I move -
After clause 6, insert- the following new clause: - “ 6a. Section thirty-two of the Principal Act is amended by inserting in sub-section (1.) after the word. ‘ pensioner ‘ (second and third occurring) the words ‘ or an age pensioner
At the moment a wife’s allowance is paid’ only to the- wife of an invalid pensioner and provided that she herself is not entitled to an age’ or invalid’ pension. The term “ invalid pensioner “, includes a permanently incapacitated or permanently blind age pensioner. The proposal is that the wife’s allowance be given to the wives of all age. pensioners. The existing provision presumes first that the wife- of an invalid or incapacitated age pensioner is tending her husband and therefore not able to go out to work. The allowance of 35s. a week, paltry as it is, is provided for such a wife. The existing provision also presumes that the wife of an age pensioner who is not incapacitated is able to go out to work and so to supplement the income of the couple. Most women about whom 1 am speaking are between 50 and 60 years of age and it is practically impossible for them to obtain work. My federal member’s rooms in Kogarah are located in the building that also houses the Commonwealth Employment Office, and I know that time and again women whose husbands are age pensioners and who themselves are not entitled to an allowance register for work with the Commonwealth .Employment Office, only to be told that no suitable work is available for them. They are classified as unemployable. Being unemployable, they are not entitled to unemployment benefits. In such a case, where the husband is an age pensioner and the wife not yet eligible for a pension, and being unable to work, the couple must, under the Government’s proposals, live on £4 15s. a week I think that it is fair to claim that even if the amendment were carried the couple would have between them, by way of pension and allowance, only £6 10s. a week. That would be little enough. I see no reason why, in such a case, the wife should not be given, as an allowance, the full pension. If it is necessary for both the woman aged 60 and her age pensioner husband- to be given the full pension, surely it is equally necessary for the woman who is-, say,. 55 or 59 years of age, to be given it also.
The acceptance of our proposal would not upset the Government’s Budget position. It would not cost very much; nor would a great many people be affected. Surely the payment of an additional 35s. a week to each eligible person would not prove an embarrassment to a government with a Budget in the vicinity of £1,600,000,000. If Government supporters are genuine in what they have said about the means test they surely cannot resist an appeal to give to a woman who is unemployable - and who has a husband receiving either no income other than the age pension, or at best £3 10s. a week in addition to it - the full benefit already enjoyed by wives of incapacitated invalid pensioners.
Question, put -
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Reynolds’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr. G.
. 37 . 54
Question so resolved in the negative. Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Roberton) - by leave - proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
.- Mr. Speaker, I merely wish to direct the attention of the House to clause 12 of the bill which makes a radical alteration to section 72 of the act, and appears to have passed unnoticed. The section in the original act says -
Where the Director-General is satisfied that, having regard to the age, infirmity, ill-health or improvidence of a pensioner, or to any other special circumstances, it is expedient that payment of the pension should be made to some other person on behalf of the pensioner, the Director-General may authorise payment accordingly, and that other person shall be entitled to receive payment of the pension.
This is changed in the bill to “Where the Director-General is satisfied for any reason that,” he shall have authority to pay the social service benefit to some one other than the beneficiary. This greatly enlarges the Director-General’s power.
I presume that this authority will be used to enable the department to pay social services for aborigines to some one other than the aboriginal himself. I ask all members to try to ensure that in this matter the aborigines are treated as individuals, not merely as members of a race.
I hope that there will be a more vigorous application of the principle that the aboriginal should have his individual rights protected and be treated in the same way as we ourselves expect to be treated by such bodies as repatriation tribunals and the courts.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
Is leave granted?
– Yes, otherwise these payments would be postponed, and that would be very unsatisfactory.
– There being no dissentient voice, leave is granted.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) - by leave - agreed to -
That Standing Order No. 104 - 11 o’clock rule - be suspended for this sitting
Debate resumed (vide page 1395).
.- Mr. Speaker, this matter comes before the House, since this Government has been in office, in the nature of an annual bill. There has been a history throughout the period of this Government’s term of annual increases of some kind in pension rates under the Repatriation Act. I want to make it perfectly clear from the outset that Opposition members, no matter how much they may claim it, have no monopoly of representation in this House of ex-servicemen and ex-servicemen’s organizations.
As the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has said on a prior occasion here, no party ought to make political capital out of debates on this legislation, no matter how pious honorable members get and no matter how strongly we might all subscribe to it. The truth of the matter is that the Opposition has sought to make political capital out of this debate. I refer particularly to the speeches that were made this afternoon by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) and the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson). Both those honorable members produced with a flourish a great quantity of statistics. The purpose of these statistics apparently was to show-
– You are dealing with a different bill, are you not?
– I am not aware of it. Perhaps you are looking at the wrong notice-paper.
– Perhaps you are!
– I am looking at the Repatriation Bill.
– So am I.
– Then we are on all fours regarding the fact that we are looking at this bill, but we are not on all fours regarding matters that have been wrongly put before the chamber this afternoon by honorable members who sit behind you. The honorable member for Wills produced statistics with which he hoped to show a statement to be correct. He said that it is harder for an ex-serviceman of the First World War to get a pension than it is for an ex-serviceman of the Second World War to get one.
– That is right.
– In support of this statement, he produced the figures for the last financial year relating to applications for pensions and the result of those applications, which categorized those which have been granted and those refused. The honorable member for Wills had in his hand - and, indeed, referred to - the report of the Repatriation Commission for the year 1957-58. He referred honorable members to page 23 of it, but he omitted to point out the very real factors which the statistics on that page show.
– You can get the facts very simply by the number of rejections.
– Those statistics show that it is not harder for a First World War soldier to get a pension. If you take the year 1930, which was twelve years after the 1914-1918 war concluded, and the year 1957, which was twelve years after the Second World War finished, and then have a look at the number of members who served in either of those wars and to whom pensions had been granted the result is most illuminating. In 1930 the number of exservicemen who were incapacitated and receiving a pension was 74,578. I think it is reasonable to take as the number of men who were in uniform in the war, 300,000. If you express 75,000 as a percentage of 300,000, you find that twelve years after the First World War, 25 per cent, of the ex-servicemen of that war were receiving a pension. Then if you go to the year 1957, which was twelve years after the conclusion of the Second World War, you will find that 143,000 incapacitated ex-members of the forces of that war were receiving pensions. If you express 143,000 as a percentage of the 1,000,000 in uniform, the result is 14i per cent. So twelve years after the conclusion of the First World War, 25 per cent, of the servicemen who served in that war were being pensioned; and twelve years after the Second World War, only 14£ per cent, of the exservicemen who served in that war were being pensioned. The figures chosen by the honorable member for Wills were in respect of last year, 1958 - 40 years after the first war was concluded. During those 40 years there had been a constant application rate by First World War veterans for pensions.
Then if you take the same annual report of the Repatriation Commission and turn to page 17 you will find there given figures relating to the 1914-18 war - the number of applications for pensions in the year ended 30th June, 1958. In that year, 842 ex-servicemen were granted a pension initially. That, of course, was 40 years after the First World War was concluded. There were, in addition to these 842 exservicemen who were granted pensions for the first time, 330 members who had had their pension restored. A great number of these men whose pensions were restored were people who, in the years from 1920 to 1925, had accepted a lump sum cash payment in lieu of having pension rights in the future. Notwithstanding that, the Repatriation Commission admitted a great number of them into pensionable categories and restored their pensions. It is very sad to note that of the 1914-18 war veterans, in that year 2,667 of them died, so that the contention of the honorable member for Wills that the 1914-18 war veterans are not getting a fair go was quite fallacious.
All of the statistics I have quoted are contained in the annual report of the Repatriation Commission. I think I have shown, as I said earlier, that the honorable member for Wills tried to make political capital out of this debate by misreading the statistics instead of putting them properly before the House.
The honorable member for Wills went on to say that if 147,000 pensions have been granted to the Second World War servicemen, then all of those who served in World War I. ought to qualify for a pension. Of course, much as this may be wanted by the honorable member for Wills, it is quite contrary to the spirit of the Repatriation Act, and I am quite sure it is not a claim that is seriously put forward by any exservicemen’s organization or by any exserviceman.
The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) was the next speaker on the Labour side. He said that Mr. Yeo, the president of the New South Wales branch of the returned servicemen’s league, had criticized the federal Budget. He omitted to say that the same gentleman had very drastically and severely criticized the New South Wales Budget and, indeed, what he said about the federal Budget was almost laudatory compared with what he said about the New South Wales Labour Government’s Budget. The honorable member for Hughes said that the Australian Labour Party has a plan. He also said that to inaugurate the plan would mean shifting the Government from the Treasury bench and the Opposition coming over to this side. I very much fear that the claim of the honorable member for Hughes would result in his being hoist with his own petard if the Opposition did come over here because what the Opposition puts forward are not reasonable claims as a general rule, but unreasonable claims. The honorable member for Hughes went on to say, “ Imagine a T.P.I, ex-serviceman existing on an amount less than the basic wage “. It is interesting to make a close examination of the pension income in order to find whether or not a T.P.I, would, in fact, be called upon to exist on a sum less than the basic wage. I have prepared some figures on the rates which will result from the passage of this legislation. A T.P.I, exserviceman will receive £12 5s. a week as war pension, and in addition, if he qualifies by a means test, £1 14s. 9d. a week in service pension. If he does not so qualify, then obviously he is receiving more than the £1 14s. 9d. service pension. The sum of £12 5s. plus £1 14s. 9d. adds up to £13 19s. 9d. and that is the amount an unmarried T.P.I, pensioner will receive. The basic wage to-day is £13 16s., so the total amount he receives by way of combined pensions is, in fact, in excess of the basic wage.
But if that man has two children, he will be even better off. The present basic wage, fixed in accordance with the Harvester award is taken to be sufficient to provide for a married man with wife and two children. The wife of a T.P.I, exserviceman will receive £1 15s. 6d. a week and in addition a service pension of £1 4s. 9d., a total of £3 Os. 3d. These sums make the total income of the T.P.I, exserviceman and his wife £17 a week. If they have two children, and we suppose that one is fourteen and the other twelve years of age, their total income will be £15 8s. a week in service pension and JE3 13s. 6d. a week for the children. In addition, they will receive £2 ls. 6d. a week in education allowances. This makes the total sum that will accrue to that family of the T.P.I, ex-serviceman, his wife and two children aged fourteen and twelve respectively, £21 3s. a week. That figure is remarkably similar to the average income throughout Australia.
The honorable member for Hughes said that there had been a great deterioration in the relationship between the amount of the T.P.I, pension and the amount of the basic wage. It is interesting to compare these sums in order to find whether the statement of the honorable member is accurate. When the figures are tabulated, the comparison makes it perfectly clear that the statement of the honorable member was completely and absolutely erroneous. I have taken 1949 as the base year because that is the last year the Australian Labour Party was in government and had the opportunity of settling the rate of war pensions. These figures also relate to the sums paid at 31st December. That date was the end of the quarter, and therefore statistically a very suitable date. It was the end of the quarter in which the final basic wage adjustment for the year, that is as at 1st November, used to be made and also the quarter in which the first payment of increases of pensions were made as at 1st October. This makes 31st December the most appropriate date to choose for the purpose of making the comparison I have indicated. In 1949, the basic wage was 129s. a week. In that year the T.P.I, rate was .106s. a week. That was the last year of the Labour Administration. The T.P.I, rate was 82 per cent, of the basic wage. In this year, 1959, the basic wage is 276s. a week and as a result of this legislation the T.P.I, rate will rise to 245s. a week. That sum represents 89 per cent, of the basic wage. This means that it has risen, relatively, by 7 per cent, since 1949.
– It is a miserable increase.
– It may be a miserable increase according to the honorable member, but he was a supporter of the last Labour Government in 1949 and it would be interesting to know whether he thought that its pension rates for ex-servicemen were miserable. They were certainly lower than those provided for in this bill. The situation is perfectly clear when the relative rates for T.P.I, ex-servicemen under this Administration are compared with those provided by the last Labour Government.
The honorable member for Hughes challenged a statement I made, by way of interjection, that the basic wage to-day is greater than it would have been had automatic quarterly adjustments been continued after 1953. The truth of the matter is that the last basic wage decision in 1959 provided an increase of 15s. to come into operation as from 11th June, bringing the total basic wage to £13 16s. a week. Had the C series index been applied, as it was before 1953, the basic wage to-day would be only £13 14s. In other words, the present basic wage is 2s. a week above what it would have been if the automatic quarterly adjustments system had been continued.
This very factor was commented upon by the learned President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission when he delivered his decision in relation to the claim of the unions to restore automatic quarterly adjustments. He said, in effect, that it seemed futile to seek this restoration when, in fact, the basic wage which would be awarded, if his decision prevailed - as it did - would be advanced to a sum greater than it would have been had automatic quarterly adjustments been continued. The honorable member for Hughes can easily confirm this fact by looking, firstly, at the judgment of President Kirby, and secondly by obtaining the figures from the office of the Commonwealth Statistician.
The next matter dealt with by the honorable member for Hughes was the general rate pension. He contrasted the general rate as a percentage of the basic wage in 1949 with the present figure. He said that the general rate was 45.5 per cent, of the basic wage in 1947 and that under this legislation it will be only 39.9 per cent, of it. The honorable member’s last figure could reasonably be taken as 40 per cent. He suggests that there has been a drop of 5.6 per cent, in that relativity. But what the honorable member completely omitted to point out was that until 1949 under the Labour Administration scarcely any additional advantages or benefits were granted to ex-service pensioners. Since 1949 there has been a host of them. The honorable member therefore, is quite unreal in his attempts to compare the general rate in 1949 with that of to-day and on that basis to condemn the Government.
I will quickly traverse some of the additional benefits which this Government has provided for ex-servicemen since 1949. First, there is the widow’s marriage gratuity. All honorable members will know of that. Then there is the gift car, a most important provision for those people whose facility of movement had been cut down. In 1950, provision was made for a four-door Hillman Minx sedan car to be provided for all ex-servicemen who had had both legs amputated above the knee, or who were completely paraplegics. In addition to granting the car, provision was also made for an allowance of £120 per annum to cover registration, insurance and general running costs. Since that time there has been a slight amendment, to allow a choice between a Hillman Minx sedan or a Hillman Husky station wagon.
In addition to those benefits, there was also the granting of travelling expenses to war widows. Air travel was provided for relatives. A disabled members’ and widows’ training scheme was introduced. There was also supplementary assistance, and a clothing allowance was provided. Those were completely new benefits. Benefits generally have been progressively increased. The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) sought to distort the position in presenting his argument by entirely overlooking ‘those most important factors.
The honorable member for Hughes went on to discuss the Legal Service Bureau. He said that he hoped that its services would be extended and that it would go on to greater strength. I had the great honour to be employed as a legal officer with the Legal Service Bureau in Melbourne during 1955. In the course of my service with the Legal Service Bureau, I formed an admiration for the officers who work there and for the work that they do. But please do not let the honorable member for Hughes believe that legal officers of the bureau could appear for pensioners on appeals to War Pensions Appeal Tribunals. They are precluded by the Repatriation Act from doing so. Because they are legal practitioners, they may not appear for any appellant.
I shall deal later in my remarks with another matter to which the honorable member for Hughes referred. It will be remembered that he spoke of the onus of proof provision, and so on. Let me come immediately to the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition, proposing that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide a T.P.I, pension equal to the basic wage. I think, Mr. Speaker, that I have quite clearly demonstrated that the first requirement of the amendment does not exist; in other words, that in point of fact the T.P.I, pension is in excess of the existing basic wage.
– That is nonsense.
– Obviously the honorable member is incapable of comprehending the figures that I have put to the House. For his sake I shall repeat them. Under this legislation, a war pensioner who is totally and permanently incapacitated will receive a war pension of £12 5s. a week, plus a service pension of £1 14s. 9d. a week, making a total of £13 19s. 9d. The basic wage is £13 16s. a week. It follows that the amount that a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner will be entitled to receive is in excess of the basic wage. Obviously, the first part of the amendment does not apply.
The amendment also proposes that other rates be increased so that they will be “ adequate to meet present living costs and represent a fair and reasonable share of the national income “. I have rarely seen anything so widely worded. Just what it means would take three or four days of debate to decide. What it means nobody can say, but on the facts that I have put before the House to-night it is perfectly obvious that war pensioners are in fact receiving a fair and reasonable share of the national income.
The amendment goes on to propose that the increases should apply from the first pension day after 1st July, 1959. The history of this Parliament - indeed, the history of all British Parliaments - shows that increases of this kind are not given a retrospective effect. As was clearly indicated by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper), the practice here has been for such payments to apply only from the date on which the relevant legislation receives the Governor-General’s assent. I think that that is a proper provision, and that is the position with the bill now before the House.
I wish now to refer to an amendment which the Opposition apparently intends to move at the committee stage, to the effect that all First World War veterans shall be entitled to free medical treatment. During a repatriation debate in this Parliament in 1956, I suggested to the Government that it consider a proposal that the grant for homes for the aged, which was then made on the basis of £1 for every £1 raised by charitable organizations, but which is now £2 for every £1 so raised, might reasonably be extended to cover homes for exservicemen. I felt that a great deal of the pressure which is felt by veterans of the First World War might be relieved if such a course were adopted. Regarding the proposal that all First World War veterans should be entitled to free medical treatment, I can see that there is some merit in it. I can also see in it some problems to which I would like to know the answer. I therefore feel that this is a matter which requires close attention and proper consideration. I should like to see such consideration given to it. If an appropriate provision could be included in next year’s Budget proposals, I would be very pleased to see that done, but at this stage, Mr. Speaker, I think that the matter has not been investigated sufficiently to ascertain whether or not this is a reasonable or a proper proposal.
The only other matter which I wish to traverse is the proposal that a tribunal, consisting of a Supreme Court judge or a High
Court judge, be appointed to act as an appellate jurisdiction from the appeals tribunal. This proposal is almost a perennial- I last spoke on repatriation in 1956, concerning an amendment which had been proposed at that time.
– It was a crook speech, too.
– I refer the honorable member for Grayndler to “ Hansard “ for 27th September, 1956, where he will find the speech that I then made. I re-read it tonight and found that what I said then was apposite to the discussion to-night. I found also, in reading that debate, that what is being put forward by the Labour Party during this debate in 1959 is just as distorted as what it put forward in 1956. The weaknesses which I saw in the case for the Opposition as presented in the debate earlier to-day were virtually the same as those which I saw in 1956. In other words, no new ground has been covered by the Labour Party on this matter. It continues to put up the same proposals.
In relation to the proposed appellate court, it is obvious that while there are some people whose claims for pensions are refused, there will be dissatisfied people. Honorable members opposite have spoken about interviewing people who were distraught, distressed and greatly disappointed. That is an experience which is not peculiar to members of the Opposition. I have had that experience too, Mr. Speaker. In this respect, I must congratulate the Returned Servicemen’s League, especially the officers of its sub-branches, and particularly the welfare officers, who are doing a magnificent job. They well understand the appeal provisions. I do not think that this proposal to superimpose on a three-tier system a fourth tier consisting of a Supreme Court judge or a High Court judge would find any support among exservicemen’s organizations or exservicemen generally.
It is a fundamental principle of this repatriation legislation, in regard to appeal procedures, that no legally qualified man may be present to argue the case of either the commission or an appellant. If such matters are taken into either the High Court or the Supreme Court jurisdiction, it must necessarily follow that there will be legal representation of some kind. I believe, Mr. Speaker, that the lay advocates are doing a tremendously fine job. Those whom I know - and I know a few of them - are very able. They understand this matter perfectly and are doing the job in a proper fashion. I feel, therefore, that the amendment which apparently will be moved in the committee stage by the Opposition should not have the support of this chamber. I think this is a very good bill. I feel that, as part of the Budget, it will be a success and will be warmly accepted. I am glad to have had the opportunity to point out that fallacy in logic that is being propounded by the Opposition.
– I want to deal particularly with the last point made by the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden). I shall leave the other points that he tried to make for my colleagues to answer. His comparison is not fair or just. When the amending Repatriation Bill of 1943 was passed, it was a great achievement and the returned servicemen’s organizations regarded it as an epic achievement. It was not produced by the Government alone. The then Government had the assistance of a committee of all parties in this chamber. My colleague, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was the chairman of the committee and the late Mr. Allan McDonald was a member. I think every member of it was a returned serviceman. The bill was unanimously accepted by the House. Before the honorable member for Bruce makes absurd statements about the Legal Service Bureau, he should study the circumstances that existed at that time. He is a returned serviceman himself and he should know what was done for the returned servicemen. Perhaps the Government at that time should have done more, but this happened while we were still fighting the war. Nevertheless, the bill was a great achievement.
I want to come at once to the important point raised by the honorable member for Bruce. The great achievement of the 1943 act was the provision that in all matters of dispute between an ex-serviceman or his dependants and the department, the onus of proof should be on the department from beginning to end and never on the exserviceman. That was not a revolutionary provision. It was the point of view held by most people. The principle involved had always been a matter of dispute between returned servicemen’s organizations and those administering the Repatriation Act in earlier days. What the Government of the day did, again with the support of all parties in the House, was to insert section 47. This would be an epoch-making section if only it were interpreted according to its tenor. What it means is now beyond doubt, because a former Attorney-General, Mr. Justice Spicer, as he now is, gave an opinion which was identical with the opinion given by a group of Opposition members, including myself. We had argued that our view should be adopted, and finally Mr. Justice Spicer agreed with it. What does section 47 provide? It provides - (1.) The Commission, a Board, an Appeal Tribunal and an Assessment Appeal Tribunal, in hearing, determining or deciding a claim, application or appeal . . . shall not be bound by technicalities or legal forms or rules of evidence and shall give to the claimant, applicant or appellant the benefit of any doubt -
The terms are clear. As I have said, the former Attorney-General finally agreed with our contention and since 1955 there has been no doubt, as to the intention of the section, as shown by the views of the Government expressed by the former Attorney-General and the views of the Opposition expressed by my colleagues and myself. My complaint is that effect is not being given: to it in many cases.
Recently, returned servicemen’s organizations in New South Wales paid great atten- lion to this question at their conference. Their view is exactly the same as the view that I have tried to express. It is very difficult for laymen to apply this view and to judge every disputed matter on the footing that the benefit of the doubt must be given to the ex-serviceman or his relatives and that the onus of proof is always to be on the officials administering the Repatriation Act. My colleagues and I know of many cases where the provision is honoured in the breach rather than in the observance.
– No; that is most unjust.
– I say that it is correct. I am not speaking loosely; I know of cases where that has happened. We want to ensure that effect is given to the provision clearly contained in section 47 and to the Government’s interpretation of it. We cannot possibly be sure that that is done unless we have some authority or tribunal which can look at the matters in dispute and ensure that the benefit of the onusofproof provision is given to the exserviceman or his relatives.
– Have not we got such an organization now?
– No, we have not. This is not a simple matter that a layman can instantly grasp. It is necessary to look at the facts and to ask whether the benefit of the provision has been given to the exserviceman. There are various possibilities in the case of death or injury. The question is: Has the particular condition been contributed to by war service? How does one answer that question? The judgments of the English tribunals show that this question is determined very largely in important cases by leading judges. Mr. Justice Denning, now Lord Denning, is one of the judges who have beard these cases. It is no good the honorable member assuming that officials can give effect to a provision of this character. In many senses, technical issues arise. The broad principle is not so much to achieve strict justice as to ensure that the benefit of any doubt is given to the ex-serviceman.
No doubt the honorable member’s contention is quite reasonable from his point of view, but my absolute conviction is that the benefit of this provision should be given to the ex-serviceman. I am not speaking in generalities; I know of cases in which the benefit has not been given to the ex-serviceman. It has been a struggle in many cases to get the tribunals to adopt the proper view. The very fact that people with legal experience are not members of the entitlement and other tribunals is not always a help; it is sometimes a severe handicap. The only people who can administer such a provision are the people who have been trained to do so. Even in actions for damages arising from motor vehicle accidents, the onus of proof and other doctrines are sometimes very difficult to apply. In many cases, an injustice is committed not because there is any dispute as to the meaning of the provision. There has been no doubt since Mr. Justice Spicer’s opinion was given some years ago. We have accepted that interpretation but we have consistently maintained that effect is. not given to it. My colleagues, the honorable members for Bass (Mr. Barnard), Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and others, will give our view in greater detail. They have consistently put the view that there should be a tribunal examining, not necessarily every point in the case, but whether the benefit of the onus-of-proof provision has been given to the ex-serviceman or his dependant. I say that it has not been given, and there is no way of checking it at present by appeal to any tribunal. There is no way in which a doctrine of that character can be given effective enforcement except by the presence of some tribunal which will say to the entitlement tribunal, “ You have not really given the benefit of the section to the ex-serviceman “. How would he be- able to tell? In all thesecases, in the end a decision has to be made as to whether the war did contribute in some- degree, or could have contributed in some degree, to the death, disablement, or condition of the ex-serviceman. That is the crucial question and there needs to be some certainty, some guarantee, that it will be examined;
At the New South Wales conference to which 1 have referred - I do not know theposition in every State - three of- the leading officials of the returned, servicemen’sleague, Mr. Yeo, the branch president- to whom the last speaker made reference, the branch, secretary, Mr. Lewis, and: Mr. Stark, all made these, points and resolutions were carried to this effect. What we did as a government, when the law was passed in 1943, was to establish and provide for in the statute a returned servicemen’s legal bureau to help these people, not merely in repatriation cases but in all cases involving legal claims, and there were many of them that the ex-serviceman had to watch. I think that the bureau, which I as AttorneyGeneral established on behalf of the Government, had in its first year of operation no fewer than 150,000 cases in which help had to be given to ex-servicemen on legal matters. This is essentially a legal right, not merely a vague moral right, that is- given to them or, upon their death, to their dependants. It is a definite legal right to the benefit of the doubt- in every case.
The honorable member for Bruce said that we brought this matter up year after year. We do that only because year after year no notice is taken of it. Last year, my colleagues put case after case in which the benefit was not given. I should like the. Attorney-General, who will be interested in this matter, to look through these cases and to see whether something of this character, cannot be put into the act. We cannot be sure that the officials will give the benefit of. the doubt. I do not think that they do. I think that although they honestly try to do what they believe is right, they do not sufficiently appreciate the importance of it, nor do some of the tribunals. The fact that, as the honorable member for Bruce said, lawyers are not allowed to appear, is not an advantage to the tribunal in these cases. It is a disadvantage. Who can explain these things and endeavour to see what the legal principle is except those of some experience in analogous cases of which- the legal system provides many examples?-
I feel very deeply over this matter. Year after year we have taken action to try to obtain a provision which will ensure that when the ex-serviceman, in the case of disablement, or his dependant, in the case of his death, brings a case and the tribunal is left in some doubt over some matters, the benefit of the doubt will in all cases be given to the ex-serviceman or his dependant. If the tribunal or the departmental officials are not sure* they must obey the dictate of the act of Parliament. It is not an easy thing to do and they are not used to doing it. They just refer it in various ways to various people. One doctor takes a certain view and another doctor takes an opposing view. If a doctor takes a view that is favorable to the applicant, very often the department will produce somebody who takes the opposing view. As a rule, that means only that there is some doubt about the matter. It may go further than that, but the act says that if there is such a doubt the ex-serviceman or his dependant must get the benefit of it. There is no dispute as to what the section means. That has been fought out year after year and it was determined in 1955 when Senator Spicer gave his opinion. For some years previous to that we had contended along the very same lines as Senator Spicer ruled. When he ruled as we had contended, all that was left was to make sure that the ruling was given effect.
That is where the difficulty is at present. The ex-servicemen in New South Wales say - and I have no doubt about it - that many injustices have occurred through failure to give effect to this ruling. The provision was not a decision of our party alone. It was put in the act on the advice of a joint committee representing all parties. We want to give effect to it. Possibly then a great many of the disputes on repatriation matters, which are not good for the community, would disappear. No doubt the question of degree of incapacity and the question of the amount of compensation will always be difficult to determine, but here is a principle that runs through the whole machinery of the administration.
I ask all members of the House to join in some effort along these lines for which my colleagues will move later. The amendment may be moved by the honorable member for Bass, the honorable member for Parkes, or the honorable member for Lalor. Let us see if we can act unanimously to get some satisfactory system of ensuring that section 47, which is an important and valuable section and should not be tampered with, is given effect. If that is done, a great many individual cases of dispute, causing hardship, bitterness, and heartbreaking losses in some cases, will be adjusted according to the principle for which all sections of this Parliament stood in 1943 when the law was passed with the consent of all members.
.- This bill to amend the Repatriation Act has been introduced to make provision for the increased repatriation benefits provided for by the Budget. I support the bill because of its provisions for those increases. I intended to come into this debate for only one purpose, but the honorable member for Higinbotham (Mr. Timson) invited me to deal also with the question of onus of proof, which has been discussed by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I had not intended to deal again with that matter, because I have on previous occasions addressed the House on it, and I think my views on it are well known. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the provision in question is very difficult to apply and I believe that mistakes have been made in its application.
I join with my friend, the honorable member for Higinbotham, in congratulating the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) upon a long and successful term of office in that portfolio. He does place before the repatriation tribunals the views expressed by former Senator Spicer, which have been referred to by the Leader of the Opposition. The Minister does send to tribunals that interpretation, which unquestionably is the correct interpretation to be applied by them. As a result, no doubt, of the speeches that I have made in relation to this matter of onus of proof, I have received many requests by various ex-servicemen in several States to examine their repatriation files. I have spent many hours going through those files with a view to seeing whether there is any chance ot their cases being re-opened on the ground that a mistake has been made by the tribunal, particularly in connexion with the application of the onus of proof provision. I regret to say that on occasions I have found that such mistakes have been made, and I am happy to say that on quite a number of those occasions I have been able to get the mistakes rectified. In the main, I find that the tribunals have very conscientiously carried out the obligations imposed on them and have, in fact, applied the onus of proof provision correctly.
Where there is evidence going each way, it is for the tribunal to make up its mind as to which part of the evidence before it it believes. If it accepts the evidence on one side as against the evidence on the other, and if there is clear evidence on which it can rely, it is not misapplying the onus of proof provision if it decides to accept the evidence given by one side rather than the evidence of the other side. I find that in many instances of complaints regarding the application of the onus of proof provision by a tribunal, there has been evidence on both sides and the tribunal has made up its mind to accept one side’s evidence. As a matter of law, there can be nothing wrong with that.
It seems to me that the weakness is rather in the way in which evidence is presented before the tribunals, particularly medical evidence. Apparently a report is presented by a medical officer acting on behalf of the Repatriation Department to the tribunal hearing an appeal. That report goes unchallenged in the sense that the medical officer is in no way subjected to cross-examination. The tribunal is entitled to accept his statement without its having been the subject of cross-examination, if it so chooses, although there may be three or four other medical opinions to the contrary. It seems to me that this is entirely a wrong method of procedure. I have one case at the present time in which a medical man of standing gave an opinion and the tribunal acted on that opinion. On the other hand, there were three medical men of equal standing who gave an opinion to the contrary. I believe that if the medical men called by the department, or whose report was produced for the department, had been cross-examined, on crossexamination he would not have been able to stand up against the opinions expressed by his brother medical man. That type of procedure is entirely unsatisfactory. I believe it is that procedure which needs to be inquired into rather than the question of the application of the onus of proof provision. I say this because of my experience in the examination of quite a large number of files.
Having said that, I should like to direct my attention to the matter about which I really rose to speak - the fact that there is no provision in our repatriation laws for providing repatriation benefits to Boer War veterans. In the course of the years, it is true, the Boer War veterans have come to enjoy, in common with the ex-servicemen of the two world wars, eligibility for the age pension at the age of 60 instead of the normal age of 65. Apart from that, however, Boer War veterans receive no repatriation benefit whatsoever.
The act provides that ex-servicemen of the First World War and the Second World War, and those who were engaged in the operations in Korea and Malaya, shall have entitlement to repatriation benefits. Indeed, there is now a provision that an exserviceman who served in the forces of part of the Queen’s Dominions, other than the Commonwealth of Australia itself, in an operational area, and at the time of his enlistment was domiciled in Australia, is entitled to benefits. But nothing at all has been done for Boer War veterans, except that they come under the blanket provision making ex-servicemen eligible to receive the age pension at 60 instead of 65 years of age.
I am told that the reason why those veterans are overlooked is that they were soldiers of the States, or of the colonies as they were in 1899, and that because they were soldiers of the colonies the Commonwealth is entitled to disclaim them as its soldiers. Those veterans certainly come within the principle of the provision relating to ex-servicemen who served in the forces of any part of the Queen’s dominions, other than the Commonwealth, in an operational area. If we are prepared to give repatriation benefits to the ex-servicemen normally covered by that provision, why should we not give the Boer War veterans those benefits? The argument is, in fact, considerably stronger than that. Although the Boer War commenced in 1899, it did not end until 30th May, 1902 - the date of the peace treaty. The defence activities of the various Australian colonies which later became the States were transferred to the Commonwealth on 1st March. 1901. From then onwards the Commonwealth took over control of the whole of the defence forces of the States, and the men in those forces then became Commonwealth troops. The “ Hansard “ record of the early days of this House shows that on 14th January, 1902, a motion was passed, by 45 votes to 5, in the following terms: -
That this House affirms the readiness of Australia to give all requisite aid to the Mother Country in order to bring the present war to an end.
If one reads the record of that debate, one sees that provision was also made by the Parliament for a further contingent of Australian troops, the word “ Australian “ being emphasized, and that the Parliament decided also that if that contingent did not prove to be sufficient, still further contingents were to be sent. It is idle to say, in view of that motion passed by this House in 1902, that in those days the enthusiasm of Australia was not for those Une troops as “ Australian “ troops, because then and from then onwards that is how they were regarded. It appears to me to be lamentable and, indeed, outrageous, that those men who served in the Boer War, whose average age is now 81, are getting no repatriation benefits.
– How many would there be?
– I understand there are about 1,500 in various parts of Australia. I appeal to the Government very seriously to consider the question of doing something for those fine men.
.- The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) always gives a very informative address when he speaks on this important legislation. It is a pity that the Government has mot listened to his pleas over the years, and done something about this most contentious clause which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), the honorable member for Balaclava and the former senator who is now Mr. Justice Spicer consider needs attention. Later, I shall show how one of the bodies set up under the Repatriation Act differs in opinion from all these gentlemen. The honorable -member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden), who spoke earlier this evening, endeavoured to introduce politics into the debate and more or less suggested that we of the Opposition were putting up a sham-fight, that we had not interest in this important matter. The Leader of the’ Opposition (Dr. ‘Evatt) made it very clear that in 1943 a Labour Govern ment laid the foundation for the present act, and J emphasize that members of the Labour Party, together with certain members of the Government side, are still pointing out desirable amendments. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was chairman of an all-party committee, which made certain recommendations to Parliament in 194.3, and all of them were adopted by the Labour government.
On three points the Labour Party is shown clearly to have a keen interest in repatriation matters. First, in 1942, a Labour government introduced legislation to insert in the act the provision about which so much has been said to-night - that relating to onus of proof. The second point is that in 1943 the Labour government accepted tuberculosis as a disability that entitled the sufferer to a repatriation benefit. The third point is that the Labour government introduced the Commonwealth reconstruction and training scheme for the rehabilitation of returned soldiers from “World WaT II. The implementation of the recommendations of that committee was the first step made in twenty years to improve repatriation conditions, and it can be truly said that the committee laid the foundations for the present act. Mr. John Curtin was the Prime Minister in those days.
My approach to this important and contentious provision is somewhat different from that of the honorable and learned gentlemen who have put forward the legal view. What knowledge I have of this provision has been gained from appearing before the various tribunals as an advocate and studying the evidence on which cases have been built. I know that the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) who has led the debate for the Opposition, the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart), the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and others have taken a keen interest as advocates, but I should like more honorable members to appear as advocates before the various repatriation tribunals. If they were to peruse the papers relating to the various cases, they would see quite clearly that the onus-of-proof provision is not discharged in the manner that was intended by this Parliament and representatives of the ex-servicemen.
I suggest that a great deal of attention should be given to section 48 as well as to section 47 of the act. I submit that repatriation doctors should be reminded by the Government that they, too, have an obligation under the act and should carry out the requirements of section 48. That section obliges repatriation or civilian doctors, if they entertain any doubt concerning any of the matters referred to in section 47, to report that they entertain such a doubt. They are also required to indicate as far as practicable the nature and extent of the doubt. The doubt referred to, of course, is whether the disability complained of was caused or aggravated by war service. It is inconsistent, in my opinion, for a doctor to report, as many of them do, that the cause or origin of a disability is unknown and then be so bold as to say immediately afterwards that the disability was not attributable to or caused by the war service of the appellant or applicant. When a doctor makes a report such as that, then, as was suggested by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) he should be required to submit to crossexamination, if necessary, and indicate on what he based that opinion, for, time and time again, members of a tribunal or a commission accept the medical opinion that the disability was not due to or aggravated by war service.
A doctor has a doubt, or he has not. He should not be able to say that he does not know the cause or origin of a disability and immediately afterwards say that it is not caused by war service. The Government should remind these medical practitioners of their obligation under the act to state that they have a doubt, if they are in doubt, and to give their reasons for the opinions they express.
A few moments ago, the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Balaclava referred to section 47 of the act. They stated that the views expressed by them were shared by a former AttorneyGeneral, Senator, now Mr. Justice, Spicer and the returned soldiers’ league of New South Wales. They say that the intention of the provision is quite clear, and they have reminded the Government of these things year after year. A former Attorney-General agreed with the two legal opinions that have been expressed to-night. The Government should have done something about the matter. Even Senator Sir Walter Cooper, the Minister for Repatriation, agrees with the opinion expressed by that AttorneyGeneral.
The annual report of the No. 2 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal for the year ended 30th June, 1956, provides interesting reading, for it deals at length with this contentious provision. The report was furnished following upon the publication of the pamphlet “ Is The Onus of Proof a Myth? “ by “ Reveille “ the official organ of ex-service men and women in New South Wales. That pamphlet contains a full examination of the question by Mr. Vincent J. Brady, who was secretary of the R.S.L. It was upon the opinions expressed therein, and the opinion expressed by Mr. Justice Spicer, that the tribunal in its report to the Government said that it did not interpret the act in the way these people did and asked that Parliament do something about the matter. The tribunal stated that it would act in accordance with the legal opinions expressed only if and when Parliament indicated that something should be done. One would have thought that those honorable members on the Government side who are ex-servicemen and who are always to the fore in seeking to further the interests of ex-servicemen would have asked what the Government proposed to do about these things.
In its annual report, the No. 2 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal said -
If the critics’ idea of the onus of proof-
The critics included Mr. Justice Spicer, the honorable member for Balaclava and other legal gentlemen, as well as many representative of ex-servicemen - were correct, the ex-serviceman would win his case without putting forward one word of evidence or explanation to support it.
I think that they stretched things a little there. At page 8, referring to arguments put in support of evidence, the report goes on to say -
These are plausible arguments, and there would seem to be some doubt, however slight, in every case that comes before an Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. But if we apply this interpretation at all–
That is the interpretation, and the opinions expressed about it, which I have already mentioned - we must apply it to every case without exception, and if we had done so I am quite certain that no appeal out of the thousands that have come before me as Chairman-
This is Mr. Honner - of an Entitlement Appeal Tribunal could ever have been disallowed.
I think that he was laying it on a little thick. I have no doubt about that, because, in many appeals, there is clearly no case. I think, therefore, that the matter was being stretched a little there.
Referring to the propositions advanced and the opinions expressed in this Parliament, the report goes on to say -
We know that many appellants are unhappy about our rejection of those propositions, and we are not entirely happy about the position ourselves because we realize that there is considerable merit in them. We also are convinced that the only possible alternative to our present interpretation would be to accept those two propositions and to allow every appeal. But that we shall not do unless Parliament clearly indicates that it requires us to do so.
That shows that they think that there is something wrong. They say that, if they followed the lead that they have been given, the gates would be opened too wide, but they indicate that, if the Parliament desires the opinions that have been expressed to be put into effect, the Parliament ought to do something about the matter. I suggest that the Parliament, even if it will not listen to the plea made by Opposition members, should at least listen to the plea made by Senator Spicer - Mr. Justice Spicer as he is now - the honorable member for Balaclava and other honorable members on the Government side of the chamber.
Referring to the opinions expressed in a letter, the chairman of the board which made this report stated -
I agree …. that section 47 of the Act was a bad alteration. It is bad, not in intention but in effect, if it is open to two interpretations, one absurd and the other causing a wide-spread feeling that justice is denied.
The chairman there declares that the opinions that have been expressed by many honorable gentlemen in this House and by many learned legal men are absurd. But, be that as it may, he goes on to say -
That sense of injustice will never be dispelled by any bald assertion that the law is being com plied with, or by any learned restatement of the law that evades the real points at issue.
The only worthwhile solution would seem to be an amendment of the Act to make its real intention so clear that all parties concerned can agree on its meaning.
When a tribunal of this kind, which has been constituted under the Repatriation Act, states quite clearly that it differs completely from the interpretation of section 47 given by the Attorney-General of the day - an interpretation which is supported by ex-servicemen’s associations, the honorable member for Balaclava and many other Government supporters, the Leader of the Opposition and many other Opposition members, and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) - the Government is most negligent if it does not take action at least to have the matter ventilated in the Parliament and to dispel the bad odour that surrounds the interpretation of this most important section which has been adopted by the tribunals.
We propose to submit an amendment, at the committee stage, for the purpose of having cancer accepted as a disability - not just lung cancer, but cancer of any sort. I think that two or three other disabilities could have been included, but we have decided on cancer because it is felt that there is, at least, grave doubt in cancer cases. The origin of the disease is not known and there is so much doubt about it that an ex-serviceman afflicted by it should receive a repatriation benefit-
In order to illustrate the difference of medical opinion that arises in respect of the onus of proof, Mr. Deputy Speaker, let me mention three cases which are well known to me personally. On 19th August last, I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) a question about the case of one man who was formerly a technician employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. His health gradually deteriorated, and he was examined by a Commonwealth medical officer who immediately said that this gentleman should finish work, and, on that decision, he was retrenched from the Public Service. He applied to the Repatriation Commission for a total and permanent incapacity pension. He was medically examined, and he thought that his application would be approved, but it was finally rejected, mainly, I submit, on an opinion expressed by Dr. Isle, a Repatriation Commisison medical officer. I do not hesitate to name this doctor, because he consistently reports that men whom he has examined should undertake light work or should resume their former occupations, although many of them are already on the invalid pension and have been told that they should not look for work of any kind. This doctor, in his report, stated that this ex-serviceman ought to go back to work with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Such a report must inevitably have an effect on the tribunal that makes the final decision on the application for a pension. How can this man go back to work? His livelihood has been taken away from him by the decision of another Commonwealth doctor who stated that his health would not permit him to continue working.
I can tell the House of another man who went before the same Repatriation Commission doctor. He was retrenched from the Post Office because a Commonwealth medical officer who had examined him reported that he should be given the invalid pension immediately. The Department of Social Services doctor who examined him also agreed that his heart was in such a condition that he should not be working. The doctors warned him that he should not on any account do even light work. But the Repatriation Commission doctor whom J have already mentioned reported that the man was not working because he believed he had a bad heart. Surely, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a man who has been told by a doctor that he has a bad heart, who has lost his job as a result, who has obtained an invalid pension, and who has been warned by a doctor in the Department of Social Services and by another Commonwealth doctor that his heart is bad and that he should not work at all, is entitled to think that he has a bad heart. The report by the Repatriation Commission doctor that the man ought to be doing light work does that doctor no credit.
The third case that I wish to mention is that of a man who was granted a T.P.I, pension by an entitlement appeal tribunal. Within two days of the decision being made by the tribunal, on which there were two doctors, some smart doctor in the Repatriation Commission had placed on his file the notation “ To be reviewed in six months “. Many cases are reviewed. When a decision is given by an entitlement appeal tribunal that a man is totally and permanently incapacitated, one would expect that incapacity to last for longer than six months. In another case that I know of, a man was called up for examination. He did not know what it was all about, but later one of his children sought to obtain from his school some books that are distributed free through the Repatriation Department. The headmaster of the school told the child that he could no longer get those books and that he should go home and see his father about the matter. The boy told his father what had happened. His father, thinking that some mistake had been made, rang the Repatriation Department. He was informed that the Repatriation Department had advised the Department of Education that his T.P.I, pension had been stopped. This had been done before the man himself was advised!
I admit that mistakes can occur and I hasten to assure honorable members that although I may appear critical of the Repatriation Department, my experience has shown that the officers of the department in South Australia, from the Deputy Commissioner down, do an excellent job.
– That is a change for the honorable member.
– It may be a change. The department’s action in the case to which I have referred may have been a mistake, but it was a bad mistake. What made the position worse was that the decision to review the man’s pension came within two days of the entitlement appeal tribunal giving a decision in his favour. I repeat that the staff of the department in South Australia is most sympathetic, but sympathy will not do anything. The act, which has to be interpreted by the various repatriation bodies needs amending. Criticism has also been levelled at the doctors, but that criticism is only directed towards their reports on entitlement matters. It is not directed at any medical treatment that is given to the ex-service men and women because that treatment is first class and could not be bettered. My quarrel is with the medical reports that are submitted and I think they need a great deal of attention.
The act makes it clear, as has been pointed out to-night by honorable members more learned than I, that in all cases the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority who contends that a claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed to the full extent. Time and time again no attempt is made to prove that on the evidence the claim should not be allowed. On the medical evidence submitted by the applicant or appellant, the authority may decide to disallow his claim, but it makes no attempt to prove that his claim should be disallowed. The commission should be reminded of its obligation under the act. I cannot help feeling that the various tribunals often take into consideration the amount of money that is voted to the department by this Parliament and that they believe that if they do not reject a very large number of applications, there will not be sufficient money to go round. At least the tribunals should be told that money will be forthcoming for every claim that is allowed. The time is long overdue when the onus of proof section should receive the attention of the Government, and every honorable member opposite should support our contention.
– There are only nine of them here.
– That is so. There are only nine Government supporters in the House. A quorum was called this afternoon at a time when only six Government supporters were in the House. Two of them were asleep and another was not wearing his hearing aid. At the same time 29 Labour Party members were present.
An appeal tribunal set up under the act by this Government has said in its report that it differs with the Minister’s interpretation of the onus of proof. It differs with the opinion expressed by a former Attorney-General, yet the Government has done nothing! It has pushed this matter aside and attempted to hide it. Why? Is the Government afraid to have the repatriation bodies deal fairly with applications? Does the Government fear to tell the tribunals that they should give effect to the Government’s opinions? Does the Government fear that it would have to pay out a lot more money in pensions?
– Certainly not.
– If the Government is not afraid, let it show that by taking action on this section. If the Government does not believe that the appeal tribunal’s interpretation of the section is correct, let it be bold enough to say what the section means. Let it be fair to the entitlement appeal tribunal. Let it be fair to the other gentlemen who have expressed opinions and make the position clear. The Opposition, by its amendment, seeks the appointment of a judicial authority to deal with these matters when there is any doubt. If the Government takes no action it will be once more guilty of neglecting its obligations to ex-servicemen.
The claims made by some Government supporters with regard to T.P.I, pensions are spurious. To-day the T.P.I, pension is 54s. less than the basic wage, but at one time it was 18s. 4d. more than the basic wage. Most honorable members opposite have said that the allowances paid to T.P.I, pensioners should be taken into account. But what do they say about single men and widowers who are in receipt of T.P.I, pensions? Do they not consider that those people should receive the basic wage? Many widowers own their own homes. They have to pay high municipal rates and water charges. They have to find the money for maintenance of their homes. Many of them are on special diets. In many cases a wife overstrains herself in an attempt to look after a sick husband and a good deal of money is required for medical attention for her. Some honorable members may say that the husband should go to hospital when he is sick, but many of them are chronic cases. They would be in and out of hospital, and they are glad to be at home receiving treatment. This Government should face up to the fact that a case has been made out for paying at least the basic wage to T.P.I, pensioners. It should deal with the case on its merits and not harp on allowances which in many cases are not paid.
I am disgusted at the Government’s attitude in neglecting to proceed with the new psychiatric ward at the Springbank Repatriation Hospital in South Australia. In 1956 the Minister for Repatriation agreed that this antiquated temporary building was outmoded and should be replaced. He told Senator Critchley that tenders would ‘be called for a new building. In 1958 he told me that the erection of the building would proceed. This year he wrote to me and said that the building would have a high priority for next year. We are building new transport workshops for the Army at Keswick in South Australia. If we can afford to build those workshops surely we can afford to honour our obligations to the neurotic ex-service men and women who deserve better treatment than has been meted out to them up to date. Surely we can afford to get on with the job and build that ward at Springbank, which is long overdue. This Government stands condemned for not having taken action with respect to the ward at Springbank. Conditions at that hospital are overcrowded. There is overcrowding in the dining rooms and insufficient showers are provided. The medical treatment received at the hospital is first class, but the conditions in the psychiatric wards-
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, 1 listened with a great deal of interest to the speech made by the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin).
– We do not want to hear you.
– The honorable member who interjects can leave the chamber now and we will be better for his absence. I do not think that, during the whole debate, I have heard a greater insult directed at the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) than that which fell from the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin). Whatever his opinion, or that of any other honorable member may be, I assure him that the general opinion of exservicemen is that the present Minister is the most sympathetic to have occupied that portfolio.
– What is the good of sympathy.
– If one has the intelligence to study the repatriation legislation that has been brought down by the Minister one soon finds the answer to that question. A statement by an honorable member that the Government, through its Minister for Repatriation, is instructing tribunals to reject applications in an effort to save money is an insult to both the Government and the Minister.
– I did not say that he was instructing them.
– If the honorable member looks in “ Hansard “ he will see it all there. Very often people do not realize what they have said. It is surely obvious to all that even if the tribunals upheld every appeal the Government would willingly meet the payment involved, and that not one voice would be raised in protest if, at the end of the year, the Repatriation Department was found to have spent more than its vote. Surely that is only logical.
– It only makes the position worse.
– I think that I listened to the debate more carefully than did the honorable member, because I was present during the whole of the last speech. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), in foreshadowing several emendments, said that if one studied repatriation payments over a period of twenty years one realized that they did not compare favorably with payments in other directions. The honorable member should have gone further and split the period up into two ten-year terms. He would have been surprised at what this Government has done compared with what was done during the previous ten years.
– Tell us something about what the Government is going to do!
– The Opposition always protests that during the first part of the tenyear period when Labour was in office a war had to be fought. Let us admit that fact, but if the Opposition adopts that line it cannot also claim to have done more than has the Government. Such a claim does not hold water. From memory, the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) said that there was far too great a difference between the treatment of men from the 1914-18 war and the treatment of men from the 1939-45 war.
– That is so.
– There is a fundamental reason for the apparent difference. Many ex-servicemen of the First World War admit that they were virtually guilty of imposing a self-inflicted wound in their hurry to get out of the services and back home. On discharge, when they were asked if they wanted a medical check-up most of them said, “ There is nothing wrong with me. All I want is to get back to the farm or my home.” As a result, their records contain nothing to help them in the presentation of a case. Ex-servicemen of the Second World War will admit that as a result of the lessons of the first war a thorough medical check-up was given every man and woman who was discharged - whether he or she wished it or not. Moreover, the medical records were much more complete, and the medical services available to the serving man were a great deal better. It is amazing to contemplate that all the criticism of the repatriation legislation and its administration notwithstanding, disabilities suffered some 40 years ago are stll being acknowledged.
I shall comment later on the onus of proof required by section 47. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) gave his usual clear and concise statement concerning that section.
– He was a bit different from you.
– If the honorable member would stay awake he would not miss so much of importance and would better understand what was happening. The honorable member for Balaclava mentioned the South African veterans. I support wholeheartedly his efforts to help these men, who are a diminishing race. Their average age is 81, and their numbers are few. Their treatment would not cost the Government a great deal of money. I do not accept the argument that they fought as soldiers of States or colonies. After all, they had no chance to do anything else. At least they did enlist and serve in a war. As it was one in which Australia was involved, I believe that the Government has a responsibility towards them.
Having heard the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and the honorable member for Balaclava discussing the onus of proof under section 47, I am beginning to be convinced that there is only one way in which to tackle the problem. It is not by way of an amendment such as that foreshadowed by the honorable member for Bass. In 1943 a committee of this Parliament, made up of honorable members from both sides, made very worth-while recommendations to the Parliament in connexion with that section, and I think that the time has come for the appointment of another committee to investigate the whole administration of the section and report back to the Parliament. I believe that the terms of reference of such a committee should be as wide as possible. Even the honorable member for Balaclava, who feared that the act might not be being interpreted successfully, admitted later that many of the cases he had looked at were afterwards successful. They must have been approved by another tribunal. This shows that the tribunal is always available to those who wish to use it.
My main criticism of the Repatriation Department in this matter of tribunals concerns the advice that is sent to people whose appeal has been unsuccessful. They are sent a note saying that on the submission of further evidence their case can be re-opened and placed before another tribunal. It is absolutely impossible for a widow, for instance, to obtain the necessary medical evidence to support her claim that her husband’s death was war-caused or due to causes which were aggravated by his service. In most cases the matter ends with the first appeal. If the present system is to continue the competent officers of the department should be available to instruct people how they might further their chances of making a successful appeal, and that fact should be made known. I join with the honorable member for Kingston in his praise of the department’s officers, who invariably display sympathy throughout these negotiations with applicants. One could say the same of the members of the tribunals. Any mistake in deciding whether or not a disability is war-caused is attributable, not to the members of the tribunals, but to the legislation itself. I believe that a committee could well investigate and report upon that matter.
A lot has been said about the attitude of the returned soldiers league to repatriation generally. The president of the New South Wales branch, Mr. Yeo, was quoted as saying that the whole system of repatriation benefits smelt, or words to that effect. Mr. Yeo might speak for the returned soldiers league in New South Wales, but he does not speak for the league throughout Australia, or for the ex-servicemen as a whole. If one looks at the last annual report of the returned soldiers league, which was forwarded to all honorable members last week, and studies the section dealing with repatriation, one realizes that Mr. Yeo has little cause to describe the whole of the repatriation legislation in such uncomplementary terms. The federal president of the R.S.L., in the 43rd annual report of the national executive for the year ending 31st December, 1958, stated -
It is disappointing that the plan met with only moderate success but it is of some comfort to know that in a Budget which gave practically no concessions to any section of the community or of industry and commerce, the concessions that were granted were mainly of an ex-service nature.
If honorable members look at the pensions plan contained in the annual report to which I have referred, they will see that what is requested in it bears a very close resemblance to what is now being given to the ex-service men and women concerned. For instance, the R.S.L. asked that the 100 per cent, general rate war pension be increased to £5 12s. 6d.; it will be £5 10s. They asked that the T.P.I, pension be increased to £12 ls. 3d.; it will be £12 5s. They asked that war widows’ pensions be increased to £5 12s. 6d.; they will be £5 5s. They asked that the domestic allowance for various classes of widows be increased to £3; it will be £2 15s. They asked that the service pension be increased to £5 2s. 6d.; it will be £4 15s. They asked that the pension payable to double war orphans be increased to £3; it will be £3 3s. The R.S.L. asked that consideration be given to the question of authorizing the admission to repatriation hospitals of nurses of the First World War; the Government has granted that request. As one reads the items contained in the pensions plan, one sees that practically all have received sympathetic consideration by the Minister. Generally, I would say that a better phrase than “ moderate success “ could have been used by the federal president of the R.S.L. when referring to the Budget provisions as affecting ex-servicemen.
I wish to comment now rather briefly on some of the amendments that have been foreshadowed by the honorable member for Bass, because they have been the subject of debate in this chamber both this afternoon and this evening. I agree with the amendment that has been foreshadowed in relation to the Government’s acceptance of cancer as a war-caused disability. All honorable members know that tuberculosis has been accepted as a war-caused disability. Some of my colleagues - the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) in particular - have gone to a terrific amount of trouble and have done a great deal of research to present a case to the Government in support of the request that cancer be accepted as a war-caused disability.
I have commented already on section 47 of the act. The amendment that has been foreshadowed in relation to appeals to the High Court of Australia or the supreme courts of the States is ridiculous. I wonder what the position of ex-servicemen would be if, when an appeal was rejected, they had the right of appeal to the High Court or to the supreme courts of the States.
Let us look at the statement which shows the number of appeals that have been lodged with the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals. In one year the tribunals received 52,000 appeals from ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war, and 37,000 from exservicemen of the 1939-45 war. Of those, 7,926 appeals by ex-servicemen of the First World War were allowed, as were 5,495 appeals by ex-servicemen of the Second World War. The total number of appeals by ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war that were disallowed was 40,505, and, by exservicemen of the 1939-45 war, 27,079. If any one could convince me that the High Court of Australia or the supreme courts of the States could handle that number of appeals if ex-servicemen had the right of appeal to those courts, he could convince me of anything in the world. The net result would be that we would penalize the ex-serviceman rather than do anything to his advantage.
Another matter on which I wish to comment is the foreshadowed request that the age at which a service pension may be received be reducd to 55 years. Taking, the 1914-18 war, a person would have had to be fourteen years of age in 1918 to be 55 years of age now. Therefore, the men who are now in the 55 age group served in the Second World War. I do not think that any legislation that would instil in the minds of ex-servicemen the idea that they had reached the end of the road at 55 would be greeted with a great amount of glee. Looking around the House, I can see exservicemen of that age who probably think that they are in the prime of life. It would not be in the best interests of ex-servicemen to say to them as a group, “ At 55 you are eligible for the burnt-out soldiers’ pension ‘’. The fact is that there is no restriction on the age at which an ex-serviceman may receive a pension. In particular cases an ex-serviceman, if he were completely unemployable, could receive the service pension at 30 years of age and, if his state of health were such as to warrant it, he could receive the invalid pension also. I believe that the suggested amendment would serve no purpose, and we shall oppose it vigorously. We shall oppose vigorously also suggesting to any ex-serviceman or group of ex-servicemen that they have reached the end of the road at 55 years of age.
Finally, I wish to say that whatever faults the Repatriation Act may have, and whatever errors may be committed in the administration of that act, I am certain that if one were to go to any British Commonwealth country one would find only admiration for the Australian Repatriation Act. One would find even in England, which is held up as a model because of its pension tribunal system and its system for the acceptance of disabilities, that the average ex-serviceman gladly would adopt the Australian, system if he had the opportunity to do so, because our system is far superior to the British system. The person who has been largely responsible for putting the case, of the ex-serviceman to the Government, and for having that case accepted, is the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper), to whom I believe every ex-serviceman in Australia should be indeed grateful.
.- I have sometimes thought that the subject of repatriation and repatriation benefits should be treated in this Parliament, if practicable, in an entirely non-party manner. However, that is impossible, because the Government parties have a returned soldiers’ committee which deals with the problems of the returned soldiers of the two world wars, and the Opposition has a committee which functions along similar lines. Every man on those committees is a returned serviceman. I can understand the embarrassing position in which members of the Government returned soldiers’ committee find themselves. They are all good men and true, and I am sure that they believe that they are seeking from their Government the maximum benefits for returned soldiers - perhaps I should say rights rather than benefits. But when they go to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) or to Cabinet and say, “ These are the things that we believe should be done for ex-servicemen “, Cabinet promptly tells them that the Government has an overall responsibility to the people of this country and that it cannot give to returned soldiers by way of legislation all the things that the committee feels are desirable.
To that extent, the Government” committee is under restraint. The Opposition committee also is under restraint because it does not know the day or the hour when, in certain circumstances, the Opposition may become the Government of this country.
– Well, the. honorable member for Higinbotham will remember the collapse of the Menzies-Fadden Administration at. the outbreak of World War II. However, we will not argue about that. The Labour Party committee functions with a full sense of responsibility and is not inhibited by the great factor of restraint as is the Government members committee. The result of it all is that the Labour returned soldiers committee comes along representing the party that constitutes Her Majesty’s alternative government to put its proposals. From time to time that set of circumstances changes. The Opposition becomes the Government. That has happened over the last twenty years since 1939. Overall, it is desirable that the Labour member’s committee should function and press for the things that it believes are just, although we know that when the members of the Government parties’ committee tell the Government that it wants so and. so the Government goes further than it would otherwise go because the Labour committee, too, will be pressing for the removal of certain grievances of returned soldiers: That is one of the things that we are confronted with’ to-night. Although- we will support a set of amendments seeking a considerable improvement on the proposals brought down by the Government, the members of the Government committee feel impelled to oppose them. They are not free men and they will1 vote against Labour’s amendments.
We have had a fairly long debate and I do not desire to discuss every detail of the arguments that have been advanced by the Government patties as to why the Parliament should not accept the amendments that have been proposed on- behalf of the Opposition. But I tell the members of the Government parties who say that the pension rates proposed in- the measure bear a satisfactory relationship to the basic wage that their argument has no logic whatsoever.
A comparison is made between the 1948-49 basic wage and the present basic wage. I have always felt that the only reasonable and sensible comparison - if you are going to compare pension rates with the basic wage - is a comparison between 1939 and 1959, because during the intervening years there were six years of war, eight years of government by Labour, and twelve years of government by the nonLabour parties. That is a fair average system of calculation. If we make a comparison based on the 1939 and 1959 basic wage respectively in order to decide what the proposed pension rates mean - we will find that since 1939 the basic wage has gone up by 254 per cent.. But it is not enough to mention only that the basic wage has gone up- since 1939 by 254 per cent. During the intervening period, not only has the basic wage increased - not. in purchasing, power, of course - but there has been won in, this country long service leave, annual leave, the 40-hour week, workers’ compensation, and a wide range of social benefits that were never’ hitherto known1. So honorable members can see that if we could calculate the monetary value of the social benefits that have been won and add that amount to- the basic wage the- real value of the basic wage’ to-day compared with that in 1939 is not 254 per cent., but something of the order of 354’ per cent.
Mfr. Bandidt.; - You- only get one” week’s sick leave’ in ai year.
– It does not matter whether one week or three weeks’ sick leave is the entitlement; the worker did not get any sick leave in 1939, and we have to take into consideration that we are living in an age that has been able to give to the ordinary men and women some of the amenities of life. In addition, we have to take into consideration the fact that when we make a comparison with the basic wage, there are very few people in Australia to-day earning only the basie wage. The average income - these figures have been mentioned by members of the Opposition during previous debates on other matters - of the Australian worker, including artisans, is not £13 16s. a week; it is £21. The rates of pension which the Government is proposing in this measure lag far, far behind1 what is a reasonable amount. Should we not also take into consideration, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the fact that no reference is made to the basic wage between 1939 and 1959? The Government has failed to consider the fact that the great majority of the disabled and pensionable people of World War I. and World War II. seem to be condemned to live, not up to the basic- wage rate, but at about the average, or the alleged average, of the average Australian labourer. And that is not the artisan- who is earning £21, £26 or £30 a week, not the professional man such as a doctor who earns perhaps from- £6,000 to £9,000l a year, not the legal fraternity, who are earning great sums of money, and not the member of Parliament.
The’ approach of all political parties should be: What would this man have earned if he had not suffered injury by war? I say it is an outrageous basis of comparison. I was injured in the war. If T had been, unfortunate- enough not to possess the nervous system that I have been! gifted with and if I had’ Been injured seriously enough- to- become a T.P.I, man I would have been deprived of the physical and mental ability to become’ a member of this Parliament on the very satisfactory salary and allowances that I receive. It does not seem to me that honorable members in this Parliament give sufficient consideration to- that factor. Rather than arguing- whether the pension to-day is nearer to the basic wage than it was in 1>93<9’, they ought tff’ be arguing how much margin above the basic wage of 1959 can be allowed to the men who suffered in both world wars. Does anybody controvert that argument?
– You are the only one.
– Because I suffered no substantial injuries in the 1914-18 war, I have been fit enough to come into this Parliament on a very satisfactory salary. Had I become a T.P.I., my rate would have been calculated by this Government and by preceding governments at somewhere approaching £8, £9 or £10 below what a plumber or an electrician can earn in this day and generation.
– Why did you not tell us that in 1949?
– The honorable member for Mallee should get back to his rabbits. He is always an apologist for the Government. I do not happen at this moment to be an apologist, and I have been generous enough to refer to what this Parliament - that includes all parties - has done. The honorable member for Mallee, by supporting the Government as he is doing to-night, knows that what I am saying is true. He has not said a word in support of the argument I am advancing.
– That is absolutely untrue.
– I shall forget you for the moment. I have heard every argument of honorable members opposite against the Opposition’s proposal that all ex-servicemen of World War I. ought to be accepted for medical and hospital treatment. One honorable member in the Government’s ranks said, in effect, “ There are not sufficient facilities for all those who are eligible for hospital and medical treatment; if you accept the lot, where do you put them?” I have never heard a more fallacious argument in my life. Where do those who have been accepted go now? If they live in the metropolitan areas, they go to repatriation hospitals. If they live in the country areas where there are no repatriation hospitals, they can go into a civil hospital at the expense of the Repatriation Department. Where are the sick ex-servicemen of World War I. whose disabilities have not been accepted and attributable to war service? They are in every hospital in the country.
In a physical sense, hospitalization exists for all of them if their disabilities are accepted. The only outstanding problem exists in this Parliament. I want to be fair. I have said that we should adopt a non-party outlook on this question. This Parliament, or the Government, should face up to the situation and approve of all veterans of World War I. - very few of them are under 60 years of age - and their wives at 55 years of age or over, receiving hospital and medical treatment at government expense. The Government should undertake to find the money necessary for this purpose. As I have said, the great majority of the exservicemen of World War I. are over 60 years of age. We should face up to the responsibility of accepting the lot and pay for their hospitalization. This would eliminate all the costly investigations and nerve-wracking ordeals now imposed upon World War I. men who are suffering from war disabilities. I have met many thousands of them, and so have other honorable members. We know what it is like to convince these men that they are not suffering from war disabilities. The suggestion I have made would remove all the cost of routine examination with its frustration and the need to advise them to go to the assessment appeal tribunal and if they are knocked back there, to go to the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal. Vast sums of money would be saved in administrative costs alone.
Those are facts. Why should not this be done? We are confronted with the problem of ex-servicemen who are beneficiaries under civilian medical and hospital benefit schemes. An adjustment could be made in respect of such ex-servicemen; all these people could be accepted if the Government willed it. They ought to be accepted. It is useless for honorable members on the Government side to talk about what the Labour government did in 1948- 49. Time marches on. To-day, society is much more productive, facilities are more plentiful, the population of the country has increased and we are ten or twelve years away from the post-war era. It has always been a source of wonder to me that the government of the day will provide the best hospitalization and medical attention that can be obtained for the treatment of people suffering from various complaints and injuries received in war. Whether the person be a major, or general or of the lowest rank, the Government will pay all his costs. It is a marvellous system. Exservicemen who are wealthy go into repatriation hospitals and receive treatment for disabilities or sickness arising from their war service. 1 hope the day will come when governments will have enough wisdom to do for every person what it is prepared to do for the ex-serviceman. The Government is prepared to meet the cost of curing him or patching him up so that he might return to battle or take his place in industry. 1 hope that future governments will recognize that it is essential to cure the ills of mankind irrespective of whether they are caused in time of war or in time of peace and that it should be an overall government responsibility to provide, free of cost, the best possible medical attention and hospital treatment. I suppose if that were done in peace time it would be socialism; but in war time it is Christianity. What a contrast. But that is the attitude of many people.
Let us consider the next question concerning section 47, which has been discussed already this evening. This onus of proof argument has been going on ever since I have been a member of this Parliament, and that is a long while. The move made by the Opposition for the appointment of a judge to hear appeals against decisions of the war pensions entitlement tribunals is an excellent one. I think it was the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) who said that a single judge could not handle all the appeals. He was basing his argument on the experience of the last eighteen or nineteen years. Figures were quoted which showed that 52,479 World War I. servicemen had appealed to the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals and 37,887 from World War II. These are vast figures and the honorable member for Perth might well make his comment. But the honorable member apparently does not appreciate that if a single judge, or a panel of judges, were appointed to hear appeals from the decisions of the tribunals very likely a vast transformation would take place in that instead of a total of 80,000 or 90,000 ex-servicemen from both world wars appealing to the tribunals, there might not be more than 8,000 cases to deal with.
The figures I have quoted are startling and indicate that somewhere between the exserviceman and the tribunal there is something radically wrong.
Honorable members might be interested to know the number of appeals made by ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war which were disallowed. As I have already said, more than 52,000 of these men appealed, but only 7,926 of the appeals were allowed, accepted and endorsed. What is wrong with a system which is responsible for the remainder of those appellants being left in the air because their claims for assistance as a result of war-caused injuries are not accepted by the tribunal? Assumptions have to be made. Are the doctors all wrong? No one can question their honesty. Is somebody else wrong? Perhaps there is a presumption within the department that if there is an element of doubt about an application then it should be refused so that the applicant will take his case to the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal. Somebody responsible might say - as I have heard medical men say - “ This fellow has a substantial outside income “. The doctor is not supposed to take that into consideration, but sometimes the department might think that the applicant could get worker’s compensation or compensation from some other source and so refuse his application.
Although repatriation doctors are all sympathetic, they have varying opinions. Some might refuse an application, knowing that the applicant can take his case to the appeals tribunal. But would so many men be rejected if the tribunals knew that applicants could appeal to a judge who would determine, on the evidence submitted by the repatriation authorities, the doctors and the soldier himself, whether the application should be granted? It is all nonsense to say that a judge, or a panel of judges, could not handle these cases. I understand this practice is followed in both Great Britain and Canada. I do not say that it would be a cure-all, but it would alleviate the whole position concerning the acceptance of war disabilities of World War I. servicemen and their entitlement to medical attention and hospital treatment.
These are, generally, the points which I think are of importance in this debate.
There are many details which will be fought out at the committee stage. There is the question of the T.P.I, pensioner who is told by the Government that he will receive an increase of 15s. a week but when it is discovered that he is already receiving some social service payment his increase will be reduced to only 5s. a week. Organizations representing the returned soldiers and T.P.I, ex-servicemen have protested bitterly against that state of affairs. It is true that it existed when the Labour Government was in office and has continued since. But that is no justification for this Government to bind itself to something that was wrong under other governments when circumstances perhaps were not so favorable as they are to-day.
There is also the question of blind and partially blind ex-servicemen who say that their position is nearly as bad as that of the T.P.I, men; they are suffering grave disability and they argue that their rate of pension should be increased. Going back to the hoary old basic wage argument, the fact is that the base rate increase, on the rotten basis on which it is worked out, is an increase of only 161 per cent., compared with an increase of the basic wage of 254 per cent, since 1931. The increase for the totally and permanently incapacitated men is 205 per cent. These are matters that can be discussed at the committee stage. The Australian Labour Party believes that every proposal it has put forward is practical and could be put into operation promptly, without any adverse effect on the economy.
After all, the Government, in increasing war pensions will not be providing money for ‘ex-servicemen to obtain licenses to import pile carpets or luxuries. Rather will it be stimulating production and increasing demand in our own country. The Government will be making for a happier band of ex-servicemen. We have the unfortunate case of the wife of a T.P.I, pensioner - a wife who is not entitled to medical or hospital treatment. This Government is being saved vast sums of money because T.P.I, pensioners are being cared for in their own homes. Surely the wife of such a pensioner is entitled to more than she gets to-day, since she nurses her husband and cares for him. If it were not for her presence, be probably would have ito go to a hospital. These good women have no eligibility for hospital or medical treatment under the Repatriation Act.
I was glad to hear the honorable member for Perth say that he was in favour of recognizing cancer as a war-caused disability. Every member of this House, including, I think, the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), who is now at the table, will agree that no man to-day knows what causes cancer. If a man who served during a war subsequently develops cancer, is any benefit of the doubt given to him when he appeals to the Repatriation Commission on the ground that his condition was caused by the war? Obviously not. In those circumstances, we of the Opposition think that cancer should be accepted as a war-caused disability.
I hope I have been successful in my endeavour to lift this discussion above party politics. I have said that no government has been as generous as it might have been, and I have recognized the inhibiting factors that the Government parties have. I make due allowance for the fact that the Opposition perhaps has not as much responsibility in this matter as the Government has, but I suggest that a little common sense on the part of all of us would result in the Government seeing the logic in the arguments advanced by the Opposition. If it did not accept those arguments to the fullest extent, I suggest it could accept some of the proposals we have put forward. The honorable member for Perth has made a good start. I know that in the hearts and minds of ex-servicemen on the other side of the House there is a belief in the fairness of many of the things we are advocating. In those circumstances, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I leave it to the Government to advance towards our point of view.
– 1 have listened with great interest to this debate. Of course, the subject is one in which I am keenly interested. Last night, I .paid a tribute to the Minister for .Social Services .(Mr. Roberton), and I think that to-night I can, with .the approval of all honorable members, pay a tribute ito the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper). Senator Sir Walter Cooper is, .of course, a soldier .of the .first world war. He lost a leg in action in France It , might almost be said that he has dedicated his life .to the .service <of returned .soldiers. Since .he has been Minister for Repatriation - and I think he has had a record period in that .office - the service he has given has been appreciated by returned soldiers and other ex-servicemen all over Australia.
– We are not questioning that.
– I appreciate the honorable member -saying that, because I have a great admiration for Senator Sir Walter Cooper. Everywhere he has .gone in Australia the people have recognized his great sincerity and his personal qualities.
If some one were to ask me, “What Commonwealth Department do you think is the most efficient? “ and I replied, “ The Repatriation Department “, would any one say I was wrong?
– Of course.
– The honorable member for Reid and the honorable member for Shortland say that I would be wrong, but most other honorable members are silent. They realize that the Repatriation Department is most efficient in every possible way. When the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was speaking, I interjected after he stated that certain men who were injured during the war might have been receiving tremendously large salaries to-day but for their injuries. I realize that that is quite true. After all, the great trouble with many countries of the world to-day is that some of their best men, those on whom they depended for ideas, for inventions and for inspiration in the arts, men who would have been great figures in the world to-day, either lost their lives -or became so incapacitated as not to be able to give their countries the full worth of the talents that they undoubtedly had.
I agree with the honorable member on that point, and I am very glad to do so, but I do not think he was quite logical in more or less suggesting that governments should be called upon to pay to such incapacitated men pensions based on an assessment of what they would have earned but for their war injuries. I do not like the word “ pensions “ in this respect because, after all, the payment is actually compen sation. I should prefer to call it that. The honorable member for Lalor always talks about “ pensions “. I think a better description is compensation for service.
– Is not the age pension compensation for service?
– Not in the same degree as is the payment to the man who served this country voluntarily, who went overseas with the first or second A.I.F., or with the forces that went to the Boer War, to Korea or Malaya. Therefore, I do not think that .the honorable member was quite right in saying that we could in some way assess what those men would have been worth, or would have been able to make, and that the Government should try to match that amount by some form of compensation. After all, as the honorable member for Lalor should know, since he is an ex-serviceman, every man who goes to war has to play his part, whether he is a general, a major or a private, as the honorable member said. The nation gets the praise, but it is the men who bear the brunt.
Many men who went out of the Services medically fit in years gone by are now starting to feel the strain of their war service. There is not the slightest doubt about that. They are now coming before repatriation doctors and tribunals to try to get some compensation, .and many of them .are being successful. Others are not successful. The onus of proof provision of the act probably has been the main topic of this debate. I agree that if it could be relaxed to some extent, it would be better for all concerned, but I have not .heard anybody who has convinced me that we could get any better way of determining which men are eligible for benefits than the method we have at the present time. After all, it comes down to a matter of what the medical men consider to -be the state of health of the man who is making an application for a pension and the onus of proof should favour the applicant.
When I paid a tribute to the Repatriation Department earlier in my remarks, I did not do so .unthinkingly, because during my fairly long time -as a member of Parliament I have been closely in touch with the Repatriation Department in Victoria. I wish to pay a tribute to the present Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation in Melbourne, Mr. Gould, and I also want to pay a tribute to those who occupied that position before him. They have all given the men whom I have brought before them every consideration. If it was thought that a man in my electorate, say at Mildura, should be medically examined, merely on my making application, they would immediately send a rail warrant, and when the man concerned went to Melbourne he would receive the very best attention. I am not without personal experience of the Repatriation Department and of repatriation hospitals. I have been in Heidelberg and I have been before the doctors - not always as a member of Parliament - and I know that the treatment they give is excellent in every way. The honorable member for Lalor was not correct in every statement he made to-night, although he is an ex-serviceman. He was not correct when he said that some T.P.I, pensioners will get only 5s. of the 15s. increase. That is absolutely wrong because every T.P.I, pensioner, married or unmarried, will get an extra 15s. a week when this bill becomes law whether they receive a service or social service pension, as some married T.P.I, pensioners do.
This debate has given rise to much argument, but I would just like to say that my remarks last night on the Social Services Bill cover many of the points that I would like to make regarding this bill. However, for obvious reasons, I will not repeat what I said then. I would like to make one point. The honorable member for Lalor referred to the relationship of the T.P.I, pension to the basic wage. When I had been in the Parliament only a few years I asked why the T.P.I, pension was not getting as much as the basic wage. The late well-respected father of the present honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) answered my question. I was then the member for Wimmera. The answer appears in “ Hansard “. I have read it previously in this House, and I do not want to read it again, but in effect, Mr. Barnard said: “The member for Wimmera must be fair. He has said that the T.P.I, pension is less than the basic wage, but the basic wage is based on a man, his wife and one child, and that must be taken into considera tion.” He then pointed out that on that basis the T.P.I, pensioner would receive more than the basic wage. Mr. Barnard was one of the most sincere men in the Parliament, and 1 readily accepted what he told me. Since then, I have adopted his view because he put me right at a very early stage of my parliamentary career. However, it seems that to-day those ideas previously held by Labour are being renounced, and I am sorry to say that they are being renounced even by Mr. Barnard’s son.
On occasions, I have been twitted by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). As recently as last night, when speaking on the Social Services Bill, and last year when speaking on the Repatriation Bill, he said that when 1 was in opposition I was like a roaring lion but now that I am on the Government side of the House [ am like a tame cat. He has made that comment on about five occasions. I happened to look at my file and I found plenty of letters there - honorable members can see them if they wish to do so - showing that during the time I was in opposition I put the strongest possible case for the best deal for ex-servicemen, and that after I became a back-bencher on the Government side I continued to do so. Honorable members would say that I selected a letter, if I were to produce one now. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), when he spoke about import licensing recently, said that he had taken a newspaper at random to find the advertisements to which he referred, but obviously he had gone down into the archives of the Parliament and found a newspaper published in February which suited his purpose. However, I have taken on that basis a letter at random which shows that, after I became a back-bencher on the Government side, I continued to fight for exservicemen until I was reasonably satisfied that the returned soldier was getting a fair deal. The letter I have is from the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Queensland. I am a Victorian and I was not associated with this organization in any way. So, this must have been a genuine letter. The writers did not know me, they had only heard my speeches over the radio.
– What is the date of it?
– That is the important point. It is dated 11th December, 1953. At that stage, I was not satisfied that the Government had done enough to help ex-servicemen, particularly T.P.I, pensioners, and I was continuing to fight for them. After the Government had improved repatriation benefits, I was at a town called Sea Lake in my electorate. Two T.P.I, men, whom I had never seen before, came up to me and said, “ You are our member? “ I said, “ Yes “. They said, “ Take a message to Senator Cooper thanking him for this godsend that he has given us in lifting the ceiling “. The letter dated 1 1th December, 1953, to which I have referred, is addressed to “The Honorable W. G. Turnbull, Member for Mallee (Vic), Parliament House, Canberra “, and reads -
I am directed by the Committee of Management of the Queensland Branch of this Association to convey to you their very sincere appreciation and thanks for the very full-blooded manner in which you put up the case on behalf of the T.P.I. Soldiers during the debate in the Federal House recently.
We note with pleasure that you struck the right note in the approach to the question of the T.P.I. Pensioner, and his problem, and we sincerely trust that as a result of your speech many other Honorable Members may come to a full realization of the position as it really stands.
We thank you, Sir, for championing our cause, and we are ever grateful for the spirit in which it was delivered and we therefore ask you to accept the very sincere thanks of this Association in Queensland.
Conveying to you Seasonal Greetings for the Xmas and New Year.
On behalf of this Association, Yours faithfully,
That is a direct denial of the allegation of the honorable member for Grayndler that I fought like a lion only whilst I was in opposition. I continued to fight until some reasonable provision was made for exservicemen. It almost makes me blush to read a letter such as that in the House. However, the letter is there and if the honorable member for Grayndler had a spark of manhood in him, he would make a personal explanation and apologize.
The honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) made a bitter speech to-night. He found fault with everybody. He found fault with the Repatriation Department and with the doctors. After all, a very high percentage of the staff of the Repatriation Department consists of ex-servicemen. When 1 go down to Hanna-street in Melbourne, 1 meet quite a number of former comrades who were prisoners of war and whose mates died in the skeleton clutch of starvation in such places as Changi and Kanburi. Our esteemed colleague of the Country Party, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), has gone to Kanburi to attend a ceremony on 29th of this month when Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra will unveil a memorial to the many prisoners of war who died in that area.
Almost immediately after the unveiling, I should think, our esteemed colleague will lay a wreath on behalf of the people of Australia and there could be no more appropriate selection of a man in Australia for such an honour. He was the only Victoria Cross winner in the Malayan campaign. He is a man of great modesty, who is beloved of all the troops who served under him. I pay to Charles Anderson to-night the unqualified tribute that he is 3 man who would stick to his mates either in this House or out of it.
I agree with the statement of the honorable member for Lalor that it is a great pity that politics has to come into a discussion of repatriation matters. It is a great pity that members feel that they have to say, “ You paid so much when you were in office, but we are paying more”, and to make other comments of a similar character. I do not appreciate it at all and I do not think that many members do, but it is something that is forced on members of Parliament, as the honorable member for Lalor said, in these days of party politics. After all, a country cannot be governed without party politics, and this course is forced upon members. Every honorable member wants to do all he can do for ‘ ex-servicemen. The honorable member for Bass, on whom I have perhaps been a little hard to-night, is a man who wants to do all he can, just as his late father did as Minister for Repatriation, for ex-servicemen. I see here the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), who fought in the Boer War. Would not his heart be with ex-servicemen?
Of course it would! His heart is in- the right place and he wants to. do what he can for them. I pay him. that tribute. 1 notice also the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), whose brother died in a prison camp. Is he not a man who, in view of that close association, would favour ex-servicemen? On the other side of the chamber I see a number of returned soldiers, including the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Cash), the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox), and the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden). These are all men who, outside the Parliament, would regard as fighting words anything that was said against returned soldiers. To me it seems to be common sense for all of us to get together somehow to give the best possible deal to ex-servicemen. The honorable member for Grayndler is sniping at me, saying, “ Don’t be unfair “. He has just come into the House and so has not heard what I said earlier about him in relation to a letter that I read.
– Read it again.
– I’ do not intend to read it again, because I showed it to him before reading it, so that he would know about it. Surely we can all get together to do something and get away from this sniping. 1 believe that in the Repatriation Department we have the most efficient department in the country, with men who will do all they can do for ex-servicemen. Members of Parliament often get special service merely because they are members of Parliament. They announce themselves as such and’ people naturally want to do the best that they can for- them. That is not my way. I find out about repatriation matters by talking to men with whom 1 was personally associated in the- Australian Imperial Force. Knowing that the people I have spoken to-, up- and down this country, may be listening to me to-night, without exception, I assert that I have not found one man to say, “ I did not get attention from the Repatriation Department, its officers, its city clinics, or the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital “. All of them say, “ I received only the best possible attention “. They are high in their praise of these services. Why should the honorable member for Kingston- or some one else try to find fault with these people who are almost dedicating their lives: to help returned soldiers?
I have said on occasions - last night, last year, and last April - that the time to fight for better conditions in relation to import licences, pensions, bounties, or anything else is in March or April, during the Supply debate. Every one knows that. I notice that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) is giving me some unusual attention to-night. 1 regard him outside the House as a personal friend. Often, I do not know how to describe him inside the House. Outside he is most courteous and helpful. He was a Minister at the time I first came here. On numerous occasions when I had to consult him I could have not got better treatment from any one on my side or his than I got from the honorable gentleman. We know that the Repatriation Department does the best that it can do for all. Instead of finding fault with it, let us try to work together in these matters, without anybody seeking any paltry party-political advantage. No one knows better than the honorable member for Parkes, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) and the honorable member for Kingston, that when the Budget has been brought down, the Government has entered into its financial arrangements for the year.
I might mention that the. members of the Australian Country Party are here in, large numbers. I was disgusted’ earlier to-night at the statement of the honorable member for Kingston that at one stage there were present in the chamber only six Government supporters but 29 members on the Labour side. Only on some very special occasion, or when a division takes place have I ever seen 29 Labour members in the House in opposition. When I told the honorable member for Kingston that he was. being most unfair, he said, “ I did not mention the Country Party. I left the Country Party out of it”. This did not carry any weight. Would it not be very easy for me,, when speaking during a broadcasting period, to say, “There are only three or four Labour members in the House, but about seventeen Country Party members and 50 Liberals “?
– You would not say that.
– No, I agree that I would not, because it probably would not be true. Therefore, I do not think the honorable member for Kingston should say things when they are not true.
– lt was true. There were six Liberals.
– lt was definitely inaccurate. He said, “ Members on the Government side “. Afterwards, when I spoke to him, he said, “ I was not counting the Country Party members “.
I do not want to make a long speech to-night because the hour is late, but I want to make one other point before I finish. It has been an amazing thing to see Labour members show in their speeches a complete change of attitude. They have said that this country at present is having an era of unparalleled prosperity. I listened to speech after speech only last week or the week before, when something else was before the House, when, according to the Labour Party, the country was on the brink of disaster and depression. When it suits Labour Party supporters they change round from that and make us prosperous. Then, like the magicians, they wave a wand and throw us back into a depression. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has done that kind of thing often. Why, it is only about eighteen months ago that he said, “ Next winter there will be 5 per cent, of unemployment in Australia “. The point is that when he and other honorable members opposite make those prophecies they get headlines in the press. When the time comes for the prophecies to be fulfilled, and they are not fulfilled - as they never are - the people forget about what was said, and do not worry. So I can disregard the statements from the Labour Party and say that I am supporting this bill.
.- The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) has achieved what they call a tour de force in this House. He has spoken for half an hour without touching on the bill. He urged, and expressed, the greatest of peaceful intentions. He praised everybody, and sent cheerio messages, both in prose and in verse, to everybody in this House. He said, “ Let us all lie down peacefully together”, and then launched a deadly attack on my colleagues, the honor able member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and the honorable member for Kingston (Mt. Galvin). It was a sort of mincepie of debate in which we are not going to participate. Whatever may be the menu in the refreshment rooms in half an hour’s time, it cannot ‘be a more unhappy concoction than the menu that we got from the honorable member for Mallee in relation to this Repatriation Bill.
Even at this late hour, there are situations in regard to repatriation that do not admit of small talk. The honorable member for Mallee, I know, has a good heart and a good conscience towards his fellow men, particularly ex-servicemen. He has been a serviceman himself. But it is useless for us to try to hide the fact that there are many things in relation to repatriation that require re-adjustment, that have to be looked at. At the risk of being considered churlish and unmannerly at this hour of the night, I intend to deal with them.
Last night the honorable member for Mallee directed attention to the fact that there is somewhat of a rat race in this place, in debates of this nature, as in debates on social services, in that we tend to take our view according to whether we are speaking from the Government side or the Opposition side. Sometimes a reference to “ Hansard “ shows that when we have been in government we approved of certain things which, when in Opposition, we contest. But that, of course, is merely a part of the machinery of government, a part of the machinery of Parliament itself, and has no real significance when we are discussing, as a fighting Opposition must discuss, the shortcomings of the Government.
The honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) rather amused me to-night. He set out. in his speech, to chide the Labour Party, and the inference I gathered was that we were rather unpatriotic and not very soldierly, and that we did not quite get the atmosphere that he created for the Government. But I recall that, as a Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme student, he took advantage of a very fine scheme launched by the Chifley Government, and that his early training was in the Legal Service Bureau, created by the present Leader of the Opposition when he was the Attorney-General. He should have known better. Some of the statements that he made were those protective statements designed to shelter the Government. I feel that so many ex-servicemen on the Government side tend to be like broody hens in protecting the Government in regard to repatriation.
I think the honorable member for Mallee is right in saying that you have to be a lion - a roaring lion - in relation to exservicemen’s problems. If you, or I, or any other member of this House were to say to any ex-serviceman we met in this place, “ Take my place at this table to-night “, he would not make a pacific statement. He believes that repatriation is loaded with anomalies. He is not satisfied with the go that he is getting and the go that is being doled out to his mates in the services, the R.S.L. clubs or elsewhere. I think that the position now demands - and I have felt this for a long time - not so much buttering up of the Minister, who is doing all right; not so much buttering up of the Repatriation Department, which is quite efficient; and not so much jiggerypook about the doctors, who make their own mistakes. I remember a repatriation doctor who, when he got his subjects before him in the nude, would ask us to pray. He became known as the “Praying Mantis”. There are a lot of queer people in the world. To say that all of them are endowed with spirituality, to say that everything is marvellous, is only a smother-up. There are things wrong in every department, and, as a human department conducted by human beings, the Repatriation Department has the same problems as other departments.
I believe, and the Labour Party believes, and those people who have spoken before me so efficiently and so effectively believe, that it is time to re-think repatriation in terms of 1959. It is no good dragging the old musket through the dust any more, no good talking about ancient battles which have been long since resolved. Men to-day. whether they are civilians or ex-servicemen, have special problems of rehabilitation, and there are special reasons why exservicemen should get that rehabilitation. I believe that in the past there was a feeling that the Australian Labour Party was not soldier-minded or repatriation-minded. I accept that soft impeachment. In the depression it did not matter to us whether it was a civilian or a military belly that was empty - we tried to feed its owner and set him on the path. But the things that belong to the soldier have been generously and intelligently purveyed when the Labour Party has been in government.
We come to an assessment. The things that have been done have been good things. When the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was chairman of the Repatriation Committee he took a sorry act of Parliament - a shambles of an act that had staggered right through the period of the First World War and the depression - and made a positive piece of automation out of it, so far as was practicable. He produced an act which was modern in every way, and it is not his fault, nor the fault of the Labour Party, if it has not worked in that way. The human factor is again the point. We feel that in re-thinking repatriation you have to consider those things.
There are repatriation hospitals in this country in which whole wards have been closed. There are sections in Sydney which have been inoperative for years. We ask, “ What is wrong with giving every old digger, every ex-serviceman of World War I, the right to be properly hospitalized in a repatriation hospital? “ There is all this poppycock. We go to the R.S.L. meetings and we watch the light glimmers, and we say, “ We will remember them “. Well, the best and most practical way to remember them is to take the anxiety from their families, to take the anxiety from the poor little wife who in most cases is trying to get along with a sick man who is not pensionable. It gives the ex-serviceman a feeling of pride and of rehabilitation, and a status that is enjoyed by his mates, when he can say, “ I am going to Yaralla, or Heidelberg” - or some other repatriation hospital - “ to be looked after “. It is little enough.
That is one challenge that we make to the Repatriation Department: “Why can’t you do it? Why can’t you give these men, who are sick, proper hospital treatment? “. Never mind about running them through the mill to see whether their disabilities are war-caused or not war-caused, or about invoking that monstrosity of legalism and paternalism in repatriation called section 47. Just take the human view and say, “ All right, we will put them into hospital “.
I heard an honorable member who is himself a distinguished ex-serviceman ask, “ Are not there too many of them? What are you going to do about that? “. I beg of the Government not to be faint-hearted. There are plenty of sick people all over Australia, and eventually they are all hospitalized. Do not think that as soon as this benefit accrued, every man would be sick. Every exserviceman is going to be sick at some time, but when the ex-serviceman of World War I. - and they are a diminishing quantity, although there are many thousands of them still remaining - want hospitalization, let us be reasonable and see that they get it where they desire it most - in their repatriation hospitals. There will not be a bun rush. Many of them will not want to avail themselves of it. But if it is there for them, they can feel it is their right.
Repatriation hospitals were established for the benefit of the ex-servicemen. In the district of Earlwood in my electorate there are two groups of soldier settlements. Most of the fellows there are World War veterans, and I know their problems intimately. Those honorable members who represent New South Wales electorates will support me when I say that they come to us with their problem. They are growing older, and they are not pensionable. They feel that they might have an argument to put before the Repatriation Commission. Hut theirs is a lone cause. The forces are arrayed against them. If they could be niven some hope of being properly hospitalized when sick, they would feel a great deal better. And in the final analysis we have to care for the sick people of the community! That being so, why not be reasonable?
Take a place like Earlwood. The wives of the old soldiers are very fine women who have seen them through very painful illnesses. Perhaps a digger is now 58 years of age and has been suffering since he was 50 years old. The doctor is called in to attend him, and it is found that the only hospital available to him is the Lidcombe hospital - it was once the men’s hospital, known in the Dickensian sense as the poor house - and the women do not like to see their husbands treated there. The Labour government changed the name of that institution and saw to it that all hospitals were efficiently and properly conducted; but in the opinion of the middle-aged wives the old aroma is still there. The wives of these ex-soldiers feel that their husbands should be admitted to a repatriation hospital.
If there is to be any rethinking on repatriation, we must not be fed on platitudes such as those offered by the honorable member for Mallee. We must do something practical. If the Government really wants to do something both practical and urgent for these ex-servicemen who have worn out before their time, it should give them service pensions. That is little enough. It will cost us very little. While the Government is borrowing money overseas, whilst its members are junketting overseas, whilst the Government is engaged in waste unparalled in the history of this country, surely it can do something for these servicemen of 56, 57, 58 and more years of age. Surely the Government can give them the service pension earlier. There will not be a bun rush. If something is done for them these men will be made to feel very proud to think that they had rendered service to a country that had some regard for the things they tried to do for it. They will feel proud that the country is attempting to show some appreciation by looking after them in their old age. That is only the sensible thing to do.
There is another thing that must be done. The Repatriation Department is, in effect, heart-break house. I do not blame the Minister. I admit that he is a charming person. There is nothing wrong with his department. It is highly efficient. I have had the greatest assistance from its officers and while I have had many wins, I have also had lots of losses. An applicant to the commission reminds me of the man wandering through the forest who knocks at the: door of an ivory tower. As he knocks he says, “ Is there anybody there? “ And, although the door is open, there is no answer. That is symbolic of the position of the old diggers. They get to the door, knock and get nowhere. A cursed thing, this veritable old man of the sea, is ever present. I refer to the onus of proof.
The best analytical lawyer this country has ever seen is the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). His work on behalf of the digger - section 47 dealing with the onus of proof - is a fine and’ stalwart piece of imaginative planning and a sound piece of law. He has never forgotten, whenever there is a debate on repatriation matters, to make his plea because he has got the strength of a fighting lawyer. He says, “Through the law can we get reform for the digger; through the law can we make this onus of proof provision function; and through the law we must fight to maintain these things”. He says that sections 47 and 48 are an ideal piece of legal machinery which is being subverted. Who subverts it? I ask honorable members - never mind, all the platitudes - whether it is right that one repatriation doctor should be able to say, as the honorable member for. Kingston has mentioned, that an old digger is fit for work when three specialists say he is hot. I venture to say that if the government-employed doctor were out in private practice he would be giving the man a little blue, pill, or a little green pill and suggesting, that he take a trip, to the gold coast.
Why should’ a doctor become something of an ogre when he works for the Government? Why. should’ there be sadism of this sort? I have seen it practised. I have had constituents come to me after medical: examination incoherent andi angry because they could not understand, why they had received such a rough passage. There is no need for that, but we say that it can happen. The amount of money available” for repatriation is not flexible; it is not elastic; it is a solid figure; it is a big amount. For these reasons, governments in the past said it had to be regulated, and when the onus of proof provision was introduced the situation was obvious to us all.
Will any honorable- member on the Government side say that it is fair that the digger, who. is growing old, the man to whom we make our bow on Anzac Day, the hero of story and poetry is such a citizen who tries to put something over the Government? Yet 86 per cent, of the cases are rejected as not being eligible! Is it not more logical for the Government to try to do something for Him? Is there anything more savagely and irrationally illogical than saying to’ a man who served in an area of war 40 years ago, “ We have not got all- the evidence; you will have to get something: substantial and material “? They are shocking words which are the alibi of the department when the onus of proof is not discharged: in favour of the digger. If I had my way, those words would be deleted from- the legislation and the regulations.
The Leader of the Opposition points out how the Government can do something to see that the law is answered. In cases of multiple rejections a High Court judge or a Supreme Court judge should be appointed to look with benevolence - “ benevolence “ is the word - at section 47 because that section says, “prove it”. It has to be proved in most cases. This section is a piece of writing that deserves great consideration, and’ it has never been properly applied because, no matter what government tries to apply it; the bureaucrats say that it cannot be’ applied’ in that sense. We on this side have stated’ not once but many times, both here- and- hi our policy speeches, that we shall ensure- that it is properly applied’- by appointing- a knowledgeable1 and’ kindly judge’ to. sift the evidence and’ see that- the’ law is properly discharged’.
The diggers have to go through many processes in getting; their appeals, before a tribunal. They get. worried. about, it. In Sydney.,, the digger, goes, to the legal, service bureau at Dalton House. The digger, is pushed into a quasi legal atmosphere and, before he knows where he- is he. is pushed out again. Then, before he wakes up in the morning, he has- a, letter saying that his application has been, rejected-. It. is. all done too speedily, too quickly foc me;, and I say that if we are to have re-thinking over repatriation we have got to forget what has- happened.
We are led through a mass of statistics, we are told’ how many pensions are being paid, how many people have won pensions in the past, how much money it costs and so on, but what we want is re-thinking about this irreducible residue of men still seeking a pension. They feel’ that they have no possible- chance of obtaining one because the present repatriation” machinery makes it so difficult for them. We believe in re-thinking about policy. We all know the attitude of the returned servicemen’s associations. I have never been one to pull my punches about any section of ex-servicemen; I admire them too much. I know that when the Federal President of the returned servicemen’s league, Sir George Holland, comes here he sees the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and other honorable members on the Government side and makes an occasional visit to us. 1 say that almost to a line the repatriation policy propounded by the Leader of the Opposition in our last policy speech is practically a draft of the decisions of congress of the R.S.L. There is the answer immediately to the question as to where we stand with regard to these matters to-day.
In many other ways, we have to think in terms of what the future will do. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) has submitted certain amendments in a most straightforward manner. Certain of his proposals are machinery in character, but, in my view, the two vital proposals submitted by him will gather up the slack, will relieve the suffering and will assuage some of the anxiety and the fear of the old digger who is between hell and high water in relation to his pension as he totters between his federal member, the R.S.L., the welfare organizations and the Repatriation Commission. All the time, he is utterly frustrated” and sees no directional beam which may guide him towards the realization of his hopes. We suggest that we can- give the Minister for Repatriation, a directional beam which will be of benefit to all those ex-servicemen who- are seeking pensions. We believe that the answer to their problems is less bureaucracy and more law. We believe, with the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt),, that we should have a lawyer in to see, first, that the law is observed. Then, surely, we should have enough humanity to bend the law, whether it looks good, legally or otherwise, for the benefit of the men who saved this country. After all these years, we’ should bend over backward’s to see that they are at least given the right to live in peace and contentment for the rest of their days. That should be possible in this country which is now at the apex of the prosperity which has been made secure for it by men like that - the workers and the soldiers in the Australian community.
There is the first point. The second point is that there is an excess ot men afflicted by anxiety about their health. We could do a fine job for them by filling empty wards in repatriation hospitals with those who need hospital treatment. We should say to them, “ All right, Digger, you will be treated in hospital. We shall not argue about how many Germans you killed. The empty hospitals which cost Australia £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 to build will be thrown open to you and your mates.” That would give these men a spiritual uplift, and the number of applications for pensions might thereby be reduced.
That is the second point. The next point is the decay, shall we say, of exservicemen who are now aged about 58 or 60. I was going to say that some of them were aged 55, but an honorable member has pointed out - and I accept his point - that an ex-serviceman now aged 55 would have been a serviceman at fourteen, and that, of course, is too young. But there is a body of ex-servicemen aged about 56 to 60 - the four years between those ages are the years with which I am concerned now - who are physically finished. We could do a great deal for them by giving them what is known as the burnt-out pension. That is not really a great thing to give a man who has fought for his country. It is rather pathetic that a man who has served his country should have to live, almost like some unfortunate animal, on what I shall term the burnt-out dole during the last years of his life. We ought to be able to do much better for these men than this. But as yet we have not been able to do better.. Many millions of people are involved in any attempt to solve this problem. No- democracy has ever found a Way of paying for the wars that it has waged. It is well known that we still owe a great debt to- some who fought in the Boer War, and’ we still owe a tremendous debt to the men who fought in World War I. But we could at least do more to ameliorate the conditions to which some of our ex-servicemen have been brought.
The other point with which I wish to deal before I sum up relates to certain disabilities suffered by ex-servicemen. We do not know’ from whence certain diseases come. If has been the proud work of many in both the civilian and military fields to outlaw tuberculosis. We have been able to trace the history of this disease in some ex-servicemen back to gas attacks in France. As a result, many exservicemen suffering from this disease have been able to get top pensions, and others have been cured and may live the rest of their lives free from the fear of this terrible infection. Worry is a thing that promotes the spread of tuberculosis and is responsible for haemorrhages in those who suffer from this disease. In New South Wales - my own State - we have been closing down centres for the care of tuberculosis patients because this monster that afflicted so many has been laid low. One of the princes of death has been conquered and bound hand and foot by the science of man and the intelligence of government.
I turn briefly to another dreadful disease - cancer. We do not know at what stage cancer assails a man, and it is quite obvious if section 47 of the Repatriation Act means anything, that a man with cancer should be automatically accepted as having a war-caused disability. We on this side of the House know the problems of government, because we have been in office. Surely, after having removed the scourge of tuberculosis, we ought to have a look at some of these other deadly diseases. Cancer is the first one that comes to mind. The Repatriation Commission should lead the way in the attack on this disease by accepting it automatically as a war-caused disability when it is contracted by an exserviceman.
I reject entirely the theory that we in this House should just paddle along from year to year, never worrying about what time it is, and taking the attitude that we have before us just another repatriation bill. We should not just coast along, as it were, on the well-greased and well-oiled parliamentary machine, content to witness a contest between government and opposition. I think that we on this side of the House can give the Government, which is already tired and which has been in office for far too long, some dynamic ideas which urgently need taking up. We challenge the Government to re-think its attitude to the whole repatriation situation. Let it not think in terms of 1914, 1939 or 1949. This is 1959, and the problems of to-day are those of the ageing ex-servicemen from both World War I. and World War II. The urgent need to-day is to give hospital treatment to the digger irrespective of his age or condition. Just give him at once the help that he needs. We should give the burnt-out pension a little prematurely - even at 55, if necessary. If the Government did this, the community would derive, great dividends in comfort to ex-servicemen and contentment to their relatives.
Cancer should be included among the diseases of ex-servicemen that automatically qualify the sufferer for a pension. Finally, we should instil throughout the repatriation field a feeling of partnership between the digger and the Repatriation Commission. As the situation stands to-day, the exserviceman is fighting a war. He is involved in a deadly and atrocious tugofwar with the commission, and, in the battle of attrition, it is the old digger who gives up the ghost. Every ex-serviceman knows that. Every politician knows it. There is, in the Repatriation Commission, a file many inches thick of what is termed repatriation dead stuff. You can move it neither this way nor that way. Even lifting it off the table almost presents a metaphysical problem. It is dead from inertia, and it represents the death of the hopes of many a poor ex-serviceman who tried to get a pension, but failed, and who felt within his own heart that he deserved better of his country.
So I say to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who is now at the table, that repatriation must always be a live and strong issue in this House. The suggestions that we have made to the Government have been made in good faith. I think that it ought to accept the amendment, and particularly the Opposition’s suggestions with respect to the hospital treatment of ex-servicemen. The Opposition’s proposals are supported by returned servicemen in every section of the community and by the congress of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. We say that repatriation benefits ought to be something of which we can feel proud, and we should be proud to fight for better benefits for ex-servicemen. We do not want the Government just to roll aside, at the turn of midnight, our suggestions for a positive policy, and then go away feeling safe and imagining that everything is right in repatriation matters. Repatriation is a sacred responsibility. We do not need to speak of it in words full of hyperbole. Everybody knows that repatriation benefits are not being efficiently made available to ex-servicemen. The job is not being done as well as we ought to do it. Let us blame nobody for this, only human nature and circumstances. But since we have the money and the administrative machinery that are necessary, let us give the digger a fairer go by accepting the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) - an amendment which has three salient features.
– Mr. Speaker, the diversity of the views expressed in this debate by Government supporters is, I suggest, ample evidence of the need for alterations in this bill. Tributes have been paid to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) and others for the great work that the Minister has done in respect of repatriation, but I regret that I cannot commend his administration of repatriation services. The Minister has my wholehearted respect as a man, but, during the ten years that I have been in this Parliament, I have held the view that his administrative officers lead him by the nose.
– In saying that, I am quite conscious of my responsibilities. I sincerely regret having to criticize any officer or any Minister, but I hope to be able to show the House that, in many respects, ex-servicemen receive a very bad deal.
I support the amendment moved by my colleague, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard). I believe that the proposals embodied in that amendment are necessary in the interests of ex-servicemen. I also welcome the amendments of the principal act contained in this measure - amendments which have been sponsored by the Government - because I believe they will help to remove some of the anomalies that now exist. The object of this measure, like that of the Social Services Bill 1959, is to increase pensions - in this instance, repatriation pensions. The bill goes much further than that, however, because it will remove a number of anomalies from the act.
The contents of this measure justify the continued criticism made for years past by Opposition members in respect of the administration of the Repatriation Act. I believe that it can be said that, for many years before the enlargement of the National Parliament, many honorable members on both sides were content to allow the act to be administered by officers of the Repatriation Commission without regard to whether or not the law was in fact doing justice in its application to exservicemen. I take the view that many honorable members who were first elected to this Parliament in December, 1949, have, bv their consistent criticism of the anomalies in the act, caused the Government to amend it. I am still of the opinion that there are numerous ex-servicemen, particularly from the First World War, who have been treated rather badly in repatriation matters. Since the First World War ended great and significant changes have taken place in our lives. As a people, we have experienced hard times, but we have also enjoyed great prosperity. We have waged war successfully and we have greatly increased our standard of living and our cultural attainments. Yet, despite all those things we seem to have forgotten that many of the soldiers who fought in the 1914-18 war are to-day in the twilight of their lives. They are unable to obtain pensions because, as has been pointed out by honorable members opposite in this debate, they told the officers who discharged them that they were well and healthy.
One has only to visit the Australian War Memorial to get an insight into the conditions under which those men fought and lived. History records that the 1918 winter in Europe was one of the worst on record. The Australian War Memorial shows the extent of the mud on the battlefields of Flanders, Passchendaele, Pozieres, Amiens and many other places. Yet to-day, 40 years later, thousands of ex-servicemen who are either crippled with arthritic complaints or suffer from circulatory complaints or heart disease cannot obtain a war pension because they were discharged allegedly medically O.K. Thousands of other exservicemen who receive small war pensions should be receiving much larger pensions because their accepted war-caused disabilities have brought a serious deterioration in their health and they have had to retire from work much earlier than should have been the case. Many of them have had to rely on social service benefits or have had to apply for a service pension. Those pensions are subject to a means test and the result is that to-day many exservicemen are living on a meagre income because their savings limit the amount of their pension.
Many recipients of service pensions have good cause for complaint. A parliamentary committee would do well to examine the files of many ex-servicemen. The 1957-58 report of the Repatriation Commission reveals that 25,309 ex-servicemen of the First World War are in receipt of service pensions. The figure for the Second World War is 2,601. Of the First World War veterans who are in receipt of service pensions, 12,828 suffer from various types of disabilities. A comparison of the list of complaints for which war pensions and service pensions are being paid is most interesting and it confirms my view that repatriation tribunals are obliged to reject a certain number of claims from time to time. An examination of the files of ex-servicemen receiving service pensions reveals the wide variety of complaints from which those pensioners are suffering. Service pensions paid to ex-servicemen from both world wars on account of accidental injuries number 147; pulmonary tuberculosis, 1,465; metabolism and deficiency disorders, 4,247; alimentary system, 4,214; vascular system, 2,193; neurosis, psychoneurosis and mental disorders, 981; and muscles, fasciae, joints and bones, 901. That is a total of 10,456. Of course, there are many other complaints for which pensions are paid, such as disorders of the respiratory system, the ears and the eyes. If we take the figures relating to the Second World War we find that war pensions paid on account of accidental injuries number 21,762; pulmonary tuberculosis, 5,285; metabolism and deficiency disorder, 7,394; alimentary system, 17,990; vascular system, 5,193; neurosis, psychoneurosis and mental disorders, 16,351; and muscles, fasciae, joints and bones, 18,228. That is a total of more than 92,000.
I have quoted those figures because in my view justice is not being done in many of these cases. I am fortified in that contention by the criticisms that have been made from time to time by some honorable members opposite, particularly with regard to section 47 of the act.
In dealing with applications the repatriation tribunals do not sift the evidence presented thoroughly or fully. They are unable to determine the onus of proof and cannot dispense justice to the applicants. I hope to be able to show honorable members that in one case the onus of proof has not even been considered and that the various tribunals have not bothered to ascertain why there was no clinical medical record for the ex-serviceman concerned covering the first five or six weeks of hospitalization.
On many occasions I have heard honorable members from both sides of the House say that when dealing with applications for war pensions, tribunals must not only dispense justice but must make it appear to the general public and the applicant that justice has been dispensed. I regret to say that I do not think justice is being done in many instances. I think the figures that I have quoted establish that fact.
On more than one occasion the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) has queried whether the onus-of-proof section is being properly applied. He asked the same question to-night. He has made it clear on more than one occasion that in his humble barrister’s opinion the section is not being properly applied. On one occasion he said that section 48 of the act was important for the proper discharge of the onus of proof. He suggested that the section could well be amended to compel doctors making a report on an exserviceman to say positively and concisely whether in their opinion the patient was suffering from or had died from a war-caused disability. The contention was, of course, that tribunals would have to knock the doctors’ opinion over if it supported the applicant’s claim. I have always contended that the framers of section 48 intended to give the applicant before a tribunal the benefit of the doctor’s opinion, so that it would have the responsibility of discharging the onus of proof in the face of the medical evidence. However, in many cases tribunals have thrown aside the opinions of doctors and proceeded to obtain an opinion from another doctor who, it would be thought, would be favorably disposed towards them. The tribunals have been known to reject a report from a doctor to whom they have sent a patient, and then obtain the views of another doctor. Those cases are, to my mind, most unsavoury. Satisfaction in repatriation cases will never be obtained until the Government once again sets up a parliamentary select committee, such as the Curtin Government set up in 1943. In that respect 1 support the remarks of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney). 1 urge the Government to adopt that course. If the terms of reference were sufficiently wide complaints might well cease altogether.
There are at least six important ailments which the Repatriation Commission has accepted as war-caused. Some exservicemen have received pensions for them, and the applications of others have been rejected. I do not suppose that any doctor could say positively whether or not they were attributable to war service. The common names for these ailments are coronary occlusion, emphysema, arthritis, tuberculosis, neurosis, and certain skin complaints. If a parliamentary committee were set up, to study the administration and findings of the various repatriation tribunals, nothing but good could flow from its deliberations. The fact that tribunals are prepared to accept coronary occlusion as war-caused in some cases, and reject it in others, is in itself sufficient reason why the act should be reviewed.
Emphysema is a complaint that worsens as a person gets older and its acceptance after 40 years in some cases - and its rejection in others - is hard to understand. Arthritis in First World War soldiers who saw active service abroad should always be accepted as war-caused. I know that Government supporters will say that many people who have never seen war service contract arthritis. That may be so, but I also know, Mr. Speaker, that soldiers who fought and lived in mud and slush for weeks on end and wore wet clothing for days, could be described as having then sown the seeds of arthritis. My own brother-in-law is a bad case of osteoarthritis. He spent some years on active service and saw action at Messines, Passchendaele, and many other places. On returning from the war he was so anxious to get out of khaki that he told the discharging board that he was O.K. He was not home very long before he complained of “ toothache “ in the legs and arms, but not once did he seek medical advice. He was a farmer and worked as long as he could, going to bed when he could not. To-day he is hopelessly crippled with osteoarthritis. If ever a person deserves a pension he does.
The cause of neurosis is so hard to pinpoint that it should always be pensionable. A select committee could well examine the Repatriation Department’s handling of such cases also. I have known the department to put the cause of neurosis down in some cases as due to an unhappy childhood and, in others, to marital relationships - though what is implied by this I do not know. What is undoubted is that, in many instances, the department dodges its responsibilities.
I want to turn for a few moments to the totally disabled person who receives the 100 per cent, pension. Such persons number, I understand, about 18,000. Among them are literally hundreds of pensioners who have not worked for years. They are classified as being totally, but not permanently, incapacitated. I should like the Minister for Health (Dr. Cameron) or another Minister, to explain how a serviceman who is totally incapacitated, and quite unable to work, can be other than permanently incapacitated.
I have before me at the moment the case of a man who has not worked for more than eight years and is in receipt of a 100 per cent, war pension. The disabilities for which he receives the pension are gunshot wounds in the right thigh, left shoulder and right arm. He suffers from chronic bronchitis, and osteo-arthritis in the left and right legs, for which he receives no pension at- all. He also has hypertension. In one letter the department claimed that he was suffering from a painful and swollen left knee and hypertension. In
March of this year he received another letter in the following terms: -
With reference to your application for acceptance of hypertension as related to war service, medical investigation has failed to reveal any such condition.
There we have the department saying that he has a painful and swollen left knee and hypertension, and also that he has not. This man has been unemployable for more than eight years. He is receiving a 100 per cent, war pension but is not yet classified as worthy to receive a T.P.I, pension.
I also made representation to the Minister for Repatriation in regard to his refusal to grant a man a pension in respect of mustard gas keratitis. I have known the man in question almost since I commenced work. He has always worn shaded glasses in order to protect his eyes. At 55 years of age he was retired from the railways, and in 1950 he applied for a war pension on the basis of his suffering from mustard gas keratitis. The application was rejected. The Minister wrote -
On 11th July, 1930, Mr. Knight lodged a claim for pension in respect of coronary occlusion and eye trouble. The claim was investigated and, included in the investigation, was an opinion by an eye specialist who reported: -
Occasional headaches. Was gassed in 1918 and states he was blinded for a period of approximately 4 months. The ex-soldier’s disabilities were diagnosed as coronary occlusion, refractive error, and presbyopia. A Repatriation Board determined that the incapacities were not due to war service and, on 8th January, 1951, the Repatriation Commission disallowed the member’s appeal against that determination.
This man’s application had gone right through to the tribunal. His claim had been rejected in 1951 but in 1957, six years later - though he had not been near another war or been in contact with mustard gas - he was re-examined after Dr. Stuckey, of Newcastle, had got in touch with the Repatriation Commission. His condition was accepted and he was granted a handsome 20 per cent, war pension.
To-day he is practically blind. As well as having suffered a coronary occlusion, his eye condition is very bad. Dr. Stuckey, in reporting on this man’s general condition on examination, stated that his eyes were mildly infected with circumcorneal aneurysms; there were some superficial opacities in the cornea, more pronounced in the left than in the right, and there were senile lens opacities in the media, the left being much more advanced and central. He diagnosed the man as suffering from, first, mustard gas keratitis, secondly, senile lens opacities, and thirdly, refractive error. Apparently, when a person is suffering from lens opacity there is non-transparency, darkness and obscurity, and with keratitis there is inflammation of the cornea, acuity and sharpness.
If the ex-serviceman to whom I have referred was not suffering from war-caused disabilities in 1951, how did he come to be suffering from war-caused disabilities in 1957? Because of the failure of the Repatriation Department and its tribunals to give satisfaction and do justice to this ex-serviceman, he has been robbed to date of the value of seven years’ pension.
Time will not permit me to refer to the other case that I wished to bring before honorable members, but I shall refer to it when the debate on the Estimates is resumed. It concerns an ex-serviceman of the First World War, and I raised it in this House almost four years ago. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) has spoken of the treatment that he has received from the Repatriation Department. I also have had some experience of the department. I endeavoured to peruse this ex-serviceman’s repatriation file. When I approached the department, with the man’s permission, I was sat down in a chair in the Repatriation Department office in Sydney as though I were a schoolboy. A Mr. Jack sat opposite, reading to me the contents of the file. I was unable to make any headway until the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) volunteered to have the file made available for me in Melbourne. I flew to Melbourne and was permitted to peruse the file. I was told to return to Sydney, make a further application there, and I would be permitted to peruse the file in the Sydney office. I did so and was able to ascertain that after sixteen years this ex-serviceman’s pension had been discontinued on the recommendation of a doctor who had never seen him. According to the Repatriation Department file, the doctor had determined that the exserviceman, at some stage or other, had influenced a medical examining officer to say that his condition was due to active service in France. 1 then set out to review this man’s history from boyhood to manhood. 1 have the evidence here to prove my case, and 1 should have liked to show it to the Repatriation Department officers in Canberra. I wrote to the Deputy Commissioner for Repatriation in Melbourne and asked him to re-open this case because I had been told by an officer in the department that the provisions of section 3 1 of the Repatriation Act gave the commission the right to do so. 1 have received a reply from the Deputy Commissioner to the effect that he has not the authority to re-open this case under the provisions of section 31 of the act. I am now hopelessly confused. If we in this House are unable to understand the provisions of the Repatriation Act, how can we expect a returned serviceman to do so? The section is in these terms -
Whenever it appears to the Commission that, under this Act, sufficient reason exists for reviewing any assessment, decision or determination in relation to pension under this Division, the Commission may review the assessment, decision or determination.
What does that section mean? It does not refer to assessment tribunals, and it does not refer to appeal tribunals. It merely says that if there is any reason that the commission considers sufficient to warrant reviewing a particular case, the commission has the power to do so. However, the Deputy Commissioner for Repatriation has told me that he does not possess that power.
The Government should do something to clear up this issue. I hope that in the near future it will again set up an all-party committee which will be able to do something to put this act in its proper perspective once and for all. I regret that I have not sufficient time at my disposal to complete my remarks on this subject, but during the debate on the Estimates I shall remind the House that I have the evidence to prove that the ex-serviceman to whom I have referred has not received justice from the Repatriation Department.
.- The fact that the last three speakers in this debate have been members of the Opposition should not be allowed to pass without comment. Among Government members there is a great number of ex-servicemen - some with very distinguished war records, and some hold the highest honour that can be won in the field of battle - but they are not sufficiently interested in the subject under discussion to participate in this debate, which has been curtailed because of the failure of the Government to allow sufficient time for all members of the Opposition wishing to speak on the matter to do so. Many members on this side of the House would have liked to participate in the debate, but they are now prevented from doing so. The efforts of the Opposition in this debate, in contrast with the lack of effort on the part of the Government, which includes such a large number of ex-servicemen, should be brought before the Australian people.
Many honorable members opposite wear a returned serviceman’s badge. I have been wondering to-day whether they wear it because they are proud to be members of the returned servicemen’s organization, and endeavour to do what they can to better the lot of the ex-serviceman, or whether they wear it to gain political advantage and to gain votes for themselves and for their party.
– Can the honorable member think of anything more miserable to say? I have never heard anything worse.
– When these things are pointed out to the men who wear those badges, they object but they are not prepared to rise in this House and make a plea for the adoption of the pension plan that has been outlined by the returned servicemen’s organization. I have always believed that if I am a member of an organization, if I am prepared to wear the badge of that organization, and if I am prepared to accept any of the benefits that membership of that organization may give me, the very least that I can do is to raise my voice, when the opportunity occurs, in an endeavour to obtain benefits for other members of that organization who may need them more than I do. For the honorable member for Mallee to take umbrage at my remarks indicates that perhaps I have hit him on a raw spot and have scored off him.
– I am opposed to anything that is despicable.
– There was nothing despicable in what I said. If the cap fits, the honorable member for Mallee can wear it. He at least has spoken in this debate, but a lot of honorable members on the Government benches have not taken the opportunity to do so. Perhaps the reason why they have not spoken is that there are no royal occasions in the offing when they could dress themselves up in their uniforms and preen themselves before Royalty. I am sick and tired of the attitude of members of the Government towards repatriation. Honorable members” opposite take great credit for the fact that amongst their number are war heroes and others who did service for their country, but they seldom lift a hand to help the exservicemen such as the T.P.I, pensioners, and war widows, who require assistance and should get it from this Government.
The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull)”, has” praised” the. Government for what it has done in the” field) of repatriation-. I- do not fake credit from- the Government; certainly, it has done something in the field of repatriation. It has improved a lot of benefits. But not one member of this House- could stand up and claim conscientiously that totally and permanently incapacitated returned servicemen are receiving all that they should from this Government. Not one member of this House could stand up and say conscientiously that the war widows are receiving from this Government their just benefits. Both this Government and previous governments can be criticized for not having done sufficient in the field, of repatriation benefits.
I feel, Mr. Speaker, that it is time this Government decided to- do more for the returned1 servicemen than it is doing at the present time. My experience since I have been a member of this House and since I have taken an active interest in repatriation matters has shown me that, whilst the officers of the Repatriation Department are cordial and sympathetic and are. always willing to supply information that is required’, they seem to adopt the attitude, that if an ex-serviceman wants to get a disability accepted as being due to war service it is up to him to fight the whole way. Because that attitude is- adopted by the people who control, the Repatriation; Department, many ex-servicemen who- believe that they have a case for the acceptance of their disability as war-caused are not prepared to go first to the board, then to the commission and finally to the entitlement appeal tribunal. Some of them, when half-way through’ this procedure, give up and say, “ If this is all that this country is prepared to do for a man who has suffered a disability through fighting for it, I do not wish to have any part of repatriation benefits.”
– Most of the repatriation officers also wear the badge of a returned servicemen’s organization.
– That may be; I do not claim that every person who wears a badge does so in order to gain a benefit. I know a lot of people who wear badges and who were proud to fight for their country. But I do take umbrage at the fact that when members of this House who continually wear the badge* - who were elected to this Parliament because they were war heroes, having taken part in the last war - are in a position to help those who fought for this country and suffered disabilities in consequence, they do not even put up as much fight for improved repatriation benefits as they do for improved social service benefits. We can draw only one conclusion from this, and that is, I submit, that the wearing of the returned soldiers’ badge attracts benefits to them as members of this House.
The Labour Opposition supports an amendment to the motion for the secondreading of the bill and, at the committee stage, we intend to move amendments to the onus-of-proof section and various other sections of the act. The onus-of-proof provision1 has received a good- airing this evening. It should be looked at by this Government, because those of us who have had any experience of entitlement tribunal’s understand: exactly why this section of the act is not being, interpreted as it was originally intended to be interpreted. I do not blame the members of the tribunal for that, because they have been appointed to sift whatever evidence- is put before them; but I> do’ say. that,, in, some instances, they do not give the1 appearance’ of justice being done. An advocate comes: in and states his- case, and quite often’ he is dismissed together with- the ex-serviceman without the members of the’ tribunal having asked any questions. The ex-serviceman’ whose claim is before the- tribunal does not know where he stands, and when his claim- is rejected he does not know why his case fell down, I feel that- not only must justice be done; it must also appear to be done. I feel that- the members ofl the tribunals,, before reaching a decision, should query the advocate on the evidence that has been submitted to them, in order to give’ the advocate an opportunity to clear up any misconceptions that might exist in the minds of the members of the tribunals.
The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske); has stated what he thinks about the interpretation of the onus-of-proof section. The Leader of the Opposition. (Dr. Evatt) outlined why he believes that the onus-of-proof section is not being interpreted’ in the correct manner and he suggested how the situation could be overcome. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) also suggested that the onusofproof provision should: be interpreted in the manner it was intended to be interpreted. He. suggested that perhaps the attitude is adopted by the board and by the commis-sion that when there is an element of doubt the application should be rejected so that the ex-serviceman will obtain further evidence in support of his case when the matter goes before an entitlement appeal tribunal-
There are a lot of aspects of repatriation benefits which could’ be spoken about, but unfortunately this debate is to be curtailed, and because Government members have not taken the opportunity of speaking in their turn it has been left to honorable members on this side who originally believed that they would not have to speak in this debate to make a case.. As a result, I am having: difficulty now in bringing back into my mind a lot of thoughts that I would like to express, because it is only ten minutes of a quarter of an hour since I became aware that. I would’ have to speak in this debate. The only reason I am speaking now is that Government members have not taken up their time in discussing this important subject of repatriation benefits.
One amendment that will be moved by the Opposition at the committee stage concerns the automatic acceptance of cancer as due to war service. The causes of. cancer are unknown. I have one case on hand at the present time concerning a man who had a meningioma removed from his skull. One doctor who examined him said that this condition could not have been present for longer than five, years, but Professor Olivecrona of Sydney gave evidence to the effect- that it would have been present for fifteen years or more. Three or four other doctors in Sydney indicated that the meningioma could have, been there since the man’s war service. But the Repatriation Department, acting on the say of one medical officer; has dismissed this, exserviceman’s appeal. The detection of cancer is a prominent part of medical activity. There is no known cause of this dreaded disease, so. that it cannot be said that it is not due to war service. Perhaps it cannot be said that it was due to war service, but section 47 of the act provides that if there is a doubt the benefit of the doubt shall be given- to the ex-serviceman, particularly if he can’ show that he received some injury which might have caused or aggravated the condition1 from which he suffers1 at the present time. I feel that the time- fray arrived when the automatic acceptance of cancer should be incorporated in the Repatriation1 Act.
Another illness from which a great number, of ex-servicemen suffer and which should, be given automatic acceptance is neurosis. I> do not claim that every exserviceman suffering, from- this trouble would be entitled to have- it accepted, as a war disability.. But any man who saw action1, ia the air, on the sea- or on land and was under fire- from the enemy, living- in a. state.- of extreme nervous tension, day in and- day out, suffered some strain which was ultimately responsible for his present condition of neurosis as well as aggravating it. The- Opposition, has-, made provision in its amendment for the automatic acceptance of cancer, and I hope that consideration will be given to, the- automatic acceptance of. neurosis as. well.
Another matter I wish to mention is the admittance of ex-servicemen to repatriation hospitals at week-ends. This problem does1 not- often arise but when it does, it is extremely difficult for an ex-serviceman to gain admittance at the- week-end! Sometimes his: condition1 might be urgent and require immediate attention. I do not know exactly how the problem can be solved but experience I have had indicates that doctors then on duty at repatriation hospitals are not in a position to say whether a man is entitled to be admitted until they check his record on the Monday. In the meantime he is refused admittance. I stand corrected if I am wrong, but I understand that any exserviceman is entitled to be admitted to a repatriation hospital for diagnosis and treatment of a disability before it is accepted or rejected as having been caused by war service. If a local repatriation doctor wants to have a patient admitted to a repatriation hospital at the week-end, then by virtue of the fact that he has been accepted as a repatriation patient he should be admitted without having to wait until the office opens on Monday morning.
A further matter I wish to mention is the streamlining of the application form for repatriation benefits, particularly the service pension. The application form for the age pension is not nearly so complicated. If it provides sufficient information to decide whether an applicant is entitled to an age pension, surely a similar simple form could be provided for applicants to give the necessary information in respect of a service pension.
I now turn to the subject of the supplementary allowance paid to service pensioners. On a couple of occasions in this House the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has mentioned the case of an ex-serviceman who, because he receives a war pension of 10s. 3d., is debarred from receiving the supplementary allowance. The same condition applies to an age or invalid pensioner. Surely a man receiving a small pension of 10s. or 15s., or whatever the amount might be, for a war-caused disability, should not suffer the injustice of being debarred from the supplementary allowance. During the debate on the Social Services Bill a simple solution to this problem was suggested, that is, the introduction of a sliding scale whereby, for instance, if a man is receiving a pension of 10s. 3d. he would be entitled to a supplementary allowance of 9s. 9d., or if his pension is 15s. his supplementary allowance would be only 5s. It is not a difficult problem to solve; but to cut pensioners off entirely if they receive more than 10s. in pension, but allow them the full 10s. if they receive only 9s. 9d., is unjust. If an ex-serviceman is receiving a small war pension because of a disability caused during war service, that should be overlooked as income and he should be entitled to receive the full 10s. supplementary allowance.
The Opposition will naturally support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass. This will give the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) and other members on the Government side who claim they are loyal members and supporters of returned servicemen’s organizations and interested in their problems to show the extent of their interest. By voting for the amendment they will do their part to increase the benefits to ex-servicemen. How they vote on this amendment will be a test of their sincerity and a proof of their desire to help fellow ex-servicemen. [Quorum formed.]
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Friday, 25 September 1959
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Barnard’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Amendment negatived. Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time. In committee:
Clause 1 agreed to. Clause 2 -
This Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
.I move -
Omit the clause, insert the following clause: - “ 2. This Act shall be deemed to have come into operation on the eighth day of July, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine.”.
In moving this amendment, the Opposition is following the procedure that it has adopted with repatriation measures over the past two or three years. It is also following the practice that it has adopted with social service legislation generally. We propose that the increased repatriation benefits announced in the Budget speech be paid as from 8th July last. A period of only two months is involved, and the retrospective payment would not require a large sum. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) announced that the increased repatriation benefits would cost £4,021,000 in a full year and £3,016,000 this year. The Budget provides for an expenditure of £1,681,000,000, and the expenditure of an additional £1,000,000 obviously would not impose any great hardship on the Government.
As the proposals affecting repatriation pensioners generally were announced by the Treasurer in this Parliament on 11th August last and as the first payment will not be made until approximately mid-
October, no hardship would be imposed on the Government in making these payments retrospective to 8th July. As I have said, the amount involved is not large. Government supporters may say that adopting this procedure would establish a precedent, but I believe that this Government ought to be able to face up to the fact that precedents should be established, and that the practice followed last year and thi year before is no reason for the Government refusing to adopt this procedure in 1959.
All the arguments that were presented by the Opposition in support of the contention that the payment of increased social service benefits should be made retrospective, apply equally to the payment of increased repatriation benefits. I commend the amendment to the committee.
Question put -
That the clause proposed to be omitted (Mr. Barnard’s amendment) stand part of the bill.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G- J. Bowden.) Ayes . . . . . 48
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Amendment negatived. Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 and 4 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 5 (Definitions).
– I move -
In clause 5, before paragraph (a), insert the following paragraphs: - “ (aa) by inserting in paragraph (a) of the definition of ‘ Income ‘, after the word payment ‘, the words ‘ (not being a payment of an annuity) ‘; “ (ab) by inserting in paragraph (b) of the definition of ‘ Income ‘, after the word payment ‘ the words ‘ (not being a payment of an annuity) ‘; “.
This is an amendment consequential upon the amendment that was made to the Social Services Bill and is designed merely to effect the intention described earlier of which the committee is well aware.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 6 to 12 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
New clause 3a.
Section proposed to be amended - 37.* - (1.) The rate of pension payable under this Division to a member of the Forces in respect of incapacity caused by pulmonary tuberculosis shall be not less than the rate specified in Column 4 of the scale in the First Schedule to this Act in relation to the rank or rating of the member. (3.) Where a member of the Forces -
Forces, became or becomes incapacitated, or died or dies, from pulmonary tuberculosis, and pension in respect of the incapacity or death would not, but for this sub-section, be payable, the Commonwealth shall, subject to this Act and upon receipt of an application in writing, be liable to pay to the member or his dependants, or both, as the case may be, from the date of the application, pension in accordance with Division 1 of this Part as if the incapacity or death resulted from an occurrence that happened during bis war service.
– I move -
After clause 3, insert the following new clause: - “ 3a. Section thirty-seven of the Principal Act is amended -
by inserting in sub-section (1.), after the words ‘ pulmonary tuberculosis ‘, the words ‘ or cancer ‘; and
by omitting from paragraph (b) of sub section (3.) the words ‘pulmonary tuberculosis ‘ and inserting in their stead the words ‘ pulmonary tuberculosis or cancer
The Opposition proposes this amendment in the light of the information that has been made available not only to members of the Opposition but also to members othe Government parties, in respect of cancer generally and the difficulty that the medical profession has in deciding definitely upon the origin of cancer. Having regard to the fact that many ex-servicemen are suffering from this disease, we believe that cancer should be accepted, with tuberculosis, as a war-caused condition, in relation to which the applicant should be given the benefit of the onus-of-proof provision. To indicate the uncertainty that exists in the minds of honorable members generally, and particularly in the mind of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper), let me refer to some questions that have been directed to both the Minister for Repatriation and to the Minister who represents him in. this chamber.
I refer first to a question on notice answered by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) on 26th February last. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) asked for the number of applicants who were suffering from cancer, the number of their applications that had been granted; and the number that had been refused. The Minister replied that he was not able to supply the information sought, as the statistics were not available-. He went on to say - . . the Repatriation Commission only rejects a claim) for. pension in respect of incapacity resulting from, lung cancer when. the. board or commission is satisfied that the incapacity is not due to war service.
The honorable member for Hindmarsh was not. satisfied with the reply given, and on 7th April he directed; another question to the Minister for Health,, saying -
I now ask him whether, as- a medical- man and as the Minister for- Health, he knows the cause of lung cancer. Does he know of any other doctor in the world who knows the cause of lung cancer? If the Minister does know the cause, will he tell us what it is?
The Minister replied -
The ultimate cause of lung cancer, or indeed of any other cancer, is not known.
Although, in reply to the earlier question, the honorable member was told that the Repatriation Commission applied the onusofproof provision, the Minister for Health said that no member of the medical profession could indicate the cause of cancer and that its origin was completely unknown.
I refer now to another question relating to cancer, asked on this occasion by a member of a Government party. I know that the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) as well as one or two other ex-servicemen members of the Government parties, display great interest in this question of having cancer accepted as a war-caused disability by applying the onus-of-proof provision. On 11th August last answers were given to- a series of questions asked by the honorable member for Lilley of the Minister for Health in his capacity as representing the Minister for Repatriation. The honorable member asked, among other things, for particulars of the number of applications made for acceptance of cancer as being due to war service, and the number that were accepted. Despite the fact that the Minister had previously told the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) that no statistics were available he did, on this occasion, make some available. These were the answers supplied to the question -
Of 2,705 applications by living members-
That refers to- applications to have cancer accepted as due to war service - 1,307 have been accepted;
That is not an insignificant number. Approximately 50- per cent, of the applications submitted by ex-servicemen of the 1939-45 war were, in point of fact, successful. The answer continued -
Of 1,326 applications for acceptance of death, 886 have been accepted.
Again that is not an insignificant number. Approximately 70 per cent, of the widows who applied to have the deaths of their husbands accepted as, war-caused, were successful, in their applications. The Opposition, believes-, having regard to the views expressed by both the Minister for Repatriation and the Minister representing him in this chamber, and to the expert advice that has been given on claims that have gone before the repatriation authorities, that, just as tuberculosis is now accepted as war-caused, cancer should be accepted as war-caused.
The cause of cancer is unknown. While it may not be possible for any doctor to say with absolute certainty that a man’s cancer condition is due to war service, it is obvious from the opinions that have been expressed by recognized authorities that it is also not possible for any member of the medical profession to say with absolute certainty that such a condition is not due to war service. So we have the position where the medical profession cannot say with certainty one way or the other whether a cancer condition is due to war service. In those circumstances, obviously the Repatriation Department should have no alternative but to accept the condition as due to war service. That is the view expressed by members of the Opposition. We believe that there are members on the Government benches who are sympathetic to the amendment. If they backed their opinions with action, they would enable the amendment to be carried.
In the few moments I have left, Mr. Chairman, I want to refer to one other case which, if I remember correctly, was first raised in this Parliament as far back as 1955.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable gentleman has made a very lengthly explanation, but really it has been a most curious process of reasoning that he has followed. Because you do not know the cause of a disease, it does not follow that anything at all can be the cause of it. While you may not know what is the cause of a disease, you may know what is not the cause. A contention that anything may be the cause of cancer, and that the onus of proof in these cases is not being properly discharged by the repatriation authorities, has no validity, if it is attempted to be justified by what the honorable gentleman has said. The Government, therefore, cannot accept the amendment.
.- I would simply ask the Minister for Health: Does he know for certain that such things as anxiety or hardship, under which many people served in both world wars, could be the cause of cancer? Does he know for certain that a touch of gas, or an attack of dysentery, or any of the numerous other diseases such as malaria, to which servicemen were subject, could not be the cause of cancer? I ask him to answer that question.
.I appeal to the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) to give a little more consideration to the amendment than he has apparently given to it. I appeal also to members on the Government side to support it. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney), earlier to-night, if I interpreted his remarks correctly, expressed himself as being in favour of the Government accepting, as a war-caused disability, cancer in an exserviceman who served in a war theatre. I am sure that in the hearts of all honorable members opposite there is a real belief that this problem should be the responsibility of the Repatriation Department. At the time that tuberculosis in ex-servicemen was accepted as war-caused, doubts were expressed, but nevertheless it was accepted, and we hear no more of that matter.
It cannot be a question of cost, because, after all, returned soldiers who may be unfortunate enough to have cancer have to be treated somewhere. Cancer is a cause of terrible distress and terrible anxiety, and ex-servicemen who suffer from it ultimately have to have hospital treatment. If they are in indigent circumstances and receiving war pensions, they become a charge on the public hospitals of the respective States, and the respective States in turn have to have some part of their hospital charges met in the form of tax reimbursements from the Commonwealth. If the sufferer from cancer is not in indigent circumstances, but is very well off, he should at least be put in the same position as a wealthy exserviceman who suffers from tuberculosis, in relation to whom the Repatriation Commissioner and the Government now accept responsibility. What is wrong with that? We have accepted tuberculosis. Let us be courageous and humane enough to accept cancer in the same way, and next year to accept something else, until ultimately all people who served in a theatre of war, and who suffer from any disability, will be a liability accepted by the community. lt is true that members of this Parliament, and people who have the salaries and the incomes that we have, might have to pay an infinitesimal increase in tax to finance this liability. What is wrong with that? Is not this one of the great problems of the age? Would it not rebound to the credit of this Parliament if the news went forth in the press to-morrow that, after consideration of the matter seriously on a non-party basis, members of the Parliament had accepted cancer as a war-caused disability, and would see to it that every man returned from active war service, who suffers from this dreadful complaint, would be the responsibility of the Repatriation Commissioner and of this great Commonwealth? Hang it all, we can entertain Princesses, we can pour public money out like water, we can spend millions of pounds on great encampments and a great barracks at Puckapunyal, with wall to wall carpets in a place where we are training infantrymen for the next war. If there is, unfortunately, another world war, it will not be an infantryman’s war. A button will be pressed here, and a button will be pressed there and there will be no Puckapunyal, and no Melbourne, and no Moscow.
A million and a quarter pounds has been spent on Puckapunyal. I would be the last to say that soldiers who could be called on even for an international police force should not be housed and trained in a decent manner. When sufferers from cancer, that horrible, incurable and terrible disease, are thrown on their own resources - men and women who have served in war - I appeal urgently to the Government to listen to our plea. The Minister could postpone to next week a decision on this amendment, pending further consideration by the Government. What is wrong with that? I appeal to the honorable member for Perth to back his words with action. I think he will, and I think there are others who will follow him. Surely they will not be expelled from the Government parties if they vote with us to-night. The Minister could save the pass from the point of view of his loyalty to the Government if he agreed to adjourn the debate until next week while this proposal of ours was considered further. Will it matter if we are kept here for a few days longer than the time already decided on?
.- 1 should like the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) to interject now and clarify what he meant in his remarks about the way in which I should express myself on the amendment. Will the honorable member say what he meant?
– If I misunderstood you, I am sorry. But I understood you to say that you supported the acceptance of cancer as a war-caused disability. Is that correct?
– Speaking from memory, what I said was that of the amendments foreshadowed by the Opposition, the one that commended itself to me was that which asked for the acceptance of cancer as due to war service, in the same way as tuberculosis was accepted. I went on to explain that honorable members on this side had spent a great deal of time in trying to prepare a case to present to the Government for acceptance of this disease. Although the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) said it would be all right to adjourn this debate for a week, or a couple of days, I believe that much more has to be done along these lines. Of course, the obvious question for the Opposition to ask is, “Will you vote for this amendment?” If I thought it would achieve anything towards getting the matter accepted, I would vote for it; but I am of the firm opinion that voting for the amendment will not do anything for the ex-servicemen or for the acceptance of cancer as a war-caused disability.
– You know your Government too well.
– The honorable member for Wills says that I know my own Government too well.
– And you do.
– I do not -think that the honorable members who interject know much about it. All -that my vote for the amendment -could get for me would be headlines in the Western Australian press to the effect that I had voted against the Government on a clause in this bill. The net result would be that I should achieve nothing for the .ex-servicemen, and I do not intend, by crossing the floor of the chamber, to seek to achieve something for myself. That is not the reason for my speaking. Perhaps the honorable members who interject are too dull to understand that.
The honorable member for Wills, who has no medical knowledge or experience, asks the Minister for Health (Dr. Cameron) “ Can you tell me whether anxiety or hardship causes cancer? “ What a ridiculous question to ask! If anxiety or hardship caused cancer, then every exserviceman who was a prisoner of war of the Japanese would be a cancer case now. Because somebody gets cancer, it cannot be said that he has developed it because of this, that or the other thing.
– Would you support the benefit of the doubt provision?
– I am not on the tribunal.
– You certainly would not.
– From my experience of tribunals, which is probably a little better than the ‘honorable member’s experience, I know that ex-prisoners-of-war have been .treated with great respect by the Repatriation Department.
– Just the same as anybody else.
– !l think the honorable member will also find that to be so. One of ;my friends in this chamber was a guest of the Japanese during the war and he will agree with me when I say that the organization which represents exprisonersofwar has nothing but high praise, in the main, for what the Repatriation Department has done for them since their return.
– It is not the department; it is the Government’s policy about which we are complaining.
– To-night, we had an accusation from the Opposition that the Government dictates the policy of .the Repatriation Commission .and the repatriation tribunals. I venture to say that this accusation -is -made with 4be .tongue in .the cheek because I am .certain that nobody who makes the allegation honestly believes it to be true. 1 believe that the interests of the exservicemen with relation to cancer can best be served by the people with whom I am associated here in their strong endeavours to present a case to the Minister and the Government in this connexion.
– I do not think ‘the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) really understood what I said. What I quite plainly implied was that there was latitude .for the tribunal to make up its mind as to whether the alleged cause was in fact the real cause. What I pointed out, and what I said was that if you do not know what the cause is it does not follow that anything at all may be the -cause.
– The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) prompts me to recall the successive passages on this subject - the acceptance of .cancer as an automatic ground for war pension - ;in reports of the National President of the Returned Sailors’, .Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. During the second-reading debate, the honorable member for Perth quoted the president’s remarks on such subjects as suited him. On this subject, he has not chosen to quote the passages which the president, year in and year out, reports to the federal congress and which are adopted by the congress. I should think that the honorable member for Perth, as a former State president of the R.S.L., would be loth to repudiate what the national president says, even if he is very reticent in supporting what he says.
In the 41st annual report presented in 1957, the .following passage occurs -
I regret to advise that the Minister for Repatriation is still .unable to agree to the League’s request that Section 37 of .the Repatriation Act be amended to include the words “ and/ or cancer-“.
Pulmonary .tuberculosis .is covered by .Section 37 and as the origin of cancer is still impossible to state, I feel that ex-servicemen sufferers from the disease should, at least, be in ,as favourable a position regarding pension and treatment as T.B. sufferers.
– Who said that?
- Sir George Holland, National President of the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, two years -ago, reported in those terms, and his report was adopted by the congress of the league.
Last year, the national president reported that the 41st congress, the one which received the report I have just read, had passed a resolution in the following terms: -
Section 37 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act be amended to include, after the words “ pulmonary tuberculosis “, the words “ and/ or cancer “, wherever appearing.
He also reported that the Minister for Repatriation had replied -
This matter has been considered on a number of occasions and I have again given consideration to it; but am not prepared to support the suggested amendment.
The national president has now prepared a report on last year’s activities of the league. This report will be presented to the league’s 44th congress in the honorable member’s electorate of Perth on 19th October next. The report states -
At the 42nd national congress-
That is the one which received the last report from which I quoted - the following resolution was carried: -
Commonwealth Government be requested to provide that Section 37 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act be amended to include after the words “ pulmonary tuberculoses “ the words “ and/ or cancer “ whenever appearing.
He reports that the Minister replied -
This is a matter that has been considered previously, and again has received careful consideration, but the Government is not prepared to support this Resolution.
I should hope that the honorable member for Perth will be as forthright in supporting the Minister and snubbing the league when he attends the national congress in Perth in four weeks’ time as he is after midnight and off the air in this chamber to-night.
What we are putting forward is something that has been put forward by every
State branch ,of the R.S.L., and by the national congress of the R.S.L. for many years past. It is a principle that we have accepted .with regard ,to pulmonary tuberculosis .ever since 1934.
It is true that in some circumstances you can .say what .causes .tuberculosis or what does -not cause tuberculosis; but .the Minister for Health ‘(Br. Donald Cameron), who is -sitting at the table, says professionally, as well as .in his .capacity as the representative an this chamber .of the Minister for Repatriation, .that -no one knows what causes cancer or, to put the converse, no one can say what .can mot cause cancer. If we are prepared ito .give an ex-serviceman who suffers from tuberculosis an automatic entitlement to a pension, as we have done for the last quarter of a century, we should all the more readily do the same thing for an ex-serviceman who suffers from cancer.
It is partly the Repatriation Department’s own fault that the problems of cancer in ex-servicemen are still a mystery. As the Minister for Health knows, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommended, in November, 1954, that the department should keep complete statistics on matters of this kind. I learned, from a reply which the Minister gave on 11th August to a question I had put on the notice-paper, that the department has not yet introduced a scheme for compiling and analysing those statistics. This means, Sir, that we have already lost five years through failing to carry out a survey which would give us better information than we have been able to get otherwise in this country on the causes, or at least, the incidence, of cancer. No one yet knows the causes, but if the decisions made by the National Health and Medical Research Council had been carried out by the Repatriation Department, to which the predecessor of the present Minister for Health conveyed those recommendation in January, 1955, we should have known by now the comparative incidence of cancer in various age groups and occupations and in respect of various kinds of war service. But we are without his information. That is not the fault of ex-servicemen or pension advocates. It is the fault of the Government or the Repatriation Department.
It may be true, Sir, that you cannot assume that a man who suffers from cancer has contracted it because of his war service. The converse is equally true. We say therefore, that persons who have served in the forces ought to have the benefit of the doubt. We have accepted that principle in respect of tuberculosis. Perhaps we have accepted it for no good reason, but why do we now penalize ex-servicemen in respect of cancer, from which, as all of us know, many ex-servicemen suffer? The repatriation boards, the Repatriation Commission or the tribunals accept that the cancer, in some cases, is due to war service, although, on the statement of the Minister for Health, nobody can say what caused the cancer. We all know of cases in which the tribunals or the lower bodies have accepted cancer as being war-caused. Doubtless, it was only a guess on their part.
– The exservicemen concerned were given the benefit of the doubt.
– Why give it in some cases and not in others?
– Because the tribunal had no doubt in the other cases.
– It cannot say that the cancer was due to war service, because, as the Minister himself has said, nobody can say what causes cancer. Let the Minister at least be consistent in this matter, Sir. Let him be logical. If it is logical to accept tuberculosis as being war-caused, it is logical to accept cancer as being war-caused. If we adopt the principle in respect of tuberculosis, it would be consistent to adopt it in respect of cancer. If some people get pensions because the tribunals guess that cancer has been caused by war service, any man who has served in the forces should receive a pension if he suffers from cancer, because a guess can be made in in the second case just as in the first, and the guess in the second case is just as valid as is that in the first. The decision in the first case is just as conjectural as is the reverse decision in the second case.
All we ask, Sir, is that the technicalities, the legalisms and the element of chance which attach to the matter when cancer is involved, be removed just as they were removed a quarter of a century ago in respect of tuberculosis. (Several honorable members rising in their places) -
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put-
That the question be now put. The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.) Ayes . . . . . . 52
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put -
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Barnard’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.) Ayes . . . . . . 32
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause 3b.
.- 1 move -
After clause 3, insert the following new clause: - “ 3b. After section forty-seven of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - 47a. - (1.) Where a claimant, applicant or appellant under this Act considers -
that, in hearing, determining or deciding his claim, application or appeal, the Commission, a Board, an Appeal Tribunal or an Assessment Appeal Tribunal did not give to him the benefit of any doubt in respect of a matter or question referred to, in paragraph (a) or (b) of sub-section (1.) of the last preceding section; or
a person or authority who contended that his claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed to the full extent claimed did not discharge the onus of proof placed on that person or authority by sub-section (2.) of that section, the claimant, applicant or appellant may appeal to the High Court, or to the Supreme Court of the State or Territory of the Commonwealth in which he resides, against the determination or decision of the Commission, Board, Appeal Tribunal or Assessment Appeal Tribunal, as the case may be, on the ground that he was not so given the benefit of a doubt or that the person or authority did not so discharge the onus of proof. (2.) Jurisdiction is conferred on the High Court, the several Supreme Courts of the States are invested with federal jurisdiction, and jurisdiction is conferred on the several Supreme Courts of the Territories of the Commonwealth, to hear and determine an appeal under this section. (3.) The jurisdiction conferred on, or invested in, the High Court or a Supreme Court by this section shall be exercised by a single Justice or Judge, as the case may be, of the Court. (4.) The Court hearing an appeal under this section may make such order with respect to the appeal as it thinks fit and that order shall be final and conclusive. (5.) An order as to the costs of an appeal under this section shall not be made. (6.) The regulations may make provision for the furnishing to a Court to which an appeal is made under this section of any records in the possession of the Commission which relate to the appellant.’.”.
This proposed new clause refers to section 47 of the Repatriation Act, which is the controversial section dealing with the onus of proof. Sufficient has probably already been said during the second-reading debate by honorable members from both sides of the House to indicate that there is a difference of opinion amongst members generally as to whether the onus of proof is being applied in the way originally intended by this Parliament. I regret that the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) saw fit to introduce the kind of thought for which he was responsible only a few moments ago. I want to make it perfectly clear that although my colleagues and I on this side of the committee may have been critical of certain aspects of section 47 - particularly the way the section may be applied - we have never at any time criticized the tribunals. As 1 have said on other occasions, in my opinion both War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals, being constitued of exservicemen, are sympathetic to the claims of ex-servicemen generally. We know that they always give every consideration to the claims submitted to them by the applicant, or by someone acting on his behalf. The honorable member for Perth cannot deny the truth of what I have said on this occasion. The same sympathetic treatment is afforded applicants by the Repatriation Department generally. 1 have been a member of this Parliament since 1954, and it has been my privilege to know, in Tasmania, three Deputy Commissioners. I pay tribute to the sympathetic consideration that they have given at all times to the problems of exservicemen generally. The honorable member for Perth should think very carefully before he makes statements concerning the intentions of Opposition members, who have a perfect right of criticism in these matters, if they feel that criticism should be levelled at the Government, or at the way in which the act is being applied.
This evening the Leader of the Opposition gave a clear indication of what Labour expects of the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals in their interpretation of the onus-of-proof provision. In my secondreading speech I indicated that we appreciated the intentions of the tribunals but did not believe that it was possible for them on all occasions properly to apply the onusofproof provision, even if they intend to do so. The 1956 report of the No. 2 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, to which the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) referred earlier, showed clearly that the tribunal had great difficulty in applying the onus-of-proof provision. The report of the Repatriation Commission for the year 1957-58 reveals that 89 per cent, of the cases submitted by the Repatriation Board to the commission in that year were rejected. That is a very substantial percentage.
The number of submissions to the No. 1 and No. 2 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals shows that a similar difficulty arises in respect of the onusofproof clause. Up to the end of December, 1958, 90,366 cases had been submitted to the tribunals. Of that number 13,421 were allowed - or approximately 14 per cent. One would expect a much higher proportion of successful applicants if the onusofproof provision were being properly applied. One should add that the percentage accepted by the tribunals is slightly higher than that of the Repatriation Commission. It might be attributable to the fact that in the tribunals the applicant has an opportunity either to submit his own case or to have it put by some one acting on his behalf. I make the point, as indeed I have done in other years, that an exserviceman who believes that the onusofproof provision has not been properly applied by a tribunal should have the opportunity of taking his case to higher authority - to a judge of the High Court, perhaps, or to a supreme court. A judge would be able to assess accurately whether the onus-of-proof clause had in point of fact been applied. The decision of the court would be final but at least the ex-serviceman would have had the benefit of legal opinion as to whether, in his own case, the onus-of-proof requirement had actually been fulfilled. No delay would be involved. The amendment provides that appeals shall be heard at no cost to the ex-serviceman.
Government supporters have indicated that a similar amendment has been submitted each year for the last three years. The amendment now before us is submitted in all sincerity and in the belief that honorable members generally are convinced that the onus-of-proof requirement is not being fulfilled as it should be. There is no need for me to refer in detail to the pronouncement of the former Attorney-General, Senator Spicer, on this important matter. It has been quoted over and over again by honorable members from both sides of the chamber.
.- The whole matter was adequately debated at the second-reading stage. The Government does not propose to accept the amendment.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr.
51 . 32
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put -
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Mr, Barnard’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.) Ayes , . . . . . 32
Question so resolved in the negative. Proposed new clause 5a.
Section proposed to be amended - 84.* Subject to this Act, the Commission or a Board may grant a service pension to a member of the Forces who -
Mr. HAYLEN (Parkes) ti. 32 a.m.].- 1 move -
After clause 5, insert the following new clause: - “5a. Section eighty-four of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from paragraph (a) the word ‘ sixty ‘ and inserting in its stead the word fifty-five ‘.”.
The amendment is designed to alter the grant of service pensions so that the exservicemen of World War I. may receive the burnt-out pension at 55 instead of 60 years of age. During the second-reading debate, Opposition speakers explained fully why this is sought. One of the members on the Government side pointed out that an exserviceman of World War I. who is now 55 years of age must have enlisted at the age of fourteen years. The age of 55 years was adopted by Labour’s repatriation committee after consultation with medical authorities in the United States and in the United Kingdom concerning the breakdown of physical health caused by active service, and the figure has been assessed at ten years. So the ex-serviceman of 55 becomes pensionable in view of the fact that it is a medical degree of deterioration of health due to war service.
Now we believe that it is time to do something about the number of ex-servicemen who have been unable to get a pension because of the operation of the onusofproof section. These people are in straitened circumstances. The provision could ameliorate this condition. This is a humane factor and the Government should look at it very closely. 1 hope that Government supporters, or the Minister for Health (Dr. Cameron), who is at the table, will not talk about the arrangements made in the Budget, because this provision, if adopted, will not cost a great deal of money and it will only be, quite obviously, the sick fellows who have not been able to get a pension and want to get under the umbrella of the burnt-out pension, as it were, who will apply for this. Let us make the break early and move stages by creating a pension five years or ten years earlier for those who have been on active service. It is a reasonable thing because as much as 89 per cent, of rejections come from appeals to the Repatriation Commission and the tribunals. All honorable members know from their own experience that many of these diggers are burnt-out prior to 60 years of age and they are hoping against hope - and their families are struggling with them - to either get a pension or some sort of relief. It has been pointed out that if the diggers are completely unemployable they can get their pension before that time, but we must study the whole psychology of the matter in relation to this class and in relation to hospitalization. The position is that the digger has a prestige and a standard of his own and he thinks that if he is not getting a war pension the burnt-out provisions could be applied because of the deterioration in his health, just as he believes that he should be admitted to a repatriation hospital because that is why originally the hospitals were built and that is where he believes he would be more effectively hospitalized - amongst his own mates.
But there is no need to over-talk or overargue this matter. It has been put forward by service organizations, lt is a reasonable thing, not just some whimsical concept of the Labour Party’s repatriation committee. We have taken it along carefully and solidly and conferred with the authorities both here and abroad and so far as we could - by reference, if not directly - we have tried to see whether something could be done. There exists this floating group of unpensionable ex-servicemen. They are not given pensions because of a breakdown in the onusofproof provision, in our view; there may be some logic in the Repatriation Department’s point of view as to why they cannot get pensions. But at least those who seem to us, from’ an external examination, to be’ pitiful cases should get some sort of relict and surely this is the best way to give it.
The acceptance of the amendment would have the effect of doing what I have tried to explain. I believe there will not be an excessive demand, and I hope that honorable members, who must be as interested in this amendment as they have been in the others will not say “ There will be a great rush of people seeking hospitalization “. We believe not that there will be a rush but that there will be a steady stream of these people, and from that the incidence of repatriation relief can be widened to the social service field. A person’s condition may have deteriorated - sharply deteriorated - beyond his years and he may, in fact, be old before his time. If he is not given a repatriation benefit the social service field may have to be extended to include him. So, to bring the repatriation arm and the social service arm closer together to provide security and safety -for the digger, we present this amendment and hope that it will be accepted by the Government. I hope also that the Minister will give us more than a perfunctory explanation and that he will not move the gag until this matter has been thoroughly thrashed out.
– As with the previous amendment, the subject of this one was thoroughly debated at the secondreading stage. The Government is not prepared to accept it. Mr. WARD (East Sydney) [1.40 a.m.)-
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) putThat the question be now put. The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.) Ayes . . 50
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put -
That the clause ‘ proposed to be inserted (Mr. Haylen*s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
Question so resolved in the negative. Proposed new clause 7a.
Mr. BRYANT (Wills) [1.56 a.m. J.- I move -
After clause 7, insert the following new clause: - “ 7a. After section one hundred and twenty-four of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - 1 12S. A Deputy Commissioner may, subject to such conditions as the Commission from time to time determines, provide medical treatment for a member who served in a theatre of war during the present war.’.”.
The purpose of the proposed new clause is to provide that any person who served in the First World War shall be entitled to medical benefits. I believe that honorable members on both sides of the House, if they care to give thought and attention to this matter and appreciate with sympathy and understanding the condition of those who served in that war, will support the amendment.
This afternoon, I detailed some of the reasons why those who served in World War I. ought to receive special consideration. Later during the day, I heard the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) explain why he, too, thought that such exservicemen had a special case. Administratively, when the men returned from World War I. there was not an atmosphere to encourage them to attempt to get benefits for themselves. During that war, the records were not nearly as adequate or as well kept as were those of the Second World War. Therefore, on those grounds alone, there is a case for special consideration for these people.
Further, between the time when they came home from overseas and the time of the amendment of the Repatriation Act, resulting from inquiries of, I think, a committee headed by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), there was very close scrutiny of applications for assistance by ex-servicemen of World War I. Therefore, the odds are that thousands of men did not receive the same kind of generous treatment that ex-servicemen have received since those amendments of the act. The proposal of the Australian Labour Party is simply a proposal to bring to bear a spirit of generosity and. to give a slightly new look to the Repatriation Act,
We believe that this proposed new provision should be written into the ‘ act. This is not a matter for decision by boards, tribunals or anything else, lt is for this Parliament to decide that this is a principle that should be applied. It is not a matter of deciding whether or not disabilities were war-caused. We know that ex-servicemen of World War I. may be suffering the ills tha come to people when they reach their sixties, and that it is very hard to define the exact cause of disabilities. We think that it is not a matter of determining whether the ailment of an ex-serviceman, whether it be heart trouble, arthritis, or something else, has been either aggravated or caused by, war service. It is simply a matter of accepting the fact that it is highly probable that his service in the First World War, in conditions ot great hardship, was responsible. In considering the claims of people who served in that war, it must not be forgotten that 95 per cent, of the serving personnel became casualties and that, on the very liberal interpretation that has sometimes been applied to service in the Second World War; they ought all’ to be accepted, anyhow. lt has been estimated that there are some 124,000 ex-servicemen of World War 1. still surviving. Of those, about 55,000 already receive pensions and medical benefits, and all the things that stem from them. Therefore, if this proposal of the Opposition were accepted it would bring within the act about 60,000 more people. This would not be such a tremendously expensive undertaking as may be thought. If honorable members look at the chart at page 29 of the recent report of the Repatriation Commission, they will see that the average daily number in hospital, of all the exservicemen entitled to hospital benefits, was 3,000. Of 204,000 former servicemen of both world wars who were entitled to medical benefits and pensions, the average daily number in hospital was about 3,000, or in other words, about 1 in 70. So that even if there were the same rate of hospitalization, it would be necessary to have only another few hundred beds per day. But, of course, that is not the real benefit of the proposal.
I believe that the blanket or the umbrella of the Repatriation Act carries with it some status to. the people who are in need of its provisions. I know perfectly well that some widows and older men from the First’ World War get some feeling of privilege or status once they have been accepted by the Repatriation Department. lt is ‘recognition that they served in a particularly arduous set of campaigns. 1 know that at least eight or nine honorable members on the Government side feel in their hearts that they should join us on this issue. Perhaps this is one occasion on which we should use the system of secret ballot that honorable members opposite so frequently advocate.
The position is quite clear. The amendment should be accepted on the grounds that the First World War was one of exceptional hardship and that the administrative system operating after that war prevented ex-servicemen from receiving (he same sort of generous treatment as ex-servicemen of the Second World War received. Not a great number of people arc involved - some 60,000 out of a population of 10,000,000 - and as the years go by our population and our national wealth will increase, but these commitments will contract. On the grounds of justice and of simply doing something from the heart instead of relying on a tangle of legalisms and complexities of administration, this amendment deserves the support of every thinking member.
– Like the two previous amendments, this amendment was thoroughly discussed during the secondreading stage. The Government will not accept it.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.) Ayes . . . . 51
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put -
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Bryant’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
. 32 51
(The Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.) Ayes . . 51
Question so resolved in the negative. Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report - by leave - adopted.
Motion (by Dr. Donald Cameron) - by leave - proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
I desire to take this opportunity to protest against the action of Sir “ Gagfield “ Barwick-
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 22nd September (vide page 1219), on motion by Sir Garfield Barwick -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- I move -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof - “ the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide rates of seamen’s war pensions and allowances adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to take effect as from the first pension pay day in July, 1959 “.
The purpose of the bill is to extend the benefits provided under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act for those who served at sea during World War II. The bill is brief, consisting of but four clauses, the third of which contains the conditions as to the rates of pension which will apply after the legislation operates. I think that before describing the contents of the bill’s four clauses, I should point out that the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act became law in 1940, and was the means by which the government of the day protected the interests of people who served in the Merchant Navy of Australia in the war.
It was obvious at the outbreak of war that two things were bound to happen. The first was that it would be necessary for Australia to keep its seaborne commerce afloat and, through its seamen and its ships, to ensure that food was supplied, to our allies, principally to Great Britain, and that we had the transport essential for the movement of troops. The second thing which was obvious was that the enemy had determined, by the use of submarines and raiders, and the sowing of mines, to destroy the shipping of Great Britain and other countries. So it was essential, very early in 1940, that steps be taken by the Commonwealth government of the day to see that the interests of those who were manning the ships of our Merchant Navy were protected; that they received some assurance that, in the event of their being injured, satisfactory compensation or pensions would be paid to them; and that, in the event of their losing their lives, adequate provision would be made for the widows and children.
So, in 1940, the act came into operation, indeed, it was one of the first measures passed to deal with the perils faced by those who were actively engaged in the seaborne transport of troops and freight for war purposes.
– Get on with it.
– I am getting on with the bill now. Discussion of those aspects is essential, because of the amendment I have moved, and because I want to indicate to honorable members that the people who were engaged in the Merchant Navy during the war were doing a great task on behalf of Australia, and, indeed; on behalf of our allies.
The bill proposes an increase in pensions for those regarded as totally incapacitated, but not permanently incapacitated. The increase is 7s. 6d. a week. That is the amount by which the war pension is to be increased under the repatriation legislation. Widows who come within the ambit of this bill are to receive the same increase of pension as has been granted to widows under the repatriation legislation. The Opposition takes the same view on this legislation as it took on the Social Services Bill and the Repatriation Bill. We consider that the proposed increases are insufficient, and do not meet the needs of the people affected. It is for that reason that I have moved that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted.
Mr. Speaker, it is not my intention to repeat what I said on the Social Services Bill, or what was said on the Repatriation Bill. However, there are certain things that I believe need to be stressed. The point 1 desire to stress - and it should be emphasized as much as possible - is that the rates of pensions fixed in legislation of this description should be such as to reflect adequately the increased prosperity that has come to this country since the principal act became law. It has been pointed out, and I point it out again, that in the nineteen years since the original measure was passed, and in the fourteen years since the end of World War II., there has been a tremendous improvement in this nation - economically, financially, industrially and in respect of productive capacity. That is shown in many ways. Unfortunately, that improvement has not been reflected in the rates of pension fixed by the three bills, including this bill, that I have mentioned.
The Opposition believes that unless those in the lower income group who are receiving benefits under legislation of this sort have their incomes increased at least in proportion with the increases in the incomes of the rest of the community, we will reach a stage where one section of the community will be getting relatively richer while another section, which does not have the same advantages, will be getting relatively poorer. I illustrate that point by this means: Since 1945 there have been three distinct increases in the real wages of workers. There was an interim increase of 6s. in the basic wage about 1946. In 1951, there was an increase of £1 a week, and; as a result of the recent basic wage judgment, an actual increase in real wages of 2s. a week was granted, thus raising the basic wage above the actual cost of living.
Not only have wage-earners and others engaged in industry received a substantial uplift in purchasing power and an increase in real wealth, but following the £1 increase, a new method of adjusting wages was introduced. Under it, a greater proportion of the basic wage was taken into consideration in calculating the increase in the cost of living. As a result, the purchasing power of workers was increased.
If it is good for those engaged in industry and in doing the essential work of the nation to have increases because the productivity, prosperity and national income of Australia have improved, it is equally good for those who are covered by the pension schemes of the Commonwealth to share in the general prosperity. This increase has been shown, not only in the basic wage in respect of industry, but also in the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures relating to average earnings in the community. All along the line, average earnings have shown a tendency to rise. This means that a better standard of living is being enjoyed by those engaged in industry and this, in turn, is reflected in the position of those performing managerial duties in industry. In those circumstances, we submit that it is only reasonable and fair to claim that those who are covered by this legislation - the people who, in the defence of their country, lost their lives and left widows and children or who, in carrying on the commerce of the country, met with injuries which have reduced their mental or physical capacity - are entitled to share in the benefits which the community, through its prosperity, can give to the individuals.
I suggest to the House that the amend’ ment is reasonable. It seeks to give these people a fair share of the increased prosperity, and, for that reason, should be adopted by the House.
– At this late hour, it is not necessary for me to point out to the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) that the arguments which he has used in submitting his proposal are almost identical with those which have been adduced over and over again in this House this week in the debates on the Social Services Bill 1959 and the Repatriation Bill 1959. In my opinion, it would be tedious repetition to continue the debate at this stage. The Government has already intimated that it will not accept amendments such as the one proposed because the payments which we are considering now are almost identical in every way, and certainly in conformity with the payments payable under the Repatriation Bill which has just been passed by the House. I therefore move -
That the question be put.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. SpeakerAyes Noes
John McLeay.) . 51 31
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr.
Clarey’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Aves .. .. ..51
Noes .. .. ..31
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Amendment negatived. Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time. In committee: Clause 1 agreed to. Clause 2 -
This Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
.Mr. Chairman, I move -
Omit all words after “ shall “, insert “ be deemed to have come into operation on the eighth clay of July, one thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine “.
If the amendment is agreed to, the increases provided for in this measure will be paid retrospectively for a period of approximately three months. I do not propose to support the amendment by going back over the ground that has been so fully covered in the debates on the Social Services Bill 1959 and the Repatriation Bill 1959, which we have just passed. I point out that ample precedents have been cited to indicate that it is by no means unusual for legislation to to be made retrospective. I add only that the increases to be paid under the terms of this bill are small. If the amendment is carried and the retrospective payment is made, an amount of only about £4 17s. 6d. will be involved in respect of each pensioner. The number of persons receiving these pensions is very small. Consequently, the amendment would have very little effect on government finances or on the Budget. In view of the small amount involved, I suggest that the amendment is reasonable and I hope that the committee will agree to it.
.Mr. Chairman, I wish to take the opportunity to object very strongly to the Government’s attitude towards these important matters. There is no doubt in the world that, although the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who is at the table, and who has been at least three parts asleep, says that this matter has been fully discussed-
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put -
Thai the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.) Ayes . . . . . . 50
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Clarey’s amendment) stand part of the clause.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
Question resolved in the affirmative. Amendment negatived. Clause agreed to.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Cramer) - by leave - proposed - That the bill be now read a third time.
.- 1 desire to direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the scandalous conduct-
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put-
That the question be now put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.) Ayes . . . . 51
Majority . . 20
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.’ ‘
Motion (by Mr. Cramer) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.Mr. Speaker -
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
House adjourned at 3.15 a.m. (Friday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
m asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. Yes.
e asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice -
What amount of excise duty was collected during the year 1958-59 in respect of (a) beer; and (b) cigarettes and tobacco?
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has furnished the following answer to the honorable member’s question: -
The net amount of excise duty collected during the year 1958-59 was as follows: - (a) Beer, £105,285,678; (b) Cigarettes, £55,823,694; tobacco, £15,207,513.
m asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
Will he supply me, before the debate on the estimates for the Department of Shipping and Transport, with a reply to the question which I placed on the notice-paper on 27th August concerning assistance to the shipbuilding industry?
– The reply to the honorable member’s question was supplied earlier to-day. As the honorable member knows, the committee has not yet debated the estimates for the Department of Shipping and Transport.
d asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the acting Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
Is he able to furnish information regarding (a) the nature of the organization known as AGITPROP, (b) its organizational structure, and (c) its relation to the Praesidium of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
Leninist theory enables them to find the right orientation in any situation. However, theory develops in accordance with changes in circumstances, and it is the function of AGITPROP to apply to all specific problems the changes decided by the policy makers.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 September 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1959/19590924_reps_23_hor24/>.