24th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Sir ROBERT MENZIES presented a petition from certain citizens of the Commonwealth praying that the Government remove section 127, and the words discriminating against aborigines in section 51, of the Commonwealth Constitution, by the holding of a referendum at an early date.
– I happen to believe that it is the democratic right of electors to petition Parliament, and my own electors are not going to be excluded.
Similar petitions were presented by Mr. Harold Holt and Mr. Mackinnon.
Petitions severally received.
Mr. JAMES presented a petition from certain electors of the Commonwealth praying that the pension increase of ten shillings proposed in the 1963 Budget be granted to all age, invalid and widow pensioners.
Petition received and read.
Similar petitions were presented by Mr. L. R. Johnson and Mr. Cairns.
Petitions severally received.
Mr. L. R. JOHNSON presented a petition from certain electors of the Commonwealth praying that the Government (1 ) support the United Nations resolution for a nuclear test ban treaty, (2) ensure that foreign bases are not permitted on Australian soil, and (3) in response to the call of the United Nations declare Australia’s willingness to enter into an agreement not to manufacture, test, station or acquire nuclear weapons.
– Does the Prime Minister recall my request of 23rd October, 1961, that he submit to the House a motion expressing Australia’s protest at the Russian megaton explosion in the Pacific area and calling on the Soviet Government to desist from such tests? Does he recall also that he failed to take such action? Has the French Government now intimated that in its view Australia would be discriminating by protesting against France’s proposed nuclear tests in the Pacific? Will the right honorable gentleman now take with regard to the French tests the kind of action that I proposed with regard to the Russian tests and submit to the Parliament a motion of protest? Finally, and most important, will he assure the House tha: Australia will take the initiative at the United Nations in calling on France to heed world opinion and to desist from endangering the peace of the world and the health of future generations by conducting these tests?
– All I need say is that, as the House well knows, the Minister for External Affairs made a statement in relation to the French proposal. He has had exchanges with the Ambassador of France and has maintained our attitude in the matter. I had assumed that what the Minister had said represented the common view of members of this House.
– Can the Minister for Repatriation intimate when the construction of the two new wards proposed for the Repatriation General Hospital at Springbank is likely to commence?
– I am pleased to be able to inform the House that, with the cooperation of my colleague, the Minister for Works, the two new wards have been included in the works programme for this financial year.
– Is the Minister for Trade aware that shipping freights to America increased last week by 10 per cent., at an estimated cost to Australia’s meat industry alone of £2,000,000 per annum, without any guarantee that a further 10 per cent, increase will not occur next year? Does this incident not come within the category of what the Minister has termed selling Australia bit by bit? What action does he propose to protect Australia’s primary industries against these repeated heavy freight increases? Does he not agree that an Australian overseas shipping line would provide the best means of countering these repeated onslaughts on Australia’s economy, as a result of which shipping freights are now costing Australia more than £160,000,000 per annum?
– I am aware that an increase in freight rates on lines operating between Australia and, I think, the east coast of the United States of America has been announced. This is a matter in which the Government has no direct authority, but we have asked the shipping lines to explain the basis on which they have found the increase to be necessary. When we have some advice on this matter a judgment can be made. The honorable member referred also to a national overseas shipping line. I presume that he has in mind a national line of ships built in Australia, manned by Australians and operated under Australian conditions. Using the activities of the Australian National Line as a measuring stick, we would then be troubled by a rise not of 10 per cent, but of 50 per cent, in freight rates.
– The question that I ask of the Minister for Air relates to his recent statement regarding the purchase of portable air navigation and control equipment in order to increase the mobility of the Royal Australian Air Force. Can the Minister indicate to what extent airfields in northwestern Australia, at places such as Broome, Learmonth and Derby, are available for operational purposes? Can he state whether this equipment will permit those airfields to be used by reconnaissance, fighter or bomber aircraft and thus greatly contribute to Australian, and particularly Western Australian, defence?
– Of the airfields mentioned by the honorable member, only Learmonth is a Royal Australian Air Force field. It is a field of high standard. I think it has a 9,000-ft. runway and is capable of being used under all conditions. The other fields are under the control of the Department of Civil Aviation. Undoubtedly the Air Force could, if necessary, use those fields at any time for a short period, but any prolonged use of them by the Air Force would undoubtedly seriously damage the runways because they are not sufficiently strong. However, in that area we have at Darwin an excellent operational base with a runway of 11,000 feet - the longest in Australia. We have just recently decided to build a new aerodrome at Tindall, just south of Katherine; and the Air Force can operate from the Learmonth base and also from the Cocos base. We have mobile equipment which can be carried to any of those bases. We have a mobile control and reporting unit which is at present in Malaya. We have more equipment on order which will make the Air Force very mobile if it is necessary to move it into the area mentioned by the honorable member.
– Can the Treasurer explain why in the regimen used to produce the consumer price index only 10 per cent, is allowed for rental or home purchase, whereas census statistics recently issued set the figure at approximately 25 per cent, of the average weekly wage?
– I shall see whether I can supply the honorable gentleman with an explanation.
– The Treasurer will recall the proposals announced in the Budget to recognize the timber industry as a primary industry, from the falling of the logs to the point of delivery to the skids at the mill. Will the right honorable gentleman give sympathetic consideration to granting similar benefits to timber fallen supplying telephone or electricity poles and the like up to the point of delivery to the yard or rail- > head? Will he give sympathetic consideration also to granting similar benefits to sleeper-cutters up to the point of conversion of the timber?
– The honorable gentleman raises a matter of policy. I cannot give an answer off-hand, but I will study the issues raised and see that they are sympathetically considered.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether it is a fact that the controversial “ Four Corners “ television programme featuring the Returned Servicemen’s League was made available to-day for a private and exclusive screening to a group of Government supporters. Does that action indicate that the Liberal Party and Country Party members concerned contemplate political intervention to suppress this impartial Australian Broadcasting Commission programme? Why were members of the Opposition denied the privilege of viewing the special screening of this programme? In view of the recent sacking and censure of the editor of the programme, and the public interest generated as a result, will the Postmaster-General consider giving the public the same opportunity to have a second look at this programme as has been given to Government supporters?
– I do not know of any bar being placed on any one who wants to see this programme, which was made available on request to certain honorable members. This was not done officially either by me or by the Government. That is just a plain statement of the facts.
– Why were we not invited?
– I have made a certain statement and I hope that honorable members opposite realize that I am not a liar.
– I address my question to the Minister for Trade. In its annual report issued yesterday the Tariff Board again referred to the desirability of examining the whole chlorine complex. As the price of caustic soda is £65 a ton in Australia, compared with £40 in Britain, and as dense soda ash costs £34 a ton in Australia, compared with £18 9s. in Britain, will the Minister consider referring these products to the Tariff Board for report so that some relief may be given to the secondary industries in which the high cost of these imported base materials must be a severe handicap?
– I have not yet studied whatever recommendations or proposals are embodied in the Tariff Board’s annua] report, which was tabled only yesterday, but this will be done without undue delay. The question whether an item should be referred to the Tariff Board because, as has been suggested by the honorable member, the cost under protection is burdensome to an Australian industry is obviously one of prime interest to the industry alleged to be affected, which, of course, is free to ask for a reference to the Tariff Board.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Is it a fact that the United States of America is insisting on an improvement in the standard of hygiene in Australian meatworks in which cattle and sheep are slaughtered for the American market? What is the estimated cost of bringing Australian meatworks to the standard of hygiene demanded by the United States Government? As the United States took £75,000,000 worth of our total meat exports for 1962-63, valued at £96,000,000, will the Minister consider giving financial help to the meatworks so that American standards of hygiene may be attained, in an effort to retain this most valuable market for one of our primary products in which both country graziers and city workers have a vital interest?
– The American authorities sent their senior veterinarian to inspect our meatworks. He made certain requests for an improvement in hygiene. Those requests have been referred to the meat exporters. In fact, my department has called them together in conference and has made them acquainted with the American requirements. They are now studying the matter.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development by stating that the Division of National Mapping produces a number of excellent maps of Australia but that, unfortunately, the existence of the maps generally is unknown to people in the area concerned, who might be expected to make the best use of them. Will the Minister arrange for consultations with the Postmaster-General with a view to having on sale in each post office the maps relating to the area which that post office serves?
– I will refer the honorable member’s suggestion to my colleague in another place and see whether he can agree to carry it out.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that the report of the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation presented in June, 1961 directed attention to tax evasion of about £14,000,000 a year resulting from the formation of apparently bogus partnerships and companies and from other smart business practices? Did the Treasurer at that time promise to take immediate retrospective action to stop this massive tax evasion? Is it a fact that after two years, as a result of powerful pressure from such wealthy interests, the Government is still only considering what action, if any, might be taken? By contrast, is it a fact that last year, and more particularly this year, the Taxation Branch has launched a most intensive scrutiny of all deduction claims made by ordinary wage-earning taxpayers in respect of medical, hospital and educational expenses and gifts to charities, and in many cases is arbitrarily disallowing the whole or part of the claims until appropriate supporting evidence is provided? Is this the Government’s notion of looking after the little people?
– It is not easy to deal with a series of questions which consist of mis-statements of fact, half-truths, considerable distortion and a good deal of political propaganda. I shall try to state the facts as I recall them. A report was received from the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation - a committee which this Government set up to go over the whole of the income tax field, which is a very wide and complex area of Commonwealth legislation. Other countries from time to time have made efforts to revise their taxation structures. I have noted with interest the efforts being made in the United States, which seems to be making rather slower progress towards finality than has been made in Australia.
This Government, in order to act as speedily as we can on the recommendations of the committee, has enlisted the services of the former Commissioner of Taxation who is now working in the Treasury. Some of the recommendations have been adopted. I made announcements to that effect in my Budget speech. One or two recommendations had been adopted prior to this Budget. In the course of the Budget speech I indicated that other matters were currently receiving attention and would come before the House when the Government had finalized its own consideration of them. The honorable gentleman makes a quite contemptible allegation that the delay is due to pressures put upon this Government by what he terms “wealthy supporters “. I know that his party is an authority on pressure tactics and those who exercise them. A government from our side of politics, at least, is drawn from members who are capable of reaching their own conclusions and coming to their own determinations. We are not compelled to take decisions by people outside this House. We make our own decisions in the best possible time and according to our best judgment.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Trade, deals with the flour industry. Has any approach been made to the Government for assistance either in the direct form of a subsidy or by having the export of flour included in the wheat stabilization plan? In view of the fact that a number of millers are competing against one another to secure markets, I ask whether any consideration has been given, either by the Government or the industry itself, to setting up an export board - thereby avoiding duplication of the present arrangements for the securing of markets - and at the same time setting up a promotion scheme to assist the industry, which plays a very important role in providing rural employment.
– Over a period representations have been made to the Government and representations have been directed to me by the flour milling industry to the effect that there should be some form of assistance to enable the industry to export competitively. I understand that proposals are under examination at present. The Government is concerned that our flour milling industry’s capacity to export should be sustained. The activities of the Department of Trade have been directed to procuring new markets and securing existing markets and also to the competitive position of the product itself.
HOUSING. Mr. JONES. - I preface my question, which I address to the Treasurer, by referring to the Commonwealth Savings Bank housing loans of 75 per cent, of the value of the home, with a maximum of £3,500 repayable over 22 years for timber homes, 26 years for brick veneer homes and 32 years for brick homes. Does the Treasurer realize that thousands of young married couples who are desirous of owning their homes cannot find the deposit of 25 per cent.? Will he agree to reduce the deposit of 25 per cent, now required by the Commonwealth Savings Bank to the more reasonable figure of 5 per cent.? Will he also extend the terms of the loans so that monthly repayments may be reduced to a figure within the reach of the lower income groups?
– The conditions under which the savings banks, including the Commonwealth Savings Bank, make their loans are matters for decision by the managements of the banks concerned. As to the effect that the present arrangements arc having, I can only point to the fact that over recent months there has been a significantly large increase in the number of and total provision for housing loans by the savings banks and this is now being reflected in an increasing total of housing approvals.
Earlier this session, during the debate on the Loan (Housing) Bill, I gave some details relating to the high standard of housing availability reached in this country which I think measures up to the best to be found in any other part of the world. That does not mean that we feel that all that could be done is being done. Indeed, that is why, included in the other action taken in the Budget, we have arranged for the liberalization of the ability of savings banks to lend for housing purposes. I would believe that as a consequence of all these measures there would be more opportunity for young people to secure housing loans in this country than in any other place to which one could point.
– I ask the Minister for Defence whether he has any information as to the recently announced British pentagon style defence structure. Is it the intention of the Australian Government to make any change in the Australian defence structure in the near future? Is the new British sys tem planned to bring about greater unification and control over planning for the three services?
– The honorable member for La Trobe has asked three questions. The answer to the first is, “ Yes, I have looked at the White Paper issued by Peter Thorneycroft, Minister for Defence in the United Kingdom “. It gives a broad survey rather than a detailed explanation of tha new organization. Just reading this broad presentation, I find that there are many points of similarity in the new British organization and the organization that we have had in Australia for the last few years. But the details of the organization are what are important, and we are studying those. At the present time senior representatives of the Department of Defence are in England and, among other things, they are getting the exact details of the new defence organization in Great Britain. When those officers come home, I shall have a look at the scheme, and, if necessary, take it to the Government for an opinion. In reply to the third question, I might say that we must not think that what suits the United Kingdom necessarily suits us.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the chairman of the Australian Wool Industry Conference, Sir John Crawford, and the executive of that conference conferred with him, the Minister of Trade, the Treasurer and the Minister for Primary Industry on 29th August last. Did that meeting follow closely on the recent reaffirmation of Labour’s wool promotion finance policy, which is to match the growers’ levy contributions with a £1 for £1 subsidy from the Government? Did the representatives of the Wool Industry Conference propose that a government subsidy should be made in respect of promotion finance? If so, what sum was suggested and on what basis? How long will it be before the Government is likely to announce a decision on the requests made? Were Sir William Gunn and other members of the Australian Wood Bureau present at the interview? Is it a fact that the Prime Minister’s Country Party colleagues favour a subsidy contribution but the Prime Minister and his Liberal Party colleagues are opposed to such a proposition?
– I will answer the last bit of the question while I have it in mind. This is a remarkable exercise of imagination by my imaginative friend, because the views put to us by the deputation have not yet been discussed in Cabinet. They are being examined by the expert advisers that the Government has. Therefore, speculation as to the view I will take, when at the moment I have formed none, seems to me to be a painful waste of time.
We did have representations made to us. Sir William Gunn was present. The representations were very carefully put and we listened to them very closely. I was spared the embarrassment of trying to compare them with something the Australian Labour Party may have said, because that is a task beyond the scope of my office or indeed of my capacities. Views were put to us. They will be very carefully considered and in due course the Government will do what it thinks best.
– How long, how long?
– As long as you end up by saying, “ How long, how long, O Lord “, I will not complain.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs. In view of the answer given to my question, No. 163 on yesterday’s noticepaper, in which reference was made to the inclusion in the Indonesian Independence Day parade of an effigy of the Prime Minister of Malaya with a rope round his neck at the end of an Indonesian soldier’s bayonet, will the Minister issue instructions to our ambassadors overseas that when they are invited to ceremonies at which direct insults to our friends and allies are paraded or uttered, immediate, strong and dignified protests should be made against such childish and most insulting exhibitions or statements, to ensure that Australia’s attitude will not be misconstrued because of her silence or the presence of her diplomatic representatives?
– My only knowledge of this matter derives from reading the newspaper report of the question put by my friend and the answer made by my colleague. I agree that this matter raises a problem, and I will certainly have it looked into.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral a question. Is it a fact that last week the Australian Broadcasting Commission expressed confidence in the man who was then acting as editor of the “Four Corners “ programme and assured him that no changes would be made in the control or direction of the programme?
– Assured whom?
– Mr. Ashbolt. Is it further a fact that last night the commission appointed another participant in the programme as the new editor of it? If these are facts, can the honorable gentleman assure the House that, despite the public controversy and ministerial interventions in the intervening week, he will make some attempt to see that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is given and is seen to have the same integrity and independence as its model, the British Broadcasting Corporation?
– The fact, of course, is that there has been no political intervention in this matter. I have read in the press that Mr. Ashbolt, who was acting temporarily in the position after Mr. Michael Charlton went overseas, has returned to his normal job and that another appointment has been made. That is the position. The action was taken as a matter of administrative detail by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, exercising its own authority.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration. Did he recently arrange for officers of his department to visit certain country centres in Victoria, with a view to holding discussions with residents, both old and new, and providing information on many subjects relative to migration, including naturalization? Have such visits taken place and, if so, were they a success and does the Minister intend to continue and extend them?
– The Government is always looking for ways and means by which the advantages of naturalization can be more readily made available to those who are qualified. The honorable gentleman may remember that I launched, in effect, a new campaign three weeks ago with the distribution of what I think honorable members would join with me in saying is quite attractively presented publicity in connexion with it. Yes, it is perfectly true that officers of my department are also visiting country centres in Victoria, and I hope that they have visited Mildura and other parts represented with such distinction by my old and honorable friend.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Army. Is it a fact that, earlier this year at Wodonga, Victoria, at the invitation of the Commanding Officer of a Citizen Military Forces unit, a picnic group accepted and participated in Army exercises with a view, so it is said, to recruitment and enlistment in the C.M.F.? Is it also a fact that the picnickers turned out to be members of an immigrant terrorist organization, on a four-day camp, and were attired in the standard uniform of the Utasha, a pro-Nazi movement formed during World War II.? Is it also a fact that the Yugoslav Interior Ministry announced a few days ago that it had smashed a plot by nine Australian-trained terrorists to assassinate Communist leaders and blow up bridges, factories and public buildings? Has the Minister ascertained whether any of the arrested revolutionary terrorists were members of the picnic group at Wodonga and actually received some of their training at the expense of the Australian taxpayer? Furthermore, will he state for how long it has been the policy of the Army to invite picnickers in the vicinity of Army camps to participate in Army training without any inquiry as to their activities or intentions?
– There has been quite a lot of publicity about this in the last week or so. The matter was raised in another place on 23rd May this year, as appears in “ Hansard “. The allegation was investigated at that time and, in the light of the recent publicity, I have further gone very closely into the matter. It has been suggested by the honorable member for Grayndler to-day, and in the press, that some training was given to these migrants. That is completely wrong. No training of any kind whatsoever has been given by the C.M.F. to any one or to any group other than those who are members of the C.M.F. On the occasion that has been referred to, a small unit of the Citizen Military Forces, a local unit of the armoured corps comprising about 30 men, was asked to give a display. I may say that it is customary for such displays to be given at shows and other gatherings, one purpose being to obtain recruits for the C.M.F. That unit gave this display. The members of the unit were not in any way aware of the identity of the members of this group that has been referred to, and therefore there was nothing significant about the display. It was simply the ordinary display that is usually given.
The honorable member asked me a question concerning nine Yugoslavs. I have investigated that matter as closely as possible, and I am still investigating it. I can say quite definitely that they were not members of Southern Command or of Eastern Command. However, I have not yet completed my investigations of this aspect of the matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. Does the Australian National Line intend to extend its passenger-vehicular ferry service to include a service between Melbourne and Brisbane with an intermediate call at Sydney? If so, when will this service commence? What type and size of vessel will be used in the trade and what wharf and terminal facilities will be provided in Brisbane and in Sydney?
– Although a site for a ferry terminal has been purchased at Brisbane no decision has been made regarding a vehicle-carrying vessel to operate between Melbourne and Brisbane calling at Sydney en route. As a matter of fact, the type of vessel to be used has not yet been decided upon. I might point out that the existing trade between Melbourne and Brisbane has been successful mainly because it gives a through run between the two ports, with no delay occasioned by an intermediate stop. That has been the main attraction for shippers. However, the Australian National Line, with its terminals in Tasmania, with the one that will eventually be provided in Brisbane - it will take some time to construct the terminal facilities - and with the one in Sydney, is in a position to extend its services from time to time as the volume of trade warrants it and as the necessity arises for more efficient services. There has been some discussion on the question whether a vehicle-carrying ship could be used, with accommodation for heavy transport vehicles and accommodation also for the drivers of those vehicles. However, no decision has been made as to whether or not the vessels used should call at Sydney.
– Does the Treasurer agree that modern farming requires the use of various types of trace elements and fertilizers? If so, I ask him whether the Government will consider extending the superphosphate bounty to cover all kinds of fertilizers and trace elements. Does the right honorable gentleman agree that many sections of primary industry will not reap any real benefit from the recently granted bounty of £3 a ton on superphosphate? Will the Treasurer arrange for benefits to be extended in the way I have suggested so that all sections of primary industry may be assisted and so that the Government can keep completely within the ambit of Labour policy?
– The honorable member concluded his question by asking us to keep within the ambit of Labour policy. So far as I can ascertain, the Labour Party is prepared to stretch its policy as far as is necessary to comply with anybody’s request and to let the consequences take care of themselves. Fortunately for Australia, it is unlikely that the present Government will adopt such an attitude. Whilst it is obviously true that a concession like the superphosphate bounty will benefit some primary producers more than others one must, if one wishes to look at the matter fairly, take into account the full range of concessions that have been granted, spread over the whole area of primary production. When this is done it is seen that the Government has, during its period of office, made extensive concessions in one form or another to primary producers generally. The superphosphate bounty represents the extent of the Govern ment’s policy decision on this occasion. What the honorable gentleman raises is, in effect, a matter that would require a fresh policy determination. It is not customary to deal with such matters at question-time.
– For the information and notice of honorable members I present the following paper: -
Commonwealth Parliamentary Delegation - Report of Visit to South-East Asia- JuneJuly, 1963 - and move -
That the House take note of the paper.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Haylen) adjourned.
– by leave - I wish to correct a statement I made a fortnight ago. In my speech in the Budget debate, in order to illustrate the Government’s tardiness in re-equipping the Royal Australian Air Force, I asserted that all combat aircraft in service, except for the later Neptunes, were ordered by the Labour Government which preceded this Government. At question-time yesterday the Minister for Air (Mr. Fairbairn) told the honorable and gallant member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) that the preceding government had entered into negotiations for the Canberra bomber, but not for the other aircraft. Later, in the evening, the Minister informed me that the contracts and negotiations for the other two types of aircraft - the Sabre and the earlier Neptune - were entered into during December, 1950. I must therefore amend my statement to say that all R.A.A.F. combat aircraft in service, except for the later Neptunes, were ordered twelve or more years ago.
Motion (by Mr. Calwell) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) on the ground of ill health, and to the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Clay) on the ground of parliamentary business overseas.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1960, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report: - Construction of a terminal and operations building and a maintenance and stores centre at Launceston airport.
The proposal provides for the erection, at a total estimated cost of £738,000, of a new terminal and operations building and a new maintenance and stores centre, associated with the development of the Launceston airport in Tasmania. The terminal and operations building will be a reinforced concrete structure with brick external cladding. Operations activities will be accommodated in a two-story section. The terminal section will be single storied with a mezzanine lounge area. The maintenance and stores centre will consist of a group of single-story brick buildings.
I table plans of the proposed buildings.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1960, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the Committee has duly reported to this House: - Construction of airfield pavements for the Tullamarine Airport, Victoria.
The proposal provides for the construction of two runways, taxiways and an apron area, with associated earthworks, pavement construction and drainage, the provision of a water supply and the diversion of Lancefieldroad. at a total estimated cost of £8,000,000.
The committee has reported favorably on the proposal. Upon the concurrence of the House in this resolution, detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the recommendation of the committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1960, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the Committee has duly reported to this House: - Provision of additional mains, service reservoir and pumping stations for the Darwin Water Supply, Northern Territory.
The proposal provides for the enlargement or installation of pipe lines, the provision of an elevated service reservoir and dieseldriven pumps, at an estimated total cost of £377,000. The committee has reported favorably on the proposal. Upon the concurrence of the House in this resolution, the detailed planning necessary for the carrying out of the work can proceed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 10th September (vide page 803), on motion by Mr. Swartz -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This is a bill to implement the increases in repatriation benefits outlined in the Budget. I was surprised yesterday when the Opposition made some play of the fact that the bill was introduced yesterday afternoon and debated later in the evening.
– That is rather unusual.
– It is rather unusual, but I point out to honorable members opposite that a rough outline of the bill was known by reason of the contents of the Budget. I am sure that all honorable members would like to see the bill passed expeditiously so that the benefits may be paid as quickly as possible. For this purpose, I suggest that all honorable members, within reason, keep their speeches to a minimum. I propose to do that.
I was very interested in the proposal put forward by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) that a joint select committee be appointed to examine once again the whole of the repatriation system. As the honorable member reminded the House, a joint select committee appointed in 1943 did a notable job in overhauling the repatriation system at that time. Without any pessimism, I question whether there is justification for the appointment of another joint select committee now, although I by no means reject the idea. If such a committee can serve a useful purpose, by all means let us have it. However, I believe that the situation was well looked at by the previous joint select committee and has been well provided for by the number of amendments made over the years since. At all times in the Parliament, and particularly when we are considering a bill such as this, more specifically at the committee stage, opportunities are available for the submission of all manner of suggestions and proposals for the general improvement of repatriation procedures.
– It is twenty years since we had a good look at the matter.
– I do not reject the honorable member’s suggestion, as I have said. I am only questioning whether in fact there would be sufficient work fully to justify the appointment of another joint select committee. Such a committee would be an important one and a substantial amount of work would have to be required for a committee of that kind to be set in motion.
At this point, Sir, I would like to express to the Minister for Repatriation the gratitude of the Government Members Exservicemen’s Committee, of which I happen to be chairman, for the very ready access to him that we have always had for advice, consultation and discussion on major matters concerning repatriation. I understand that this applies also to the committee of Opposition members. We all are very grateful to the Minister for that ready access, and I would like him to know that it is very much appreciated.
I turn now very brieflly to the main provisions of this bill, which will implement the Budget proposals relating to repatriation. I shall discuss quickly the major increases in benefits. I do not propose to go into detail, because they have already been described in detail by the Minister and because, as I have said, I want the passage of this bill to be expedited as much as possible. There are seven major benefits provided for in this bill. The first is the increase of 10s. a week in the special rate of pension payable to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. The second is the increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the domestic allowance payable to war widows. This increase will bring the allowance to £3 10s. a week.
The third major benefit is the payment of an additional £3 a week to widows who do not qualify for the war widow’s pension and who have one or more children. The fourth is the 15 per cent, increase in the education allowance payable in respect of students. The fifth major benefit is an increase of 10s. a week in the service pension where only one pension comes into the home. The sixth is an increase of 5s. a week in the allowance payable to a permanent unemployable service pensioner in respect of the second and each subsequent child. This increase will bring the rate to 15s. a week. The seventh major benefit is an increase of 12s. 6d. a week in the pension payable to the wife of a service pensioner whose service pension is payable for reasons other than age.
Discussion of section 47 of the principal act - the onus-of-proof section - has come to be an annual event. This appears to be a somewhat contentious section, and I want to make some comments about it, because some honorable members clearly either do not understand it or are endeavouring to misinterpret it. This section of the act has been explained to the Parliament by two Attorneys-General - Senator Spicer and the present Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick). I believe that honorable members, if they examine those explanations thoroughly and carefully, ought to be quite clear about the meaning of section 47.
– The question is whether the tribunals are sure of what it means?
– I am inclined to think that they are, because it is their job to know, as the honorable member is aware.
– They disagreed most strongly with the submissions made by one of the two Attorneys-General mentioned.
– I understand that they did disagree with one lot of submissions. This is a matter that ought to be looked at very thoroughly indeed.
– The disagreement indicates that the tribunals do not understand what the section means.
– That may or may not be so. I do not intend to argue that point now.
The section provides that the claimant or appellant is to be given the benefit of any doubt and that all reasonable inferences are to be drawn in his favour to the exclusion of all other inferences. Surely nothing can be clearer than that. If it is properly interpreted, there is a very clear directive to the tribunals, and there can be no doubt in the mind of anybody that the onus of proof lies squarely on the Repatriation Commission.
Section 47 lays down that the claimant or appellant does not have to prove his case, but that the determining authority must allow the claim or appeal unless the Commonwealth proves to the tribunal that the claim or appeal should not be allowed. The Commonwealth has to prove beyond any doubt whatever that the claim or appeal must not be allowed if the tribunal is to reject it. I point out that the members of all the tribunals - the various Repatriation Boards, the entitlement appeal tribunals and the assessment appeal tribunals - and of the Repatriation Commission itself are exservicemen who have seen service overseas. Therefore, they are men who surely fully understand and sympathetically regard the claims made by ex-servicemen for benefits under the repatriation scheme, and the appeals lodged when claims are disallowed. I am sure that all honorable members on both sides of the House would join me in saying that, without exception, the members of the Repatriation Commission and the officers who work in its various branches in all the States are extremely sympathetic and most certainly come down very heavily on the side of persons applying, in the first instance, for a repatriation pension or, in the second instance, for an increase in pension.
It should be clearly understood that benefits are given not only on account of disability sustained on war service but also to ex-servicemen who have otherwise sustained a disability, notably partly disabled ex-servicemen who receive only the 100 per cent, general rate pension, those who served in a theatre of war and whose resources are limited, nurses who served in the 1914-18 war, war widows and children whose breadwinner has died, and ex-servicemen suffering from tuberculosis. I point out that the very machinery of the Repatriation Commission provides for a series of appeals. I do not know of any process of appeal under any other form of procedure provided for in the law that could be compared with the appeal procedure under the repatriation system. The repatriation procedure provides far more channels of appeal than are available in any other field where the payment of benefits is involved.
The general rate pension, it should be clearly understood, is not an economic pension. That is, it is not a pension on which pensioners are expected to be entirely dependent. That ought to be clearly understood by some honorable members and by a considerable section of the public who are under the impression that the general rate pension is of necessity an economic pension. On the contrary, this is an additional benefit payable to an ex-serviceman and is not intended wholly to maintain him and his family.
The only repatriation pension that may be described as an economic pension is the total and permanent incapacity pension. Having some knowledge of a considerable number of totally and permanently incapacitated repatriation pensioners, I suggest that this rate of pension is regarded by them as being most reasonable. I have found, in discussions with totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners in my electorate and in various parts of Australia in all States, that rarely has such a pensioner any major complaint. By way of illustration, the T.P.I, pensioner with a wife and two children aged twelve and fourteen years will receive a total of £19 5s. 9d.
– The greatest difficulty is the number of ex-servicemen who wish to receive the T.P.I, pension.
– I agree that that is the greatest difficulty.
– These ex-servicemen are dying at the rate of 1,000 every three months.
– I am aware that there is a rapid rate of diminution in the number of T.P.I, pensioners, but I think I am correct in saying that most T.P.I, pensioners are reasonably satisfied with their present pensions. I have been told by personal friends who are T.P.I, pensioners - people who do not have substantial assets - that they are quite well off. I have no doubt that as time goes on these people will receive additional benefits, but at present it is fair to say that they receive a reasonable pension.
Earlier I said that I did not propose to speak at length because I would like to see the bill passed as soon as possible. Later at the committee stage I will be interested to hear arguments from honorable members opposite in support of the appointment of a select committee. I have much pleasure in supporting the bill.
.- The second-reading speech delivered yesterday by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) is a further indication that this Government has almost lost interest in exservice men and women. In 1961, the then Minister for Repatriation indicated that the Government was having difficulty in providing additional benefits to ex-service men and women. The Minister’s remarks on that occasion indicated that this Government is prepared to grant benefits to certain sections of pensioners only and has no intention of introducing widespread new benefits. In introducing the Repatriation Bill in 1961, Mr. Osborne, who was mtn Minister for Repatriation, said -
So much has been achieved in the past that the field for new extensions in the future has necessarily become restricted. In the period ahead the main efforts of my department will be directed to making full use of the remarkable advances in the medical sciences and so to maintain and increase the high standards of treatment for those entitled to it.
From the nature of our responsibilities and the passage of time, we have to deal mainly wilh an ageing group in the community, so special attention will be given to the care arid treatment of elderly people. With this in mind, a new type of hospital is being developed within the department. Another field of special effort will be the treatment of the mentally ill. It is necessary in their own and the nation’s interest to do everything possible to restore them to normal life in their homes and to their work in the community. I hope to have more information for the House from time to time on the progress of our work in these two fields.
In other words, the Minister indicated that the Government proposed to look after the elderly people and those suffering from mental illness. That was in 1961. No repatriation benefits or improvements in repatriation procedure were announced in 1962. In 1963 we are to have a few slight increases in rates of pensions, but nothing has been said about the two matters on which the former Minister said he would report from time to time.
At the committee stage the Opposition will move five amendments. Those amendments will deal with the onus of proof, the appointment of a select committee to investigate the Repatriation Act and its regulations, the provision of medical treatment for all returned servicemen of the 1914-18 and earlier wars, the provision of medical entitlement cards for the wives of T.P.I, pensioners and the automatic acceptance of cancer as a war-caused disability. The Opposition feels that its proposed amendments are quite reasonable. If accepted they will give effect to requests made by various ex-servicemen’s organizations not only this year but also in previous years. On a number of occasions the Opposition has moved similar amendments to the Repatriation Bill in an endeavour to provide the things that we are seeking to provide now. The amendments embody requests that have been made by such organizations as the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association and by associations concerned with the welfare of blind and partially blind exservicemen and tubercular ex-servicemen.
I think the R.S.L. is regarded generally as the major mouthpiece for ex-service men and women in Australia. Its requests have been very moderate in tone and reasonable in extent. But very few of the proposals that the league made to the Cabinet in March, 1963, have been granted. For instance, the 1963 R.S.L. plan proposes that the “100 per cent, pension rate be increased from £5 15s. to £6 10s. a week, that the wife’s allowance be increased from £1 15s. 6d. a week to £3 a week and that the allowance in respect of children be increased. Those proposals have not been met by the Government. The only request that has been acceded to relates to the war widows’ pension and the domestic orphans’ allowance. The domestic allowance is to be increased by 7s. 6d. a week from £3 2s. 6d. to £3 10s. No increase is to be granted in the general rate of service pension, but admittedly the single pensioner will receive an increase. One request that has been granted is that the special rate pension be increased from £13 5s. to £13 15s. The other requests made by the R.S.L. have been rejected out of hand. The Government has completely ignored requests relating to automatic acceptance of cancer as a war-caused disability, the payment of the T.P.I. rate of pension to ex-servicemen considered to need rest at home, the granting of service pensions to British ex-servicemen and the giving of reasons for rejection of applications by repatriation tribunals.
The Commonwealth Council of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Australia has submitted five claims to the Government. Of those claims the only one to which the Government has acceded is that for an increase in the rate of T.P.I, pensions. The T.P.I, pensioners association has suggested to the Government that instead of pensioners receiving part social services pension and part T.P.I, pension, making a total of £17 10s. a week, they should receive all of their pension under the Repatriation Act. In this way they would receive a pension of £15 14s. 6d. a week and a wife’s allowance of £1 15s. 6d., making a total of £17 10s. At present some T.P.I, pensioners, in order to receive the maximum benefit, are being paid part social services pension and part repatriation pension. To the men of the T.P.I, association and to members of the Labour Party, this seems to be a most haphazard system because the total amount could be paid out of one central repatriation fund.
During his speech last night the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) mentioned that an increase in the T.P.I, pension quite often has the effect of reducing by an equivalent amount the part social service pension paid to a T.P.I, pensioner. After the honorable member had completed his speech, he was corrected by a Government supporter, who said that there would be very few T.P.I. pensioners in that category.
The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), who led in the debate for the Labour Party, has received a telegram from the president and secretary of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association in Sydney. It reads -
Congratulations on speech T.P.I, pension. If present suggested legislation approved approximately 60 per cent. T.P.I. on service pension will not benefit.
In other words, 60 per cent, of l.P.I. pensioners will receive no increase, because they are receiving social service pensions and the ceiling rate will not be increased. I note that the Minister for Repatriation shakes his head in disagreement. The telegram which I have read was signed by the president and the secretary of the T.P.I, association in Sydney. If the Minister feels they are wrong and wishes to correct them, let him or some other Government supporter at a later stage point out exactly where they are wrong.
Just before I commenced my speech the honorable member for Parkes told me that the Minister had indicated to him that the Government had no intention of considering any of the amendments which the Labour Party has foreshadowed. At this stage it might be pertinent to point out that in the proposed amendments there is a specific request for the appointment of a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the act and the regulations relating to repatriation. We believe that such an investigation is long overdue. The last such investigation was made in 1943, twenty years ago. The war has been over now for eighteen years. Since the end of the war, various requests have been made by certain organizations, some of which have been acceded to in the bill. Those of us who have any knowledge of the Repatriation Act and the regulations appreciate that the regulations are even more voluminous than is the act. The repatriation system has become very involved and is now outmoded. The Labour Party believes that the time is appropriate for a joint committee to investigate the ramifications of the system.
Most persons in the community agree that those who were maimed and injured in war deserve special treatment. Repatriation is above political considerations. In suggesting the appointment of a joint committee, we do not approach the question from the political angle. As a party, we wish to grant the maximum possible aid as speedily as possible to all eligible ex-service men and women. We are certain that all ex-servicemen’s organizations would welcome the. establishment of a committee. It would certainly give organizations similar to the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia the opportunity to state their views on various aspects of repatriation. I mentioned earlier the league’s 1963 plan and some of the additional requests that it has made to the Government in the past twelve months. Many of those requests have been disregarded completely. A committee such as I have suggested would be able to hear evidence on those requests and make up its mind on the evidence presented to it.
In the last few days we have learned that the federal executive of the Returned Servicemen’s League has been somewhat disturbed about a television programme called “ Four Corners “. The concern seems to have arisen mainly from the fact that the R.S.L. was accused of being political. I was watching the programme in question and was at a loss to follow exactly what the producer was trying to prove. I fail to see why the executive of the R.S.L. should be so disturbed, because for the most part the criticism was mild and factual. I believe that it is time that the leaders of the R.S.L. had a look at their organization and at the success or failure of their efforts to improve the lot of ex-servicemen and of the Australian community as a whole. Some of the subjects which attract the attention of the R.S.L. federal executive and conference are political, and to be disturbed about being accused of being political seems to me to be running away from the problem. Perhaps the league’s desire to appear nonpolitical is the reason for its general lack of success in the fields of defence and communism and, to a lesser degree, repatriation. I have shown already that, despite the moderation of the requests which the R.S.L. made both this year and last year, most of them have been completely disregarded.
Is it correct to say that the R.S.L. is not political? One has only to look at the 47th annual report of the national executive for 1962 to find what I regard as political statements made by the president. One such statement, which appears on page 12 of the report, is in these terms -
Concern was felt throughout the R.S.L. at the fact that in the 1962 Budget no allowance was made for increases in war and service pensions.
Expressing this disappointment, the National President in a press release dated8th August, stated: “ Members of the- Returned Servicemen’s League will be extremely disappointedthat no provision has been made in the Budget for war and service pension increases. There has been a considerable drift in pension values over the last ten year period and the League’s proposals presented last March to Cabinet sought to restore some part of this loss. It is particularly disappointng that there has been no increase in dependants’ allowances. This was most important as no increase had occurred in these rates since 1952-53.”
– That is not political.
– It is not political? It is a criticism of a government, no matter what its political complexion may be, for its failure to do something. If you want another example of a political statement, let me read from page 28 of the same report an article under the heading “ Defence Measures Inadequate “. It states -
The Government defence measures are inadequate to meet the developing situation in SouthEast Asia. The National President of the R.S.L., Mr. A. J. Lee, made this statement in releasing a document containing the League’s proposals on defence today. The proposals had been presented to the Minister for Defence, Mr. Townley.
All thinking people must be dismayed at recent developments in Laos and Vict Nam, continued Mr. Lee. General O’Donnell, Australia’s guest for Coral Sea Week had stated that if these areas fell to the Communists, the whole of South-East Asia might also go.
Australia was not prepared for the developing situation.
I do not quarrel with the R.S.L. It is a national organization which is entitled to hold opinions on repatriation, defence, communism and civil defence. But do not say that it is non-political.
– There is a difference between political and party political.
– I meant party political.
– All right, it is not party political. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the R.S.L. is not obtaining the defence measures that it considers are needed, why it is not obtaining the repatriation benefits that it considers should be paid and why this Government is not taking notice of the league on various matters of national policy which it outlines in its reports from year to year.
I refer again to the recent “Four Corners” programme. The R.S.L. was most disturbed. It immediately made a public protest about the programme. It also made a protest to the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies). The league was angry, and because it was angry we now find that the editor of that programme has been moved from that position to another similar position. Irrespective of what the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) said this afternoon, the people of Australia cannot draw any conclusion other than that the R.S.L. protested to the Prime Minister and then the officer responsible for that programme was taken out of his position. I believe that this is a good example for the R.S.L. to follow in matters of defence and repatriation. Let it get angry. Then this Government certainly will do something. Let the league be political on repatriation and other matters of national importance. The Labour Party certainly will not complain about that, because we, of all parties in this House, believe in the freedom of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and other organizations to criticize. We hope that when we become the government the R.S.L. will give us the benefit of its experience.
Perhaps the R.S.L. has fallen for a deliberate campaign conducted by this Government over many years. I refer the House to the league’s 1954 annual report which contains a report of the speech delivered to the 39th R.S.L. annual congress by the Prime Minister. That speech was part of the policy that is adopted by the Government in order to take away some of the power that the R.S.L. has had and should have. The Prime Minister said -
No man who has been in office in Canberra, and in particular as Prime Minister in Canberra, could fail to have bad a great deal to do with the R.S.S. & A.I.L.A. 1 therefore welcomed the invitation to open your congress to-day because 1 regard it as a very good opportunity to say how much indebted the Governments are to the League and its members and their work.
I am not saying that in the vain hope that the League will always agree with any government’s views, because on the day when the League becomes completely content I rather suspect that it will wind up.
But I think it appropriate to tell you that what we appreciate about the work of the League, and J think 1 can speak on this for my predecessors, is the way you have endeavoured, without being party political, to press your views on various governments.
Man is a political animal, we are all political people: and one thing we should remember is that every public matter concerning this country is in some respect a political matter.
There must have been a great temptation in the hearts and minds of those who established the League to say: “Well, let us become a partypolitical body in the sense that we will use the League solely for the good we may get out of it for our own members.” From first to last, however, the League has said: “As a League we are not a party-political body; we are an Australian body representing hundreds of thousands of the best Australians, and we know perfectly well that among them will be those who are ‘ dyedinthewool ‘ tories (like me) as well as those who believe in the more advanced thought of my opponents.” Because of that, and because it welcomes people of all political opinions, the League has been able to put forward its views with vigour, and therefore with very great power, to my Government and to those of my predecessors.
I have had a great deal to do with you, or you have had a great deal to do with me, over a number of years, and I cannot imagine a more pleasing association. Looking back, I can never remember a spokesman of the R.S.S. & A.I.L.A. coming to my Government and advocating something that was plainly wrong. I have certainly never had the experience of being told by you - as I have been told by some bodies, and in the plainest possible terms - to “ do this or there will be trouble”, or to “do that or we will line up political forces against you “; and that is a very great compliment to the League.
Therefore, we as a Government - and, as I say, I am not using this in a personal sense, because I am sure it has been true that the governments on the other side of politics have also had a very happy experience of your work - take this opportunity of expressing our appreciation.
Later in that speech the Prime Minister said -
Do not let us think that the only matter that concerns this great League is whether a particular rate of pension ought to apply or ought to be altered. We are all Australians, we all love our country; and when there is constant contact between the Government and the League we will have the opportunity of discussing with your Federal President and members of your Federal Executive national problems, problems of defence, problems of defence training, and the safeguarding of the country, and getting the benefit of their views.
The present Minister for Repatriation, in his speech to the last congress of the R.S.L., also paid some very nice compliments to the league. At page 9 of the 47th annual report of the league the Minister is reported as saying -
More than ever docs Australia depend upon the R.S.S. & A.I.L.A. and other ex-servicemen’s organizations for advice and guidance which is based on mature consideration and responsibility.
Your Agenda to-day dealing with matters of international and national importance indicates that the R.S.L. has more than accepted the challenge and that the influence of the organization in the community is increasing.
Later in his speech he paid further compliments to the R.S.L. That speech was made in Brisbane in October, 1962. Twelve months after the Minister made that speech we find that very little consideration is being given to the proposals of the R.S.L. on repatriation matters; that no consideration at all has been given to the defence programme outlined by the league; and that very little consideration has been given to the civil defence programme outlined by the league or to its request that as a security measure the Commonwealth Government prepare a white paper on the activities of the Communist Party in Australia. But representatives of the Government go to R.S.L. congresses and tell delegates what a wonderful job they are doing and how much notice the Government takes of them.
There has been an example to the R.S.L. in the last few days. If the league bares its teeth, the Government jumps to attention. So let the league’s leaders consider at this stage whether or not their teeth have been withdrawn by a systematic campaign by the Government down through the years. Are the leaders of this organization failing in their responsibilities to the hundreds of thousands of members of the organization throughout Australia? Have they been duchessed by members of this Government and rendered virtually innocuous? I believe that these criticisms are warranted because at this stage there is no doubt that the Government is taking very little notice of the opinions that are being advanced by the R.S.L. and other ex-servicemen’s organizations. By all means, let the R.S.L. endeavour to refrain from being party political; but when something upsets it or is not in the interests of its members or of Australia as a whole, let it make a political statement criticizing the present Prime Minister or any future Prime Minister, because only if people exercise the right to speak out on these matters can we hope to keep Australia a free and advanced nation.
– Order! I suggest that the honorable member get back to the bill.
– I am criticizing the failure of the Government to do certain things and outlining why the Government is not giving the repatriation benefits that it should give. If the Government wishes the R.S.L. to remain non-political on repatriation matters and if the league desires to remain non-political on repatriation matters, then let supporters of the Government, particularly those who are members of the R.S.L., support the amendment that will be moved at the committee stage for the establishment of a joint select committee to investigate all the problems confronting ex-servicemen throughout Australia to-day. If that is adopted by the Parliament, then neither the Labour Party nor the Liberal Party and the Country Party - nor the Australian Broadcasting Commission, for that matter - will have an opportunity to say in the future that the R.S.L. is a political organization when it comes to matters relating to repatriation. I feel that this Government has failed the ex-service men and women of Australia during the last few years in particular, because both the pre.sent Minister and his predecessors have indicated that they are experiencing difficulty in finding new avenues in which to grant benefits. Let us have a look at some of the benefits that have been granted to see whether they have outlived their usefulness. Let us examine whether some of the benefits now being paid might be withdrawn in order that others more appropriate to this day and age might be introduced. I support the amendment that will be moved by the Labour Party when we are dealing with the bill in committee, and I feel that all ex-servicemen and their organizations will be thoroughly dissatisfied with the amendments proposed by the Government in this measure.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I agree with you that the honorable member for Lang (Mr.
Stewart) spent most of his time dealing with matters which were completely irrelevant to the bill before the House. He was quite vocal in his references to the participation of the Returned Servicemen’s League in the television programme, “ Four Corners “, and to the league in general, but he made little or no reference to its representations in connexion with the Repatriation Bill. He did express concern about the fact that all the proposals - they were, in effect, claims - in the plan submitted by the national executive of the R.S.L. with relation to pensions were not conceded by the Government. Surely the honorable member for Lang would not suggest for one moment that because a claim is made it must be conceded. Surely he must recognize that in the economic order of things, claims must be dealt with on their merits and with due regard to the circumstances in which they are made. It would be ridiculous even to contend that when any one makes a claim that claim must be granted.
Surely, the honorable member for Lang must agree that what has been conceded in the pensions proposals contained in the bill is of particular value to the members of the R.S.L., to ex-service men and women and to their dependants. For instance, it is interesting to note that the domestic allowance for war widows is being increased substantially, that the T.P.I, pensioners are to receive an increase of 10s. and that the service pension for single men is to be increased from £5 5s. to £5 15s. In fact, the claim submitted by the R.S.L. with respect to service pensions was for only 5s. So, in this instance the claim is being exceeded by 5s. It is interesting to note, too, that whereas the education allowance is being increased by 15 per cent, no claim was made by the league with respect to this benefit. So it may be truly said that the representations made by the R.S.L. in support of the claims submitted by it were considered very sincerely and, in effect, were conceded on the basis of justification and reasonableness.
I am particularly pleased to participate in this debate as this is the first opportunity I have had to speak on repatriation and associated matters. I support this measure which provides for an increase of £12,800,000 over the allocation made last year to the Repatriation Department. I think it was the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) who disputed that figure and said, in effect, that the increased allocation amounted to only approximately £2,000,000. He failed to take into account the increased activities of the Repatriation Department and the additional pensions which are being paid. In face of the criticism of honorable members opposite who allege that the Government is doing nothing, it is interesting to note that the appropriation for the year upon which we are entering amounts to approximately £120,000,000 compared with a total expenditure of only £25,000,000 by a Labour government in 1946. If one is interested in the activities of the Repatriation Department, as I imagine all honorable members are, one must surely be very much attracted by the very comprehensive and useful annual report published by the Repatriation Commission for 1962-63. All the statistical data which it contains is most interesting. There is not one of the activities of the Repatriation Department which is not properly documented and dealt with in that report.
Here 1 should like to pay tribute to the Ministers who preceded the present Minister in the repatriation portfolio during the regime of the Menzies Government. I refer in particular to Senator Sir Walter Cooper and, following him, a colleague of mine who is not now in the House, Mr. Fred Osborne. Both those gentlemen carried out their activities as Minister for Repatriation in a manner which was most complimentary to them and which showed that they were dedicated to their cause. I pay the same tribute to the present Minister for Repatriation, the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz), because to my mind he is discharging his duties to the ex-service men and women of this country in a manner which is truly indicative of a tremendous dedication to the task he has accepted. He is continually on the go from one State to another and from one city or town to another visiting the various R.S.L. sub-branches and generally making himself au fait with the activities of the ex-service men and women. I extend my heartiest congratulations 10 him on the manner in which he carries out the duties of his office. He displays great diligence and tremendous enthusiasm in respect of repatriation matters. I have heard similar acknowledgments expressed by the various
R.S.L. sub-branches that I have visited. Generally speaking, the present Minister, the Government and the back-benchers on this side of the House show remarkable interest in the welfare of our ex-servicemen and their dependants. All have the problems of the ex-servicemen and their dependants very much at heart. So, any charge by the Opposition that we do not take the interest which we should in our ex-servicemen and their dependants is completely without foundation.
I believe that our repatriation system is the best in the world. I was going to say that it is one of the best, but I go further and say it is the best. I say that it compares more than favorably even with the repatriation system of Great Britain. If honorable members would only take the opportunity to question the local medical officers as to their attitude towards our repatriation system they would find that those officers have nothing but complimentary references to make to the very humane and efficient way in which the system is conducted. Having regard to the criticism which has emanated from the other side of the House, I think it most important that some background information with relation to our system of repatriation should be given. It is very interesting to note that at the end of World War II. there were 409,000 recipients of repatriation pensions. I have obtained my information from the annual report of the Repatriation Commission. At 30th June, 1963, 733,376 persons were in receipt of pensions. Of these, 671,215 were in receipt of war pensions and 62,161 were in receipt of service pensions. It is interesting to note - this shows the magnitude of the repatriation system - that the cost of pensions for this year will be £76,203,460. Last year, the cost was £73,401,695. In the course of one year, the cost of pensions has increased by almost £3,000,000. This is part of the increase of £12,800,000 in the estimated cost of repatriation activities for the current year.
The cost of medical and pharmaceutical benefits provided by the Repatriation Department has also increased. In 1957-58, £930,736 was spent on local medical officer services. In 1962-63, the cost of this service had increased to £1,943,197. In 1957- 58, pharmaceutical benefits cost £1,674,323. In the last year, a total of £5,220,767 was spent. In the last five years, the total cost of medical and pharmaceutical benefits increased almost three times. This shows that the Government has paid very close attention to its responsibility to ensure that repatriation benefits are provided for those who need them.
The number of visits by doctors to exservicemen and their dependants again shows a tremendous increase under this Government’s administration. In 1958-59, the total number of visits was 1,352,279. In 1962-63, visits had increased to 2,465,484. In 1945, when Labour was in office, the number of doctors providing services for the Repatriation Department was only 790. At 30th June, 1963, the total number of doctors rendering services for the Repatriation Department had increased to 5,289. This is a tremendous increase and is a further illustration of the vast expansion of the repatriation system under this Government.
I should like to pay a tribute to the officers of the Repatriation Department. In my comparatively brief experience as a member of the Parliament, I have on many occasions asked the officers of the department to assist my constituents. I have found them always willing to do what they can. They show great sympathy for the claimants and generally take considerable trouble to ensure that, as far as is reasonably practicable and possible, those who are entitled to the services of the department receive them.
I have on my hands at present a very unfortunate case. An elderly lady, who is the widow of a former well-known sportsman in my area, has over the years been asking the department to recognize that her husband died from war injuries. She has been very persistent. I am quite satisfied that she has used every possible channel to establish her right to be regarded as a war widow. I do not think that there has been any miscarriage of justice in her case. The opinion of the doctor attending her husband was that his death was not the result of war service. In consequence, she would not be entitled to receive repatriation benefits. Let us consider the position if the department said: “ She is a dear old lady and perhaps we should make allowances for her. We will recognize her claim and pay her a pension.” Perhaps this would satisfy the lady and would be a commendable humane decision. But, as a government instrumentality, the Repatriation Department and the tribunals that deal with these cases have a responsibility not only to claimants but also to the other citizens of Australia. It is not possible to make concessions if the concessions are not justified. This lady is very conscientious. She does not want to receive the age pension, though she would be entitled to it; all she wants is recognition of her husband’s service to his country, and I appreciate her loyalty to the memory of her husband.
I listened with close attention to the arguments of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) in relation to section 47, which is the onus-of-proof provision. This is a matter of considerable and continuing concern. It seems that Opposition members would like to have the onusofproof provision thrown overboard altogether. The wording of the section requires the onus of proof to be discharged in a way that is most favorable to the claimant. The tribunal must be satisfied that a claim cannot be sustained before it can be refused. I believe that the members of the tribunals do everything possible to give the benefit of the doubt to the claimants. It is well to remember that the members of the tribunals are ex-servicemen. Therefore, at first blush it would seem that their sympathies would lie with the claimants. I believe that the members of the tribunals are men of great sympathy and understanding and that they discharge their responsibilities with justice, giving the benefit of the doubt to claimant ex-servicemen.
I have taken the annual report of the Repatriation Commission and analysed the claims made to the various tribunals. In 1962-63, 40,204 claims were dealt with by the board and 19,399 were accepted. The acceptance rate, therefore, is 48 per cent. It may be said that 48 per cent, is a very low rate and that the rate should be 80 per cent, or 90 per cent. That would be ridiculous. Ex-servicemen and women can suffer a delayed reaction from an injury or disability sustained in the last war; but I believe they are really receiving a good deal. I think that an acceptance rate of 48 per cent, is satisfactory. The Repatriation Commission dealt with 14,232 cases and accepted 2,141. This is an acceptance rate of 15 per cent.
Again, of the number that flowed over to the entitlement appeal tribunals, 9,165 were dealt with and 1,552 were accepted, the acceptance rate being 16 per cent. We can see therefore that right through this series of tribunals, every opportunity is given to the claimants and appellants to have their cases dealt with properly. Bearing in mind that the onus of proof rests upon the tribunal, I feel certain that justice is done.
I believe that the claims submitted by the Returned Servicemen’s League - this was referred to by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) - were very fairly submitted and were very fairly and reasonably handled by the Government. They were dealt with in a way that expressed a real human understanding. Of course, it is not possible to please everybody. We see in our arbitration courts and in our courts generally that there are always two sides to a question. In the dispensation of justice one side succeeds and the other fails.
We on this side of the House believe that the disabled ex-serviceman and his dependants who are receiving compensation are entitled to as liberal treatment as the taxpayers can afford to give them. I stress the words “ as the taxpayers can afford “, because it would seem from the way in which honorable members opposite attack this problem that money is no object, and that so long as a claim is made you are inhumane unless you concede it, no matter what it may be. Of course, that is ridiculous. When you think of all the expense that is imposed upon a community such as ours in this huge island continent - in the current £2,280,000,000 Budget the National Welfare Fund’s share represents £411,000,000- and realize that all this money has to be found from taxation imposed on a little over 4,000,000 taxpayers, you must appreciate that money just cannot be thrown around irresponsibly, but must be spent to good effect. A government must accept its responsibility by bringing down responsible legislation. Claims such as those submitted by the Returned Servicemen’s League cannot be treated entirely on the basis of emotionalism. They must be considered with reason.
When we hear criticisms by honorable members opposite wc think in terms of their period of office, and I go back now to 1949. The large number of amendments made to the repatriation legislation since 1949 shows what a remarkable job the present Government has done in ensuring that the exservicemen shall be dealt with as humanely and efficiently as possible. Bearing in mind the limitations to which one must always defer in finance, I frankly thought that the claims of the Returned Servicemen’s League were very fairly submitted and were not extravagant. I have had opportunity to visit various sub-branches of the league. I am a member of three sub-branches and I attend their meetings as often as I can. I have heard the discussions on their claims, but I have never heard harsh words used against the Government. I think most members of the league realize that the Government will give them a fair deal.
I come now to the challenge of our attitude and to our sincerity in repatriation matters, made by the honorable member for Parkes. A rally of ex-servicemen was held in Anzac House, Sydney, on 26th June last and honorable members opposite who live in Sydney were conspicuous by their absence. I realize that some of them had reasonably good excuses for their absence. For instance, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) was overseas; but at the same time I feel certain that there were some other honorable members opposite who could have attended but did not see fit to do so. So, when honorable members opposite question our sincerity in this matter I question theirs. They could not even go along to a rally called mainly to enlist their support for the submissions by the R.S.L. to the Commonwealth Government.
I do not like playing party politics or politics of any sort in matters relating to repatriation or the R.S.L. I prefer to keep away from politics and I am certain that the league does not play party politics. From my fong membership of the league and my experience as an official I am as certain as can be that party politics are not introduced into discussions. Naturally, if a question is one involving benefits for ex-servicemen or their dependants the R.S.L., through its federal executive, makes an approach to the Commonwealth Government. I am delighted to be able to say that the Commonwealth Government gives the league every opportunity to put its case fairly and clearly, even before Cabinet, and that is the way it should be.
In the list submitted by the league there was one claim which I would like to see given favorable consideration by the Government at some time in the future. I refer to the claim which reads -
That free repatriation, hospital and medical benefits be extended to all returned servicemen from the First World War and previous wars.
I think that claim is deserving of very careful examination on some future occasion. Many old diggers in New South Wales regard with considerable envy their colleagues who are entitled to hospitalization at Concord while they, being ineligible, can go only to a public hospital or a private hospital. I take Concord as an example because the returned servicemen of New South Wales have a very high regard for that hospital. It is most efficiently run and its amenities and various appointments leave nothing to be desired. The atmosphere generally, throughout the hospital, is one of great comradeship, so I can well appreciate the envy which those diggers who are excluded feel for others who are eligible to go to Concord. It is well to remember, in future consideration of this claim, that the number of old diggers from the First World War and previous wars is reducing rapidly. It would be a fitting recognition of, and a compensation for, the .service which those old diggers rendered their country if they were granted this claim and I hope the Government will, in due time, give it favorable consideration. The extension of the benefit to service pensioners in respect of hospitalization in 1960 was very satisfactory. Many ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war receiving service pensions are now getting the benefit of this provision for hospital treatment. In the cases of many others, of course, their injuries have long been accepted as having been warcaused. Therefore the number involved, if the benefit were extended to cover all ex-servicemen of the First World War, would not be great, and I ask the Government to consider, in due time, extending this benefit to all returned men who served in the 1914-18 war and earlier wars.
It is my very great privilege and honour, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to support fully the bill now before the House.
.- At the outset I would . like to correct an impression that people may have gained from the speech of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Cockle). I am sure he made the remark to which I shall refer in no spirit of vindictiveness, but the fact remains that he directed attention to the absence of Labour members from a meeting convened at Anzac House on, I think, 26th June. If it happened that there were no Labour members present on that occassion, and that only Government supporters were present, I must say that it was a real reversal of what has happened on previous occasions.
The truth of the matter is simply this: It was not that Labour members were not interested in hearing the case of the Returned Servicemen’s League; the fact is that the R.S.L. has decentralized its counselling service, if I may call it such, and has split it up to serve regional areas. I know that in my own region of St. George, in which there are the electorates of Barton and Hughes, the members for those electorates were invited to go along and meet the representatives of the R.S.L. I had to go overseas with a Parliamentary delegation, so it was not possible for me to be present, but I arranged a meeting before I left, and I know that my colleagues, including some senators, were present at the meeting and heard the case of the R.S.L. I dare say the same sort of thing happened in other areas.
I think the Returned Servicemen’s League is well aware of the Labour Party’s interest in hearing it put its case, and also of the ready acceptance by Labour members of its claims. The league, I am sure, realizes that we have been impressed not only by its requests but also by the very rational arguments with which its supports them. I join with other members who have stated that if there is one particular feature of the R.S.L.’s requests that has impressed them, not only this year but also in previous years, it is the tone of moderation and the sense of responsibility with which the requests are put forward. Sometimes I am taken aback by the absolute moderation of the league’s proposals. Frequently they have seemed to me to be quite inadequate, from the knowledge I have gained of the conditions of pensioners and their dependants with whom I have come in contact in my work in my electorate.
There are three broad observations I would like to make about the bill. First, it provides some quite laudable increases - and I am quite willing to admit that this is so - for pensioners and their dependants. One must pay due regard to the fact that the Government claims we are now in a period of considerable prosperity. If this is so, one could have expected some provision for the kinds of people we are dealing with. These people in the past have not been stinting in their contribution to the welfare and protection of this country, and therefore it is most approppriate at any time that we should give them first priority when considering the granting of benefits. If, as the Government claims, we are going through a period of increasing and substantial prosperity, these people should have been entitled to expect a pretty generous response to the proposals put forward by the R.S.L. and similar bodies. The Government has yielded to such requests to a certain extent, and I will be critical later on of the fact that it has not been somewhat more generous. However, let us applaud the Government for including some worthwhile contributions in the bill.
The second point of which one has to be mindful is that these are not provisions made in one year. They have to cover a period of two years, because it is two years since the last increases were granted. Last year the Government refused all the requests of the R.S.L. and similar bodies in respect of pensions and other allowances.
I have already said that I appreciate the increases that have been provided. I have also said that we must take account of the many requests that have either been disregarded entirely or parsimoniously treated, with woefully inadequate provisions made in respect of them. The third point I wish to make is one that has been occupying the minds of members of the Labour Party probably more than any other. I refer to the fact that a great many ex-servicemen and dependants have been denied eligibility for repatriation benefits. These are the people who have been adversely affected because section 47 of the Repatriation Act, the onus-of-proof section, has not been properly administered. I believe there is a good deal of merit in the suggestion of the Labour Party that we should initiate a fullblooded inquiry into all the ramifications of the Repatriation Act. I envisage an allparty parliamentary committee similar to that which inquired into the Repatriation Act and the activities of the Repatriation Department and other bodies twenty years ago.
While the matter of onus of proof is before my mind let me refer to the latest report of the Repatriation Commission, which shows that during the last twelve months 2,476 cases concerning 1914-18 ex-servicemen came before the entitlement appeal tribunals. One should keep in mind that people who go so far as to appeal to these tribunals are pretty hardened cases, and that it is probably difficult for them to substantiate their claims. But one must pay respect to them for having persevered. Such claimants have gone before the Repatriation Board, have failed there, after some months have appealed to the Repatriation Commission and, having failed at that level, have waited for as long as six or nine months to get their cases finally referred to the entitlement appeal tribunals. I think there is a prima facie case for saying that such people must be pretty firmly convinced of the justice of their claims, having gone so far and persisted to such an extent. In my own electorate there are some people who would be included amongst these, and having talked with them I know that they are quite convinced of the justice of their claims. Of those 2,476 diggers of the First World War who appealed to the entitlement appeal tribunals only 351, or 15.4 per cent. - fewer than one in six - had their appeals upheld.
One must be moved to regard these as people of spirit, of determination and of genuine conviction, when they go so far in their efforts to secure what they regard as justice. They are a select group of people by the time they get to the level of the entitlement appeal tribunals. They are not simply people who push in a claim, saying, “ You never know; I may pull something off “. They are persistent people, convinced people. Yet fewer than one in six of them succeeded in their appeals during the last twelve months, and 84.6 per cent, of appeals were disallowed.
In the case of 1939-45 war diggers, there were 9,118 cases for action, but only 6,122 were heard during the year. Of this number, 1,156 appeals were allowed. In other words, 20 per cent, of the appeals were successful, and in those cases eligibility was granted by entitlement appeal tribunals. But 4,966 appeals, or 80 per cent., were disallowed. These are the statistics. I appreciate that statistics can be irritating but at least these statistics present some sort of objective survey of the matter we are talking about. However, I am more convinced by the actual case histories that come to my notice than by statistics coldly recorded in a report.
I am convinced that there is a miscarriage of justice in the administration of the onusofproof provision. As I have said before, I believe that the benefit of the doubt is not being given to many applicants in the way in which the act provides it should be given. I know of men who went through hell on earth during the First World War and the Second World War. Some are sailors whose ships were bombed, and they spent hours and sometimes days in the water, and some suffered shell shock and had to be removed from the battle areas. They are still struggling to establish their entitlement to a pension, at the level of an entitlement appeal tribunal or at some lower level. Those are the kind of flesh and blood cases that come before you. You see the people and hear the details of their cases. You find corroboration in the case histories recorded in Repatriation Department files. You are left floundering and wondering why some of the applications are not accepted. You wonder what is wrong with the department when you hear of other cases being accepted with little difficulty, although admittedly you may not know all the circumstances of those cases. Ex-servicemen wonder why some cases are accepted and others are not. They feel that winning an entitlement to a pension is like winning a lottery. Cases which do not seem to be serious are accepted, whilst applicants with claims of an apparently more serious nature struggle year in and year out, searching for new evidence to convince the department tb at their claims are justified. They search for doctors who treated them over the years, only to find in many cases that the doctors have died. Old records are delved into end old cobbers and former commanding officers are contacted. It is this kind of thin?, more than the statistics I have read, which convinces me that there is a need for a thoroughgoing review of the administration of the onus-of-proof provision. The review might profitably be extended to the whole machinery of repatriation. I am sure that that view is not only the view of members of the Labour Party. I feel that in the hearts of Government members there is a conviction that in a number of the cases brought to their attention the men concerned have not received justice.
The Returned Servicemen’s League has passed a resolution stating that it is dissatisfied with the operation of section 47 of the Repatriation Act, the benefit of doubt provision. The league. has circularized every member of this Parliament to the effect that it feels an amendment should be made to the section so that it will state clearly that there is a responsibility on the commission to satisfy itself that the disability of an applicant was caused by something other than war service before the claim is refused. I have said before that in any civil court a judge will tell an applicant why his application has been refused, but there is continued resistance to telling applicants for repatriation pensions why their applications are refused. Ex-servicemen would be more satisfied if they were told why their cases had failed - why the determining body was convinced that their disabilities were due to causes other than war service. Adverse decisions would be more readily accepted if there were a final right of appeal to a judicial authority who could weigh the cases and decide whether the applicants had received the benefit of the onusofproof provision.
– Just as Labour proposes should be done in respect of invalid pensioners.
– That may be so. In my opinion the R.S.L. showed great moderation in its requests, yet many of them have not been granted. The Government seems to be too ready to resist any increase in what is called the 100 per cent, pension, or the general rate pension. I suspect that this resistance is due to the fact that a number of other things would flow from such an increase. It would affect all the people who receive general rate pensions ranging downwards to SO per cent., 20 per cent., and even 10 per cent. It would also affect the wives and children of those pensioners, ‘be cause their pension rates would be automatically increased. The R.S.L. asked for an increase of 15s., from £5 15s. to £6 10s. It said that if the Government were to bring the 100 per cent, general rate pension up to the level of the 1950-51 value, the pension would be increased to £7 2s. 3d. However, the league said that in the circumstances it would be satisfied if an increase to £6 10s. were granted. The Government gave no indication whatsoever of why it refused that request. It denies an increase, not only to the 100 per cent pensioner, but also to his wife. The same is true of pensioners on a lower rate of pension, and their dependants. The Government has excluded a whole host of ex-servicemen who believed that if this country was enjoying the prosperity of which the Government boasts so often, they were entitled to share in it by an increase in their pensions.
I turn now to the position of war widows. For the last two years they have received no increase in their basic pension and no increase in their domestic allowance until now. War widows asked for an increase of 15s. in their pension, from £5 15s. to £6 10s., but without result. No increase was granted last year, and under the present bill again no increase is granted. If they were to receive to-day a pension commensurate with what they were getting in 1950- 51 they would receive £7 2s. 3d. Instead of getting £7 2s. 3d. they will continue to receive the £5 15s. that was granted two years ago. If the Minister is interested, he can look at the pile of telegrams I have here from war widows in my electorate, containing strongly worded protests against the failure of the Government to grant any increase in the war widows’ basic pension. After a two-year wait, surely this group of people is entitled to increased benefits. On their behalf, the R.S.L. asked for an increase of 17s. 6d. in the domestic allowance. The Government granted an increase of 7s. 6d. If they received an increase sufficient to make their domestic allowance to-day commensurate with that of 1950-51, they would receive £4 a week, not the present £3 10s. a week. The Returned Servicemen’s League asked for a flat allowance of £2 in respect of every child of a war widow. No increase has been given.
I come now to service pensions. In discussing these, we are in much the same position as we shall be in when we discuss agc and invalid pensions in a day or two. Service pensioners are to get an increase of 10s. a week. To be fair about the matter, I must say that the R.S.L. asked for an increase of only 5s. a week. However, only some service pensioners are to get the increase of 10s. a week, because it is to be paid only to single pensioners. Married pensioners will not receive the increase.
There is no indication in the secondreading speech made by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) of the number of service pensioners who are married. I would like to hear from the Minister how many are married. I am particularly interested in this. We were told by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) that two-thirds of age pensioners were either widowed or had never married and therefore were single pensioners. But we have not been told what proportion of service pensioners are single. Ex-servicemen become entitled to the service pension - subject to the means test, of course - at the age of 60 instead of having to wait till they become 65, as is laid down for age pensioners in the Social Services Act. My mind entertains the thought that therefore a greater proportion of service pensioners have a spouse still living. As a consequence, probably a greater proportion of service pensioners will not receive the increase of 10s. a week than will be the case with age pensioners under the social services legislation.
The allowance payable in respect of a dependent wife who is not eligible for either service pension or age pension is to be increased from £2 7s. 6d. a week to £3 a week. That is commendable. The wife having been given an increase of 12s. 6d. a week, the husband’s service pension of £5 5s. a week is not to be raised at all. We still have what is in my view the hideous situation of a husband and wife having to live on a total income of £8 5s. a week, even allowing for the increases provided for in this bill. The age pension, on the other hand, affords a couple a total of £10 10s. a week - £5 5s. a week each. We think that is bad enough. But how much worse it is for a service pensioner and his wife to have to’ live’ on £8 ‘5s:’ a ‘week] v
I have never been able to see any justification for this sort of situation. A woman of 50, 55 or 58 years of age who is the wife of a service pensioner is not eligible for the age pension, but she will receive only £3 a week compared wilh £5 5s. a week for a woman who has turned 60. Does a woman eat less when she is 50 or 55 than when she is 60? Does she need less clothing? Are her expenses in any category less at 50 or 55 than when she attains the age of 60? There arc many anomalies of this kind, and this is just one that ought to be removed by an inquiry of the kind that the Australian Labour Party intends to propose in an amendment that will be submitted at the committee stage.
Totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen are to receive an increase of 10s. a week, to give them £13 15s. a week - less than the basic wage. Still, on their behalf, the Returned Servicemen’s League sought an increase of only 10s. a week, and the Government gave the minimum that was asked for. I agree with some of my colleagues who have directed attention to the fact that many of these totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen are married and receive in addition a service pension at less than the full rate. Often, the wife receives a part age pension. Couples in this position receive a total of £17 10s. a week. Because the means test limit on income has not been extended beyond a permissible income of £17 10s. a week, although they will receive an additional 10s. a week in pension at the total and permanent incapacity rate, they will lose 10s. a week from the combined service and age pension. So they will be no better off than they were before. This sort of thing substantially reduces the effectiveness even of what appear to be the laudable benefits introduced by the Government.
We can go on and consider the other increases that the Returned Servicemen’s League asked for. Widowed mothers of deceased ex-servicemen have not received an increase in pension for a considerable number of years. They are still to receive only £2 5s. a week. They have been given no increase although the R.S.L. asked that their pension* be’ raised to £4’ a week. They have not been given an increase of even 2s. 6d. a week.
The league was also mindful of the fact that many ex-servicemen who are broken in health have dependent children and are just as anxious as are other people to give their children the opportunity to obtain advanced education. The Government has made some concession in this respect, but 1 do not think that what it intends to be regarded as generous would be so described by most people with an objective view on the matter. For instance, the allowance payable in respect of student children is to be increased by 8s. 3d. a week in respect of children ranging in age from sixteen to eighteen years. An additional 3s. a week will be paid in respect of boys undertaking industrial training, presumably under apprenticeship, if they are living at home. That amount would not even buy milk for one day, let alone contribute to the further education of young fellows of apprentice age. An increase of 4s. 3d. a week is to be paid in respect of those who live away from home. An increase of 2s. 66. a week is to be paid in respect of children aged from twelve to fourteen, making a total of 19s. a week. In respect of children aged fourteen to sixteen who live at home, an additional 3s. 9d. a week is to be paid. This would not even keep them in shoes while at school. Honorable members can take my word for that. I have three children at school. The amount of 3s. 9d. a week is hardly worth even the bother of amending the act, frankly. What contribution it will make to the easing of the burdens of these student children and their parents, I do not know.
I return now to the service pension. An income of £5 5s. a week - or even of £5 15s. a week, which will be received by single pensioners who will get the increase of 10s. a week - could not possibly keep properly even an able-bodied man or woman, let alone a disabled person, even allowing for the fact that the disabled person receives other concessions. The fact is that age pensioners, like service pensioners, have to go to all sorts of organizations other than this Parliament - this Parliament is the body that ought to be looking after themseeking a supplement to the, pension^ : .(
In Sydney - I do not know about other places - at this time of the year, pensioners receive the assessments for their water rates. These range upwards from £24 to £30 or more - the equivalent of 10s. a week or more just for water, to say nothing of municipal rates. If a person with an income of £5 5s. a week can pay board, or maintain himself in his own home and meet commitments of this kind, I stand to be advised on the matter. The fact is that pensioners have to ask municipal councils to excuse them from paying part of their rates. They even have to allow the debt for rates to accumulate and be charged against their estate. They are put even to that kind of indignity. The home that they wish to pass on to their children, perhaps a home that the children will need when the parents die, because the children have not been able to provide themselves with a home otherwise, is subject to an assignment to the local council to meet commitments for rates. I do not think that any man or woman, let alone an old digger, should be put in this kind of position. An income of £5 5s. or even £5 15s. a week will not nearly meet the cost of living for these people. I would like them to receive a much greater increase in pension than they are to be given.
Allied with this matter, of course, is the means test imposed on those who are able to work and can get work, to say nothing of the plight of those who are not even able to work or who cannot get work. Those who are able to work and can get a job are still being hedged in by this permissible income limit of £3 10s. a week under the means test. This, of course, is on the presumption that the pensioner has assets other than his own home or car totalling no more than £209. Under this kind of means test, when a person receives more than £3 10s. a week in superannuation, for example, his pension is reduced accordingly. This means test has not been eased in this year’s Budget despite the fact that the limitation has been in existence for some years. The wives of T.P.I, pensioners are denied a medical entitlement card, which is made available to social service pensioners. It is time the Government did something about all these deficiencies in the legislation. War widows, service pensioners and pensioners in receipt of the 100 per cent. pension will get very little under this bill. Some categories of repatriation pensioners will get virtually nothing. The benefits applicable to T.P.I. pensioners will be negatived in many cases by the operation of the means test. The amounts that have been granted for education expenses will not be of much assistance to people who aspire to keep their children at school beyond the ages of sixteen, seventeen or eighteen in order to qualify for benefits. It is true that these people will attract some benefits under the bill, but those benefits are still inadequate for the task that confronts these people.
– I am at a loss to know just where the Labour Party stands so far as the Returned Serviceman’s League is concerned. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) acclaimed the virtues of the recommendations submitted by the R.S.L. In other words, he supports the league all the way. I understand that the next speaker in this debate is to be the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant). I challenge him to say where he stands in relation to the R.S.L., particularly in view of his recent statement about the “ Four Corners “ programme.
– What is your attitude to the treatment of the Australian Broadcasting Commission?
– The honorable member will get his opportunity later. The honorable member for Barton claimed that too many applications for repatriation pensions were being disallowed. To whom would the honorable member give the authority to grant a pension? Does he want the Minister for Repatriation to approve applications or would he himself like to be the sole authority? Has the honorable member no confidence in the people to whom applications are made?
– Are you satisfied?
– I am not qualified to speak on the merits of the applications that are rejected. I am not qualified to judge whether a man is entitled to a pension. I do not challenge the Opposition’s sincerity on behalf of repatriation pensioners, but having listened to the speeches from honorable members opposite in the course of this debate I am moved to wonder whether the
Opposition is using this debate for party political purposes - as a vote-catching medium. That impression has been left with me after listening to quite a few honorable members opposite.
During the Budget debate a good deal was said about discrimination in the granting of pensions. I propose to read from a circular distributed by the National Pensioners Society of 297 Elizabeth-street, Sydney. The circular reads -
This outcry against a differential rate of pension - which is the first breakthrough for the needy - is deplorable.
This is a criticism of the Opposition’s attitude towards the Government’s pensions legislation. The circular continues -
By all means let there be an overall pension if merited but to create political hatred between the married and single pensioners is, to say the least, un-Australian.
If the Labour Parliamentarians oppose this differential rate, they are not concerned with the welfare of any one. If those same Parliamentarians came to N.S.W. they would see th.it single pensioners are paying in rent four-fifths of the rent paid by married couples; they would a’.so see that married couples are rich by comparison with the single pensioner; they would see the misery of the single pensioner brought about by the N.S.W. Landlord and Tenant Act. Perhaps then instead of opposing this differential rate they would be calling for a greater increase.
The honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Einfeld), who has been interjecting, comes from New South Wales. Perhaps he could use his influences with the New South Wales Labour Government.
– I rise to order! Is it in order for the honorable member to quote from a letter from one person who claims to represent an organization which, as anybody associated with pensions and repatriation matters knows, is a one-man band?
-Order! There is no substance in the point taken by the honorable member.
– The circular continues -
To create a hatred such as is being created in the Parliament is an infliction on single and widow pensioners.
The Opposition does not like this. The circular continues -
The Government made a wise move in its breakthrough for single and widow pensioners. Let the Opposition go on from there and not kill the good that is being done for so many thousands of really deserving pensioners.
Some honorable members opposite have stated that the allowance for the wife of a T.P.I, pensioner should be greater and that she should be issued with a medical entitlement card. Quite a deal has been said about the pensions plan submitted by the R.S.L. I have studied that plan. I cannot see anything in it about medical entitlement cards, nor can I see any recommendation that a select committee be appointed to inquire into repatriation matters. Is the Opposition submitting its own views instead of those of the league? Just where does the Opposition stand? The honorable member for Barton had a good deal to say about the importance of the R.S.L. pensions plan. I concede that the league recommended that cancer be accepted as a war-caused disability. It also made certain recommendations about increased hospital facilities for diggers of the 1914-18 war. I will deal with that matter later.
Last night the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) said that this bill falls far short of requirements. He said -
I hope to be able to show that the bill is not a splendid bill, as it was described by the honorable member-
He was referring to the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), who made a worthy contribution to the debate - and that its benefits fall far short of what the Australian people, particularly those who represent the ex-servicemen of this country, expect this Government to provide in a mesaure of this kind.
Is there any limit to the requests that these people make? We must keep in mind that there is always a certain amount of criticism when a budget is presented. If the Opposition is not interested in the taxpayers, at least I am and so is every other Government supporter.
Page 2 of the report of the Repatriation Commission for 1962-63, which has just been released, carries a table of annual expenditure on benefits. In 1961-62 expenditure was £100,980,000, in 1962-63 it was £109,720,000 and for this year it is estimated that expenditure will amount to £123,000,000. Is there any limit to the length to which the Repatriation Department can go in increasing pensions? I am concerned about the pensioners but I am concerned also with the many other aspects of government expenditure which we must continue to watch, keeping in mind that there is a limit to the taxation which can be levied. The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) referred this afternoon to the statement that 60 per cent, of T.P.I, pensioners would not receive the 10s. a week increase. The honorable member for Bass also referred to this point last night when he said -
Most totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners-
I emphasize the word “ most “ - supplement their incomes with the service pension on the basis of permanent unemployability.
I have checked with the department and T have learned that of approximately 24,000 T.P.I, pensioners - I am including those who are classified as temporarily totally incapacitated - only about 6,000 receive the service pension. In other words, only about one-quarter of the pensioners come within this category.
The legislation now before us is similar to that which was introduced by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). It recognizes important sections of the community - the single pensioners, the widows and so on. Certain Opposition members have stated that the Government has virtually ignored completely the recommendations submitted to it by the R.S.L., so I think we should look at some of the recommendations. This bill provides for an increase of 10s. a week in the T.P.I, pension rate. The R.S.L. asked for 10s. a week. The domestic allowance will be increased by 7s. 6d. a week. The R.S.L. asked for an increase of 12s. 6d. a week. It is not bad to receive 7s. 6d. when you ask for 12s. 6d., bearing in mind that the Government cannot afford to accede to every request made to it. The honorable member for Wills, who is interjecting, knows that. If the Government adopted a policy of pleasing every one what would happen? We would find ourselves in the same financial position as Indonesia is in to-day. The single service pension will be increased by 10s. a week. The R.S.L. asked for 5s. a week, so it received double the increase it sought. There has been a little criticism because the single service pensioner receives the increase whereas the married pensioner does not, as was mentioned in the letter that I have just read. The Minister for Social Services stated that something like 75 per cent, of ordinary pensioners are single persons. I suppose that almost the same percentage must apply to service pensioners. The wife’s allowance will be increased by 12s. 6d. a week, whereas the R.S.L. asked for an in- crease of only 7s. 6d. a week. Perhaps the additional 5s. there counter-balances the 5s. by which the domestic allowance was not increased as requested. i Perhaps I should give some of the alterations in pensions, comparing those paid in 1949, when the present Opposition was in office, with those paid to-day. In 1949 the T.P.I. pension rate was £5 6s. a week. To-day it is £13 15s. a week, an increase of £8 9s. a week.
– What about the price of a pound of butter?
– The honorable member for Hume has referred to the price of a pound of butter, but I remind him that the basic wage in 1949 was about one-half of what it is to-day. The T.P.I, pension has been increased by more than 100 per cent. The general rate pension was £2 15s. a week in 1949. To-day it is £5 15s. a week, so again there has been an increase of more than 100 per cent. The widows’ pension was £3 in 1949. To-day it is £5 15s., so in this case there has been an increase of just under 100 per cent. The domestic allowance was 7s. 6d. a week in 1949. To-day it is £3 10s. a week, an increase of £3 2s. 6d. The single pensioner received £2 2s. 6d. a week in 1949 and to-day he receives £5 15s. Again there has been an increase of well over 100 per cent. In 1949 no pension was paid to persons who were blinded and who had lost their speech completely, but to-day those unfortunate people receive a pension of £5 5s. a week. Those are some of the aspects of pensions which the Opposition should consider.
Let me return now to the request of the honorable member for Bass, I think it was, for free hospital treatment for 1914-18 exservicemen. I have not gone to the trouble of studying the estimated cost of affording this treatment. I do not think that the R.S.L. has done so although free hospital treatment is one of its recommendations. I believe most people appreciate that the best way of judging whether a person should receive free hospital treatment is to judge whether that person can meet the requirements of a means test. Certain exservicemen may be suffering some substantial dis ability but if they are financially sound are they really in need of free hospital treatment, compared with the chaps who perhaps have no great financial backing? Surely the man who has no great financial backing should receive first consideration in this respect. Almost any 1914-18 digger who is in financial difficulties is most eligible through age to become a service pensioner and, therefore, is entitled to free hospital treatment. I believe that all this fuss about free hospital treatment for 1914-18 exservicemen is about a matter that is not nearly as important as some of the other aspects of repatriation benefits, such as the acceptance of cancer as a war-caused disability. I do not want to speak at any length on the subject of cancer, but any person with that disability certainly is unfortunate and any consideration would be of great benefit to him. The R.S.L. has advocated an increase in the funeral benefit. Possibly that is a matter which the Government should consider rather carefully and sympathetically.
The other point I want to raise relates to the difference between the 100 per cent, general rate and the T.P.I, rate. Many exservicemen disagree with the difference of £8 a week between the 100 per cent, pension of £5 15s. and the T.P.I, pension of £13 15s. Some people believe that if you are unfortunate enough not to be declared totally and permanently incapacitated the very best that you can expect is the 100 per cent, general rate pension. That is correct. I think we should look at the difference between the two rates more deeply. That does not tell the whole story. First, the T.P.I, pension is what is called an economic pension. In other words, if a person is in receipt of a T.P.I, pension it proves that he cannot actually earn; that his disabilities are such that he cannot work. This is where a number of people get the wrong idea. Many 100 per cent, general rate pensioners say that they have a 100 per cent, disability. Of course, that is not quite right. They have not a 100 per cent, disability. They receive a compensatory pension of 100 per cent, but that does not necessarily mean that they are 100 per cent, incapacitated.
Let us look at this difference of £8. I want to make a comparison between a married T.P.I, pensioner with two children and a 100 per cent, general rate pensioner with two children. The latter pensioner receives the 100 per cent, general rate pension of £5 15s., plus the wife’s allowance of £1 15s. 6d. and £1 7s. 6d. for each of the two children; a total of £8 18s. In addition to that amount, he can earn or receive by way of a service pension up to £8 17s. 3d. That would bring his total income to £17 15s. 3d. There is nothing to prevent the 100 per cent, general rate pensioner earning money. The T.P.I, pensioner receives £13 15s. plus the wife’s allowance of £1 15s. 6d. and £1 7s. 6d. for each of the two children; a total of £16 18s. He is eligible for other benefits. His total income can be up to £22 17s. 9d. So the difference is certainly not £8. In fact it is only £5 2s. 6d. An important point about these pensions is that they are all free of income tax and that free hospitalization and many other advantages go with them.
Members of the Opposition have said repeatedly in this debate that the T.P.I, rate is nowhere near the basic wage. When you consider that the basic wage is based on the needs of a married man with two children, what is the difference? The figures are £22 17s. 9d. for the T.P.I, pensioner compared with a basic wage of about £15. Of course, the pensioner’s income is nowhere near the basic wage; it is miles higher. I think it was the honorable member for Bass who said last evening that it was lower than the basic wage. I contend that the T.P.I, pensioner is in a fairly comfortable financial position. I am not begrudging him such a high income. I believe that he deserves every penny he can get because he has given service to this country. I believe it is up to us to do all we possibly can to help him.
I congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) on the introduction of this bill. It is an excellent bill. Although members of the Opposition have circulated two or three pages of amendments, they not accept them for the simple reason that know very well that the Government will this is a money bill. Furthermore, amendments would only delay the initial payment of the increased pensions. Those are two reasons why the Government will not accept the, amendments. I congratulate the Minister because, in his persuasive manner, he hat been able to convince other members of the Government that the provisions of this bill are of great benefit. I certainly go along with him on that.
I believe that the Minister has made an honest attempt to keep his feet on the ground, as the old saying goes, in relation to the problems associated with repatriation generally. He has not spared himself in visiting every State. He has arranged for officers of the Repatriation Department to visit certain country areas - a privilege that ex-servicemen never previously enjoyed. As one who has been fairly closely associated with the Returned Servicemen’s League and Legacy, I appreciate the value of those visits. Usually in most of the centres in my electorate which the officers visit quite long queues of ex-servicemen are waiting. An unfortunate point is that there is no way of finding out how many exservicemen wish to interview an officer. An officer may allocate a period of two hours for a visit to a centre. When he arrives there may be only three or four exservicemen waiting to see him. As a result he may decide to cut the time of his next visit down to one hour, but when he next arrives there may be a queue of 20 or 30 ex-servicemen. Centres are visited every two or three months and this effort by the Repatriation Department is certainly appreciated very much.
I want to refer briefly - I do not think this has anything to do with the bill - to the very delicate subject of the “ Four Corners “ programme. I had the privilege of looking at the film this morning. I believe that the R.S.L. is justified in complaining about the showing of that film on the “ Four Corners “ programme. It appeared to me that the film was completely and deliberately loaded against the league.
– It favoured the Communists.
– My friend from Moore says something about it being in favour of the Communists. One of the very prominent speakers was the editor of the “Tribune”. I do not think that is a Country Party, Liberal Party, or even Labour Party newspaper. We all know that it is a Communist-run newspaper. It is the official organ of the Communist Party. Although the film was strongly loaded against the R.S.L., I believe that the league came out of this incident with flying colours. A certain amount of criticism was directed in the film at certain clubs. Heavens above, one can go into any hotel in Australia and find conditions similar to those that we saw in that film. I believe that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department might well look into the ramifications of this programme because it attempted - but failed, I believe - to cast a slur on the R.S.L.
Again I congratulate the Government on the introduction of this bill. I believe it is a good bill. I do not agree with the honorable member for Bass when he says that the bill falls far short of the requirements of the people of Australia. I believe that when the ex-service men and women really find the true value of this bill they will certainly applaud it. I give my support to it here this afternoon.
.- The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. King) let the cat out of the bag. If what he said was not a fair demonstration that he and his party will use all their political power to silence and curtail the freedom of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, I do not know what it was. That applies to all honorable members opposite. Like the honorable member for Wimmera, I am a member of the Returned Servicemen’s League. Like the honorable member for Wimmera, I stand for some of the things that I thought the R.S.L. stood for. I thought it stood for freedom of speech, freedom of association and the kind of speeches’ honorable members opposite all make on Anzac Day, the kind of things the honorable member for Wimmera will say at Warracknabeal next Anzac Day - if he is invited. There is a remarkable difference between the things he likes to say, between the cliches and platitudes he and his colleagues on the other side like to bring forth about the R.S.L. on occasions such as this, and their approach to the R.S.L. programme which was submitted through various members to this Parliament and to the Government. What a piece of hypocrisy and humbug! What a piece of colossal nonsense!
– That is not true.
– The honorable member for Mallee is no better. He and his col leagues come here and talk and talk and criticize people such as myself who happen to stand up for freedom of speech. I will say that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is one of the most valuable instrumentalities in Australia. It is the only free, independent organ of communication in the community. While I do not always agree with the things that are said over its network - for instance, I disagree with about 50 per cent of the speeches that go over the national network from the other side of the House - I would not silence it. In their attempts to silence the Australian Broadcasting Commission, honorable members opposite are going against-
– Order! I hope the honorable member realizes we are dealing with the Repatriation Bill.
– Yes, I noticed that, but earlier in the debate the honorable member for Wimmera chose to challenge me on this issue.
– Order! I would not let him lead you astray.
– Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am glad for your guidance. On that issue, then, I think the question quite clearly is that you must choose freedom of speech and expression or the exercise of political power to silence it. The Country Party, through its spokesmen, has demonstrated where it stands, and through the silence of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has shown what it will do if he can. I wonder again whether the honorable member for Wimmera will make that kind of speech at Warracknabeal or Murtoa or Rupanyup next Anzac Day.
It is astonishing that on this occasionyou will be pleased to hear this Mr. Speaker - there seems to be some unity between the Country Party and the Liberal Party. They are both struck with the cost of repatriation. If we take that redoubtable crusader for social progress, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), we find that he said yesterday -
I think every fair-minded person will realize that, if there is only a certain amount of money to spend for repatriation benefits- it has to be distributed accordingly. There is only a certain amount of money to be spent. There is a very small pool from which we can draw for this particular part of the social enterprise of the community. The honorable member for Wimmera asked, “Is there not any limit to the money we are going to be asked to spend? Is there not any limit to the demands that are going to be made upon us? “ I think the further we get from the wars the drier the tears of gratitude that come even in the eyes of people who had distinguished service in those wars.
It would not be a bad idea to turn to what was said in the very first debate on the very first repatriation bill in this Parliament by Senator Millen. I must admit that I am interested in what the honorable senator said on that occasion, because he was then outlining a completely new proposal for this Parliament. It was a novel experiment in legislation in any of the parliaments of the world, as far as I can determine.
– What was the date?
– It was about contemporary with the political philosophy of honorable members opposite. The date was 18th July, 1917. Senator Millen, concluding his speech, said -
I tell the Senate quite candidly that I am not at this juncture concerned about finance. I have put before honorable senators a proposition representing the duty we owe to these returned soldiers, and whether it is going to cost more or less for the discharge of that duty, we have to shoulder it.
We find here, in this House, at this stage, some 40 or more years later, that the members of both the political parties that make up the Government of this country believe that the most important consideration in connexion with repatriation is the cost. The honorable member for Sturt, the honorable member for Wimmera and, I presume, other honorable members opposite, have raised the same question. We on this side echo Senator Millen’s sentiments which he expressed in these words -
The honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) is interjecting. He is a man who, on some occasions, can express redoubtable democratic sentiments, as he did recently in a court case in Victoria, but in this House he always associates himself with the opposite viewpoint.
At the present time, repatriation is costing us £100,000,000 annually; but, strangely enough, the country does not seem to mind drifting into spending, for instance, £30,000,000 on decimal currency. This Government does not mind what it will have to spend on lots of other enterprises on which it has embarked, and some of which it has abandoned. We on this side have often mentioned the late lamented national service training scheme which cost the country £150,000,000. The country can drift into these things and the Government seems to be able to find the wherewithal to pay for them, but when Government supporters are challenged directly to take up certain and specific duties to people about whom they make wonderful speeches on Anzac Day, they find the cost is something which appals them.
The honorable member for Wimmera who has left the chamber now, talks about the R.S.L. The league put forward certain plans. It wanted the rate of the married service pensioner increased. The Government rejects that. The league wants the general rate raised, but that has not been considered adequately; and it wants something done for war widows. I, as a member of the R.S.L., and indeed all honorable members on this side of the House, want these things done; but, despite all the platitudes and generalities of honorable members opposite and despite the great orations they make about the glories of the R.S.L., when any particular proposition is put before the House the Government finds dozens of reasons for not advancing it. The honorable member for Wimmera and other honorable members opposite can argue about the inflationary spiral, for which this Government has been responsible, in an effort to excuse their neglect of many of the basic rates of pensions. But the 47th annual report of the R.S.L. discloses at page 14 just what the decline in the relative values of the various pensions has been. For instance, it discloses that in 1950-51 the adult male basic rate was £11 lis. and the pension rate was £3 10s. If the current rate is to be raised to equal that ratio, it will have to be increased to £7 2s. 3d. The same applies to the T.P.I, pension; instead ot being £13 5s., it should be £17 15s. 3d.
What nonsense it is for honorable members on the Government side to come in here and speaking as if they were representing some particular body of the ex-servicemen. Honorable members opposite continually trot out all the ministerial arguments as to why we cannot do anything about the First War servicemen, about those of them who are suffering from cancer, about free hospitalization for servicemen of the First World War and why we cannot give medical cards to the wives of service pensioners. We on this side are continually putting forward what I hope are proposals for the advancement of the Australian repatriation system. Here again I remind honorable members of the actual words used by Senator Millen when, as Vice-President of the Executive Council in 1917, he brought down the first repatriation bill in this Parliament. On page 184 of “Hansard” of 18th July, 1917, he is reported as having said -
Now, although much unrelated private effort has been made in many of the Allied countries, it is unquestionably true that up to the present no comprehensive scheme for the repatriation of returned soldiers has yet been submitted by any government anywhere. Australia has on more than one occasion given a lead to the world. It may perhaps be regarded as a cause of satisfaction that it is doing so in connexion with the repatriation of its soldiers.
So we speak here on a subject which was a radical departure from government attitudes; and Australia led the way. It has often been said in this House that we have one of the world’s best repatriation systems. That would be hard to prove or disprove, but if we could show leadership in 1917 it is appropriate that we should show considerable leadership now. So 1917 was the principal date in the repatriation system. The scheme is outlined in Senator Millen’s speech. It included hostels for curative training, a land settlement scheme in embryo, and so on.
Tn 1942-43 the Parliament again considered repatriation questions. The Labour Government had not long been in office when it decided that repatriation should be considered by a select committee of the Parliament. As a result, a radical change was made in tha whole structure of repatriation. I am sure that all honorable members opposite who are ex-servicemen would agree with me, if they cared to consider the proposition, that this is an appropriate moment to undertake another complete examination, of the repatriation system Our motion for a select committee should be seriously considered by the Parliament.
Since I came to the Parliament, it has been demonstrated on several occasions that when members from both sides of the House, or even from both Houses, sit down together and give earnest consideration to a national problem, they are inclined to arrive at the same solution. They did so when considering constitutional review and voting rights for aborigines. I believe that there is ample reason now for a review of the repatriation system to be undertaken. This is Australia’s most all-embracing and longest-established social service system. More amendments have been made to it than have been made to any other system. I think the schedule to the Repatriation Act shows that more than 40 amendments have been made to the act since it was first introduced. This is a constant searching for means to improve the scheme. I would suggest that there is not much difference between the philosophy or the views of honorable members on the Government side and Opposition members on this matter. We both accept the same kind of responsibilities. I think history shows that we on this side of the House take less refuge in platitudes or in the fear of costs than do honorable members opposite.
In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Repatriation said -
In conformity with the Government’s policy of continuing review of repatriation administration . . .
He then mentioned a number of adjustments, including the extension of the right of appeal in certain cases, the re-hearing of appeals where the appellant was absent from the original hearing and the re-casting of the schedule in respect of orphan’s allowances. However, despite the acceptance of the view that change must take place continuously and despite the fact that this is demonstrated by the whole series of amendments to the act in the 40-odd years of its existence, the Minister and honorable members opposite show a smugness and complacency that does not quite fit the situation.
I believe that the Repatriation Department is highly efficient. In my dealing? with Commonwealth departments, I have been continuously impressed by their efficiency.,. The . officers/, of the departments can speedily locate any one of the hundreds of thousands of files that they handle. Most of us in this House, with the itinerant existence we lead, find it difficult to locate any of the few files we carry around with us. However, the Parliament has the final responsibility for the repatriation system. If the repatriation system is working well, it will not hurt for the nation and the Parliament to be told by a select committee that it is. If there are points on which we can take up cases and courses, or if the system should be altered or adjusted to meet modern trends, we have a national duty to do so. The suggestion that a select committee consider the repatriation system is offered by the Opposition, with honesty and sincerity and in the belief that the Parliament ought to participate in the considerations that lead to the development of the system.
How do repatriation matters drift into the Minister’s ken? Do they float up from echelon to echelon, from pigeon hole to pigeon hole, until finally they reach the Minister’s desk where he notes what has been done and approves or disapproves? Our impression of the last three Ministers at least is that they played a small part in the constructive movement forward of repatriation. I would like to think that this is no longer so. I would like to think that the Minister and the Parliament play a constructive and creative role in repatriation affairs.
– The Government takes notice of the Returned Servicemen’s League.
– That is so. The Government is more likely to take notice of an outside body than of the Parliament itself.
The Parliament should consider the points I have raised. The Opposition proposes to move four amendments at the appropriate time, and I hope each will be considered on its merits. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Cockle) said that he had some sympathy with the needs of exservicemen from the First World War, that something ought to be done for these men in the future. It is typical of the philosophy of honorable members opposite that they believe improvements can always be effected, but not yet. Ex-servicemen from the First World War are dying in their hundreds. When they have all gone and the last notes of the “ Last Post “ have been’ sounded; the honorable member for Warringah will be ready to act. When we move our amendments to this bill, we will ask him to act.
We know the problems. How should we solve them? Is it a fact that the repatriation system is rather pension-obsessed? Are there other benefits not associated with direct money payments that we could give to ex-servicemen as a token from the nation? This perhaps would be a desirable change in the basic philosophy of the repatriation system. Many people receive benefits without direct money payment. I think that the overriding belief that pensions are the basis of the scheme should be changed. It may well be that thousands of people in the community do not need any kind of financial benefit but could use other types of assistance that the department could give. The ex-servicemen from the First World War should have their cases considered in the most sympathetic way. If we look back on the history of repatriation we will find that these people applied for pensions at the time when pensions were hardest to get. The records show that in 1932 or 1933 there was the largest number of cancellations that there had been for many years. The statistics show - they prove this to me, anyhow - that repatriation benefits were more readily available to us who served in the Second World War than to those who served in the First World War.
There is one group that I think should be given more consideration. I refer to the children of ex-servicemen. The soldiers children education scheme is the most skilfully directed phase of the repatriation sys’tem, but its existence is not known to most people in Australia. It is so little known that few beneficiaries come into it. An ex-serviceman must die of a disability that has been accepted as war-caused before his children can come into this scheme. The honorable member for Bruce, who is interjecting, does not worry about the motives or ethics of people in politics, but in matters of this kind I believe that I am expressing the thoughts of most people in the community when I say that the children of exservicemen should be given the benefit of the guiding hand of the soldiers’ children education scheme, irrespective of whether the disability that caused the ex-serviceman’s death was, accepted as war-caused.
The very first debate on repatriation in the Parliament - honorable members will find this in Mr. Littleton Groom’s speech - showed that benefits to children ceased when children reached the age of sixteen years. A tremendous social change has swept through the whole of the community since 1917. The school leaving age has been raised to fifteen years, even in the backward State of Victoria. It has been sixteen years for a long time in Tasmania. In many parts of the world, it is eighteen years. Most of iis expect our children to stay at school much beyond the age of sixteen years, and sixteen years, therefore, is not the terminal point of childhood. Consideration should be given to this factor. I know from the cases that come to me in my constituency that widows may not be able to prove that the husband died from a war-caused disability. But, after all, we are dealing with the children of soldiers and they will have a pretty tough time unless we do something for them.
A lad came into my office only a few weeks ago. He is now aged nineteen years. His mother receives an age pension. His father served in the First World War and, J think had some service in the Second World War. But we cannot prove that the father’s death was the result of a warcaused disability. The father died some ten or eleven years ago, and since then the mother and the son have been living on a pension. The boy has been attending the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. This has meant a tremendous struggle for them and he has at last had to give up. But he has not given up completely. He has gone out to find a job and he will try to finish his course on a part-time basis. He was top of his class in the first year of the course.
It should not be difficult to devise an alteration to the system that would bring these young people into the scheme. This is the sort of thing that we on this side of the House would do for every citizen and every child in the community. We have an established and experienced social service system that can handle these tasks if we give it a chance. A committee of review, such as the select committee, I have suggested, could investigate this aspect.
I come now to the interpretation of section 47. This has been the hardy annual of debate ever since I became a member of this House. We have been able to quote instances showing that even honorable members opposite are still not too happy about the way in which it is interpreted or administered. With layer after layer of appeals, one on top of the other - admittedly we are proposing that there should be still another court of appeal - the ordinary ex-serviceman or ex-serviceman’s widow is bemused by it all and has little chance of battling his or her way through the system. This Government inherited that structure from the Labour Government, but the Labour Government took a dramatic step when the onus-of-proof provision was expressed in its present terms. I would think that as a matter of simple logic if in the terms of the act, the department cannot prove that a serviceman’s disability was not war-caused he is entitled to the benefit that he seeks. That would perhaps be carrying the system further than most of us would be prepared to go, although somewhere along the line there is tremendous dissatisfaction with it.
There are many of us who have file after file of these cases and I suppose that some; of the long-term members of this Parliament have filing cabinets full of them. I recall an instance which came to my notice three or four years ago. This man received a smashed hip in the fighting on the Somme and suffered a severe disability until he died of heart disease nearly 40 years later. Surely it could be shown that this man’s heart gave out years before it would have done had he not been wounded! This is a complicated case and I do not know how it would fare as a matter of law but, as a simple question of sentiment I know what the answer should be.
Let us take the case of a returned serviceman who limps as the result of a war injury. He is crossing a road with three other people and a motor vehicle comes hurtling along. The other three people are quick off the mark and escape, but this man is knocked down and dies. It is a long chain reaction, but he would not have been the one to die if he had not been the man with the limp. What should we do about this question? lt cannot be solved by an act ,of Parliament, but only by the spirit of administration. These are the factors which ought to be considered and I think that a body of members of this Parliament, examining these things and sitting in judgment on them could, in the light of years of experience, produce answers which at present are not to be found.
I come now to the question of automatic acceptance. We, on this side of the House, have chosen cancer as a test case, but it is not only cancer that is involved. There are also heart disease, rheumatism, arthritis and diabetes. Nobody knows what causes these things but in answer to letters the Minister continually writes back, saying, in effect, “ We know what does not cause this trouble “. That is an odd line of logic and I do not think that is the way in which the system ought to work. We are talking particularly about the ex-servicemen from the First World War - men who were probably, physically, one of the most magnificent bodies of soldiers that ever enlisted. That is what everybody said about them at the time and it is what has been said about t hem ever since on Anzac Day. It seems to be what the records and statistics of the times show, and in ordinary circumstances these men should be living longer than anybody else in the community. They were t he cream of Australian manhood and i nstead of dying at 60 years of age they s hould be living on into their 80’s or 90’s. It is possible to produce statistics to show that ex-servicemen are dying at the same rate as anybody else, yet 40 years ago these men were the fittest in the com- munity and so there should be automatic acceptance. No one can tell me that the servicemen who served in the trenches in France in 1917 or 1918 experienced the normal conditions under which the human frame was designed to work. Can it be denied that such conditions could cause rheumatism or arthritis in later life? I am astounded at the strength and vigour, retained long beyond youth, of exservicemen from the First World War who are now sitting in this House.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was outlining some of the things which I thought a committee of inquiry, composed of members of both Houses of the Parliament, could well examine with a view to bringing in modifications of the repatriation system. I was also pointing out the sharp difference between the attitude of honorable members opposite, with their considerations of cost, as expressed by people like the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. King). These honorable members suggested that there are limits to what we can do and what we ought to do. The honorable member for Wimmera said, “Is there no limit? “ He was speaking about the claims of the Returned Servicemen’s League and he asked, in effect, “Is there no limit to what the league will demand? “ I was pointing out - and I hope it got through to honorable members opposite - that we on this side of the House agree with the views expressed by the Minister who introduced the first Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill into the Parliament on 18th July, 1917. The Minister said-
I tell the Senate quite candidly that I am not at this juncture concerned about finance. I have put before honorable senators a proposition representing the duty we owe to these returned soldiers, and whether it is going to cost more or less for the discharge of that duty, we have to shoulder it.
Honorable members opposite, obsessed with considerations of cost and so on, are not shouldering their duties to the people who served in both world wars. We contend that we owe a special duty to those who served in the First World War and we suggest that one of the easiest ways of discharging that duty is to accept the amendment that we will propose at the committee stage. Another way of discharging our duty is to do something about the widows and children of these ex-servicemen, and also something about the service pension and the allowances for wives.
There are a number of things that we think should be examined. We have listed, for instance, the automatic acceptance of certain diseases as war-caused. Then there is another problem that we should face, and which the community as a whole has to face - the problem of the ageing exserviceman. People are living longer these days. Many of our ex-servicemen are getting on in years, and it might be a nice social gesture on the part of the community to provide veterans’ homes to which more ex-servicemen can retire in the closing years of their lives and feel the psychological satisfaction that comes only from the repatriation system. I have noted from my association with many of these people that to the ex-servicemen of the First World War the Repatriation Department means more than any benefits that it actually confers on them. They get great satisfaction from being accepted as some sort of repatriation responsibility. You might say that the acceptance of responsibility for them by the Repatriation Department is like another ribbon added to those that they are already entitled to wear. So I say that the repatriation system in Australia is a kind of acceptance of a national social duty which carries with it a value that cannot be measured merely in pounds, shillings and pence.
When we are considering broadening the repatriation system we ought sometimes to forget some of our pension obsessions and see what we can do about it. For instance, there might be something we could do with the British people in the way of a reciprocal arrangement, although it seems to me, generally speaking, that the British system is not so generous or so flexible as our own. There are other matters that we could look at, such as the administration of the war service homes scheme. While this matter is not strictly covered by the Repatriation Act, it was mentioned in the very first speech made in this Parliament on a repatriation measure.
Another matter of importance to all exservicemen is the giving of reasons for the decisions of tribunals. I do not think there can be any justification whatsoever for a tribunal making decisions vital to the welfare of ex-servicemen and not being required to justify those decisions with reasons. It is a piece of bureaucratic insolence, in a way, to assert that a governmental or statutory authority need not give reasons for decisions of this kind.
Finally, I think the people of the nation will realize how dinkum are honorable members opposite when they talk about the Returned Soldiers League and criticize people like me for outspokenly asserting the rights of ex-servicemen. The people of the community have only to consider the request made by the R.S.L. and the arguments against them that we have heard from honorable members opposite, and also the votes that honorable members will cast against those requests, to see which side of the Parliament has the true interests of ex-servicemen at heart.
.- The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) has said that the real test of a repatriation system is whether those who have suffered as a result of war are properly compensated and cared for. He believes, and I support him in the belief, that the Australian repatriation system compares more than favorably with repatriation systems in other countries. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who is recognized as one of the authorities in the ranks of the Opposition on repatriation matters, said last night, as recorded at page 792 of “ Hansard “-
All honorable members on this side of the House agree that no ex-servicemen’s association, including the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers’ Association, would claim that this bill provides a fair measure of justice to its members.
Let us have a look at what honorable members opposite have said about the totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen. On page 794 of “ Hansard” we find this remark of the honorable member for Bass -
Time and again we have argued that the special rate pension should be at least the equivalent of the basic wage, but at no stage of this Government’s term of office has it reached that level.
Let me also refer to the speech of the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson). His speech, if I may say so, was full of errors and contained very few statements of fact. The honorable member is recorded at page 799 of “Hansard “ as having said -
The Budget proposes to increase this rate–
That is, the T.P.I. rate- by 10s. a week, bringing it from £135s. to £13 15s. … it is staggering to find that this Australian Parliament … is prepared in 1963 to give the T.P.I. pensioner a rate so substantially less than the basic wage . . . After all, we can hardly describe any payment less than the basic wage as reasonable.
One would infer from those remarks that the Labour Government, during its term of office, had paid T.P.I. pensioners the basic wage. I believe that the real test of sincerity of a person or an organization is to be found in his or its actions rather than words. In 1949, when Labour went out of office, the basic wage was £6 9s.a week. A T.P.I. pensioner was paid £5 6s. a week, which was only 82 per cent of the basic wage. To-day this Government is paying the T.P.I. pensioner £13 15s., which is 95 per cent of the basic wage, and if we allow for the amount paid to the wife of such a pensioner, we get a total in excess of the basic wage.
But there is another consideration that is even more important. When the Labour Government paid the T.P.I. pensioner £5 6s. a week, that was the finish. That was all he got. But this Government removed the ceiling which Labour had placed on pensions and which debarred the T.P.I. ex-serviceman from receiving social service pensions in addition to the repatriation pension. In other words, we made the T.P.I. pensioner eligible to receive the service pension as well, and most T.P.I. married pensioners to-day receive, not £5 6s. a week, or £6 10s. with the wife’s allowance added, as they did in the days of the Labour Government, and not even the £15 10s. 6d. which is normally paid to a T.P.I. ex-serviceman; they receive £17 10s. a week.
Let me illustrate further the difference in the treatment of a T.P.I. pensioner under the two governments. When Labour went out of office the amount paid to a T.P.I. ex-serviceman, married with two children, one of them aged twelve and the other fourteen, including the education allowance, was the magnificent sum of £8 9s. a week. To-day this Government pays such a T.P.I. pensioner, married and with two children of the ages I have mentioned, not £8 9s. a week but £22 17s. 9d. a week. So I say that it is just a lot of bunkum when honorable members opposite talk about the T.P.I. pensioners.
Opposition spokesmen also referred to war widows. I want to deal with remarks made by certain speakers for the Opposition, because they have attacked quite a number of aspects of this Government’s repatriation programme, and I do not believe their criticism was fair or even informed. I want, first, to deal with some of the things they said about war widows. The honorable member for Hughes said -
I now come to the position of war widows and I know a little about war widows because i have been the son of one from the age of seven years.
I would have thought that the son of a war widow would appreciate what this
Government has done for war widows. In the first place he said that war widows have lost ground to the extent of 27s. 3d. a week since 1951. He has very conveniently forgotten that this Government pays a substantially increased domestic allowance to war widows. Allow me to say that that allowance is paid to 95 per cent of war widows.
It is not something which just a few of them receive. When Labour went out of office, war widows received £3 7s. 6d. a week, including the domestic allowance. This Government to-day pays, not £3 7s. 6d. a week to war widows, but £9 5s. a week.
This Government also introduced quite a number of other concessions for war widows not even thought of by Labour. For instance, they are now eligible for war service homes. This Government introduced a re-marriage gratuity which is paid to a war widow on the occasion of her re-marriage. The gratuity is equivalent to one year’s full pension. In addition, medical benefits have been provided for widows and the children of ex-servicemen of the first war - men who did not serve overseas, who were excluded from benefits under Labour’s legislation and whose deaths have been accepted as due to war service. This Government has introduced the benefit of free air travel for war widows and nextofkin to enable them to visit ex-servicemen in hospital. Those are just a few of the benefits provided for war widows by this Government during its term of office. Labour paid to a war widow with two children, aged twelve and fourteen years, £5 18s. 6d. a week. This Government pays to a war widow in a similar position £14 19s. 3d. a week. The amount now paid to a war widow by way of pension and domestic allowance is 174 per cent greater than that paid by Labour, and the basic wage has gone up by only 123 per cent.
The honorable member for Hughes said that the margin of benefit which a war widow had over a civilian widow has been steadily dissipated, and that, under the provisions of the Budget, civilian widows have been granted certain increases. I believe that war widows are entitled to a quite substantial margin over civilian widows. Nobody would deny that. But I feel that the honorable member has overlooked the fact that many of the so-called civilian widows who are to benefit by the increases are actually the widows of ex-servicemen with overseas service whose deaths have not been accepted as due to war service. I do not think that any fair-minded person would suggest that it was not right that these widows should be looked after better than they have been looked after in the past.
The honorable member for Bass also made a reference to war widows’ pensions. He said that they had not been increased in this Budget. He conveniently overlooked the fact that the domestic allowance has been increased. Of the total of 38,917 war widows shown in the latest report of the Repatriation Commission, 36j,787 - or 95 per cent. - will receive that increase in the domestic allowance.
I turn now to service pensions. Sometimes we compare the benefits paid by this Government in 1963 with those paid by Labour in 1949. We all know that money values have changed, but they have not changed by anywhere near the extent that Labour would like us to believe.
– To what extent have they changed?
– To the extent that the basic wage has risen from £6 9s. to £14 8s., an increase of 123 per cent.. The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) said this afternoon that Government members make much of the increased amounts we are paying but forget the effects of inflation, foi which, he said, this Government is responsible. If I were to say that this Government inherited inflation from the Labour Party nobody opposite would believe me or would accept me as an authority. I am glad that honorable members opposite apparently agree with me. I do not think any of them would disagree with the right honorable J. B. Chifley, who is often quoted as an authority by members of the Labour Party. Quite obviously the honorable member for Wills did not read the Budget speech delivered by the right honorable J. B. Chifley covering the year 1949-50 - it is available for anybody to see - in which he said -
Wages and internal prices have risen rapidly during the past two years and will probably go further in 1949-50.
They had not just risen, but had risen rapidly during the last two years. I am informed that inflation was advancing at the rate of 10 per cent, per annum at the time of that speech. Mr. Chifley, the Treasurer of the last Labour Government, said then that wages and internal prices had risen rapidly during the previous two years.
– Did not your Government promise to put value back in the £1.
– I am answering the statement made by the honorable member for Wills that this Government is responsible for inflation. I come back to service pensions. Much has been said on this subject. The honorable member for Bass quoted statements in relation to the so-called discriminatory pension - the pension which discriminates between married and single pensioners. The motive underlying the Government’s thinking is to give the greatest assistance to the people who are in the greatest need. A married pensioner couple, whether both receive the age pension or one of them receives a service pension, have £10 10s. a week. If one of them dies, virtually the same commitments have to be met by the surviving pensioner, but the income is cut in half. This Government recognized that those pensioners were very harshly treated. It instituted the special pension of 10s. a week where there is only one pension coming into the home, in the case of a married couple or a single pensioner. Honorable members opposite have said quite a lot about this being a discriminatory pension. I want to read from a letter quoted earlier to-day by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. King). The letter is from Mrs. Dougan of the National Pensioners Society of Sydney. She praises the Government and says that the outcry against a differential rate of pension - which is the first breakthrough for the needy - is deplorable. The letter continues -
The Government made a wise move in its breakthrough for single and widowed pensioners . . . the plight of the single pensioner living solely on his pension without other means of support is the most tragic aspect of our Social Services . . . This payment of a differential rate is welcomed as a first step towards a fair deal for the single pensioner. It is welcomed by all fair-minded Australian citizens.
The honorable member for Bass said that some service pensioners with dependent children under the age of sixteen will receive an increase. He said that the Minister should explain fully why this increase will apply only to service pensioners who are permanently unemployable. For the benefit of those who do not know the position, let me explain that service pensions are provided for ex-servicemen who served in a theatre of war and have attained the age of 60 years, for those who are permanently unemployable and for those in one or two other categories. The honorable member wants to know why the increase in the children’s allowance does not extend to those service pensioners who qualify by age. They have to be 60 years of age in order to qualify for a service pension on the grounds of age. I ask the honorable member: How many men over the age of 60 years have dependent children under the age of sixteen years? There would be very precious few of them. I have a great deal of respect for the honorable member for Bass, but he said -
In its 1963-64 Budget the Government is providing for an expenditure of more than £2,000,000,000, but it is providing only slightly more than £1,500,000 extra by way of repatriation benefits.
All that is perfectly true, but what a slant he has given to it! He has compared the increased expenditure on pensions with the total budget. If he had been perfectly honest, he would have said that out of a budget of about £2,000,000,000, this Government proposes to expend more than £123,000,000 on repatriation benefits this financial year - an increase of more than £13,000,000 compared with expenditure last financial year.
At this stage, Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the opportunity to compliment the Repatriation Commission and its officers on the way in which it administers the repatriation scheme. A graph in the latest annual report of the commission shows that of every £1 provided by the Government for repatriation services 19s. is paid out in pensions, allowances and benefits, only 9d. on administration and only 3d. on maintenance. That is a particularly fine effort.
The honorable member for Bass was completely off the track when he criticized the bill on the ground that it was more notable for what it does not do than for what it does. He said -
The great bulk of repatriation pensioners will not receive any increases at ali*’ -
In the first place, I have pointed out that just on 36,000 war widows and 25,000 totally and permanently incapacitated and totally and temporarily incapacitated exservicemen will receive increased benefits. I have no figures to show how many service pensioners are single, but two-thirds of social service pensioners will receive the additional 10s. a week to be paid to single pensioners. If we assume that the same proportion of service pensioners are single, two-thirds of service pensioners will receive an additional 10s. a week. I think that that completely answers the statement by the honorable member for Bass that the great bulk of repatriation pensioners will not receive any increases in benefits.
By the way, I do not understand the efforts of the Opposition to relate repatriation pensions to average male earnings. At one time, these pensions were customarily related to the basic wage. I can only assume that Labour’s attitude has changed because comparison with the basic wage does not show the previous Labour Government in a good light. It is a strange thing that whenever speakers on this side of the chamber, in a budget debate or any other debate, mention the fact that average male earnings are in excess of £23 a week, we are told: “That is a ridiculous figure. Very few people get so much. That figure takes in the earnings of the top brass, who are on quite a few thousand a year. That is a fictitious figure that has no relation to fact.” But honorable members opposite relate pensions to average male earnings rather than to the basic wage when it suits them to do so.
I now return to remarks made by the honorable member for Hughes.
– You have plenty of quotations.
– Yes. Opposition speakers have provided me with plenty. The honorable member for Hughes discussed the allowances payable in respect of the child1ren of service pensioners. He said -
Then there is the children’s allowance, which is 15s. a week for the first child - no increase here . . .
That is perfectly correct, but let me compare that with what Labour paid in 1949 in respect of the first child. The Labour Government paid 5s. a week, not 15s. So this Government has increased the rate by 200 per cent., whereas the basic wage has risen by 123 per cent. The honorable member then used a not very elegant expression. It is not a word that I particularly like to use, but I shall read what he said and then throw the expression back in his teeth. The honorable member, after saying that the allowance of 15s. a week payable in respect of the first child was not to be increased, continued -
– Who said that?
– The honorable member for Hughes said that. As I have said, I do not like to use the expression that he used. Let us compare what this Government pays with what the Labour Government paid in 1949. In respect of the second and subsequent children up to the fourth, Labour paid 2s. 6d. each, and nothing for any child beyond the fourth. In 1956, the present Government introduced a special benefit which provided a service pensioner with an additional 10s. a week in respect of each child. The rate is to be increased now to 15s. a week for each child after the first. Instead of the lousy 2s. 6d. a week that Labour paid in 1949 for each of the second, third and fourth children, the present Government is paying 15s. a week, plus the child’s service pension of 2s. 6d. a week - a total of 17s. 6d., or seven times as much. This represents an increase of 600 per cent., whereas the basic wage has risen by 123 per cent.
– What about telling us what was paid during the Boer War!
– I thank the honorable member for that interjection, because it has reminded me that the present Government has introduced quite a number of new benefits for ex-servicemen. We have even made Boer War veterans eligible for service pensions, and have provided free medical, hospital and dental treatment for all service pensioners, regardless of whether disability has been war-caused. This Government has provided a gift car, plus an allowance of £120 a year to run it, for ex-servicemen who have suffered double amputation above the knees or who are completely paraplegic. Since this benefit was introduced, nearly 200 of these, cars have, been.-, made available. This Government has intro duced a training scheme for disabled exservicemen and war widows. This has enabled war widows to be trained to take up work again. The present Government has extended the provision of medical benefits to war widows who are widows of men who served in the First World War, but not overseas, and whose deaths have been accepted as due to war service. The Government has also provided a clothing allowance for amputees and others whose disability causes excessive wear and tear on clothing. We have extended medical benefits not only to nurses who served in the 1914-18 war but also to all service pensioners, including Boer War veterans, for all disabilities whether war-caused or not.
I think I have shown, Mr. Speaker, that this Government, far from neglecting the needs of repatriation pensioners, has done a tremendous job. The pension payable to totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen has been increased by 160 per cent, compared to the rate paid by the Labour Government. The war widow’s pension has been increased by 174 per cent. The pension payable to double orphans - children who have been unfortunate enough to lose both parents - has been increased from the 17s. 6d. a week paid by the Labour Government to £3 lis. 6d. a week for children up to fourteen years of age - an increase of more than 300 per cent. This Government pays the single service pensioner £5 15s. a week, compared with £2 2s. 6d. a week paid by Labour - an increase of 170 per cent.
Having said that, I want to make the point that even though repatriation benefits, social service benefits and health services are very important, expenditure on them represents only part of the total expenditure made by the Commonwealth Government. Any deficiencies in the repatriation system - I do not think that any honorable member on this side of the House will claim that it is perfect - have to be viewed in the light of overall budget requirements. Governments do not create money. They merely pay out money that they have already taken from the people in one way or another, whether by direct or indirect taxes or by way of loans which have subsequently to be repaid. If we are to pay higher .rates of benefits, obviously ,the, additional money has to be raised by taxation.
It becomes a question of the determination of priorities and of judgment as to how high governments can raise tax rates without killing incentive and perhaps reducing the overall collections of taxes. It becomes a question of judgment as to how the money that has been raised is to be expended. This Government has endeavoured to give the maximum assistance to those persons whom it believes to be in the greatest need. I believe that the Government has faced the task with sincerity and that all thinking people will recognize this and give credit to it for the way in which it has treated our ex-service men and women. I have pleasure in supporting the bill.
.- In addressing myself to the Repatriation Bill I do not intend to traverse the ground already covered by my colleagues, but I would like to stress some of the points raised by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). He said that the Opposition would press for the appointment of a select committee, similar to the one that was appointed in 1943, to inquire into repatriation matters. I do not want to argue whether the increases under the bill are sufficient or whether some people only will receive the increases and others will not receive any. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) stated that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) had said that those who have suffered owing to war injuries must be compensated if the Repatriation Department is doing its job satisfactorily.
Yesterday, the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) pointed out that of 46,753 persons who genuinely felt that they had a claim for repatriation benefits as a result of war-caused disabilities and who submitted applications to the department, only 19,399 had their claims accepted and 20,805 had their claims rejected. One’s experience convinces one that those applicants would have consulted repatriation doctors before lodging their claims. An applicant usually gives some evidence of his war-time activities in support of his claim and also produces a certificate from a repatriation doctor. Why were so many claims rejected? Is one to assume that more than 50 per cent of claimants in Australia had no basis whatever for their claims and were merely trying to sponge on their country? The report of the Repatriation Commission shows that of the applicants rejected, 16,791 pursued their claims before the commission. They felt that they had a right to a benefit. Those applicants must have consulted doctors and specialists. They must have contacted their friends in order to prepare their cases before the commission. But of the 16,791 claims, only 2,141 were accepted and 12,091 were rejected.
What is the state of mind of those whose claims have been rejected? They feel that they have a genuine claim for benefits. How can this situation be tied in with the Minister’s statement that those who suffered must be compensated? Are more than 12,000 ex-servicemen suffering delusions? Are the original 20,000 whose applications were rejected under a delusion that they suffer disabilities due to war service? Many ex-servicemen whose claims are rejected by the repatriation boards and by the commission lodge appeals with repatriation tribunals. Those men seek specialist advice. They obtain corroborative evidence, and, where possible, fresh evidence to place before the tribunal. The commission’s report shows that of 12,990 applicants who went before tribunals, 1,369 were successful and 7,146 had their applications refused. These figures indicate to me that there is something wrong in the way applications are treated. Perhaps application’s are not presented to tribunals or to the commission in the best possible way. Later I propose to suggest a remedy if this be the case. Something is wrong when more than 50 per cent of applicants who think they are entitled to compensation for war-caused disabilities are refused benefits.
One thing that concerns me greatly is the difficulty experienced by diggers of the 1914-18 war in proving their case before repatriation boards. In contradistinction to the 1939-45 soldier and the Korean War soldier, who were aware of their entitlements under repatriation, the 1914-18 soldier had no knowledge that one day he might be compensated by his country for war-caused disabilities. Many of the First World War diggers tried to doctor themselves when they suffered disabilities or fever. They were not particularly careful about recording their illnesses or injuries in companyrecords. In the 1914-18 war no consideration was given, as it was during the last war, to the type of food that a serviceman should eat in the various areas in which he served. No regard was paid to calorie or vitamin intake. In the 1914-18 war you ate what you could get. Many old diggers ate totally unsuitable food. The Repatriation Act does not appear to provide for the privations suffered by the 1914-18 soldier.
Doctors in the 1939-45 war were much better equipped to diagnose foreign and tropical diseases than were their counterparts in the 1914-18 war. I know of a man who contracted fever during the 1914- 18 war. His papers showed that he had contracted malaria. Malaria is supposed to leave a person seven years after that person vacates the territory in which he contracted the disease, but to this day that man still suffers from the fever. He has had 200 or 300 attacks of fever. Only recently a doctor decided to attack the disease from a different angle. The doctor called the fever a pyrexia of unknown origin and the department accepted the disease as warcaused. That is an indication of the fight that some of these men must put up in order to receive recognition of their disabilities as war-caused. Many old diggers did not keep records of the names of doctors who treated them after the war. Many old diggers were brushed aside by doctors after the First World War because the doctors were not interested in their complaints. The attitude of many diggers of the First World War was that Australia was a young and pioneering country and that its soldiers had to fight their own way through the world. To-day we live in a semi-welfare state. The exserviceman of the 1939-45 war looked for remuneration from his country. The oldtimer of the First World War was not concerned about such matters. Many of them did not bother to seek repatriation assistance until they got into their sixties. Possibly the youngest man in. Australia to-day who served in the First World War would be 63 years of age.
T know of one man who served in the 1914-18 war and who was blown up, along with his comrades in arms, when a shell exploded in a trench. He was unconscious for three or four months and was in hospital for about nine months He now has a general debility condition. He suffers from 20 or 30 complaints. He has nervous tension, hardening of the arteries and other coronary complaints. Efforts have been made to obtain a repatriation pension for that man but the doctors claim that his complaints are consistent with old age. Surely a man who was blown sky high, was unconscious for five months, was in hospital for nine months and suffered damage to his nervous system and his bone structure is entitled to some compensation from his country. Some of the First World War veterans have acute arthritis. It is hard for them to prove that their present disability is the result of their war service. The difficulties that these men have in proving their cases are reflected in the number of applications that are rejected by the board and the commission.
For some reason that is not apparent to me, the report of the Repatriation Commission groups applicants before appeal tribunals according to the war in which they served, but this system is not followed by the board or the commission. The report shows that of the appeals lodged with the appeal tribunals by men of the 1914-18 war, 351 were allowed and 2,094 were disallowed. Therefore, 14 per cent, of applications to tribunals were successful. Of the claims submitted by ex-servicemen of the 1939-45 war, 1,000 were successful and 4,966 were unsuccessful. In other words, 17 per cent, of applications were successful. The same percentage of applications from men who served in the Korean War were successful. One may ask why only 14 per cent, of applications from men who served in the First World War were successful whereas 17 per cent, of applications from men who served in the Second World War and the Korean War were successful. One can only conclude that the records relating to ex-servicemen of the First World War were inadequate and that the diagnoses made by the doctors at that time were incorrect. It is only with the utmost difficulty that an old digger can prove his case before the various tribunals, and this no doubt accounts for the 3 per cent, difference in the number of successful applications.
Those percentages relate only to appeals to tribunals, which number some hundreds. What happens to the 46,000 applications to the boards and the 16,000 applications to the commission? What are the relative percentages of successes between the old digger and the digger of the 1939-45 war? If the select committee which we have proposed is ever appointed by this Parliament - we regard its establishment as absolutely necessary and say that its terms of reference should be similar to those of the select committee which was set up in 1943 - it should investigate thoroughly the grounds of appeal open to veterans of the 1914-18 war so that the official attitude to records and diagnoses can be made more liberal than that relating to ex-servicemen of the 1939-45 war.
I should like to refer now to an experience that no doubt a considerable number of ex-servicemen, especially those who served in the 1939-45 war, have had. Men suddenly find that their general physical condition is deteriorating for no apparent resaon. They are not receiving any repatriation pension so they go to a doctor. The doctor tells them: “ Perhaps this complaint that you have, bronchitis “ - it could be arthritis, fibrositis or lum.ba:c - “ was contracted during your service because of the privations you suffered. We shall make an application for you.” The ex-serviceman goes to the Repatriation Department and obtains the appropriate application form. Here let me say that the officers of the department give every assistance possible within the terms of the act. The applicant’s doctor may be a general practitioner and not necessarily a repatriation doctor. The applicant completes the form and obtains a certificate from the doctor to the effect that the applicant’s bronchitis is the result of war service and warrants a pension. But the wise old birds who have been through the mill say to the ex-serviceman: “ You should not claim for bronchitis. You should claim for a chest condition, and the department then will have to examine you thoroughly and adjust your file accordingly.” Again, the inexperienced general practitioner may claim a pension on the ground of an exserviceman’s lumbago, but the wise old birds claim for a back condition, a knee condition or a head condition.
Many applicants have no knowledge of the correct way of submitting a claim. At times Repatriation Department officers have said privately, “ For Heaven’s sake, why didn’t that person claim so and so? “ But they cannot write to the applicant and say: “Apply on this ground and you will walk it in “ or “ This is the reason why you did not receive a pension. If you had worded your application differently you would have got it.” One of our complaints is that when an application is rejected we do not know the reason for the rejection, so we do not know whether we are putting the applicant on the right track in an appeal to a higher tribunal.
After appearing unsuccessfully before a board a case must be prepared for the commission. What does any applicant know about preparing a case correctly? He may go to his local member of Parliament or to the R.S.L. for assistance. In my own city of Brisbane Mrs. G. Ault, who belongs to the Australian Legion of Ex-servicemen and Women, Mr. J. J. Dale, of the legal aid bueau at R.S.L. head-quarters, and in my own electorate, Mr. Merrin, of the Redcliffe branch of the R.S.L., do a tremendous amount of this work. I believe that there should be a section associated with the department to prepare an ex-serviceman’s claim and to plead the case before a tribunal or the commission. Every ex-serviceman should have the opportunity to go to an advocate who will prepare the case correctly from the start. All applications should first have passed through the advocate’s office. As things stand at present, an applicant runs here, there and everywhere trying to find some one to make representations on his behalf. Mrs. Ault works sixteen or seventeen hours a day and she just cannot handle all applications that come to her. I know many men in the R.S.L. who are unqualified but who appear before the tribunals and try to prove their cases. An advocate’s office which would help the ex-serviceman prepare his case correctly is necessary.
When I was first elected to this Parliament I had no idea how to process a case. I do not claim that I know how to do it completely now but at least I do know that before submitting an application you request the department to forward a medical summary to the applicant’s doctor, you write to the doctor and ask for an opinion as to whether the applicant’s condition has deteriorated, and if the doctor finds something in the medical summary which is consistent with the applicant’s general condition a claim can then be made on the department. You then gradually build up your case. But not every one can approach a member of Parliament to do this work for him, and most certainly no member of Parliament can handle all the applications in his own area.
In Canada and the United States of America there are ex-servicemen’s advocates who handle all applications first. No application is handled by the government departments unless it has been processed by the advocate - the friend of the applicant - who knows exactly what has to be done. Many cases are processed satisfactorily by the people I have mentioned, especially Mrs. Ault and Mr. Dale in Brisbane, but in this modern age in which companies, unions and organizations engage the best legal brains to put forward a case you must admit that the ex-serviceman is not competent to prepare his own case correctly. He needs an advocate to help him. At present the exservicemen who try to handle their own cases stand in a queue at the Repatriation Department without knowing the ins and outs of the business. They do not know what has to be done. The honest fellow sometimes becomes very disgusted with the whole affair and walks away. One wonders how many ex-servicemen in Australia to-day have submitted an application to the board, have been rejected, have said, “ That is the end of that”, and have not persisted with their claims. There must be thousands of those men in Australia. If there were an advocates’ bureau where ex-servicemen could discuss their problems they would be much better off. As the Minister has said, the men who are suffering disabilities as a result of their war service must be compensated.
The Repatriation Department is seriously handicapped by the insufficient number of qualified doctors available to really diagnose the ex-servicemen’s condition. In many cases an applicant’s doctor believes that a claim should be made for a certain complaint but the Repatriation Department doctors hold the opposite view, so there is a conflict of opinion between the medical officer representing the applicant and the medical officer representing the department. There .should be , a. group . of specialist diagnosticians available to .examine an applicant in the light of his medical record.
If the proposed select committee is ever appointed it should be given the task of sorting out the peculiarities of the various areas in which men were required to fight in the service of their country. In the First World War a number of servicemen developed psoriasis from riding camels. Sores resembling dermatitis appeared and continued to appear. In the 1914-18 war and for years afterwards the disease was diagnosed as dermatitis. We need specialist doctors to examine the medical summaries prepared by the Repatriation Department, to examine the men concerned and the case histories supplied by repatriation doctors and, if possible, to make a diagnosis to assist the applicants before a tribunal or board, rather than a group of doctors whose job is to say that an applicant’s doctor is incorrect or has not pinpointed the problem correctly.
I have indicated my complete support for the recommendation made by the honorable member for Parkes last night. I consider that a select committee is needed. I believe a special recommendation should be made in relation to ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war. In particular, the onusofproof provision of the Repatriation Act, section 47, should apply more especially to those ex-servicemen. Their statements should be accepted, unless the contrary is proved. I have mentioned the case of an ex-serviceman who was in hospital for nine months after being blown up. He established that his general condition deteriorated because of that awful experience. It should be the responsibility of the Repatriation Department, if it says to that man, “You have no war-caused disability”, to prove that his accident and subsequent hospitalization for nine months were not responsible in any way for his general condition. More will be said about the onus of proof in committee. The select committee, if it is ever appointed, should consider a wider interpretation of the onus-of-proof provision in the Repatriation Act.
I think the Minister for Repatriation will agree that at times applicants before the repatriation boards, the Repatriation Commission and the appeal tribunals have the utmost difficulty in obtaining somebody to prepare their cases and make adequate representations on their behalf. Perhaps a group of men known as the advocates for the pensioners could be set up as an adjunct - not necessarily under the direction of the local repatriation deputy commissioner, but attached to another department - and all applications that come before the various repatriation tribunals could first be processed by those advocates who could make recommendations.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses I and 2 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Proposed new clause 2a.
.- I moveThat the following new clause be inserted in the bill:- “2a. After section twenty-one of the Principal Act the following Part is inserted: - Part IIa. - Joint Committee on Repatriation.
– (1 .) As soon as conveniently practicable after the commencement of this Part, a Joint Committee of nine members of the Parliament, to be called the Joint Committee on Repatriation, shall be appointed according to the practice of the Parliament with reference to the appointment of members to serve on Joint Committees of both Houses of the Parliament. (2.) Three of the members of the Committee shall bc members of and appointed by the Senate, and six of the members of the Committee shall be members of and appointed by the House of Representatives. 22a. The members of the Committee shall hold office ns a Joint Committee until the Rouse of Representatives for the time being expires by dissolution or effluxion of time. 22b. - (1.) Any member of the Committee may resign his seat on the Committee by writing under his hand addressed to the President of the Senate if he be a Senator, or to the Speaker of the House of Representatives if he be a member of the House of Representatives. (2.) The seat of any member of the Committee shall be deemed to have become vacant if he ceases to be a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives (as the case may be). 22c. Where the seat of any member of the Committee becomes vacant, it shall be filled by appointment according to the practice referred to in section twenty-two of this Act within fifteen sitting days after the happening of the vacancy if the House of the Parliament of which he is a member is then sitting, or, if not, then within fifteen sitting days after the next meeting of that House. 22n. There shall bc a Chairman and a Vicechairman of the Committee, who shall be elected by the members of the Committee at their first meeting, or as soon- thereafter as is practicable. 22e. At any meeting of the Committee -
Chairman or, in the absence of both the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman, a member elected by the members present, shall preside;
Briefly, the amendment proposes the establishment of a joint committee of this Parliament to consist of three members of the Senate and six members of the House of Representatives. The functions of the committee are set out in proposed new section 22j which reads -
The Committee shall examine the Repatriation Act and regulations and, in a Report to the Parliament, recommend amendments necessary to be made in the Act and regulations to remove existing anomalies and improve their provisions.
In submitting this amendment, the Opposition has regard to the fact that it is now twenty years since a joint committee of this Parliament had an opportunity to examine the matters that the Opposition proposes should be examined on this occassion. Honorable members must be aware that in 1943 the Parliament decided to set up a committee under the chairmanship of my colleague, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). The report of that committee is still available in this Parliament. Honorable members who have had an opportunity to study and consider the report and recommendations that were made by that committee in 1943 will appreciate that, as a result of its deliberations, the evidence that was submitted to it and its recommendations to this Parliament, considerable improvements to the Repatriation Act were effected. We sincerely believe that in view of the lengthy period that has elapsed since a committee has had an opportunity to consider these matters another committee should now be appointed.
We do not suggest, Mr. Chairman, that this joint committee should have the power to report to the Parliament on the rates that should be paid to the various types of repatriation pensioners. But we believe that there are many matters that a committee of this nature would and should be able to report upon, such as matters that have been dealt with individually during the debate on this bill by honorable members from this side of the House as well as from the Government side.
I mention, first of all, the onus-of-proof provision. As a result of the deliberations of the committee in 1943, certain improvements to section 47 of the Repatriation Act were effected. The report of that committee clearly laid down that where there is any doubt the tribunals should give the benefit of that doubt to the appellant. We say now that the tribunals have never applied the onus-of-proof provision as that committee intended it should be applied. We believe that a committee appointed now probably would be able to recommend to the Parliament how section 47 might be applied as it should be applied in the interests of ex-servicemen generally.
In respect of the appointment of this committee, we ignore completely the rates that are paid to ex-servicemen who are already qualified under the Repatriation Act to receive benefits. We acknowledge that those rates are the responsibility of the Government. I submit that apart from section 47 there are many matters that should be reported on by a committee of this nature. I say at once that even if the committee was not able to bring down a report suggesting how some improvements to the Repatriation Act might be effected, the appointment of the committee would be worth while and it certainly could do no harm. I am sure that the Minister will agree with me and that all honorable members will acknowledge that, because of the long period that had elapsed since 1917, when the first repatriation measure was introduced into this Parliament, it was necessary in 1943 that a committee be set up to review the act and to suggest the amendments that have since been effected to it. If it was necessary then to appoint such a committee, surely now, twenty years after the appointment of that last committee, it is necessary to appoint another committee of review. Neither I nor other members of the Opposition can see any reason why the Minister should not agree to the appointment of the select committee which I am proposing. After all, a committee comprised of members from both sides of the Parliament would be in a position to understand the problems that affect ex-servicemen generally because they have had some experience in these matters. But, quite apart from that, it has to be remembered that the various organizations such as the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association, the Tubercular Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Association and the Blinded Servicemen’s Association have all had great experience in these matters and they have all pointed out to this Government that certain anomalies exist under the act as it stands. They have had experience in submitting applications to the Repatriation Commission for the acceptance of disabilities, and they should be given the opportunity to present their views to a committee such as the one now proposed by the Opposition. I submit, too, that there are honorable members on the Government side who can appreciate the significance and importance of such a committee. I suggest to them that if they are interested in these matters they will support the Opposition in its contention that a committee should be established. The Opposition intends to move a number of amendments to-night, but if a committee such as the one I am proposing was agreed to and established by the Government, it would have the opportunity to consider and report upon all the proposals that we shall submit to-night. I refer, for example, to such questions as the automatic acceptance of some of the disabilities that are now very debatable according lo various ex-servicemen’s organizations, the extension of medical services and so on. All of these are matters that ought quite properly to be submitted to a committee appointed by this Parliament. I submit that the amendment that I propose is long overdue, and I commend it to the committee.
[9.4). - When amendments to a bill such as the one now before the committee are submitted in circumstances such as these, I take it they are submitted with sincerity and for serious consideration. If any amendments to this repatriation measure are submitted at any time, I can assure honorable members that I examine them in that light. The amendment which is now being submitted by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) on behalf of the Opposition has been examined very carefully by me. The matter has been discussed with members of the Government and it has also been examined by senior officers of my department. We have also studied very carefully the report oi the 1943 joint committee of review which was headed by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). That was a very constructive and very interesting report, and I think we should look back at it to see why the review was recommended at that particular time by the government of the day.
In 1943, we were in the midst of a major war. We had in operation in Australia a repatriation system which dated back to 1917, administered first by a commission and then by a department established in 1921. As Australia was then in a period of major war, it was necessary to revise the system with a view to considering what repatriation benefits, medical treatment and associated matters would be necessary at the termination of a war of such magnitude. Therefore, quite rightly, the government of the day set up that committee of review to establish a basis for the operation of the system at the termination of the war. The Government did this in many other fields. Even the United Nations Organization established a basis of operations for consideration after the termination of that major war. That was the basis of the appointment of the joint committee of review that was set up at that time. That committee reported very capably ‘ on the repatriation system and made very sound recommendations which were accepted at a later stage with the approval of both sides of the House.
Looking at the situation now, we are not now in circumstances of a major war: we are in circumstances of a continuation of a post-war period in which a repatriation system has been operating on a sound basis since the termination of a war and as the result of the original review to which I have referred. But circumstances did change to some degree between 1943, when that committee made its recommendations, and 1949 when the Labour Government was defeated and the present government assumed office. In 1949, the then Leader of the Opposition and present Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) made reference in his policy speech to a review of repatriation matters that would take place if his Government was elected. So it happened that in 1950 the Government set up a special committee of the Cabinet to review the whole of the repatriation system as it stood at that time.
At this stage, 1 think it only fair to refer to some of the changes that were made in the benefits payable as a result of the review and to project them up to date as they will operate following the passage of this bill by the House. Just glancing quickly at some of the main rates, I notice that in 1949 the special rate of ordinary pension for a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman was £5 6s. After the review in 1 950, that was increased to £7. As honorable members know, the bill under consideration will bring that up to £13 15s., which will be an increase of £8 9s. over the figure which was established in 1949. The general rate for a member was £2 15s. in 1949. Following the review early in 1950, that was increased to £3 10s. After the passage of this measure, it will be £5 15s., an increase of £3 over the 1949 rate. Again, the war widow’s pension in 1949 was £3. After the review in 1950, it was increased to £3 10s. After the passage of this bill, it will be £5 15s. an increase of £2 15s. over the 1949 rate. An examination of the service pension reveals a somewhat similar situation. The rate for a single member was £2 2s. 6d. in 1949. Following the review in 1950, it rose to £2 10s., and, after the passage of this measure, it will be £5 15s. or £3 12s. 6d. more than the 1949 rate. The rate for other service pensioners will remain at £5 5s. which is £3 2s. 6d. above the rate applying in 1949. I think it only fair to give those figures. They reveal a situation of continuing improvement of the pension rates.
I do not want to refer in a destructive way to what took place in 1949 and 1950. However, I point out that the promise made by the Government in 1949 in its policy speech was honoured by a major review in 1950. This has apparently been overlooked, perhaps unwittingly, by members of the Opposition who spoke in the secondreading debate. They said that the only review took place in 1943. In fact, this Government undertook a major review in 1950.
Subsequently, the Government set up a special ex-servicemen’s committee of Cabinet, and this is still in existence. In addition, a Government members exservicemen’s committee was established, headed by my colleague, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder). This committee is very active. A similar committee has been established within the ranks of the Opposition, and I think this committee is headed by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). It carries out in its own way a continuing review of the repatriation system. There is continuous contact with ex-servicemen’s organizations, principally the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. Once a year, this association has the opportunity to consult with the exservicemen’s committee of Cabinet, and I pay a tribute to it for the way in which it has approached repatriation matters. As I said before, this is the only public organization in Australia that has the right of direct and continuous approach to the Commonwealth Cabinet on this basis. This is quite an achievement. Each year the association has the opportunity to present to Cabinet its review of the repatriation system. Over the years, this has made a tremendous difference. I think every honorable member knows that all major changes in the repatriation system since 1943 have been substantially the result of representations made by ex-servicemen’s organizations. They have achieved measurable success, as the present system shows.
Despite all the criticism by Opposition members, and perhaps the thoughts of Government supporters who believe that the system can be improved still further, our repatriation system on balance is the best in the world to-day. A complete survey of all other systems in the free world, which we have undertaken, shows that on balance our system is the best. This does not mean to say that v/e are content with it. We realize that as time goes by we must adjust some matters. That is why the bill now before the committee was introduced. It is designed to make some adjustments which will be of benefit to a large number of ex-servicemen.
In addition to consultation with exservicemen’s organizations, the Government consults with Legacy and a wide variety of other organizations that are interested in repatriation. The Government also has an annual review of the situation before the Budget is prepared. We realize that circumstances must change year by year, particularly in the medical field. With an ageing ex-service population, a greater emphasis is placed on the need for medical treatment. I would have thought that Opposition members who are interested in repatriation would have paid more attention to this vital aspect of medical treatment when speaking in the secondreading debate on the bill. To my mind, it is necessary to continue to improve our medical services and certainly while I am Minister for Repatriation I will see that this improvement is effected. Changes will, of course, take place in medical treatment and benefits will move according to the economic circumstances of the time.
It is clear that there is a pattern of development throughout the repatriation system and a continuing pattern of review. I have no doubt that the Opposition is sincere in moving this amendment. I know that the honorable member for Bass is quite genuine in putting this case, because he is particularly interested in it. However, in all the circumstances, I am sorry to say on behalf of the Government that I cannot accept the amendment proposed by the Opposition.
.- I second the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard). The Minister for” Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) has spoken on the amendment, and, as one who has always approached repatriation problems in a non-party spirit, I can say only that I am very disappointed in him. In a conciliatory way, he informed the Parliament, in effect, that the Government can see no real reason for the appointment of a committee similar to that appointed by the Curtin Government in 1943. He gave quite a number of reasons, not any of them convincing. He told us that repatriation benefits and the circumstances surrounding the welfare of returned soldiers are reviewed by Cabinet subcommittees. Of course, every other type of legislation introduced by the Government is also subject to such review. There is nothing new about that.
– Repatriation was not previously reviewed in this way, though.
– It should have been. Your confession that repatriation was not previously a matter for consideration by Cabinet sub-committees shows how lax you have been.
The Minister told us that there is an ex-servicemen’s committee of the Liberal and Australian Country Parties. That is very good indeed. But what he did not tell the Parliament is that after all a subcommittee of the Government parties is in its very nature somewhat restricted and cannot do anything that might embarrass the Government. Consequently, a type of bridle is placed on such a committee. The Minister told us that the ex-servicemen members of the Australian Labour Party have a committee which deals with repatriation. That is so, but he knows that in this Parliament only the fina) count of votes is important, and we of the Opposition never have sufficient votes to compel the Goverment to accept our suggestions. To a lesser extent, this applies also to ex-servicemen members on the Government side. No doubt from time to time they manage to extract concessions from the Government, but these concessions are not adequate.
The Minister said also that organizations such as Legacy make representations. These organizations do wonderful work. Then he told us that the Returned Servicemen’s League has access . to Cabinet. t That is,, very good. and. .very desirable. .. But, after all, with a problem such as repatriation, which is a responsibility of the Government and of the nation, nothing could better lead to unanimity and a real understanding of the problem than a committee of the Parliament working on an entirely non-party basis. It is quite true that elements of party politics do sometimes creep into the deliberations and the working of various committees appointed by the Parliament, but differences of opinion are never as deep or as little understood as those occurring in the deliberations of the Parliament as a whole. The fact that there has not been another major war between 1943, when the previous select committee operated, and the present time is no reason why the amendment should be rejected. After all, there has been a wide variety of other circumstances which justifies a review. There have been wars such as the Korean War and rumours of wars, as it were, but the passage of time and the more complex way in which civilization is operating to-day surel’y mean that there is a good case for the appointment of a select committee.
It is strange that in relation to matters of lesser importance this Government has had no hesitation whatever in appointing committees of the Parliament to deliberate and report. It is not so long since the Constitutional Review Committee was appointed to deliberate and report on the need for alterations to the Constitution in the light of all that has happened since federation. More recently, on a matter of economics - and after all repatriation is economics to the returned soldier - this Government announced the appointment of a committee of inquiry to consist not of members of Parliament, but of other people. Its task is to consider the economic situation in Australia and to report to the Government on means by which any defects in the present system may be remedied. But when it is argued that a select committee of this Parliament should be appointed to inquire into and report upon the problems of repatriation and all the associated difficulties, the Minister says that this is not necessary. He says, in effect, that the whole matter is being adequately and satisfactorily dealt with now. But that is not so and everybody knows it.
The complexities of the repatriation problems associated with the ageing men of
World War I. and the men of World War II. who, too, are ageing, are very great. One difficulty is that many of the World War I. diggers who have broken down never expected that they would break down, and so it is not easy for them to produce medical evidence. There is hardly a medical officer of the Army, Navy or Air Force of World War I. alive in Australia to-day, yet they were the only men who really knew the hardships endured by the men of that war.
During the years that I have been in this Parliament I have had brought to my notice many cases in which men have appealed unsuccessfully to the repatriation tribunals. The most valuable evidence one could seek to obtain to assist those men was the opinion of the medical officers of the units in which they served; but one cannot find these medical officers now. They have gone. They have passed on and to-day one is confronted with the medical opinions of a younger generation of doctors. These opinions are conscientiously given but the younger doctors have no conception of the circumstances under which men of the 1914-18 war served. A similar state of affairs is bound ultimately to exist in relation to the men of World War II. There is a wide range of other factors also demanding investigation. Surely, under those circumstances, no harm could be done by the appointment of a select committee of this Parliament to inquire into those matters.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) has suggested the appointment of a committee consisting of nine members of the Parliament, five from the Government side and five from the Opposition side. In 1943, in the midst of the greatest crisis this country has known the then Prime Minister, the late John Curtin, saw fit to appoint a select committee of members of this Parliament to consider repatriation matters. There is not the slightest doubt that as the result of the presentation of that committee’s report many anomalies were corrected. The Repatriation Act was improved out of sight and a greater measure of justice was given to returned servicemen than would otherwise have been the case. As chairman of that committee in 1943, may I say that all members were ex-servicemen of World War I. Unfortunately, as Australia was still in the midst of a great war, we felt that we were under some sort of restraint and could not recommend repatriation benefits on the scale that we would otherwise have recommended.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Lucock).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) has been very good mannered and equally coldblooded in relation to our demand, through the amendment, for the appointment of a select committee. The Government is always seeking to put a peace emblem across the table in respect of repatriation and other matters which we have long since decided to treat on a non-party basis. But when we debate these matters and move our amendments - we have not as many facilities for preparing them as has the Government, but the Clerk of the House is very good indeed to us - we find that the west wall goes up, I will not accept that. The Minister says, very pleasantly, “ There is no need for this “v But we differ very strongly and we propose to provide the evidence that there is need for a select committee. My colleague, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), has told us that the committee in 1943 did good work, and the Minister admits that it did good work. In 1950 a review committee was established and it did equally good work. In this age of changing values the ex-servicemen have become older and the problems have become different. Medicine has undergone a revolution.
How can honorable members opposite argue that there is no need to look at this old-fashioned, outmoded, moth-eaten Repatriation Act? The Minister reminds me of some one gliding down the river on a Sunday afternoon, enjoying the best of all possible worlds, and gazing at his own political scenery. We do not bring this question up simply to get a debate on it. It is forced upon us by representations made to us by ex-servicemen’s organizations and others. While we have a very strong respect for the Repatriation Department and its officers, from the leaders down to the juniors, we believe that the machine is not giving them a chance to achieve the acceleration that is required in this year of grace 1963.
Is anybody, in this streamlined age, game to tell me that we must have this oldfashioned stairway known as the three approaches to a pension? First of all an applicant must go to a repatriation board. Then, very solemnly and with great dignity, the question is referred to the Repatriation Commission. Finally, in due course, it is moved with ponderous slowness, calmness and dignity, to the entitlement tribunal. That is not modern. We ought to cut out two phases of that process. There is a great deal to be said for the proposal advanced by the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. O’Brien) that there should be an advocate who could cut some of the flam out of these applications and say to the digger, “Yes, you have a case. Let us streamline it and put it into legal language.” The case could then be put to one court, the court of entitlement. I think that the old-fashioned stairway should be changed and that an escalator should take its place. We should have a modern concept in 1963 for the benefit of the exservicemen. The Opposition is not just trying to find another job for already busy members of Parliament. The proposed select committee would be faced with a serious, long and exhausting inquiry.
Nevertheless, we have made the suggestion, and we are bitterly disappointed that the ex-servicemen’s committee, on the private membership level, has not supported us, and has not said something to give us at least some encouragement in our endeavour to do something valid, something that should be done in relation to a realinement of the provisions of the Repatriation Act.
We believe the whole machinery should be overhauled. Anybody who owns a motor car knows how often it has to go into the garage. Honorable members opposite say that in 1943 it was necessary to do something about repatriation procedure, because there was a great war in progress. They say that in 1950 they had another look at it. Well, I tell them that they are not looking at it frequently enough, and as a result they have a backlog of criticism, of protests and objections coming from ex-servicemen and their organizations with respect , to problems arising under the Repatriation Act and the administration of the department. These problems cannot be resolved until you look at what is causing this roadblock, this bottleneck.
Every effect has a cause. The jug does not fall off the dresser because of some occult reason; it falls because someone has shaken the dresser. But we are looking at the effect rather than the cause. We ask why a soldier should not get a pension, but the cause is in the slow, outdated processes of repatriation. It has nothing to do with the efficiency of the men concerned or the efficiency of the Minister. But in all circumstances, in re-gearing a plant, in running an organization, every now and then you must look to see that the machinery is oiled and ready to function. If you say, lazily and complacently, that it was all right in 1943, and that in 1950 we had a look at it, but to-day we do not need to do it, it is just not good enough.
We are very disappointed that this proposition has not been contested by exservicemen on the other side of the committee. If they think it is a bad idea they should contest it. If they think it is a good idea let them support our amendment when we have a vote on it later this evening.
The whole reason for this amendment moved by the Opposition is to try, before we all get too old, before the ex-servicemen of World War I. die out, before the new stream of pensioners comes into the repatriation system’, as the Minister knows it will, to re-gear the machinery for the making of quicker decisions. It is quite futile to say that it is going along all right when you have these decisions that do not satisfy. You have men who have gone through a long period of civilian life and who cannot find their erstwhile mates. Recently I advertised in an endeavour to find a man in the Walgett district. I advertised on behalf of another man who had a valid pension claim, and I am grateful to the Repatriation Department for having eventually acknowledged the validity of it. This man wanted me to advertise for Bluey. He said, “ He is somewhere out behind Walgett. He has always been a bushman. Put an advertise.ment in the local paper. He always reads the paper. He will ring you up and you can tell hint that Charlie wants him to give evidence.” One could not help being touched by the simplicity of that appeal and what was, in a way, the tragic nature of it, too.
Mr. Chairman, you cannot get things done properly without new and modern methods. When a man goes before one of these tribunals he is left as naked to the day as a new born babe. He does his best to present his case, but in the end he begins to realize that because of the long time between his period of service and the time when he makes his delayed but honorable demands on the country, the department finds that it cannot leap the gap, the Minister finds that it is too much for him to concede, the matter has to be contested, and so the poor applicant feels that the world he helped to save is against him. We must change all this, and the way to begin to do it is to streamline the machinery that is used in all sections of the repatriation system, the entitlement machinery, the onus-of-proof machinery and so on. Surely we should, between us, be able to do this.
I reject out of hand this nonsense that is talked to the effect, “You do not want another committee “. Why not? You have committees for economics, for national development, for looking at the gross national product and for all sorts of things. You have committees for peering at everything. Yet when we ask you, after twenty years, for a committee to look at repatriation, we are flatly refused. I could list at least twenty functioning committees. I could point to men tottering along the passageways with bundles of papers, with Ministers in tow, going to meetings of committees. You do not leave a primary production committee waiting twenty years for a re-gear, a dry cleaning; you change the machinery as circumstances demand it. Nor do you leave a banking committee or an economic committee waiting that length of time. All these things are fluxing, waning and changing because circumstances are changing. But in the sad old story of repatriation it is a case of: “ Let’s do nothing. Let it die out. Let it expire by effluxion of time. The old machine will do the modern job.” Let me tell the committee that it will not.
Let me make a final appeal. If the ex-servicemen on ‘ tHe ‘‘other side ‘ will’ hot accept this genuine and well-thought-out proposition then let them defend themselves and say why they will not accept it. We believe it is time to look at the whole machinery, as suggested by the honorable member for Bass. The chairman of the committee that did the job in 1943 has told us that we need a review now just as we did at that time.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I have been listening to the debate on this bill for quite a long time, and at last I have discovered the reason why the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) wants this inquiry. He refers to the slow, out-dated Repatriation Department. I am sure the officers of that department will be glad to hear that in the eyes of members of the Labour Party they and their methods represent out-dated, worn-out, slow machinery. They will be glad to hear that the members of the Labour Party believe they cannot adapt themselves to modern circumstances. I know how efficient is the machinery of the Repatriation Department. I know how the officers of the department bend over backwards to help ex-servicemen. Every one of them is an ex-serviceman himself. They are constantly improving the processes of the department. It is for the very reason that I know these things that I propose to vote this amendment out.
The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. O’Brien) started talking about advocates for the ex-sericeman. Well, they are there. The honorable member told us about things we had not done for ex-servicemen. He said that they should be able to go to specialists and get their complaints diagnosed. The honorable member for Petrie, and other honorable members opposite, should make themselves conversant with what goes on. If any ex-serviceman during his dealings with the department asks for a consultation with a specialist he is sent to a specialist - one of his own choosing, if he wishes. To that specialist is sent not a summary of his medical file, which might overlook some important detail, but the complete medical file. The specialist is engaged by the department to do the job. He is not an officer of ‘the department. Most of them give honest medical opinions although, of course, they can be wrong.
So far as the department is concerned, let me tell the Opposition that its officers use modern methods and are constantly improving them. Every man in the department considers himself a friend of any exserviceman who comes along. If a man asks for advice he is given every assistance and is helped to fill out applications. The officers of the department do not try to bluff him so that he will not be able to present a valid claim. These men are there to do a job for ex-servicemen. That is the Repatriation Department as I understand it, and I venture to say that there is no man in this chamber, other than, perhaps the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz), who has had closer contact with the department than I have, and who has a better idea of what goes on in the department. I wonder how many honorable members are aware of what goes on in repatriation matters elsewhere in the world. The World Veterans Federation is an organization which includes 153 associations of war veterans and war victims in 48 countries. The combined membership exceeds 20,000,000. The federation publishes a periodical, “ The World Veteran “, in which reference is made to the terrific advantages of the Australian repatriation scheme over any other scheme anywhere in the world. I endorse the claim made by the Minister earlier this evening that our repatriation scheme is the best in the world. This claim is endorsed by an organization with a membership of over 20,000,000 from 48 countries. Yet we are being told that our repatriation officers are inept and incapable and that we should overhaul our repatriation machinery or attempt to substitute something else for it.
The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) will not wait for a select committee to report. He has already reached a decision as to what he would do. He would take away from the exservicemen their opportunities to appeal. He would say, “ You can go to one court, and that will be the stone end “. The honorable member said that the cases would be prepared on legal lines. The object of our Repatriation Act is to avoid any difficulties which would stem from a strict approach and to eliminate technicalities as far as possible so . that claims may, be dealt with more humanely. Our Repatriation Act has been aiming to achieve this, and it is doing so because of the work of the officers in the department. I find no fault with them whatsoever. I cannot sing their praises too highly for the work they do for ex-servicemen - work that they are not always called upon to do in the course of their duty.
Reference was made to the fact that an inquiry was held in 1943 to overhaul the Repatriation Act. Somebody facetiously asked whether we must wait for another war to get another act. It was because of the last war that the act was overhauled, and also because of the difficulties arising from the First World War. I quite agree with the statements made to-day about the problems involved in establishing eligibility. From 1926 until 1943 I and others fought to shift the onus-of-proof from the exserviceman. In 1926 and subsequent years I was the secretary of a sub-branch of the Returned Servicemen’s League. I had to write to France, Germany, Britain, America, New Zealand and to places all over Australia to contact persons who had seen service with our members, because the onusofproof was on the soldier. I sent a member of my sub-branch, suffering with a back ache, to a hospital, where a lump of shrapnel was removed from his back. The Repatriation Department said that it was a metal scrap and he had to prove that it was a shrapnel wound received on war service.
– Was it right that he had to prove it?
– Of course not, but it was necessary for us to fight from 1926 to 1943 for the removal of the unjust onusofproof provision. Eventually we managed to prove that this man was wounded on war service but had never reported the wound. To-day he would not have to establish that; the mere existence of the wound would be sufficient. His claim would be admitted to-day. We fought for fifteen years for the rights of the aged service pensioner.
In 1943 the position changed. It was realized that soldiers would be returning from another war and that the difficulties which had existed could not be allowed to continue in the future. The whole of the repatriation system was . overhauled; it was streamlined and modernized to meet the circumstances that arose in the last war and to remove the enomalies in relation to First World War veterans. I deny that First World War servicemen have any greater difficulty in getting their cases considered or that different circumstances apply to them in regard to the onus of proof from those applicable to Second World War men.
It was said that the youngest a First World War serviceman could be to-day is 63 years. I enlisted in August of 1914 and I agree I am now 63 years of age. Any ex-serviceman of the 1914-18 war can get a service pension. If he is permanently unemployable - and is not a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner - he can get an invalidity pension. He has no need to worry about proving a war-caused disability. He will get substantial assistance from the Repatriation Department. To-day officers of the department are going round the country saying to age pensioners who are ex-servicemen, receiving their pensions through the Department of Social Services, Come over to the Repatriation Department. Apply to have your age pension transferred to a service pension, and you will get all the benefits which are payable under the Repatriation Act to service pensioners.” I do not want the work of these officers to be destroyed, and I am not going to risk its destruction by supporting the proposed amendment.
.- I am rather surprised at the remarks of the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie). We on this side have not indicted the officers of the Repatriation Department or questioned their capacity. On the contrary, we have been generally complimentary. However, we realize that under the act as it now stands the powers of the officers are cramped. The attitude of the honorable member for Moore is that because we have not had another war between 1943 and 1963 there is no need to set up a committee of this Parliament to inquire into the repatriation system. The honorable member suggests that this Parliament would be likely to select a committee composed of irresponsible people.
Let us look at what happened in 1943. Let me tell honorable members the calibre of the men from this Parliament who were selected to form the committee that was appointed then. We will leave aside the chairman, as I filled that position. Mr. Watkins, the member for Newcastle - no longer a member of this Parliament - served on the committee. He had over 25 years service in the Parliament as a Labour member and was a distinguished exserviceman. Another member from the Government party of the day was Senator H. B. Collett, C.M.G., D.S.O., V.D. From the Labour members of the Senate there came also Senator Charles Lamp of Tasmania. He retired from the Parliament because of ill health caused by war service and is now living in Tasmania. He was a distinguished member of the Parliament and a very competent member of the committee. Another appointee was the late member for Corangamite, the Honorable Allan McDonald. He later became a Minister in the Menzies Government and was a distinguished exsoldier. Another member of the committee was the honorable Joseph Francis, from the then opposition ranks. He later represented this country in New York- By no means the least valuable member was the secretary, then Clerk of this House, Mr. Frank Green, M.C. He was a very distinguished captain in the 14th Battalion, Australian Infantry Forces. From the department came Mr. T. Hooks, to assist the committee. He was Senior Clerk, Pensions, with the Repatriation Commission and proved to be of great value to the committee.
Let us look at members on both sides of the Parliament now who are distinguished ex-servicemen. Men who have respect for each other, sitting as a committee, can work much more reasonably and amicably than can members of the Parliament engaged in hot debate in the chamber on extreme party lines, as sometimes occurs.
Great problems are to be dealt with now in repatriation. Even the 1943 committee, although it made a gallant effort to solve the problem of the onus-of-proof, did not do so. But that is not to say that the problem cannot be solved, in the light of all the things that have happened since and despite all the injustices that have been inflicted on ex-servicemen by unsatisfactory interpretations of the onus-of-proof section. Although the section has been amended several times since, that does not say that a recommendation that would give a most satisfactory outcome is beyond the capacity of a select committee. From time to time, it has been well said that the injustices that perhaps are unconsciously inflicted on exservicemen by members of the medical profession in the giving of opinions could be brought to the light of day and the medical profession assisted in making medical assessments.
The amendment proposed by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) is simple. It provides that the proposed committee would have power to sit during recesses of the Parliament or when the Parliament is sitting. Importantly, it provides that the committee would have power to send for persons, papers and records. That would not give the committee power to be used despotically in order to persecute any member of the staff of the Repatriation Commission or any executive member of the commission or a member of any tribunal. The proposed committee, by virtue of its very existence, might even cause to be brought forth voluntarily from the files of the commission documents of the utmost value that would never otherwise have been seen by any member of this Parliament.
– The reference to the right of the committee to sit and to send for persons, papers and records is normal in relation to a select committee.
– It is normal. May I say, in relation to the 1943 committee, of which I was chairman, that papers, documents and personal evidence were made available by the Repatriation Commission in the most co-operative manner and that the greatest of goodwill existed between us all. The papers, documents and evidence tendered by members of the Repatriation Commission, members of the staff of the commission, representatives of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and a wide range of other people materially assisted the committee at the time in winning unanimous acceptance by the commission of amendments proposed in the committee’s report. Surely, in the light of all that has happened since, it is not beyond the bounds of common sense for members of this Parliament to believe now that the proposed committee, if appointed, would bring forth a wealth of valuable testimony. It would not cause some member of the Repatriation Commission, of its staff or of a tribunal to be gaoled, indicted, sacked or cursed. I am sure that the proposed committee would receive the co-operation of all concerned, for such co-operation is generally readily forthcoming. This would assist men on both sides of the Parliament who earnestly seek solutions to the variety of problems that now confront us - problems that we otherwise would not be able to solve.
The proposal is only common sense. After all, select committees are as old as the Parliament itself. They have been appointed many times in the past to help solve difficult problems. I know of no problems more difficult than those of returned servicemen, with particular reference to assessing the causes of their injuries and illnesses. This Parliament is never confronted by problems more difficult than those. Surely, in endeavouring to solve problems such as those, we should resort to the means that the Parliament has at its disposal to get men together in a spirit of the greatest goodwill so that we may find solutions to many of these problems that are not beyond the wit of human ingenuity to solve.
Every member of this Parliament who has appeared as an advocate for a returned soldier before a tribunal knows the great difficulties that confront him. I guarantee that many of those difficulties could be swept away if members of the tribunals - the entitlement appeal tribunals in particular - could be brought to the bar of the chamber this evening, out of the independent and remote atmosphere of the positions that they occupy as members of these tribunals, to give evidence to honorable members. If the members of the tribunals were given complete freedom to appear before a select committee of this Parliament, every one of them would be able to give evidence that would materially help such a committee in submitting to the Parliament a valuable report that would result in anomalies being removed. Earlier to-day, an honorable member said that some 2,000 cases had been rejected by war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals. All these represented claims by old diggers. There was mention of one man aged 63 who had served in World War I. He must have been very young when he served. Not many men who served in World War I. are under 66 years of age now. In recent years, there have been developments that would help these men.
We should be able to solve problems such as that posed by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), who said that if hospitalization benefits were extended there would not be enough hospitals to hold those who would demand admission. Where do the poor beggars go now? At present they occupy beds in non-repatriation hospitals that are publicly conducted. The cost of treating ex-servicemen in publicly-financed repatriation hospitals would be no greater. The cost has to be paid in whichever kind of hospital they are treated, and it does not matter whether one governmental authority or another bears the cost. The proposed select committee could investigate the economic cost - not the direct economic cost, perhaps, but the real economic cost - of treating ex-servicemen in repatriation hospitals rather than as private or public patients in other hospitals.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Temporary Chairman, it is only right that honorable members intimate how they feel and how they intend to act with respect to the amendment now before the committee and those that are to be proposed later. This is a serious matter and should be approached in a serious way. I want to discuss it quietly and to say as clearly as possible what I think. First of all, I say that I shall not support any of the amendments. That is the first thing that I desire to indicate. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) has said that the amendment now before the committee will not be accepted by the Government, and I understand that none of the later amendments will be accepted. Opposition speakers have tried to encourage honorable members on this side of the chamber to cross the floor and vote with the Opposition. If I or two honorable members were to cross from this side to the Opposition side, the Government would be defeated. I have certain responsibilities, not only to returned servicemen, but to the citizens of the Commonwealth as a whole. I have certain knowledge that is not available to many members of this Parliament. It is available to the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) and the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), who sat in this House when Labour was in office.
The honorable member for Lalor said that we ought to have great regard for each other. I am quite in accord with that view, but I am rather doubtful whether the idea is really carried into effect. I have heard Opposition speakers say that we on this side of the chamber are heartless in our attitude to ex-servicemen. That observation includes me, the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. King) and other honorable members on this side of the chamber. I took down the words of the honorable member for Lalor which seemed rather strange to me after some of the speeches that I had heard previously. He said that we must have mutual respect for each other.
– That was a very personal application of mutual respect.
– I took it very personally, because what was said did not lead me to believe that the previous Opposition speaker concerned had any respect for me at the time.
My advocacy on behalf of ex-servicemen is for the best possible deal for them. If I were to cross the floor of the chamber with, say, the honorable member for Moore, and if we were to vote the Government out of office, we would return ex-servicemen to conditions comparable to those of the time when Labour was in office.
– What rubbish! That is a terrible argument.
-I do not mean that rates of benefits would be the same as were paid when Labour was previously in office, but the attitude would be comparable with those that obtained then. Let us see what the position was in 1949. On the evening of 25th October, 1949, war pensions were discussed in the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House of Representatives. Between 25th October and 10th December, 1949, when it went out of office, the Labour Government did not grant any increases in repatriation benefits. In this place on 25th October, 1949,I sought leave to incorporate in “ Hansard “ the 36 points that had been submitted by the Returned Servicemen’s League. Did Labour supporters give me leave? No, they refused it. They would not allow me to incorporate the league’s points in “Hansard”. I had to read the points on to the record. I managed to get about twenty of them on to the record before my time expired. I am pleased to say that most of those points have now been implemented by this Government. Back in 1949 I received letters from exservicemen pointing out their desperate need of assistance. The Victorian Branch of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Australia wrote to me at that time in the following terms: -
My executive request me to place before you the economic position of totally and permanently incapacitated personnel who receive a special pension of £5 6s. a week, which is inadequate to cover the present cost of living.
The association pointed out that prices were rising. I am now giving reasons why I will not support the amendment proposing a select committee of inquiry. I referred to the pension of £5 6s. a week and said -
I am not attacking the Minister for Repatria tion. I have always claimed both inside and outside of this Parliament that the Minister for Repatriation is sympathetic to ex-servicemen, and particularly to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. I believe that he will do what he can to have these pensions increased, but I am afraid that he does not have the backing of caucus or of the Government.
My fears were well founded because benefits were not increased in that year. I had referred to the pension of £5 6s. a week. The then Minister for Repatriation quite correctly said -
The honorable member referred to totally and permanently incapacitated special rate pensioners on £5 6s. a week. He said that he did not ask that the pension of such persons should be related to the basic wage, but he went on to say that the basic wage had been increased, and was about to be increased again. He failed to draw attention to the fact that, in one instance, he quoted the rate paid to a single pensioner, and then drew a comparison with the basic wage which provides tor a man, his wife and at least one child.
I was a fairly new member then and I stood corrected. The Minister of the day, to whom I paid a tribute for which he thanked me later, put me right.
What is the position to-day? To-day the special rate pensioner receives £13 16s. He receives an allowance for his wife of £1 15s. 6d. and 13s. 9d. for one child. His total income from these sources is £16 4s. 3d. The average basic wage in Australia to-day is £14 8s. so the pensioner is receiving £1 16s. 3d. more than the basic wage. What was the situation in 1949 just before Labour was defeated? The pensioner received £5 6s., plus a wife’s allowance of £1 4s. and an allowance for one child of 9s. - a total of £6 19s. The average basic wage was £6 9s., so the pensioner and his family were receiving 10s. more than the basic wage compared with £1 16s. 3d. more that they receive today. We must bear in mind that in addition the special rate pensioner to-day may obtain many other benefits that are worth pounds. But I have only stated the case as the Minister for Repatriation in 1949 said I should state it. I have tried to be fair.
My colleagues and I on this side of the chamber must be careful in what we do. I know what happened when Labour was last in office. Did it accept amendments that we put up when we were in Opposition? Certainly not. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has claimed that when I sat in Opposition I was constantly advocating that the Government should do certain things for exservicemen. Of course I was, because in those days ex-servicemen were not getting the benefits that they enjoy to-day. In 1949 the basic wage was regularly rising. If Labour had not been defeated its next budget could not have provided any benefits for ex-servicemen until the following September. When we were in Opposition my colleagues and I urged the Labour Government to provide additional repatriation benefits but it would not listen to us. I am not prepared to vote for any of the amendments proposed to this bill and thus defeat the Government. If I were to help to defeat the Government I would help to place ex-servicemen in a position much different from the one they enjoy now. I compliment the
Minister for Repatriation and the Government for the many benefits that have been provided since 1949 for ex-servicemen.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The specious reasons given by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) for not voting for the amendment now before the committee will not delude anybody. It is remarkable that any member of Parliament can imply that even though he may agree with an amendment and may consider that it will be of benefit to the people whom it is intended to help, he will vote against it because he does not want to defeat the Government. This is a test of sincerity. As the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) has said, there is a Government members ex-servicemen’s committee consisting of men who, because of their responsibilities, are supposed to examine the welfare of ex-servicemen. Who in this Parliament or outside can say that the establishment of a select committee to inquire into anomalies that exist under the present legislation would bean injustice to ex-servicemen or that the discovery of anomalies and their publication would not be to the benefit of ex-servicemen?
– Or that the acceptance of this amendment could overturn the Ministry.
– Quite so. What can possibly be the reason for the rejection of this amendment by the Minister? The honorable member for Malice said that he would not do anything to overthrow the Government. A vote for this amendment would not overthrow the Ministry; but the honorable member for Mallee will not support the amendment even though he may be satisfied that it would help exservicemen. He will not vote for it because it is a Labour amendment. What kind of situation do we get in this Parliament when elected members cannot vote for things in which they sincerely believe or with which they are in agreement?
The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) blatantly defended the staff of the Repatriation Commission against accusations that have not been made. He defended them valiantly and courageously against attacks that have never been made. Every member of the Opposition who has spoken on the second reading and in the committee has praised the work of the staff of the Repatriation Commission. We all know that they do the best they can in the circumstances under which the act must be administered. This is the point that the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) so intelligently brought out to-night in giving his reasons why a select committee should be appointed. That honorable member pointed out that the committee which was appointed in 1943 discovered anomalies in the legislation and that those anomalies were immediately rectified by the Government of the day.
In speaking against the amendment the Minister for Repatriation paid a tribute to the sincerity of the mover of the amendment and of the members of the Labour Party exservicemen’s committee. One can reciprocate and pay a tribute to the Minister’s sincerity, although I am of the opinion that he is misguided. The Government adopts a peculiar attitude to any suggestion that a select committee should be appointed. The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) refused to appoint a select committee to inquire into all phases of education because he knew that such a committee might make public some of the weaknesses in our education system. When the State Housing Ministers unanimously requested the Government to set up a select committee to inquire into and report upon the housing needs of this country, the Minister in another place rejected the request because he was scared that if a report was published it would point to the very great injustices in and the weaknesses of this Government’s attitude to the States on housing.
When we asked the Minister to-night to set up a committee of this Parliament in which the majority would be Government supporters, who could outvote the minority Opposition group, the Minister said, “No, I will not set up such a committee “. What is the reason for that attitude? If the Minister is sincere, as I think he is, he should be anxious to set up a committee to investigate and report upon the weaknesses of the present repatriation system and in the interpretation of the present act. You would think that he would be thrilled and excited that men would be available to undertake such research and inquiry, that files and papers would be produced and that evidence would be taken from the staff of the Repatriation Commission, from the commissioners, from people in Australia who want to give evidence to show the weaknesses and anomalies in the system and from people who think that they are entitled to pensions but whose claim’s have not been recognized.
Every member of this Parliament has among his constituents widows of exservicemen. Every one of us, no doubt, has taken to the commission cases which we think warrant a pension. Every one of us, no doubt, has had submitted to him the claims of women whom he believes are entitled to pensions but whose applications have not been accepted by the tribunals. It is not feasible that the thousands of people whose claims have been rejected by the department, as referred to in the report of the Repatriation Commission, are all phonies and frauds. I have confidence in the people of Australia, in the men who sacrificed much of their good health and in the women who are the relicts of men who sacrificed their lives. I have enough confidence in the probity, honesty and decency of the applicants to believe that when they applied for pensions they honestly felt justified in making such claims. It is deplorable that the commission and the tribunals are rejecting the great bulk of the claims that come before them on the ground that they are not justified.
The worst feature of the present set-up is that the tribunals do not publish the reasons why claims are rejected. No one knows the reasons. The applicants leave the tribunals cap in hand, feeling humble, feeble and weak because they do not know why their claims have been rejected. When a claim is rejected the applicant is told that before it can be re-submitted new evidence must be supplied. How can an ex-serviceman of the 1914-18 war find new evidence? How can an ex-serviceman of even the 1939-45 war find new evidence? Many of them who now are feeling the effects of their war service never reported sick even though on many occasions they felt ill.
When we suggest something which would bc to the advantage of the Minister and of the department which he administers, when the findings of the proposed committee may point up weaknesses in the act and the administration of the act of which the Minister is not aware, it is ridiculous and absurd for our suggestion to be rejected. One wonders what is behind this rejection other than the fear that weaknesses will be discovered and that Government expenditure on repatriation benefits will increase. Even at this stage it should not be too late to appeal to the Minister to accept our first proposed amendment, which provides for the setting up of a select committee which, after all, would help and not harm the interests of ex-servicemen.
.- Of course I do not take very seriously the attack which has been made on me by the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Einfeld). When I spoke first I directed attention to the fact that there were now only a few members in this Parliament who were here when Labour was in office. The honorable member for Phillip is not one of them. Can any honorable member who was in this Parliament on 25th October, 1949, claim that what I have said is not perfectly true? Can any honorable member deny the records of the Parliament?
– That has no significance.
– The honorable member for Fremantle states, “That has no significance “, but it is significant because I was pointing out how ex-servicemen were treated when Labour was in office and how they are being treated now. The honorable member for Phillip has said that although I am in favour of certain of these amendments I will not vote for them to defeat the Government. I probably did not make myself clear enough. I said that if I moved to the Opposition side when the vote was taken and if the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) went with me - I said that it would need two of us - and the Government was defeated, we would not be acting in the interests of ex-servicemen. If I have any sincerity in me, what I am about to say is as true as anything that I have ever said. It is my sincere opinion that if the Labour Party came to office the exservicemen would not get as good a deal as they are getting now.
– What rot!
– Well, I do not expect all honorable members opposite to admit that but I expect some of them to believe that that is my sincere opinion. Holding that sincere opinion, I would say definitely not only to this Parliament but also to ex-servicemen throughout Australia that I will not support this proposed amendment. How many amendments of a similar kind did Labour accept when it was in office? If the Government wants to set up a select committee it will do so, but it will not be bulldozed into it because the Opposition has suggested it from purely political motives. Surely the honorable member for Philip can understand that.
– What about the redistribution proposals?
– Although I am speaking on a subject of vital importance to many people in Australia the honorable member for Lang asks “What about the re-distribution proposals?” Could you have anything worse than for an exserviceman to mention re-distribution when we are discussing a matter of paramount importance? In the present circumstances I doubt whether the honorable member can be taken seriously.
– That is your skeleton weed in the cupboard.
– By that remark the honorable member for Parkes shows that he is not much better than the honorable member for Lang. I have stated my case pretty clearly and I cannot be blamed if the Opposition does not like it. I have said what I think and I stand by it.
.- No one would dispute the truth of what the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) said about the level of repatriation pensions for a man, wife and child at a particular point of time in 1949 being £6 9s.. or whatever the figure was, which was 10s. above the basic wage in those days. But surely the honorable member must realize that we cannot see the relevance of that argument as a counter to the proposition that a select committee should be set up to investigate the repatriation system generally. It has no bearing on the subject.
– If _you cannot see that, your. power.of comprehension is pretty bad.
– It has no bearing on the subject. You invite us to consider for purposes of argument the repatriation pensions when Labour was in office. Time and again the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) uses similar logic when he has reiterated that when the Labour government fell in 1949 total social service payments amounted to £88,000,000, whereas now, when he is the responsible Minister, social service expenditure is £380,000,000. That is true. He might say also that the expenditure of £88,000,000 in 1949 compares more than favourably with the expenditure of £16,000,000 just before the Labour Party came to office in 1941. These changes merely show the march of time. AH that I can gather from the honorable member’s statements is that he is trying to say that if Labour again came to office the level of expenditure would return to what it was in 1949. If that is his argument it is so absurd that it is not worth discussing.
The honorable member is quite justified in saying, “ If the Minister makes this an issue of confidence, I am not going to vote with the Opposition “. That is a perfectly intelligible and defensible position. But when we propose an amendment we do not know whether or not the Minister will make it an issue of confidence. Is it not our duty to scrutinize legislation? The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), in the debate on the Papua and New Guinea Bill 1963, accepted seven amendments moved by the Opposition. He could have chosen to make them issues of confidence, but he thought they were reasonable amendments and adopted them.
The honorable members for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and Parkes (Mr. Haylen) are not trying to work a political stunt. They genuinely believe that a select committee to investigate the repatriation structure to-day would be valuable. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) says that he will not accept the amendment. I did not hear him say that he intended to make it an issue of confidence and that the Government would collapse if a committee were set up. You can make an issue of confidence of anything you choose. If the Opposition believes that there are anomalies in the repatriation structure - an endeavour Has been made to show that there are - it is entitled to ask that they be investigaed by a select committee of the Parliament.
The only argument against the appointment of such a select committee is the argument advanced by the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), namely that apparently members of Parliament are much less responsible than members of the Repatriation Commission. I agree that parliamentary debate is not always conducted with the precision that one would like. But select committees of this Parliament have always taken their position very seriously - at least, those with which I have been associated have. My experience has been that very often party affiliations are quite irrelevant in the findings of select committees which set out to examine facts.
The honorable member for Mallee is entitled to his low opinion of the Labour Party. He evinces it every time he speaks. But I do not think he is entitled to suggest that because we want a select committee to look at anomalies in the repatriation structure this is some snide effort to overturn the Government; that this is a special issue of confidence; and that the real issue at stake is whether a Labour government or a Liberal-Country Party coalition government should be in office. Tomorrow we will make a proposal for a select committee which has nothing to do with the alternatives of a Liberal-Country Party coalition government or a Labour government.
.- I am very pleased that the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) has brought this debate back to the plane on which the Opposition intended it to be. With the exception of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) who, in my opinion, damned the amendment with faint praise, not one honorable member opposite has confined himself to the amendment moved by the Opposition. The Minister referred to a committee of inquiry in 1950. He knows that that committee did not have and could not possibly have the powers that it is intended to give this select committee under the terms of this amendment.
The thing that has appalled me more than anything else about the attitude of honorable members opposite to this amendment was highlighted by what was said by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). When he commenced to speak on the amendment he said, “ I do not intend to vote for any of the amendments proposed by the Opposition “.
– Without hearing them.
– I read them all.
– The honorable member for Mallee will vote against every amendment that is submitted by the Opposition in this Parliament before he has had an opportunity to listen to any of the arguments, whether they are good or bad. He will have nothing at all to do with the Opposition’s amendments. He does not intend to vote for any of them, regardless of the arguments that are advanced.
This amendment proposes the appointment of a select committee of this Parliament. As I indicated when 1 moved it on behalf of the Opposition, it proposes no more than a joint committee of the Parliament on which the Government members will have a majority. The Opposition does not suggest that it should use this committee for any ulterior motive or purpose. As the honorable member for Fremantle said, any member of this Parliament who is elected to a joint committee accepts and discharges his responsibilities properly. That will apply to this committee.
Nothing that has been said by the Minister or other honorable members opposite who have spoken in opposition to our amendment has convinced me that they have any other suggestion that will remove from the Repatriation Act the anomalies to which honorable members on this side of the chamber have referred. The Opposition’s amendment offers one method of removing those anomalies, which have existed in the act for far too long and which have been referred to by honorable members, principally on this side of the chamber, year after year when repatriation measures have been before the Parliament.
I submit that the Minister for Repatriation is not prepared to accept this amendment purely and simply for political reasons. He knows only too well that all the returned servicemen’s organizations, which represent the great mass of ex-servicemen in this country,, would appreciate, the acceptance of the “amendment/* Those “organizations know that even if no good came from the committee and it was not able to suggest one practical proposition, at least it could do no harm. We on this side of the chamber know that this is a method of getting at the vexed question of tha onus of proof. Shortly we shall move an amendment dealing with that subject. Therefore, at this stage I do not intend to traverse the subjectmatter of that amendment. We know that the question of the onus of proof has received considerable attention from all honorable members of this Parliament and is receiving considerable attention from interested organizations outside the Parliament. The select committee would have the opportunities that the select committee appointed in 1943 had. That committee did something about section 47 of the Repatriation Act. I submit that a select committee appointed by this Parliament this year would have an opportunity to rectify the anomalies that have been referred to.
The Minister for Repatriation should be able to give honorable members a far more satisfactory reason for rejecting this amendment than he has given. Therefore, I submit, as I have always submitted, that his reasons are political. He has not taken advantage of the opportunity that the Opposition has provided to appoint a committee that will have a chance to remove the anomalies that have been referred to on many occasions during repatriation debates in this Parliament. At this stage I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision or at least to advise honorable members who support the Government in this Parliament whether they are entitled to support the Opposition on this occasion. We know there are many honorable members on the Government side who would grasp the opportunity to vote for this proposal if it was put before the Parliament on a nonparty basis, but the Minister is denying those honorable members who realize there is merit in this amendment the opportunity to support the Opposition on this occasion.
.- The amendment proposed by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) deserves the support of this committee. I am astonished to find that the members of the Government parties, committee on repatriation- matters have not rallied to the cause espoused by the honorable member for Bass and supported so ably from this side of the House. To me, the question is one of crystal clarity. In the first instance, the returned servicemen’s organizations have expressed dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the law as it stands. From time to time, in the course of their parliamentary duties, members of this Parliament have been told by ex-servicemen of the difficulties they experience in obtaining pensions and in having their grievances redressed. These humane cases deserve investigation.
I support what has been said already by the Opposition. This is not a matter of making an attack upon those charged with the responsibility of administering the law as it stands; but twenty years have passed since the last investigation took place, and it is time that a further review Was made. The real question is: Are there a number of exservicemen - men who gave their bodies in defence of this country, men who have a grievance or a problem - who are not receiving justice to-day? If there are, then surely it is the bounden duty of this Government to rectify such a state of affairs.
How can we best remedy the injustice? Our proposition is that a joint parliamentary committee should be appointed to make a thorough investigation, and we concede to the Government the right to have a majority on such a committee. Surely the Government has no cause to be afraid of such an investigation. Surely the investigation we suggest is something which the Government itself should welcome. We all know of the frustration, hardship and heartache suffered in the homes of many ex-service men and women as well as of war widows and others who have problems. Whilst these problems arise and these difficulties exist, a responsibility rests upon this Parliament to rectify the position. I want to say to the members of the Government with the utmost charity and kindness that it would appear to me that the Government is complacent, self-satisfied and unmoved by the travail and hardship being suffered by a section of the ex-service men and women in this country at the present time. It is regrettable that, despite the remarks of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) about the possibility that the carrying of this amendment to appoint a select committee could wreck the Government, only one Minister has seen fit to remain in the chamber to hear the debate and give attention to the matter.
– There is another Minister present.
– Another Minister has come in quite recently; but almost throughout the evening there has been only one Minister present. This is not good enough. When the Parliament of this country made its appeal to the able-bodied men of this land, when it made promises to them of the sort of land this would be for them at the termination of hostilities, honorable members opposite were much more vigorous in this matter. All 1 can do now is to ask the Government to reconsider ils attitude towards this matter, to adopt a responsible and reasonable attitude by seeing to it that the committee proposed by the honorable member for Bass is appointed to investigate all the anomalies we have mentioned. It is impossible in the course of a debate of this kind, which will terminate in the early hours of the morning, to deal effectively with all the problems which arise from time to time. The Opposition intends to do its best to interpret the wishes of the exservicemen’s organizations and to move amendments designed to meet their requirements, but of course, the amendments we propose to move cannot possibly meet all the situations that are likely to arise. The w-ar has receded in the distance and a new set of circumstances has arisen; new standards have been established, and the productivity of the country has increased. All of these new factors and circumstances ought to be taken into consideration. I join with honorable members on this side in making a further plea to the Government to act responsibly on this occasion and realize that it is adopting a petty partisan attitude towards the question. I accept the reasonable proposal moved by the honorable member for Bass with the object of redressing the many grievances, anomalies and wrongs which exist at the present time. I am pleased to support the amendment.
– I do not know why, in the year 1963, this Government does not face up to the responsibility that rests squarely on its shoulders and do something about the injustices suffered by our ex-servicemen, especially the veterans of the First World War, under our present repatriation machinery. I do not know how many honorable members on the Government side have actually appeared before the various repatriation tribunals in recent times, but over the last four or five years I have made it a practice to take cases affecting servicemen before those tribunals. I say to the Minister with the greatest of respect that if ever there was a machine that should be looked at closely by some impartial body it is the existing repatriation machine. An impartial investigation would be made by a committee of the kind which has been proposed by the honorable member for Bass. I am convinced that a great number of good, efficient officers of the commission are most dissatisfied with the way in which our repatriation machinery has developed over the years, especially so far as it affects the returned serviceman of the 1914-18 war, a great number of whom are being told at this late stage that they must obtain fresh evidence before their cases will be re-opened. That requirement has been in the act for a very long time now and it is certainly in need of the closest scrutiny by an impartial authority in the year 1963.
We should have a committee of nine exservicemen from this Parliament - we would even welcome the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) on it - to see some of the things I have seen and learn of some of the cases I have handled. I have a vivid recollection of a recent case of a returned serviceman of the First World War who is 68 years of age. He sought an increase in his 20 per cent, entitlement and I appeared with him. He was examined first by one medical officer for twenty minutes. I emphasize that this man was in a poor state of health. Then he was cross-examined by another medical officer, who was seated at the other side of the table. All of this took more than half an hour. Finally, the ex-serviceman was asked, “What part of your ailment do you think at this stage affects you most? “ By that time, the exserviceman was in such a condition that he was not fit to answer any medical question. No record is kept of these examinations. No record was kept of the incident to which
I have referred. The doctors made notes and exchanged notes while they examined and cross-examined this veteran of the 1914-18 war, but there is no note on the records of what transpired. This sort of treatment would not be meted out to any other section of the community. Yet this is the way that men of the 1914-18 war are treated. They are in the evening of their lives and are pleading for an increased pension.
I know that a great number of officers in the commission are to-day dissatisfied with the way the repatriation machinery is functioning. The officers in the commission are efficient but they have been caught up in a machine that has not been reviewed for twenty years. No system should remain as long as this without a review. I have in my hand the Standing Orders of the Parliament. We have gone through them and tried to bring them up to date. But the Government and the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) refuse to allow a review to be made of the repatriation machine which has operated for twenty years without a review. The act also should be reviewed.
Ex-servicemen are crying out for assistance such as they would receive if the amendment now before the committee were carried. But they will never receive justice while repatriation is dealt with on a political basis. These problems cannot be resolved on the political level. If repatriation is treated as a political football, what happens? Injustice is heaped on the men who are crying out for relief from the burdens they bear. These men are watching the lights go out in the evening of their lives. We all remember the words -
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
But we come into this chamber and talk about the ex-servicemen as if they were only of political value to this side of the House or the other side of the House. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) is an attempt to bring new hope and a new outlook to men who are crying out for some relief. They do not want a mere pittance; they want justice. They cannot be convinced that they are receiving the type of hearing by tribunals that they believe they are justly entitled to receive.
I do not want to condemn the officers of the commission, because they are in a rut, and I do not want to condemn the tribunals. But if the Government does not intend to accept the amendment, the tribunals should be given a record of what is happening behand the scenes. Honorable members would be aghast if they heard the questioning of these old men who are pleading for an increase of 10 per cent., or 20 per cent. I do not condemn the tribunals, but I do condemn the system. We cannot hope to correct it in a political dog-fight across this chamber. The Government should be big enough to agree to a review of the type suggested in this amendment. If it did so, the prestige of the Government would certainly rise in the eyes of ex-servicemen. At the moment, they regard the Parliament as a political battleground, because of the attitude the Government adopts on matters such as this, which are completely devoid of politics. All the amendment does is to seek relief for ex-servicemen.
The ex-servicemen’s organizations know that they cannot get justice, not because of any inefficiency in the commission but because the system has not been examined for twenty years. Honorable members on the Government side for the next twelve months should not send applicants for repatriation benefits to the Returned Servicemen’s League; they should take these cases to the tribunals themselves. If they do, their experience will convince them that they should introduce an amendment in similar terms to the amendment now before the committee in an effort to obtain relief from a system that is grinding exservicemen into the dust. This amendment is the only way that ex-servicemen can get relief now.
I had hoped that the Government and the Minister for Repatriation would have been a bit above politics when dealing with the entitlements of men who were willing, if necessary, to give their lives so that our system of Parliament could be maintained. When the amendment was suggested in our party discussions, I had hoped that the Government would have been big enough to adopt it and so give justice, relief and a sense of satisfaction to these exservicemen. The ex-servicemen’s organizations are unhappy. All honorable members opposite would be unhappy if they had had the experiences that I have had over the last few years when trying to obtain justice for ex-servicemen. I suggest that if honorable members on the Government side of the chamber go into the tribunals and learn how the system operates, they will come back next year with an amendment in similar terms to the amendment that the Opposition has now moved.
.- Mr. Chairman-
Motion (by Mr. Howson) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Lucock).Order! The question is, “That the new clause proposed to be inserted be so inserted “.
– Mr. Chairman, I take a point of order.
– Order! The honorable member for Wills will resume his seat.
– This is a point of order. You should resume your seat.
– I name the honorable member for Hughes.
– Mr. Chairman, I suggest that the interjection was not specifically directed at you. You were on your feet making a decision. We realize that you had not put the question moved by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson). I suggest that you let the matter rest there.
– I point out to the honorable member for Parkes that I put the question that the question be now put. I will say that Opposition members were making so much noise that they may not have heard me put the question. I repeated it and then put the question that the new clause be inserted. Therefore, when the honorable member for Wills rose, I ruled that no point of order could be taken. In the circumstances, if the honorable member for Hughes is willing to withdraw the remark that he passed, the Chair will consider the position.
– Yes, I am happy to do so, Mr. Chairman.
– The committee will revert to the status quo.
Question put -
That the new clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Barnard’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Proposed new clause 3a.
.- I move -
That the following new clause be inserted in the bill:- “ 3a. Section thirty-seven of the Principal Act is amended -
by inserting in sub-section (lj, 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
This amendment proposes that cancer be automatically accepted as a war-caused disability. On a number of occasions during the comparatively short time I have been in this Parliament the Opposition has attempted to have the scourge of cancer automatically accepted as war-caused, but unfortunately the Government has not yet seen fit to agree to this proposition. We realize that this is a special case under the onus-of-proof provision of the act. One must also have regard to the fact that the proposed amendment has many important ramifications. Naturally, acceptance or non-acceptance of the amendment will affect not only the unfortunate exserviceman, but also his dependent wife and children. Often a person who contracts cancer cannot look forward to a very long life. Cancer has no regard for age. Sometimes a young wife and her dependent children are left to carry on for many years. We are discussing the provision of humanitarian help not just to the ex-serviceman but also to those who survive him.
The Opposition claims that at this stage no medical authority knows exactly what the causes of cancer are. Therefore, we think that this disease should automatically be accepted under section 47 of the act as war-caused. When this proposition has been put forward by Labour speakers and ex-servicemen’s organizations on previous occasions, the answer by Ministers for Health as well as Ministers for Repatriation has been to the effect that although the causes of cancer are not known, there are some authorities, particularly in the Repatriation Department, who can say with certainty that they know what does not cause cancer. Even if one is prepared to accept the proposition that certain authorities can say what does not cause cancer, who can determine with certainty what conditions operated during a man’s service life. Although it might be suggested that certain authorities can say that there are some conditions which do not produce cancer, can those same authorities say with certainty that such conditions, and not other conditions, operated during all the different circumstances that prevailed during a certain man’s service life, which might have spread over three or four or even five years?
What we are suggesting is that all servicemen who contract this dread disease should have their disability automatically accepted as war-caused. I have read through the record of the debate in 1943, when the then Opposition was putting up a case in respect of tuberculosis similar to the case we are now presenting with relation to cancer. On that occasion a Mr. Harrison, later to become Sir Eric Harrison, was arguing in much the same vein in which we have argued in this chamber on several occasions. He was saying that the condition was not at that time susceptible of precise medical analysis, either in its various stages, its causation or the circumstances that gave rise to it. That being the case he contended that no medical authority, and certainly none of the authorities that the Repatriation Commission could lay claim to, would be able to say with certainty that the disability in the case of a particular ex-serviceman was not caused by his war service. In 1943, when it was being urged that tuberculosis be accepted automatically as a war-caused disability, it was found that about one-half of those suffering from the disability had had their applications for acceptance rejected. The department has not been able to tell us what proportion of current applications for the acceptance of cancer have been accepted and what proportion have been rejected. In about 1959 the Parliament was told by one of the Ministers of the Government that on the meagre statistics that were available it was estimated that about one-half of the cases submitted for acceptance were in fact accepted while the other half were rejected. Well, of course, those who had their applications rejected could well ask on what basis the rejection had been decided upon. It was this kind of difficulty that Mr. Harrison, later Sir Eric Harrison, was referring to in 1943 when he quoted from a report by Drs. Stewart and Ross of Canada. He said that these doctors had issued a report in which the following remarks appeared: -
We have no difficulty in having such reconstructions accepted as essentially correct by experienced groups of physicians, and no objection raised to making these the bases for varying treatment and prognosis. But it is difficult to get such presumption accepted, or the way they are arrived at appreciated by the assessors in tribunals, lay or medical, who have little or no experience of the ways of tuberculosis, except- and 1 stress this - the slants and smatterings their work has given them.
I think that much the same can be said in relation to the rejection of cases of cancer. The decision to reject must be made on medical advice that presumes to some knowledge to which other medical advice would not be prepared to lay claim. The whole basis of the rejection must be on the medical advice of the Repatriation Department’s own medical officers. We are questioning - and questioning very strongly indeed - the validity of such advice. What warrant have doctors of the Repatriation Department to make this kind of judgment? What has been handed out as proof, I suggest, is nothing more than medical conjecture.
This is the point that has been made by the Returned Servicemen’s League and other bodies that have an interest in this matter. What has been put forward as proof that a person’s cancer condition was not caused by his war service has been no more than medical conjecture. The state of knowledge concerning the nature and cause of cancer could not, on the highest medical authorities in the country, justify any more than a statement of what are likely causes of cancer, or what may seem to have been associated causes or aggravating agents in the case of some form of cancer. But no medical authority - and it is on this that we challenge the Government - can be brought before this Parliament or before any other public body - no medical authority in the world, and not only in Australia - to say with certainty what are the causes of cancer. Neither can any medical authority say that the varying circumstances of_ a serviceman’s- life could not have included some conditions. known or unknown, that did not contribute to his cancer.
This is the whole basis of the matter. If there are medical authorities that can say this, then the onus of proof provision can mean something, and there would be some basis for not accepting certain applications. But if there is not such certainty, then there can be no justification for applying the onus of proof provision to reject an application.
.- My comments on this matter will be brief, because this is something that has been raised on a considerable number of occasions in this chamber, not only during the period of office of the present Government but also when the previous Labour government was in power. As the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) said, exactly the same kinds of answers were given by the Minister for Repatriation in the Labour Government as have later been given by my predecessors in this Government, and as I have given during recent months in another debate on a repatriation matter.
I am not going to repeat all the substantive argument I put before the House at that time. I merely want to say that you cannot generalize in relation to cancer. There are, as has already been stated to-day, many kinds of malignant tumours. From memory I think there are about 175 recognized types. Further, you cannot generalize about the type of service, and you cannot apply one set of service conditions to a particular case which would be equivalent to another set of service conditions. Excluding the medical arguments that have been propounded in this chamber before, and which have been briefly referred to by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds), it all comes back to the fact that each individual case is different. There can be no specific set of circumstances that can be applied equally in respect of every case.
The number of cases accepted, which have represented well over 50 per cent, of the total number of applications in the past - and perhaps some of those rejected will be accepted in the future under the existing system - is evidence that the present repatriation system is covering adequately most of the necessitous cases in which the cancer can be tied directly to war service.
Whilst I am in complete sympathy with the proposal, I understand the problems associated with it and the implications of ii. If it were accepted the result would be that we would also have to agree on automatic acceptance in the case of many other disabilities, such as heart disease. In view of these circumstances and of the medical considerations, and in view of all the points I have mentioned to-night, the Government cannot accept the amendment.
.- The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) points out that there is a wide variety of cancers, but there is a great similarity in the dullness of the arguments of successive Ministers for Repatriation on this question.
– Some of them belonged to your party.
– Perhaps. One would have thought that in fourteen years even a Minister of the present Government would make a social advance in the consideration of these problems. Surely to goodness the time has come when we can turn a new eye upon old problems. It is a different world altogether, and a different attitude is required. At least 1,000,000 Australians must be qualified ex-servicemen from the two world wars. We are speaking about something which concerns perhaps 10 per cent, of the population.
The Minister contends that already about 50 per cent, of the cases have been accepted. I wonder what was the line of demarcation with the other 50 per cent. I wonder at what shading off of causation we decide to accept this one or that one. If you take statistics, as is customary in these debates, and examine the cases before each tribunal, 1 believe you will find that there is a different percentage of acceptance by each tribunal. So apart from any consideration of the causation of cancer, you have the simple proposition that there is a certain amount of luck as to which tribunal you appear before and when you appear.
We have chosen cancer in this instance as a te,st case. We . put it forward as .a definite instance of something which is very nearly incurable and where, in common humanity, it would be doing some good for the individual if he were to receive repatriation benefits. We just do not seem to be able to get this theme through to the Minister. He just cannot see that this is an issue in which he can afford to establish precedents. What is wrong with establishing precedents? He is afraid that if we accept cancer, somebody will want heart disease accepted. Then when we accept heart disease, others will want arthritis accepted and then something else. It is well over twenty years since tuberculosis was accepted. At the present rate of progress we will move through only a couple of further stages before there are no more exservicemen. Probably the Minister will not be about to lament the high cost of repatriation in another 40 or 50 years time.
It is part and parcel of our proposal that we want the whole system examined. We want the attitudes to repatriation brought up to date with the social attitudes of the time. The repatriation system is one of the best developed social service systems in the community. It contains the best methods for ex-servicemen in need. It is the kind of system which can take in the exserviceman and give him psychological comfort at a time when he needs it most.
Surely of all the medical issues before us cancer is the one in which we can afford to be most charitable. What is wrong with being charitable? What is wrong with the Minister showing a little dynamism of his own? Honorable members opposite are smug and complacent but they cannot give one instance in which the Minister has shown some dynamism of his own or has produced something that has not floated up from the department. We look in vain for such an instance now, just as we waited in vain to hear one mentioned in the last debate by honorable members opposite, who have talked so glibly about the Returned Servicemen’s League. There were six or seven speakers in succession from this side of the House. Honorable members opposite have talked in platitudes and generalities about the cause of ex-servicemen, but they sit silent when challenged to make some useful contribution to that cause - that is, those of them who have not already left the chamber. I hope that there is forwarded., to every R.S.L. branch in Australia a copy of the record of the speeches and the voting in this debate. Ex-servicemen then will know full well that the honorable member for Mallee-
– I wish to take a point of order. I suggest that the honorable member is not speaking to the subject under discussion. His remarks are very wide of the subject.
– I remind the honorable member for Wills that the subject before the committee at the moment is the acceptance of cancer as a war-caused disability. The honorable member, in presenting his case, has strayed a little from the subject. I suggest that he return to it.
– I apologize to you, Sir, if I have erred in this matter. I apologize also to the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon), for whom I have a high regard, although there are times when he is inclined to be reactionary and backward. I was attempting, in soft persuasive tones, to get the message through to honorable members opposite that instead of just sitting there they ought to stand up and speak and they ought to vote. I have made some progress. At least I have made one honorable member stand up - not to speak himself, but to stop me speaking. If I have not got through to the consciences of all honorable members opposite, at least I am making progress. It is a simple challenge. We are putting half a dozen simple propositions. If honorable members opposite are on our side and on the side of the R.S.L. and think that these matters are important, now is the day and now is the hour to act. It is not much good lamenting afterwards and it is no good writing letters to editors of newspapers. This is the time for honorable members to face up to their national duty - to stand up, speak up and vote. The Minister sits there nodding, not in acquiesence but in his sleepy fashion.
– Order! I suggest that the honorable member for Wills relate his remarks to the bill and cease to make such comments about the Minister.
– Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for those directions. I point out that duringthe dayI have been the target for some of the more unkind remarks from honorable members opposite. All I ask is that they vote. I hope that we are not going too far beyond the traditions of this Parliament in expecting members to vote in the way they speak.
– They should either vote or take off their R.S.L. badges.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) can put that point forcibly. We have no knowledge of the causation of cancer. The Minister has admitted that 50 per cent of the cases are accepted. We feel that the other 50 per cent would represent a comparatively minute drain upon Australia. Cost should not be a consideration. It is the simple and straightforward duty of honorable members to vote on this matter. I hope that at least two or three honorable members opposite will see the justice of our cause and vote with us on this issue.
Motion (by Mr. Howson) put -
That the question be now put -
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the new clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Reynolds’s amendment) be so inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in negative.
Sitting suspended from 11.28 p.m. to 12 midnight.
Proposed new clause 3B.
.I move -
That the following new clause be inserted in the bill:- “3B. Section forty-seven of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after sub-section (1.) the following sub-section: - (1a.)In all cases a doubt shall be deemed to exist where the origin of any disability cannot be properly determined or where authoritative medical opinion conflicts as to the origin of the disability.’.”.
This amendment relates to the onus of proof. I hope that on this occasion the Government will at least state its attitude. When the amendment previously proposed was considered, two honorable members on this side of the chamber spoke and the Minister replied. I was ashamed to think that we had not made a better case since the Government was still able to feel so secure in the support of ex-servicemen - at least, of the heads of their organizations, and those who are their mouth-pieces. The Government’s attitude almost made it appear that those who speak on behalf of ex-servicemen have not made a very good job of their advocacy. That attitude on the part of the Government fills me with disgust. The Minister made only the baldest kind of reply to the arguments that had been advanced. That is unprecedented in relation to a measure concerned with repatriation pensions.
I return to the amendment now before the committee. The subject of the onus of proof will be alleged by Government supporters to be a worn-out debating point. The contest over this matter has been fought many times. I think that I have moved a dozen amendments in relation to it, and many of my colleagues also have proposed amendments, but we have always been thrown back by the solid front presented by the Government. Now, a new and important ingredient has been injected into the discussion. This is contained in a letter sent to all members of the Parliament on 4th July by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. This letter supports our view that something must be done about the onus of proof. Let us no longer talk of the impossibility of doing anything about it. Let us hear no more about frustration. Let the Government no longer say that, because of the effluxion of time, nothing can be done. The Returned Servicemen’s League has asked all of us in this Parliament, on both the Opposition side and the Government side, to do something about the matter.
The Opposition has examined this letter. It has been submitted to the Opposition committee that deals with repatriation matters. The letter has passed through all the processes of the Australian Labour Party. It has been considered by the executive of the party and by the caucus, and we have decided to incorporate the R.S.L. proposal in this amendment in toto without the alteration of a line. We ask the Minister not to content himself with mouthing some small inanities about why something can or cannot be done. If there is any validity in the argument of the league, the Government has to explain why nothing can be done. The Government has already intimated that it will not accept the amendment: If it can make any point on which to sustain that attitude, let us have it.
This amendment arises out of the experience of the Returned Servicemen’s League. The league, like the private member in this Parliament, runs into the frustrations that arise in relation to the onus of proof. These constitute a road-block, as it were, in the way of the granting of proper pensions to a reasonable proportion of exservicemen. The league is trying to break through that road-block and has asked us to propose this amendment in order to do so. The league has been fighting to have something done in this matter and has put to us this proposal for an amendment of section 47 of the principal act - a proposal that we on this side of the chamber are proud to present. The amendment provides that a doubt shall be deemed to exist where the origin of any disability cannot be properly determined or where authoritative medical opinion conflicts as to the origin of the disability.
This brings me to the real point of the whole argument. The weary disputation taken up by lawyers, on the one side, and entitlement appeal tribunals, on the other side, and carried on by the Minister and members of this Parliament, has to end sooner or later. I suggest that the Minister should allow a non-party vote on this issue, if the Government purports solidly to support the Returned Servicemen’s League. Government supporters have said in this chamber, significantly, that they have entree to the Cabinet on repatriation matters and have implied that ex-servicemen have the Government in the bag. This is the time for the R.S.L. to say to ex-servicemen, “This is not so, because the Government has rejected our proposal out of hand “. Indeed, the Government will probably use the gag if the Opposition presses this amendment.
Let us now look at the legal views expressed in this matter. Mr. Justice Spicer, when he was Senator Spicer, said -
Any reasonable inference which favours the view of the serviceman must be taken into account. In short, he must be given the benefit of the doubt.
I say that he has never had the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Justice Joske, when a member of this chamber, said -
There is a presumption that the claim fs to’ be allowed even though the claimant calls no evidence.
The tribunals, of course, reject this and say that the claimant must make a case. Dr. Evatt said -
Unless it is proved by the Repatriation Commission that the war service could not have contributed to the claimant’s disability, then the presumption must be made in favour of the claimant . . .
But it never is. Mr. Justice Spicer, Mr. Justice Joske, and Dr. Evatt, who was the leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party in this place for so long, all have come down solidly and said that the exserviceman must be given the benefit of the doubt. That is their view of the onus of proof. How is that view defeated? It is defeated because there is another point of view. Whether or not one likes it and whether or not any one is offended, the bureaucratic point of view is: “ No. Who cares for Joske? Who cares for Evatt? Who cares for Spicer? The inference is not reasonable. The two judges have not made a reasonable inference. Dr. Evatt has not made a reasonable inference.” This view has been stated in reports of entitlement appeal tribunals. Members of those tribunals, under the influence of their own lay minds, say that Mr. Justice Spicer, Mr. Justice Joske and Dr. Evatt have taken an inaccurate view of the law and that there is not a reasonable inference that a claimant has a good case unless he establishes that case. But the lawyers say that the claimant has not to establish his case. The supposition and the inference are that, in the short, sharp language of the Australian, the tribunals should lean over backwards to see that he gets his due. If the evidence against him is irrefutable, of course, he will not get a pension. The point is that a great many claimants do not get pensions that they ought to get.
If there is any conflict in this matter, why does it occur? There is a great conflict, of course. The legal position has been made clear by the greatest authorities that we have - by men who have pointed out strenuously that the position is not the same as in the civil law where the onus of proof works in the opposite way. This is a new thing, but something new is not always accepted at the first presentation. We must have this principle accepted. That, is why, the. Returned Servicemen’s League seeks to ‘ have ‘ section 47 of the principal act amended in the manner now proposed. If the onus-of-proof provision works smoothly, how do these things that I have described happen?
In the few minutes at my disposal, I want to recall what the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) said last evening. He referred to the Repatriation Commission’s annual report for 1962-63 and said -
On page 29 of the report we find a table giving the number of claims received and determined by repatriation boards and the commission. The total for action - giving the figures in round thousands - was 46,000, the number accepted was 19,000 and the number rejected 20,000.
There is the hub of the whole situation. To the proposition that the benefit of the doubt shall be given to the claimant, the lawyers say, “Yes”, and the bureaucrats say, “ No “. Of 46,000 applicants, 20,000 are thrown on the scrap heap. That shows how the onus of proof provision is applied.
Let us shear this subject of all the pretentious nonsense talked about it. Let us shear it of the sort of amateur exposition that would be given by the young lawyers opposite if they were to debate this matter, though on this occasion they may or may not do so. In crystal clarity, we see that we have, as it were, a road-block in the repatriation system. As the honorable member for Hughes pointed out, it is most unfair to say: “Are these claimants malingerers? Are they trying to put something over the Repatriation Commission? “ Of course they are not. If we are to take the attitude that that is all they are doing, all the Anzac Day speeches and the pious platitudes that we hear are so much humbug. Here is something that should be attended to. Here is a real, vital and valid issue. Here is something that the Government should do.
No doubt, the Minister will make a platitudinous reply and content himself with saying that he will not accept the amendment. But he should remember the point that I make: The law says that the benefit of the doubt must be given to exservicemen. Three great lawyers have said so. But the digger has still to make his case. While the conflict goes on, at least 20,000 men each year have no chance of getting pensions to which they are entitled. And the number grows from year to year. There is the whole point. Many of the applicants for pensions are old men now. Some are younger men who served in World War II. They have to go through all the misery of appearing before repatriation boards and the Repatriation Commission and wearily struggling with entitlement appeal tribunals only to have their applications refused of a certainty.
That is the case we make and we desire the Minister to give us some explanation of the onus of proof provision. The Minister should remember that the Returned Servicemen’s League, which represents many thousands of ex-servicemen, has put this matter forward. We want the Minister’s answer and we want to know what the Government proposes to do at this late stage in relation to the onus of proof provision which is dominating the whole question of pensions and our obligations to the exservicemen of Australia.
– As the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) himself stated, he has referred to this matter on a number of occasions. To the best of my memory on the occasions I have heard him he has said the same thing, and a number of other members of the Opposition have followed the same line. It is a fact that the first provision in the Repatriation Act dealing with some form of onus of proof was introduced back in 1929. Amendments were made to the act in 1934 and 1940. but it was not until 1943 that the present section 47 was introduced by the then Labour Government at a time when a major review of the repatriation system took place.
Although the then Minister for Repatriation introduced the 1943 measure, I understand from fairly reliable information that the new onus of proof provision was drafted by the then Attorney-General, Dr. Evatt. Since that time the section has stood. It was supported by Dr. Evatt on several occasions. It was also explained to the Parliament in documents by a former Attorney-General, Senator Spicer, and later by the present Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick).
The amendment proposed by the honorable member for Parkes on behalf of the
Opposition has a direct relationship to the amendment which was rejected just a short time ago. It is an extension of the principle of the onus of proof provision rather than a direct amendment of the section as it stands. The Government has made it clear on a number of occasions that the widening of the provision to cover cases of cancer, which were referred to in the previous amendment, would not be acceptable under existing circumstances. The principles to be observed in determining claims and appeals were defined very clearly in the statements made by the two AttorneysGeneral to whom I have referred1 and by Dr. Evatt, the Attorney-General in a Labour government. Those statements made it clear that claims and appeals are to be decided according to natural justice and the merits of the case, and that the determining authorities are not to be bound by technicalities, legal forms or the rules of evidence. It was further stated that the claimant or appellant is to be given the benefit of any doubt and that all reasonable inferences are to be drawn in his favour to the exclusion of all other inferences. Finally, the claimant or appellant does not have to prove his case, but the determining authority must allow his case unless the Commonwealth proves to it that the claim should not be allowed.
A significant point that has been overlooked - and conveniently overlooked in many cases - is that the doubt referred to is a doubt in the mind of the determining authority and not a doubt in the mind of any third party or any other person who may not be in possession of all the facts which are placed before the determining authority.
– When does the authority consider that a case has been proved?
– The point raised by the honorable member is, of course, one which is entirely in the hands of the determining authority. It must be guided by the interpretations which are given to it. I shall refer to that particular matter in a moment.
The members of the determining authorities, which are the repatriation boards in all States, the Repatriation Commission, the entitlement appeal tribunals and the assessment appeal tribunals, are all exservicemen ‘ who “ have ‘ ha’d ‘overseas service.
On each board, on the commission and on each entitlement tribunal one member is a person appointed from lists of names supplied by ex-servicemen’s associations. I point out, too, in answer to a question raised by the honorable member for Parkes about legal interpretation, the chairmen of the entitlement and assessment appeal tribunals must have legal qualifications. In addition, there is a system whereby regular conferences are now held between the various entitlement and assessment tribunals. At those conferences the onus of proof provision is discussed at length. Discussions are also held regularly with members of the department and with the Minister himself on the application of this provision. The present degree of uniformity of approach to the interpretation of the onus of proof provision may not have existed back in 1956 when the statement which has been quoted was made, but there is no doubt that this uniformity is of great benefit not only to the tribunals but also to exservicemen themselves. It is quite evident from the results that have been achieved that ex-servicemen have gained by this uniformity of approach.
In a general sense, with all these considerations and the fact that we start with the proposition that the onus of proof is in favour of the appellant, I am quite sure that any amendment to the section as it stands - quite apart from any extension which might be considered in the future - would be to the detriment of ex-servicemen and women who apply for benefits. Under these circumstances, Mr. Chairman, the Government cannot accept the amendment.
– The first responsibility of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) surely is to indicate whether or not he agrees with the contention that there is some inability on the part of tribunals to interpret properly the onus of proof provision of the Repatriation Act. A substantial case has been made out and I doubt very much whether the Minister would be prepared to tell the Parliament that in his view there is not a great deal of anxiety on the part of the tribunals at the great responsibility they have to carry in these matters. In the first place the Minister has refused completely to give any answer to what has been said about the onus-of-proof provision. The
Returned Servicemen’s League feels very strongly about this matter. Year after year the annual reports of that organization have provided a detailed account of the submissions which it has made to the Government.
There is a great deal of merit in what the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) said. He quoted figures in relation to the various authorities indicating that about 60 per cent, of those who apply for pensions are finally disillusioned, disappointed and frustrated. Every honorable member who makes himself available to ex-servicemen knows that this is a bone of contention and is something beyond the comprehension of everybody. It is beyond the comprehension of parliamentarians. It is a vague provision in the legislation. If the Minister himself accepts it as being vague he should take counsel from the R.S.L. whose objective it is to clarify the legislation. If the Minister and the Government do not want to provide a generous provision, then let them clear away the ambiguity that exists at the present time. Let them put something in the legislation which clearly expresses the view of the Government. Perhaps the Minister does not want to give the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, as demonstrated to-night and in the previous discussions, the Minister does not want to extend the provision to cover cancer cases. That is the first thing.
– That statement is entirely incorrect.
– The 47th annual report of the national executive of the Returned Servicemen’s League contains a reply by the Minister for Repatriation to approaches made by the league to have cancer automatically accepted as a warcaused disability. In his reply the Minister stated -
Whilst the precise cause of Cancer is still unknown-
The Minister indicates there that there is still a great deal of doubt as to the cause of cancer - there is no evidence which suggests any general connection between service conditions and Cancer.
If the precise cause of cancer is still unknown is it not reasonable to expect the Minister to be anxious to give ex-servicemen the benefit of the doubt? But this ambiguous section 47 makes it impossible for the
Minister to do that. The Minister states that there is no evidence to suggest a general connexion between service conditions and cancer, but is there any evidence to show that there is no such connexion? While this doubt exists - while the decision may fall one way or the other - there is nothing to guide the people who must make the decision. Already one tribunal has indicated that it is not capable of properly giving effect to the interpretation of this section.
It is very interesting to read some of the statements that have been made on this matter by fairly eminent people. For example, Mr.- Justice Spicer, some of whose other remarks have already been referred to by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), said, when he was AttorneyGeneral -
Ordinarily, the onus lies on the party who makes a claim to prove the facts necessary to support it . . .
In the Repatriation Act, Parliament has completely reversed the normal process.
That was a deliberate action on the part of the Parliament. Section 47 (2.) states -
It shall not be necessary for the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof to support his claim, application or appeal . . .
Surely that is a clear indication that the onus does not lie with the claimant. The section further provides that in all cases whatsoever the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority opposing the claim, application or appeal, lt is interesting to note that the former honorable member for Balaclava, Mr. Joske as he then was, said that the proper way in which tribunals administering this act should apply the law is to follow the opinion of the AttorneyGeneral of the day which has been put before them by the Minister as a correct interpretation of the law. Mr. Joske, who is now Mr. Justice Joske, said that there was a clear obligation on the Government to interpret this ambiguous provision. I suggest that the ball is now directly at the feet of the Cabinet, and the AttorneyGeneral in particular, to whom the Minister for Repatriation would go for advice. If we are to take seriously what the then honorable member for Balaclava said in October, 1957, the Attorney-General is the person who should indicate the manner in which this doubtful and ambiguous provision should be interpreted. If it was necessary for Mr. Joske to say that the Attorney-General should provide an interpretation, clearly there is a need to clarify the legislation and to provide a definition. Is this not just what the Returned Servicemen’s League is seeking?
Let me indicate exactly what the R.S.L. is seeking to clarify. Section 47 (1.) of the act reads -
The Commission, a Board, an Appeal Tribunal or an Assessment Appeal Tribunal, in hearing, determining or deciding a claim, application or appeal shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case, shall not be bound by technicalities or legal forms or rules of evidence and shall give to the claimant, applicant or appellant the benefit of any doubt-
What do the words “ benefit of any doubt “ mean? The Minister for Repatriation has indicated in his statements to the R.S.L. that he does not know what those words mean. He does not know what the words “ benefit of any doubt “ imply. The former honorable member for Balaclava said that the Attorney-General has an obligation to tell the Minister how to interpret the section. Apparently the Attorney-General has not done that. The R.S.L. has suggested that section 47 be amended by adding the following words -
In nil cases a doubt shall be deemed to exist where the origin of any disability cannot be properly determined or where authoritative medical opinion conflicts as to the origin of the disability.
That seems to me to be a fairly sensible attitude, and 1 commend the proposal to the Minister. It is precisely the provision which the Opposition is seeking to have accepted, in this amendment. Everything depends on the will, the desire to give effect to a decent principle rather than a dubious one which at present is causing untold hardship and suffering to a large number of Australian ex-servicemen.
– As the views that have been canvassed so far in the debate on the proposed amendments are views that we have heard frequently in this chamber and on which we have voted on so many occasions I move again -
That the question be now put.
– I rise to order! Is it in order for the honorable member for Fawkner to anticipate what will be said by honorable members?
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
Question put. The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolvedin the affirmative.
Question put -
That the new clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Haylen’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clauses 4 to 22 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Proposed new clause 22a.
.- I move -
That the following new clause be inserted in the bM:- “22a. After section one hundred and twentythree of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - 123a. The Commission may, subject to such conditions as it from time to time determines, provide medical and hospital treatment for a member of the Forces as defined in section twentythree of this Act and for a person to which section one hundred and twenty of this Act applies.’.”.
In moving this amendment, I wish to bring before the Parliament once again the position of ex-servicemen of the First World War. The amendment sets out the technicalities of the manner in which we think the act should be amended in order to accomplish the purpose we have in mind. I think it has been long accepted in this place that the First World War exserviceman is in need of special repatriation benefits. That is one of the facts of Australian repatriation history. It can be proved from an examination of the records that the man who served in the First World War had a less favorable opportunity to prove his case before the Repatriation Commission than the man who served in the Second World War. Most of us who have done any reading at all on this subject, or have spoken to people who served in the First World War, will be aware that there is ample evidence to show that service in that war played havoc with the human frame. There is plenty of ground, therefore, for discrimination, if we wish to put it in that way, or for differentiation at this stage in our history in favour of exservicemen of the First World War.
For those honorable members who have not made a study of the matter, it is worth while to look at the statistics. During the 1914-18 war, some 330,000 Australian servicemen sailed from this country. Of that number, approximately 313,000, or almost 95 per cent., became casualties. There would not be many armies which suffered such a tremendous casualty rate. The rate of execution by the enemy was terriffc. I think that one .in every, five who. sailed was killed. The total number killed ‘was about 60,000. We have only to visit the war memorials of this country and count the names to see that for every 50 names of those who served there are ten, eleven or twelve crosses. In little country towns where there are perhaps twenty names, there will be four, five or six crosses. In big towns where the number of names may be 500, there will be upwards of 100 who did not come home. A great proportion of those who did come home became casualties during the fighting. It is logica] to assume, from a consideration of the records, that their physique generally was reduced in vitality as a result of service at the front.
Let us consider for a moment the figures relating to pensions in force, in Table 5 of the annual report of the Repatriation Commission for 1962-63. Let us take two similar periods, say, sixteen or seventeen years after the end of each of the wars. The First World War ended in 1918. At the end of the period 1931 to 1935, the number of pensions in force was 74,900, and there were 30,000 dependants of deceased ex-servicemen, out of a force which suffered some 313,000 casualties. Now let us turn to the Second World War and also take a period sixteen or seventeen years after it ended. We must remember, of course, that approximately 1,000,000 people served in the forces in the Second World War, while there were approximately 400,000 enlistments in the First World War. However, I think that the casualty rate is relevant to this discussion. Taking the figures for the 1939-45 war we find that in 1962-63, fifteen or sixteen years after the end of hostilities, there are 170,594 pensions in force. I remind honorable members that there were 183,000 casualties in that war. There are 29,000 dependents of deceased ex-servicemen receiving pensions. Although in the First World War we suffered 313,000 casualties and in the Second World War about 180,000, there were only one-half as many pensions in force some sixteen or seventeen years after the First World War as there were that number of years after the Second World War.
I have not selected a trick period. If honorable members look at the figures they will see that I have selected the peak for the number pf pensions granted . to exservicemen df the First World War a’nd also the peak for the number of dependents of deceased ex-servicemen who were receiving pensions. Although some 30,000 were killed in the Second World War - obviously there has been a higher expenditure on war-caused disabilities as a result of that war - and although there were twice as many casualties in the First World War, sixteen years after the end of the First World War, there were only one-half as many pensioners as there were from the Second World War sixteen years after that war. I suppose you can prove anything from statistics but it seems to me from those figures that ex-servicemen from the Second World War had nearly four times as many chances of obtaining repatriation pensions as had ex-servicemen from the First World War.
At this late hour, some 40 years after the end of the First World War it is time that Australia acknowledged its debt to approximately 100,000 ex-servicemen who still survive. I think the figures will show that in one State alone they are dying at the rate of about 50 a month. They are now at that stage in life when repatriation benefits will mean a great deal to them, when we can lift off them the burden of illness and when we can pay a tribute to them by taking them into the repatriation system for the psychological comfort that I know means so much to ex-servicemen, particularly those of the First World War. I have heard certain Government supporters claim that this should be done. This afternoon the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Cockle) expressed that opinion. It is time that Government supporters asserted their opinions forcibly in this chamber by their votes. It is time that they faced up io their responsibilities and answered their consciences with their votes.
We are speaking of a race of men - this has been mentioned previously and there is no harm in repeating it - who were the cream of Australian manhood. They were picked men who were subjected to a very rigorous medical examination, particlarly .’n the early days of the First World War, before being selected to join the First A.I.F. They fought in conditions which horrify us even to read about. You can pick up any volume of the “ Official History of Australia in the War” and you will read of the horrors that these ‘men endured. I have in my hand Volume 3 of “The A.I.F. in France, 1916” and I open it at random at page 590 and I read the following extract from a soldier’s diary: -
My men are being unmercifully shelled. They cannot hold on if attack is launched. The firing line and my head-quarters are being plastered with heavy guns and the town is being swept with shrapnel. I myself am O.K., but the front line is being buried.
Let me turn now to page 598 where the following appears -
One of these messengers came in exhausted after a run on July 24th - the barrages had begun to be dreadful - went outside into the passage where they used to rest, and lay down. A little afterwards a runner came in to the general. “X - has had an accident with his rifle, sir - shot himself.” He had found it more than he could bear, put his rifle to his head, and “ went out “ uncomplaining.
Although we knew it was stiff fighting, we had our eyes opened when we saw these men march by.
So it goes on page after page, volume after volume. I am not appealing to the sense of humour of honorable members, I am simply asking them to give sympathetic consideration to something that I know is in the hearts of most of us, something which will not cost the Treasury much, something which need not give the Minister for Repatriation ulcers when he takes it to Cabinet, something which on the average will cost, perhaps, £15 or £20 a year in medical benefits to some 30,000 or 40,000 men.
In proposing this amendment I wish I were more confident that honorable members opposite would vote with us on this issue. If they do not I hope that they will answer, if not to their conscience at least to their electors and members of the R.S.L. in their electorates when those persons learn the way in which their representatives voted on this issue.
– Mr. Chairman, this matter has been canvassed on a number of occasions. It was taken up with the previous government and also with this Government on a number of occasions but there has been a difference in approach. Whereas the previous government, of which the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) who is interjecting was a prominent member, too!; no action to rectify a situation which was causing some hardship, this Government did take action to provide medical attention for service pensioners. That of course was made available to a very substantial number of people in the category to which the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) referred.
Under the present repatriation system exservicemen, whether they be from the First World War, the Second World War or subsequent wars, can receive medical attention for disabilities which are due to war service. There is quite a considerable number of First World War personnel in that category. In addition, persons in receipt of the 100 per cent general rate war pension can receive, with some minor exceptions, medical treatment for disabilities not due to war service. Further, a service pensioner can now receive, with some minor excepton, medical treatment for disabilities not due to war service. In addition, nurses who served in the 1914-18 war and exservicemen suffering from tuberculosis can receive treatment for a wide range of disabilities not due to war service. In that wide sweep there is now a considerable number of persons from the First World War who can receive medical treatment. The figures indicate the number which is now covered and which were mentioned in part by the honorable member.
At present about 100,000 ex-servicemen of the First World War still survive. Of these, 18,700 receive the 100 per cent general rate war pension or higher - either the 100 per cent rate or the rate for totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen. They are entitled also, of course, to medical treatment for disabilities not due to war service. In addition, there are 37,850 ex-servicemen receiving service pensions following their service in the First World War. They also can receive medical treatment for a wide range of disabilities not due to war service. In addition, there are approximately 28,000 in receipt of a war pension below the 100 per cent general rate who can receive medical treatment for disabilities due to war service. Further, there are at present about 300 Boer War veterans receiving service pensions. Under the latest arrangement, these are entitled to medical benefits for disabilities not due to war service. If you take the total figure you will find that the majority of people who would be classified in the hardship category are now covered by the broad sweep of medical treatment.
The amendment proposed by the honorable member is not acceptable to the Government. As this matter has been canvassed fully on a number of occasions in the past, as it has been covered substantially on this occasion, and as the hour is late, I move -
That the question be now put.
Question put. The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the new clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Bryant’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause 22b.
.- I move -
That the fallowing new clause be inserted in the bill:- “ 22b. After section one hundred and twentythree of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - 123b. The Commission may, subject to such conditions as it from time to time determines, provide for the wife of a person in receipt of the Special Rate of pension under the Second Schedule to this Act such medical benefits as she would receive if she were the wife of a person eligible for medical benefits under the Pensioner Medical Service.’.”.
The amendment provides that the wives of special rate pensioners be granted medical benefits. In 1955, in a pinch-penny amendment of the National Health Act, this Government placed a means test on the granting of medical entitlement cards to pensioners. At that time wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners were expected to make definite applications for medical entitlement cards. The wives of pensioners who have become entitled to a pension since October, 1955, are not entitled to medical entitlement cards.
When the National Health Act was amended not a great deal of publicity was given to the fact that P.T.I. pensioners’ wives who were receiving social service pensions could obtain medical entitlement cards if they applied for them through the Department of Social Services. Consequently, a great number of wives who at that time would have been entitled to cards did not apply for them. The present situation is that some wives of T.P.I. pensioners - the wives of men who were T.P.I. pensioners before October, 1955, who applied for medical entitlement cards - have received cards; but wives who did not apply and the wives of men who have become T.P.I. pensioners since October, 1955, are not entitled to receive medical treatment.
– That is sheer discrimination.
– It is undoubtedly discrimination. This has caused a great deal of concern to members of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Australia. Most members of the Parliament have received from that association a detailed case setting out the reasons why it advances the proposition that the wives of its members should be granted medical treatment. According- to figures available from the Repatriation Department, about 20,800 ex-servicemen receive T.P.I, pensions and 16,000 of them are married. About 16 per cent, of the wives of those 16,000 pensioners receive medical entitlement cards. I base my calculations on the fact that all 16,000 wives of the married T.P.I, pensioners would be entitled to receive medical entitlement cards had they applied for cards before October, 1955, or if their husbands had been T.P.I, pensioners prior to that date. That means that about 80 per cent, of the wives of T.P.I, pensioners are not receiving medical treatment at this time.
Every one is aware that an ex-serviceman does not obtain a totally and permanently incapacitated pension unless he is unable to work, unless his physical condition is such that he is unable to earn a living for himself, or unless his physical condition is such that he spends a great deal of time in hospital or is bedridden or semi-bedridden at home. When such a person is in ill-health at home his wife is called upon to care for him. lt is quite customary for a T.P.I, pensioner to be discharged from a repatriation hospital as soon as it is possible to discharge him. He is sent home to the care of his wife. On occasions wives do not allow their husbands to go to repatriation hospitals because they prefer to care for them at home rather than send them off to hospital. Yet, in instances of that kind the Government is not prepared to grant medical entitlement cards to those wives. The Government has granted cards to some wives, but it will not grant them to others.
On 14th August this year the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Beaton) received a reply to a question that he placed on the notice-paper. That reply shows that the granting of medical benefits to wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners would cost £736,000. Assuming that about 80 per cent, of such wives are not receiving medical entitlement cards at present, the estimated cost of giving cards to wives of T.P.I, pensioners works out at about £50 per annum per wife. From table 23 at page 35 of the annual report of the Repatriation Commission for 1962-63, we find that the cost per in-patient day is £5 14s. 9d. All it means is that, in order to counteract hospital costs; if the wives of
T.P.I, pensioners kept their husbands out of hospital for ten days a year, on an average over the 20,800 T.P.I, pensioners, a medical entitlement card could be given to every wife of a T.P.I. pensioner and there would be no overall cost to the Repatriation Department. I think £736,000 is only a drop in the ocean when we are talking of a repatriation budget of about £110,000,000 or £115,000,000. Time after time the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association has asked the Government to grant medical entitlement cards to the wives of its members and has submitted its reasons.
I wish to make one further point, Mr. Chairman. In addition to these wives having to look after their husbands from the time of their disablement until they are granted T.P.I, pensions and then until their death, as soon as T.P.I, pensioners die the wives become entitled to receive the war widow’s pension, and upon receipt of that pension they are immediately entitled to receive medical entitlement cards. In many instances, granting them cards now would only mean that they would receive cards one, two or three years earlier than they would receive them if they had to wait until their husbands died. I believe that these wives are in a special position. They care for their husbands on occasions when their husbands need to go to hospital. In many instances they give needles and other treatment to their husbands, and on last year’s figures they save the Repatriation Department a great number of sums of £5 14s. 9d. which the department would have to pay if on every occasion the pensioner took ill he was taken to a repatriation hospital.
Therefore, I believe that this proposal is worthy of consideration. But, judging on the attitude of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) to the previous amendments that the Opposition has moved, I think he will rise again and say, “This matter has been considered on a number of occasions and accordingly we will do nothing about it”; and then he will move the gag. In moving this amendment I want to put on record the fact that, with one exception, all the amendments that have been moved by the Opposition this evening have come, almost word for word, from documents that have been, supplied to. every .member of this Parliament by the returned servicemen’s organizations, including the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association, the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and various other organizations. The only amendment that has not come from an exservicemen’s organization is the proposal to set up a select committee. This Government has by-passed our amendments. It has completely disregarded the arguments that have been advanced. It has not even attempted to answer the criticisms that have been made by members of the Opposition. I want the ex-servicemen’s organizations throughout Australia to realize that until such time as they are prepared to fight this Government they can expect to receive no benefits from it.
– With delightful anticipation, the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) said that I would rise in my place and say that this matter had been raised in this chamber on previous occasions. I do so. This matter has been raised by the Opposition on a number of occasions since these medical benefit’s were made available a few years ago. But it has never been part of the repatriation system to provide medical services for the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioners.
– That is wrong.
– Such services were provided in 1955 for a period after this Government removed the ceiling limit. Certain wives of T.P.I. pensioners were then entitled to medical services under another scheme introduced by this Government a a few years before. About 3,000 wives applied for and received entitlement at that time and certainly a number who would have been entitled did not apply. However, that situation existed only for a brief period until the means test was applied to the pensioner medical services. After that, there was a return to the original principle that repatriation benefits are provided to ex-servicemen for war-caused disabilities, to service pensioners under certain conditions and to war widows and their children as direct dependants of exservicemen. In the circumstances, and in view of the fact that this question has been raised on a number of occasions before, the Government cannot accept the amendment.
When we relate the present situation of the income of the T.P.I. pensioner and his wife to existing circumstances I think it is quite reasonable to assume that, with the husband obtaining medical treatment through the Repatriation Department, the couple would be in a position to cover themselves under the Government’s medical benefits scheme. The minimum rate a married couple can receive at the present time is £17 10s. If they have two children, they can receive up to £22 17s. 9d. If they have more children, then, of course, their their income would go beyond that figure. This matter has been examined very carefully because, as has been mentioned1, representations have been made by certain exservicemen’s organizations. The figures I have quoted this evening have been pointed out to those organizations and the Government has told them that as I have said tonight, it cannot accept the amendment.
.- I rise to support the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart).
Motion (by Mr. Howson) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the new clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Stewart’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the negative.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without requests: -
Customs Tariff Bill (No. 2) 1963.
Customs Tariff (Canada Preference) Bill (No. 2) 1963.
Customs Tariff (New Zealand Preference) Bill (No. 2) 1963.
Customs Tariff (Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Preference) Bill 1963.
Excise Tariff Bill 1963.
Customs Tariff Bill (No. 3) 1963.
Customs Tariff (New Zealand Preference) Bill (No. 3) 1963.
Australian Broadcasting Commission. Motion (by Mr. Swartz) proposed - That the House do now adjourn.
.- I desire to bring to the attention of the House something that has occurred within the last seven or eight days and which is of significance, not because it represents a serious blow at the independence and integrity of the Australian Broadcasting Commission but because it is one of a number of serious blows that have been delivered at that organization in recent years. I say without any chance of effective contradiction that the A.B.C. will not be able to stand up to much more of this treatment and have any independence and integrity left.
What has occurred? Recently the A.B.C. prepared a programme for its “ Four Corners “ series which dealt with certain aspects of the Returned Servicemen’s League. Whether or not that was a correct and objective programme was for the A.B.C. to determine. I did not see the programme and I do not know what kind of programme it was. If there was anything wrong with it that was a matter for the A.B.C. to determine. Nobody would object to any changes that might be made in the staff of the A.B.C. if they were made by the commission without intervention by outside bodies and without political pressure from the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) and other Ministers. Nobody would object to any changes that might be made in the staffing of the A.B.C. if those in charge, applying their own professional stand.dards to what occurred, decided to make those changes. What I object to, and what every member of this House should object to, is that changes have been made subject to and under terms and conditions of pressure from outside sectional bodies, and in association with pressure from the Prime Minister himself. That is the point.
Presumably opposition to this programme came from certain members of the Returned Servicemen’s League. I want to make it clear, to begin with, that these pressures did not come from all members of the R.S.L. The R.S.L., like every other body in this country, is divided upon some issues that arise. I think it is divided on this issue. Some of its members take one view and other members have another view. I should think that members of the league divide very much like the members of this House; those who are conservative pass to one side and those who are not conservative pass to the other side. The pressures I have referred to were applied on the assumption that, if they were applied by R.S.L. officials, it would be possible to secure changes within the A.B.C. to accord with the desires of these officials. The pressures were applied on the understanding that, if they were applied, it would be possible to achieve the results that those who applied them wanted to achieve.
The first reaction that come from the Australian Broadcasting Commission management - I know this on first-hand, reliable authority, and I challenge the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) or anybody else to deny it - was to assure those concerned in the editing and directing of the programme that no staff changes would be made. I repeat that that was the reaction of the A.B.C. management to the R.S.L. pressures. But then something else happened. The Prime Minister returned from New Guinea and decided to call for the script of this programme. He said so in the House yesterday. He said, “I received the script in question “. What has it to do with him? Is it not applying political pressure immediately for the right honorable gentleman, with his political power and prestige, to call upon the A.B.C. to provide a script? How is this done? Does he do it directly or through the Postmaster-General? These are some of the many questions that honorable members ought to be interested in having answered. These are questions that men who believe in freedom of expression - I do not believe that many honorable members opposite do - should be interested in having answered. I believe that many members on the other side have a fascist inclination, that they are willing to drive out of consideration ideas with which they do not agree, that they are men - I believe the honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess) is one of the leaders of this school - who would leave no room in this country for ideas other than those they believe in, that they are men who have no respect for or understanding of freedom, and that they are prepared to get onto the tail of any reactionary pressure group to help it achieve its interests. I will in any circumstances stand in opposition to those tendencies, wherever they come from.
The Prime Minister had some discussions with the responsible Minister. He gave us no indication of what the discussions were. Perhaps the Minister may see fit to do the House the favour of replying to what I have to say to-night and perhaps he will tell us what the conversations with the Prime Minister were. However, after the Prime Minister’s intervention, there was a change in the attitude by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The change was that the man who was in charge of the editing programme, Mr. Ashbolt, was moved out of this position and another man, very junior to him, was moved in and placed in charge of the editing of the programme. This man had been discreet enough to dissociate himself from the programmes that the R.S.L. had criticized. This meant, in effect, that a man who was criticized by the R.S.L. was moved out and a man who chose to make himself the nominee of the R.S.L. was moved in and placed in charge of the programme.
Can any one say that this was a coincidence? Will any one believe for a moment the suggestion made by the Minister this morning in answer to a question that this was purely a managerial arrangement inside the Australian Broadcasting Commission? Did the pressure of the R.S.L. and the intervention of the Prime Minister coincide, purely by accident, with this marvellous change in the men in charge of the programme? Surely no one would be so naive as to believe that. Surely no one would be sufficiently simple-minded as to believe that for one moment.
This is not just one incident. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has been subjected to continuous pressure from the Government and from conservative organizations for many years. It has been subjected to many pressures, of which this is just one instance. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I do not believe that the commission can be subjected to many more pressures of this kind if it is to maintain any independence and integrity. First, there were the changes in the act which brought the Public Service Board into a position where it could influence and control appointments to the commission. The staff is very much dissatisfied to-day because of this change. Then there was the attack upon Dr. Peter Russo for a broadcast he made.
These attacks are always upon ideas with which the reactionary gentlemen opposite disagree. They always raise opposition to anything with which they disagree politically. Most of the public opinion agencies give prominence to their ideas; but because the Australian Broadcasting Commission is perhaps the only public opinion agency that will give any time to ideas that are different, to slightly radical ideas, honorable members join together as though they were scared stiff about their very existence and attempt to keep these ideas from public notice. If they had any confidence in their way of life or in the ideas in which they believe, they would be willing to have ideas opposite to theirs given a small part of the time available. They have no tolerance. They have no claim to be liberals of any sort, when they take this position.
Then there was the Bidault programme. This involved a diplomatic question at a higher level. Because the programme advocated ideas different from those held by the Government, the Australian Broadcasting Commission was again subjected to political pressure from the Prime Minister. Then there was the “ Any Questions “ programme. Because some question had been answered in a way that offended some of the conservative susceptibilities, again there was pressure and attack. Pressure was exerted on Michael Charlton, the man who edited the “ Four Corners “ programme before Ashbolt was given this position. Michael Charlton was recognized as being a man who was at the top of his profession, and he had a world-wide reputation; but he was not good enough for the political conformists on the opposite side of the House. They wanted to drive him out and they have succeeded in doing so. Now, on this occasion, they have succeeded in making one more inroad into the integrity of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
I challenge the Minister to stand up in this House and claim that the commission has any independence left or that it is the policy of the Government to maintain the integrity of the commission. Quite obviously it is not.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I invite the House to assess the calibre of the speech delivered by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) by one statement he made at the beginning of it. He said, “ I did not see the programme “. Everybody in the House heard him say that. But, despite this, he has launched a tirade of abuse against the Government in particular and against the members who support the Government.
– What did you think of the programme?
– I will tell you what I think of the programme with great explicitness in a moment. The honorable gentleman said, “ I did not see the programme “.
– Did you?
– Yes, I did see the programme. The honorable gentleman took a series of hypotheses and built an argument. He said to the Minister, “ There has been deliberate interference with the Australian Broadcasting Commission “. What proof did he give? None at all! He said, “ I have been assured on reliable authority that there has been interference”. Are we to accept that reliable authority to be in keeping and in harmony with his statement that he did not see the programme?
Let me say this to the honorable gentleman and to all the others who think as he does: If the Australian Broadcasting Commission wants to put on a programme, it may. I do not care a fig how controversial it may be. But surely the commission does not have a right to regard itself as a protected organization. It is not protected. It is not a koala bear. The commission put on a programme that provoked controversy. This is entirely the point of complaint of the honorable gentleman. He said that there is no sense of liberalism in honorable members on this side of the House. I think we are at liberty to complain about a programme if we do not think much of it. I thought it was a shocking programme. I thought it was offensive, and I would be very surprised indeed if that were not the view of the majority of Australians. A little blotchy-faced character -
– A twirp.
– Call him that if you like. He sang a dirty, miserable little ditty about the Returned Servicemen’s League. If it were sung at an R.S.L. reunion, it would be accepted, but in that atmosphere it could be treated only as insulting. The honorable member for Yarra said, amongst other things, that the Government had attempted to apply political pressure on the “ Any Questions “ programme. Surely to heavens he must concede that some of the questions put on some of the “ Any Questions “ programmes have been, to put it frankly, slightly off beat. Surely people are at liberty-
– Take your hands out of your pockets.
– I wonder how many voluntary confessions the honorable member for Hunter really extracted during his service with the police force. I ask the House, and, I hope, a wider audience, to assess whether there was any substance in the view put by the honorable member for Yarra this evening on the basis of his statement that he did not see the programme. It could have been a programme that was even more offensive than in fact it was. But the honorable gentleman’s mind was made up. He chastised the Government and criticized the members who support the Government because a protest was lodged about this programme by members of the R.S.L. Why is it that this organization is under fire? I submit that the reason why it is under fire is that it has attacked communism. This is standard practice. It is one way in which the Communist machine works throughout the world. Any person who attacks it is immediately subject to a smear campaign. That is a well identified technique. Yet when the editor of a Communist newspaper was interviewed, he was not cross-examined. He was allowed to put his views without interruption.
When Sir Raymond Huish spoke, all the shot of that section of the interview was not screened. It was carefully edited. Sir Raymond was asked whether his organization would take the platform against the A.L.P. He said it would on a matter of defence if the league felt strongly about it. He went on to say that it would do so against any political party, but that was cut out. The inference of Labour members who saw the programme would be that this man was attacking the Labour Party, but the distinguished gentleman said nothing of the sort.
I ask the House to consider the situation. Surely the Returned Servicemen’s League has a right - a well-earned right - to speak out on defence issues; yet in this case it was Sir Raymond Huish, the acting national president of the R.S.L., who was smeared. What he had to say was not screened in its correct setting. I ask the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) to make available to all honorable members all of the film that was shot so that members will have an opportunity to see precisely how objective and how impartial this programme was.
Let me refer to the programme that was shown some weeks before on the peace movement and dealing with Hiroshima. I recognize the peace movement as one of the realities of life. I respect its point of view even though I do not agree with the methods it employs. But I ask the honorable member for Yarra: Was the opposite point of view put during that programme? I thought it was one of the most loaded programmes I have seen. I say to honorable members: Let us have controversy by all means, but both points of view must be given. Let us have intelligent and, above all, honest controversy.
.- I saw the programme “ Four Corners “ and I was concerned when I read the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ and other newspapers on the morning after the programme was screened. I was concerned that pressure was being exerted by the brass hats of the Returned Servicemen’s League. They have been bough off for years by this Government by means of knighthoods and other honours. We know that because, throughout the sitting of this House to-day, we have been discussing the Repatriation Act and the Repatriation Department. We know that many of the brave men on the Government side wearing servicemen’s badges have not had the guts to get up and support the returned soldiers. Where was the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) today? He is the silent man from Moreton. When honorable members were asked to fight for the rights of the ex-servicemen, he was absent. Not a word was said by him on behalf of the ex-servicemen, while we on the Opposition side were speaking on their behalf.
As I have said, I was concerned when I saw the pressure by the R.S.L. top brass against the independence of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I sent a telegram to the chairman of the A.B.C., Dr. Darling, and also to the general manager, Sir Charles Moses. This was my telegram -
Concerned at pressure politics directed at A.B.C. “Four Corners”. Consistent viewer. Saw last Saturday night’s R.S.L. feature. Believe it balanced contribution brought out positive aspects of R.S.L. assistance to our comrades who are in ill health. Dealing with defence, migration and communism, the R.S.L. pundits must realize whenever these matters are raised they are controversial. Even here your interviewers were fair and balanced. As a member of the R.S.L….. I object to R.S.L top brass trying to interfere by pressure politics with freedom of reporting of A.B.C. and in particular “ Four Corners “.
That telegram was sent on 3rd September and I received this letter in reply on 5th September from Sir Charles Moses -
Dear Mr. Uren, Thank you for your telegram of 3rd September about the item on the R.S.L. in the last “ Four Corners “ programme. I very much appreciate your action in letting me have your views on this matter. Our officers do their best to present information objectively but in dealing with controversial issue it is almost inevitable that their efforts will not find favour with all those concerned. I am glad to know that you are a regular viewer of “ Four Corners “ and hope you will continue to find this programme interesting. Your sincerely, Charles Moses, General Manager.
I hope that I do find it interesting, but I am appalled to think that honourable members opposite subscribe to and assist the power politics of the tog brass of the R.S.L. I want the programme played back because when the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) was interviewed, he said that the R.S.L. had a direct line to Cabinet and its views were considered very seriously. He did not like to call the R.S.L. a pressure group. We know that the league has a direct line because it has tried to keep down the rights of the rank and file. It is only in the past couple of years that the rank and file have made themselves heard so that they can get what they are seeking.
It has been said that the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) does not intervene in these matters. Is it not a fact that the A.B.C. had supported the editor of the “ Four Corners “ programme, Mr. Allan Ashbolt? But somehow or other, when the Prime Minister returned from New Guinea the following Monday, things changed. Mr. Ashbolt’s opening remark on the programme on the previous Saturday was, “ We are soldiering on under fire “. For a whole week prior to the return of the Prime Minister no action had been taken, but when the great white father came back the skids were put under Mr. Ashbolt. The A.B.C.’. support disappeared. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) came into line and consequently a re-organization was started. Political pressure was used and the skids were put under the programme. This is not the first time that this has happened as the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) has pointed out.
I came to Canberra hoping to hear some opinions about the R.S.L. I went to the Library and went through every major newspaper in Australia. I ask honorable members to look at them. In them there are letters criticizing political interference by the top brass of the R.S.L. I am a member of the R.S.L. and I support the rank and file members. They have under-gone great sacrifices and should get the best treatment. We should keep this in mind.
– You do not believe that.
– Talk to your colleague from Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) about whether I believe it or not, you smug individual who does not believe there is any unemployment in this country. There is another point. Mr. Ashbolt is a returned serviceman. Does the honorable member think he wants to crucify and condemn his own fellow ex-servicemen. Of course he does not! Honorable members opposite cannot face objective criticism. This corrupt Government, and it is a corrupt Government
– Order! I must ask the honorable member to withdraw that remark.
– I will withdraw it. I want now to refer to the smearing by the top brass - Mr. William Yeo. The Melbourne “Herald” of 2nd September stated -
The N.S.W. President of the R.S.L., Mr. W. Yeo, said he had sent a telegram to the Prime Minister protesting against the programme. He said he had been conned into explaining the aims and objectives of the R.S.L. “ I wasted an hour of my time. They did not use me at all and they never told me these Communists would be ou it.
Let us be clear about this. Notice that Mr. Yeo uses the plural, “ Communists “. Notice the old stigma - “They never told me these Communists would be on it “. There was only one Communist on it, and he had a brand on him and made it quite clear what he was. He was the editor of a Communist newspaper and that was publicized quite clearly. If any of the courageous men on the Government side of the House want to say it, let us know who the other persons are whom they wish to smear.
Mr. Ashbolt is not a member of any political party. The honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) said earlier by interjection that he was. I say Mr. Ashbolt is a member of no political party. I wish he was a member of the Labour Party because, to my mind, he would be a great asset to our organization. Unfortunately, he is not a member of any political party. He has stated quite clearly that he believes that in his position he should not be alined with any political party.
There has been political interference by this Government in the past, and there has been political interference on this occasion. I believe it is unworthy and does not help the progress of this country. Honorable members opposite say we live in a democracy, but the Government wants to stifle criticism. It does not want a healthy democracy. It wants to be corrupted by the power politics of the wealthy class it represents, because it represents the wealthy and the secure and the people who do not want to be criticized by any body at all. I think that when a man like Ashbolt, who has made a contribution, or a man like Charlton, who has made a great contribution to a bit of progressive thinking in this country, which needs it so much, is treated in this way, it is unworthy of this
Parliament if it does not make sure that we censure the Government because I believe-
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I do not intend to spend very much time or voice in answering the utter rubbish which has been poured out here in the last twenty minutes by two speakers on the other side of the House. I have never before listened to anything so utterly baseless. It was put forward in such a manner as to indicate that there is something a bit deeper than this matter behind the reasons for the attitude adopted by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren). They mentioned several names, which indicate exactly the reason for their annoyance on this matter. Charges of interference with the operations of the Australian Broadcasting Commission have been made. I stated yesterday that there had been no interference and I tepeat that statement now. From time to time, of course, some exception has been taken in some instances to some of the programmes which have been put over by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. There have been times when honorable members . on both sides of the House have asked whether it would be possible to ascertain exactly what was said in certain programmes which they had heard. It is quite right and proper that such information should be available not only to honorable members but also to any one who takes an interest in these programmes. That does not mean that pressure has been exerted by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), by me or by anybody else.
I think it is proper, therefore, for me to say that although there have been criticisms - many of them well based - no action has been taken which in any way conflicts with the authority of the A.B.C. to conduct its own programmes. It properly has such authority and our intention is that the position shall remain as it is. I certainly cannot sit back and hear all these wild and ridiculous charges. No basis is given for them. There are only broad statements - that is all - just impressions, and so on, with not a word which is in any way a measure of proof, for the simple reason that no proof could be adduced.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 1.56 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
b asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
National Superannuation Scheme. (Question No. 78.)
n asked the Minister for
Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following replies: -
m asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
On what matters and dates in the last financial year has (a) the Minister made a reference to the Tariff Board, (b) the board held an inquiry, (c) the board made a report or (d) the Minister acted on a report?
Television. (Question No. 116.)
d asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. No.
n asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
How many persons between fifteen and twenty years of age were registered as unemployed at (a) 31st January, 1963, and (b) 31st July, 1963?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
My department does not have statistics available of the number of persons registered for employment who were between fifteen and twenty years of age, but the numbers of all those under the age of 21 years registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service who had claimed when registering that they were not employed and who were recorded as unplaced can be given for the dates shown below, as follows: - 1st February, 1963, 45,782; 2nd August, 1963, 22,990. The dates given are the nearest for which statistics are available. The statistics cover all registrants under 21 including those ordinarily referred to as school leavers.
n asked the Minister represent ing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice -
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has furnished the following answer to the honorable member’s questions: -
g asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: -
Under Commonwealth legislation the transmission of art union tickets interstate through the post is not illegal. However, there is a restriction on using the “ Householder “ facility for the distribution of notices or information relating to art unions in that this facility can be denied for such items intended for delivery in a part of the Commonwealth specified in a direction of the PostmasterGeneral. The only part of the Commonwealth so specified at present is South Australia.
b asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
How many telephones were connected to the following exchanges during 1962-63: - Kalgoorlie, Boulder, Geraldton, Carnarvon, Esperance, Derby and Port Hedland?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Kalgoorlie, 179; Boulder, 33; Geraldton, 182; Carnarvon, 28; Esperance, 49; Derby, 16; Port Hedland, 21.
y asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
In the event of migrants expressing a desire to return to their country of origin because of discontent or dissatisfaction with Australian conditions, what action is taken by the department to investigate the grievance, and what procedure is involved?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
When migrants are in need of advice and assistance their problems are fully investigated by trained and experienced officers of my department and all possible help is given to them. These investigations sometimes involve immediate reference to other Commonwealth and/or State Government departments. In many cases the Good Neighbour Council is able to assist materially. Migrants who have come here under assisted passage arrangements and who wish to leave Australia within two years of arrival are required to refund the amount of Government assistance granted towards the cost of their fares to Australia. Only in exceptional circumstances is this requirement waived.
s asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice -
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has furnished the following answers to the honorable member’s questions: -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Under what section or provision of the Constitution is his department empowered to engage staff to collate information for sale to the general public, as is done when supplying to a person scores in international sporting matches upon the person expending 4d. on a telephone call?
– The answer to the * honorable member’s question is as follows: -
Section 51 (v.) of the Constitution empowers Parliament to make laws with respect to postal, telegraphic, telephonic and other like services.
Section 80 of the Post and Telegraph Act 1901- 1961 gives the Postmaster-General the exclusive privilege of performing all the incidental services associated with telegraphic and telephonic communications. In providing these special information services the department is of course involved in substantial expenditure in providing and maintaining the additional equipment which allows the information to be fed to callers. For these reasons a unit fee of 4d. is charged. These special information services are being introduced progressively. to meet public demand and those availing themselves of such services are aware that a charge is made for the information. I might add that they continue to increase in popularity thus demonstrating that they fulfil a real public need. (Question No. 74.)
n asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Will he arrange for his department to conduct an inspection of the post office buildings and facilities available to the public in the suburbs of Sandgate, Nundah and Clayfield. Brisbane, with a view to providing buildings and facilities for the public more in keeping with the modern trend of commercial development and architectural design now noticeable in the business centres of these suburbs?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Post Office building at Sandgate which is of solid brick construction and generally of good appearance was recently renovated externally and modernized internally. Ample space is available in the office for both the public and staff. The building should meet postal requirements in the district for a number of years. The Nundah Post Office building is in good order and appearance. Renovations were carried out to the building recently. Ample accommodation is available to meet the needs of the public and staff for at least ten years. The Clayfield Post Office building, whilst old, is in sound condition. The accommodation provided is adequate for present public and staff needs. Because there are so many more urgent postal building projects awaiting attention throughout the Commonwealth, it is not possible to provide new buildings at these locations for the present.
m asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: -
The following ships were chartered by departments in the last year: -
These ships have been available to the Government under varying charter terms, or according to detailed agreements with the ship-owners concerned, and it is not considered appropriate to reveal the details of the terms of charter.
The Department of Trade is responsible for extending financial assistance to offset operating losses to two shipping companies operating direct services to South America. These services were introduced to assist Australian exporters develop the South American markets. Prior to these agreements no direct regular liner service was available between Australia and South America. In respect of the service to the West Coast of South America and the Caribbean, financial assistance not exceeding £100,000 per annum may be paid to offset operating losses, in return for which the shipping company is obliged to provide at least six sailings per year for Australian exporters. In respect of the service to the East Coast of South America, provision is made for financial assistance to offset possible operating losses not exceeding £100,000 per annum in return for at least three sailings per year to service Australian exporters. Both agreements are operative for two years and expire during 1964.
A subsidy of £150,000 per annum is paid in respect of vessels on the Australian register and operated by Australian crews in competition with other vessels in the Australia-New Guinea trade; while a subsidy of £4,230 per anuum is paid in respect of shipping services to the isolated Northern Territory ports in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
In addition to the ships listed, there are, of course, many charters involving vessels of small capacity which are used to transport stores, surveying parties and for other like purposes. Under arrangements entered into with the Sitmar Line and the P. & O. and Orient Line a certain number of assisted British migrants are carried to Australia. Neither arrangement constitutes either a charter or a subsidy.
m asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
e asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What is the amount of finance required in respect of each State to overcome the lag of deferred telephone applications?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
To eliminate completely the waiting list for telephone services would require substantial investment, because of applications from people in areas where large capital outlay would be necessary for new exchange buildings, equipment and line works before any extra services could be available.
Reduction of deferred applications to a practicable minimum would require additional capital of about £5,500,000. The bulk of this amount would need to be expended in New South Wales and Victoria where 85 per cent, of the outstanding applications are located.
Because of certain problems associated with the provision of sites and buildings for exchanges and the long-term delivery time for certain materials the whole of the £5,500,000 could not all be expended in 1963-64, but would need to be spread over the two succeeding financial years.
The amounts given are, of course, over and above the £54,775,000 proposed for 1963-64 expenditure on telephone services, which in itself represents an increase of £4,443,000 over expenditure in 1962-63. They do not take account of further increases of up to £2,000,000 annually necessary up to 1965-66 to enable the Post Office to cope wilh the expected annual growth in applications.
Financial Assistance to the States. (Question No. 118.)
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
b asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: -
The Western Australian Government has not yet presented such a case but has limited its requests to the first stage of the Ord scheme for which the Commonwealth will provide further assistance over the next three years.
s asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Zones 1 and 4 - I. F. McBain, Pulford-street, Chermside.
Zone 2- E. J. Egan, Windsor-road, Red Hill.
Zone 3 - J. P. Anderson, Nundah-street, Kedron.
Zone 5 - D. G. Morgan, Coopers Camp-road, Bardon.
Zone 6 - G. W. Reng, Brain-street, Bald Hills.
Zones 7, 10 and 12 - D. J. Hopkins, Victoria Park-road, Kelvin Grove.
Zones 8 and 9- R. R. Hely, Burdock-street, Inala.
Zone 11 - R. Addie, North-road, Brighton.
Zone 13 - L. S. Humphries, Fegan-drive, Moorooka.
Financial Assistance to the States. (Question No. 164.)
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. Certain proposals in general terms as broadly described by the honorable member, were submitted to the Commonwealth by the Government of Tasmania in 1961. As the proposals did not, however, conform to the criteria for special Commonwealth financial assistance to developmental projects and, in particular, did not appear to have any appreciable balance of payments significance, the Commonwealth was unable to agree to provide special financial assistance.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 September 1963, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1963/19630911_reps_24_hor39/>.