14th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch) took the chair at 11 a.m., ‘ and read prayers.
Senator A. J. McLACHLAN laid on the table the report and recommendation of the Tariff Board on . the following subject -
Piston rings for internal combustion engines imported from the United Kingdom.
– Has the Leader of the Senate any information to give to the Senate regarding the statement published in the press recently concerning a treaty alleged to have been entered into between Japan, Italy, the United States of America and Germany ?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.No. The Government has been advised by the British Government that the agreement between Japan and Germany consists onlyof a protocol and a supplementary protocol, which will receive signature in the next few days. The text of the treaty was announced in to-day’s press. Its object is to oppose the Communist International, and to institute common measures against communism. As far as Italy is concerned, it is stated that there is no formal agreement between Italy and Japan, but simply an understanding that the two countries are willing to acquaint each other of any information which may be obtained about communist activities.
What was the strength of the Commonwealth Military Forces (Militia) by arms on the 15th November, 1030 f
What was the number of enlistments during the period 1st July, 1930, to 15th November, 1930 ?
What was the number of discharges in the same period?
What has been the cost of the recruiting campaign to date?
The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers : - ]. The strength of the Commonwealth Military .Forces (Militia) by arms, as at the 30th September, 1930 (the latest figures available) (by arms) was as under: -
‘Hie number of enlistments effected for the period the 1st July, 1930, to the 30th September, 1.930, was 5,512.
This is the latest period for which total enlistments are available.
The number of discharges during the same period was 2,091. From figures which are available at Army Head-quarters, the 2,091 discharges for the quarter ended the 30th September, 1930, are made up approximately as under : -
Miscellaneous discharges include the following reasons: - At own request; age for retirement reached; services no longer required; unfit for duties.
No special record is maintained of any other activities in connexion with recruiting and any expenditure incurred apart from propaganda and publicity is merged in the expenditure under the ordinary votes.
asked the PostmasterGenera], upon notice -
What fees are paid to the newspapers of Australia for news supplied to the Australian Broadcasting Commission for broadcasting purposes ?
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable senator as early as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Interior has supplied the following answers : -
Entitlement Appeal Tribunals
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following answers: -
Bill (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 19th Novem ber (vide page 2092), on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Imposition of Income Tax).
– It is somewhat difficult to comprehend the effect of the schedule, but I presume that the. rates will be the same as those operating last year.
– The grade is the same, subject to the reductions.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 (Rates of Income Tax).
– Sub-clause 6 states -
Notwithstanding anything contained in the last five preceding sub-sections, where the amount of income tax. which a person would, apart from this sub-section, be liable to pay is less than Ten shillings, the income tax payable by that person shall be Ten shillings.
If a person is liable to pay only 5s. or 2s. by way of tax, why should he be required to pay 10s.?
[11.12]. - The answer is obvious. The cost of collection in such a case would be almost as much as the tax. It has therefore been decided to impose a flat minimum rate.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Schedules and title agreed to.
Bill reported without requests.
Standing and Sessional Orders sus-‘ pended; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 19th November (vide page 2090) on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce - that the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition will support this bill. I have taken the trouble to make a careful study of it and to compare it with the original act; it appears to me to be principally a machinery measure for the purpose of facilitating such matters as arbitration with parties from whom the Government acquires land. In the circumstances the Opposition is prepared to allow the bill to be passed without delay.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Procedure on claim for compensation being received).
[11.18]. - I have circulated a number of amendments to various clauses of this bill and three of them relate to this clause. They effect alterations in paragraph b of proposed new subsection 2 of section 34 of the principal act. The sub-section provides for the action to be taken by the Minister after receipt by him of a report upon a claim for compensation. Under the sub-section as printed the Minister is required to do one of three things; (1) admit the claim; (2) admit certain items of the claim and make an offer in respect of any other item of the claim; or (3) dispute the claim. Doubt has arisen whether the Minister could, under the sub-section, notify the claimant that he does not admit the amount claimed for any of the items, and at the same time make an offer in respect of each or some of the items. The three amendments are designed to remove the uncertainty; they are largely of a drafting nature.
Clause verbally amended, and as amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 (Action for compensation).
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia - Minister for External Affairs) [11.22]. - The four amendments which I propose to ask the committee to make to this clause are inter-related with the amendments made to the previous clause. They remove general references to “ acquisition “ and “ land “, and substitute therefor specific reference to “parcels of land “. It is essential that action taken, and compensation determined, should be in respect of specific parcels of land and not, as might have been possible under the bill as printed, in respect of a number of parcels of land belonging to entirely separate owners, though included in the same acquisition. Honorable Senators will see that these are drafting amendments to clarify the intention of the clause.
Clause verbally amended, and as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 20th. November (vide page 2143) on motion by Senator A. J. McLachlan -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill is a particularly simple measure, obviously designed to improve the condition of those Australian soldiers who are now paying the penalty for their devotion to Australia during the Great War. On that account it will be welcomed by honorable senators. There are some phases of it which require special attention. Clause 10 provides -
Section 45aN of tlie principal act is repealed and the following suction inserted in its stead: - 45 AN. Upon the death of a member of the Forces the service pension previously payable, or granted subsequent to his death, to the wife and children of the member may, subject to this act, be continued at such rates, not exceeding the maximum rate payable under this act to the wife or children “as the case may be, as the Commission or a Board determines, but, if the wife re-marries, all such pensions shall be cancelled as from the date of the re-marriage.
I am inclined to think that that clause does not express exactly the desire of the Government. I refer particularly to the concluding words “ all such pensions shall be cancelled as from the date of the remarriage.” T can understand the pension of the widow being cancelled when she re-marries, but surely the Government does not intend that the pension to which the children would have been entitled bad the soldier lived, shall cease. The children should not be penalized because the widow of the soldier re-marries. It may be suggested that the person whom she marries should accept the full responsibility for the children; but, even if that be the intention of the Government - and I do not think that it is - it is certainly not the intention of the people of this country. I ask the Minister to give consideration to this matter.
Clause 11 seeks to repeal section 45AC of the principal act and to insert in its stead the following section : - 45AO. (1) If an applicant for service pension is an inmate, or a service pensioner becomes an inmate, of an asylum for the insane, a hospital, sanatorium, benevolent home or similar institution, the rate of service pension payable to the applicant or pensioner so long as he remains an inmate, shall not, subject to this section, in any case exceed twelve shillings per fortnight.
I have raised this subject before in connexion with old-age pensions. That provision means that during the time that the pensioner is an inmate of an institution he shall be paid a sum which is considerably less than the pension to which he would be entitled were he not so ill as to require treatment in an institution. The provision is inequitable to the suffering pensioner. We should not lay down by legislative enactment that these institutions may make a profit out of pensioners who for the time being are inmates of them. In saying that, I mean, not that the small payments to an institution in respect of pensioner inmates would enable it to make a profit, but that the institution should not be able to extract revenue from suffering soldiers who happen to be in worse health than usual and, therefore, are included among its inmates. Without this clause the bill would mean that when the pensioner had recovered sufficiently to leave the institution, he would have the full amount of the pension that had accumulated during the time that he was in the institution. That money would be very useful indeed to a sick soldier because, obviously, he would not have been admitted, to the institution unless, after examination, it had been shown that he was entitled to be admitted. Equally obvious is the fact that, on his discharge from the institution, he would still need special attention, and probably some delicacies and medicine which he did not require before entering it. That is an easily assumable condition because such patients would not be retained in the institution longer than was necessary.
– The only way to deal with cases of tuberculosis among soldiers is to give a full war pension to the sufferers.
– I agree with the honorable senator; and, knowing his sympathy with the returned men, I imagine that he believes that the pension should be inviolable, and subject to no reductions whatsoever. If the honorable senator means that, as I am sure he does, I support him entirely.
The Government might well have made this measure more complete than it is. Honorable senators will acquit me of being enthusiastic about the business of soldiering. No honorable senator is less enthusiastic about that business than I am. But I say that when, in a time of. national emergency, men take up the onerous duty of soldiering, as they did in 1914 and the following years, the definite promises made to them should be kept. I freely admit that the Australian nation has stood up to its responsibilites in this respect fairly well; but not all the promises made to the men who enlisted have been kept. Such promises are never kept. However well-intentioned the people who made promises on behalf of the nation were at the time - and I believe that they were well-intentioned - all history teaches us that no nation has ever kept its promise fully to the heroes of its war activities. Australian soldiers are being reasonably well dealt with by the nation because their numbers, in proportion to the total population, are large.
– There are many cases of hardship.
– That is so. They should be dealt with as cases of hardship; there should not be foo much haggling about the terms of settlement when they come before the appropriate tribunal. I have had to deal with numbers of claims on behalf of returned soldiers, and at times I have been satisfied with the decision given ; but on other occasions I have gone away saddened because, although the decisions could be justified in that the letter of the law had been observed, I believed that the spirit of the law, and the intention of those who made the bargain and of the people who so wholeheartedly supported it, had been broken. Returned soldiers who are so handicapped by war injuries as to be incapable of engaging in industrial activities are definitely handicapped. Those responsible for the administration of the act should say where they stand in this matter. For example, there is the anomaly that a person who is regarded as being eligible for an invalid pension may not be given a service pension. After all, the same government administers both acts. There are numerous instances of men who have been granted invalid pensions, because of their total and permanent incapacitation, and yet have been refused service pensions. By way of illustration I shall quote an example that has come under my notice. Recently a woman was brought by her daughter into the Federal Members’ Rooms, Brisbane, to interview me. She could only swing round the table in my room and take her seat in a chair by putting both hands on the table and lifting the weight of her body with her hands, swinging her useless limbs until she was able to collapse into the chair. It was claimed by the department that she was not totally and permanently incapacitated for work. I admit that she was not totally and permanently incapacitated for work, because she could remain seated in a chair once she was able to get into it, and, for example, could work a hand sewing machine or a typewriter. I submit, especially in these times of stress, when there is not work enough to be found even for able-bodied men and women of the community - young, middle-aged or old - it should be accepted that such a. person is, for all practical purposes, totally and permanently incapacitated, unless the administration is to stand meticulously by the crossing of every “ t “ and the dotting of every “ i “ of the letter of the law. I do not blame the officers of the department; I know they have to administer the law. Other cases somewhat similar to that have been brought under my notice. I am dealing with a ease now, which I propose to investigate when I return to Brisbane, of a soldier who is at present in hospital. The authorities at the hospital believe that it will be necessary to amputate his foot in order to prevent further disability. The man says, “ If I can get the invalid pension it will not be so bad; it is true that I can work with my hands; if you could find me some work to dp which require only the use of my hands I would be perfectly content”. But if he were given a job, how would he get to and from his work? I know the officers of the department are tied down by the definite provision of the act that,, before an invalid pension can be granted, an applicant must be totally and permanently incapacitated.
– Parliament formulated the act.
– Surely in cases where the applicant is a soldier some loosening of the provisions of the act could be expected. The position is equally unsatisfactory, however, in both civil and military cases. If the law is to be stretched at all, I suggest, as Senator Dein does by interjection, that what is needed is a complete revision of the law and a provision to ensure that the special condition of the soldier applicants shall be taken into account. I have no desire to see the law liberalized to such an extent that loo great a burden will be placed upon the taxpayers of this country, but I want the soldier to feel, when he appears before the various pensions tribunals, that he is presenting his case to sympathetic judges. The great trouble in connexion with government departmental administration usually- is - and here again I do not blame the officers, because they are restricted by departmental regulations - that every precaution is taken to see that expenditure is not increased. If an officer in charge allows the expenditure of his department to increase appreciably he is immediately asked for an explanation. I am sure that, in respect of both the civil and military administrations, if a responsible officer were discovered to be so sympathetic that his expenditure was increasing while others who, shall I say, had less heart and more head, were able to keep their departmental expenditure within bounds, it would not be long before the man whose head was ruled by his heart was reminded of his duty. I think ; hat all cases should be looked at all the time with sympathetic eyes: we should not have anomalies so continually occurring. When Cabinet Ministers are away from their offices they are, almost without exception, kind-hearted gentlemen : but immediately they become absorbed in their departmental activities, they take the stand that they must restrain themselves, and see that they are not unduly moved by sympathy for the suffering people of the community.
– We compel them to adopt that attitude by our laws.
– I admit that; but here is an opportunity to change the law. In the bill now before the Senate certain amendments are proposed, and I lj ave indicated some directions in which I think those amendments are wrong. In committee I shall .have something to say with regard to those defects, though possibly the Minister may be able to show me that I am under a misapprehension. However, the opportunity is presented to us now to overhaul the whole of the machinery of the law relating to soldiers’ pensions. Recently Senator Hardy submitted an exceptionally strong case in connexion with the composition of the War Pensions Entitlement Tribunal. I am in full sympathy with the honorable senator. We should not deny to the soldier to whose case I have referred the right to obtain consideration for his disabilities. Although he was in receipt of an invalid pension from the civil authorities for a number of years, when he applied for a war pension all sorts of difficulties were placed in his way. I am reminded again of an experience of my own in connexion with the great difficulty that the soldier has in establishing his claim for a pension, because of tlie fact that he has to prove beyond any shadow of doubt that his disability is attributable to war service.
– Only one out of every four, applicants was able to prove it last year.
– There, again, we should stretch out the letter of the law to its last extremity, and forget its spirit. Let me indicate to honorable senators a particular case which was brought prominently under my notice. A man came along with his discharge papers, which showed that he was accepted for military service on a given date as being physically fit ; on discharge he was not suffering from any apparent disability. What must be kept in mind, however, is the fact that he was perfectly healthy when lie enlisted. During Iris active service abroad he went through experiences which, as is well known to the authorities, were likely to produce certain after-effects. The army medical authorities know perfectly well that being badly gassed subsequently sets up certain conditions which, are not always manifested immediately after recovery. The evil after effects of poison gas may not be exhibited within twelve months or two years; at any time subsequently, they may reduce the efficiency of the soldier who has returned to civilian life. Why should an attitude of incredulous surprise be adopted in such cases? In common with many others, the man to whom I have referred, was informed that his condition could not be attributable to war service, and that his complaint could not be classed as a war disability.
– All that applicants, whose claims have been refused, receive, as a rule, is a bald statement of that fact.
– That is so. I know the law lays it down that it must be so; the war pensions tribunals must decide definitely whether an applicant is suffering froma war disability or not, and if, in their opinion, he is not, then that cold, curt, official reply is sent on to him. I am not a medical man, and am unable to diagnoze the symptoms of these men, or to describe them in medical terms, nor am I ableto appear before the tribunals and prove that the disabilities of applicants in whose cases I am interested are due to war service. But at least I know that those men were in perfect health when they were accepted for service, and in many cases their family histories constitute a completely healthy record. In border-line cases the applicant should be given the benefit of the doubt; I am at a loss to understand why there should be unseemly haggling over them. This nation is wealthy enough to say that, if there is a doubt, the applicant is entitled to the benefit of it, and leave the matter rest there.
– The applicant gets the benefit of the doubt now.
– I want it to be understood that I do not in any way blame the departmental officers; they are all worthy gentlemen, and are certainly as humane as I am; but they are tied by the law as it stands. If the law says now that, where there is an element of doubt the benefit of it shall be given to the applicant, we have to make quite surethat the authorities administering the law under stand that it is the desire of this Parliament that there shall be no unseemly haggling in regard to the matter.
– There is no doubt about that whatever.
– Parliament is entitled to know whether or not the benefit of the doubt is being given to the applicant.
– Why are those men who are still suffering as a result of their service in the South African war not brought within the scope of this bill? Having served their country in that conflict they are as much entitled to consideration as are those who served in the Great War. I do not know the position in the other States - probably the Minister will info rm me - but in Queensland during the South African war a patriotic fund raised to assist those who served during that campaign was not all distributed amongst the men who served. When the Great War broke out the balance - I cannot remember the amount but it was very considerable - was handed over to assist those who served in the Great War. Every year there is a re-union of the veterans of the South African campaign. There is no valid reason why we should not be actuated by our hearts instead of by our heads alone, and bring within the scope of the Repatriation Act, those men who served in that conflict.
– The amount involved would not. be large; not many South African veterans are left.
– That is so. The expense would not be great and it would be a wonderful gesture to the men who. are left. Some of them are in impoverished financial circumstances, and are quite beyond the age at which they can engage in strenuous work. It would be an acknowledgment by the nation of the sacrifices they made so long ago.
I have already said that I am opposed to the provision under which contributions are made to repatriation hospitals in which returned soldiers may, for the time being, be obliged to take refuge.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that no such contribution should be made?
– Any pension payable under legislative enactment or by administrative act should be inviolable. Institutions in which returned soldiers, who, owing to their physical or mental condition are inmates, should not deprive them of a portion of their pensions. I shall be surprised if the Minister can convince me that in such circumstances it is fair to deprive a pensioner of a portion of his pension. The Minister for Health and Repatriation (Mr. Hughes) said -
If a married mau becomes an inmate of one of these institutions his pension ceases, but 1) is wife’s pension continues to be paid.
It is a wonder that the department doesnot also deprive the wife of her pension. Later the Minister said -
It is the liability of the State to look after its citizens. Where a man is suffering from a war disability we relieve the State of all responsibility; where he is not suffering a war disability he remains a unit of the general body of citizens.
That is stressing the obvious; but the point I am trying to make is entirely disconnected, with the responsibility of the State and closely associated with the responsibility of the Commonwealth Parliament. If a man is suffering from n disability which becomes so accentuated that he has to take refuge in an institution, it is cruel - almost cowardly - to deprive him of a portion of his war pension by making a contribution to an institution. If those institutions cannot carry on without such “contributions it would be infinitely better for the Commonwealth to make a direct gre nl: to them of the amount which, under this bill, will be taken from the ex-soldiers. At the end of the year the Government could ask for a statement showing how many disabled men have been inmates of institutions, and the Commonwealth Government could then foot the bill. That should be done instead of making returned soldiers, who, in consequence of increased suffering or disability have been compelled to become inmates of an institution, lose a portion of their meagre pensions.
I realize that the promises made to returned soldiers have been liberally redeemed, and I know exactly what the Minister will say in reply. I realize that Australia has stood up to its financial responsibilities in this connexion, but that does not dispose of the fact, which is becoming increasingly obvious, that many of these men. are still . suffering the gravest disabilities. It is useless to tell them that the nation has stood up very well to its responsibilities, because they are concerned with only their own cases. It is futile to show them a mass of figures and statistics giving the amounts paid in affording relief to returned soldiers. They want their own cases dealt with sympathetically. We should scrutinize the provisions of this bill with the greatest possible care and allow our hearts rather than our heads to actuate us. We realize to the full the difficulties encountered by officers administering the Repatriation Act; nevertheless we should replace parsimony with magnanimity. This bill affords a convenient opportunity to review the whole situation and endeavour to remove some of the anomalies from the principal act so that the legislation and the regulations framed under it can be interpreted more sympathetically. That cannot be done by setting up an additional entitlement tribunal. The members of the present entitlement tribunal are very sympathetic towards applicants, but they are tied down by the law.
– At least one member of the tribunal is not very sympathetic.
– I hope that that is not so. I can hardly imagine the persons associated with such an important tribunal being other than sympathetic. I can, however, visualize the members of that body being controlled almost completely by the letter of the law which they have to administer. It is not a matter of lack of sympathy; they are compelled to be guided by their heads and not by their hearts. I appeal to the Minister to give a lead to the members of the entitlement tribunal and also to the officers under his control so that they will understand that it is not the desire of the Parliament or the Government to act in other than a generous way towards these unfortunate men. Members of this Parliament have a good deal of their time taken up in handling the claims of ex-soldiers, and in endeavouring to get a fair deal for them. Before I left Brisbane recently I had an accumulation of cases to bring before the Department of Repatriation, some of which were dealt with to my satisfaction. I do not expect to succeed with all cases, because I know that some returned soldiers try to gain an unfair advantage. They are not the only ones who do so; there are always in every community some persons who will try to obtain concessions to which they are not entitled. Sometimes we are told stories by applicants that are not entirely true, and when investigations are made the department can show that the case is not as it lias been represented. But it is better that a dozen men should get something to which they are not entitled, than that one deserving man should be denied justice. It is better to be beaten by an unscrupulous scoundrel than to turn a deaf ear to the just claims of the men who are entitled to sympathetic consideration. I appeal to the Minister in charge of the bill to give the closest attention to the points I have raised, and I sincerely trust that before the measure is passed, important amendments will have been made to benefit these disabled soldiers.
– I am in agreement with a great deal of what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings). I may differ from him in the interpretation of the principles which govern pension rights, but I have no doubt as to his desire that justice should be given to the returned soldiers throughout Australia, who, in their declining years are, unfortunately, suffering from ill-health. This measure affords an opportunity to consider the administration of the Repatriation Commission from various aspects. Members of the 3taff of the commission have been deprived of certain rights which they should possess. The employees number 1,328 - 552 in . the branch offices throughout the Commonwealth and 776 in hospitals and limb factories. The plea I make on their behalf is that they should be granted the same furlough rights as have been enjoyed for years in other departments of the Public Service. It appears that the repatriation staff has been practically forgotten in this respect. I am assured by those who are in a position to estimate the cost of conferring furlough rights on the, members of this staff, that the amount involved is only £3,000 or £4,000 per annum. Why deny to this department a right which is given to others? In the report of the Repatriation Commission for the year ended the 30th June last, this matter was referred to by the chairman and the other two members of the commission. They said -
It is a matter of very deep concern to the Commission that the staff has no retiring or furlough rights such as are enjoyed by the Commonwealth Public Service, even though practically all the male adult lay staff are returned soldiers, as are many of the medical officers and nursing sisters. Many members of the staff have been continuously employed for the past fifteen years, and some since the act was proclaimed in 1918. There are other federal departments outside the Public Service in which these officers have these privileges available to them.
If the Government is prepared to grant these privileges to others of its employees who are outside the Public Service, why should the repatriation staff be denied what is unquestionably a definite right’: Furlough privileges are enjoyed by the employees in practically all government departments, semi-government institutions, and private industrial undertakings throughout the world.
Commonwealth public servants have had furlough rights since the establishment of the service, and, if the Repatriation Department had been formed as a separate department under the Public Service Act, furlough rights would have been given to the employees as a matter of course. This department was established at a time of turmoil and upheaval, when full consideration could not be given to the staff’s conditions of employment. The department ds quite as permanent, in my opinion, as most departments established under the. Public Service Act. For instance, the War Service Homes branch of the Repatriation Department is definitely of a permanent character. It is debatable whether certain branches of the Commonwealth Public Service, in which furlough is already granted, have as assured a future as have the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes branch. This matter has already received some consideration by the Government, and I hope that it will be realized that there is no logical reason why the employees should be debarred ordinary furlough rights. The majority of them are returned soldiers, and they should receive treatment similar to that accorded to oilier public servants. Their work has been beyond praise. They have no superannuation benefits, and they do not share in many of the privileges enjoyed by other members of the Public Service. Since the sum involved is only about £3,000 a year, I trust that the Government will adopt my suggestion at the earliest possible date.
I shall not traverse the ground I covered in a previous speech in regard to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, but I propose to comment on the activities of this body, owing to certain answers which I have received in reply to questions asked in this chamber. The replies have confirmed my worst fears. The decisions of the tribunal ave obscured by a screen of secrecy, which is not beneficial to either the tribunal or the ex-soldiers who go before it for justice. In my speech on another bill, I pointed out that an outstanding fact which the Government should bear in mind is that the appellants should have complete confidence in the decisions of the tribunal; otherwise its work will be abortive. It appears to have overlooked that it is not a judicial body, but is merely a statutory authority appointed by the Parliament. The members of this body display a definite tendency to consider that they are a. law unto themselves, and that they possess a crown of divine right. I suggest to honorable senators that the tribunal possesses no judicial rights. The intention of the Parliament was that the tribunal should observe certain principles laid down in the Repatriation Act. If it departs from them, this Parliament has every right, not- only to criticize its actions, but also to examine its work.
– It is another instance of the establishment of a body which is superior to Parliament.
– I do not say that of this tribunal, but we ought to be satisfied that the principles embodied in the act are being observed. In view of the fact that the reasons for its decisions are not made available, in every case, to either the Parliament or the appellants, it is impossible for any member of this chamber to satisfy himself as to whether the tribunal is properly discharging its functions. Little discussion has occurred as to the position of this body, and the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Hughes) has at times adopted the attitude that it is not competent for him to interfere with its decisions. In my opinion, that attitude is wrong. In an interesting judgment by the High Court, in which a decision of this tribunal came under review, the court remarked -
The tribunal is administrative in its character; it is not a court of justice.
That being so, the Minister for Repatriation could control the administration of the tribunal. It is competent for this Parliament to ask for information so that it may be satisfied that its work is being done in accordance with the act. In another portion of the majority judgment, it was stated -
The tribunal is not a court of law, but is a statutory body, set up to carry out certain functions set out in the act.
How can the Parliament judge as to whether this body, created by it to discharge certain functions specified in the act, is doing its work properly, if we are denied the information necessary to reach a decision on the matter I recently submitted certain questions to the Minister for Repatriation, and the replies are startling. I asked -
In view of the fact that the Repatriation Act requires that the tribunal shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case, and shall give the appellant the benefit of the doubt, are the reasons governing the decisions of each individual member of the tribunal recorded in the minutes?
Is that not a reasonable question for any member of this Senate to ask ? The reply which. I received was : “ The reasons governing the decisions are not recorded in the minutes.” I now ask, and this is a question that demands an answer: “If the reasons governing decisions are not recorded in the minutes, where are they recorded?” A most illuminating reply was given to the next question. I asked -
What was the number of affirmative decisions recorded individually during the past year by the chairman of the tribunal?
The reason why I asked that question - I was perfectly frank about it at the time - was in order to endeavour to ascertain whether each member of the tribunal was giving the appellants the benefit of the doubt. The reply was -
No record, is kept of the opinion of individual members as to the decision reached as it is that of the tribunal, andnot of the individual members.
I invite honorable senators to consider those two answers. The first answer stated that the reasons governing the decisions were not recorded in the minutes; the second stated that the reasons of each individual member were not recorded at all. Again I ask, and this is a question now asked by every exsoldier who appears before the tribunal : “ Where are those reasons recorded ? “
– The same practice is adopted by Cabinet.
– I do not deny that, but an appellant does not have to appear before that body.
– And by the Privy Council, too.
– If the PostmasterGeneral (Senator A. J. McLachlan) advances that contention I shall take him up on the point, because I have been studying some of the judgments of the Privy Council recently, and they do not fail to give detailed reasons for the decisions reached.
– The whole of the reasons!
– I should like to know where the War Pensions Entitlement Tribunal keeps the reasons for its decisions in regard to appeals by returned soldiers. This is the point: When, on the grounds of fresh evidence, a claimant appeals a second time to the RepatriationCommission, it is only right that he should know the reasons for the rejection of his original appeal. Also, it is only right that when the Repatriation Commission considers a reapplication, it should be able to study the reasons governing the decision of the tribunal for disallowing the appeal. In certain instances, a further appeal may bo made from the Repatriation Commission to the Appeal Tribunal itself. If no record of the reasons why the tribunal reached a certain decision is kept, how in the name of logic can it decide the merits of the appeal when it comes up again for further hearing?
– To which tribunal does the honorable senator refer ?
– To the War Pensions Entitlement Tribunal.
– That is the final court of appeal.
– I am aware of that fact; but the point which I desire to make is that, in respect of this court of final appeal, I have been told that no record is kept of the reasons governing its decisions. The Leader of the Senate interjected that this tribunal is the court of final appeal; but I am in a position to submit to the Senate instances where it has not been in the first case a court of final appeal. An appellant may appear a second time before the commission, by virtue of certain rights given to him under the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act 1935.
– If the appellant can produce fresh evidence.
– That is so; therefore, he appears before the commission again, or his case is reheard by that body. But I desire to emphasize that no record of the reason for the rejection of his appeal in the first place is keptby the tribunal.
– But that is not an appeal; it is a rehearing of the case.
– I am afraid that the Postmaster-General is merely splitting words, because the same case has to be reconsidered.. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - I desire to inform the Senate that Mr. Kenneth M. Lindsay, member of the United Kingdom House of Commons for Kilmarnock Burghs, and Civil Lord of the Admiralty, is within the precincts. With the concurrence of honorable senators I invite him to take a seat on the floor of the Senate beside the President’s chair.
Honorable Senators.- Hear, hear !
Mr. Lindsay thereupon entered the
– The point which I was endeavouring to make was that even if the ease were reheard by the tribunal, how can that body expect to reach a decision when the reasons which governed the previous decision were not recorded. In my opinion, justice cannot possibly be done by that means to the appellant. I contend that there is no earthly reason, in view of the position which I have outlined to honorable senators, why the decisions of the tribunal should not be given to not only the appellant, but also the Repatriation Commission itself.
– “Would not that involve a disclosure of medical evidence, which, in certain instances, should be confidential?
– If so, the evidence could be made available only to the appellant and to nobody else. The appellant himself would not object for one moment to receiving medical information concerning himself.
– Some appellants would object.
– Actually, the medical evidence is obtained at a very early stage of the investigation, and not during the hearing of the appeal by the “War Pensions Entitlement Tribunal. The first step in connexion with an appeal for a pension is taken when the appellant is admitted into the Randwick or some other military hospital for examination. In such an institution the whole of his disabilities are catalogued. In those circumstances there is no earthly reason why the medical opinion and the decision of the tribunal setting out the reasons for the disallowance of his appeal should not be communicated to the appellant.
– But there is a medical reason, which is also an earthly reason.
– I have proved beyond doubt that first of all the individual members of the tribunal do not keep any records of cases. That is the final reply given to me by the Government. Yet on . several occasions when sponsoring certain cases, I was a most interested observer of the procedure of the tribunal, and I was informed by the secretary of that body that each judge and each member possessed a judge’s notebook in which decisions and the reasons governing those decisions were recorded.
– Are these reasons required for the purpose of an inquisition?
– No ; not of the Government, but I desire to make an inquisition of the tribunal, because when the Government sets up a statutory body for the purpose of carrying out certain principles laid down in an act of Parliament, it is quite competent for Parliament to ascertain whether or not those principles have been adhered to.
Then there was a third point. According to the information supplied by the Government the decision of the “War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal is recorded on form TC, provided for in the regulations, and is signed by the chairman of the tribunal. I do not know whether honorable senators have ever had a look at form TC ; I have seen many of them. Honorable senators should bear in mind that the appellant has applied to a court bound to give substantial justice, bound by the law to act on the merits of the case and to give the benefit, not of reasonable doubt, but of any doubt at all to the appellant. The form of the reply simply states the the appeal to the tribunal has been either approved or, if disabilities of the appellant are not recognized as being due to war causes, disallowed. The Postmaster-General stated that it was the custom of their Lordships of the Privy Council not to give individual judgments; but it is the custom of that court to give a very detailed judgment. The appellant at least knows where he stands. I contend that a very detailed judgment is required in connexion with every application by a returned soldier to the tribunal; otherwise he might just as well not have the right of further appeal to which he is entitled under the act.
Another point in this connexion is purely financial, and I refer to the haste of the tribunal in deciding cases; I made mention . of this aspect a few days ago. I allude to the number of cases which are daily heard by the tribunal; they average approximately ten per diem. Ten appellants go before the tribunal in an endeavour to secure recognition of their disabilities as being due to war causes. Let us assume for one moment that the ten were successful in .their appeals. What is the financial liability incurred thereby by the Government? It is difficult, of course, to obtain accurate figures, but, on referring to the report, which stated that the average rate of pension is about £2 a fortnight, only an elementary calculation is required to discover that the tribunal, every d,ay it sits, deals with a potential Commonwealth liability of between £10,000 and £15,000. ‘Surely that constitutes a further reason why the reasons governing the decisions of the tribunal should be clearly set out: are we going to allow this tribunal to continue to give decisions without it submitting its reasons? Although I criticize the tribunal, I desire sincerely to congratulate the Government on the announcement made on its behalf in the Senate this morning. It has seen fit to appoint a second War Pensions Entitlement Tribunal, which will commence to hear appeals on the 18th January, 1937. In my opinion the appointment of this tribunal was urgently necessary, because a reply to a question which I asked informed me that 1,329 cases are listed for hearing and remain unheard. I urge the Government with every ounce of energy at my command to request the members of these tribunals to record the reasons governing their decisions and to administer the act with the utmost sympathy and liberality.
I turn now to the subject of service pensions. This particular matter was the subject of considerable debate during the discussion of an amending bill some months ago. If a man can prove that he is over 60 years of age, or that he is permanently unemployable through any causes whatsoever - not necessarily war causes - he may secure a service pension. But one of the qualifications required of an applicant for a service pension was that he had served jr. the “ theatre of war “. The definition of this phrase gave rise to considerable debate; it states - “ Served in the theatre of war “ means served at sea, in the field or in the air, in naval, military or aerial operations against the enemy in an area, or on an aircraft or ship of war, at a time when danger from hostile forces of the enemy was incurred in that area or on that aircraft or ship of war by the person, so serving.
On that occasion we asked the Minister whether the interpretation’ given to theatre of war would be liberal. We were assured that, as the policy of the Government was liberal - and it has been remarkably liberal to the returned soldiers, as shown by constant amendments of the act - the interpretation of this matter would also be liberal. At the present time, the Repatriation Commission metaphorically holds the interpretation of the definition in the hollow of its hand. It has been permitted to say that any soldier who served on the west side of the Suez Canal .in Egypt cannot be held to have served in a “ theatre of war “. To refute such an opinion, and to stress the ridiculous anomaly that has arisen, I shall quote an extract from the History of the Fifth Australian Division. Every honorable senator has doubtless heard of the famous Blue Nile march, during which, as the result of exhaustion and thirst, men fell by the wayside like flies. The march was carried out under extreme conditions, probably unequalled iu severity by any other conditions experienced by the Australian Imperial Force. But, according to the definition by the Repatriation Commission of “ theatre of war “, any man who participated in the Blue Nile march is not eligible for a service pension. Sitting suspended from 12.^5 to 2.S0 p.m.
– In Chapter 3 of The Story of the Fifth Australian Division, Captain Ellis tells the story in the following words: -
The move of the rest of the division from Tel-el-Kebir to Ferry Post is memorable for the distressing experience, of the 14th Infantry Brigade flight, which consisted, in addition to the Infantry Brigade, of details of Divisional Headquarters Divisional Artillery, Signal Company, 8th Field Company, Artillery Engineers, and the 8th Field Ambulance. The other two flights also found the march extremly trying, and it is questionable if the troops as a whole were quite ready for an undertaking of such a nature. The first day’s march was from Tel-el l-Kebir to Mahadina, a distance of about fourteen miles. To people unacquainted with the sands of Egypt, it may appear incredible that even untrained Australian soldiers should find any difficulty in such a march, but all who have trudged through long stretches of heavy sand will realize that it was a big undertaking. In order to enjoy the full benefit of the cool hours of early morning, General Irving wisely provided for an early start.
Subsequently General Irving was retired for having undertaken the responsibility of that march -
Reveille was at 4.30 a.m. and the long column was under way by 7.30 a.m. The formation of the assembly was complicated by a very heavy fog, which not only made it extremely difficult to maintain direction, but also drenched the men’s clothing and equipment, while their boots soon became soaked in the damp sand.
And yet, according to the Repatriation Commission, a man who participated in that march did not serve in a theatre of war ! -
Before many miles had been covered there were numerous stragglers and the 8th Field Ambulance at the rear of the column was busy collecting sufferers from sore feet, sickness, and exhaustion. A burning sun was now beating down upon the column, aggravating the men’s distress and causing extreme thirst. Many water bottles wore soon empty, although the necessity for the careful conservation, of water had been emphasized in the Brigade order for the march. Tlie water discipline seems to have been bad. At every halt it was found necessary to post picquets on the Sweet Water Canal, the water of which was unfit for human consumption.
But that is not the end of the story. The record continues -
However, water and food supplies had boon provided at Mahsama, and after tea the mcn settled down for the night and awoke much refreshed on the following morning. But a still more trying march of sixteen miles to Moascar awaited them, and, unfortunately, the day turned out to be particularly hot. A start was made at 7 a.m., and for an hour or two, the column swung along well on good going over comparatively firm ground. By 10,3(1 a.m. the goo’d ground was left behind and the route, followed under directions received from Division, struck across heavy sandhills. These, in the rapidly growin.tr heat, proved too much for tlie stamina of scores of the men. They literally dropped in their tracks, overcome with thirst and exhaustion.
The march was undoubtedly an inauspicious beginning to the careers of the new units concerned in it. On behalf of the Brigade it may be stated that many of the troops were not yet physically fit, that a percentage of foot injuries. “B” class men. worn-out hoots, and recent inoculations, all contributed their quota to the great suffering that it undoubtedly experienced.
How should a man who, to-day suffers a disability, or is broken down in health, as a result of that march be treated? Is he, or is he not, entitled to be recognized as having served in a theatre of war? The Repatriation Commission says he is not so entitled because he did not serve on the east side of the Canal. Parliament did not intend that construction to be placed on the term “ theatre of war.” If the commission has the authority to decide whether or not a man served in a theatre of war it should give to every appellant the benefit of the doubt. I urge the Government to give sympathetic consideration to my suggestion; and referring once more to the tribunal I go further and say that unless it gives reasons for its decisions the belief of returned soldiers in its justice will be completely shattered; they will regard it as a secret junta. That, I know, is not the desire of the Government. That it desires returned soldiers to be treated with liberality, the introduction of amending legislation from, time to time is evidence. I am confident that these anomalies having been revealed, the Government will remove them.
– The existing act contains a number of anomalies of which, persons less acquainted with the legislation than is Senator Hardy are not aware. The object of this bill is to remove those anomalies, but it does not go far enough. It provides for further benefits to service pensioners and seeks to clarify the law in relation to the re-appointment of the members of the tribunals to deal with returned soldiers’ pensions. As one who is not a returned soldier, I regard it as a great privilege to speak of the wonderful service rendered by the flower of Australia’s manhood when the call came to save humanity and democracy. In this chamber are many honorable senators with splendid war records, but with that modesty which is so typical of Britishers who really do things, they are diffident about telling of what Australian men and women did during the Great “WarWhen the war broke out in 1914, the population of Australia was a little over 5,000,000, yet over 600,000 Australian’s, the very flower of our manhood, volunteered for active service. Of those 600,000 volunteers, 406,000 were accepted, of whom no less than 60,000 paid the supreme sacrifice. It is very sad to have to record that, since the war, 60,000 other returned soldiers have, as a result of their almost superhuman efforts during the four awful years of the struggle, passed over the Great Divide, to join their comrades who fell upon the field of battle. We can never repay the soldier men of Australia and of the Empire for their great deeds and sacrifices; but we can have some pride in the fact that the Australian nation, a very young nation, with no centuries’ old accumulation of wealth behind it, has probably done more for returned soldiers than has any other nation in the world. Up to date the expenditure within the Commonwealth on repatriation benefits to returned soldiers and their families has amounted to no less than £133,000,000. With a population of less than 7,000,000, Australia paid, in war pensions, for the twelve months ended the 30th June last, £7,520,228 to 258,282 pensioners.
The underlying principle of the Repatriation Act up to the present is that before a pension can be granted a soldier must prove that his disabilities are attributable to war service; but the receipt of an invalid or old-age pension does not prevent a soldier from securing a service pension. As Senator Hardy has convincingly pointed out, however, the Government has not yet gone far enough, in that service pensions are payable only to men who served in what has been geographically fixed as a “ theatre of war “. There is conclusive evidence that many soldiers who desired to serve in the front line but were unable to do so, made sacrifices in other spheres almost equal to those of the troops who served in a theatre of war, but they are not eligible for a service pension. However, it is pleasing to note that there is now much more elasticity in both the law and its administration by the various pensions authorities. There is still room for considerable liberalization of the act. At present a man who served his country has to prove that his disability or illness was due to war service in order to qualify for a pension, but I have always maintained that the boot should have been on the other foot, and that the onus should have been thrown on the war pensions tribunals to prove that an applicant’s disabilities were not attributable to war service. One pleasing feature in this bill is the extension of the benefits granted to tubercular soldiers. I am glad to see that the pension rate has been increased from 19s. a week to 31s. 7d. a week and that tubercular pensioners are in future to receive free treatment.
– It would be better to recognize their disability as war caused and pay them a full pension ; it would cost only a few shillings.
– I agree. I desire to pay a tribute to our returned soldiers. Not only did they,- by their extraordinary service to the Empire, advance our people to a prominent place among the nations of the world, and create standards of bravery and efficiency second to none in history, but also by their behaviour since their return to Australia they have set an example of patriotic citizenship. When this country was in financial difficulties and it was necessary to introduce emergency measures to rectify the financial position, the organizations of returned soldiers voluntarily formulated and presented to the Government for adoption a scheme of reduced pensions involving a total reduction of this liability by £1,000,000 per annum. The returned soldiers were the last people in the Commonwealth who should have been called upon to make any sacrifices ; but they did it voluntarily, just as they voluntarily enlisted for active service in defence of the Empire in time of need.
One section of the repatriation legislation to which I take exception is ‘that which provides that no pensions shall be paid to the wives and children of soldiers married after the 31st October, 1931. It must be evident that, as the years go by; very few marriages of returned soldiers will take place, and, at the first possible opportunity, the Government should make provision for the payment of pensions to the wives and children of men who married after that date. It is very gratifying that, in 1934, the Government was able to restore in full the cuts made in the pensions paid to the wives of soldiers.
I understand that Senator Brand proposes to recommend to the Government that service pensions should also be paid to veterans of the South African campaign. I have no desire to steal the honorable senator’s thunder, but I say now that I endorse “most heartily the request which he proposes to make. No less than 18,000 Australians served in the Boer War; but no provision has been made to grant pensions to those who returned. Senator Brand has informed rae that at least 250 soldiers who rendered such wonderful service in the Boer War are more or less destitute at the present time. No less than 75 per cent, of those wonderful Australians who left Australia at the end of the last century to fight for their King and Empire in South Africa served in the Great War. For these figures also I am indebted to Senator Brand. We should be very proud of the fact that in this little assembly of 36 senators, no less than three, Senators Cox, Sampson, and Brand, not only fought in the Boer War, but also served their country again in the Great War. As a non-soldier, but nevertheless a loyal Australian, who is very proud of his country and of its manhood, I honour them.
– Yet it, is said that soldiers are reticent people.
– I have said a few words about the extraordinarily good behaviour and the loyality of the Australian soldiers after the terrible suffering they endured, while others who stayed behind in comfort were bettering their positions and improving their prospects in life. Those who had not the honour of fighting for their country can have no appreciation of the sufferings and the horrors of war. I am glad to know that the returned men, who hate war and will do everything possible to prevent its recurrence, dreading as they do all of its horrors and the misery which it inflicts upon soldiers, their parents, wives, and children, realize the necessity for defence preparation. At the annual conference of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, held at Adelaide recently, the following resolution was passed : -
That this congress is of the opinion that the ideals for which the Australian Imperial Force fought during 1914-18 can be maintained in this era of intense nationalism only by the adoption of universal military training to provide for the adequate defence of Australia.
That simultaneously with the reintroduction of universal military training, congress is of opinion that there should be some method of registration and organization of the whole of Australia’s resources of wealth, man-power, material, and industry, and that, iu the event of a national crisis arising, the whole of those should be conscripted.
WitE those considered expressions of opinion by a splendid body of men representing the soldiers of Australia, I entirely agree. Whilst this bill goes a certain way to rectify anomalies, in my opinion, it does not go far enough. I repeat .that the onus of proving whether a soldier is entitled to a service pension should not be thrown upon the applicant, who, though he may be a good fighter, is very often not a good pleader. I have known of many applicants before pensions tribunals to become shy when facing the members of the tribunal; the onus of proof that the disabilities of an applicant are not attributable to war service should be thrown upon the tribunals. Generally speaking, the bill has much to commend it. We are indebted to the Government for liberalizing pensions, and for its treatment generally of returned soldiers. For these reasons, I have pleasure in supporting the measure.
.- This bill is a further indication of the Government’s desire to continue to adopt a humanitarian attitude towards exservice men, particularly tubercular soldiers suffering from disabilities due to war service. It can be taken for granted that the benefits foreshadowed in the bill have been fully investigated by officials whose duty it is to advise the Minister, and to watch that the department is not imposed upon. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - I observe that the Most Honorable the Marquess of Hartington, M.B.E., member of the United Kingdom House of Commons for West Derbyshire and Under-Secretary for the Dominions, is within the precincts. With the con- currence of honorable senators, I propose to invite His Lordship to occupy a seat on the dais.
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!
The Marquess of Hartington thereupon entered the chamber and was seated accordingly.
– I trust that when preparing the next year’s Estimates, the Government will rectify the anomaly which now exists through the withholding of pensions from the wives and children of disabled soldier pensioners who have married since the 1st October, 1931. Believing the Financial Emergency Act 1931 to be of a temporary character, a war pensioner who married after that date, was under the impression that when the financial resources of the Commonwealth permitted it, his wife and children, if any, would be entitled to the same privileges as a pensioner who married prior to that date. When in J une, 1931, the financial position was explained to the delegates representing various service organizations who met in Canberra, they voluntarily agreed to the suspension of that and other concessions amounting to £1,000,000, as their contribution towards easing the financial embarrassment of the government of the day. With the exception of this one, all the concessions suspended at the time have been restored, and the ex-service pensioners naturally feel that there is a moral obligation upon the Government to grant their request. I do not know how many have married since the 1st October, 1931, but those who have consider that since all other sections of the community have had restored to them the reductions temporarily made under the Financial Emergency Act 1931, they, too, should receive consideration. No doubt the case of the “ digger “ who, when on his death-bed, went through the marriage ceremony with his nursing sister in order to enable her to get a pension, will be mentioned by some honorable senators. They should not, however, compare such, isolated cases “with the many pensioners of marriageable age, who desire a life’s helpmate to make their existence less burdensome and more cheerful. Of course, there must be a limit to such pensions. Other dominions have already fixed a date on which such wives and children shall cease to be a burden on the community. Australia must eventually take similar action and fix a date, say, twelve months hence, when the appropriate section of the act shall lapse. Meanwhile, there is moral obligation to accede to the requests of those who married after the 1st October, 1931, under the impression that the privileges prevailing prior to that date would be granted when the opportunity presented itself. I trust that the Government will rectify this omission. Should an amendment be brought forward fixing, say, the 1st July, 1937, or the 1st January, 1938, as the date after which pensions as the result of marriage shall not be allowed, I shall support it.
I take this opportunity to appeal to the Government to grant a service pension to South African war veterans who are in necessitous circumstances. New Zealand has recognized the justice of paying a service pension to these men. Our sister dominion does not differentiate between the South African campaign and the Great War. About 18,000 Australians took part in the South African war over 35 years ago, 76 per cent, of whom also served in the Great War, and are therefore entitled to the benefits provided under our Repatriation Act. The majority of the remaining 24 per cent, are not in need of any assistance, but about 250 throughout the Commonwealth are unemployable because of advancing years, or mental or physical incapacity, indirectly due to the rigours of active service. While £133,000,000 has been expended on repatriation benefits to participants in the Great War, the Commonwealth has incurred little or no post-war expenditure in connexion with those who fought in the South African war - the cradle of the Australian Imperial Forces. The Imperial Government has met, and is still meeting, expenditure on dependants’ pensions. This residue of about 250 veterans is a “lost legion”. Some are in old men’s homes or benevolent institutions; others, owing to being unemployable, are assisted by the South
African Soldiers Association in each State. Having been president of the Victorian association for four years, I know the circumstances of many of these men. Sometimes we are asked to pay the funeral expenses of an old comrade, who, otherwise, would be buried as a pauper. That should not be permitted. These organizations, with small memberships, are not powerful bodies wielding the influence of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, and kindred associations. In this Parliament there are seven ex-soldiers who served in South Africa, and who know that the conditions of service in that campaign were not so easy as some imagine. I appeal to the Government to come to the assistance of that “lost legion” of South African war veterans by granting a service pension such as is granted by the New Zealand Government to those similarly situated.
– Generally speaking, I support the opinions expressed by Senator Hardy. The members of the repatriation staff have earned furlough which should’ be granted to them in the same way as it is granted to other branches of the Commonwealth Service. Many of these men have had a very strenuous time, which has interfered with their health. I trust that the Government will grant the concession suggested. The definition of “ theatre of war “ has exercised the minds of those who framed the principal act and those whose duty it has been to administer it. Residents of Great Britain lived comparatively close to a theatre of war, but Australians had to travel many thousands of miles before they could engage in actual warfare. I realize that an attempt has been made to widen the definition, but it is not yet sufficiently comprehensive. Senator Hardy has told us of the Blue Nile march, one of the greatest tragedies of the war, when Australian soldiers were forced to march through the desert under the most trying conditions. Although many miles from a theatre of war, and, therefore, quite out of reach of any hostile activity, many men were affected, physically and mentally. Some of them are more or less disabled in consequence, but they have been informed that the disabilities they arc experiencing are not due to servicein a theatre of war. An Australian soldier, after leaving this country, encountered varying climatic conditions which could be responsible for disabilities in some form; but he would not be eligible for a pension because he had not been in a theatre of war. A comrade similarly situated who went to Le Havre, and who might have been just as immune from the dangers of actual warfare, would be eligible for a pension.
– Such a soldier could have been in Paris.
– Exactly ; I left Australia in the summer time, passed through the tropics, and arrived in England on the coldest day that had been experienced in that country for 36 years. The climatic conditions were most severe, and the low temperature was accompanied by conditions totally different from those experienced in Australia. The members of the 1st Canadian Expeditionary Force, who were more accustomed to lower temperatures than the Australian soldiers, arrived in England and were placed in bell tents. The presence of a high percentage of moisture in the atmosphere made the position even worse, and many of them died of pneumonia. The others were afterwards billeted. Men who did not actually serve in a theatre of war could, owing to the extreme climatic conditions, have had their health impaired. I hope that the Government will be able to devise a scheme under which the service pension may be obtained by ex-soldiers who are broken in health as the result of experiences outside the theatre of war. I have particulars before me of an application which was disallowed on the ground that the ex-soldier did not serve in the Egyptian theatre of war, which is defined by the commission as follows: -
Egyptian Expeditionary Force cast of the Suez Canal between midnight 18th-19th March, 1916. and midnight11th-12th November, 1918: and
The Minister for Repatriation, in referring to this application, wrote -
I would explain that no appeal lies with either the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal or the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal, where an application for grant of service pension has been rejected by the Repatriation Commission on the grounds that the soldier did not serve in a theatre of war. Iti these circumstances, you will appreciate that it is not possible to take any further action in the matter.
I understand that some discretion is left to the officers who administer the act. If it can be directly proved that the injuries arose from war service the applicant receives the pension, but in many cases such proof is impossible. The medical evidence is often unobtainable; the doctors who attended the applicant may have died. In other instances, the applicant has suffered loss of memory.
– Often the applicant is not informed as to the reason why his claim is rejected.
– That is so. I . agree with, the honorable senator who said that the onus of proof should be on the commission and that the reason for the rejection of the claim should be stated. Sometimes one can tell by a glance at the ex-soldier that his disabilities are due to war service. I know of a grandmother of two daughters of a deceased soldier who was wounded in France. He was hit on the head by a shell and severely injured. On his return to Australia his medical history was known. He ultimately died of a tumour on the brain. There was every indication that his death was the result of war injuries, but this could not be definitely proved. Shortly afterwards, his wife died, and the grandmother now has the responsibility of caring for the two children, although the Verge Trust promised to give the matter consideration. Despite the efforts of the Minister for Repatriation and myself, no pension has been granted in respect of the children. Is it right that a tribunal “which has been asked by the legislature to give applicants the benefit of any doubt should refuse assistance in such a case ? Similar instances of injustice come under notice constantly.
The Government is acting wisely in removing certain anomalies, and increasing the benefits of certain classes of exsoldiers, but it would have acted more justly if it had first met completely the claims of men suffering from tuberculosis. I have been requested to urge the Government to go the whole distance in this regard. I realize that extra expenditure would be involved in acceding to all of the wishes of these men, but the additional cost would not be great. I understand that the Minister for Repatriation has promised to comply with their requests at the earliest possible opportunity and, in the circumstances, I have advised them to be content for the time being with the Minister’s assurance. No doubt it will again be necessary to liberalize this legislation, and the special disabilities of tubercular ex-soldiers should then be fully recognized. I compliment the officers of the Repatriation Department upon their administration. Of course, their duty is to administer the act as it stands. For what they have done they have merited the praise of all of the service associations throughout the Commonwealth, and I personally thank them. The Minister for Repatriation has been a staunch friend of the returned soldiers, and I believe that ‘he will always endeavour to see that the act is administered in their best interests.
– I welcome this bill, because it is designed to give additional- benefits to a section of ex-soldiers to whom this Parliament and the people are under a definite obligation. Whilst I appreciate what has been done for them by the governments that have been in office since the war, I am convinced that no Ministry has been too liberal. In many instances the ex-soldiers have not received ‘ the assistance to which they are entitled. Men who, in health and strength, left these shores at the request of the Government, and are now disabled from any cause whatever, should be helped in their declining years. The army of returned men is rapidly decreasing. Prom year to year, the Parliament slightly widens the scope of this legislation, but I think that bolder steps might well be taken to help men who, through no fault of their own, are now broken in mind and body. Irrespective of the causes of their disability they are entitled to a reasonably good pension. Since I became a member of the Parliament of the Commonwealth, many cases of hardship have been brought under my notice, some of which appear to me to be quite genuine; but the persons concerned have not been able to convince the Repatriation Commission or any other tribunal that their disability is the result of war service. Of these cases, two or three stand out boldly. First, my attention was drawn to one instance of hardship imposed, not on the soldier himself, because the unfortunate man had died, but on the grandmother of his children. He returned to Australia suffering from a severe gunshot wound in the shoulder; it was a bad case. Soon after his return he married, and in due course two children were born. Unfortunately, his condition became much worse, until eventually he was confined to a mental hospital, where later he committed suicide. Three months afterwards his wife died of cancer. The grandmother, who was looking after the children, approached me to ascertain whether the Repatriation Department would grant a pension to the children. She said:. “ While I am alive, I shall be able toobtain a little assistance from the State Government, on which. we can manage fairly well; but if anything happens to me, what will become of the children?” On her behalf I made representations to the department. In reply, I received an intimation that, as the soldier had committed suicide, his demise was not attributable to war service; in the circumstances, therefore, the department could render no assistance to the children. The communication added that, even if upon the death of the grandmother, the children would not be eligible to receive- assistance from . the department. That is the severest case of hardship in my experience.
Like Senator Hardy and Senator Arkins, I have had brought under my notice an instance of hardship in connexion with the definition of “ theatre of war “. This case is of recent origin. One of my friends, who had had a gruelling time in Egypt, and, I believe, participated in the march along the Blue Nile mentioned by Senator Hardy,- enjoyed good health until two months ago, when he was stricken with paralysis. At the present time he is lying in the Prince Alfred Hospital, his legs in plaster and his arms useless. The doctor stated that there is no hope at all of his recovery. On behalf of his wife, I made the necessary representations to the Repatriation Department, but in this case the reply was that my friend was not entitled to a service pension because he had not served in a theatre of war. As a soldier he had served in Egypt; but his services were not recognized in this connexion by the tribunal. He has since made application for an invalid pension, which undoubtedly will be granted to him. That is an instance of a returned soldier having at the behest of the Government of this country risked his life on the other side of the world in the interests of Australia. If he is entitled to any pension at all, it is only right that he should receive it in recognition of his war services.
Instances such as these make one feel that, much as the Government has done and much as the people of Australia have been willing that the Government should do, for these men, we have not yet gone so far as we should go. With so much of the wealth of Australia distributed among a comparatively small population, we can afford to give the Australian soldier, if he is genuinely in need of assistance, a greater degree of comfort than any other country can grant to its returned mcn. Why should not we do it? I should like to see the Government take a bold step in this connexion and render additional assistance to deserving cases. As time goes on, further amendments will be made’ to the act, and it is only on such occasions that we have an opportunity to plead for consideration of cases in respect of which anomalies or hardships exist. When it is proposed to amend the act again, I hope that Ministers of the Senate will bring under the notice of the Minister for Expatriation (Mr. Hughes) and Cabinet generally the representations made in this chamber, in order that returned soldiers may be given that assistance to which they are entitled.
Debate (on motion by’ Senator Sampson) adjourned.
Order of the day for the resumption of the debate (vide page 1653), on motion by Senator Sir GEORGE Pearce -
That the papers be printed, read and discharged.
Message received from the House of Representatives, intimating that it had agreed to the amendments made by the Senate in this bill.
Motion (by Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE) agreed to -
That the Senate at its rising adjourn till Wednesday next at 11 n.m.
Invalid and Old-age Pensions.
Motion (by Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I direct attention to a pensions anomaly which I unsuccessfully endeavoured to have remedied, because it reveals a serious flaw in the act and inflicts considerable hardship on persons entitled to draw either an invalid or old-age pension. In reply to the representations which I made to the Pensions Department in this connexion, I received the following letter : -
The Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act provides that where husband and wife are pensioners and possess accumulated property the amount of each pension shall be reduced by £1 per annum for every complete £10 by which the value of - the property exceeds £25. Property is defined by the act as all real and personal property belonging to the pensioner.
Mr. and Mrs. Merritt are in receipt of pensions of £42 8s. per annum based on the value of their property as under: -
In accordance with the law, a deduction of £7, being £1 for every complete £10 in the amount of £75 shown above, is made from the maximum pension (£49 8s. per annum), leaving payable a pension of £42 8s. per annum.
In view of the law and the facts set out above, I regret to say that it is not possible to approve of an increase in the present rate of these pensions. There is no option but to treat the surrender value of the husband’s life insurance policy as property within the meaning of the act.
Husband and wife are drawing the oldage pension. The surrender value of a life insurance policy is treated by thedepartment as an asset; but until they convert it,- I fail to see that it should be regarded as such. After working a lifetime to pay the instalments on the policy, they are now faced with having their thrift used against’ them as a means of reducing their pensions, unless they are prepared to surrender the policy for its- cash equivalent, £170. Unless they spent the money their position would be no different. That £170, together with the £30 in the bank, makes a total of £200; and the fact that their possessions are of that value is regarded as justification for reducing the amount of the pension. Docs the Government agree that an insurance policy, which is often kept alive at great sacrifice to the insured in order to prevent him from being buried as a pauper, shall be treated as a cash asset, in consequence of which the amount of pension shall be reduced ? That was not the intention of the Parliament. I do not blame the officials of the department for what takes place. They have always treated me most courteously, but they cannot get away from the law.
[3.46]. -in reply - If the honorable senator’s statement of the law is correct, it does not matter what the view of the department in regard to any particular case may be; the Government must either administer the law as it is, or ask Parliament to alter it. I. have no knowledge of the instance referred to by the honorable senator, but his remarks seem to indicate that the law is being carried out.I shall, however, see that his remarks are brought under the notice of my colleague, the Treasurer, in order that he may give his personal attention to them.
– I thank the right honorable gentleman.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 27 November 1936, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1936/19361127_senate_14_152/>.