18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker. (Mr. J. J. Clark) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Broadcasting of Proceedings
– Last Thursday, in the House of Representatives, the honorable member for EdenMonaro drew my attention to a report in the Melbourne Herald, of the previous day purporting to give the decision and details of the proceedings of the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee. The honorable member then asked whether the information had been officially supplied to the press; if so, on what authority it had been supplied ; and if not, since the information was exclusively the property of this Parliament, would I have inquiries made with a view to having this disclosure of official information investigated. In regard to the first two questions, I. have ascertained that no information concerning the details of the proceedings of the committee was supplied officially to representatives of the press or to any other persons. The committee’s allocation of the broadcasting time between the Senate and: the House of Representatives for the remainder of the week was made public in the usual way by means of: a notification issued by the secretary of the committee. Whether or not the publication of the proceedings of the committee is a breach of privilege is a question for the House to determine. The relevant extract from May, which appears at page 118, is-
The publication of proceedings of committees conducted with closed doors or of reports of committees before they are available to Members will constitute a breach of privilege.
The Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee, however, differs from other statutory and select committees in that it has executive authority, and there is no provision for it to report to the House, other than in. relation to specified general principles. In the circumstances, I propose to consult the committee on the question raised by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to-
That the House, at its rising,adjourn to to-morrow, at 10.30 a.m.
Shortage in Townsville.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping: and Fuel find out whether that Minister has received a telegram from. Mr. L. Lawrence, president of the Federated Chambers of Commerce, Townsville, stating, inter alia -
Lack of building materials has created a chaotic condition of affairs in Townsville; . . . Cement and timber are scarce, steel orders are twelve to eighteen months behind, and there is also a twelve months’ lag in piping and iron needed for repairs alone. The greatest menace is the lack of water. The city’s water supply is cut off now from 9 p.m. to 0 a.m. every day. A programme to increase Townsville’s water supply by the Mount Spec weir scheme isbeing delayed because the City Council cannot get piping.
Will the Minister ensure that this matter will receive attention immediately?
– I shall ascertain, from the Minister for Shipping and Fuel whether he has received the communication mentioned. If the shortage of materials is due to transport difficulties, I am sure that the Minister will do everything possible to remedy the position. I fully understand why the honorablemember is so concerned about the water supply position in Townsville. I shall also endeavour to see whether the Department of Supply and Development can induce manufacturers to make a quantity of piping available for this essential’ purpose.
– I draw the attention, of the Prime Minister to a press statement cabled from London, that excessive delays in the handling of cargoes at. Australian ports are causing large amounts of tonnage to remain idle over long periods. and that work that could previously be done ! hi days is now taking weeks to complete. Having regard to the grave injury which such delays are causing to our interstate and overseas trade, and the necessity for maintaining regular food supplies to Great Britain,- is the Prime Minister prepared to do anything to improve the position, and, if so, what?
– I have not seen the statement in the newspaper, and if I had seen it I would not be prepared to accept it as fact. The matter of the turn-around of shipping is one that has been the subject of discussion by the Minister for Shipping and Fuel, the Stevedoring Industry Commission, the unions, and the shipowners. There is nothing new in the complaint that there has been delay in the turn-around of ships in Australia. This is not entirely due to the men engaged on the waterfront. Delays occurring in Sydney have, in some instances, been due to the lack of berthing space. The facilities on the Sydney waterfront are not altogether adequate to meet modern requirements. No matter how hard the waterside workers may work, it is not always possible for them to expedite the turn-around of ships. On occasions the loading and unloading of ships has been delayed owing to unfavorable weather conditions. That matter has been discussed by the Minister with the responsible authorities, to see whether it was possible to devise some means whereby certain cargoes could be loaded or unloaded promptly, irrespective of weather conditions. In some instances no attempt has been made to meet that difficulty. I n conjunction with the Minister, I have discussed personally other aspects of the matter with representatives of the unions, and with the chairman of the Stevedoring Industry Commission. A special, survey is being made to see whether the loading of vessels can be accelerated. Whilst I do not know anything about the press statement mentioned by the honorable member, I do know that there have been delays which have been due not to the waterside workers, but to lack of facilities, or inadequate provision. However, every endeavour is now being made to accelerate the rate of loading.
South Australian Supplies
-=Some .time ago arrangements were made whereby sufficient ships and coal were to be made available to meet the needs of South Australia. Recently, however, supplies of coal have fallen far short of requirements. Is the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Fuel aware that a fortnight ago railway services in South Australia had to be reduced to only a. skeleton basis, and that during the past week sufficient wheat has not been available to meet the needs of mills for gristing, or for shipments? That was principally because sufficient coal had not been supplied to South Australia. Will the Minister take this matter up with the appropriate authorities to ascertain who was responsible for that state of affairs? Will lllabo take steps to build up stocks in South Australia so that there will bo ample supplies available in that State for industry to carry on without continual interruptions?
– My colleague, thi* Minister for Shipping and Fuel, is responsible for the co-ordination of shipping, and, of course, the Joint Coal Board is also within his province. 3 do not know whether the shortage of coal in South Australia is, due to inadequate shipping, or to the lack of sufficient coal to meet requirements throughout, tb* Commonwealth. However, I shall ask the Minister for Shipping and Fuel to examine the matter, and, insofar as it is within his power to ensure that adequate shipping shall be made available. I am sure that he will do so. But the honorable member will appreciate that there is not sufficient coal being produced to meet all the requirements of industry. Therefore, it is unlikely that it will bf possible to build up stocks in South Australia or in any other State. However. I am sure that the Minister for Shipping and Fuel will be prepared to assist in every possible way.
Hosie Deliveries by Tradesmen -
– In view of the relaxation of the zoning system and the legislation passed recently by the New South
Wales Parliament compelling tradesmen to revert to the pre-war system of delivery for meat and bread, will the Minister for Transport give urgent consideration to granting to tradesmen special priority for delivery vehicles so that they may comply with the desire of the State Government to restore to the general public this most desirable and essential service?
– I appreciate fully the difficulties confronting proprietors of small businesses in complying with the State law requiring home deliveries. The situation is most difficult because nl* tin.’ totally inadequate supply of vehicles, but .1. shall give consideration to the point that the honorable member lias raised, and ascertain whether some relief can be afforded.
– Will the Minister for Transport say who allocates the number of new cars to the various States, and who fixes the basis of the allocation? Can lie say why new American cars are sold for use as taxis in every capital city of Australia except Brisbane? Who is responsible for preventing taxi-owners in Brisbane from replacing their old cars even with 1946 American vehicles?
– The distribution of new motor- vehicles to the States is controlled jointly by the Department of Transport and the distributors, regard being had to population, and the demand before the war. The allocation of cars of a particular type for use as taxis is controlled by the State authorities themselves. In Queensland, although the allocation of permits for the purchase of motor vehicles has been the responsibility of the Commonwealth, the actual administration has been in the hands of the State authorities, and the Commonwealth has not interfered so long as it was satisfied that the general policy, as laid down by the Commonwealth, was being applied. I shall rake up with the authorities in Queenslaud the matter raised by the honorable member, and shall let him have more information later.
– I have received the following telegram from my electorate : -
Dairy-farmers south-west Victoria protest against superphosphate subsidy being paid direct to farmers by Government. No claim forms available and delay by the Government in payment for subsidy causing concern. Butter factories involved already collecting full’ payment from farmers.
I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether a more satisfactory scheme, acceptable to the dairyfarmersof Victoria, can be devised.
– Negotiations areproceeding between officers of my department and representatives of the superphosphate manufacturing companies toascertain whether a more flexible .system of paying the subsidy can be arranged. 1 have great hopes of a satisfactory solution being reached. I do not think that any farmer is waiting for tire payment of the subsidy at present because this i.c not the time for top-dressing in the district from which the honorable memberhas received his telegram.
– My attention has been directed to the fact that a number of post, offices in the Sydney metropolitan area are not carrying stocks of application forms for social services, particularly agc and invalid pensions. Will thiMinister representing the Minister for Social Services urge upon his colleaguethe necessity for maintaining adequatestocks of those forms at post offices so as to avoid great inconvenience to elderly people ?
– I shall take the matter up with the Minister for Social Services. lt is well known that not only metropolitan post offices, but also all post offices throughout, the Commonwealth, keep a stock of formsfor individuals who desire to make fresh claims for pensions. There may havebeen an oversight in the instance mentioned by the honorable member, and I shall a.?’k the Minister to have the matter investigated.
– Has the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction seen a press statement that shortage of water in many agricultural towns in Western Australia is necessitating the use of seventeen trains essentially for transporting water?’
A3 it is feared that further trains may have to be made available to convey water to Bruce Hoek and Kondinin, for which towns a water scheme has been promised for some time, will the Minister endeavour to arrange for a larger quota of piping for Western Australia? It is the lack of this material which is delaying the provision of these schemes, which involve the supply of water from the gold-fields water supply?
– I have not seen the press statement to which the honorable member has referred. I can assure him that while I can organize a number of things I cannot organize the weather and I am not responsible for its effects in Western Australia. It is not possible for me, as a Commonwealth Minister, to direct that quantities of piping be sent to any particular place, but I shall do my utmost, in conference with the manufacturers of such piping, to ascertain whether additional supplies could be sent to Western Australia for the purpose mentioned.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform me what prospect there is that further imports will, be permitted of larvacide and cyanogas for rabbit destruction ? Following previous representations some import licences for those items were revalidated, but both larvacide and cyanogas are again in very short supply. I know that dollars are the difficulty, but in view of the simplicity and efficiency of this method of destruction, can the Minister indicate whether further imports will be permitted?
– I know that larvacide and cyanogas are both very satisfactory gases for the destruction of rabbits. It is necessary to spend dollars to obtain them, but I am quite sure, in view of the menace that rabbits constitute, that the next time the dollar committee meets it will give some consideration to the question of whether additional dollars can be allocated for the import of these gases. It is possible to use alternative methods of gassing rabbits. Plant and equipment for this purpose are already on the Australian market which enable the poisoning of rabbits to be effected by carbon monoxide manufactured’ from charcoal. That method, however, requires more effort than is needed in the use of larvacide and cyanogas. However, I shall inquire into the matter to see what can be done.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Fuel say whether taxi cab proprietors in Sydney receive an allowance of 201 gallons of petrol a month whilst those in Brisbane receive only 81 gallons a month? If those figures are correct, will he explain why there is discrimination between the two cities?’ Many exservicemen in Brisbane are trying to earn a living with taxi cabs but, owing to the inadequate quantity of petrol that is allowed to them, their cabs are idle for n. half of each month.
– I do not know whether taxi cab drivers in Sydney are allowed more petrol each month than those in Brisbane and other Australian cities. If they are, I am certain that there is some valid reason for it. I shall ask the Minister for Shipping and Fuel to examine the matter in order to ascertain whether it is possible to do anything to adjust the position.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Fuel been drawn to an article in the October number of the Australian Motorist, headed “ Australia’s Iron Curtain “, relating to petrol rationing in Australia, in which the following paragraph appears: -
Under the present scale of rationing, our average consumption per unit is now pegged at between 300 and 304 gallons per unit per annum, against the following figures for other Dominions, which relate to the year 1947: -
Can the honorable gentleman say why, in comparison with other dominions, Australia is in such an unsatisfactory (position?
– The factor mentioned by the honorable member is not the only one that must .be taken into consideration. The only reliable comparison must be based on the number of vehicles to each 1,000 of the population in the countries concerned. In Canada, for example, the number of vehicles to each 1,000 of the population may be fewer than it is in Australia, which may be a good reason why Canadian users have a higher con-‘ sumption than Australian users on a unit basis. We are not concerned with the position in other countries; we are concerned with our own difficulties which have been brought about by the dollar shortage. In view of the need to conserve dollars the Government has decided what we can afford to expend on petrol this year, and it has divided that amount as equitably as possible between users of petrol and users of other petroleum products.
– Is the Prime Minister able to make a statement with regard to the progress that has been made by the conference of Empire Prime Ministers that is now being held in London? Has the Australian representative suggested any means of overcoming the difficulty of Eire and India remaining within the British Commonwealth of Nations? If he has done so, will the Prime Minister say what the suggestions were and whether they have been accepted ? If the difficulties cannot be resolved, I ask the right honorable gentleman, in view of the fact that Australia is a member of the International Trade Organization, whether the Government has any plan for the preservation of the advantageous trade arrangements that now exist between Australia and those two countries.
– I do not think that this is an appropriate time to make a statement regarding the subjects that have been discussed at the conference of Empire Prime Ministers. The difficulty with regard to Eire and India was, to some extent, foreseen, and I have had an opportunity to express the opinion of the Australian Government upon it. It will be understood that the matter, particularly with regard to India, is rather delicate. The Australian representative at the conference is fully aware of the Government’s views upon the issues that are involved. Our views are also known to the British Government. When I have received a reasonably clear indication of what may be the final outcome of the discussions that are now taking place I shall inform the honorable gentleman of it by means of a written statement or by communicating the information to him personally.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that it was reported in the, press of Saturday last, the 16th October, that there is a racket in tobacco distribution throughout the Commonwealth and that the Australian Government is being defrauded of thousands of pounds each month by the evasion of the payment of excise duty upon such tobacco? Is the right honorable gentleman aware that tons of fine cut and flake cut tobacco produced by illicit manufacturers is being retailed in Melbourne and elsewhere? In view of that report, and of the refusal of the Tobacco Distribution Committee in Hobart and elsewhere to give tobacco quotas to many ex-servicemen who have set up in business, will the right honorable gentleman have a thorough check made of the industry and reinstitute government control of distribution if the present private organization cannot do the job and play the game?
– The statement to which the honorable member has referred is a surprise to me, because I have not heard any suggestion that such a set of circumstances existed. However, as the honorable member requests, I shall arrange for the Minister for Trade and Customs to have the matter examined, and I shall later let the honorable gentleman have a full reply to his question. The distribution of tobacco has always been a thorny subject. It was not possible to ration tobacco successfully because the information we had was that only 50 per cent, of the population are smokers. Therefore, any rationing system would possibly result in families with the largest number of non-smokers receiving a greater proportion of tobacco than smokers; and non-smokers would be able to engage to some degree in blackmarketing with their ration. “We were told by the distributors of tobacco that if the matter were handed over to them they would be able to conduct the distribution satisfactorily. I am sorry to say that under their control the distribution has been worse than it was under government control. However, I see no possibility of reinstituting government control of the distribution of tobacco in the present circumstances.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that within the last few days the American Defence Department has been directed to organize all American reserve units and to commence a vigorous reserve training programme? Does he know also that the United States Air Force has issued an urgent appeal for the immediate re-enlistment of 10,000 of its former air crew ? Does he know that within recent days the United States Atomic Energy Commission has announced plans for two uranium ore processing plants to start operations very soon? Finally, in view of the authoritative statements appearing in yesterday’s press from many nations stressing the seriousness of present conditions, and in view of the fact that this Parliament so far this session has not had an opportunity to discuss international affairs, is the right honorable gentleman, as the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs, prepared to present to the House a full and comprehensive statement covering recent changes in the international sphere? The last ministerial statement on international affairs made to the House was presented to it on the 11th March last.
– I have given some thought to the presentation of a statement on international affairs to the House, but the conference of Dominion Prime Ministers is still in session and events are moving so rapidly that any statement which might be prepared would very likely be found, in some respects, not to be up to date by the time the statement was circulated. Furthermore, in view of the fact that the General Assembly of the United Nations is still meeting in Paris and is dealing with a number of matters, including the Berlin situation, which are the subject of negotiation and consultation, it may not be advisable to make any statement at this end at this stage. I remember the last statement on external affairs which was presented to the House. I think that it covered 420 pages, but much of the detail it contained was not up to date because of the rapid change of events at the time. I shall consider the honorable member’s request. I have heard some broadcast statements concerning the particular matter to which he referred in the first portion of his. question and we are, of course, a.ware of the situation outlined therein.
– Some months ago I asked a question of the Prime Minister relative to the lowering of interest rates on moneys advanced for home building. I now ask the right honorable gentleman what consideration has been given to my suggestion that the rate of interest charged on advances by the Commonwealth Bank for home building should be purely nominal? Would it be possible to follow the present practice in New Zealand where interest rates on capital loans for rehabilitation, farms and houses, are 2 per cent, for the first year, and 3 per cent, thereafter, and for such loans for businesses, and the purchase of stock and chattels, 2 per cent, for the first year, and 4 per cent, thereafter? If the Prime Minister has not already discussed with the banks the possibility of adopting a similar scheme in Australia with a view to helping home builders by lowering interest rates, will he undertake to do so?
– Following the honorable member’s earlier question on this subject I caused an investigation to be made of the possibility of adopting her suggestion, and I have also discussed it with, the Minister for Works and Housing because of its effect on war service homes in which he is particularly interested. 1 believe I replied to the honorable member then, and if not, I do so now, that the suggestion that money should be lent at the cost of raising it is not likely to be adopted. A considerable amount of .the money advanced by the Commonwealth for home .building purposes comes from the Commonwealth Bank which also pays interest on it. Very substantial reductions have been made in the interest rate on advances for war service homes. At present the rate is 3£ per cent. The interest rate on housing loans issued by the Commonwealth Bank is now 3$ per cent. It is true that these charges cover more than the actual cost of the money to the Government or to the bank. They cover also certain administration costs associated with housing loans issued by the Commonwealth Bank. I cannot at the moment promise the honorable member that any further reduction will be effected in the interest rates. I assure her, however, that they have been reviewed from time to time during the life of this Government and that should it be practicable to make further reductions, that will be done.
– In view of allegations made in this House affecting the probity of Mr. J. A. Alexander, an Australian journalist formerly employed by the Melbourne Herald as its Canberra roundsman, will the Minister for Information inform the House whether Alexander was given an appointment as First Secretary in Charge of Public Relations at the Australian Legation in Moscow in June, 1944, by a Cabinet of which the Minister was a member? Was Alexander taken from his position on the Melbourne Herald to be given that appointment? Was Alexander the Press Liaison Officer to the Australian Delegation to the Paris peace conference and an Australian member of the economic commissions for the Balkans and Finland in 1946? Were all these government appointments made subsequent to the period regarding which the Minister made his charges? Did the present Government make the appointments because it believed that there was no substance in the allegations regarding what was supposed to have happened during the regime of the Scullin Government or, if not, were the appointments made because such conduct was regarded as a qualification for the position?
– The appointment of Mr. Alexander to any position in the Department of External Affairs was made by the Minister for External Affairs, and not by the Government. I do not know anything about the other matters men,tioned by the honorable gentleman. I have heard a rumour that Mr. Alexander was offered the editorship of Century, but that he would not sink) so low as to accept this post.
– Has the Prime Minister given any consideration to the views of local government associations which have declared that, owing to the high costs of road construction and maintenance, the proportion of revenue from petrol tax allotted to them is not sufficient for their needs? If so, has he any announcement to make about the Government’s intentions regarding the allotment of receipts from petrol tax for road construction and repair work?
– I have received numerous representations regarding the allocation of petrol tax receipts for road works. As the honorable member knows, the method of allocation of these funds has been changed. Previously, the money was allocated by the Commonwealth to the State governments, which were responsible for determining the manner in which the total amount should be expended. However, it was decided last year that the distribution was not being made so as to provide fairly for roads in sparsely populated areas and that a special allocation should be made for such works. On the recommendation of the Minister for Transport, who had discussed the matter with State Ministers for Transport, it was decided to add to the allowances already being made direct to State governments an amount of £1,000,000 a year to be distributed by them for use on outer roads and for the purchase of machinery to be used on roads in sparsely populated districts. The Minister for Transport presided at another conference this year, and afterwards a recommendation was made that this extra amount be increased by £1,000,000 a year. The bill to give effect to this recommendation has been introduced in this House already. This proposal means that the Commonwealth will provide from petrol tax receipts an amount of about £7,300,000 a year for road works. That will be in addition to certain sums that are made available for work on roads which give access to munitions factories and other Commonwealth properties. These funds, added to the amounts which the States receive from motor vehicle taxes and registration fees, will provide by far the largest amount ever made available to local government bodies for road-making purposes. In fact, so much has been provided that I doubt whether it can all be expended.
Alleged Leakages: Search of Newspaper Offices at Parliament House.
– Since the House adjourned last Friday, have officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service, or any other persons, raided or entered the private offices occupied by newspaper representatives in Parliament House? Is it not necessary for persons to obtain your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before entering this building for such a purpose? Did the officers or other persons ask for, or receive, authority to enter the building for the purpose mentioned ?
– I have read in the press that investigation officers entered Parliament House, and went to the offices of a certain newspaper. The situation in this Parliament is unique. In no other Parliament in the world’ is the press accommodated with offices in the Parliament House. Press representatives occupy such accommodation in this building as a very special privilege, and by courtesy of the Parliament, and they are expected to respect that privilege. I did give authority for the offices to be examined, and I accept full responsibility for having done so.
– Can the Minister for
Defence say whether it is true that campaign stars and medals issued to exservicemen are not to be engraved with the names and numbers of the recipients, as was done in the case of medals issued after other wars ? If so, has this decision been reached at the request of servicemen’s organizations, in order that the issue of medals may be speeded up, or has it been reached for economy reasons
– It has been decided that medals will be issued without the numbers andnames of the recipients being engraved upon them. That is the practice in the United Kingdom. The decision was reached because the issuing of the medals would have been delayed for a long time had we waited until they were engraved. Moreover, the engraving would require the use of labour and resources on a colossal scale, and the Government believed that such labor and resources couldbe better employed, in the interests of ex-servicemen, on more important work.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister for the Army. In 1945, I asked a previous Minister for the Army whether he would put an end to the practice of deducting from the estates of deceased prisoners of war the amount of allotment paid between the date on which they were taken prisoner and the presumed date of their death, and I understood that this request had been acceded to. However, I have been informed by the Prisoners of War Association that that is not so. Last week, I mentioned in this House the case of a man who, with nine other Australian prisoners of war was captured from the Japanese by Chinese guerrillas. Although he was known to have been alive for a considerable time after his capture by the Chinese, he was presumed to have died on that date, and his mother was billed for £234 representing allotments paid to her after that date. Will the Minister see that this practice is not continued, and that full repayment is made in every case where allotments have been deducted?
– I shall have that case examined. I think the honorable member is familiar with two other cases in which amounts so deducted were subsequently refunded. I shall take the matter up with the officers of my department.
The honorable member for New England having earlier asked a disallowed question,
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation appoint a judge of a Supreme Court to inquire into the safe working of the regulations issued by the Department of Civil Aviation for the control of air traffic throughout Australia? Is it true that the boards at airports purporting to record the movements of aeroplanes are operated on mere assumptions, and do not necessarily record the actual position of aeroplanes during flight?
– The answer to the first part of the honorable member’s question is, “ No “. I believe that the conduct of air services in Australia is second only to that of one other country in the world. Recently, a man who arrived in Australia from a flight overseas conveyed to me voluntarily - and it was not apropos any accident that had occurred in Australia - that he was glad to get back to this country, because he thought that our methods of control, particularly air radio communications, were the best that he had experienced in any of the dozen or more countries through which he had passed on his journey. Persons competent to judge have expressed the opinion that the methods employed in Australia are safe. Therefore, I cannot see that there is any need for an inquiry. The honorable member referred to boards used at airports indicating the position of aircraft in flight. That was the subject of an earlier question by him which was disallowed, and I do not intend to comment on matters which are sub judice pending a current court of inquiry.
– Can the Minister for the Army say whether it is true, as the press has reported, that the ammunition huts at Mangalore, in Victoria, containing millions of rounds, are not checked regularly? What precautions are taken, in view of the large scale thefts that have occurred recently, to prevent further thefts of the kind? Will the Minister ensure that, in future, such depots will be regularly inspected and properly guarded ?
– I did see a press report that the ammunition huts were not inspected or guarded, but the report appeared in only one newspaper. No such report appeared in this morning’s newspapers. I understand that continual inspections are, in fact, made. The honorable member will understand, however, that it would be impracticable to place a guard at every ammunition hut in every depot throughout Australia. The newspaper report meant, I think, that there was not a guard on every building, and that is true, but there is a guard at the entrance to every depot. Since the theft occurred security measures have been tightened up.
– Will the Minister for Immigration say whether the Department of Immigration has served a notice on J. C. Buxton, a stateless person who served with the Australian special Z force as a member of Intelligence Personnel during the war, requiring him to leave Australia. Has Mr. Buxton’s war service to Australia since been recognized by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, which admitted him as a member ?
– My department has always had good and sufficient reasons for requiring anybody to leave Australia. I do not propose to state publicly the reasons in any particular instance, but if the honorable member will call around to my office I shall speak to him privately about the matter.
Police Uniforms. Dame ENID LYONS.- Will the Minister representing the Acting AttorneyGeneral say whether male members of the Commonwealth police at Canberra who do not wear a uniform receive a special clothing allowance of £1 a week, and that women police who are not provided with a uniform receive a clothing allowance of 7s. 6d. a week? If so, what is the basis of that distinction between male and female police?
– Whilst I know that some members of the Commonwealth police force in Canberra receive an allowance in lieu of uniform, I am not aware of the amount of the allowance. I do not know whether” there are any female members of the Commonwealth police force at Canberra. However, I shall make inquiries and inform the honorable member fully on this matter as soon as possible.
– Will the Minister inform the House whether it is a fact, as reported in the Melbourne Age several days ago, that it is anticipated that Mombasa will become the “ springboard “ for migrants proceeding from Europe to Australia? Is not Mombasa French territory? In view of the condition of world affairs to-day, would it not be advisable to select some other port for this purpose? Can the Minister say whether the District Commissioner of that area, Mr. G. A. Skipper, to whom the statement is attributed, had any authority for making the announcement? Can the Minister also say whether MajorGeneral Lloyd, or Brigadier White, of the Australian Army, discussed this matter with Mr. Skipper or anybody else in authority, other than in Cairo and Kenya? Will the Minister undertake to keep the House fully informed of the latest developments in this matter, particularly in the light of Mr. Skipper’s remarks that a decision would be made in the near future?
– I have told the House on several occasions recently that the Australian Government is examining a scheme for an air-sea lift of migrants from Britain and from displaced persons camps in Germany. I have said that Brigadier White has gone to Cairo, to Geneva, and that later he would go to London to make certain investigations about the practicability of introducing a scheme that was brought to Australia by Mr. Robert Innes of the International Refugee Organization and Mr. Gilbert Christie of the firm of Airworks Limited, London. I have also said that MajorGeneral Lloyd who is the representative of the International Refugee Organization in Australia would consult with
Brigadier White, the British representatives, and representatives of the International Refugee Organization to see whether the scheme put forward is practicable. Briefly, the whole scheme envisages flying people from England to some part of Africa - it may be Rhodesia or Kenya - and also flying displaced persons from Germany to the same place. Ultimately they will be brought from Africa to Australia by ship. Embarkation ports have not yet been decided upon. The honorable gentleman would be well advised not to take too much notice of newspaper reports that it has been decided to use Mombasa. Considerations of great importance are involved. Large areas of Africa are subject to yellow fever, and the public health authorities in Australia require that adequate steps shall be taken to ensure that that disease will not be introduced into this country. The port of embarkation in Africa has accordingly not yet been determined. As soon as I am in a position to make a full statement on this matter, I shall do so. MajorGeneral Lloyd is expected to arrive back in Australia at an early date, and Brigadier White should arrive here within two or three weeks afterwards.
Debate resumed from the 15th October (vide page 1746)’, on motion by Mr. Barnari -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. White had moved, by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be left om, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ the bill be withdrawn and referred to a parliamentary select committee of ex-servicemen appointed to inquire into and report upon the present repatriation pension rates with a view to better adjusting these rates to present living costs “.
.tIn the few minutes available to me today I shall recapitulate the aspects to which I should like the Minister to give further consideration. When speaking on this matter on the last sitting day of the Parliament, I confused the term “ service pension “ with “ services pension”; I wish that term to be applied generally rather than particularly. Doubtless some honorable members will make capital out of my error and try to justify a course that Opposition members regard as unjustifiable. I hope, however, that Government members will adopt a more realistic approach to this matter. At the time, I was preoccupied with the principle involved rather than with the correct terminology to describe particular types of pensions. I appreciate fully that the term “ service pension “ applies to a pension which is granted to ex-servicemen on their attaining the age of 60 years. That would be five years before ex-servicemen became eligible for an age pension. “When referring to this matter, I intended that my remarks should apply to exservicemen generally. The first point I emphasize is that the proposed pension rates for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, who are most deserving of consideration, should be increased. Those pensioners should receive at least the 10 per cent, increase in pension rates which is to be given to other classes of pensioners. Only a 5 per cent, increase is proposed in the bill under debate. The proposal that this deserving body of pensioners should be treated less generously than other sections of pensioners is wholly indefensible. I emphasize, also, that, although an ex-serviceman may be classified as totally and permanently incapacitated, he has no assurance that his pension will be permanent. On this subject I have received the following letter from an exserviceman who states that: - . . the worry and uncertainty of losing the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Pension through one of these compulsory examinations still applies and I would he grateful if you could ventilate this, ft is a sword of Damocles perpetually poised over one’s head, and makes one fear that - should one be actually a bit better on the day one is examined, the pension will go. This’ actually happened to me twice when I was on the ordinary pension. I was reduced from £4 4s. per fortnight to 20s. 3d., and only recovered the full amount upon appeal. So you will appreciate that my fear is not without ground.
We can assume that an ex-serviceman is not classified as totally and permanently incapacitated while there remains a lingering doubt about his chances of recovery. Therefore, there should not be any doubt about the permanency of his pension. Also, we should remember that worry about matters such as this may make a bad condition very much worse. An increase of strain on the heart, or an increase of .blood pressure may be fatal to a patient. I urge the Minister to have this matter examined again with a view to ensuring that an ex-serviceman who is classified as totally and permanently incapacitated shall not be in danger of losing his pension completely or of suffering a reduction of it. I do not suggest that a blinded soldier who regains his eyesight is in this category. Obviously, if a disability is removed, the entitlement to a pension no longer exists. I am referring particularly to patients suffering from heart disease, blood pressure, or spinal disablement. Once an ex-serviceman in this category is classified as totally and permanently incapacitated, his pension should be secure for the rest of his life.
I draw attention to the fact that, in relation to the basic wage, the present 100 per cent, pension payable to a serviceman is 17£ per cent, less than it was fourteen years ago. The scale should be revised to ensure that the pension shall be increased at least by that 17-J per cent, to restore its former relationship to the basic wage. The point to be remembered is that a soldier’s pension should always be regarded as compensation rather than as an economic unit. This question has been debated in this House on several occasions. Opposition members have endeavoured to induce the Government not to regard a soldier’s pension exceeding £1 a week as income for the purposes of the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Act. Certain superannuation payments of up to £2 a week are not regarded as income, and I contend that a similar concession should be granted in respect of soldiers’ pensions. At the very least, an ex-serviceman should be treated as well as any other member of the community. In fact, he should be treated better, because the service that he rendered in time of war made possible the continuance of emoluments to all sections of the community. However, if we cannot secure better treatment for exservicemen, we insist upon equal treatment at least. Again I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to this matter. Another Minister has said that it is not possible for him to amend legislation in this chamber. I have every confidence that the Minister for Repatriation, who has a propensity for sticking to something that he starts, will succeed where his colleague has failed.
I come now to widows’ pensions. I have said on former occasions, and I repeat now, that these pensions present a social problem so full of complexities that the whole matter should be submitted to &n all-party parliamentary committee, with a view to the removal of the anomalies that have become apparent. I am sure that it is the wish of the Minister that war widows and their families - I stress the word “ families “ - should not be at a disadvantage compared with other people in the community, because their husband, father, and breadwinner lost his life in the service of this country. The schedule of war widows’ pensions is a formidable document and, at first glance, one might be inclined to ask, “ What is there to complain .about ? “, but a close study reveals many inconsistencies. I spoke with several war widows yesterday, and while stressing the difficulty of adequately stating their case in a few minutes, they said that the whole schedule required reconstruction. They urged that we should divorce from our minds the idea that a war. widow could supplement her pension substantially by her earnings. Everybody should know that a widow with two, three or more children has no time to earn money. In relation to both the widow’s pension, and that payable to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, I point out that the basic wage is to be increased soon by 3s. a week. Will that increase be reflected in those pensions? That is an aspect of this matter to which more consideration should be given. Increases of the basic wage are granted to offset increased costs of living. Surely there is every justification for granting similar increases to pensioners. Under the new proposals, a widow with three children will receive £5 2s. 6d. a week, plus child endowment of £1 a week, making a total of £6 2s. 6d. a week. If the husband and father were alive, it is most unlikely that he would be earning less than £6 2s. 6d. a week, because that is approximately the basic wage, and few workers to-day earn only the basic wage. In all probability the breadwinner of the family would be earning £7, £8 or £9 a week. In addition, of course, the family would be receiving child endowment. Therefore, if the Government considers that that family requires a basic wage of £6 2s. 6d. a week, plus child endowment of £1, why not continue to make that payment in the absence of the breadwinner?
Since I spoke on Friday last, I have received several letters on this subject. Naturally a good speech brings some response. One letter from a war widow describes what appears to be unwarranted discrimination between widows of World War I., and those of World War II. The letter points out that the widow of World War I. suffers the disadvantage of being considerably older than the average widow of World War II. Attention is also drawn to the fact that a widow of World War II. may choose her own doctor, receive medical attention at such places as Yaralla Hospital, .receive legal aid, be assisted to learn some occupation which will be of assistance to her in supplement her pension, or obtain a grant for home furnishing. The writer of the letter refers in those words to the widow of World War II. She goes on to say that the World War I. widow must rely on a lodge for medical attention.
– We are adjusting all that.
– Widows of World War I. have not the privilege of entering military hospitals as patients, and they have no legal aid benefits.
– Most of such complaints will be adjusted.
– They are not adjusted in this bill.
– Most of them are.
– Then I am very pleased to hear it. It appeared to me that there was an unwarranted discrimination between the widows of the two world wars, and the fact that that discrimination has operated up to now certainly has not been warranted.
– I am not responsible for. that.
– I hope that the Minister will give some attention to the clearing up of the anomalies pointed out by honorable members of the Opposition, who are ever on the alert to ensure that justice shall be given to the community, and more particularly to the more deserving sections of it, the war widows and other pensioners.
– We must consider whether service pensions, and particularly war widows’ pensions, should be governed by the needs of the individual or simply by the fact that the recipients are war widows or other pensioners. I was pleased to hear the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) this afternoon correct a statement that he made on Friday regarding a means test for recipients of service pensions. I was very concerned on Friday, when the honorable member appeared to be giving the country to understand that an innovation was being introduced regarding eligibility for service pensions. I was amazed when he made the statement to which I refer as, about ten years ago, during the term of office of an antiLabour government, a man told me that he could obtain a pension that was then equal to the age pension, at that time about £1 a week, and that in addition he would be able to earn 25s. a week - 12s. 6d. on his own behalf and 12s. 6d. on his wife’s - without his pension being affected. When the honorable member for Gippsland made his statement on Friday I felt that he must have been under a misapprehension. He has stated to-day that he made his statement in error, and I hope that those who may have read or heard his statement on Friday will become aware that it was made in error.
We must appreciate that a service pension is not a pension given for war disabilities in the general sense. When a person applies for a general pension it is necessary that the medical officers who examine applicants must be satisfied that his or her disabilities are due to war service before the pension can be granted.
The Government agreed about ten years ago that a man who had served in the 1914-18 war would, as he grew older, show the effects of that war in a reduced expectation of life and in a diminution of his ability to perform work that he would otherwise have been capable of performing, and it was therefore decided that if men served in certain areas where war operations took place they would be entitled to receive, at the age of 60, the same rate of pension as the ordinary pensioner would be entitled to receive at the age of 65. I believe that that is the origin of what is commonly known as the “ burnt-out “ pension.
A number of references have been made during this debate to the adequacy of the pensions. I believe that the honorable members opposite will agree that no matter who they are, people are never satisfied with the amount they are receiving. They always desire more than they are already getting. We in Parliament have even been challenged because we considered ourselves worth more I, .an we were receiving in emoluments. Numerous instances have been cited to show the inadequacy of the amount of pension received. If we take the war widow’s pension as an example, I think we will have an illustration of how difficult it is for any Minister, ox any government, to arrive at a rate of pension that can be considered as equitable. All the arguments put forward on behalf of war widows and widows with children are arguments against bringing any means test into operation with respect to the granting of these pensions. The honorable member for Gippsland, when he spoke under a misapprehension on Friday, argued that a means test should not be brought into operation in relation to service pensions. I agree that in anything the Minister does with regard to general pensions he must not make provision for a means test.
Many war widows are young women who married only shortly before their husbands went overseas to fight, and to die. Many of these women remained after marriage in the occupations in which they had worked when single, and did not set up a home for themselves, but continued to live with their parents. We cannot compare the position of such war widows with that of a war widow with three or four children. When the Government assesses the war widow’s pension it must either make a very big amount of money available to people who, from an economic point of view, really do not need it, or penalize some who are suffering real hardship. I contend that the Minister has endeavoured to meet that position. In the scale set out increases have been given to war widows with children, and provision has been made for their education. In many cases a widow with children is receiving an amount equal to that which she would have been receiving if her husband were still alive. I know many such instances. Many people appear to believe that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) does not appreciate the position of service pensioners, but he does, as there is one in his own family. A member of my family is also in receipt of a general war pension. I have personal knowledge of the difficulties of family men who were partially incapacitated during World War I. I am concerned about how we can alleviate the distress of those who are suffering real hardship without substantially increasing the pensions of many other people who are not in need of such increases. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) said that a war widow with three children would receive a pension of £5 2s. 6d. a week plus £1 a week child endowment payments, making a total weekly income of £6 2s. 6d. If her husband were alive and at work, his expenses in connexion with fares, wear and tear of clothing and food would not be less than 37s. 6d. a week. That is possibly an underestimate. Therefore, if the widow with one child received a pension of £5 2s. 6d. a week, and no child endowment, her total weekly income would be the equivalent of £7 to a woman with a husband and one child. Many men who are working to-day do hot receive £7 a week. It is easy to say that the basic wage is £5 16s. a week and that a man may supplement it in various ways.
– The basic wage now is £6 a week.
– Assuming it to be £6 a week, which I think is a trifle in excess of the exact figure-
– The basic wage for New South Wales is now £6 2s. a week.
– It varies almost from day to day. Whatever the figure may be, many men do not receive more than the basic wage. I am attempting to show that it is difficult to compare the weekly income of a widow with three children with the amount of money that might have come into the home if her husband had not been killed.
My opinion is that the widows of men who were killed in the war and men who were incapacitated in the course of their war service are entitled to a standard of living that is equal to that of the ordinary citizen. The general rate of war pension for 100 per cent, incapacity was £2 2s. a week prior to the Labour Government taking office in 1941, and it has now been increased to £2 15s. a week. There is an allowance of £1 4s. a week for a wife and 9s. a week for the first child. A man who has been assessed as suffering from a 100 per cent, incapacity will, if he has a wife and one child, draw a pension of £4 8s. a week, and, in addition, be entitled to receive what he can earn. Many such men are receiving full wages in addition to their pensions. A war pension is, as the honorable member for Gippsland said, really a compensation for war injuries. A member who has been blinded, or is totally or permanently incapacitated, or who is seriously incapacitated from tuberculosis, is entitled to a pension of £5 6s. a week. That is not an unreasonable amount for a single man.
– The increase in that case is only 5 per cent. All the other pensions have been increased by 10 per cent.
– I shall deal with that aspect of the matter later. Such a man, if he be married is also entitled to an allowance of £1 4s. a week in respect of his wife and 9s. a week in respect of a child. A married man with a wife and one child would, therefore, draw £6 19s. a week. In addition, he is entitled to free medical benefits, which a man in ordinary employment has to provide for himself.
When the position of such a pensioner is compared with that of a man in receipt of the basic wage, and who has a wife and one child, for which he receives no child endowment payments, it is seen that the plight of the pensioner is not so deplorable as honorable members opposite have suggested.
– Such a man and his wife are worse off than a married couple who are drawing age pensions, for which they qualify merely by reason of their age.
– The age pensioners would receive £4 5s. a week between them at the new rate.
– Plus what they can earn. Totally incapacitated men cannot earn anything.
– As a rule, an age pensioner is not able to earn much. The maximum that he may earn without affecting his pension is £3 a week. A war pensioner, however, may earn an unlimited amount without affecting his pension. There again, we shall fall into a trap if we try to compare one section of the community with another.
– My view is that it is not possible to place a monetary value upon health.
– The invalid pension does so. Recently I received a copy of a circular letter in which it was stated that disabled ex-servicemen should be paid pensions that are commensurate with their earnings before the war. If that were done, the pension payable to one ex-captain might be lower than that payable to another ex-captain, because their pre-war earnings were different. Such a system would entail asking every applicant for a pension what his income was before the war and assessing his pension upon that basis. That system would earn the condemnation of the whole of the community.
– The First Schedule to the bill provides that the pension payable to the widow of a member of the forces shall be based upon the rate of pay of the member at the time of his death.
– That will not mean that an applicant for a pension must appear before a tribunal and prove what the man was earning before he joined the forces. The honorable member for Gippsland has claimed that the pension should be paid to ex-service personnel as a compensation for war service and not on an economic basis. In that event, it is illogical to argue that the pension should be adjusted to meet, in full, variations of the cost of living. I shall not labour the matter further, because the Minister has thoroughly considered it. Many organizations concerned with the welfare of war widows, ex-service personnel and their dependants have forwarded to him their representations as to what they consider should be done. I have discussed the subject personally with the Minister and placed my views before him. He has fully considered all those representations and endeavoured to do the best he possibly can while, at the same time, dealing with the problem in a realistic way on the basis that war pensions are not founded on the pensioner’s- needs but as a recognition of war service and incapacity due to war service. Unless honorable members opposite are prepared to advocate the application of the means test to applicants for war pensions it is useless for them to base their arguments upon cases of individual hardship. I oppose the application of the means test to these pensions in any way whatsoever. I accept the principle that they are equitable payments, bearing in mind the needs of other sections of the community who depend upon social service benefits, and that they are made available to exservice personnel until their demise. I oppose the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) which, if adopted, would delay these increases being made available to pensioners.
– If the Government accepts the amendment, the Opposition will allow the bill to pass immediately.
– But the amendment proposes that the bill be withdrawn. Therefore, the honorable member is inconsistent. The Government desires that the bill be implemented as soon as possible with a view to these increases being made available to pensioners by next pension day. The honorable member’s amendment appears to me to be rather humorous because, in effect, it proposes that a committee consisting of private members should determine the expenditure by the Government in this matter.
– This is exactly what the Government itself did in 1943.
– The committee appointed in 1943 made certain recommendations dealing not only with the rates of pensions but also with other matters. I prefer that the measure be implemented at the earliest possible moment. Therefore, I support it.
Itr. FRANCIS (Moreton) [4.35].- I am amazed at the lack of knowledge displayed by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) concerning the report of the all-party committee which was appointed in 1943 to examine the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. He said that the recommendations made by that committee did not relate to the rates of pension, whereas, in fact, they included an all-round increase of 20 per cent. That recommendation was accepted by the Government. That committee, which was composed of three members of the ministerial party and three members of the Opposition parties, concluded its deliberations in record time. The House will be merely wasting its time if it pays any attention to the fallacious statements made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh. The report of the committee appointed in 1943 is still available, and I shall be happy to supply him with a copy of it if he cannot obtain one from the Clerk. The members of that committee were the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), Senator Lamp, Senator Allan MacDonald, the late Senator Collett, the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) and myself. Having been privileged to serve as a member of that committee, I can speak authoritatively on this matter. The Government’s present proposals, which we are told are designed to help ex-service personnel and their dependants as well as war widows and orphans to meet the increased cost of living, are most niggardly. They have already brought down upon the Government’s head the condemnation of every section of the community. These proposals are parsimonious. No section of the community . deserves greater con sideration and assistance than those men and women of the armed forces who served in two world wars. Is this the best that the Government can do in recognition of the sacrifices they made in saving not only this country but also other countries and civilization as a whole? The Government’s maladministration and extravagance in one hundred and one ways have contributed to the present high cost of living. Although the Government announced that it proposed to increase pensions by 10 per cent., the increase now proposed in respect of pensions for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-service personnel is only 5 per cent. I shall be interested to hear what explanation the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) has to offer for that fact which can be amply proved by figures available to all honorable members. The Minister should not sit so complacently at the table and with such a self-satisfied look when these proposals do not, in fact, give to pensioners the assistance which the Government professed it would give to them. I repeat that these proposals are niggardly and totally inadequate to meet the needs of these classes of pensioners. I emphasize that the increase of pension proposed in respect of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-service personnel is only 5 per cent. The proposals generally will not nearly meet the increase of the cost of living which has represented considerably more than 10 per cent, since the war ended. I regard the proposals as hopelessly inadequate and I condemn the Government for being so inconsiderate of the needs of disabled ex-service men and women. Accordingly, I heartily support the amendment that - the bill be withdrawn and referred to a parliamentary select committee of exservice.men appointed to inquire into and report upon the present repatriation pension rates with a view to better adjusting these rates to present living costs.
That was the effect of the recommendation of the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. The recommendation of the tribunal reads -
The tribunal recommends that a general inquiry into the administration of the Repatriation Act, including an investigation into the matters raised in this Report, be conducted by a competent authority having no association with the Repatriation Department.
-That was the recommendation of a tribunal which was established as part of the Repatriation Department.
– I do not say that it is part of the Repatriation Department, but it is certainly a part of the organization of that department which was established for the purpose of hearing appeals against the rejection of claims for war pensions by the department. An applicant for a war pension first submits his claim to the State branch of the Repatriation Department. If it be rejected, he may appeal to the Repatriation Commission and if he is not satisfied with the decision of the commission he may appeal to the Entitlement Tribunal. The No. 1 Tribunal has denounced the Minister and the policy of this Government more trenchantly and scathingly than has any other tribunal or instrumentality” in the history of this Commonwealth. Its report amply supports the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava, A war pension is an economic allowance granted to a disabled exserviceman as some compensation for the disabilities from, which he suffers’ as the result of war” service.- It- is paid to him iti order to enable him to compete in industry on more equal terms w”ith those’ who have not suffered any disability arising from war service. No monetary payment could ever compensate saa; ex-serviceman for the loss of a limb or the breakdown of his health as- the result of war service; birt the war pension represents some approach towards that problem of compensation. The existing pensions scale was fixed in 1920 and is totally inadequate to meet the present cost of living.- Since 19-20- the cost of living has increased considerably, and -it Iia® sky-rocketed since this1 Govern.went assumed office. An examination of the percentage increase of the- pensions ra»t’e shows that the projected’ increase means in fact that a war pensioner’ will receive 47.5 per cent, of the basic wage, whereas itf 1934 he received’ 6>4.’6’ pes’ cent,- of that wage. Thus, By comparison* wi’th’ the- basic wage earner, the war pensioner Icas Suffered a loss of 17,1 per cent. Having regard to the? rising cost of living,, the
War p” pensioner is” in an appalling’ position. From 1934 to 1944 the all items “ C “ series retail index figures show aft increase 6f 23,5 per” cent, iii the 66st df living. Since the end 6’f that ten year period, from 1944 to 1947-48 there has been a further increase of 9.6 per cent, in the cost of living, and the index figures are’ still showing an upward tr’end. A curious anomaly is that age and invalid pensions have increased from 26.9 per cent.- of the basic wage in 1934 to 36.3 pgr dent. 6f the basie wage w”ith the announced 5s. increase. t”he Government’s parsimonious gesture to disabled exservicemen, who gave of their1 best when the nation Heeded them-, should be soundly condemned by every honorable member. AS the res-lilt- of recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee On Repatriation, of -which I was a member, some adjustments of the pensions rate have been made in the past, bit* the* proposal contained in the bill flow before us’ Completely disregards’ both the recommendations of that comm’ittee and the steeply increasing cost of living.- Exservicemen’s organizations from all over Australia have protested against this niggardly increase. Time does not permit me to read all the letters that have been sent to me oh this subject; Almost every sUb-branch 6’f the Returned Sailors, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, the Legion of Ex-servicemen and the Air Force” Association has protested against this proposal. I have received the following, telegram from- the president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia in- Queensland which- typifies the- views of ex-servicemen’s organizations1 throughout that State: -
R.S’.I/; request substantial, increases in war pensions comparable’ with increases granted all other sections’ in conformity with increased living costs and request yow active cooperation’ iii1 interests- of Sifts” million ex-‘-se’rvice personnel and’ their dependents.
A letter which I received oW this subject from Mr1. Eric Millhouse, Federal’ President of’ the- Returned! Sailors, Soldiers; and Airmen’s Imperial’ League df Australia read’s as- follows 1?he Federal Executive of the K.S.L. at its meeting in- Adelaide’ yesterday, expressed strong resentment at what- is- regarded as- the callous disregard shown- by the Commonwealth-
Government in response to repeated representations for a long overdue and substantial increase in war pensions generally.
Delegates from all States indicated a nationwide resentment expressed at 1948 State Conferences of the League, that succeeding Commonwealth Governments had failed to show a true appreciation of the unanswerable claims of a section of the community apparently foi gotten by the Government.
This attitude can only be interpreted as a complete negation of the promises made when those who are now incapacitated as a result of war service were in uniform,
The general public will be astounded to learn that a comparison of increases in war pensions with the basic wage shows that whereas in the last 25 years the basic wage has increased by 40 per cent., the pension rate for war disabled ex-servicemen has only increased by 19 per cent. For over 20 years up to 1043 no increase was made in the pension rate, whilst the basic wage has increased by over 20 per cent., but the war pension has remained stationary. It is pointed out that the basic wage is fixed by a judicial body after a scientific inquiry which considers the purchasing power of the £1.
As war pensioners, too, have to bear the increased living costs, the K.S.L. asserts that increases enjoyed by other sections of the community should, likewise, be grunted to this most deserving class, to whom the nation owes its very existence.
This letter and other letters which I have received on this subject show the utter dissatisfaction of ex-servicemen generally with the Government’s niggardly proposal. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) sits in the House in selfsatisfied complacency. He should hang his head in shame. He cannot mention one factor which would justify this niggardly proposal. The Australian Legion of Ex-service Men and Women has pointed out that in 1920 the federal basic wage was £3 17s. a week. In that year, the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen’s pension rate was fixed at £4 a week, representing 104 per cent, of the basic wage. To-day the federal basic wage is £5 13s. a week, but the proposed rate of pension is £5 6s. a week, which represents only 94 per cent, of the basic wage. In order merely to maintain parity with the 1920 standard, the new rate of pension should be approximately £5 17s. a week. Will the Minister explain why this substantial reduction of the value of the pension paid to totally and permanently incapacitated ox-servicemen has been allowed to occur? How can he be satisfied? No other section of the community has a greater claim upon our sympathy than this group of pensioners. Such men are not able to earn income for themselves because of their complete incapacity. These needy citizens should receive much more than the 5 per cent, increase which the Government proposes to give to them, notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s statement in his budget speech that pensions would be increased by 10 per cent. The Government has been dishonest in its statements. I do not know whether the Minister for Repatriation has made a serious mistake or has deliberately provided for this inadequate increase. He should explain why the Government is discriminating against this one class of people who cannot help themselves. These men suffer day and night as the result of the services which they rendered to their country, yet this Government shows its regard for them by .reducing the standard of their pension to less than that of 1920, although the Legion of Ex-service Men and Women claims that the original rate of pension, representing 104 per cent, of the basic wage, was inadequate in any case!
I shall now deal with war pensions generally. In 1920, the 100 per cent, rate of war pension was fixed at £2 a week, representing 54 per cent, of the federal basic wage. To-day, the 100 per cent, rate is only £2 10s. a week, representing only 44 per cent, of the basic wage. What is the Minister’s explanation of that? The proposed 5 per cent, increase will bring the 100 per cent, rate of pension to less than 49 per cent, of the present basic wage. In order to maintain parity with the rate fixed in 1920, the pension to-day should be £3 2s. a week. I was a member of the parliamentary committee which recommended in 1943 that the pension rate should be increased. That committee compared the situation which existed in 1942 with that which existed in 1920, when war pensions were introduced. In 1920, the “ C “ series price index for the six State capital cities was 1,166. By June, 1942, it had decreased by 85 points to 1,081. Nevertheless the committee recommended, from its general knowledge of conditions and in the light of all factors affecting living costs, that the rate of pension should be increased by 20 per cent. That recommendation was adopted by the go- vernment of the day. The committee stated in its report -
The Committee found that there waa reasonable ground for a general increase of the rates of war pension. An outstanding factor in this regard was the comparison of rates of pay to members of the Forces and allowances to their dependants with the same items in respect of the 1914 war.
It considered that the relationship between allotments made to dependants of servicemen in World War I. and World War II. respectively justified an increase of the pension rate by 20 per cent, in spite of the fact that the “ C “ series index had dropped by 85 points between the two wars. The report added -
The Committee considers that it would bc reasonable to approve of a general increase of 20 per cent. . . .
Since that report was made, the “ C “ aeries index level has risen by approximately 18 per cent. The basic wage payable in capital cities has increased by 22 per cent. In the light of the greatly changed circumstances since the date of that committee’s investigation, the Government should provide for a much more substantial increase than is contemplated. The longer one examines this bill, the more one is convinced that its provisions are niggardly and parsimonious. I agree with this statement in a recent issue of Smith’s Weekly -
To hundreds of sick and wounded exservicemen who, in the battle against poverty, have to drag their aching and mutilated bodies to work,” this “ five bob “ insult is a crowning humiliation.
That reflects the opinion of all intelligent people who have considered this matter. I ask the Minister to re-examine his proposals with a view to prevailing upon the Government to do something worth while for service pensioners by fixing a rate of pension more in keeping with the basic wage and the general cost of living than is the proposed rate, which is hopelessly inadequate and has no relation to increased costs. The last report furnished to the Parliament by No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal is a severe indictment of the Minister -and his department; so much so, in fact, that the Minister kept the ‘report from the Parliament for a long time. His action was unworthy and improper. The law re quires that such reports be tabled in this House, but the Minister hung on to this report from the end of June until now-
– The report reached me on the 8th October, and I tabled it last week.
– The statement of the Minister is incorrect.
– It is perfectly true.
– lt would not be difficult to find out from the members of the committee when the report was sent in. The report which I have before me is for the period from the 1st July, 1947, to the 28th February, 1948. Why has that report not been placed before us until now? I can tell honorable members the reason. It is because the report is itself an indictment of the Minister’s inefficiency and futility. The recommendations of the committee on the subject of onus of proof have been ignored. The report of the tribunal, the members of which are Messrs. G. J. O’sullivan, E. J. Dibdin and M. A. Hickey- all of them ex-servicemen who have given long and faithful service - stated that the purport of section 47 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act was not fully appreciated by the Repatriation Commission. If it had been, a considerable number of claims would have been allowed by the commission, and there would have been no need to appeal to the tribunal. Thus, the Minister and the department, by not applying the provisions of the act, have caused much delay and suffering to exservicemen and their dependants. The Minister ought to be ashamed of himself. I quote the following from the report -
Not only has no improvement since been discerned but the position has deteriorated and is adversely affecting widows, sick and wounded ex -members of the forces and their dependants.
Obviously, the Minister has fallen down on his job. He has denied justice to sick and disabled servicemen, and to the widows and orphans of servicemen, and has made it necessary to carry appeals to the entitlement tribunal when pensions should have been granted by the Repatriation Commission. That was pointed out to the Minister last year, but the same form of injustice has been perpetrated right throughout this year, and the tribunal found it necessary to emphasize that the position is deteriorating. The report states -
The provisions of Section 47 may be summarized as follows: -
The Repatriation Commission, a Repatriation Board and a Tribunal shall -
act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case and shall not he bound by technicalities or legal forms or rules of evidence:
give to the claimant the benefit of any doubt;
draw all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant.
lt shall not be necessary for the claimant to furnish proof to support his claim;
The onus of proving the claim to be outside the provisions of the Act shall lie on the Repatriation Board and the Repatriation Commission.
The tribunal cites four cases in which, it says, pensions should have been granted. I ask for leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard the particulars of those cases.
– Is leave granted ?
– Evidently, the Minister is so ashamed of himself that he does not want particulars to be incorporated in Hansard, and so has refused permission.
– I withdraw my objection.
– The particulars, as set out in the report of the entitlement appeal tribunal, are as follows : -
This ex-member of the R.A.N.V.R. served with distinction for over four years. He was engaged on special duties behind the Japanese lines in New Guinea from, April, 1942, to August, 1943, and was evacuated by submarine in an emaciated and starving condition. In December, 1943, he again went into enemyoccupied territory and was evacuated with pneumonia in February, 1944. In November, 1944,he re-entered enemy-occupied territory and organized a guerrilla force, returning to allied territory in May, 1945.
Ho was awarded the British Distinguished Service Cross and the United States Distinguished Service Cross.
During his service he had suffered from decayed teeth and defective vision.
He appealed to this Tribunal for Defective Vision, “ Loss of Teeth “, and stated his grounds of appeal to be -
Defective Vision - “ That it was aggravated by eye-strain, starvation, privations and nervous strain caused by work done for the allied cause.”
Loss of Teeth - “ That it was due to bad food, ill health and lack of dental attention.”
On discharge from the Navy he had claimed . . . defective eyesight and teeth and the lack of them, caused by three years’ service in enemy-occupied territory, probably malnutrition (definite cause unknown). . . .
There was no evidence of a prior to enlistment condition affecting his teeth. The dental condition, therefore, was an occurrence on service which should have been accepted on first application.
As to his vision, whilst he stated he had worn glasses prior to enlistment, there was no evidence of the extent of his prior to enlistment incapacity; nor was there evidence to negative the man’s own clear statements that hia onerous service had seriously aggravated the condition. On discharge, unaided by glasses, he was blind in one eye and had a defect in the other eye. The Repatriation Board and the Repatriation Commission rejected both claims without comment.
The Tribunal upheld the appeal for both conditions.
This gallant ex-serviceman was greatly upset by the initial rejection of his claims, which on the evidence should have been accepted when he first applied.
The ex-member appealed to the Tribunal for acceptance of Anxiety Neurosis. His Grounds of Appeal were that his Anxiety Neurosis was associated with injuries received by him on service.
During service the appellant had received injuries including a fracture of the upper spine. He spent over ten months in plaster jacket, and was then discharged permanently medically unfit. The Repatriation Board accepted “injury to neck” as attributable to service and granted him a pension.
He continued to receive hospital treatment after discharge, and during this period complained of “ feeling very jumpy “, insomnia, neckpains, headaches and difficulty in swallowing. He was given sedatives to relieve his pain. Two years after discharge he was diagnosed as suffering from Anxiety Neurosis. He applied for acceptance of this condition but was rejected by the Repatriation State Board, a Repatriation medical officer having certified that his anxiety neurosis was due to “post war stress of life “.
His wife, alarmed at the deterioration in his mental condition, visited the Repatriation Hospital and stated that “ something will have to be done for him before he gets worse”. He was then examined by a Repatriation Psychiatrist who noted his history and expressed the following opinion : “ This patient appears to have an anxiety state which has followed on his neck injury - now losing weight and insomnia “.
He appealed to the Repatriation Commission, but the Commission rejected his appeal without comment, despite the evidence of the Commission’s own expert witness that the Anxiety State had followed on the neck injury which was attributable to service.
He then appealed to this Tribunal. His appeal was upheld.
This ex-member of the R.A.A.F. served for four years in Europe and was, therefore, eligible for the acceptance of any illness occurring on service.
He appealed to. this Tribunal for the acceptance of a stomach condition which he did not have prior to enlistment. At a medical examination before discharge, after serving for over five years,he complained of “ vomiting and burning below throat”. He repeated this complaint at the Final Medical Board immediately before his discharge.
Within four months of discharge he claimed the disability of “ nervous condition affecting the stomach and throat accompanied by fever “, and referred to the fact that “ these complaints were all mentioned at Final Board “.
He was investigated, and the disability was diagnosed as Hyperchlorhydria (an excessive secretion of acid in the stomach). A Repatriation medical officer, in answer to a formal question whether the disability resulted from an occurrence happening on service, stated “No”, despite the plain evidence to the contrary in the records. The Repatriation Commission then rejected the claim without comment.
Clearly this disability was an occurrence on service. Claims such as this should be accepted at first application.
The Tribunal allowed the appeal.
This ex-member served in the 1914-1918 war and also in the Middle East in the 1939 war.
He appealed to the Tribunal for the acceptance of a stomach condition.
The Repatriation Board had accepted Anxiety Neurosis and Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) as due to war service in the 1939 war and the member was being pensioned for these conditions.
Subsequently the ex-soldier claimed for the acceptance of Duodenal Ulcer. On being examined by the Repatriation Local Medical Officer his complaint was diagnosed as Gastric Neurosis? Peptic Ulcer. Later the diagnosis was amended to Functional Dyspepsia and a Repatriation medical officer certified the cause to be “psychogenic” (of psychic or mental origin ) , “ post-war development no record on service”, and negatived any contribution or aggravation by war service.
The Repatriation Commission then rejected the claim.
No advertence was made to the fact that the one psychic or mental factor in evidence in this case was Anxiety Neurosis. which had already been accepted by the Repatriation Board as due to war service. Clearly, therefore, on the evidence of the Commission’s own witness, the stomach condition claimed was also due to war service.
The Tribunal allowed the appeal.
No controversial or difficult questions either of law or fact, which could justify the original rejection of the claims, arose in any one of these cases. They were simple and straightforward, and, on the evidence before the Commission, fell fairly within the entitlement provisions of the Act. But they were rejected out of hand by the Repatriation Commission without any reasons being assigned.
An intelligent marshalling of the facts, and a proper application of the relevant provisions of the Act to those facts in the first instance would have obviated the necessity for any appeal.
The report states that the question of onus of proof had been a matter of conflict between the tribunal and the Minister for a long time. It was submitted to the Attorney-General for his opinion, and stated emphatically that the Repatriation Department was wrong, and the tribunal was right.
– It took, the AttorneyGeneral’s Department four years to say it.
– The question, as I have said, was referred to the AttorneyGeneral’s Department and, after a long delay, the following interpretation was received over the signature of the Attorney-General : -
I refer to your memorandum of 23rd March, 1944, No. G/907, in which a question is raised as to whetherthe Appeal Tribunal under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act is bound by all the provisions of section 47 (2) of that act.
I desire to inform you that with reference to the objection taken by Mr. O’sullivan, Chairman of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, to a statement in the Commission’s annual report to Parliament for the year ended 30th June, 1943, I am directed by the Attorney-General to inform you that the Attorney-General agrees entirely with the views expressed by Mr. O’sullivan.
It is evident that the entitlement tribunal has been trying to serve the interests of ex-servicemen, but the Repatriation Commission and the Minister have been standing in the way. The Attorney-General’s Department, which is the correct authority to express an opinion, declared that the chairman of the tribunal, Mr. O’sullivan, was right. Thus, it becomes evident that, not only are the pension rates inadequate, but also that many persons who were entitled to pensions have for a long time been prevented by the Minister from getting them. There are deserving ex-service personnel who have been denied pensions altogether. In some instances appellants have died before their appeals have been resolved. This is one of the saddest aspects of this matter. The tribunal recommended that there should be set up an independent body with power to examine all instances of delay, the unsatisfactory manner in which these matters have been handled, and the administration of the Repatriation Department generally. It further recommended that the investigation should be conducted by a competent authority having no association with the department. I contend, therefore, that a royal commission should be appointed immediately to inquire fully into this subject-matter. I cannot recall ever before having heard of a recommendation being submitted by a branch of a department for an investigation into the administration of the entire department because it had fallen down hopelessly on its job. I emphasize that, although the Government professes in the present proposals to grant increases of 10 per cent. in the pensions to ex-servicemen, totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen will get an increase of only 5 per cent. under the terms of this bill. The Government has made no satisfactory explanation in this connexion. A letter from the Chairman, No. 1 “War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal to the Chairman, Repatriation Commission, dated the 28th February, 1948, included the following: -
That was a denunciation of the commission. That letter says clearly that the medical history sheets to be placed before the tribunal were inefficiently and inade quately prepared, with the result that the commission rejected the applications for pensions. The commission’s obvious lack of understanding of its fundamental responsibilities is distressing. The letter continues -
Have honorable members ever before heard of such inefficiency? Obviously, there was room for much improvement in the preparation of documentary evidence. Such an unsatisfactory state of affairs militated unfairly against the incapacitated ex-servicemen appellants to the tribunal. The facts I have cited are a complete denunciation of the Minister and the Repatriation Department. The letter continues -
This proves conclusively that the department is not carrying out the provisions of the act. If the Minister has any sense of responsibilityhe should make sure that any further delay in dealing with these matters is obviated, and he should see that the allegations and chargeswhich have been levelled against the Repatriation Department are investigated. I contend that the Minister, having had this report in his possession for some time, should have stated in this House long ago that he viewed very seriously the complaints that had been made. He should also have assured the House that he would take certain steps to overcome delay in dealing with appeals. It must be remembered that the allegations contained in this report were borne out by the opinion of the Attorney-General. In view of all these circumstances and the fact that this report has been withheld for such a lengthy period, I repeat that this must be regarded as a complete denunciation of the Minister and the Repatriation Department. I regret that this is so, because members of the Opposition have, of necessity, to live with, and to work in association with, Ministers. I should rauch, prefer to be able to say that I appreciate the difficulty of the problems chat the Minister has had to meet, and that he has done his utmost. However, on behalf of exservicemen in this country, I consider that I would be recreant to my duty if I did not suggest to the Parliament that this is a matter which calls for prompt and complete action. This report recommends that an independent committee should be appointed to investigate immediately the allegations contained in the report of the No. 1 Tribunal, because the department has fallen down on its job. That report shows clearly that many ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen in this country, in addition to widows and orphans, have not received pensions because of the maladministration of the department. Oan honorable members imagine any more serious charge which f.ould be made against any department or Minister? I point out to honorable members that very competent men comprised the No. 1 Tribunal. I know Mr. Dibdin very well. He was a fine soldier. I saw him whilst on service and I know that he was held in high esteem by his comrades. He was the State secretary of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia in Queensland, where he did such a splendid job that he was ultimately appointed as federal secretary of that organization. Following his outstanding work in that capacity, he was appointed to represent the combined ex-servicemen of Australia on this tribunal. That man’s word cannot be challenged. His is a lifelong record of service.
– What happened to him?
– Because he had the courage of his convictions and pointed out in the report last year the injustices that this Government was perpetrating on ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen in this country, and also because he repeated those charges in the terms I have stated to-day, he was peremptorily sacked, despite the fact that the Attorney-General had endorsed his opinion of the maladministration of the Repatriation Department. I point out that Mr. Dibdin has handled these matters for many years, yet because of his straightforward efforts when standing up for the rights of ex- service men and women, he has been deprived of his job. This is a scandal and the Minister has a lot to answer for to the people of this country.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
Six EARLE PAGE (Cowper) [5.20].- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) for two reasons. The first is that there has been a revolutionary change in the economic condition of Australia in the five years since the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act was last substantially revised, and another comprehensive review of the whole position should be made. The second reason is that, in my opinion, in view of the recommendation of No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal that a general inquiry should be made into the administration of the act, including the matters raised in the report of the tribunal, by a competent authority which has no association with the Repatriation Department, the time has come to examine thoroughly the question whether ex-servicemen are receiving the substantial justice which all honorable members wish them to enjoy. In view of the non-party consideration that has been given to the repatriation legislation since it was first introduced, I urge the Minister to accept the amendment or, alternatively, to make a suggestion of his own which would enable the same result to be achieved. I recall that in the 1 920’s when the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister, one night when the House was debating a repatriation measure, a small sub-committee representing all parties met in an endeavour to find some word which, when inserted in the act, would place the onus of proof upon the Repatriation Commission instead of upon ex-servicemen. The object was to make certain that no technicality would prevent an ex-serviceman from establishing that his disability was due entirely to his war service. I remember that the then Solicitor-General, now Sir Robert Garran, finally hit upon the word “ substantial “ which, although wide, and difficult to define, was accepted because it was felt that it would enable the act to be administered in such a way that the wishes of honorable members generally would be given effect. The measure was passed, and the pensions were fixed on what was thought, at that time, to be a liberal scale. Then the administration of the act was handed over to the Repatriation Commission which was composed of ex-servicemen. During the first two years after World War I., it was found that many ex-servicemen had been so anxious to return to civil life when the war ended that they had not observed the necessary procedure upon discharge to entitle them to a pension should a warcaused disability become apparent. It was found also that the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act was being interpreted in not quite the generous way that the Parliament intended. As a result in 1929 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals were appointed. Their task was to ensure that substantial justice would be done to exservicemen. The manner in which the claims of ex-servicemen shall be considered is laid down in section 47, which provides - (1.) The Commission, a Board, an Appeal Tribunal and an Assessment Appeal Tribunal, in hearing, determining or deciding a claim, application or appeal, shall 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 - (a.) as to the existence of any fact, matter, cause or circumstance which would be favorable to the claimant, applicant or appellant; or
That gives some idea of the manner in which this matter was viewed by the Parliament at that time. A more generous charter for administration could not have been devised. However, it was found that as ex-servicemen grew older, the heavy strain of their war service began to take toll of their physical capacity, and accordingly, in 1935 or 1937 the service pension was introduced. I think that the Minister who piloted that legislation through this chamber was the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). The purpose of the service pension was to provide for ex-servicemen who were “ burnt-out “ as the result of their war service; It was considered that these men were entitled to special consideration because their war service had placed upon their physical resources a strain to which civilians had not been subjected. The inauguration of the service pension eased the position somewhat. Then, during World War II. a further revision of the act was made. Wisely, an all-party parliamentary comuiittee was appointed to- examine the whole matter, and as a result of that committee’s recommendations the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act appeared in substantially its present form. I recall that the then Prime Minister, the late Mr. John Gurtin, complimented the Parliament upon the extraordinarily non-partisan manner in which the measure had been discussed both at the second-reading and the committee stages.
I come now to the question of what should be done at present. The increased cost of living has placed pensioners in a difficult position. The liberality of the pensions decided upon in 1920 did some damage to the cause of ex-servicemen, because pensions were not increased for many years although the cost of living, and, therefore the basic wage, increased and,conditions altered substantially in other ways. In 1934, thefull pension was £2 2 s. a week and the basic wage was £35s. a week Inother words, the pension was 65 per cent. of the basic wage. By 1943 the position of pensioners had deteriorated to such a degree that the pension was worth only 49.4 per cent, of the basie wage. The pension was then raised to £2 10s. a week, which was the equivalent, of 54 per cent, of the then basic wage. At that time the basic wage was about £4 8s. a week, but in the interval of five years it has risen in New South Wales to £6 2s., whilst the general basie wage for the Commonwealth has risen to £5 16s. or £5 17s. Yet the pension itself has remained at £2 10a. There has been an increase of nearly 25 per cent, in the basic wage during those five years, but the ratio of the pension to the basic wage has decreased to 41.6 per cent., an all-time low, whilst the actual amount of the pension in terms of money remains unchanged until the introduction of the present measure. As the whole position regarding ex-service pensions has been revolutionized by the increased cost of living, and considering the relative value of such pensions compared with other social benefits, I urge that the matter be re-examined by the Minister from the broadest possible angle. I urge that, if he will not accept the amendment by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) he will suggest a means whereby this matter could be dealt with.
I endorse the views on this matter that have been expressed by ex-servicemen’s organizations throughout Australia. I have received a letter dated 18th October from the State secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, which reads -
The Federal Executive, at a recent meeting in Adelaide, unanimously expressed strong resentment at the callous disregard shown by the Commonwealth Government in response to repeated representations for a long overdue and substantial increase in war pensions generally.
Delegates from all States indicated a nationwide resentment, expressed at 1948 State Conference of the League, that succeeding Commonwealth Governments had failed to show a true appreciation of the unanswerable claims for a section of the community apparently forgotten by the Government.
This attitude can only be interpreted as a complete negation of the promises made with those who are now incapacitated, as a result of war services when in uniform.
The comparison of increase in war pensions with the basic wage shows that whereas in the last 25 years the basic wage has increased by 46 per cent., the pension rate for war-disabled ex-servicemen has only increased by 19 per cent. For over twenty years, up to 1943, no increase was made to the pension rate, whilst the basic wage had greatly increased. Over the last five years, the basic wage has increased by over 20 per cent., but war pension has remained stationary. The basic wage is effected by a judicial body after a scientific inquiry which considers the purchasing power cf the £1. War pensioners, too, have to bear increased living costs and the League asserts that increases enjoyed by other sections of the community should likewise be granted to this most deserving class, to whom the nation owes its very existence.
The K.S.L. is strongly in favour of deletion of war pensioners from the Means Test for social services benefits. Further, the League is desirous that the War Pensions Entitlement Tribunal - disbanded on the 30th June last - should be re-established. The present War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal commenced sitting in Sydney on the 11th inst., and as far as N.S.W. is concerned, will only sit for a further three weeks during 1948. Sittings will not resume in Sydney until early in March, 1949, and by then the position of appeals regarding those waiting to be heard, will be chaotic.
At present it is taking approximately six months for an appeal to come before the Tribunal, after the date of lodgment of the appeal.
Several points made by the entitlement appeal tribunal in its report, which has already been mentioned, deal with the situation referred to in that letter regarding the long time taken for an appeal to come before the tribunal. It is bad enough for an applicant to be kept waiting for the hearing of his appeal, but when it is remembered that the applicant is frequently in a very serious financial state, and that often the reason for his appeal to the tribunal is that he is in ill health, and that while he is awaiting the hearing of his appeal he is debarred from having the expert medical attention and hospital treatment necessary to bring him back to health, it will be seen what a hardship is imposed upon him. Considering that the veterans of World War I. are ageing rapidly and therefore require more medical attention, and that an extraordinarily large number of ex-servicemen of World War II. suffer from recurrent disabilities which they contracted in tropical countries, it seems to me that the number of entitlement tribunals should be increased, rather than decreased, to ensure that all cases will be heard promptly. The tropical disabilities to which I refer are in the nature of diseases and are quite apart from war wounds or other casualties. The old adage “ He gives twice who gives quickly “ should apply more to applicants for pensions than to any other section of the community, and therefore I appeal to the Minister to deal with this whole matter as one requiring urgency. I know how difficult it is to decide between the rival claims of contending authorities in one department. It is true that the Minister has had a very hard row to hoe. It is also true that he has had in his possession for probably six months information as to the state of tension that existed between the Repatriation Commission and the entitlement tribunal. He has known of the attitude of the entitlement tribunal towards the Repatriation Commission, and has had before him a very definite statement that the Repatriation Commission, in the opinion of - the entitlement tribunal, was not carrying out its duties as set out in section 47 of the act, which T have read to the House. He has been aware of those matters and it seems to me he ought to explain the position to the Parliament. He may have a reasonable explanation for it, but an explanation of some kind is certainly due to the Parliament, the ex-servicemen’s organizations and the country, and I consider that he should make it during this debate. This difficulty having arisen in his department, I consider that the time has come to decide whether the entitlement tribunal, which, the act lays down, must be presided over by a lawyer of substantial standing in practice, should not be completely independent of the Repatriation Commission even though it is to carry out functions in that department, so that its members may feel themselves to be a real board of appeal whose responsibility would be not to the Minister, but to the law, just as the responsibility of a judge is to the law and to nothing else. The present position seems to me to be wrong, but I must say that the BrucePage Government was as much to blame as is the present Government, because it brought the Repatriation Commission into existence. Its guilt is however, lessened by the fact that only experience could show whether the establishment of the entitlement tribunal was a good or bad move and that is why I have a great deal of sympathy for the Minister for Repatriation in the mess he is in. Considering the Minister’s present difficulties regarding the rivalry in his department it appears to me that things should have been done differently in the very beginning. The difficulties which have arisen make it imperative that there shall be a full inquiry to discover, first of all, whether the charges made can be substantiated. The Repatriation Commission may have a complete answer to those charges. An inquiry could establish whether it has or not. In my experience the Repatriation Commission has. done a very good job for the last 30 years. I believe that this matter should be dealt with honestly and promptly so as to make certain that all the facts come out and that nobody can wrongly be held to have taken incorrect action. The matter is one of vital importance to disabled ex-servicemen. I know of dozens of men who suffered acute distress because there was a delay of many months before their cases were heard by the “War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. All kinds of impediments were put in their way. The act originally provided that in respect of certain pensions a pensioner had tobe re-examined before a specified period of time elapsed. It was found that, as a result, pensioners were in a continuous state of nervous anxiety, which prevented them from becoming well again. The act was then amended to provide that in respect of certain classes of pensions the degree of incapacity should be determined finally, although a pensioner still retained the right to appeal and to ask for an increased pension. The anxiety of many pensioners was almost immediately relieved. The time has arrived when action on those lines should again be taken. The amendment of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) would, at any rate, meet the position so far as the actual rate of pension is concerned. That is a matter upon which there should be an agreement among all parties, and I do not think that it. would be very difficult to obtain that agreement. The position of wives of men who suffer from tuberculosis is a matter that could be dealt with by the al.party committee if the Minister will not deal with it himself before that stage. The other matter to which reference has been made is, I believe of such a nature that it cannot be dealt with simply by appointing the allparty committee that has been suggested. It should be the subject of an inquiry of a different kind, in which both sides will be able to present their cases so that a decision may be arrived at as to the action that should be taken to achieve the wisest administration, the most speedy justice and the best results for the exservicemen. I urge the Minister to examine this problem in an objective way. I am sure th at if he does so, he will agree with me.
.- The main effect of this bill will be slightly to increase the pensions that are now paid to ex-servicemen.
Air. Fuller. - Let us get it through.
– The sooner it is passed, after having been appropriately amended, the better I shall be pleased. Anybody who has studied the bill and noted the increased benefits that it is proposed to grant to ex-servicemen must regard it as a very disappointing measure. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) seems to approve of it, but as the honorable gentleman knows very little about ex-servicemen, I propose to inform him of their views in this connexion.
I suppose that the Government has decided that ex-servicemen should be thankful for small mercies, because the mercies that will be bestowed upon them if this bill is passed will be small. I assure the honorable member for Hume that no ex-servicemen or ex-servicemen’s associations of which I know are thankful for what is being done by the Government. They have to put up with it, because they cannot get anything better. They are hopeful that the Government will eventually see reason and introduce legislation designed to give exservicemen the increases of their pensions that they deserve. Honorable members opposite are continually saying how prosperous, content and happy we all are. If that is so, why should not prosperity, content and happiness be the lot of the ex-servicemen? They should be the last people in the community to suffer as a result of the rising cost of living. As the Minister knows very well, what is being paid to the large majority of them is not a pension in the true sense of the word, but compensation for something that they lost in the course of the campaigns in which they fought. I cannot absolve the Minister of all responsibility, but I feel that caucus probably restrained him in this matter, because, as all honorable members know, generosity to ex-servicemen is not a feature of the policy of the Labour party. Honorable members on this side of the House, and particularly those of them who are ex-servicemen, believe that the increases which are proposed in this bill are inadequate. In 1921, the sum of money provided for ex-servicemen in the form of pensions was £7,387,000, or 1.38 per cent, of the then national income, which was £546,000,000. In 194S, the annual liability in respect of those pensions is £17,176,000, or 1.05 per cent, of the national income of £1,635,000,000. It will be seen that in that time there has been an appreciable decrease of the percentage of the national income that is devoted to this purpose. The existing rates of pensions are to be increased by 10 per cent. We must assume that during the course of this year the national income will, on paper, increase considerably. If it does, we shall find that at the end of the financial year the percentage of the national income that is expended on pensions for ex-servicemen will be even lower than it is now. The basic wage in most of the capital cities has just been increased by 3s., or approximately 2 per cent. Doubtless, the cost of living will continue to rise steadily as the months go by. The ex-servicemen of Australia are not now being paid what they should be paid, and in a few months time their position will become worse. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) reminded the House that the all-party committee that was set up in 1943 recommended a 20 per cent, increase of pension rates. That increase was granted. Since .1943, the cost of living has increased by considerably more than 10 ner cent., but the proposal is to increase war pensions by only 10 per cent. From that point of view alone, the proposals must be regarded as entirely inadequate by any one who considers them soberly. The matter can be put in another way by comparing the pension rate with the basic wage. I am now dealing with the pension for 100 per cent, incapacity payable to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-service personnel. In 1934 the pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week, or 65 per cent, of the basic wage which was then £3 5s a week. In 1939, while the pension remained at £2 2s. 6d. a week the basic wage had risen by 14s. to £3 19s. a week, the pension then being 53.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In August last, when the basic wage had increased to £5 15s. the pension was £2 10s, or 43 per cent, of that wage. In relation to the basic wage the pension has decreased. Now that the Government is increasing the pension why does it not bring it into the same ratio with the basic wage as existed in 1939, or, better still, in 1934? If that were done the amount of pension now proposed, namely, £2 15s., would be considerably increased. As has been pointed out in this debate, the present pension payable to this unfortunate class of pensioner is anomalous. Whilst an overall increase of 10 per cent, has been effected in respect of other pensions it is now proposed to increase the pension for totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen personnel by only 5s. a week. I trust that the Minister will admit that a serious mistake has been made. How can the Government justify this discrimination against totally and permanently incapacitated personnel? Surely, this class of pensioner is entitled to preferential treatment above all other classes. In view of the present enormous demand for labour in both primary and secondary industries, other pensioners have some opportunity to earn income, but totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen have no opportunity whatever to do so. I know of many pensioners in other classes who are actually earning wages and thus augmenting their pension. Why should the totally and permanently in- capacitated pensioner be penalized in comparison with other service pensioners ? I hope that the Minister will have .some reasonable explanation to give to the House on that point.
I am glad to note that in response to pressure both inside and outside the Parliament the Government is to some degree remedying the position in which war widows find themselves under present conditions.
– Such increases are not being made as the result of pressure.
– In any event, many honorable members have continually urged upon the Government the necessity to increase the war widow’s pension. They have introduced numerous deputations on the subject to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and to the Minister himself. I also know that the War Widows Guild and ex-servicemen’s associations have made urgent representations to the Government on this matter. During the last few days I have received requests from shire councils in my electorate to press the Government to increase the war widow’s pension. I am glad to note that the Government has, to some degree, responded to those requests. Looking through the list which the Minister has circulated, I note that some reasonable improvement has been made in respect of special rates of pension. However, the Government could be more generous in this matter. I notice that the Minister is smiling.
– I said, “ Not enough “.
– I am glad to hear the Minister make that comment. A widow with a child receives a weekly pension of £3 17s. 6d. plus 7s. 6d. for domestic allowances, making a total of £4 5s., whilst a widow with two children receives a pension of £5 7s. 6d. a week. However, the basic wage to-day is £6 3s. a week. Obviously, war widows coming within the class I mention must find it extremely difficult to make ends meet. Rents are extremely high. One cannot obtain a house at a rental less than 25s. a week.
– In many cases the rent is as high as 35s. a week.
– That is so. In addition, these widows are obliged to provide for the necessaries of life for their families out of their meagre pension. We know that - the cost of all the necessaries of life has risen in the last few months. The honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons), who knows more than I do about the care of children, pointed out that the price of children’s shoes has increased substantially. Many of my constituents have complained to me about that fact. At the same time, the prices of clothing, hats and all things required for children have increased considerably. For those reasons the Government should go further in alleviating the disabilities under which this class of pensioner is suffering.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– I now propose to discuss the manner in which the administration of the Repatriation Department is being carried out. A short time ago the reports of the two war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals were laid on the table of the House. I believe that it will be admitted by everybody who has read the report of the No. 1 Tribunal that that report constitutes a most serious indictment of the administration of the department and of the Minister himself. As honorable members know, the report of the No. 1 Tribunal was signed as long ago as February last, but according to the Minister, it did not reach him until June-
– That is quite wrong.
– The honorable gentleman must know when it reached him. The fact remains that, although it was signed in February, it was not laid on the table of this House until the 8th October last. Although the statute requires this report to be laid on the table, more than six months elapsed between its signing and its presentation to the Parliament. At long last, whatever may have been the reasons for the delay, we have been given the privilege of reading it. It is a document which must cause a great deal of concern to all honorable members because it was drawn up by men of high repute, with long experience in repatriation matters, who obviously know what they are talking about. In the section headed “ Onus of Proof and
Benefit of Doubt (Section 47) “ the report states -
In our last annual report we observed that the provisions of Section 47 of the Act were not fully appreciated by the Repatriation Commission and its officers. We pointed out also that proper attention by the Repatriation Commission to those provisions would have resulted in a considerable number of claims being allowed without the necessity for an appeal to this tribunal.
Not only has no improvement since been discerned, but the position has deteriorated and is adversely affecting widows, sick and wounded ex-members of the forces and their dependants.
The report then summarizes section 47 of the act and draws pointed attention to the provision which states that the onus of proving a claim to be outside the provisions of the act shall lie on the Repatriation Board and the Repatriation Commission. It then deals with a number of cases which had been heard by the tribunal since the submission of its earlier annual report, which, the tribunal claims, should have been dealt with not by it but by the Repatriation Commission. I do not propose to read the details of these cases as they have already been read by other honorable members and incorporated in Hansard. The report continues -
The provisions of Section 47 bind the Repatriation Commission to probe the merit of every pension claim before rejecting it. In many cases further evidence could and should have been obtained by the Commission before claims were ever rejected. Too often the gathering of evidence favorable to a claim is left to the appellant or his representative, usually an ex-service organization, and it is produced to a tribunal at a tribunal appeal.
A tribunal does not sufficiently discharge its functions simply by allowing appeals of this nature. There are considerations which must urge any responsible body to endeavour to have altered a system which leads to such injustices. First, appellants ought not to have been subjected to the trouble, delay, anxiety and distress inevitably associated with such appeals. Secondly, appellants often suffer monetary loss by reason of the provisions of the act which limit the operation of a successful tribunal appeal to a period not earlier than six months prior to the date of the appeal. Thirdly, an appellant may be, and often is, financially embarrassed through loss of income during the period of waiting for the appeal to be heard - rarely less than nine months.
These are very grave charges. Any one with a knowledge of the cases that are submitted to the appeal tribunals must realize that a great deal of hardship is inflicted on ex-servicemen, because, as the tribunal states, their appeals to the Repatriation Commission in the first instance have been rejected on insufficient grounds. In a letter to the Minister the president of the No. 1 Tribunal stated -
In addition to the activities of my colleagues, when the writer saw you first in November, 1946, I advised you that there were aspects of entitlement work requiring rectification and you expressed your intention of contacting the tribunal early in 1947. I saw you again in February, 1947, and, while indicating that the tribunal was most sympathetically applying the act to all discharges, I requested that you meet the tribunal with a view to investigating the whole system. I repeated that request in my letter of the 7th May, 1947.
Apparently he received no reply. The letter continues -
Thu only remaining alternative otherwise is to place the whole position before the Parliament in the next annual report, fully documented and supported by actual cases. Such a drastic action would have the deplorable effect of interfering with the rehabilitation of sick and wounded ex-servicemen by shaking their confidence in the administration of the Repatriation Department.
That is what has happened now. “What reply does the Government propose to make now, because it is apparent from the report that no replies were received to requests for interviews made by the president of the tribunal?
– He was sacked.
– He resigned his position to accept another job.
– The other two members of the tribunal did not resign.
– Why has the Government not taken action to redress this state of affairs? Two facts emerge from this document. The first is that there has clearly been a lack of proper treatment of ex-servicemen by the commission itself which has involved ex-servicemen in unnecessary appeals to the tribunal. The second is that the members of the No. 1 Tribunal have not been reappointed. In other words, the Minister has taken the course of sacking them by means of a negative action. Why was this done? Surely the honorable gentleman will not try to maintain that all appeals can be handled by one tribunal! We have had two tribunals in action for the last fifteen or twenty years. Obviously, since the beginning of World War II., the number of ex-servicemen in need of pensions and repatriation treatment has considerably increased. In those circumstances, it cannot be successfully argued that the number of appeals is likely to decrease. The Minister’s failure to reappoint the members of the tribunal is incomprehensible to me, but it shows clearly that such bodies should be absolutely independent of and not subject to the whims of any individual. In the United Kingdom as the Minister may know, repatriation appeals are made to independent courts which cannot be affected by ministerial action. Therefore, the courts can make such recommendations as they wish without any fear of dismissal. They are completely impartial and completely independent. That is not so in Australia. We should give very serious consideration to placing our tribunals in a similar position so that they could handle appeals on their merits without risk of interference from any Minister, either now or in the future. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has submitted an amendment which proposes the appointment of a select committee of ex-service members of the Parliament to inquire into and report upon repatriation pension rates with a view to equating them to present living costs. Honorable members on this side of the House have demonstrated that the rates of pension in this bill will still be inadequate to meet the needs arising from the increased cost of living, a fact which would justify the holding of an independent inquiry. The acceptance of the amendment would not hamper the passage of the bill in any way. Furthermore, the action proposed by the honorable member for Balaclava would not be unusual. A select committee was appointed to investigate the same subject years ago with excellent results. Therefore, I hope that the Government will agree to the amendment.
– We are dealing to-night with a bill to amend the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. Its main purpose is to adjust service pensions, war pensions and war widows’ pensions. I preface my remarks on the bill with the comment that for a long time past, in my view, the general approach to the subject of pensions for ex-service men and women has been wrong in that the payments which the country makes to men who have suffered disabilities in its defence are referred to as “ pensions “. As a result of this, a tendency to treat such payments as a charity has grown up in the community. These payments are placed on somewhat the same basis as are social services pensions, which are paid to persons whose main claim for assistance is based upon the sympathy and compassion of the community. The payments envisaged in this bill are in an entirely different category. In making them, the country is not drawing upon its compassion but is discharging a solemn obligation which it undertook when it requested the applicants to offer their lives for its protection. As a result of the attitude of mind which has arisen from the misuse of the word “ pension “, there is a tendency to assess the rates which should be paid on the. same basis as is used in assessing social service payments and to justify the rates fixed by reference to social service scales. That is wrong, in my opinion. I regret that, at short notice, I cannot suggest any better term than “ pension “ but I believe that the use of the word is unwise and has given rise to certain anomalies and inequities which should have been avoided. I do not counsel extravagance in the discharge of the country’s obligations to ex-servicemen, and I am prepared to admit that instances of extravagant claims on their behalf do occur from time to time. However, rates of payment to disabled ex-servicemen for many years past have not been sufficient to assure freedom from want and hardship to those who suffered on behalf of their country.
Measured by that standard, the payments have left a great deal to be desired for a considerable time past. I say “ a considerable time past “ advisedly, because I do not intend my remarks to be construed merely as a criticism of the proposals put forward by this Government. I say that previous governments have been at fault to a certain degree, “probably for the reason that I have mentioned. However, the fact that the payments have not been equitable in the past does not justify their continuance on that basis by the present Government. From time to time, when honorable members on this side of the House criticize the proposals of the Government, its supporters reply, “But compare our proposals with the rates fixed by previous governments “. Such a reply does not justify the perpetuation of injustice. I frankly admit that the speech made by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) showed that the Government plans to make some improvements in the field of ex-service pensions. However, I regret that it has not taken the opportunity presented by the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) to deal with certain vital aspects of repatriation payments. In considering the bill in detail, I refer particularly to the rates of payment provided for men who are commonly known as “ T.P.I.” - totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen. These -are men whose injuries are such as to render them incapable of earning an income. In the terms of the act, their capacity is “ such as to enable them to earn only a negligible percentage of a living wage “. It may be assumed that they are not able to earn any income at all, certainly nothing like what they could have earned had they not been injured in the service of their country. Apart from their inability to earn a living wage, they are forced to incur certain expenses for medical treatment and comforts which cannot be properly provided for by means of attendants’ allowances. Therefore, it is undeniable that something more than the basic wage is due to them, if we are to honour the undertaking entered into when their services were accepted. Let us consider the position of these men, on present and past pension rates, in relation to the basic wage. In most instances, had they not suffered injury as the result of their war service, they would be now earning much more than the basic wage. In 1920, the average basic wage throughout Australia was £3 17s. a week, and at that time the special pension rate for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen was £4 a week, or 104 per cent, of the basic wage. They were entitled to something more than that in 1920, but since then their position has steadily deteriorated. Now, the average basic wage is £5 13s., whereas the new pension rate for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen is £5 6s. a week, which represents only 94 per cent. of the basic wage. It is proposed to increase their pension rates by 5s. a week, which is not even commensurate with the general increase of pension rates, because it represents an increase of only 5 per cent., whereas the general increase for other kinds of pension is 10 per cent. In order to maintain the same percentage increase, their pensions should have been raised by 10s. a week, bringing the rate up to £5 16s. a week, which is approximately the present basic wage.. Even at that, it would not bear quite the same relation to the basic wage as did the pension rate of 1.920.
We come now to the general rates payable to those who are classified as having suffered 100 per cent. general disability. It is claimed that those in this class are capable of earning some income, a fact which should be taken into consideration in assessing their pension. There is also a special provision for a pension for any temporary general incapacity. However, in order to make an effective comparison with other pension rates, it is necessary to consider the rates payable under the Fourth and Fifth Schedules of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. The Fourth schedule specifies general disabilities, and the percentage of pension payable in respect of such disabilities. The loss of two or more limbs, or one eye, or a leg, a foot or an arm, or the loss of the fingers and thumb of one hand, or lunacy, entitle an ex-serviceman to draw 100 per cent. of the amount specified in the First Schedule. The rate falls away to 50 per cent. for the loss of vision in one eye. Thus, any one who has suffered a serious disability for the loss of limbs, &c, is entitled to the maximum amount provided in the schedule, formerly £5 a fortnight, and now to be £5 10s. In the Fifth Schedule, provision is made for the payment of additional pension under certain conditions of disability. Thus, in addition to the amounts specified in the Fourth Schedule, persons suffering from a serious disability are entitled to £52s. a fortnight and, in some cases, to the services of an attendant as well. An ex-serviceman suffering from a most serious disability would obtain, under the 100 per cent. rate, £2 15s. a week, and under the Fifth Schedule, £2 l1s. a week, making a total of £5 6s. a week, besides the services of an attendant in certain circumstances. That, however, would not improve his financial position. Indeed, it might conceivably make it worse. A man with two arms amputated, or two legs and one arm, or both legs amputated above the knee, would receive only £5 6s. a week, which is still below the basic wage. That, I claim, is unjust. A man with one leg amputated is, after six months, classified at the 75 per cent. rate, so that his present pension is £21s. 3d. a week. The Fifth Schedule rate is 10s. a week. Thus, if his leg is amputated above the knee, he will receive £211s. 3d. a week, and if the amputation is below the knee, his pension will be £2 5s. 9d. a week. While admitting that some attempt has been made to meet the position, can it be contended, in view of the figures I have cited, and which I believe to be correct, that these rates represent reasonable compensation for men whohave risked their lives and lost their limbs in the service of this country? I say definitely that they do not providesuch reasonable compensation. Thesemen have very definitely had their earning capacity severely limited, and in addition, their capacity for normal enjoyment of life has been reduced. Thereis very little that the Government can do by way of cash payments to compensate them for the restriction on their normal enjoyment of life. That isanother reason why the payment should be reasonable and just. I shall now compare those 100 per cent. rates with thebasic wage rates that have applied in. various years. Here again we obtain an enlightening comparison. In 1920, when the basic wage was approximately £317s. a week, the 100 per cent. rate was £2 a week, or 54 per cent. of that basic wage. By 1944 the 100 per cent. disability ratehad been increased to £2 10s. a week,. but at that time the basic wage was £4 16s. a week, which meant that the 100 per cent. rate had decreased to 52 per cent. of the basic wage. Since then, as honorable members know, there has been a steady increase in the basic wage, but the 100 per cent, disability rate has remained the same. If the proposed amendment is not adopted the rate will be equivalent to only 44 per cent, of the basic wage. Irrespective of where the blame lies, that trend cannot possibly be justified by any argument whatever, and it is deplorable that that state of affairs has been allowed to develop. There is now an opportunity for the House to remedy that condition, of which nobody could really be proud. The proposed increase Would raise the 100 per cent, rate to 47 per cent, of the basic wage. I remind honorable members that in 1920 it was 54 per cent, of the basic wage. Here, as in the last instance, we have gone backward instead of forward. These two examples, which are the only two I am going to deal with, show that an amazing injustice has been done to those who are entitled to expect reasonable and decent, though not extravagent, treatment from the country. The position which has arisen, that we look on these payments only as pensions, and not as a solemn obligation devolving on the country, can only be adjusted by increasing the proportion that the pension bears to the basic wage, particularly in the two instances I have cited. In extreme cases of total incapacity, we should ensure that those people can at least live decently within the limits of their disability. In the lesser cases of incapacity, equity should be maintained. That can only be done by the adoption of a proposal such as the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), who has suggested the appointment of a parliamentary select committee to examine the matter fully. Was it not found when determining the matter of war gratuity some time ago, that a very good result was obtained by the appointment of such a body? The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has stated that he considers that this matter should be discussed and determined in a sober atmosphere removed as far as possible from the taint of party politics. With that view I agree entirely. That could be achieved by the appointment by a parliamentary select committee from both sides of this House, charged with the task of thoroughly sifting the whole of the evi dence available of how previous rates have operated, how present rates will apply in relation to the basic wage, and what measure of equity would be granted by the adoption of the proposals contained in the amendment before the House. Therefore, I very strongly support the proposals submitted by the honorable member for Balaclava. I hope that the amendment will be adopted by the House.
– To remind honorable members of the subject of the debate, I shall read the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White). We are debating a bill for an act to amend the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. The honorable member for Balaclava has moved, as an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill-
That all words after “That” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be withdrawn and referred to a parliamentary select committee of ex-servicemen appointed to inquire into and report upon the present repatriation pension rates with a view to better adjusting these rates to present living costs.”
I am in complete agreement with the proposed amendment. I shall say something further. One or two matters should be cleared up before we proceed with the main issue before us. According to a newspaper statement, the Minister said that he wanted to get this bill through the House rapidly, so that he could make certain payments by the 28th October. If the Minister is sincere in that connexion he can secure the passage of the bill with practically no further debate,by accepting the amendment. That it is a just amendment; I shall prove as I proceed.
– The Government will not accept the amendment.
– That is the Minister’s usual rejoinder, irrespective of the merit of any proposed amendment. That is one point cleared up. The second point is that it is rather significant that no Government member has spoken during this debate.
– Several Government members have spoken in the debate.
– While the Minister and one other Government member have spoken, there has not been one speech on this bill by a Government member to-day.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) spoke on this matter.
– I was referring to any Government member who is likely to make any contribution to the debate, and not one who may rise merely to defend the Minister’s attitude. It is significant that no returned soldier member on the Government side of the House has spoken on this measure to-day. That is for the very good reason that when one considers the severe indictment that has been levelled at the Minister by one of his own appeal tribunals, no returned soldier member in this House could possibly rise to support him. I propose, first, to refer to this tribunal, to show why no returned soldier member on the Government side of the House has been game enough to rise, in his place and defend the Minister against the charges.
– That is not true.
– I am speaking of the debate to-day. I reiterate that no such member has risen and spoken in support of the measure since the contents of this report have been revealed.
– The Minister will defend himself.
– He will have need to defend himself. Whenever Opposition members suggest that the Minister has dismissed the tribunal because of the nature of this report, he replies, by interjection, “ That is not correct “. Let us consider that aspect of the matter. It is true that Mr. O’Sullivan who was the chairman of this tribunal, resigned his position, but I remind honorable members that he signed the report before tendering his resignation. When honorable members hear what that report contains they will understand why the chairman of the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal resigned rather than be associated with the Repatriation Department. His successor, Mr. Hickey, Mr. Dibden, and the third member of that tribunal were not re-appointed. Their appointments were allowed to lapse. Mr. Dibden had been for twenty years the representative of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia on the tribunal, and Mr. Hickey, a veteran of World War II., had lost an eye in the service of his country. He gave up a good job to do what he considered to be a better one on behalf of ex-servicemen. He, too, has not been re-appointed. Let there be no misunderstanding about this matter. The Minister has not re-appointed the members of this tribunal, and, therefore, when he says he has not dismissed them, he is merely bandying words. They were dismissed. There has been some dispute with regard to the date of the presentation of the report of the No. 1 Tribunal. I think that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) said that the Minister had “ semi-surreptitiously “ introduced the report into this chamber. The honorable member was being generous to the Minister. There was nothing semisurreptitious about the action; it was completely surreptitious. The report was inserted between the leaves of the report of the No. 2 Tribunal, which is a properly bound document, dated the 6th October. The report of the No. 2 Tribunal deals with the year ended the 30th June, 1948. Therefore, it was presented four months after the conclusion of ths period which it covers.
– Read the date on which I received it.
– It is dated the 6th October, and it was tabled in this chamber on the 14th October. So much for the report of the No. 2 Tribunal. Let us have a look at the report of the No. 1 Tribunal, which contains the serious indictment of the Minister. This report, as 1 have .said, was tabled surreptitiously within the folder of the report of the No. 2 Tribunal. It is unbound. It is dated the 14th October, 1948, and covers the period from the 1st July, 1947, to the 28th February, 1948. Therefore, allowing in this instance the same period that elapsed before the tabling of the report of the No. 2 Tribunal, this report should have been tabled in June of this year instead of in October - eight months- after the end of the period which it covers.
– If the Acting Leader of the Opposition will read the report he will find that I received it in July.
– Very well, this is October. Eight months have elapsed since the end of the period covered by the report, compared with four months in the case of the report of the No. 2 Tribunal. Let us see what the Minister was trying to cloak. Had it not been for the persistent inquiries of the honorable member for Balaclava, this report probably would not have been tabled yet. Let us examine the report, because within its pages it contains a damning indictment of the treatment by the Repatriation Commission of applications for war pensions. Reference has been made to this report by several honorable members, but its strictures are such that it would bear quoting in toto. Consequently, I propose to move that the report be printed so that all honorable members may have it before them and, provided the Government is game enough to accept my motion, all ex-servicemen’s organizations will be able to obtain copies of it. The report condemns the interpretation placed by the Repatriation Commission on section 47 of the act which deals with the onus of proof in claims for pensions, and strongly urges the Minister to direct the commission that its construction of section 47 is wrong in law. The tribunal points out that section 47 provides broadly that it shall not be necessary for a pension claimant to furnish proof in support of his claim, and that the onus of proving the claim to be outside the provisions of the act, rests with the Repatriation Board and the Repatriation Commission. The report states that those points were emphasized in the tribunal’s previous report, and makes this strong criticism -
Not only has no improvement been discerned but the position has deteriorated and is adversely affecting widows, sick and wounded exmembers of the forces and their dependants.
The report also condemns the “inefficiency “ in the handling of pension claims even up to the stage at which they are reviewed by appeals to the tribunals. On page 7 there appears this damning statement, and I ask the Minister to take notice of it -
At the present time inefficiency persists through every stage in the handling of pension claims even up to the appeals to this tribunal.
The chairman of the tribunal, Mr. G. J. O’Sullivan, resigned as from the 28th February; 1948. This is significant when we read from the report of the tribunal, which covers the period from the 1st July, 1947, to the 28th February, 1948, that on the date on which the chairman resigned, he addressed a letter to the chairman of the Repatriation Commission in which he referred to a conference sought by the tribunal with the commission. This conference was sought, states the report on page 8 - because of our increasing concern at the apparently casual and often cavalier attitude of the commission towards important aspects of war pensions entitlement, and, in particular, the effect of that attitude upon the efforts of this tribunal to administer justice to exmembers of the forces and their dependants.
In his letter to the chairman, Mr. O’Sullivan cites -
The letter continues -
With regard to ( 1 ) above we emphasized that no attempt was being made by the Repatriation Commission to assist either the appellant or the Tribunal by properly presenting the Commission’s case - even in documentary form: that no statement of the cas*’ on which the Commission relied to justify its refusal of a pension and to discharge its onus was ever prepared; and that the only assistance given to the appellant and to the Tribunal was such as might be derived from a perusal of a bundle of records, frequently containing technical medical matter requiring explanation, inadequately and inaccurately summarized, which the Commission was in the habit of forwarding to the Tribunal and supplying to the appellant for the purposes of the hearing.
We suggested to you that there was room for great improvement in this matter of documentary evidence, and stressed that the present unsatisfactory position was militating unfairly against the interests of incapacitated ex-servicemen and their dependants who are appellants before this Tribunal.
Those are strong words and they are the words that resulted in men who were courageous enough to stand up for exservicemen losing their positions. The
Minister discharged them. The letter further states -
From the discussion there emerged the fact that between this Tribunal and the Repatriation Commission there exists a major difference of opinion upon the law relating to onus of proof and pensions entitlement.
As we understood your argument, it ran thus : “ Once the Commission had refused a pension claim it had fully discharged the onus placed upon it under Section 47 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. If, after rejection of the claim by your Commission, an appeal were lodged to a Tribunal, the onus was cast on the Tribunal, in the same manner as it had previously been on the Commission - that is to say the burden of proving the appellant’s claim to be outside the provisions of the act was transferred from the Commission to the Tribunal. . . .
In our opinion yours is an impossible argument. … If, instead of carrying out their functions impartially between contending parties, they (the members of the Tribunal) attempted to disprove the appellant’s claim they would at once become partisan.
Such an attitude would undermine the independence and impartiality rightly expected of appeal tribunals, and would deprive the ex-servicemen of their natural and legal right to a just hearing. Moreover, it would shake the confidence of the whole community in the work of these tribunals.
As far back as 1943 the question of the onus of proof was taken up by the tribunal as instanced by a statement quoted in the report from a letter dated the 29th March, 1946, from the AttorneyGeneral’s Department to the Repatriation Commission. I ask the House to take particular notice of the quotation because it is an expression of opinion on this matter from the AttorneyGeneral himself, who is a member of the present Government. The AttorneyGeneral’s Department is surely the one that should be able to determine the law as passed by this Parliament, particularly as it is the department concerned with drafting legislation. The statement quoted in the report reads -
I refer to your memorandum of 23rd March, 1944 No. G/907, in which a question is raised as to whether the Appeal Tribunal under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act is bound by all the provisions of Section 47 (2) of that Act.
I desire to inform you that with reference to the objection taken by Mr. O’Sullivan, Chairman of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, to a statement in the Com mission’s annual report to Parliament for the year ended 30th June, 1943. I am directed by the Attorney-General to inform you that the Attorney-General agrees entirely with the views expressed by Mr. O’Sullivan.
The Attorney-General points out that Section 47 of the Act requires the Appeal Tribunal -
to give the claimant the benefit of any doubt as to the matters specified in sub-section (1) of that section ; and
to draw all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant as directed in sub-section (2) of that section, but that the Tribunal can never be in the position of being required to discharge any onus of proof. It is one for the Commission to discharge the onus of proof to the satisfaction of the Tribunal.
There is a case that has been clearly put by the chairman of the appeal tribunal which has now been discharged by the Minister. The Attorney-General’s Department supports the tribunal’s contention, which is a severe indictment of the Minister and his department. The Minister has passed over the Attorney-General’s opinion and has discharged the tribunal because it had the courage to make that report which, I repeat, is a damning indictment of the Minister and his department. In his letter dated the 28th February, 1948, to the Minister for Repatriation, the chairman of the tribunal stated -
For many years the Repatriation Commission has held, and still holds (despite advice to the contrary from the Federal AttorneyGeneral, Dr. H. V.Evatt) that the Commission carries no onus of proof at the Tribunal appeal but that Section 47 places the onus of proof on the Tribunal itself. The logical consequence of this view (if accepted) is that the Tribunal would be placed in the anomalous position of being a contending party carrying the onus of proof and, at the same time, a judge in its own cause.
The effect in practice of the Repatriation Commission’s conception of its obligations is that-
no statement of the Commission’s case is prepared and furnished to the appellant or to the Tribunal for the purpose of the appeal;
no representative of the Commission ever appears before the Tribunal at the hearing to carry the burden of proof, to explain the case and lead the evidence, and demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Tribunal and for the information of the appellant, the validity of the Commission’s reason for refusing an entitlement;
the Tribunal members, the appellant and his representative arc obliged to ascertain the Commission’s case by gathering it as best they may from an inadequate precis of the original files or from the files themselves.
If honorable members do not consider that that is a damning indictment of the Minister and his department I should like to know what a damning indictment is. The letter continues -
Rarely do the official files contain a complete story, and, in a great number of cases, they are charged with a mass of highly technical tnedical evidence which ought to be fully explained, doubts eliminated and medical questions thoroughly canvassed in the. face of the Tribunal by a representative of the Commission. Only in this way can an appellant and the Tribunal be apprised exactly of the evidence and of the reasons upon which the Commission relies to justify its refusal of the claim.
For years past the Tribunal has striven, without success, to have this unsatisfactory position rectified; but its efforts, by conference and correspondence with the Repatriation Commission, have proved abortive. The attitude of the Commission that, at a Tribunal hearing, the Tribunal should carry out the functions which properly belong to the Commission, including the task of justifying the Commission’s rejection of the appellant’s claims, would, if accepted, undermine at once the independence and the impartiality of Tribunals.
The Tribunal is, therefore, obliged to record the strongest protest to you, as the Minister of State controlling the Repatriation Commission (Section 7 (1)), against a state of affairs which is inimical to the best interests of ex-servicemen, and militates seriously against the efforts of the Tribunal to administer justice in accordance with the spirit and intendment of the Repatriation Act.
We accordingly recommend that -
A direction be given to the Repatriation Commission that its construction of section 47 is wrong in law.
A proper code of procedure, designed to correct the anomalies hereinbefore adverted to, be framed and put into operation without delay.
Such code of procedure must include, inter alia, provision for -
the preparation by the Repatriation Commission of a proper statement of its case ;
representation by the Repatriation Commission at the actual hearing of the appeal to present that case to the Tribunal,
Such code should be drafted in consultation with this Tribunal by a qualified officer of the AttorneyGeneral’s Department.
I should like honorable members to note particularly the sentence in the letter that the tribunal is “ therefore obliged to record the strongest protest “ to the Minister. The members of the tribunal brought these matters out into the open. Now that the Minister has been forced to table the report these matters have now been disclosed, but the heads of the members of the tribunal have been exacted as the price of their courage in criticizing a Minister of the Crown. They have been discharged because they were game enough to stand up for the returned soldiers and tell the Minister that the Repatriation Department was not doing the fair and just thing by the exservicemen of this country. The Minister has lent himself to the machinations of the Repatriation Commission and has discharged these men because they, forsooth, dared to criticize the commission and the Minister himself. The report makes these pertinent statements on the need for independent tribunals -
Strong and independent Tribunals can perform a most useful community service and are an invaluable safeguard for ex-servicemen. However, it is to be regretted that the primary object of independence has not been achieved. Although these Tribunals are often referred to as independent they are in point of fact not so.
War Pension Tribunals ought to be divorced entirely from the Repatriation Department, as they are in Great Britain. . . .
If an Appeal Tribunal finds it necessary to criticize the administration of the Repatriation Act, either directly to the Minister or to the Parliament (or both), such criticism may place the Minister in the dilemma of having to choose between his “ independent “ Tribunal on the one hand, and his chief executive, the Repatriation Commission, on the other.
That is exactly what the Minister has done. He has sacrificed the independence of this tribunal and pandered to his chief executive officers by doing so. The report continues -
Neither the Minister for Repatriation, nor the Repatriation Commission which he controls, should be in a position to exercise any influence, direct or indirect, upon a War Pension Tribunal. These tribunals, therefore, should be under the aegis of the AttorneyGeneral.
It concludes with the following recommendation : -
The tribunal recommends that a general inquiry into the administration of the Repatriation Act, including an investigation into the mutters raised iii this report, be conducted by a competent authority having no association with the Repatriation Department.
That report constitutes one of the most serious indictments that could be laid against a Minister of the Crown, [t has been said repeatedly by successive Ministers of Repatriation that war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals are independent bodies and that the Government cannot interfere with their findings. Notwithstanding that, when one of these independent bodies, No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, dares to make a charge against the Minister, drawing his attention to the unjust methods employed by the Repatriation Commission and quoting the AttorneyGeneral in support of its contention relative to the meaning of section 47 of the act, the honorable gentleman dismisses it. He refuses to table its report, in which he is severely criticized, until, because he is afraid, that the members of the tribunal may have disclosed the contents of the report to other people, he surreptitiously, and in fear and trembling, places it between the covers of thu report of the No. 2 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal and then tables it, hoping that honorable members will not notice it. I do not wonder that ex-servicemen among honorable members opposite are not prepared to defend the Minister against attacks of this kind, and that he is left to his own devices. I hope that the ex-servicemen among the members of the Opposition will make it perfectly clear where they stand in regard to this matter. The Minister’s threat, that the payment of the increased pensions will be withheld unless the bill is passed by a certain date is an attempt to prevent the exposure of the matters to which 1 have referred to-night and to which other honorable members on this side of the House have also made reference in the course of this debate. 1 pass from that subject to an examination of the bill, which is most unfairly loaded against ex-servicemen. It is proposed that the general rate of pensions shall be increased by the princely sum of 5s. a week. The proposed increases of war pensions and service pensions will cost in a full year, £1,764,000. Certain general repatriation benefits are also to be increased or extended at an estimated annual cost of £320,000, making a total increase of £2,0S4,000. The Minister considers that a great benefit is thereby being bestowed upon the ex-servicemen of World War I. and World War II. ] should like to know the basis upon which these increases are to be made. This is not a Coles’ store, which sells nothing above a certain figure. It is the Parliament of the Commonwealth. It is possible that the Minister’s association with certain honorable members . who supported him recently may have given him the incentive r,o work on the basis of “nothing above 5s.”. The proposed increase obviously has no relation to the cost of living. Although the basic wage and age and invalid pensions have increased proportionately with the cost of living, that is not true of war pensions and ser vice pensions. The general rate of pensions is to be increased from £2 10s. to £2 1 5s. Pensions for wholly and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, including those who have been blinded and those who are suffering from tuberculosis, are to be increased from £5 ls. to £5 6s. a week. The dependent allowance for the wife of an incapacitated member on a full general rate or a special rate of pension is to be increased toy 2s. to 24s. I cite those figures so that the House may have a clear conception of what is happening in regard to war and service pensions. In September, 194S, the federal metropolitan basic wage was £5 16s. a week, and an increase of 2s. a week is foreshadowed. The problem of a war widow in running her home on a pension which, under the Government’s approach to the matter, has little relation to the actual cost of living, is clearly illustrated by official figures issued by the Commonwealth Statistician to-day. He announced that the “ all item’s “ (“ C “ series) index increased by 2.6 per cent, for the September quarter of this year. This index, as honorable members know, covers items, of food, groceries, house rents, clothing, footwear, headwear, household drapery, household utensils, fares, fuel, light, recreation and other miscellaneous items. It excludes fresh fruit and vegetables other than potatoes and onions. According to the Commonwealth Statistician, the rise over the last quarter was largely due to increases of the prices of butter, bacon,milk and meat, whilst higher prices for clothing also added to the burd en of the housewife operating on a very limited budget. The effect of this increase of the cost of living has been to raise the basic wage by from 2s. to 4s. a week in the capital cities, but apparently pensions are still to bp. denied the automatic increases which appear to be only a reasonable adjustment. The basic wage is not a true basis for a comparison, because, as the Minister knows, the shortage of labour makes it almost certain that the man who was earning only the basic wage yesterday is probably now earning £6 or 67 a week. Let us, however, work upon the basis of £5 16s. The general rate of pension has only been increased twice, including the increase that is proposed now, since 1920.
– The increases were granted by a Labour government.
– I am not trying to cover up any government. The Minister knows of the action that I took in this House against my own party when the last report with regard to this matter was tabled.
– The honorable gentleman was the only member of the Opposirion who took such action.
– I was not. A uumber of honorable members on this side of the House shared my views. I think I am, therefore, in a position to criticize. In 1920 the general rate of pension was £2 2s. a week. In 1943 it was increased to £2 10s. a week, and rhe increase of 5s. a. week proposed in this bill will raise it to £2 15s. a week, In 1934 when the general rate was £2 2s. a week, it was 65 per cent. of the basic wage, which was then £3 5s. » week. The basic wage is now £5 16s. a week, and a. general rate of pension of £2 15s. a week will amount only to 47.5 per cent. of the basic wage. Therefore, ex-servicemen’s pensions are, in relation to the basic wage, gradually going backward. If the Government continues with its efforts, instead of being 47.5 per cent. of the basic wage next year, the general rate may be 30 per cent. or even less. The position of exservicemen pensioners is deteriorating, whilst the position of other people, who are enjoying the liberties for which the exserviceman fought, is improving. The Government rewards our fighting men by giving them a pension which is equal to approximately half of the basic wage.
Nothing could more truly reflect the Government’s callousness towards incapacitated ex-servicemen than the reply which the Minister for Repatriation sent to a telegram addressed to him by one of my constituents. The constituent asked the simple question, “ How can a totally incapacitated pensioner earn 30s. weekly and remain totally incapacitated ? “. I ask the House to listen carefully to the Minister’s reply, which was as follows: -
I have read the telegram sent you on 21 st instant by Mr. W. Jackson, 8 Birrell-street. Bondi Junction, reading as follows: - “Re to-day’s Herald, column 8. Please ask Minister for Repatriation how totally incapacitated pensioner can earn 30s. weekly and remain totally incapacitated.”
The obvious answer to Mr. Jackson’s question is that as long as a man has life, even though he may be totally incapacitated, the ability to earn exists.
I ask the House particularly to note this part of the Minister’s reply -
I did not think that anybody was unaware of the fact that many totally and permanently disabled persons in the community are benefiting financially by, for instance, sales of books and papers (some from cripples’ chairs) : as checkers of passes at sports meetings; as watchmen where mobility and physical exertion are not necessary; as vendors of art union tickets and the like; and in numerous other ways. No exception is taken by my department to the supplementation of their incomes by a small amount in this manner. In addition to this there is the important aspect of the pensioners having some occupation and interest in life which takes care of portion of their time.
– That is the most important aspect.
– The Minister, in effect, says to these men who fought to preserve the conditions under which we live to-day, “You can go out in a cripple’s chair and sell art union tickets or play the banjo, and do all those things that a hero should do, but you are not going to get, by way of pension, even the percentage of the basic wage which your
– That is the construction which the honorable member places upon my letter.
– That is the only construction one can place upon it. The pension being paid, to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen to-day is of less value in relation to the basic wage than the pension paid in 1934. And the Minister tells those people how they can supplement their pension! Is it any wonder that I am receiving sheaves of letters protesting against the inadequacy of these increases? I have received such letters from the following officers of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia : - the federal president, Mr. Eric Millhouse, the New South Wales State president, Mr. K. Bolton, and the Victorian State president, Mr. G. W. Holland. I have also received similar letters from subbranches of the league at Rose Bay, Bondi and other areas in my electorate and from numerous meetings of ex-servicemen’s organizations. Each of those letters draws attention to the fact that these pensioners are not being given justice, that they are being forced to accept a mere pittance and are worse off, having regard to the present basic wage, than they were in 1934.
The war widows are being asked to care for their children on inadequate pensions despite the rapid rise of the cost of all the necessaries of life including butter, milk and other essential commodities. Due to the increase of cost of those commodities, the Arbitration Court now proposes to increase the basic wage by from 2s. to 4s. a week. Yet, the pension which the Government now proposes to give to war widows is only about half of the basic wage. During
– That is a filthy suggestion.
– The Minister ha*intimidated the members of that tribunal, just as the Government intimidates any one who dares to criticize it. The Government intimidates any section of the community which dares to oppose its views. It has intimidated the press, just as it intimidates any honorable member, or private individual, who dares to expose its maladministration. The result is that the No. 2 Tribunal has since produced a report which is not worth the paper it is written on.
– I have not had an opportunity to read the report of the No. 1 War Pension? Entitlement Appeal Tribunal to which the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison) has referred. I shall wait with interest to hear what reply the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) makes to it. The Minister, when addressing a meeting of ex-servicemen at Edenhope about three months ago, said :he would have much less worry if he were not Minister for Repatriation. He said that his department had to deal with the problem of the wrecked lives of men and women and his job was to persuade the Government to do more and more for ex-service men and women. I know that the Minister is not in a very comfortable position. Even in spite of what has just been said in criticism of his administration, I have always believed that he is sympathetic towards ex-service men and women. At the meeting at Edenhope, which was attended by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) and representatives of. various ex-servicemen’s organizations, many matters affecting repatriation were thrashed out. I believe that the Minister in a statement at that meeting indicated that he is sympathetic cowards ex-service men and women. He also proved that he is in a very awkward position, because he said, “ Of course, war widows do not get sufficient money “. [ know that he realizes that fact. He said, “ They must have an awful job to make ends meet “. However, he added, “But I consider the pensions to be not ungenerous “. I can understand the Minister’s position quite well. The caucus steam-roller has passed over this measure and the Minister himself can do nothing to alter it. In those circumstances all that we can do is to draw attention to anomalies and injustices in this legislation and propose amendments of the kind that have been proposed by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) which we know the Government will not accept. At the same time, ex-service men and women will not be given any more consideration. ‘ It does not matter whether the Minister is sympathetic towards them or not ; that is not the point. The caucus has spoken, and even should the few ex-servicemen included in the ministerial party be in favour of giving better treatment to ex-service men and women and their dependants, their views would be swept aside by their colleagues, many of whom have no sympathy whatever for ex-service men and women. .
– That is a lie.
– I regard the interjection, as offensive and ask that it be withdrawn.
– The honorable member for Wilmot must withdraw the expression to which exception has been taken.
– I withdraw the words’ “ lie “ and replace it with the words “ an untruth “.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw unconditionally.
– In deference to you, sir, I do so.
– This is the first time in this House or elsewhere that I have been called a liar.
– Order! The honorable member for Wilmot has withdrawn the expression to which exception has been taken and the incident is therefore closed.
– I shall let it pass. Many Government supporters are completely unsympathetic towards exservicemen.
– That is not true.
– By their actions they have shown themselves to be completely unmoved by the plight of disabled ex-servicemen and their dependants. Amendments proposed by honorable members on this side of the House are invariably prejudged and rejected. Any government which is sympathetically disposed towards sick and disabled exservicemen would be prepared to accept any reasonable amendment which would benefit those who, during the country’s period of trial, did so much for us. To listen to honorable members opposite, one would think that they had forgotten the valorous exploits of our fighting forces when they stood between us and a possible invader. Have honorable members opposite forgotten that, as they waved the departing troops goodbye, they promised to look after them, on their return or, if they failed to return, to care for their dependants? Have they forgotten already the sacrifices of the men who died on land, in the air or on the sea, or those who died from starvation in prison camps whose sufferings are so vividly remembered? Did our departing, fighting men not believe that those at home would look after them on their return from the war, or that they would care for their dependants if they failed to return? At the point of death, Captain Scott, voicing his faith in his countrymen’s acceptance of their responsibilities for his dependants and those of the other members of his ill-fated expedition, said -
Surely , surely a great rich country like ours will sec that those dependent upon us will be properly provided for.
I reiterate his appeal on behalf of our ex-servicemen and their dependants. Surely, surely, this country, and this Labour Government which is always bragging about the extent of the deposits in the savings banks and the great prosperity which Australia enjoys as the result of its administration, but which in truth exists only because of the efforts of those who till the fertile soil of this land, will see to it that our ex-servicemen and their dependants are properly provided for. I notice that some honorable members opposite are smiling. One of them appears to find my words amusing, I fh all name bini if he does not treat my remarks as seriously as they deserve to be treated.
– What a hero the honorable member is on the air.
– T make no claim to heroism. I am speaking on behalf of the dependants of the heroes who died for their country and of those who were incapacitated in the defence of their country. I am sure that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) will co-operate with me in my appeal on their behalf. I notice that the honorable gentleman signifies bis agreement. I am glad of that because I regard him as a man of that calibre. Every one knows that the increases of the pension rates proposed in this bill are totally inadequate to meet the rising costs of living. The honorable member for Balaclava has proposed that a parliamentary select committee of ex-servicemen be appointed to inquire into and report upon the present pension rates with n view to their better adjustment -to present living costs. All honorable members on this side of the House agree that the proposed increases of war pensions is completely inadequate to meet present-day living costs. They want something done to rectify the anomaly, and they want it done quickly. In thisinstance we are dealing with flesh and blood, with the men who alone’ are responsible for such happiness as exists in the community to-day, and with their dependants. Without their great sacrifices this country would now be under the heel of some foreign power.
I propose now to deal with war widows” pensions. In some instances war widows have been reasonably well treated, bin in others the Government has treated them very shabbily indeed. A. war widow without dependants who receives a pension of £3 a week may be regarded as being reasonably well treated. At present 1 do not suggest that her pension should be increased. Many war widows are young women who are able to earn something with which to supplement their pension’s. According to the table presented with the compliments of the Minister a war widow with one child receives a pension of £3 17s. 6d. and, in addition, a domestic allowance of 7s. 6d. a week. A widow with two children receive? £4 10s. and a domestic allowance of 7s. 6d. I draw special attention to the plight of the war widow with three children who, for some unknown reason, is denied the domestic allowance. A war widow with three dependent children ha.the same accommodation difficulties, and is involved in the same expenditure proportionately in feeding and looking after her children as a widow with one or two children. I am completely at a loss to understand why the domestic allowance is withdrawn in the case of widows with three children. Far from the domestic allowance being withdrawn in such cases. I believe that it should be increased. As the Minister has stated, war widows are not subjected to a. means test. It i.= obvious, however, that their pensions are affected by child endowment payments which they receive. Child endowment should be completely disregarded in assessing their pensions. A widow with one child receives u domestic allowance of 7s. 6d. a week. A widow with two children receives the domestic allowance and in addition child endowment for her second child. If :i widow has three dependent children, the domestic allowance disappears altogether.
What is the reason for that? It seems to me that the domestic allowance should be increased according to the number of dependent children. I challenge the Minister to disprove my statement that child endowment is taken into consideration in calculating the total amount of money payable to a war widow. If it is incorrect, why does the Minister point lit in the schedule which I have quoted that the total payment to widows includes child endowment. A widow might have income from property, but that is not taken into account. Why, therefore, is income from another government department included? This schedule deals with pensions and other payments for war service. Child endowment has no relation to war service, and therefore it should not be included. The domestic allowance should continue to increase according to the number of dependent children
Many other honorable members on this side of the House wish to speak on this measure, and therefore I shall not take ;nj vantage of the full period of 45 minutes available to me. I shall conclude as quickly as possible. Government supporters have often said that we cannot do too much for the men and women with whom this bill deals. Unfortunately, Australians generally are forgetting too quickly the sacrifices that were made on their behalf. We need a re-awakening and should indicate a renewed acceptance of our great responsibility to the widows and children of men who gave their lives and the men who lost limbs and sight in the war service of their country. The children will be good Australians of the future. We hear too much talk about the basic wage in connexion with war pensions. What is the basic wage? It is merely a minimum wage determined by the bare cost of living. In fixing war pensions, we should have in mind the wages and salaries that the men who died or were maimed would be earning but tor their sacrifices on our behalf. We ould have looked to many of these men for help in the development of this nation and for great achievements in the fields of invention, science and the arts. It is wrong to fix their pensions by reference to the basic wage when, in Victoria to-day, youths are being offered a wage of £7 10s. a week to work for the Railways Department. The- Government puts the steamroller over the war pensioners without giving thought to the heights that they might have reached but for the tragedies which befell them. Some of them might even have become members of Parliament and earned £1,500 u year ! War pensions should be on a scale reflecting our deep gratitude and realization of the sacrifices made by the men who fought to preserve this outpost ‘of Empire. We owe them a debt that never can be repaid.
that nothing will be done for him unless he can produce new evidence bearing on his case. His is a. completely broken life, and the blame must be laid upon the military doctors who passed him as fit for service. In these circumstances, it seems to me to be only reasonable that the Government should be responsible for paying him a pension. I commend this , case to the Minister. Some doctors who gave evidence to the appeal tribunal have expressed surprise that a pension has not been granted. T shall give the Minister full particulars of the case. I have details of other cases, also, but I shall not mention them now because they are under review, a.nd I do not want to prejudice the findings of the tribunal.
– The bill before the House deals with a matter of great importance, which has occupied me from time to time for many years. The government of which I was the leader introduced the first Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill in the Parliament, and throughout the years I have given consistent support to the cause of ex-servicemen. I believe that, for the man who was willing to fight for his country, nothing can be too good. 1 am very well aware, because I was not only responsible for the original act, but I have been, at different times, Minister for Repatriation. That department imposes on the Minister great responsibility. He has to deal with difficult and complex matters, but the principles upon which repatriation rests are simple and clear. Shortly stated, they are these: The man who returns from the war, where he had the good fortune to escape serious injury, and who has no disability that would handicap him in civil life, should be placed in a position no worse than he would have occupied had he not fought for his country. That is a principle to which the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) will take no exception. If the returned serviceman is disabled, he is entitled to a pension proportionate to his disability. In the case of his death or complete disablement, his widow or wife, as the case may be. and his family, should become the care of the State. I do not propose to go into details, but merely to state the general principle.
The Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act remains broadly as it was introduced by my government. It has been amended through the years because conditions are not static but dynamic. I am not going into the question whether or not the recommendations of certain authorities have been ignored. I shall content myself with directing the attention of the Minister to the salient facts as they affect the great body of pensioners. I think it may be laid down as a broad principle that it was the original intention of the Parliament that the pension should bear a direct relation to the basic wage and to the cost of living. I reminded the House on a previous occasion that pensions, although expressed in terms of money, are paid by goods purchased and services rendered. Consequently, they are vitally affected by increases of prices, and of the cost of living generally. The bill now before us ignores that fundamental fact.
In 1934, when the basic wage was 65s., cbe service pension was 42s.; now that the basic wage is 120s., the pension is only 50s. If the pension had increased proportionately to the basic wage, which is fixed by the courts according to variations of the cost of living, it would now be 80s. But, because of the increased cost of living, the pensioner is 30s. a week worse off now than he was in 1934. The widows, wives and dependants of pensioners must get along the best way they can. Surely they deserve better treatment than that. I put it to the Minister that, after bearing what has been said - and it will be repeated over and over again - he should accept the amendment ot the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) and withdraw the bill.
I turn now to another vitally important aspect of repatriation. As the measure stands, it takes no notice of the duty we owe to the ex-servicemen who had the good fortune to return from the war with his health and skill unimpaired. What is to be done for the ex-serviceman as a citizen? I direct attention to the attitude of the Government, which, I presume, is in accordance with the policy of the Labour party in regard to preference to soldiers. The Minister for Repatriation surely knows the story.. It has been told often enough. The Labour party, when I was its head, and when I was head also of some very great industrial organizations, carried unanimously a resolution giving preference to returned soldiers over unionists. That remained the policy of the Labour party for as long as I was in it. What, 1 ask, is the attitude of the Government now?
– That is not involved in the bill.
– But it bears a direct relation to the subject-matter of the hill. The responsiblity of the honor-
Able gentleman, as Minister for Repatriation, surely does not exclude consideration of those who, by the fortunes of war, returned with the ability to take their place in the front line of the industrial army. Have they no rights whatever? Have they not a right to preference over those who stayed at home, and who, but for the grace of God a.nd the valour of those who went to the front, would not be free men to-day? I remind the honorable gentleman that when the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Bill was before the House in 1943 I spoke at length on preference to ex-soldiers. I said then that there should be preference of employment to returned servicemen by virtue of their being returned servicemen. I have always believed in preference to unionists. When I was Prime Minister and leader of the Labour party and the head of great industrial organizations, I submitted a motion granting preference to soldiers over preference to unionists, and as long as I remained a member of the party, that continued to be the policy of the party. But what is the attitude of the Government now? It is precisely the same as its attitude to pensions. There is a grudging gift of a dole when the Government ought to show that it is appreciative of all that the men who fought in World War II. as well as those who fought in World War I. have done for their country. We should not be here to-day as free men but for what those men did. This bill is unworthy of a parliament in a free country, as an expression of what the country owes to those men for having fought to retain its freedom. As I have said before, when the basic wage was 64s. a. week, the pension provided, was 42s. a week. Now, when the basic wage is 120s. a week the pension is only 50s. a week. I understood that the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) made it clear not long ago that it was the intention of his Government to increase the pension by 10 per cent, lie has no* done so. But it does not seem to matter wnat anybody may say in this Parliament now. There is only one answer, as my friend the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison.) has *aid, and that is, that the Government will not listen to anybody.
– It is much the same as when the sight honorable gentleman himself was in office.
– If a poll of Government’ members were conducted honestly, I believe it would be found that at least eight out of ten of those members would favour the attitude that Opposition members are taking towards this measure. I shall vote for the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava. The provisions of the bill in its present form are entirely inadequate. With niggardly hands the Government seeks to mete out a mere dole, rather than to recompense adequately the men who fought for their country.
.- To-night we are discussing a bill for an act to amend the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act; I think we should really be discussing the report of the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, because of the indictment of the Government and the criticism of the Repatriation Commission by hat Tribunal, particularly in relation to the operation of section 47 of the act. However, as that matter does not appear on the business paper, I have much pleasure in supporting the amendment, moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), which is as follows: -
That all words after “That” be left out, with a view to insert in Heu thereof the following words: - “the bill be withdrawn and referred to a parliamentary select committee nf ex-servicemen appointed to inquire into anil report upon the present repatriation pension rates with a view to better adjusting those rates to present living costs”.
As the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has said, when repatriation was first instituted in this country, its underlying idea, was that any person who returned from active service, or from service in any war area, should not be penalized in respect of his position in Australia as a result of that service. Whilst the first repatriation measure introduced may have had certain weaknesses, there is no excuse for governments over the years not endeavouring to improve on that act and so bring it into line with presentday conditions. To-day, unfortunately, pensions do not bear the same proportion to the basic wage that they did in earlier days. This Government has a unique way of obtaining large sums of money from the people of this country, in order to swell its finances, and it is beyond comprehension that the proposed rise in pensions should be so paltry. I shall analyse the proposed amendments to the First Schedule to the act. The average increases provider! in the first four categories is about 27 per cent., but that average decreases to about S per cent, as the rate increases. Th<general average of increases, covering all categories, is 10 per cent. I noticed in to-day’s press that the basic wage in Melbourne is to be increased by another 3s. a week. Doubtless increases will be approved in other States. To-day the proportion of the amount of pensions to the basic wage is much less than it was in former years. However, there is not much that Opposition members can d<> about that, because -I have not th, faintest doubt that the Government, in disposing of this matter, will apply the same principle as it has applied on many other occasions. It will refuse to accept any amendment.
– The Prime Minister (‘Mr. Chifley) said that he would not accept any amendment.
– The Minister foi Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) admits that, but I suggest that he is endeavouring to do the best he can. Although right throughout the Minister’s second-reading speech reference was continually made to a proposed 10 per cent, increase of pensions, I draw the attention of honorable members to the provision for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. who are paid a special rate, under the Second Schedule. They at present receive 102s. a fortnight. It is proposed in thi.bill to increase the fortnightly amount payable to 112s. That is an increase of only 5 per cent. I point out that that, is the only class of pensioners under the repatriation scheme who will benefit by only 5 per cent. Whilst it is generally admitted that men falling within the category of totally and permanently incapacitated are the most deserving members in the community, because in addition to their disabilities they cannot earn any money, we find that under the provisions of this bill those men will gain the least of any. It is a crying shame that such a condition of affairs should be allowed to persist, and I am astonished that the Minister should introduce a bill providing such small increases for those men. A man who has lost the sight of both eyes or the use of both legs cannot work. The intention of the act was that exservicemen should, so far as possible,, be placed in a position not less favorable nhan that which they enjoyed prior to enlistment. ~No doubt the Minister will claim that a blinded ex-serviceman can do some work. That is true, and I have no doubt that many totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen would rather do some work than be what they regard fi* an encumbrance on the community. So. some of them take jobs. But that is no reason why the Government should deprive them of an increased pension. If other pensions can .be increased by 10 per cent., the pensions payable to permanently and totally incapacitated exservicemen should be increased by a similar amount. Clause 7 of this bill provides for the inclusion in the act of a now section, section 91a, which states - (1.) Where, but for this section - fa) the rate of the service pension payable to a pensioner who is an unmarried person would be such that the aggregate of the rate of that service pension and of the rate of any war pension payable to that person would exceed Six pounds five shillings per fortnight, the rate of that service pension shall be reduced by the amount of the excess;
Once again we find the means test being applied to pensioners. This is something against which I have fought ever since I have been in the Parliament, and I intend r,o carry on that fight. In his secondreading speech, the. Minister said -
As I have indicated, the means test for service pensions is the same as that for age and invalid pensions, and with the generous using of the means test it is possible for a service pensioner and his wife to enjoy an income of £7 5s. a week. “’ To enjoy an income of £7 5s. a week “ ! That applies to the ordinary civilian under the Social Services Consolidation Act. A husband and wife of pensionable age receive £4 5s. a week, and, in addition, they are allowed to earn £3 a week between them, if they can work. Surely the principle underlying the age pension is that the Government, and the people of this country, consider that a man and woman, having reached the age beyond which it should not be necessary for them to work, should be paid a reasonable living allowance. But let us see what the Minister said in regard to service pensions and war pensions -
It is not thought, however, that the whole of that amount should be by way of Commonwealth payments, and therefore ceilings of the amount to be paid by the Commonwealth will be applied in respect of service pensions.
He did not say straight out that a mean; test would be applied to war pensions, because that is something that the Opposition has fought since 1944; but, in effect, the means test is being applied to the service pension, which pension can be received by an ex-serviceman upon reaching the age of 60 years, regardless of his physical condition. The service pension is paid to ex-servicemen because they served in a theatre of war. The Minister continued -
In the case which 1 have cited, of a service pensioner and wife who is also a service pensioner, the ceiling will be £G 2s. I should like to make it clear that it is a ceiling only of Commonwealth payments. The member and his wife may still have the odd £1 3s. from other sources, making the total of £7 5s. without u fleeting the service pension.
The implication there is that an exserviceman can go out and earn an extra £1 3s. to bring his remuneration up to £7 5s. The ex-serviceman has been receiving the war pension for some disability ever since his discharge. It is being paid to him, as I have said repeatedly, to place him on an even footing with civilians who did not enlist and do not suffer physical disabilities. Therefore, when an ex-serviceman becomes eligible for an age pension - or a service pension as it is called under the repatriation legislation - because he is able to draw it five years earlier than his civilian colleague, this generous Government applies the screw. The Minister added - if no limitation were made, then, in the caac of a member and wife, where the member i.s receiving the highest rate of war pension, that is the special rati; designed for the needs nf ti meinour unable to earn, it would be possible for the member and wife to receive service pension of 15s. in addition to war pension of £(i 10s.
The ex-serviceman to whom the Minister referred in that passage comes under the ,Second Schedule. He is not allowed to receive the same amount as is the ordinary civilian. The Government should be ashamed to attach this tag to an exserviceman who applies for a service pension.
The other matters dealt with in the bill are of little importance. However, before dealing with the report of the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal I propose to bring a couple of cases before the Minister. One was brought to my notice only to-day. It concerns the mother of an unmarried son who was killed at the war, her husband having died as an invalid pensioner. According to the Repatriation Commission she cannot get a pension for her adopted son. The act provides that “ dependants “ shall include the widowed mother of an unmarried son, the children of any such person, and “ such other members of the family of that person as were wholly or in part dependent upon his earnings at any time within twelve months prior to his enlistment or appointment”; yet this woman, since her son was killed on active service in April, 1943, has been deprived of a pension for her adopted son, even though her husband was an invalid pensioner. Her son was eighteen when he enlisted, and contributed to the upkeep of the family. For the Repatriation Commission to say that because the child is an adopted son, he is not entitled to an allowance, is just an easy way to get out of its obligation. I propose to send the details of this case to the Minister with a request that something be done. The second case concerns the entitlement of a man who enters a repatriation hospital. I am familiar with the details of this case and I mention it to ascertain whether or not the interpretation of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act in this instance ir- correct. If it is correct, the act should be amended. I have a great regard for the work of repatriation officers and for doctors and sisters in repatriation hospitals, and I should not like to see their interests prejudiced. In the case to which I refer the exserviceman was suffering from ear trouble and had been receiving medical attention for some time. During the winter of this year, he contracted influenza, and the same doctor treated him. The doctor had told the patient previously that he would have to prepare to go ‘-into hospital or to
Ifr. Hamilton. attend a hospital every ‘three or four hours for penicillin injections: When the man contracted influenza, the doctor said that the best thing to do was to go to a repatriation hospital where he could receive penicillin for his ear and at tinsame time be treated for his influenza. The man entered a repatriation hospital with a temperature of 101 degrees on a Thursday. On the following morning he was asked by the sister in charge of the ward if he could make his way to the front of the hospital to see the specialist who was to look at his ear. He saw the specialist, who syringed his ear and said. “ This man is for discharge “. The man went back and told the sister that he was marked for discharge. She said to him. “ You are not getting out of this hospital for two or three days because you still have a temperature. Go back to bed’” He mentioned what had happened tiother inmates and said, “ If I am going out to-morrow I must walk about to get accustomed to being on my pins “. That morning when the ward doctor came round. without bidding the usual *’ cheerio “ to the patient, he said, “ Thu man is marked for discharge “. The sister said, “ He cannot be discharged, because he is still running a temperature “. The. doctor said, “ There is no entitlement for treatment shown on hu form and he must be discharged “. The following morning the patient got hie knife, fork, spoon and his other gear and presented himself at the front of the hospital. One of the doctors there said. “ You look seedy and should not be going out “. The man said, “ I have arranged for transport and I am on my way home to bed “. The doctor said, “ All right, sign there “, and presented a paper to him. [f that man had not had a vehicle to meet him he would have had to walk from the hospital a distance of three-quarters of a mile to catch a trolley bus. Anything could have happened to him while he was on his way into the city, as he was running a temperature. I bring that instance to the notice of the House because, if that man had collapsed and the newspapers had become acquainted with the facts they would have made a great song about what happened. I am prepared to believe that a mistake was made by the doctor, but I have been told by other patients- that unless there is an en titlement on the man’s form for him to be treated for something outside the complaint covered by the form he could not be treated. That seems crass stupidity, because if a patient develops something while in a hospital or complications setin regarding some ailment he already had when he entered it, he should be treated, and the doctors, sisters and nurses in the repatriation hospital should not be hogtied by regulations so that they are unable to treat him, thus making it necessary- for him to leave the hospital, make a-n application to be treated and return for later treatment. I refer to this particular instance so that the Minister may enlighten the House regarding the exact position. I do not wish to say any more about it as I believe the House is fully cognizant of the fact that such cases occur, but I can guarantee that what I have said is the truth, because the patient concerned was none other than myself. F could have kicked up quite a noise about that incident but I did not wish to lo so. The Minister should make it known to the people of Australia that the incident occurred because of a wrong interpretation of the act. But if it was not a wrong interpretation of the net, the act should be altered to obviate such incidents in the future. I hope that it was a wrong interpretation and that where a man develops a fresh ailment while in a repatriation hospital, or where complications associated with an ailment from which he was already suffering set in, it shall be incumbent on the hospital to treat him rather than send him home while he is running a temperature or is in a sick condition. If such incidents occur and become known in the community the people will abuse the Repatriation Commission and the doctors who are giving time to treating eXservicemen. [ propose to devote a few moments to the report of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, because I believe nhat although it is an indictment of the Government the Minister should welcome ir because what is contained in the report is’ also the consensus of opinion of exservicemen and ex-servicewomen. If there i? any discontent it should be rectified as soon n.= possible. If what the mem bers- of the tribunal have to say is true T repeat that the Minister should be only too- pleased to take any action, neces-sary to remedy defects in. the system. When the members of the tribunal can say that although in their previous annual report they reported that section 47 of the act was not being administered faithfully by the Repatriation Commission and its officers, no improvement; ha.d since been discerned but that the position had deteriorated and was “ adversely affecting widows, sick, and wounded ex-members of the forces and their dependants “, it is rather alarming. I shall not weary the House by reading all the report but I shall quote some extracts from it. It states that the cases mentioned– serve- to illustrate that the provisions of suction 47 are not being applied by the Repatriation Commission.
I have met many of the men connected with, repatriation and know that they are earnest and genuine, but they are unable to watch every little move. There is not th.e slightest doubt that some of the administration, particularly in regard to section 47, is being allowed by some officers to go by the board. The tribunal says there is no need for any maladministration regarding this section of the act because, as it points out -
Vo controversial or difficult questions either of law or fact,, which t-ould justify the original rejection of the claims, arose in any one of these cases. They were simple and straightforward: and, on the- evidence before the commission., fell fairly within the entitlement provisions of the act. But they were rejected out of hand by the. Repatriation Commission without any reasons being assigned-
In view of that I say there should be some investigation made to ensure that section 47 particularly is administered properly. I repeat, that it is absolutely useless adopting any amendments to increase pensions when the. base upon which pension claims rest is not treated correctly under the act. The tribunal’s report continues-
A tribunal does not sufficiently discharge its functions simply by allowing appeals of this nature. There are considerations which must urge any responsible body to endeavour- to have altered a system which leads t<i> such injustices.
I agree entirely with those words. Now that the tribunal has gone as far as it possibly can by investigating the position and furnishing a report it is incumbent upon the Government to act. If it is good enough for those men to stake their positions by submitting a report such as this, it behoves the Government and every honorable member in this House to do their utmost to see that the provisions of the act are administered correctly. Further on the report states -
Finally, and perhaps more important than all, a sick and disabled member of the forces is deprived, during the waiting .period, of the expert medical aid and attention which would have been available had the case been properly dealt with and determined in the first instance. 1 know that statement to be true. Recently, I had occasion to approach the Minister with regard to a man who had been unable to secure a pension. I thank the honorable gentleman for the expeditious way in which he dealt with the matter. The man concerned was serving in the Navy. Having performed a tour of duty, he was granted 4S hours’ leave. He went to his home and then, with his wife and family, to a beach. He had not been there very long when he was attacked by a shark. He was taken to hospital, where his leg was amputated. That occurred in February, 1946. He was given an artificial limb and eventually discharged from the Navy. He applied tor a pension, but his claim was rejected on the ground that he was not on duty it the time when the accident happened. He told me that he was not urgently in need of a pension for his maintenance, n nd that he considered that he had been fairly treated by being allowed to learn chemistry under the post-war reconstruction training scheme. He said, however, that because his application for a pension had been rejected his artificial limb o.ould not be properly serviced or maintained. He had to take his turn with civilians, and as most of the parts that are required in the maintenance of artificial limbs go to the artificial limb factory that is run by the Repatriation Commission he could not obtain satisfactory service. I approached the Minister and pointed out that all servicemen are told that leave is a privilege and not a right. A pension was subsequently granted to this man. Why could it not have been granted in the first place ? The fact that it was not so granted meant that the man was deprived of expert medical aid and attention for a lengthy period - a period of more than two years. He had to stand on an ill-fitting artificial limb all day whilst he was endeavouring to learn the art of chemistry. The reason that his pension was not granted originally was that somebody said he was on leave and not on duty at the time when the accident occurred but, as I have already said, all servicemen are told thai leave is a privilege and not a right and they are on duty for 24 hours a day, for seven days a week and for 365 days in a year. They are also told that they may be recalled from leave at any time. When cases such as those to which reference is made in the report of No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal are brought to light, it is incumbent upon the Government or some other responsible body to investigate them and ensure that justice is done. The tribunal stated that no ‘controversial or difficult questions, either of law or fact, arose in the case? to which it referred in its report; they were clear and straightforward. Men who cannot deal with such case!should be dismissed, not men who have the courage to make a report such as this. The report goes on -
These considerations, therefore, impel u« once more . to emphasize the necessity for proper advertence by the Repatriation Commission of the relevant portions of the act before rejecting a claim. ,
Applicants for pensions should receive every consideration. They should be given the benefit of any doubt that may exist. The majority of ex-servicemen will not apply to the Government for assistance unless it is absolutely necessary for them to do so. There are, of course, some of them who are prepared to impose upon the Minister and the Repatriation Commission, but the exservicemen’s organizations are prepared to help in weeding them out. There ‘are some malingerers, but in the majority of cases an ex-serviceman who applies for a pension is in need of it because there is something wrong with him.
I hope that future tribunals will be removed entirely from the control of the Minister for Repatriation. I suggest that one could be appointed by the AttorneyGeneral’s Department to investigate claims. It would be free to criticize either applicants for pensions or the administration of the Repatriation Department. The members of the tribunals should not be appointed by the Minister for Repatriation, because in many cases they are placed in the position of having to endeavour to prove that claims that have been rejected by the Repatriation Department are just claims which should be granted. I do not propose to detain the House any longer. I trust that the Minister will give serious consideration to this report. I do not regard it entirely as a castigation of the honorable gentleman. I am prepared to accept it as a report that has been submitted for the consideration of a responsible body, and there is no more responsible body in Australia than this Parliament. I support the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White).
– A remarkable feature of this debate is the lack of interest in it by honorable members opposite. Only three of them so far have seen fit to take part in the debate upon a bill which will vitally affect the welfare of ex-servicemen. I could not help counting the number of Government supporters who were present in the chamber as the debate proceeded. At 5 o’clock this evening there were five of them, and at 9 o’clock there were nine.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Burke). - Order! The honorable gentleman must confine his remarks to the bill.
– I am referring to the lack of interest in this debate by honorable members opposite. At 10 o’clock this evening only three of them were present in the chamber.
– The attendance in the House is irrelevant to the question that is now before the Chair.
– This is a bill which should be dealt with on a non-party basis, and it is a pity that honorable members opposite have not expressed their views upon it more freely. I deplore the fact that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) is so resolutely opposed to the amendment which has been moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), and which I support. The amendment proposes that a parliamentary select committee of ex-servicemen be appointed to inquire into and report upon present repatriation pension rates with a view to better equating those rates to present living costs. An all-party committee was appointed to advise the Government with respect, to the payment of war gratuity, and by following that procedure the Government completely removed that issue from party political considerations. Whatever our attitude may be towards other problems and, indeed, to other pensions, the discharge of the country’s obligation in respect, of those who were killed or severely wounded on war service should be dealt with absolutely apart from party political considerations. I should like the Minister for Repatriation to indicate that, that is the Government’s attitude. The chief objective of the amendment is to set up machinery for the fixation of a basic pension and the automatic adjustment of that pension to meet increases of the cost of -living. The very fact that the House now has before it, a bill for the express purpose of making this very paltry increase of pension seems to me to be an admission of the inefficiency of the present system. As the cost of living increases and the needs of pensioners become more costly, machinery should be available to adjust, the rate of pension to those needs. There is no pretence on the Government’s part that this proposed increase of 5 per cent. - I emphasize that it is not an increase of 10 per cent. - will enable the pensioner to meet the rising cost of living. It is merely to ca teh up with certain increases that have taken place in the needs of pensioners in recent times. When we look at. the “ C “ series cost-of-living index figures on which the basic wage is substantially computed, we see that the cost of those items has increased by 10 per cent,, during the last, few months. Therefore, the increase of pension now proposed will not cover proportionately even rp.cent increases of the cost of those items. The rat* of pension should be automatically adjusted to meet increases of the cost of living in the same way as the basic wage is now varied on that basis.
That would be preferable to maintaining the present system under which long overdue increases of pension can be made only through nets of Parliament, and, indeed, as the Minister almost suggests, through acts of grace. As the right honorable member for North .Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has said, the plain fact is that to-day all war pensions are of less value in proportion to the basic wage than they were 2.”i years ago. No greater justification can be found for the amendment which the honorable member for Balaclava has put forward. I can see no reason why the Government should not appoint an all-party committee to examine this matter as he proposes. That course was followed most successfully in its approach to a war gratuity. Furthermore, I believe that the Minister will agree that exservicemen’s organizations have been, remarkably non-party political in their approach to this problem.
– Especially the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison) !
– The fact remains that ex-servicemen’s organizations generally have approached this problem in a national way. When we consider that one of them, the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, is potentially one of the most powerful bodies in this country, more powerful than any trade union, and is capable of bringing tremendous influence to bear on any government should it wish to do so, but has preferred to play the game, the Minister might have the grace to admit that those organizations have treated the Government generously in this matter. The Government should be equally generous in its attitude to this problem., and should accede to the requests made by those organizations.
The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) in his budget said plainly that pensions were to be increased by 10 per cent.; but the Government proposes, in this instance, to increase war pensions, not by 10 per cent., but by 5 per cent. Ten per cent, of 100s. is 10s., but the pension is to be increased by only 5s. Yet the Government pretends that it is increasing these pensions by 10 per cent. That is chicanery. T wonder at the effrontery of the Minister in persisting in this attempt to “ put one over “ the country, particularly at the expense of this most deserving section of the community, which is now to be offered a paltry pension increase of 5s. As the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) said, one would think that the Government was increasing the war service pension by £5 a week instead of ‘by a few paltry shillings. Let us look at, the provisions .which the Minister claims are most generous. A war widow with one child will receive a pension of £4 5s. a week. She and her child are placed in exactly the same category as two age pensioners. Of course, every one admits that even on that pension two age pensioners are receiving no more than the bare minimum on which to subsist. The first feature of the war widow’s pension which I criticize is this “minimum” attitude which the Government constantly adopts towards war widows. Apparently, it approaches the matter by asking itself. “ What is the very least Ave can give them? What can two old people, whose days are nearly numbered, live on ? That will suffice for the war widow and her child to live on “. The needs of the two classes of pensioners differ considerably. First, costs must be incurred in respect of a growing child which do not necessarily confront old people. .Secondly, age. pensioners are entitled to earn income in addition to their pension whereas a war widow’s child in respect of whom a pension is payable is not capable of earning any income. The obligations to the two classes of pensioners also vary greatly. After all, let us remember that in the case of a war widow the Government asked the breadwinners of the family, the young men of this country, at the height of their earning capacity to go away and fight in defence of the nation. Ministerial supporters urged those young men to go away and fight in the armed services and promised them that if anything happened to them their wives and families would be adequately cared for. They did not say to those young men that if anything happened to them their wives and children would be given the age pension. They said nothing of the kind. I wonder how the Minister can sit at the table and so comfortably pass off the fact that the Government is now asking war widows to subsist on the barest minimum. T cannot accept the present basis of war pensions. Those who went away at the height of their earning capacity to fight in. the defence of their country should not be cut down to the lowest living standards. I can see no justification for the view that war pensioners should be considered as coming exactly within the same category as other pensioners. They should be treated in a special category. They had no chance, as is given, for example, to .age pensioners, to make some provision for their old age. The Government by its own actions has cut them off from old age. It ill becomes Government supporters always to speak in minimum terms and to suggest that if the husband of a war widow had returned from war service he probably would not be capable of earning much more than the basic wage. That is drivel.
C admit that when an honorable member makes representations to the Minister dealing with specific cases, the Minister invariably replies. In some instances he shows great patience in investigating the matters raised. I wish to bring one or two cases under the notice of the honorable gentleman. As the Minister knows, totally .and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen are not permitted to work and earn money in order to supplement their pensions. As the honorable gentleman rightly says, because of their disabilities very few of them are capable of doing so. Sufferers from tuberculosis, however, are in a somewhat different category. Many of them could earn something. Some of them write, and some are engaged in various crafts at the hospitals and other institutions where they are undergoing treatment. I have received a letter from an ex-serviceman suffering from tuberculosis which unfortunately, for a reason which I shall state, [ cannot hand to the Minister, indicating that many ex-servicemen suffering from i tuberculosis are most anxious to earn -a little with, which to supplement their pensions, but because they are in the totally and permanently incapacitated category, they are prevented from doing so. I am loath to hand the letter to the Minister because my correspondent has informed me that a similar letter was written .to a government member some months ago with the request that he should do something about it, but the honorable member concerned did not even have the decency to reply.
– I invite the honorable member to bring the letter to me and discuss it with me.
– -I shall do so. Another aspect of this legislation which ] wish to bring to the notice of the Minister is the unfairness of the provision reducing the war pensions of exservicemen whose wives are earning. A war pension is paid to an ex-serviceman to compensate him for disabilities arising out of his war service, and should be paid irrespective of what his wife may earn. If the earnings of a war pensioner’s wife be taken into consideration the pensioner is placed in an extremely ‘humiliating position. I shall hand to the Minister correspondence which I have received dealing with a ease of that kind in the hope that the honorable gentleman will give it sympathetic consideration.
In quoting the report of the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) drew pointed attention to the following statement : -
Too often the gathering of evidence favor able to a claim is left to the appellant or hi* representative.
I realize that it would be impracticable for the Minister io interview every appellant individually. Honorable members, however, have to interview many of them in the course of our duties. Many exservicemen complain that they appear before the entitlement tribunal repeatedly without getting satisfaction. Some of them are called upon to prove that they were in a certain place in France 30 years ago. It is almost impossible for them to obtain witnesses to substantiate their claims as to their whereabouts so long ago. All too frequently, because of their inability to dr. so, their appeals against the refusal of tinRepatriation Commission to grant them pensions are rejected by the tribunal. 1 ask the Minister to give sympathetic consideration to that aspect of the problem.
Finally, I trust that the Government will reconsider its decision in relation to the meagre increases proposed to be granted in the pensions of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen and that it will agree to accept the amendment so that pensions will in future be adjusted to living costs just as wages are at present.
.- In supporting the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), I shall endeavour to make my points without introducing party politics into this debate. Honorable members who have spoken from this side of the House have made out a case for the submission of this important subject of war pensions to an all-party body which should be given a charter fully to examine the existing scale and the implications of repatriation pensions and benefits. I do not propose to traverse the ground so adequately covered by the honorable member for Balaclava and the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison) and other honorable members on this side of the House, nor do I desire to introduce acrimony into the debate. It is surely sufficient to remind the Government that the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal has reported in the terms quoted by the Acting Leader of the Opposition. Amongst other things the tribunal stated -
In our last annual report we observed that the provisions of section 47 of the act were not fully appreciated by the Repatriation Commission and its officers. We pointed out also that pro.per attention by the Repatriation Commission to those provisions would have resulted in a considerable number of claims being allowed without the necessity for an appeal to this tribunal.
Not only has no improvement since been discerned, but the /position has deteriorated and is adversely affecting widows, sick and wounded ox-members of the forces and their dependants.
That is a damning indictment by a tribunal constituted of carefully selected men, the chairman of which was specially chosen because of his capacity for sifting evidence. In cold, simple English, the tribunal has reported to the Government that not only is the Repatriation Commission not fully appreciative of its obligations, but also that, although it drew the attention of the Government to that fact in its earlier report, the position has since deteriorated. Its statement is backed by pages of reasoned argument and by chapter and verse of specific cases. I do not propose to set myself up as a judge in this matter. The Government may have ah answer’ to the statement. I trust that it will not consider that a party political answer is sufficient to rebut it. The answer to an indictment of that kind can be furnished only by a non-party body. If the Government has a better proposal than that suggested by the honorable member for Balaclava, by all means let us hear and consider it. In the absence of a better proposal, however, the Government must accept the suggestion made by the honorable member. A case has been made out for the reference of this matter to an investigating body. Surely we cannot afford to lie under the charge of doing less than justice to men who have served and suffered in preserving our freedom. Even apart from the criticism of the No. 1 Tribunal there is a mass of evidence, so simple as to provoke queries in the minds of all reasonable people, as to whether we are honouring our obligations to exservicemen. Statistics will show that, over a recent period of years, the pension, which is, at least on the full scale, the means of living of a disabled soldier, has not kept pace with the increasing cost of living as indicated by that standard accepted by all Australians, the basic wage. No argument which justifies the progressive increase of the basic wage does not apply with equal force in favour of a concurrent and commensurate progressive increase of war pensions. Recent increases of the basic wage provide evidence that war pensions have not kept pace with the cost of living. A comparison of the upward variation of war pension rates with the upward variation of the age pension produces the same result. Since 1934, the age pension has increased by considerably over 100 per cent., whereas war pensions have increased by about 30 per cent. I do not suggest that such a comparison is the ideal criterion. It is not. Probably good arguments could, be produced to prove that the age pension rate is not a proper measuring stick, but, whatever measuring stick may be used, whatever statistics may be advanced, all will show that, of all the steps that governments have taken to keep pace with rising costs of living, the least effective steps have been taken in regard to war pensions. Consider the position of a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman with a wife. The very term applied to the man’s condition implies that he is not capable of earning money. Under this bill, such a man, with a wife, will receive £6 10s. a week. An age pensioner with a wife of pensionable agc will be allowed to receive £7 5s. a week, including his permissible extra earnings, small though that amount may be. Surely this disparity does not bear examination. Surely it is not reasonable that we should set a lower standard of living for a disabled ex-serviceman and his wife than is set for an age pensioner and his wife.
I do not acknowledge for a moment that a comparison of war pension rates with the basic wage is fair because every one of us, as a man of the world, knows that few people do not earn something additional to their weekly wages since the 10-hour week was introduced. The opportunities afforded by the shorter working week have been availed of by thousands of wage-earners because they consider that they need the additional income, (iven though, in the first place, nearly all of them receive more than the basic wage. There is no opportunity for the totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman to supplement his income in the same way. I shall not ask that Hansard be cluttered up with further statistics to substantiate what I have said. I have presented facts and figures in simple language, and I say that a case has been made, crystal clear, for a review of the whole basis of repatriation benefits.
– Read the recommendation of the tribunal.
– The final recommendation of the entitlement appeal tribunal supports our case. It states -
The tribunal recommends that a general inquiry into the administration of the Repatriation Act, including an investigation into the matters raised in this report, be conducted by a competent authority having no association with the Repatriation Department.
That is a very strong and unusual kind of recommendation to be made by any instrument of a government. The gentle men who signed that recommendation are not inexperienced.
– They are out of a job.
– They have not been associated with party politics, and I hope that nobody will suggest that they were motivated by anything other than their own convictions. As I am reminded by my colleague, those gentlemen are no longer engaged as a tribunal. That fact requires some explanation. I hope that the Minister will endeavour to explain all the circumstances in which the gentlemen who made that caustic report- ‘
– A valuable report.
– An invaluable report! I hope that there will be some explanation of why those men were not reappointed as a tribunal. All that I have said has been said fully, and probably better, by my colleagues. However, ] wish to discuss another point that, in my opinion, is of special importance. I think that the Minister will consider that it if worthy of serious consideration. It relates to war widows’ pensions.
The Government has decided to increase the rate of war widows’ pensions, and I am quick to appreciate that decision. Nevertheless, the question whether some classes of pensioners are adequately provided with a means of living is open to argument. A widow with six children receives £9 10s. a week, including child endowment. I admit that that is a substantial sum, and I do not offer any criticism of it. But I refer to widows without dependants who receive £3 a. week. We all know that many such widows have been unable to undertake work. I should think that, in such circumstances, a widow who is bodily and mentally fit is not unreasonably situated. Therefore, I have no criticism to make of the provision that is made for her. However, I point out that some childless widows are not able to take jobs because of physical ill health or because of neurosis arising from the very circumstances of war which made them widows. I put it to the Government that £3 a week is not enough in those circumstances for a woman, to live on.
– Would the honorable member apply a means test?
-sard- -Then he would give . The same amount to the widow whose income from private sources is £2,000 a year as he would to the widow who is not i bie to work, and has no income apart “om her pension?
– The Minister is put- i ng words into my mouth.
– No, T am merely asking a question.
– The Minister is suggesting that I have something in mind, which, in fact, is not in my mind at all. Pie mentioned a means test. If there vere any situation in which a means test might be applied, this is one, but I would resist the application of a means test because it is contrary to our whole conception of the national responsibility towards servicemen and their dependants to apply a means test to war pensions. However, I propose to place before the Minister a suggestion which I ask him to explore.
– I shall be glad to hear lie honorable member’s suggestion.
– I suggest that, just »3 there are entitlement tribunals to examine the claims of ex-servicemen for pensions, so there should be a tribunal to which a war widow might apply, and which would determine whether she was, in fact, unable to work, and whether she was eligible for a pension of more than £3 « week; in short, whether she should receive a pension upon which she could live. [ am not going to say what the amount onght to be. I do not believe that members of the Parliament should say what wages ought to be, or what pensions night to be. It may be decided that the n mount should be £4 10s. a week, or £5 a week. The amendment to which I am speaking proposes that an all-party committee of the Parliament be appointed to consider matters of that kind. A war widow who, because of ill-health or war neurosis, is unable to work, cannot live in decency on £3 a week.
We have also to consider the position of the widow with one child. Prima facie, the childless widow is an independent person who can go to work, can board or take a room, or live with parents or relatives. The war widow with a child. however, is in recognizably different circumstances. She must have a domicile. Is it suggested that she should be compelled to live with relatives ? Is she to be compelled to work while she brings up her child? The answer will be that she receives a pension of £4’ 5s. a week upon which to live. I maintain that a widow cannot pay rent and support herself and a child on £4 5s. a week. That is evident to any one who knows the price of women’s and children’s clothing. To anyone who knows the price of a pair of pants for a boy, or of a pair of shoes for a child, it is ridiculous to suggest that a war widow and her child can live on £4 5s. a week. The government which proposes such a thing, and the Parliament which endorses it, must accept a.= inevitable the fact that a widow in such circumstances shall throw herself ‘ upon the charity of some one, or neglect the up-bringing of her child while she goes out to work. That is not decent, and we ought not to approve of it.
If ever there was an issue of real human concern for the consideration of the Parliament it is this matter of the rights of the war widow and her children. I pay a tribute to the magnificent work’ done by Mrs. Vasey, the widow of General Vasey, in arousing the public conscience in this matter. I have sat at a conference and listened to her, and have been made to feel ashamed that more has not been clone for war widows and war orphans. That shame is still with me. and will remain with me until something has been done to better the condition of life for the widows and orphan dependants of the young men who, in the flush of their manhood, gave their lives in defence of their country. There is not so much involved. There are only 3,500 war widows without children, of whom probably 3,000 are able to take employment, or have means of their own. Therefore, to raise the pension from £3 a week to £4 10s. or £5 would not cost a vast ii mount of money for a government which can contemplate the expenditure of more than £500,000,000 a year. There are only 2,800 war widows with one child, and 1,480 with two children. That is not a tremendous number, and their voting strength is insignificant. ‘On the other hand the voting strength -of age pensioners and their .relatives- is tremendous. It is a matter for our shame that the amount of attention that is given in pensions proposals seems to be related to the numerical voting- strength of the pensioners involved. If we were debating a. bill relating to aged pensioners I venture to say that there would not be 10 per cent, of the members on the Government side of the House who would not speak on it.
– The honorable member has a wicked mind.
– I have been sitting in this Parliament for fourteen years and [ feel impelled to reiterate that assertion. Year after year when hills dealing with age pensioners are introduced, members of the Australian Labour party take pride in speaking on such measures. Whilst I do not rebuke them for that it is a fact that those pensioners number hundreds of thousands. War widows, on the other hand, number fewer than 10,000. T am told that the figure is only 3.600.
– The soldiers always support, this Government.
– Whatever the explanation may be, the fact remains that members of the Australian Labour party have not supported any proposals for the amelioration of the conditions of war widows. However, I do not wish to talk party politics, and I am sorry that I have started on that line, because I do not want to spoil any consideration that may bc extended to people who are in dire necessity of sympathetic treatment. I trust that the Government will favorably consider this matter. I shall refrain from pursuing this line with respect to widows with greater numbers of children because if favorable consideration is given to the classes of widows under discussion, other categories would automatically benefit. I rest my submission on the plight of the childless widows who are unable to work and are therefore doomed to rely on the charity of others. They should not have to rely on charity. Likewise, war widows who have one child only, should not be compelled to rely on charity. Such a widow should not be forced to put her child in a creche by Hay bo that she can go *out to work.
Would any honorable member ‘have dared to tell the tuen, as they were enlisting, that if they were unfortunate enough to be killed, widows with one child would be given, only £4 5s. a. week, despite the high cost of living? Not one of us would ha ve dared to do that because the country would have risen in revolt.
– It is disgraceful.
– Surely, our sense of responsibility has not passed with the termination of hostilities. I appeal to the Government to give consideration to this class cf widows, and I again express the thanks of thousands of women in this country to Mrs. Vasey for having aroused the conscience of the Australian people. Whether the Government recognizes thai fact or not, the conscience of the Australian people has been aroused to the plight of the majority of war widows.
Mr. HUTCHINSON (Deakin) [11.15 J. - That I have not spoken previously on this matter is not attributable to any lack of sympathy on my part with the problems of ex-servicemen. There are, in this House, many ex-service members, who, .1 believe, are in closer contact with returned servicemen’s organizations than I am. Usually I abide by the views they present, but I am impelled to speak on this matter now because of the attack thai has been made on the Government. It if the most devastating attack that has been made on any government for a great number. of years, if not in the history of the Australian Parliament. Not one Government member has risen to defend the bill under debate. Surely there is a reason for that. Is it that the Government members are ashamed of the bill or is it that they have no sympathy with the problems of ex-servicemen?
– The reason may be that their remarks would react against them.
– I rise to order. If thi.bill is not passed through all stages tonight, will pensions at the increased rates be paid next Wednesday?
– The Government will pay them then.
– I rise to order, and in doing so I point out that if the amendment before the House is carried, the Opposition will grant immediate passage to the bill. The Government is just humbugging.
– I shall again u i (ike that tact plain to the Minister. If the amendment is granted, this bill can bo passed through its remaining stages in t in? course of two or three minutes.
– The Government wants the bill passed in its present form.
– If that is so, rind Government members are satisfied with it, why do they not rise in support if the Minister? Despite the fact that many members of the Opposition have spoken during this debate, no reply has been given by Government members. I believe that the majority of ex-service members on the Government side of the House believe in their hearts that this is m disgraceful bill, the provisions of which completely disregard all laws of equity in respect of a big body of people in this country. It must mean that Government members, by drilling and coercion behind the scenes, have degenerated into an impersonalized lot of “ kordies “. They remain seated, and thus support the measure. They are prepared to let it go without saying a word. The suggestion made by the honorable member for Balaclava that an all-party committee mould be appointed to investigate this problem, is worthy of adoption. After all, it must bo remembered that a similar body was appointed to inquire into war gratuity problems, and good results were achieved. In view of the fact that many millions of pounds are to be expended, such a committee should be appointed. The all-party parliamentary committee which considered the matter of war gratuities made a recommendation which gave satisfaction to most members of this chamber and also to ex-servicemen’s organizations. Why could not the same system have been used in this instance? Differences of opinion regarding the problems of exservicemen are matters which could best bc settled by a non-party committee. Unfortunately that suggestion has been rejected by the Government and, as I have said, it has become necessary to have a party debate in this House.
I wish to deal now with the position of permanently and totally incapacitated ex-servicemen. Living costs are rising.
Every time a coal-mine closes down, » strike occurs, steel- workers fail to maintain full production, or there is a reduction of effort on the part of men anywhere in industry, output is reduced and this in turn tends to increase livingcosts. In the toils of this situation are caught the permanently and totally incapacitated ex-servicemen. It may be said that other ex-servicemen who are receiving war pensions are similarly affected, but they are not debarred from participating in the normal active life of the community, and, to some degree at least, basic wage variations compensate for increased living costs but that is noi so with totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. They are debarred entirely from working, and no provision is made to vary their remuneration to meet a rise in the cost of living. They have been permanently maimed. Some are blinded or have lost limbs, whilst others may suffer internal injuries which make them incapable of doing useful work. As I have said, these men are caught in the toils of rising living costs. ‘ They are in a worse position than are invalid and age pensioners because they cannot earn any income. What is the Government’s explanation of its attitude to this section of the community? I cannot understand why, so far, no explanation has been forthcoming, nor can I understand why the Prime Minister deliberately misled the House and the country when he said in his budget speech that there would be a general increase of 10 per cent, in all war pensions. It is obvious to anybody who has studied this measure that an increase of os. represents only 5 per cent., and that the permanently and totally incapacitated ex-servicemen are the only pensioners who are not to receive an increase commensurate with the rise in living costs. The attention of the Prime Minister was drawn to this matter by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White). The right honorable gentleman was- asked whether he had made a mistake, and whether he would reconsider this matter. He said that he would ; but all we know to-day is that the Government intends to put this bill through in its present form. The Minister for Repatriation admitted quite frankly that the Prime Minister misled the House and cbe country. In other words, he made a deliberate misstatement, because totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen are not to share the general 10 per cent. increase. The only explanation that one can find for this attitude is that offered by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), namely, that whilst the Government has to take some notice of the demands of powerful sections of the community, and is prepared to assuage any malice that such groups may have towards the Government, it is prepared to disregard completely the needs of less influential sections, whose votes, in any event, may not go to government supporters. War widows have been mentioned. What does the Government care about war widows ? It cares little because their numbers are small. Similarly, because there are not many permanently and totally incapacitated ex-servicemen in the community, their needs can be dis regarded.
I leave the problem there, but I warn the Government that outside the Parliament there is amongst ex-servicemen’s organizations, and people who are intimately connected with ex-servicemen, a rising fear of the danger that confronts t his country in the broad general policy of the Government There is also a. recognition of the fact that the scales of equity are loaded against ex-servicemen, particularly those who suffer permanent and total incapacity.
. - I shall not occupy the time of the House for more than two minutes. I do not propose to add anything to what has been said by my colleagues on this hill.I agree with their remarks entirely. However.I wish to call attention to the fact that the Government is treating two pieces of legislation in an entirely different way. When the position of ex -servicemen is under consideration, weare informed that in accordance with the time-honoured practice, the Government cannot agree to any amendments. But there is also on our notice-paper an income tax measure, and yesterday, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) received a large deputation from people interested in the amount of tax that should be collected or the method by which it should be collected.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Sheehan).- Order! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.
– I am doing so. I am pointing out that in one instance the Prime Minister has said that there shall be no consideration of the request that has been put to his Minister by ex-servicemen ; but when the “ big” people approach him they are told that their request will be considered. I shall be interested to see whether the Minister who introduced the income tax legislation will agree to any amendment of it.
I bring to the notice of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) the case of a permanently and totally incapacitated ex-serviceman in Adelaide. Thi.man has received the same treatment a.others, but he suffers from entirely different disabilities. He has to wear steel supports which wear his clothing out very quickly. He showed me what he had on. and every garment was worn out at the shoulder by the steel supports. That man’s cost of living is entirely different from that of others who receive the same pension. He should be given special consideration. There should be some elasticity in the administration of the act to provide for such cases.
I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), and trust that in due course the request of ex-servicemen will receive the same consideration by the Prime Minister as those of other sections of the community.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Barnard) adjourned.
recall of Australian Citizens from Overseas.
Motion (by Mr. Barnard) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
– Who has been scorning the honorable member now ?
– To-day, at question time, I asked the Minister for immigration (Mr. Calwell) a question which I hoped would bear some fruit of value to Australia, The question was as follows : -
Is’ it a fact that the so-called “Manila girls” are holders of valid Australian passports renewed in Manila, and that vises granted by the United States authorities were issued on these passports? ls it a fact that a refusal to issue such vises would have been contrary to normal diplomatic practice between friendly powers and will the Minister concede the same rights to these girls as to the eight Australian girls working for the American authorities in Tokyo who, it is reported in to-day’s press, will be permitted to remain V Pf not, why not?
I asked that question in the hope that it would lead the Minister to make a statement that would be of value to this country and to the other country involved, but I received only the following answer : -
If the honorable member will put the question on the notice-paper T shall guarantee to keep it there until the end of the session.
If the Minister is under the impression that this question is not considered important by the public, he is making a grave error. Indeed, I understand that there are honorable members opposite who strongly criticize the action of the Minister, which is high-handed. L’f that is not true of honorable members opposite it is certainly true of the people outside who support them. I presume that the attitude of the Government is based on the hope that this matter will die a natural death. Let me put it to the Government that it cannot be allowed to die a natural death, because certain very important principles are involved.
– Publicity principles.
– The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) possibly has no appreciation of the fact that there are motives, which sometimes actuate people, beyond personal or party advantages and not for publicity purposes. To some people this matter may be of little relative importance, and indeed it has been asked why so much fuss should be made about these girls. That reminds me of the first description I read of an air raid in England, written by A, G. McDonell. He stated that on the morning after the air raid his family took up the newspaper to see what the report was. The report said, after a graphic description of the air raid, that the loss of life was negligible. McDonell said, “ We were interested and wondered whose negligible life had been lost “.
The individuals who are the centre of this upset are only a few girls, but they are of importance. They are human beings. They are Australians, and cannot just be set aside as being of no importance whatever. There are other issues, of course, and I put it to the House that in the question that I asked to-day, I offered certain suggestions to the Minister. of which he took no notice, that the present situation, as it affects the two governments, is founded upon a misunderstanding. I do not believe that any one in Australia doubts that there was an agreement. That there was no formal written agreement appears to be evident and we have not doubted the Minister’s word that there was an agreement of some kind. I put it to him. that when the Australian consul at Manila renewed these passports to permit these girls to travel abroad, our side of any agreement became untenable. I quote from the press of the 7th October, which stated -
It was stated to-day that Australian consular authorities in Manila including the then Australian Consul to Manila (Mr. H. A. Peterson) had validated passports for the girls concerned authorizing them to travel to the United States.
The press also stated that one of the girls. Miss Jean Laurie, of Victoria, said that the girls’ papers had been extended for five years, and were open for travel to the United States, by the Australian Consul in Manila, Mr. H. A. Peterson. 1 suggest that, those passports having been renewed for the very purpose of permitting the girls to travel abroad., there was no course open to the United States other than to honour them with a vise. I suggest now that this matter could very well still be settled on the basis of a misunderstanding, and merely a misunderstanding, between the two governments concerned. But there are still other considerations, and these are probably the most important.. There is the question of the girls’ own position in the matter, and their wishes. On an earlier occasion I said that people are not cattle. They cannot be disposed of at the behest of the State. The State has no right to dispose of the bodies of its citizens, except perhaps in time of war under conscription legislation. These girls are now being treated merely as merchandise, to be disposed of according to the wish of the Minister. Let us assume for the moment that the whole of the agreement was in perfect order. It surely has some bearing on the case, that, at the expiration of. the allotted time, the girls had no wish to return to Australia. This matter has some importance in the field of international affairs. Does any one suppose that an incident of this magnitude, involving two governments, one of which has the stature of the leading power in the world, can occur without having repercussions throughout the world? Does any one suppose that in Europe it has caused no more than ripples? I am informed that the Russian newspaper Pravda has made more than one reference to it, and that Moscow radio has done the same. I understand that these instruments have signified their approval of the action of the Minister. The honorable gentleman can verify those facts for himself. I suggest that the very fact that the incident has been seized upon and become a matter for discussion in the international press is of very great moment to us. For my part, I regard this question as one which affects not only Australia, the British Commonwealth and the United States of America, but the whole idea of western democracy. Some time ago the Minister for Immigration was asked about 20 or 30 young Australians who went to Yugoslavia to be trained in the Communist technique, and he replied that, provided that they were within the law, it was not the business of the Government where Australian nationals went. It is not contended that these girls are outside the law. I cannot help but feel that the Minister is pursuing a course that is not only detrimental to the interests of Australia and to the whole concept of western democracy, but one that is in fact not in accordance with his own truest ideas and beliefs. I hope that he will reconsider his decision. The way is open for him to say that he has pursued a course that has led to considerable misunderstanding, to say the least of it. I feel that the best interests of all will be served, if, even now, the Minister retracts some of the statements that he has made and adopts a new attitude to this matter.
– I wish to make it perfectly clear that the Government does not intend to engage in lengthy discussion upon this question. I have satisfied myself that an agreement was made. It may be that it was a gentlemen’s agreement with regard to ladies, which is of course a dangerous kind of agreement, but it was one that was made at the request of the Americans, and that is not now denied by them. As the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons) has said, apparently there was a misunderstanding in regard to some of the girls in Manila or another place. I am fairly certain that some of the people associated with them desired to keep the girls where they were, and 1 have no doubt the girls desired to stay.
Even before the war it was not possible for Australian citizens to go to the United States of America, to accept positions there, and to stay for as long as they wanted to stay. It has not been possible to do that at any time. I am informed by the Americans that if Australians go to the United States of America as visitors on a visitor’s vise they are not allowed to engage in work there. For over twenty years musicians who have desired to go to the United States of America to play in orchestras there have not been permitted to do so. Australians have never had the right to go to the United States of America and to stay there for as long as they wished to stay. The United States Government has never permited the indefinite extension of vises for the purpose of working in that country. Let that be perfectly clear. Before the war, if somebody went to America and wanted to work there he could stay for only a limited time, unless he was admitted under a very limited quota.
The reason why the Government does not propose to engage in lengthy discussions about this matter now is that it is considered that the problem can be solved better by discussions between the two countries on a governmental level than by discussions in this chamber. The United States authorities admit that an agreement was made at their urgent request. As a matter of fact, before it was made, Cabinet had come to a decision upon the case of some men who were required by the United States authorities for certain work. The Minister knew that there was a general decision with regard to people going to work for the Americans, but, as the Americans were anxious to obtain the service of Australian girls until they could train American girls, I agreed that these girls should be allowed to go on the clear understanding that everybody, including they themselves, knew what the position was. As the honorable member for Darwin has said, certain misunderstandings occurred with regard to the extension if vises in Manila or another place. I think that the United States Government and the Australian Government will be able to devise a satisfactory solution of ibis little problem that has arisen. Despite what has been said, it is not of tremendous importance.
– The- individual has no rights !
– In normal circumstances, these young women would not be allowed to remain in the United. States of America,
– Surely that does nol; apply to employment in legations.
– I have informed the House of what I ha.ve been told by the United States authorities. I think it is generally recognized that Australians ould not, at any time, go to America and stay there for us long as they liked. If they were granted a. visitor’s vise, they could not work. If they were granted a vise allowing them to work, unless they came within a small quota, they could only work for a limited period. That was always the position, and I understand it is the position now. I have discussed the matter at some length this week. I dc not propose to indulge in recrimination. We shall adjust the matter with the representatives of the United States Government. If the honorable member for Darwin thought that the
Minister was rather abrupt in what be said to-day-
– The honorable gentleman was very rude.
– Some very hard things have been said about him. 1 regard an agreement as an agreement, and I expect people to keep their word. Some misunderstanding having arisen, 1 am prepared to accept an explanation of those misunderstandings from those who are interested in the matter. We shall conduct our negotiations with the American authorities, and not. by public statements or speeches.
.- The hour is late, and I propose to speak very briefly upon this matter.
– The honorable gentle man must be brief.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) said, “Be brief”, and then walked cut of the chamber. There is a simple solution of this problem. The Prime Minister and his Ministers talk about an agreement that was made, and that must, be adhered to. The agreement can be revised having regard to the altered circumstances. The agreement made with service personnel was that they enlisted for the duration of the war and a year thereafter. Nevertheless, the Government left it open to any of itenlisted personnel, men or women, to take their discharge in any country in the world they desired. Many of us availed ourselves of that opportunity after World War I. Although these girls took a war job, they should now be allowed to take their discharge in any country they desire. The Government should see that point of view, and cease making Australia look ridiculous in the eyes of other nations.
– These girls are not enlisted personnel.
– They are very much in the same category as enlisted personnel. They were engaged to do a war job. Perhaps, they did not wear a uniform : but they worked with service organizations or at embassies. It is ridiculous for the Government to behave in the fool i si. fashion in which it has behaved. In this instance, its attitude differs from that. which it adopted in respect of other persons whom it allowed to go to Yugoslavia. It is hounding these girls. The simple solution of this problem is for the Government to give them their discharge in any country they desire and let them know that they will have to return to Australia at their own expense. All of us know that, generally, no one can be allowed to accept work in the United States of America. However, there have been exceptions to that rule. I know of instances in which people have been given a licence to work in that country. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams) may shake his head ; but there have been exceptions to that rule.
– Only in respect ofa very small quota of persons.
– Yes ; but the fact that there have been exceptions upsets the principle which the Prime Minister is insisting upon in this instance. I repeat that the Government’s obstinacy in this matter is making Australia look foolish in the eyes of the world.
Motion (by Mr. Scully) put -
That the question he now put.
The House divided. (Mb. Deputy Speaker - Mr. J. J. Clark.)
Majority . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the Housedo now adjourn.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. J.J. Clark.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1948 -
No. 08 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association and others.
No. 69 - Federated Clerks’ Union of Australia.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department of Works and Housing
M. S. Hallissy, V. M. Oppel, L. E. Schunke, D. C. Shannon.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act - National Security (Industrial Property) Regulations - Orders - Inventions and designs (15).
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Postal purposes -
Belmore, New South Wales.
Miranda, New South Wales.
North Ryde, New South Wales.
Utilise adjourned at 12.3 a.m. (Wednesday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Rationing : Butter ; Tea ; Petrol.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Fuel, upon notice -
– On the 12th October, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) asked if I would investigate the way in which petrol is rationed to various sections of the community in accordance with the jobs which they do. I am now able to supply the honorable member with the following information : -
In the instance quoted of a person obtaining ti .ration of fl gallons of petrol a month the vehicle is obviously a private car of not more than 10 horse-power and the petrol ration isufficient for approximately 1,900 miles run ning per annum. For higher-powered vehicle?, the ration is proportionately greater to give the same mileage. Thus, if tile person is 20’ miles from the town the petrol is sufficient for four return trips monthly. Vehicles used in connexion with primary production receive a. ration for a greater mileage depending on distance it is necessary to travel and froquency of journeys. In any individual casewhere hardship is claimed the Liquid Fuel Control Board in the State concerned ha>discretion to make any necessary adjustment of rations. Tourist buses have had their ration, reduced proportionately to other users, and no applications in connexion with additional vehicles will be entertained. Proprietors of tin tourist vehicles have invested considerable amounts of capital in their ventures and it would be inequitable to derive them of their livelihood. In any case they perform a very useful function in that they enable man people npt fortunate enough to possess cars toenjoy some of the amenities of life which anavailable to car owners.
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers.. to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister forDefence, upon notice -
Mr.Dedman. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Mr.. CALWELL.- On the 13th October, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) asked the following questions :-
Can the. Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral say whether it is true that Dr. Keith Barry, Federal. Controller 0/ Programmes for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, has been nominated by the Australian Government to represent Australia at the meeting of the representatives of eighteen nations who arc broadcasting experts, which has been convened in Paris this month by Unesco?
The Postmaster-General has supplied the following information : -
It is n fact that Dr. Keith Barry, Federal Controller of Programmes of the Australian Broadcasting Commission has been nominated to represent Australia ou a programme committee to meet in Paris from 25th October to Srd November, 1048, under the aegis of Unesco,
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 October 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1948/19481019_reps_18_199/>.