23rd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m.. and read prayers.
– I address a question to you, Mr. President. Yesterday I asked a question about the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It does not appear in “ Hansard “ to-day. Would there be any special reason for its omission?
– The general practice is that when a Minister asks that a question without notice be placed on the notice-paper it does not appear in the “ Hansard “ report of proceedings for that day. However, should the Minister give a partial answer to the question or make some relevant and substantial comment on it, and then ask that the question be placed on the notice-paper, both question and answer appear in the report of the day’s proceedings.
I take this opportunity to ask honorable senators to give some thought to the way in which they present questions. Long and involved questions are surely better put on notice. If that were done in the first place they would not have to be put twice.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade by saying that it appears to me that the Australian apple industry will have difficulty in selling its crop during the forthcoming season because of the increased production of apples in both South Africa and Argentina. In view of the position which might arise, is the Minister prepared to bring to the notice of our overseas trade posts the fact that there will be large quantities of Australian apples for sale in the forthcoming year, so that these trade posts may endeavour to obtain buyers for this commodity, which may well be overproduced next season?
– That seems to me to be a very valuable suggestion. I shall speak to Mr. McEwen personally and see whether it is possible to implement it.
– 1 ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that on 14th July, 1959, the Public Service Board advised the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union that it had agreed that Saturday penalty rates of 25 per cent, should be paid to non-shift workers. Further, when will these penalty rates come into operation? Will the payments be retrospective? If not, why not? I emphasize that retrospective payment is urgently necessary for these workers.
– The information I have is that the Public Service Board did make an offer to the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union on 14th July ‘and that an agreement was reached, but it was necessary to lodge the proposed arrangement with the Public Service Arbitrator and ask for a variation of the relevant determination. That step has been taken, and the result is now awaited. I tell Senator Dittmer that the accepted industrial practice is that variations of awards shall not operate retrospectively and the arrangement in connexion with this particular matter, as is the case with others, is that the new rates shall become operative as from the first pay day after the date of the Public Service Arbitrator’s determination.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, who is in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. In explanation, I point out that during a recent lecture to the Institute of Public Supplies Officers. Mr. J. C. Dickinson, an officer of the International Wool Secretariat, said that statements being circulated regarding the unsuitability of woollen blankets for use in hospitals because of the excessive amount of wool fluff that resulted from their use, were? not correct. Can the Minister say whether’ the C.S.I.R.O. has conducted research itr this matter, and, if so, whether the results of that research can be made available to the Senate?
– I am sorry to say that I have not seen a report of the lecture to which the honorable senator has referred. The allegation that the use of woollen blankets has the effect stated seems rather strange to me. J have no knowledge of the C.S.I.R.O. having conducted an investigation, or of whether the organization thought it would be useful to do so, but I shall make some inquiries and let the honorable senator know the result of them.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister has provided the following information: -
Australia’s relationships with other countries in regard to the operation of scheduled air services are regulated by bilateral arrangements between Australia and each country concerned. The Air Union -proposals have so far had no effect on services between Australia and the countries concerned in Air Union.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, .upon notice -
Will the Postmaster-General consider increasing the number of public telephones in Canberra, and will he consider the desirability of placing some of them in or near the shelter sheds provided for travellers by omnibus?
Postmaster-General has furnished the following answer: -
To meet immediate development the department proposes providing five additional public telephones in Canberra, making a total of 79 to-date. Two of the new installations will be close to three shelter sheds provided for omnibus travellers, and three will be installed in new areas of ‘Lyneham and Dickson where no bus sheds are available.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Postmaster-General has supplied the following answers: -
Services Performed for Other Departments
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Postmaster-General has supplied the following answers: -
Debate resumed from 2nd September (vide page 450), on motion by Senator Sir Walter Cooper -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The bill before the Senate is to amend the Repatriation Act and to give effect to the Budget provisions for alterations in the payments to -certain .former members of the services who qualify for those .benefits. In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) stated -
The Budget which the Government has recently brought down makes provision for substantial increases in repatriation benefits, not only in the matter of higher pension rates, but also in other benefits including increased allowances and the provision of additional facilities for medical treatments in certain cases.
The Opposition has a different opinion of this measure and on behalf of the Opposition I wish to submit an amendment to the question before the Chair. Accordingly, I move -
Leave out all words after “ That “, insert - “the bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide rates of repatriation benefits adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to take effect as from the first pension pay day in July, 1959.”.
The bill makes provision to increase the special rate pension, which is known as the T.P.I, pension and is paid to ex-servicemen who are totally and permanently incapacitated or blinded as a result of war service, and to pensioners suffering from tuberculosis. The Government proposes to pay an increase of 7s. 6d. a week to war widows and those in receipt of domestic allowances. The general rate pension, or 100 per cent, rate pension as it is known, is to be increased by 7s. 6d. a week. Amputees and partially blinded ex-servicemen are to receive adjustments ranging from 5s. Od. to 15s. Od. a week. Provision is made for a clothing allowance ranging from 3s. 9d. to 7s. 6d. a week to meet replacements of clothing which has become worn or has deteriorated through different causes. There is to be an increased payment for loss of salary or wages incurred because of attendance before medical tribunals or for medical attention. Travelling allowances are proposed for ex-servicemen attending assessment or entitlement tribunals. For some time, I have looked forward to provision being made for additional facilities for war widows, widowed mothers and children of deceased ex-servicemen to receive treatment at Repatriation Department out-patient clinics. These provisions are very welcome.
These and other amendments provide the main points of the bill and, according to the Minister, they will come into effect from the first pension day after the amending measure comes into force. The Opposition believes that this bill should be withdrawn and redrafted to provide rates of repatriation benefits adequate to meet present living standards. We also believe that the increases should be made retrospective to 1st July.
Let us consider this legislation in its proper perspective. It arises from the Budget, which has been roundly condemned in every corner of the Commonwealth. The Minister’s description of it as providing for substantial increases in pension rates and allowances was not accepted by the New South Wales State congress of the Returned Servicemen’s League last month. I shall quote an extract from the press to show Government members that the league does not accept the statement that this legislation provides for substantial increases in pensions rates and allowances. The report reads -
The R S L. State congress yesterday demanded an immediate meeting of the League’s National Executive to protest against “miserable and paltry “ rises in Service pensions allowed in the Budget. Congress, meeting in Sydney, suspended standing orders to discuss the Budget’s approach to Service pensions and war service homes. Delegates said the increase of 7s. 6d. a week was “ ridiculous “. The State president, Mr. W. Yeo, said most Government members were members of the R.S.L. He said, “ If they wore their badges as often in the House as they do on the hustings when they are after our votes, war pensioners would have nothing to worry about. It is about time we pulled them into line and found out whose side they are on.”
Mr. Yeo went on to say that the increases granted in the Budget were lousy. Mr. Cox, another ex-serviceman, said that exservicemen were being forgotten and that the promises made after the war were now rapidly deteriorating into a hand-out. Just as we say in this chamber to-day that the repatriation benefits at present are inadequate, the State congress of the R.S.L. carried resolutions calling for full pensions for all ex-servicemen permanently unemployable through ill-health, repatriation benefits for ex-servicemen of World War IT for all illnesses, regardless of whether or not they are traceable to war service, recognition of heart disease and other chronic illnesses of World War I veterans as being war caused, recognition of claims for pensions by persons accepted at Al in the war and now mentally ill, increase of funeral benefit to £50, and free medical and hospital treatment for all ex-servicemen over 60 years of age. This is very largely the attitude that we of the Opposition are taking to this legislation.
– Is the New South Wales branch of the league the only one that you can cite?
– I have comments from other States that I shall give later on. It seems to me that the Treasury, or some other influential authority, needs a constant reminder - which it should be getting from Government supporters - of the nation’s obligation to compensate ex-servicemen adequately, not to make hand-outs to them in the form of niggardly increases after the cost of living has risen.
There is an obligation to compensate ex-servicemen fairly and reasonably for disabilities arising from the conditions of their war service. This legislation does not nearly measure up to the promises made at the 1949 election, when this Government was seeking the support of the country. It then said that it would maintain and increase the true value of pensions. In the case of the T.P.I, pensioner, there is to be an increase of 15s., which is twice the amount of the other increases, but these people are permanently relegated to a subsistence level. It is true that they are getting more than other pensioners, but if any honorable senator says that the proposed total and permanent incapacity pension will enable an ex-serviceman and his family to enjoy the living standard that they would have achieved if he had not become totally and permanently incapacitated as a result of his war service, that honorable senator will show that he is sadly lacking in a sense of justice. A number of these men would now be receiving top salaries and wages, or would be doing very well in business, had they not suffered a permanent and total incapacity. We cannot run away from the basic fact that the various spurts of inflation, the continual spiralling of prices and the increases in the cost of living, have left these men with no margin above the bare necessities of life, even though they are on the special pension rate.
During the general election campaign in October of last year the Leader of the Oppo sition, Dr. Evatt, stated the case for the Australian Labour Party. He said -
We are specially concerned about the pension for totally and permanently incapacitated returned soldiers. This will be raised immediately to the basic wage as an irreducible minimum.
We believe that a pension equal to the basic wage is an irreducible minimum for these people, who, because of their total incapacity as a result of war service, have been prevented from re-engaging in their ordinary avocations. Dr. Evatt went on to say -
The increase will not be permitted to affect possible qualifications for other benefits, the intention being that t.p.i. servicemen and their dependants will not be prejudiced by the lifting of the pension for the t.p.i. to the basic wage for the time being.
Service pensions should have been raised to £4 17s. 6d. a week at this time last year. The proposed provision is a year behind. As every one knows, an increase in the cost of living has taken place during the year. The wives’ allowance has been inadequate for many years and will be still inadequate. Labour’s policy is to increase these pensions and allowances. We stand by this policy and put it forward to the Senate and to the people of this country. In his policy speech Dr. Evatt said -
The time has come when medical and repatriation hospital attendance and treatment should be available to all returned servicemen and nurses of the first world war, irrespective of whether war entitlement is established.
If physical arrangements permit, hospital treatment in repatriation hospitals will be extended to veterans of the second world war. A scheme will be drawn up to apply these principles after consultation with officials of returned soldiers’ organizations.
He said also -
In the unanimous opinion of the Repatriation Committee of the Federal Parliamentary Labour Party, section 47 of the Repatriation Act passed by the Curtin Government during the second world war (providing for the benefit of the doubt in all cases of disputed entitlement or assessment) is not being observed by some of the tribunals.
Labour will take two steps to remedy this grossly-unjust situation. First, we shall provide for a special judicial officer to make an enquiry in every case where the question of onus of proof or benefit of the doubt is in question . . . we shall review and strengthen the Returned Soldiers’ Legal Service Bureau which was founded by the Labour Government in 1942 for the purpose of the Attorney-General’s Department giving free legal advice to returned servicemen. There is much evidence that the Bureau needs strengthening for the benefit of all Australian servicemen.
A pension* equal to the basic wage for totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen has not been, granted,, yet Labour considers, that to be the irreducible minimum. We submit that provision? lor free hospitalization for all ex-servicemen and nurses of the first world war is an essential ingredient of. a repatriation act. Those who’ were of war service age in 1914 are now well om. towards 65 and. 70 years of a’ge. The youngest of them would be 6G years of age and many of these people are suffering ill health in their declining years either directly or indirectly because of the war service they have rendered.
Again, we have the important question of accepting cancer as a war-caused injury for repatriation purposes. I know of men who were” in gassed areas and who did not report to their aid posts, or, because they were in: a harry as many others were to get out of the services failed to report their complaint and are now finding it extremely difficult to have there disability accepted as being, attributable to war service. Applicants are thrown back on. the onus of proof provisions, and there the matter rests. On previous occasions I have referred to the burnt-out digger, and I repeat now that it is a reflection on the nation that special pensions are not being paid to the burnt-out diggers of the First World War. Most of these people are men of courage. They are not looking for charity or a hand-out; they simply want to know that the nation is prepared to see them through their declining years.
The Government should also give urgent consideration to increasing the allowances of dependants. It should give medical benefits to the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. These points have all been overlooked in the legislation under consideration. Many of those who are already on pensions and who seek hospital treatment are placed upon the temporary incapacitated rate while receiving treatment. When they are discharged from hospital they are not always fit to return to their employment and they should be permitted to continue on the totally incapacitated rate until they are fit. The man who has a small business is equally entitled to this assistance after medical treatment in a repatriation hospital and until he resumes his business activity. Finally, we suggest that the funeral benefit should! be examined closely and substantial increases made. Any one- whohas had. any experience of this sad and. melancholy part of every one’s life knows, that a funeral costs from £75 to £100- to-day. The present rate is totally inadequate, and’ I submit that the Opposition’s suggestion that it be increased to £50 is’ very modest indeed.
That great bone of contention, the onus of proof, has bees aired on many occasions by ex-servicemen’s organizations throughout Australia.
– It will be aired on many more occasions.
– It certainly will be. The onus of proof provision has been a bone of contention for a long time. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has promised that when we are in a position to do so we will appoint a member of the judiciary as the final appeal tribunal in matters relating to entitlement or assessment. The final appeal from the department’s tribunals should bc divorced from the Repatriation Department and placed with the Attorney-General’s Department or even with the Chief Justice of the High Court who could delegate a member of the judiciary to preside at such hearings. Another important point is that these appeals should be heard in open forum unless the appellant requests a hearing in camera and the tribunal considers it proper to accede to the request. The Repatriation Commission should be represented at every appeal so that the tribunal may have each case explained to it properly. On all questions of law there should be a final appeal from the tribunal to a court of law.
Another important matter vitally affecting the Repatriation Act and the Government’s attitude towards ex-servicemen is the recent court decision on the question of preference of employment to ex-servicemen. Many men suffering from partial disabilities are able to engage in some form of gainful employment. In the past they have been given employment by the Government, and the big question facing the community to-day is that of the order of retrenchment. As every one knows, automation is finding its way into industry, into offices and indeed into every section of commercial life. In many ways, this is changing the attitude of people towards their responsibility to give employment to ex-servicemen.. In recent, years we have seen the advent of time and morion study experts who are called in* by industries, office and departments to offer opinions, on what should be the standard ob norm for our various, activities. Needless to< say, the disabilities, of many partly disabled ex-servicemen amd war pensioners me: coming; under the close scrutiny of these investigators. For many years now, it has been; the accepted practice of the Government to give complete preference of employment to returned- servicemen- if,, for any reason, it has’ been found necessary to: reduce Stall That has been common: practice and, after all, it is ordinary justice. This practice’ has been of immeasurable importance to a large number of exservicemen^, particularly those who were temporary Commonwealth public servants and whogave loyal service to the Government over a period: crf years.
The nub of the preference issue to-day lies not so much in the previous preference in employment provision, though that was of great importance in the re-establishment of ex-servicemen who had been away from their normal employment during war service and who came back to take up the reins of their civilian life. The more important aspect concerns the retention of existing jobs. That is where preference should be maintained. Some time ago I raised in this chamber a matter concerning the Repatriation Department in Hobart. I found that the Public Service Board had taken a certain stand - and it has never given any good reason for doing so - and had issued an order completely abandoning preference to exservicemen who were temporary employees of the Public Service and substituting a criterion of efficiency. As I have pointed out previously, Mr. Deputy President, the nature of an ex-serviceman’s incapacity, or the damage sustained by him physically, such as to entitle him to a repatriation pension, would have reduced his ability to come up to the standards of efficiency set by many of the efficiency and time and. motion study experts. Therefore, this is a burning issue and one that should be faced by the Government without more ado.
Unfortunately, the attitude of the Public Service Board, as disclosed in the order to which I have referred, gives the green light to heads of departments to use their own judgment and virtually their own authority ia dismissing ex-servicemen who are temporaryemployees, without regard to any preference principle. A dismissal may be made on the vague ground’ of efficiency, in terms of the new Public Service Board approach. This gives rise to the possibility of the gravest injustice being done to ex-servicemen, while the fact of their absence on war service may be ignored by departmental heads if they so- choose. This is a matter that cannot be measured in pounds, shillings and pence. The need for sympathy, understanding and an appreciation of justice is of paramount importance when ex-servicemen are being appointed to positions, or when the question of retrenchment is being considered.
What makes the action of the Public Service Board even more inexplicable is the fact that the new order, which cannot fail to have a very unsettling effect on the future of thousand’s of ex-servicemen who are temporary public servants, conflicts with the decision of the Government to extend the period of preference under the Commonwealth Re-establishment and Employment Act. The Public Service Board has issued instructions which can effectively destroy the extension of preference that has been decided by the Government. The Minister must realize that many more applications for increased war pensions may arise as a result of this development.
The provisions of the measure now before the Senate are, in the opinion of the Opposition and of many people throughout Australia, inadequate. The annual pension increase of 7s. 6d. a week, which has been the rule for some time, and even the 15s. a week increase for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, has not enabled pensions to keep pace with increased living costs, due to inflation which is ever present. Therefore, we on this side of the chamber think that justice will be done only by the Senate accepting the amendment which I have moved on behalf of the Opposition.
– In rising to oppose the amendment and to give my reasons- for whole-hearted support of this Repatriation Bill that is before, us, I presume that it is incumbent on me to spend some of the brief time allotted to! me’ in referring to the remarks of my Tasmanian colleague, Senator O’Byrne, who was the tool by which the Australian Labour Party introduced this nebulous, platitudinous amendment. I remind the Senate that if the amendment were to be accepted, it would do only harm and bring misfortune to ex-servicemen and their dependants, whom we on this side of the chamber are trying to assist. It would only delay what we are prepared to do and want to do. I believe that this type of Opposition attack is the lowest form of party political wrangling. I am confident that it is an attitude that is abhorred by the majority of exservicemen and their dependants, whether they vote for this party or that party at election time. They dislike a question of national importance such as this being brought down to these lower depths of party political wrangling.
There is not a new thought or a new suggestion in this amendment. There is no suggestion of what the Labour Party would have us do, or of what it would do if it were in power. Senator O’Byrne spent about a third of his time in reading about a conference in Sydney. Then he took up more valuable time by reading about his leader’s policy speech. He did not remind the Senate that that policy was unacceptable to the Australian public and therefore is of not much worth in this Senate. More of his time was taken up with matters completely out of the orbit of the Repatriation Act, particularly preference to ex-servicemen. However, Sir, when the honorable senator expressed his own views - he is an exserviceman himself and has much to do with the problems of ex-servicemen - I felt that he brought a lot of common sense into some of the suggestions that he made to the Government. The honorable senator could be of greater help to the Senate if he were to devote more time to putting forward his own sincere views. Unfortunately, he has made me come slightly into the party political arena; but I shall be brief.
I had not intended to mention the Labour regime, because it is so long since Labour was in office. It is more than ten years since Labour introduced a bill. As we know, in those days it was popular knowledge that whom caucus wished to destroy it first made Minister for Repatriation. The last two Labour Ministers for Repatriation were defeated at the polls the first time after their appointment that they stood to face, their masters, the people. The Labour record should be forgotten and not woken up.
Coming to the bill before the Senate, I should like to congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper), who has occupied that portfolio since 19th December, 1949, thus establishing a record in Australia in that respect. The exservicemen are proud to know that this gallant man has maintained the confidence of the Government, of the people and of the exservicemen’s organizations in carrying out his mighty important task. When I first heard the Budget speech I must admit that I was disappointed in respect of repatriation. I thought to myself that the Minister had had a wondeful run and must have exerted a lot of influence in Cabinet but that this time he did not get as far as he would like. The Budget gave me the impression that it was a careless, cold-blooded approach to the question; it seemed a case of 7s. 6d. a week all round, then finish. But when this bill was introduced into the Senate and we heard the Minister’s second-reading speech, I realized that once again he had triumphed. His length of time in office has not wearied him. He has gone from one win to another.
Let us look at some of the important aspects of the legislation that the Senate is being asked to pass to-day. The totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, blinded soldiers, and certain categories of tuberculosis pensioners are being given an increase of 15s. a week. War widows, taking into consideration the domestic allowances, will receive an increase of 15s. a week. It is just as well to remind ourselves of the fact that 90 per cent, of war widow pensioners are receiving the domestic allowance. As a result of this legislation, 90 per cent, of them will receive an increase, not of 7s. 6d. but of 15s. a week. Other aspects of the bill reveal how closely the Minister and the Repatriation Commission and its officers examine all the requirements and the needs of the people whom they serve. They must carry out a minute examination of all the plans and propositions put to them with a view to introducing new forms of benefit to help those whom they are trying to serve.
I congratulate the Minister on increasing the scope of medical treatment to children of war widows and certain widowed mothers. I shall not deal in detail with all of the advances being made in this, legislation in relation to war widows and dependent children, but there is one feature - admittedly not a very big governmental action, but one that will be appreciated by those whom it benefits - that I should like to mention. I refer to the new idea of a clothing allowance for those who, because of disabilities, infirmity, or certain afflictions require specialized clothing. They will get it under this legislation. Again, the Minister has seen fit to increase travelling allowances for those who attend tribunals or attend for medical treatment. This is in keeping with the Government’s policy to meet all costs as far as it is possible to do so. The fourth benefit increase under this legislation is the allowance for loss of salary and wages when ex-servicemen and their dependants have to travel to receive medical treatment. This increase is of the order of 25 per cent., and it is a notable improvement in the repatriation legislation.
Now, Sir, I make one plea through the Minister to the officers of the Repatriation Commission in all the States, and that is to make sure that very quickly after this legislation becomes law all those who may possibly be entitled to any of these benefits are fully and clearly informed thereof. We cannot expect ex-servicemen and widows and dependants to learn from press reports what are their actual rights. Neither can we reasonably expect the press to publish all these details. It is the bounden duty of the Repatriation authorities to see to it as quickly as possible that all war pensioners and beneficiaries are fully notified as to the new benefits, or increased benefits, to which they will become entitled under this legislation. It would interest me, and I think it would interest all honorable senators, if the Minister could perhaps when replying to this debate tell us what steps the commission takes to bring about the type of thing that I have just suggested.
I believe that the Government’s history in respect of ex-servicemen and their dependants will stand the closest scrutiny. It will be criticized from year to year, but when the history of it all is written, I believe that this Government will be judged as having done for ex-servicemen in its first ten years of office as much as it felt it could do taking all other commitments and responsibilities into consideration. However, 1 think the -Minister would be the first to agree with me that he and his department cannot rest on their laurels. They have got to be continually watchful because the passage of years, the changed outlook, and the varying economic factors demand constant review. For example, the needs of ageing exservicemen are increasing. My friend, Senator O’Byrne, has touched briefly on this subject. I believe that the handicaps born of war increase greatly with age,- and as they increase so do the nation’s responsibilities to the ex-servicemen grow. For instance, if an ex-serviceman of 60 years of age is entitled to a service pension - as we all know, that is the equivalent of the age pension - the Parliament is acknowledging that at 60 years of age an ex-serviceman is equal in age to a non-ex-serviceman of 65 years of age. Whilst this aspect of the matter does not come under this particular legislation, I should like in passing to remind the Senate, and the Government particularly, that action should therefore be taken to alter the relevant legislation so that ex-servicemen of 60 years of age in receipt of service pensions can be admitted to homes for the aged. Those of us who were present in this chamber on the last day of the last sessional period will recall that Major-General Wordsworth, who has now retired from the Senate, made a very moving appeal to the Government for this to be done. As Senator O’Byrne has pointed out, any one who enlisted in 1914 at the age of eighteen is now 63 years of age. Therefore the majority of the surviving ex-servicemen of the First World War are in their 60’s and 70’s, and some are even older than that. They are the people who need particular care. Their conditions need careful examination, and I believe that the benefits due to them should be examined to see whether they can be increased.
I am going to make one suggestion which I have not yet gone fully into, although I have discussed it with some ex-servicemen who agreed with me. I do not know whether it would be too difficult to administer, but I do not believe in advancing a proposition without being prepared to suggest how best it could be implemented. It is in that respect I differ greatly from the members of the Labour Party. My suggestion relates to the general rate pension - not to those who are on the 100 per cent, rate, but to those who? receive a percentage of the general rate pension. There are many thousands of exservicemen who have earned that pension - earned the right .to it - but the amount they receive adds little to their income and it means nothing to their comfort or security or the security of their families. It is just a little bit of extra spending money. But in the aggregate, it would amount to a big sum over the year. I suggest, therefore, that the commission should consider introducing a type of means test in regard to the payment of a percentage of the general rate pension. It could fix the maximum salary, income or wage that could be received before a given percentage of the general rate would cease to be paid. My proposal would not harm the pensioner’s security or comfort. He would be registered as entitled to receive such and such a pension when his income fell below the given means test figure. Prom the moment he was classified as a pensioner he would be entitled to receive all the relevant medical and hospital benefits. A safeguard would have to be provided to ensure that when the income fell below the suggested maximum the pension would be paid without red tape or delay. There would also have to be an administrative arrangement which would ensure that if a man died - from war disability - while not actually drawing a pension, it would be forthwith paid to his widow. If the money so saved were used to increase the pensions of a certain age group - perhaps those 60 or 65 years of age and over - the Government would be doing much to help this band of men and women, who do need more help than they are receiving.
However much we may praise or criticize proposed repatriation benefits and legislation it is surely the duty of the national Parliament to examine the whole question on a national basis. The Government does that; perhaps other bodies do not. We must look at the cost, and compare it with the Commonwealth’s enormous commitments, before we urge great increases of pension rates. To keep one’s promise is excellent; to do what is right and just is commendable; but such action must go hand in glove with a recognition that nothing can be done unless it is within the Commonwealth’s financial ability. I am reminded of the nineteenth century ‘French political economist who said: “Every one wants to live at- the -expense of the State. They forget that the State lives at the expense of every rone.” Benefits do the recipients no good if .they are such as to endanger the country’s economic security. Failure to appreciate that ‘basic fact can result in great harm being done to many people.
For these -reasons, it is as well to consider the Government’s existing repatriation commitments before we advocate greater benefits. Those commitments, arising out of two world wars, are of staggering dimensions. This year, the Government expects to spend on war and repatriation benefits and services £83,400,000 or £53,000,()00 more than was spent in 1949-50, the year when this Government came into office. At 30th June last the Commonwealth was paying 593,810 pensions for incapacity and 48,247 pensions to war widows and their dependants - a total of almost 650,000 pensions. Therefore, any increase in pension rates cannot fail to impose a heavy drain on Commonwealth revenue. I believe that the Government is acting justly in this field and is adding to its record of achievement in -the granting of benefits to ex-servicemen and their dependants. Before we are tempted to become critical we should recall the many benefits that the Government has introduced.
I remind honorable senators of the widows’ re-marriage gratuity, which was introduced in 1950. In the same year the Government provided a free car for double amputees and annual travelling expenses therefor of £120. The travelling expenses of war widows were first paid in 1953, and in 1952 a training scheme for disabled persons and widows was introduced. These things represent a great achievement. In addition, last year the special weekly allowance of 10s. towards rental expenses, which had been ‘granted .to certain recipients of social services, was extended to the persons whom the Repatriation Department serves. Year by year the Government has demonstrated its sincerity, its initiative and its ability to provide something extra for those whose trust it enjoys.
I want to pay a tribute to the staff of the Repatriation Commission. I know intimately only the Tasmanian staff, and -I can say that the degree .of co-operation and assistance they offer members of the Parliament and the public is very commendable indeed. Much of it is due .to the fact that the officers are well trained, well treated and sincerely .out to help those who come to them for aid. Twelve months ago, I was tempted to ask in the Senate a question which implied that perhaps the work of the commission’s limb factories should be looked at to see whether it could not be centralized and therefore made more efficient and up to date. The turn of the wheel of time has brought home to me the fact that my idea was not really worth while. I have since had dealings with a repatriation limb factory on behalf of a young person living in Hobart who had lost an arm. The most modern limb available was prepared, adjusted and fitted. One could not fail to be impressed by the infinite pains which the officers of the commission took in helping to fit the arm and train this young person to use it. The trouble to which the officers of the Wingfield Convalescent Home went made me feel that in Tasmania, at any rate, one could not get more helpful service in this field.
I join the Minister in paying tribute to the memory of the late Sir Samuel McCaughey, who provided .the most generous sum of £800,000 for the education of the children of deceased and disabled servicemen ,of the 1914-18 war. There is evidence of the tremendous value of this bequest to those who suffered disabilities and to widows who had children to rear. The allowance helped in the education of those children, and the Australian community was better for it. I am sincere in my tribute, and I know that all those who have been helped over the years were very grateful to Sir Samuel McCaughey. As one who benefited in my own education, I pay tribute to his memory.
– The bill under discussion is to provide certain increases of pensions to exservicemen and their dependants. It follows a pattern we see always at Budget time. It makes adjustments in rates of pensions which just fall short of the amount that is necessary to meet the upward trend of inflation. Having presented the bill, Government supporters sit back and preen themselves as though they have been very generous to ex-servicemen. Senator Marriott, who has just .resumed his seat, made an unworthy allegation against Senator O’Byrne. .He said that Senator O’Byrne was trying to make party political capital out of the (position in which ex-servicemen find themselves. Senator O’Byrne’s record both as an airman and as a member of this Parliament in dealing with service pensions is as good as it could possibly be. It is a poor outlook indeed when an honorable senator -can sink so low, as Senator Marriott did, to allege that any other honorable senator would consider military service, war disabilities and repatriation benefits in the light of party political advantage or influence.
Senator Marriott said that Senator O’Byrne had quoted extensively from some conference “. The fact is that Senator O’Byrne quoted, verbatim in many cases, from the report of the State Congress of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia in New South Wales. The branch of the R.S.L. in that State is an important body. When an honorable senator tries to vindicate the actions of the Government against the opinions of such a body as the State congress of the R.S.L., as Senator Marriott did, it is tantamount to saying, “ Let the pensioners be damned “. Honorable senators on the Government side adopt the old back-scratching tactics and then sit back as though they were completely satisfied with these benefits. These so-called generous allowances that the Government is preening itself about are actually only just entitlements. Any man who draws a service pension earns it as thoroughly as any man earns compensation for an injury in industry or in civil life. I fact, a higher premium should be paid to the man who answered the call of duty in time of war. The Government is not showing any magnanimity to the pensioners who receive a pension for an accepted disability. I remind the Senate, and Senator Marriott in particular, that the State congress of the R.S.L. to which he referred as though it were some sort of nebulous body, is .an important organization of ex-servicemen.
– Did Senator O’Byrne pass the report on to you so that you could fill in your speaking time?
– He passed it on to me so that I could answer your insults to the ex-servicemen of New South Wales. ^Senator Marriott. - Evil to him who evil chinks.
– Such interjections will not pay dividends. The State congress of the R.S.L., to which Senator Marriott referred in slighting terms, asked its national executive to protest against the paltry increases in pension rates proposed in the Budget. The New South Wales State president of the R.S.L., Mr. Yeo, has worked assiduously for ex-servicemen for the best part of his life. He said without qualification, in true Australian terms, that the Budget provisions were lousy.
– I always reserve the right to disagree with Mr. Yeo’s views.
– You would, and I am reserving the right to disagree with you. I. know that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) is the most sympathetic Minister for Repatriation that we have had in Australia, but the returned soldier pensioners say they cannot live on sympathy. Sympathy does not correct the anomalous situation in which many persons who appear before repatriation tribunals find themselves. Many of their claims and appeals are rejected. Whilst supporters of the Government claim that the proposed increases of pensions are generous and that repatriation benefits are very wide, I hope that the Minister and every other member of the Parliament want to see a better deal for the ex-serviceman. The only reason why these matters are not discussed more fully here is that all governments - and we were no more generous when we were in office - fight to justify what they actually provide. The increases offered in this bill are not generous, and the Opposition’s amendment asks the Government to accept the co-operation of the Opposition in redrafting the bill so that proper standards will be maintained.
The Government has given assurances that provisions for the onus of proof are administered properly. It claims that when there is any doubt at all, the benefit is given to the applicant for a pension. That is not so. Tribunals treat many appeals in cavalier fashion. Statistics prove that the tribunals are particularly harsh. Many applicants for pensions, particularly those from the First World War, are not in a fit state of health or mind to stand up to these tribunals. Senator Marriott said in a mild sort of way that something should be done about it. He referred to a former, member of this chamber, Senator Wordsworth, and appeals that he had made to the Senate. That is not unusual. Other honorable senators have made many appeals.
The position of ex-servicemen from both world wars needs examination. They are not getting the full benefit of the onus of proof provisions of the Repatriation Act. The report of the Repatriation Commission for 1957-58 shows that there were 11, 358 claims. Of these, 290 by applicants from the First World War were allowed and 4,006 were disallowed. Appeals disallowed on the ground that no incapacity was found totalled 59. Something is very seriously wrong there. Of 4,355 ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war claiming pensions for disabilities, 4,006 were rejected.
– Those are the figures for appeals, not original applications.
– They are appeals. It is a pretty bad record, especially when even Government supporters advocate that an ex-serviceman of the 1914-18 war should be given a pension and free hospital treatment, irrespective of whether or not his disability is war-caused. Those figures do not support the arguments so readily used by Government supporters on the platform and in debate. Now they talk about platitudes! They are the ones who talk platitudes. These figures indicate that something more should be done for ex-servicemen. At the end of the 1914-18 war, repatriation benefits and services were not nearly comparable with those obtaining now, although these are not nearly as favorable as they should be. Many men returned from that war, suffering from war-caused disabilities, but they were anxious to get out of uniform. The Repatriation Department offered them so little for so much trouble that many did not seek compensation for their disabilities. They said to themselves: “ I have a war-caused disability, but I have to go before tribunals and be grilled in seeking to justify a pension. I must continue in my old occupation and take up my life where I left off to defend my country”. They did not seek to establish their entitlement to repatriation benefits. Others, who were wiser, did establish their entitlements, and over a period of years they have improved their position. Now men who at that time had unchallengeable cases in support of benefits for war-caused disabilities, but did not seek to establish them, are fighting repatriation tribunals for recognition in an effort to maintain medical treatment. They are asked, “ Can you prove that the disability was due to war injuries?” Although the tribunal has to prove that the disability was not due to war service, it makes no attempt to do so.
In the vast majority of cases of which I know, applicants are asked by tribunals for their medical history and are then told that their disabilities could have been caused in such and such a way. They are asked, “ Can you prove that they were caused by war?” Their cases are parallel with that of an innocent man charged with a crime and being required to prove that he is innocent. When the tribunals disallow the appeals, the applicants are told that their cases may be reviewed if they produce new evidence. The position is bad and it needs early correction.
If Government supporters are sincere in what they say about ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war, they should take action. They would get the support of the Opposition. Our policy is very clear. We have stated it publicly and we are prepared to carry it out. It is the unanimous view of the repatriation committee of the Federal Parliamentary Labour Party that section 47 of the Repatriation Act, introduced by the Curtin Government during World War II to give the benefit of the doubt to applicants in all cases of disputed entitlement or assessment, is not being observed by some of the tribunals. Labour will take all steps to remedy this grossly unjust situation. First, we shall provide for a special judicial officer to make inquiry into every case where the application of the onus of proof or benefit of the doubt is in question.
This is in line with the practice in Britain, which has been most successful, Lord Denning, one of England’s greatest judges, having reviewed cases where complaints had been made that the protective provisions as to onus of proof and benefit of the doubt had been ignored. That protection has been promised by both sides of the Parliament. If Government supporters are sincere, they need not be frightened of opposition from this side of the chamber. The Opposition has pledged itself to implement this policy, which the Government claims it supports. Let it be given legal effect. Let there be no doubt about it. Do not let ex-servicemen in illhealth, in the closing years of their lives, fight tribunals to establish that the disabilities that they carry, causing them to be prematurely aged, are caused by warThere is no doubt that more often than not the applicant has had to carry the onus of proof.
I have given the figures relating to appeals by ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war. I come now to appeals arising from the 1939-45 war. Of these, 864 were allowed, 5,858 were disallowed, and 162 were disallowed on the ground that no incapacity was found. Those figures do not indicate great sympathy on the part of the Government, or else 5,858 appellants were so deceived by their advisers as to be led into a position of making an appeal which they could not establish.
– New pensions granted last year totalled 18,000.
– They were justifiably granted, I should say. That is like an insurance company saying it had met so many claims for industrial compensation and seeking credit for it. Those 18,000 new pensions must have been justified under the act, in the same way as compensation is justified for a man who loses a finger in an industrial accident. That cannot be used to bolster the Government’s policy on repatriation matters.
– It is fair to state it all the same.
– It is fair to say that 18,000 more young men have been given the compensation to which they were legally entitled for disabilities suffered in the defence of this country. That fact cannot vindicate legislation of this nature. It cannot justify men having to fight for years, bearing the onus of proof in seeking to establish entitlement. If those 18,000 pensions were not justified, they would not have been paid. The fact that they were paid is of no credit to any government. That is the retort that we get from time to’ time when these matters are raised. Government suporters say, “We paid 1 8,000 > new pensions. We gave an artificial limb to a man who lost a leg.” The best we have is not too good for these men. It is generally agreed that the increases are not in line with the general trend in the cost of living. Let us analyse the position of a disabled ex-serviceman with a serious disability. Let us consider the position of a man who is totally and permanently incapacitated. Probably his wife has to be nearly a full-time attendant for him. He must have special food. But his entitlement is not nearly comparable with the amount of money paid to the average fit man at the same stage of life.
I do not think that these provisions are at all generous. I do not accuse the Government or the Minister of being unsympathetic. They are sympathetic, but they spend too much time on sympathy and not enough on action. It is disgraceful to hear time after time, from both sides of the Senate, complaints that the onus of proof provision in relation to war-caused disabilities is not being interpreted in the spirit of the legislation. An ex-serviceman with a disability is in an invidious position. He suffers not only from the disability, but also loses time and incurs expense in going from doctor to doctor seeking some evidence to justify his claim, although he is obviously ill and badly needing treatment. In 99 cases out of 100 the tribunal does not say to these men, “War service is the cause of your injury “. Instead, it says, “ Get further evidence to prove that your injury is war-caused “ I think that is a shameful position. I know very well that if Government senators spoke their minds, as the Opposition is doing at the present time, they would agree that this matter should be cleared up quickly in a very definite manner. In many cases, a young digger coming back from the war with a disability just would not take the battering that he had to stand up to from a medical tribunal at that time. Being young and independent, although suffering from a disability, he told the tribunal in round terms that he did not want a pension, and probably suggested a manner for its disposal.
– Will you explain what you mean by round terms?
– I will explain that outside the chamber: You’ are a simple lad. I have seen repatriation cases built up in such a way that an ex-serviceman has to get over a whole mass of departmental material, whereas the position should be that if there is a doubt that the disability from which he s suffering was war-caused, if there is no proof that it was not war-caused, and if hismilitary record and medical record support his case, the claim should- be allowed. Heshould be able to go before a tribunal that is quite independent of the people who have been associated with his case from the very inception.
I now wish to deal with some of the generous provisions of the act, according to the Government. The total and permanent incapacitated rate is to be increased by 15s. a week. The increase will hardly enable the pension rate to keep pace with inflation. Inflation is the greatest thief in our community. It is almost impossible to assess its effect on any man or any family in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. Admittedly we have the C series index, which is used as a basis for adjusting the basic wage, but the C series index is not an indicator of the effect of inflation on a man’s capacity to live within a limited income. It is merely a rule of thumb method of recording variations in the prices of a number of items which, according to the court, are basic necessities. Government members keep saying, “ In accordance with the basic wage or the C series index, such and such a thing has happened “, but they must remember that there are many items which are not taken into account in the C series index.
The increase of 15s. a week in the T.P.I. pension rate is inadequate. The new rate is probably generous, compared with pension rates being paid in some countries less fortunate than our own, but it is nowhere near sufficient to allow a man to live in anything more than frugal comfort, or perhaps I should have said to live in frugal existence without comfort. The domestic allowance is to be increased by 7s. 6d. a week to £2 15s. a week. Thepresent amount of £2 7s. 6d. is not a very large payment. The Minister told us thatover 90 per cent, of war widows receive the domestic allowance and that the majority of war widows will receive a total increase-
Df 15s. a week. But we must remember that a war widow with a dependent child is being cheated out of child endowment to which she is entitled. Child endowment has been completely disregarded by this Government. If child endowment had been increased as well as the domestic allowance, even then the war widow would have had no more than that to which she was entitled She should have both an increase of 10s. in child endowment and the 15s. increase under this measure. The effect of inflation has been so severe in many departments of life that it is idle for anyone to say that an adjustment of 7s. 6d. a week here and of 15s. a week there will bring the pensions received by these people back to parity with living costs.
I want to touch upon another aspect of this matter about which I have spoken in the Senate before. I do not refer to it for the purpose of gaining any political advantage, because what I have to say applies to any party when it is in power. A government brings down a bill which provides for a small increase in pensions. In this case, the bill we are considering springs from the Budget covering the period from 1st July, 1959, to 30th June, 1960. Here we are, in September, yet we have not yet finished our consideration of the Budget for the present financial year and of the bills that arise from the Budget. In considering this bill, we are discussing matters that were determined on the basis of the conditions that existed when the Treasurer was framing the Budget. But inflation has gone on since then. Therefore, the pensioner is being robbed in two ways, first, because the pension increase is no longer adequate to cover the increased cost of living, and secondly, because the increase to which the Government decided he was entitled some months ago has not yet been paid.
An honorable senator opposite interjects to say that if I keep going on like this, I will delay the increase further. That interjection brings me to a point that I want to make. The attitude of the Government makes it impossible for us to thrash this matter out adequately. Government supporters tell us, “ If you hold up the passage of this legislation by criticizing it or opposing it vigorously, you will cheat the pensioners out of a week’s increased pension”. But the Government has already cheated the pensioner of his increase for several months. It is a political ramp; that is all. There is no reason at all why any party that is in power should not say that the pension shall be increased by so much and that the increased amount shall be paid, on the passing of the legislation, from a certain date. Expenditure on pensions is a recurring item. It is an expenditure that is adjusted from time to time - usually each year. It is not in the same category as, for instance, capital expenditure, in relation to which there might be some doubt as to whether it should be incurred or whether the money should be spent within a certain period.
I say that the suggestion contained in the amendment moved by the Opposition that pension increases should date retrospectively from 1st July, 1959, is thoroughly justified. It can be justified even on the one ground that, if accepted, the pensioners would not be prejudiced while we went through our democratic processes, which, slow and cumbersome as they may be, have a lot to commend them. At present, this Government tries to take advantage of the fact that any delay due to sifting and criticizing the legislation will hurt the pensioners. The Government says that if members of the Opposition take up time by embarrassing the Minister by pointing out the weaknesses and deficiencies of the legislation, they will in that way delay the payment of the pittance that the Government is offering. What a rotten kind of pressure! As I said previously, one honorable senator opposite interjected to say that if I kept on going as I was, I should delay the legislation. Senator Marriott talked about using pensions for political purposes. If that is not using them for political purposes, what is? Senator Marriott said that he could not support this amendment, but when he had concluded his laudatory remarks about people whose backs he thinks it is wise to scratch, he virtually admitted that the bill was not as generous and as good as it could have been. There are apparently many features with which he does not agree, but he does not say that any action should be taken about them.
I urge the members of the Government, particularly those outside the Cabinet, to pursue the matters which sometimes they raise in this chamber in questions and in debates on bills, although in an innocuous sort of way, because they are always very careful to vote for a proposal put forward by the Government, whether they like it or not. If the operation of the onus of proof provision, which is raised often by honorable senators on both sides, is unsatisfactory, as the figures relating to appeals reveal, Government senators can be assured of support from the Opposition if they take action to correct the situation. The applicant should have the right of appeal to an independent legal tribunal.
– That is not provided for in the bill.
– But it should be. If that particular section were corrected it would go a long way towards giving the returned soldier that to which he is entitled and that which he has been promised by both sides of the Parliament. Every man suffering from an accepted war disability should be treated as generously as we can possibly afford,, and he should receive such treatment as a right. We speak about benefits, gifts and concessions, and I am pleased to admit that the Repatriation Department uses the correct term when it speaks of entitlement. But under this bill, the disabled ex-serviceman is to receive only the bare minimum entitlement. He should be given much more than that for, after all, he is being given only money as compensation for his sufferings. Money cannot compensate a man who suffers all the worry and disability of being partially blind or who loses a limb.
These men do not complain about their disabilities; they accept them as part of the service they rendered to their country and they are really proud of them. Therefore, when we are discussing a measure such as this, we should not talk about our great sympathy for the returned soldier. We should not speak about him as if he were a mendicant coming to us cap in. hand for a hand-out. He is by no means a mendicant, and sympathy will not keep him or improve his position one iota. What is needed in all these cases is some positive action, and it is a shocking indictment to know that some of these 1914-18 soldiers are still trying to establish their right to decent treatment. If the Government does something positive about them, the Opposition will support it. If the Government will bring pensions and Other payments somewhere near to parity with present inflated values, the Opposition will support it. ‘Further, the Opposition will support the appointment of a legal tribunal to hear appeals and to deal with the question of onus of proof. After all, it must be admitted that the onus of proof is a legal and not a medical matter and should be dealt with by a judicial body.
At the moment we have the sorry spectacle of the tribunal requiring people who are obviously suffering a disability to go to great expense travelling round the country seeing doctors in the hope of obtaining some evidence that will satisfy the tribunal as to the cause of their disability. This is distasteful to me as it is, I am sure, to all members of the Government. If there is reasonable evidence that a disability is war-caused, the applicant should be given the benefit of the doubt. He does not enjoy that right to-day, as 1 could prove by referring to particular cases. I do not wish to do that at this stage except to say that I did mention to the Minister the case of one man who, after fighting for four years to obtain what was his right, had his disability accepted as being war-caused a fortnight after he died. After having his application accepted, the returned serviceman did not have the chance to cash his first cheque; he died in Heidelberg Hospital.
– I support the bill and take this opportunity of complimenting Senator Marriott upon his excellent speech. This bill seeks to adjust the law, and it refers in particular to the first schedule to the act. In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) spoke of certain anomalies and of his policy of correcting them as he finds them. I pay tribute to him for the way in which he has administered the act during his long term as Minister for Repatriation. During the whole of that period he has constantly watched for anomalies and cases of hardship and has corrected them by amending the legislation at the first possible opportunity.
It is to be regretted that Senator O’Byrne saw fit to open his remarks by quoting a newspaper report of a statement which Mr. Yeo, president of the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia is alleged to have made at the State conference of the association. Apparently it suited Senator O’Byrne’s book to quote Mr. Yeo’s references to the wearing of the R.S.L. badge by members in this Parliament, particularly by those on this side of the Parliament. If Mr. Yeo did make such statements, then I deplore them as coming from a man who holds such an important position in New South Wales, and I can assure the Senate that they are deplored also by many members of the R.S.L. throughout Australia.
– He has been president for twelve years.
– It would make no difference if he had been president for 22 years. He has shown that he is completely out of step with the majority of members of the R.S.L. in bringing party politics into his presidential statements.
Let me quote from a far higher authority than Mr. Yeo. I refer to a statement made at Adelaide on 27th October, 1958, by the national president of the R.S.L. This is what Sir George Holland said about pensions in his report -
As you will observe in the Repatriation section of this report, gains were made as the result of our representations to the Government for increases in Repatriation pensions.
At this stage, I cannot stress too strongly the value of our present method of presenting our budget requests to the Federal Government. We are enabled to meet in conditions conducive to a proper presentation of our claims and an explanation of the reasons for them, with prominent ex-service members of the Cabinet. The items are then methodically and carefully examined one by one.
Since my appointment as President, I have consistently fostered the instituting and strengthening of this method of presentation of our main claims for Commonwealth Government consideration, which, with the support and encouragement of the Executive has proved of considerable value in making our attitude clear to responsible Ministers.
The following table illustrates the steady improvement which has taken place in the general position over recent years.
The table quoted by Sir George Holland shows how the service pension, the basic rate pension and the T.P.I. pension have increased. For instance, it shows that the service pension increased from £2 2s. 6d. in 1949 to £4 7s. 6d. in 1957, and the T.P.I. pension advanced from £5 6s. to £11 in the same period. That is the attitude of the national president of the
R.S.L. to what this Government, including the Minister for Repatriation, has done in this matter. I deplore the statement attributed to Mr. Yeo, a statement that was reiterated with full approval by Senator O’Byrne and, after he had handed the press cutting to Senator Cooke, reiterated by Senator Cooke. It is a very nasty slur on the returned soldier members of this Parliament that Mr. Yeo should have spoken as he did. I think that the statement of Sir George Holland, with regard to the Government’s attitude to pensions, may be accepted by the Senate. The word “ lousy “, that Mr. Yeo is said to have used, is completely out of key with the general approach of responsible people in the R.S.L. to repatriation matters, as handled by this Government. 1 pass now to a consideration of the bill. Senator Cooke’s speech, though impassioned, contained very little that needs answering. The honorable senator concentrated on the number of appeals that had been disallowed. I suggest that we should examine the position in the light that last year 18,000 new pensions were granted. Applicants who were not granted increased pensions would almost automatically appeal. As the applications would have been considered by the department when granting a pension, it is not unlikely that most of the appeals would be dismissed, particularly as the medical officers would already have considered the circumstances. What we have to bear in mind is that 18,000 new pensions were allotted last year.
I am very glad to see that the T.P.I. pension has gone up, so that in effect a married man in receipt of a T.P.I. pension and entitled to an attendant’s allowance and certain recreation and transport allowances, will now receive in all £21 Ils. a week. That, of course, will be tax free. I consider that that represents an understanding and imaginative approach to the needs of the T.P.I. married pensioner. 1 believe that the raising of the 100 per cent, rate by 7s. 6d. a week is just and reasonable.
I wish to mention one or two matters concerning benefits that will in future be available to war widows. As has been well canvassed in the Senate, war widows are to receive an additional 7s. 6d. a week, and of course those entitled to the domestic allowance will get a further 7s. 6d. a week. Additional facilities for medical treatment have been provided for war widows. This is where the warmth and understanding of the Minister is quite evident. War widows, children of deceased ex-servicemen, and widowed mothers of deceased ex-servicemen who are entitled to free medical treatment from the Repatriation Department, may now receive treatment at Repatriation Department outpatient clinics and, in certain circumstances in which the treatment requires it, at non-departmental institutions, including country hospitals. Treatment in country hospitals will also be available, I understand, in cases where the transfer of a patient to a repatriation general hospital in a capital city would cause unreasonable domestic hardship.
I submit that there is the genus of the idea. The repatriation widow and her children who live in the country may face a terrific upheaval if one of them has to go to a central repatriation hospital. It is well known that the repatriation hospitals all are situated within a few miles of the capital cities. This new arrangement represents an imaginative change in departmental practice. After all, mothers do not wish to be separated from their children. There may be other children to look after, and a great commotion may be caused if, in order to receive medical treatment, they have to go to a capital city. The Minister is tx> be very much commended on this improved approach to this aspect of the matter.
I wish now to make an inquiry of the Minister, rather than to voice a criticism. It has often puzzled me why there are so many different pensions based on the former ranks held by ex-servicemen. For instance, from the first schedule to the bill, it would appear that the pension payable to a widowed mother, on the death of a member who held a rank below that of leading seaman or corporal, is £4 10s. a fortnight, but if that mother’s son had been a naval lieutenant it would be £6 8s. a fortnight, and if he had been a colonel it would be £8 6s. The pension payable to the widow of a private or a corporal is £10 10s. a fortnight, and the amount remains the same until the pension for the widow of a major is reached, when it rises to £10’ 19s. Then, for the member himself, upon total incapacity a private or a corporal is entitled to £11 a fortnight, but if he is a colonel the amount is £12 16s.
I can understand that, with regard to active service pay, there should be differences because of the great differences in responsibility. I can also understand that, with regard to superannuation, the draw-out should vary according to the various scales of payment into the fund, but for the life of me I cannot understand why the dependants of ex-servicemen should receive varying rates of pension. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that if a private has a stiff back and has to seek a pension, it possibly may hurt him more than it would a major with a stiff back, if anything, the pension entitlement for the widow or the mother of a private might well be greater, because the need may be greater than that of the widow or the mother of a colonel. Possibly, the allotment from the service pay of those on the lower ranks would be considerably smaller than from those on the higher ranks.
I put to the Minister that the time has arrived when we may have to take another look at repatriation benefits and to consider disregarding the ranks held by servicemen in wars that ended 20, 30 or 50 years ago. No doubt the Minister will say that it has always been thus, so why not continue the system. I put it to him that it would be very interesting to know why the widowed mother of a private is entitled to £4 10s. a fortnight, while the widowed mother of a colonel is entitled to £8 6s.
I feel, Sir, that I should say a word or two about the repatriation general hospitals. They have done a magnificent job, but in the course of my research in this matter I have read in a report of the Public Accounts Committee that was promulgated in 1954 that in a number of these hospitals the proportion of empty beds was rather high. The latest figures that were available to the committee at the time were in respect of 1952, when the proportion of vacant beds in repatriation general hospitals in New South Wales was only 17 per cent., which was not very high at all. At Heidelberg, the percentage was 11 per cent.; at Caulfield, 20 per’ cent.; at Greenslopes, 22 per cent.; at Springbank, in
South’ Australia, 24- per cent.; at Hollywood, in Western- Australia’, 19- per cent.; and at Hobart, 10 per cent. The overall percentage of empty beds- in all repatriation; general hospital’s in Australia in. 1952 was 17 per cent. I am wondering whether more effecive use could not be made of the empty beds in these hospitals. I cannot quote the current figures, but I assume they are approximately the same as the 1952 figures, because T do not think that the repatriation general hospital’s are to-day any busier than they were when the- Public Accounts Committee looked into the matter. Trie point I emphasize is that there are empty beds in- these hospitals.
– And empty wards, too.
– Yes; we have all noticed when we, have gone through repatriation general hospitals that, there, are empty wards in them. I am wondering whether, when- consideration, is being given to the matter of the further use of repatriation hospitals, something, could be done about these empty beds, perhaps in the manner I shall- suggest. During- and immediately after, the last war, repatriation general hospitals were used almost exclusively for the. treatment- of the injuries and infirmities of serving personnel or exservicemen. Most of the medical officers- at these hospitals were ex-servicemen and the nurses- were ex-servicewomen. They were strictly service institutions, and even their out-patients departments were conducted only by ex-service personnel. In the provincial towns and cities there were usually only one or two repatriation medical officers, and ex-servicemen entitled to medical treatment under the Repatriation Act were not permitted to receive that treatment from other than repatriation medical officers; they were not permitted to get the treatment from their own civilian doctors. Consequently, the scheme was very strictly run. But over the years there has been a relaxation. It is now permissible for an ex-serviceman to go to a private medical practitioner for treatment for accepted war-caused disabilities and the Repatriation Department pays the doctor for- his services. Likewise, an exserviceman may receive treatment in country hospital’s at the expense of the department. All of these provisions are excellent; they were originated by the previous Government and have been extended by this Government.
As the war period has receded, the policy in relation to the staffing and use of repatriation general hospitals has become less tight. I am wondering whether the time has not arrived when there should be almost an integration of civilian medical practitioners. into, the- repatriation hospitals, because many ex-servicemen have disabilities other than, those that were caused by war service. They know that they cannot expect the Repatriation Department to treat these other disabilities free, but in many instances they feel’ that if they have to have an appendix taken out, or something, of that nature, they would like to go into a repatriation hospital where they would be amongst their own service kith and. kin. and others whom they knew in the- services. They would be quite prepared to pay the normal hospital and medical fees. I have a document before me which shows that, up to 20 per cent, of beds in repatriation general hospitals are empty, and in addition there are. empty wards in which beds have not been installed. I suggest, therefore, that it would be not unreasonable to allow ex-servicemen and their dependants, who are already on the books of the Repatriation Department, to obtain treatment in these hospitals for disabilities for which the department is not responsible; and as the need arises the empty wards could be equipped with beds. It is well known that the various schemes that are now in operation provide for hospitalization, medical’ and surgical attention and so on, and I submit that the adoption of my suggestion would result in the more economical use - if I may use that expression?- of the repatriation general hospitals, and the unit cost of each bed would become lower as more, beds were occupied.
The Returned Sailors, Soldiers and1 Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia is realizing that- sooner or later a number of halls that’ have been established for R.S.L. purposes* may- not’ be required solely for those purposes, and’ the league is beginning to- consider the. probable future use of- these halls. In its forward; thinking, the R.S.L. realizes that youth* clubs- and so on might well become the users- of league property in 20) 30 or- 40 years’- time. Therefore, on the1 same’ line of reasoning; F should’ like trie Minister for Repatriation to consider the likely future use that will be made of repatriation general hospitals when the treatment of ex-servicemen’s war-caused disabilities will not make big demands on them and the ex-servicemen may need hospital treatment for other disabilities not attributable to war service.
– Could not the States take over the unused parts of these hospitals?
– That might well be, but my suggestion is that ex-servicemen who served the Commonwealth in time of war should be able to obtain hospital treatment in repatriation hospitals at their own expense for disabilities that cannot be fairly attributable to war service.
In furtherance of the idea of integrating repatriation services with civilian requirements, I should like to say a word or two about another repatriation service - the artificial limb factories. As one who came out of the last war slightly different in shape from when I went into it, I have had considerable treatment from the Repatriation Department. For a number of years I was a customer of the artificial limb factory in South Australia, and I can testify to the excellence of the service that is being provided there by the Repatriation Department. My friend, the Minister, can testify even further, because his disability has been very considerable. At these factories, splints, surgical footwear, artificial arms and legs and so on are manufactured. I consider that these factories have reached a pinnacle of excellence second to none in Australia, and possibly second to none elsewhere in the world. It seems a pity that greater use is not being made of the high degree of skill that they possess. The statistics published in the report of the Repatriation Commission for the year 1957-58 show that in New South Wales 12,137 jobs were done for the department, compared with only 496 for civilians. In Victoria, the figures were 11,899 and 381 respectively; in Queensland, 4,965 and 232; in South Australia, 3,435 and 274; in Western Australia, 3,150 and 104; in Tasmania, 1,916 and 92. The proportion of civilian to departmental jobs is about the same in each State. I venture to suggest that, in view of the increased number of industrial, motor and household accidents, as well as of falls attributable to mountain climbing and so on, considerable civilian use would be made of these limb factories. Private enterprise should be encouraged to treat people who need artificial appliances, but in this modern world of ours greater use could be made of the wonderful techniques that have been developed by the commission’s limb factories during the last 40 years. 1 compliment the Minister upon the great work that is being done in the limb factories of the commission, and I cannot help wondering whether it could be availed of in connexion with the Commonwealth’s medical scheme and the splendid rehabilitation work of the Department of Social Services.
I support the bill with great enthusiasm. I believe that one can never do enough for ex-service people who are incapacitated, completely or partially, but the Government has made an honest attempt to meet the situation. It is working along the right lines and the tribute of Sir George Holland is well merited. That gentleman did not mention the name of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) specifically, but it was plain that the tribute was directed to him and to his Government. In short, the passage which I read at the opening of my remarks should discount the lurid and ill-conceived utterances of Mr. Yeo, the president of the Returned Soldiers League in New South Wales - which were quoted by Senator O’Byrne in leading the Opposition’s attack on this measure.
– I rise to support the amendment proposed by Senator O’Byrne - that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted so as to provide rates of repatriation benefits adequate to meet present living costs, and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income. In essence, one cannot argue that a pension should be other than adequate to meet present living costs. I propose to deal with that matter in some detail later. Perhaps first I may refer to one or two things that were said by Senator Laught, while they are still fresh in our minds.
In common with every other honorable senator, I appreciate the great work that has been done by the Repatriation Department. Indeed, an attack on one section of the department’s activities should not be regarded as an attack on all of its activities. To the contrary, I think it can be said that in the majority of instances its treatment of old soldiers has been very commendable indeed. Senator Laught chose to praise those who agreed with the Government, and to attack those who did not. I suppose that that is natural enough. If a person says nice things about us we tend to reciprocate in kind. By the same token, the stringent criticism down the years that has come from Mr. Yeo, the president of the New South Wales returned soldiers’ organization, has inspired the resentment of Government spokesmen. Privately they may agree with much of the harsh criticism that he has levelled at the work of the commission, but publicly their attitude is very different. They prefer to praise Sir George Holland, who consistently supports the Government viewpoint, and who can even see these meagre increases as a happy result of the conversations that his organization is now having with the Government. 1 imagine that the rank and file members of the organization are anything but satisfied with the results of these talks; indeed, if a poll were taken on the subject an overwhelming majority would doubtless lend to support the views of Mr. Yeo. That brings me to the question of how these gentlemen get knighthoods. We tend to give them to those we like. Sir George has been so honoured by this Government.
– That is rather poor.
– Everything that I have said so far has been quite clean. It is natural to reward one’s friends rather than one’s enemies. What of the claims of Mr. Yeo who has, for twelve years, retained the confidence of the ex-servicemen in New South Wales, who has attacked the Government, and who has been attacked by it? Rank and file returned soldiers are very happy with the way in which he has been emphasizing their needs and voicing their objections to certain aspects of the Government’s repatriation policy. Surely a knighthood should go to a man who has given such long service on behalf of returned soldiers in the large, turbulent and sovereign State of New South Wales.
– Sir Raymond Huish has been doing that job in Queensland for 40 years. They are quite happy with him, even though he has a knighthood.
– I am merely suggesting that it might be a nice thing to give a knighthood to Mr. Yeo also. The honorable senator has missed the point entirely.
– Huish is no friend of the Government.
– I am not certain whether Mr. Yeo would accept such an honour. He might have to be asked about that, but he has strenuously and consistently attacked the Government on behalf of his members - not on his own behalf. He is only doing his job, and should be treated with dignity. The fact that he satisfies the rank and file is shown by his re-election down through the years. To retain the confidence of the rank and file of such a keen organization is not a bad effort.
Senator Laught developed an interesting theme when he suggested that the limb factories of the Repatriation Department could be used more extensively. Those factories provide a fine service which is not widely known. I have never met anybody who had the assistance of these limb factories who had anything but the highest praise for them. Senator Laught suggested that their activities should be extended, and I agree that there is scope for such work.
The honorable senator also referred to empty beds, and even empty wards, in repatriation hospitals. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) dealt with that matter in detail in presenting the policy of the Australian Labour Party at the last general election. I believe that these centres of medical attention should be put to greater use. In this connexion I shall refer to the speech made by Senator Marriott in passing. He said that in giving the Labour Party’s policy, particularly on hospitalization, the Leader of the Opposition was only offering a sprat to catch a mackerel. Senator Marriott said in unkindly terms that this was merely an election promise. I shall quote briefly the Labour Party’s policy on this matter, and I shall then compare it with the policy of the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) when he was Leader of the Opposition in 1949. Last year, Dr. Evatt stated in the Labour Party’s policy pronouncement -
The time has come when medical and repatriation hospital attendance and treatment should be available to all returned servicemen and nurses of the First World War irrespective of whether war entitlement is established.
Now that we have empty beds and empty wards in repatriation hospitals while public hospitals in all States are overcrowded, surely the time is appropriate to take action. The youngest digger from the First World War is now almost 60 years old, and most of them are very much older. I had a very troubling letter from an old ex-serviceman only a few weeks ago which prompted me to take part in this debate. We know what happens in these cases. A man who has been blown up suffers tremendous shock and years afterwards develops arthritis, spondylitis and other ailments. He has to humiliate himself when he appears before a repatriation tribunal seeking a pension. His best days are gone. It would be the highest form of charity for some government - and this Government has the power now - to say to these elderly ex-servicemen and war nurses, “ It does not -matter what has caught up with you. These great .facilities of the repatriation organization are at your disposal.”
In the past 40 years, there have been great developments in hospitalization, medical treatment and clinics. Surely these ex-servicemen and nurses could be treated in hospitals where trained officers are available. There is plenty of man-power in them. I am open to correction but I believe that the repatriation .hospitals are not understaffed. Doctors who work in these hospitals have told me that they would appreciate the opportunity to treat patients for ailments ,other than those caused by war service, because it would give them wider scope for medical attention. I should imagine that doctors in repatriation hospitals -do not treat such a great variety of cases and that they would find the work interesting and rewarding if they had other patients. We are not making the best use of these medical officers.
Therefore, the proposal of the Australian Labour Party, which was voiced by the present Leader of the Opposition, -should not be laughed at. It was an honest proposal and we would have applied it immediately if we had been elected to office. When we fight the next general election, that proposal will be in our policy again. It will have to be put into effect, either by this Government or by the next Labour government. As I have said, Senator Marriott took umbrage at Senator O’Byrne’s reference to Labour policy. This is what the present Prime Minister said in his policy speech in 1949 when apparently he was looking for votes -
Repatriation remains a great and proud responsibility.
The Opposition Parties contain a majority of members and an overwhelming majority of new candidates who are ex-servicemen. We shall see to it that there is speed, financial and human justice and understanding in our administration of soldier problems.
Current legislation will be promptly overhauled and anomalies adjusted.
We will sympathetically review financial allowances, particularly those related to -.disability .or war widowhood, in .the light of all the circumstances, including the fall in the value of money.
That -was in 1949. Since then the value of money has fallen considerably. The Opposition believes, as it has stated in the amendment moved by Senator O’Byrne, that the pension paid to ex-servicemen should bear some proper relation to living costs. The Prime Minister referred, in 1949, to speed in handling repatriation problems. Let me refer briefly to what happens when an ex-serviceman wants a war service home. We see then the lightning speed that is characteristic of this Government. The applicant is informed that a loan for a war service home will become available in twelve to fifteen months He then .tries to .borrow money so that he can start to get a home and he is charged interest on the loan of from 10 per cent, to 16 per cent., or even higher, for that short term. The decision to buy a “home is one of the most important that can be made by a young married couple. The ex-serviceman wants to overcome delays and so he goes into the financial jungle to get a temporary loan. The ‘high rates of interest charged are a heavy burden and they are indefensible. I cannot see why there should ‘be any delay when an ex-serviceman is notified of approval for ;his application to build or buy a war service home.
– The honorable senator is out of date. An ex-serviceman can buy a home.
– I know what 1 am talking about.
– If he wants to build a home, he can get a loan to-morrow.
– That is not true. The city of Sydney is full of such fellows. I should say that in every solicitor’s office there is a list of ex-servicemen who have borrowed solicitors’ funds for that purpose. I do not think that Custom Credit Corporation handles this kind of business. This money is borrowed at a higher basic interest than the corporation charges. High rates are paid for financial accommodation in order that houses may be obtained at the earliest possible moment. Whether I am 5 per cent, right or 95 per cent, right, why is a delay of fifteen months necessary when permission has been granted by the department? That is the 64,000 dollar question. No one in government seems to be handling the position properly. That is another reason why Mr. Yeo does not see eye to eye with this Government. These are matters one remembers when thinking about repatriation and this Government.
Recently, I received a letter from an old soldier friend of mine, a man who is now over 65 years of age, who was blown up and very severely wounded. He had been decorated and mentioned in despatches, and apparently he was a very tough and courageous man. Because of the tremendous impact of this explosion he suffers from a slight neurosis, but only in relation to war. He had a job in a big oil refinery in Sydney, where I knew him for very many years. The outbreak of World War II. was enough to throw this man into a state of amnesia for about three days and he woke up in gaol, after having wandered around the city. The impact of the declaration of war did that to him. He had to leave his work because he lost confidence in himself as a result of this neurosis and a painful arthritic condition in his legs and back arising from his severe wounds. In his own mind he is completely certain that his physical disabilities are the result of his being blown up and badly injured. This incident resulted in his spending many months in hospital, and he is certain that it was the cause of his trouble. He appeared before a repatriation tribunal and later wrote to me. He thanked me for my help and asked me to thank the Minister for Repatriation for having his appeal heard. He went on -
Despite all I could say, they decided my injuries are not caused by war service. I have an appeal right for neurosis, but my doctor has strongly advised me not to go back again to make any appeal but to let the matter rest.
That is his state of mind. He is under doctor’s orders and he does not dare face a tribunal again because of the tremendous strain involved. That is true of so many ex-servicemen of his age. This man had a splendid war record. He is a citizen of the highest calibre. He is not a whinger, crier or moaner. He is a man with all the dignity that an old soldier should have.’ This is the sort of thing that is so disturbing to the public and to members of the Parliament.
This criticism is always being levelled at the Government. One of the worst things that the Government has done in the repatriation field is gradually but certainly to place the onus of proof back on the soldier. Gently but firmly, that is where it lies to-day. That is a fundamental breach of the principles of basic justice, and something that we would have rectified. That was promised in our last policy speech. It is especially necessary now, 40 years after World War I. Should we not now devote our attention to those who remain of the gallant hundreds of thousands of boys who went away? Is it not better to devote our charity to them than to sing psalms of praise for the dead? These are gone. We hear everything that is good about them. They made the great sacrifice, and they have gone into the shadows, into the beyond. The charity of our country should be devoted to those who survive. In our policy speech we said -
Labor will take two steps to remedy this grossly unjust situation. First, we shall provide for a special judicial officer to make an enquiry in every case where the question of onus of proof or benefit of the doubt is in question. This is the practice in Britain where it has been most successful, Lord Denning, one of England’s greatest judges, having reviewed cases where complaint has been made that the protective provision for “ onus of proof “ and “ benefit of the doubt “ has been ignored.
Secondly, we shall review and strengthen the Returned Soldiers’ Legal Service Bureau which was founded by the Labor Government in 1942 for the purpose of the Attorney-General’s Department giving free legal advice to returned servicemen. There is much evidence that the Bureau ne:ds strengthening for the benefit of all Australian servicemen.
Putting the bill on one side, let us approach repatriation problems in such a way that no ex-servicemen will be convinced that he has had a raw deal from a tribunal. The time has come to do that. The country can afford it. In the recent Budget speech we were told how prosperous we are. One minute percentage of that prosperity can be applied to the needs of Australian ex-servicemen.
– I rise to support the bill and to oppose the amendment. The main purpose of the bill is to amend the Repatriation Act to provide substantial increases in repatriation benefits to ex-servicemen and their dependants. I should like to join with other honorable senators in congratulating the Government and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper), who, as we all know, has devoted a great part of his life to the needs of exservicemen. It is not true to say, as Senator Armstrong has said, that this Government has done little for ex-servicemen. He quoted from the 1949 policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). Immediately after this Government took office in 1950, it provided very substantial increases in repatriation benefits over those that were paid by the Labour administration. As my colleague, Senator Laught, has said, the Government has removed a number of anomalies and restrictions. In every budget we have provided increases in repatriation benefits, and I believe that the repatriation services now provided in this country are’ unsurpassed by those of any other country. In 1949 the Labour Party, which was then in office, expended £22,000,000 on war and service pensions. This year we shall expend £65,800,000. I join with other senators in saying that repatriation should be above party politics. The care and protection of ex-servicemen and their dependants is something which a nation should proudly carry, and the position should never be reached where repatriation is made simply a party-political matter.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– Just before the suspension of the sitting I was replying to Senator Armstrong, informing him that the Menzies Government had kept the promises it made in 1949 to ex-servicemen on matters relating to the pensions and other benefits payable to them and their dependants. The Government granted substantially increased benefits in the 1950 Budget and has granted further increases in each successive year. I also said that in my belief repatriation should be above party politics. As a Victorian and as an Australian, I sincerely regret the attack that was made on Sir George Holland by Senator Armstrong. I do not believe that Senator Armstrong did himself credit in that attack. Sir George Holland received a knighthood in 1953, three years after the Menzies Government came to office, but the honour was bestowed upon him following three years as the Federal President of the Returned Servicemen’s League and 22 years as the President of the Victorian branch.
– Senator Armstrong would not know that.
– I should think that Senator Armstrong would know that Mr. Yeo received a C.B.E. during the term of the present Government. Therefore, I think it was very unfortunate that Senator Armstrong attacked Sir George Holland in the way that he did. Senator Armstrong tried to make out that Sir George Holland determined the policy of the R.S.L. Nothing could be further from the truth. The federal executive of the R.S.L. has nine votes. Sir George Holland has one, Mr. Yeo has one and the representatives from the other States have the other seven. Sir George Holland has one vote and can speak as one man, but to suggest that he dominates the policy of the R.S.L. is, of course, completely ridiculous. Anyway, one would imagine that if the other members of the federal executive thought as Mr. Yeo did, they would have agreed with his statements, but 1 have not read of the representative of any other branch of the R.S.L. making statements of the same kind as those made by Mr. Yeo.
Now, Sir, I should like to return to the bill itself, which, as we have already heard, will confer very substantial benefits upon many groups of pensioners. Probably one of the most important concessions granted by the Menzies Government during its term of office was the removal of the ceiling limits that existed during the term of the Labour Government. This concession enabled war pensioners, provided they were eligible - and subject to a means test - to obtain both a war pension and a service pension or a social services pension. That has given great assistance, particularly to the needy pensioners.
In view of the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition, let us compare the position of war pensioners in Australia to-day with their position in 1949. The Government has again followed the principle, which it has adopted all along, of giving the greatest assistance to those with the greatest need. The largest increase has been made in the special rate pension - that is the pension granted to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, to blinded ex-servicemen and to certain ex-servicemen suffering from tuberculosis. An unmarried pensioner in this class will now receive a pension of £12 5s. a week. The wife of a married pensioner will receive a pension of £1 15s. 6d. a week, which will give the husband and wife together a pension of £14 Os. 6d., free of any means test. In view of the removal of the ceiling limit, which I mentioned earlier, if the pensioner qualifies for an age pension or a service pension he can receive an additional means test pension of £2 9s. 6d. a week, which gives a total pension of £16 10s. a week. At the present time, the basic wage is £13 16s. a week. When the Labour Party was in office in 1949, the basic wage was £6 9s. a week. What did the T.P.I, ex-serviceman and his wife receive from that government? They received £6 10s., which was just ls. above the then basic wage.
Let us consider another group by way of illustration. I will take the case of a man and a wife with two children over twelve years of age. If the means test precludes the man from receiving a service or an age pension, the family income will be £17 9s. 6d. I should like at this point to mention that pensions or educational allowances payable to a child or children are not taken into account as income of a man or his wife when applying the means test. So we find that a T.P.I, pensioner, with a wife and two children over twelve, who receives the special T.P.I, rate, plus a service or age pension, will have a family income of £21 3s. a week. That was mentioned by Senator Laught. In 1949, when the basic wage was £6 9s., a man in the categories I have just mentioned would have had a family income of £8 9s.
Nothing less than the very best should be given to ex-servicemen and their dependants, particularly the T.P.I, pensioners. Nothing that any Government can give is too good for them. I have given those figures only to show just how hollow and shallow is the amendment proposed by the Opposition. That becomes apparent when we compare the pensions payable under the Labour Government with those payable under the present Government, and remember that the Labour Government had ample opportunity to do more for the exservicemen.
The general rate pension - the 100 per cent, pension - is to be increased to £5 10s. If we consider the basic wage in 1949 and relate it to the payments that were made then, and compare those figures with the basic wage of to-day and what the Menzies Government is paying, I am sure that every fair-minded person will agree that the record of the present Government is a particularly good one. A married man receiving a 100 per cent, pension, who has a wife and two children over twelve, if he is eligible for a dual pension, may have a family income of £16 10s. a week. If his wife is eligible for an age or invalid pension in her own right, the family income may be £19 7s. a week. Let us have a look at what Labour did for that same 100 per cent, pensioner. The basic wage was £6 9s. a week in November, 1949, just before the Labour Government went out of office. At that time, a family such as the one I have described would have had an income of £5 18s. a week. I do not intend to mention all the increases, but I should like to say something about war widows. I believe that the Minister has always given very sympathetic consideration to the needs of the war widow and her family.
On this occasion, it is proposed to increase the pension by 7s. 6d. a week and the domestic allowance by 7s. 6d. a week. This total Increase of 15s. will be paid to 90 per cent, of the war widows; but I am still of the opinion that the war widow, especially the one with two children under twelve years of age who, even now, will have an income of only £10 14s. a week, will find it very difficult to support her family unless she goes out to work. The case of the war widow with two children over twelve years of age is a little better. She will receive £12 15s. 6d. a week, but, as a woman, I think I may be pardoned for wondering why, if we pay £16 10s. in some cases, and £19 7s. to a 100 per cent, pensioner with a wife and two children and who is drawing a dual pension, we should believe that a war widow can look after her children on £10 14s. or £12 15s. 6d. a week.
I am aware of the fact that as these children obtain professional education the allowances that this Government has so widely increased are of great assistance, but I am concerned about the ordinary woman who is trying to keep a home for her children and to do for them those things that their father would have done had he lived. They are deserving of the utmost sympathy and consideration.
As Senator Laught has said, the Minister is giving special consideration to them. The provision of specialist treatment, extra travelling allowances, the treatment of women and their children at the repatriation clinics and in country hospitals are all steps in the right direction. Each one will be of tremendous benefit to the war widow and her family, but I do hope that on some future occasion we shall be able either to grant some increase in children’s pensions or in special allowances and in some way bridge the gap between the war widow with children and the man and wife with children who are in receipt of a 100 per cent, war pension plus service or age pensions. I believe there is urgent need for some special consideration for these widows.
I was keenly interested to-night to hear the remarks made about the accommodation available in repatriation hospitals. I think it was Senator Laught who said that about 20 per cent, of the beds in repatriation hospitals are not occupied at the present time. If that is so. then surely the time has come for the Government to look at the position of returned servicemen from the 1914-18 war who, as yet. have not established any entitlement to either pension. hospitalization or medical treatment. In presenting a case for these ex-servicemen, it is very difficult to give any idea of the numbers involved. Although I disagree violently with many of the opinions expressed by Senator Armstrong, I do agree with him that it would be not charity but justice to consider the position of the 1914-18 war veterans.
I have sought everywhere for figures showing the numbers of such veterans who could be alive in Australia to-day and who are without a pension, but I understand those statistics are not available. T suggest that the Government should look into this lack of vital population statistics with a view to obtaining some census figure relating to surviving 1914-18 war veterans.
– There are 120,000.
– I do not believe that; I have heard many figures. Some people have tried to convince me that the correct figure is 200,000, which is nonsense. I think the only figure we can take as a basis for examination - not as a fact - is the number of men who returned with overseas service in the 1914-18 war. I am informed that the number is 264,000. Taking that figure as a basis, I looked al the number who were in receipt of war pensions in 1920 and found that in that year 90,389 ex-servicemen received pensions. This means that approximately 174,000 had no entitlement at all. Of course, there have been great fluctuations over the years; there have been additions on the one side and subtractions on the other. The June, 1958 statistics show that 55,814 members were in receipt of pensions and that 25,309 service pensions were being paid. This makes a total of 81,823 pensions for that year, but that does not mean that there are 81,823 pensioners because, as I said earlier, the removal of the ceiling from the means test has meant the payment of dual pensions to a substantial number of those people. Consequently, there must be duplication in those figures, but anybody with even a slight knowledge of mortality figures will know that during the last 40 years the number of men who returned from the 1914-18 war has decreased greatly. Senator Armstrong said that many of them must be nearly 65 years of age. I should think that the average age of ex-servicemen of World War I. would be nearer 70.
– Do not stay too long on that aspect.
– I appreciate that Senator McCallum enlisted when he was thirteen or fourteen, but when we speak about averages, I think it is fair to assume that the average age of ex-servicemen of World War I. is nearly 70 years.
The men in this group are the ones who gave so much. After all, they were the men who responded to the call when the Government of this country promised the last man and the last shilling. Now, as honorable senators from both sides of the chamber have stated, those men are finding themselves, in the declining years of their lives, in need of care and protection. I am concerned more with care for aged people than 1 am with giving them more money. I make a plea to the Government that it should seek to establish the number of men in Australia who are survivors of the 1914-18 war, and that when it has ascertained the number, the Government apply itself to the problem of granting to those men at least the same hospital and medical attention that we have given to the nurses who served during that period. I wholeheartedly supported the Government’s decision in relation to all nurses and I sincerely hope that it will now proceed to give the same benefits to the men.
There is a hard core of service pensioners who are in need, whose numbers are established and whose records are easy to obtain. If the Government would give hospital and medical benefits to those men first, I think it would be a wonderful gesture. I shall never cease to speak on this subject until the last man who served with the First A.I.F. has received what I consider to be complete justice. I commend the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) for the work that he has put into his department, and I also commend his officers. They do a magnificent job. The Repatriation Department is not one of those soulless organizations where human interest is overlooked. 1 believe that in this bill we have made another valuable contribution to the needs of ex-servicemen, but as I have said, Sir, I’ do not think it is possible to put a price on what the community owes to its serving men and women. 1 support the bill.
– I support the amendment moved by Senator O’Byrne. As I proceed, I shall give reasons to indicate why we on this side of the chamber think that the amendment is warranted. The object of this Repatriation Bill is to provide for substantial increases of repatriation benefits. The increases are to apply to the main rates of pension payable in respect of death or incapacity due to war service. However, I feel that the bill does not go far enough.
I believe, as my colleagues on this side of the chamber also believe, that a serviceman or woman who suffers a disability is entitled to the maximum amount that it is possible to give. We all know of the privations and sufferings that our servicemen and women endured in the Middle’ East and the Pacific area, the two main theatres of war in which they served during World War II. We know, too, of the privations that were endured by those who were unfortunate enough to be taken prisoner. There is no need for me to state in this chamber the nature of the punishments that were meted out to many of those men and women. We owe a debt of gratitude, not only to the members of the three Services who served their country during World Wars I. and II., but also to our allies. The efforts and the sufferings of our servicemen and women made it possible for us to enjoy the freedom that we have in Australia to-day. Those who returned to Australia disabled, and those who have suffered disabilities since returning, have a right to the maximum amount that it is possible to pay them. 1 do not intend to go into statistics; I merely say that it is my opinion that the ex-serviceman is entitled to everything that this country can possibly give him. At all times I shall support measures to increase the monetary and other benefits that are made available to him.
The time has come, Mr. Deputy President, when medical and hospital treatment in repatriation hospitals should be available to all returned servicemen and nurses of the First World War, irrespective of whether entitlement has been established. In this respect I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Wedgwood. We of the Australian Labour Party be.’ ‘eve that, if the necessary physical arrangements permit it to be done, hospital treatment in the repatriation hospitals should be extended to veterans of World War II. We think that a scheme should be drawn up to apply these principles, after consultation with officers of returned servicemen’s organizations. When monetary compensation is given to people for disabilities, I believe that the matter should not be overdone so as to cause detriment to both the individual and the nation. By that 1 mean it is not wise to give to a person who is suffering from disabilities that impair his opportunities to enjoy life a pension of such amount as would induce him not to work although he is still capable of working and making a useful contribution to the life of the community. The nation and the Parliament believe they owe a special duty to persons who interposed their bodies between our enemies and ourselves. I believe that their sacrifice entitles them to special consideration from the generation in existence at the time of the sacrifice and that an obligation devolves on the succeeding generation.
Previous speakers have referred to the matter of entitlement to repatriation benefits. To my knowledge, applicants for war pensions arising out of their entitlement are asked what time they have lost from their employment as a result of their disability. I am convinced that many ex-servicemen prefer to continue in their work rather than lose time and apply for a pension. This aspect of the matter should be looked into by the Government. I wish now to refer to the eligibility for a pension of parents who unfortunately have lost a son overseas. There have been numerous instances in which such parents did not become aware of their entitlement to pension for years after that right accrued to them. When their eligibility is established, I consider that they should be granted retrospectivity in relation to pension to the date from which the right to pension accrued to them. They should not be deprived of pension payments for the intervening period of one, two, three or four years from the date the right accrued to them until their eligibility was established after an application had been submitted.
I come now to the onus-of-proof clause. 1 believe that this provision should be overhauled. Arrangements should be made for the case of an ex-serviceman seeking to have a disability accepted as war-caused to be expertly presented to the tribunal. It is true that the Returned Servicemen’s League does provide advocates to present cases to the tribunals on behalf of applicants who are members of that organization. However, many applicants who have not a complete knowledge of what is required handle their own cases and present them very badly. I think that in many instances for this reason applicants have not received their just deserts from the tribunals. 1 believe that a special judicial officer should be appointed to make inquiries in every case where the question of onus-of-proof is involved, along the lines of the practice that obtains in England. I am sure that the services of such an unbiased judicial officer would give more satisfaction to everybody concerned. In Great Britain. Lord Denning, one of England’s greates judges, has reviewed cases in which complaint has been made that the protective provision of onus-of-proof has been ignored. 1 should like to refer to a case that recently came to my notice. A man who had served in the forces overseas for three and a half years was treated during thai service for nervous disorder and indigestion. He was discharged in 1946, but later the same year he suffered from a ruptured ulcer and a tribunal awarded him a 40 per cent, pension. In March, 1947, he underwent an operation and in January, 1959, he had a further operation for a duodenal ulcer. During the latter operation I understand that about one-third of his stomach was removed. He was discharged from hospital in February, 1959, and was granted a T.T.I, pension which, as honorable senators know, is different from a T.P.I. pension. He was again called before the tribunal in March of this year, when his pension was reduced to 20 per cent. - that is, to one-half of the pension that he was granted in 1946. That happened though he had undergone two operations since 1946. Last July he again fell sick, and was taken to a repatriation hospital. The following day he was sent home because his illness was said to have resulted from some other complaint. He reported pains in the chest, but the repatriation doctor said that they were caused by fibrositis. His own doctor believed that the condition was due to nerves and was related to the stomach trouble. He applied for a further tribunal, and last month was again granted a T.T.I, pension. Its effect was made retrospective to the day when the percentage had been reduced from 40 to 20. If an advocate had placed his case before the tribunal that would not have happened. I am very glad that his T.T.I, pension was restored, but it was not restored without strings: his case is to be reviewed in December.
I should like to tell honorable senators of some of the hardships that this man experienced. He has seven children, ranging in age from 2± years to 9 years. He was paying £3 a week rent, but his gross pension was only about £4 8s. He has undoubtedly suffered injustice. It is true that his original pension has been restored, but that cannot make up for the hardship that his family experienced while the reduced pension applied. Clearly, much remains that can be done to help the ex-serviceman. The relevant figures have already been quoted more than once. At times one wearies of hearing statistics, so I shall not repeat them.
Recently, I visited the repatriation hospital at Springbank, in South Australia. The verandahs of the wards could be greatly improved by their conversion to sun-rooms. That would enable the patients to enjoy lifegiving sunshine to a degree that is not now possible. All governments have a responsibility to give the ex-serviceman every possible assistance. I give no special credit to any government for doing its duty. 1 agree with Senator Wedgwood that we should look again at the position of the returned serviceman from the 1914-18 war. These men did all that was asked of them. Why should we discriminate as between them and the soldiers of the 1939-45 war? It is high time that we gave them the benefits to which they, too, are entitled. The amendment proposed by Senator O’Byrne is designed to extend justice to all returned servicemen, regardless of their field of service, and therefore it merits our support.
– Since 1916 the Australian public has been endeavouring to honour its obligation towards the deceased serviceman and his dependants, and to the incapacitated serviceman and his dependants. The incapacitated man has returned to Australia, and towards him the public has been, and is still, generous in outlook. That is true, whether the service was in the South African war, in World War 1., in World War II. or in the Korean War. The people have contributed enormous sums by way of taxation so that they might honour their promises.
I am pleased to support the bill introduced by Senator Sir Walter Cooper, who has been Minister for Repatriation for nearly ten years. He has directed all his energies to enlarging the benefits extended to the incapacitated soldier and his dependants, as well as to the dependants of the deceased serviceman. I must offer some criticism of what was said by Senator Armstrong and Senator O’Byrne in supporting the utterance of Mr. Yeo, the New South Wales president of the returned soldiers’ league. Both honorable senators belong to a very great party. That party has very strict rules. If Senators Armstrong and O’Byrne criticized the Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Evatt, as Mr. Yeo criticized the federal president of the R.S.L., Sir George Holland, I have no doubt that they would be expelled from the Australian Labour Party. If they are consistent, Senators Armstrong and O’Byrne must advocate the expulsion of Mr. Yeo from the R.S.L. We deal with the federal body just as our opponents deal with their federal executive because they are supreme in their own organization. I did not intend to give Mr. Yeo any publicity, but I felt that I must say what I have said.
I want to refer to repatriation from the point of view of the general public. I have sat in opposition in this chamber as well as on the Government side and I think it is fair to say that the people of Australia whom we represent have been and want to be generous to the ex-serviceman. The ex-servicemen, equally with other citizens, have a duty to their country. The fact that they proved to be the flower of our manhood when they went overseas to war also means that they are the flower of our manhood in times of peace. We expect them to accept their obligations and duties not only to their fellow ex-servicemen but also to their fellow citizens.
I believe the statistics concerning those who fought for Australia in the war of 1914-18 are worth repeating. During those years, 417,000 Australian men and women enlisted in the services and 343,000 served overseas, including the gallant nurses and doctors to whom we all pay tribute. Our casualties were staggering. We had 59,342 men killed and 166,819 suffered from gas and wounds. The sick - and they were desperately ill - numbered 87,957. Our total casualties were 314,118. It is true, as Senator Wedgwood has said, that 264,000 of the 343,000 who went overseas returned to Australia, but since the war approximately 140,000 have died, so far as we can ascertain. That means that approximately 124,000 of the First World War veterans are still alive. At 30th June, 1958, there were 55,814 in receipt of war pensions and 25,309 in receipt of service pensions, so approximately 40,000 diggers of the First World War are still reasonably fit. That, however, is only an estimate.
Two points come to mind. As I have said, 25,309 were in receipt of service pensions and there are about 40,000 who might want some assistance in their declining years. The remnants of that force - the greatest fighting force that ever wore uniform - should receive all the assistance that they need.
– Is the honorable senator talking about the Army or the armed services?
– I am talking about the services, and that includes the Navy as well as the Air Force. I was in the Army myself, but 1 can assure the honorable senator that we were grateful to the Navy and the Air Force. I want to remind honorable senators of the costs that Australia has shouldered for those who served in the war of 1914-18. I refer to pensions for incapacitated men and women and for the dependants of incapacitated and deceased ex-servicemen. The figures I shall cite do not include payments for allied benefits such as education. In 1916, there were 3,025 incapacitated members of the forces and the cost to the Government of assisting them was £368,800. In 1917, there were 15,916 incapacitated service personnel and the cost was £1,725,022. The figures rose in 1918 to 40,702 and £3,848,884, and in 1919 to 71,572 incapacitated persons, costing the Government £5,508,568. In 1920, there were 90,389 incapacitated members of the forces with 86,448 dependants and the total cost was £6,178,692. If we jump the next five years, in 1925 there were 72,128 incapacitated ex-servicemen with 129,702 dependants and the cost was £7,050,076.
Between 1920 and 1925, 18,000 incapacitated ex-servicemen had their pensions cancelled. This was due either to improvement in their physical condition or, as happened in so many cases, these men were so busy rehabilitating themselves that they did not appear for a review of their pensions and they were cancelled. That total of 18,000 has a significant bearing on the present number of 1914-18 veterans. Between 1920 and 1925, the number of dependants rose from 86,448 to 129,702 as a result of the marriage of ex-servicemen and the growth of their families. In 1925, there were 72,128 incapacitated former members of the forces and they had 129,702 dependants.
By 1940, the number of incapacitated ex-servicemen had risen to 76,462, and the number of dependants to 134,027. In the next ten years we saw a decline to 65,622 incapacitated ex-servicemen and 60,141 dependants. In other words, in 25 years the number of dependants fell by 69,561. Since 1950, we have seen a steady decline. The last figures available are for 30th June, 1958, when there were 55,814 incapacitated ex-servicemen of World War I. and 52,806 dependants, costing the Commonwealth a total of £20,739,134. I said that the public had been generous. These are the prices that were paid. From 1916 to 1920, the cost of repatriation was £17,629,966. For the subsequent periods, the figures are an approximation, but a system of averaging brings them very close to the mark. From 1920 to 1940, £150,000,000 was spent; from 1940 to 1950, £85,000,000; and from 1950 to 1958, £150,000,000. So, from 1916 to 1958, Australia expended over £400,000,000 in assistance to incapacitated ex-service personnel of the 1914-18 war and their dependants.
I come now to the cost of service pensions for 1914-18 veterans. The service pension was granted in 1936, not for war disability, but for war service, becoming operative when a returned man reached 60 years of age, subject, of course, to the means test. I want to consider now the position of the 25,309 service pensioners, and also the balance of the men who served in World War I. - say, about 40,000 - who do not receive any repatriation benefits. I believe that among the 25,309 service pensioners will be found many of the men, originally incapacitated, whose pensions were cancelled between 1920 and 1925. The support from all sides of the chamber for the 1914-18 men is very pleasing to me. 1 should be glad if we could establish some benefits scheme for those service pensioners. We know that they number 25,309. We know that their need is great; otherwise they would not receive service pensions. We should establish some system of assisting the remaining 40,000 to receive medical benefits, if they so desire, at a later date. The ranks of ex-servicemen of World War I. are thinning, so in our accounting we know that their numbers will be reduced. Have we room in our repatriation hospitals for those of these men who need hospital treatment? I believe that we have. Senator Drury gave figures to support that belief. There is an opportunity to provide hospital treatment for at least some of these people. When the Diggers returned in 1919 and 1920, the cost of treatment in a private hospital was, I think it would be fair to say, about three or four guineas a week. To-day, it is 25 guineas or 30 guineas, which is quite beyond the means of service pensioners.
We hear criticism of the Repatriation Department. It is regarded, perhaps undeservedly, as being blameworthy in some individual cases. It is very hard to meet every individual case, but every government, of whatever party it was composed, has tried to give its best to ex-servicemen. It is the people of Australia, not governments, that have a proud record. Any government, whether formed by the Australian Labour Party or by our side of Parliament, is but the agent of the great Australian public. 1 am heartened at the discussions to-day on two important subjects. I refer to the onus of proof and to the need to overcome the conviction often held by medical men that the present physical condition of the 1914-18 warriors is due to their civil occupations and not to their war service. These are very important problems. I hope that we can all get together in an effort to solve them. The old digger faces serious obstacles. The generation that begot him has passed; it was made up of his greatest supporters. Most of the medical men who served overseas in World War I. have gone. They knew the appalling climatic and other conditions under which the diggers lived and fought. They were the foulest conditions possible for the human mind to conceive. It seems incredible that men ever lived through the winters of 1916 and 1917. The nursing sisters also had trying conditions in which to work. The doctors who served with those young men and women also knew the toll that those years took of their bodies. The medical man ot to-day is much younger. Be he 50 or 55, he has no conception of what those men and women had to endure. I have been hotly criticized here for saying that the people who won the war were the men who returned with clean medical history sheets. That is true - make no mistake about iti I know that each and every one who served took the same risk that the next moment might be his last, that his number might be on the next shell, and that he might be incapacitated. The bullet was no respecter of persons. But the wounded passed out of the line. The men and women who stuck to it were those who won the war. When they go before a repatriation tribunal there is nothing on their medical history sheets. Many of the sheets were lost. That could so easily happen. The doctor who examines one of these persons has an important job to do. He says: “You were away for four years. The war ended 41 years ago. Your civilian occupation for 41 years is the cause of your deterioration. It has nothing to do with the war. “ And out the exserviceman goes.
I want to say a few words about the onusofproof provision. It was enacted by this Parliament in 1945, having been introduced by the Australian Labour Party. I think it was supported by almost every digger who was in the Parliament at the time. That provision, which was designed to help the digger, is not giving him the help which the framers of it desired. The onusofproof provision was one of the best repatriation provisions ever enacted by this Parliament.
To preserve his honour, the medical man could say, “ Well, the onus is on me to prove that whatever you are suffering from was not caused by war alone. If there is a shadow of doubt in my mind, then you, the digger, must be given the benefit of that doubt “.
– But the digger does not get the benefit.
– I realize that. That is why 1 invite you, or anyone else, to help us get over this difficulty. As I have said, the old doctor, who understood these things, was rather generous. He knew how to apply the onus of proof clause.
– He knew more about it.
– Exactly. The new man, the young doctor, has his medical honour to uphold, and these cases are very difficult for him. Frankly, I do not know how we can get over the problem. If anyone can help, he should do so. Let us pool our knowledge on both sides of the Senate. There are a few honorable senators here now who were here in the days when we passed the onus of proof provision. I was sitting on the other side at that time.
– You will be sitting there again shortly.
– Never In your life. We are experiencing difficulty with this onus of proof provision, and I am glad that many honorable senators are endeavouring to see if we can overcome the difficulty. I would say this: Let us keep out of courts as far as these entitlement appeals are concerned. Repatriation has done a very good job up to date. Considering all the facts, I give credit to the Repatriation Department for what it has done, at least for my own generation. The general public are the people who put up the money. They do not want their taxes squandered in litigation; they prefer to give it to the deserving diggers.
As we look through the bill and through the explanatory notes, we see that there are many generous gestures towards the incapacitated serviceman. This year we will spend on war and service pensions £65,800,000, repatriation benefits and medical treatment will cost another £13,000,000, salaries and administration will amount to nearly £3,500,000 and capital works to about £1,250,000, making a total of about £83,500,000. That is not chicken feed by any means. The public is doing much for the ex-servicemen and women. In 1949-50, we spent £22,000,000 on war and service pensions, but this year we will spend £65,800,000.
War widows have been mentioned. A war widow without dependants receives £5 5s. a week. If she is over 50, or if she has one child or more, she receives also a domestic allowance of £2 15s. If she happens to have two children under 14, she gets £1 lis. 6d. for the first child and £1 2s. 6d. for the second, making a total of £10 14s. If she has other children, she is paid for them accordingly. If she has two children and one of them is over 14 years of age, she gets an educational allowance, giving her a total amount of £12 15s. 6d.
Much has been said about the T.P.I. pension. I have got into hot water for saying this, but I repeat that the man who is classed as a T.P.I. pensioner - I do not wish to be misunderstood in this - is a relatively satisfied person. It is the poor devil who is not receiving anything at all for whom we have to fight. The T.P.I. pensioner gets £12 5s. a week for himself, and if he has a wife, she receives £1 15s. 6d. If he has two children, he gets 13s. 9d. for each child, which gives him a total of £15 8s. a week. Then there are other benefits. If he has no other income, he and his wife and two children receive up to £21 3s. a week. This is good treatment by a generous public. I am delighted to think that the Australian public is paying these benefits to ex-servicemen and women. The T.P.I. pensioner is relatively well done by when we compare his lot with that of the 65,000 other disabled ex-servicemen who fought for their country. Twentyfive thousand of them get a service pension, but the other 40,000 are getting nothing, and are not likely to get very much in the future.
The Government, in this bill, is endeavouring to carry out the wishes of the Australian public, who desire to safeguard the interests of the men and women who served in war, and the dependants of those men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice. If there are benefits that we can afford to provide, let us do so. This is not a party political problem; it is a national one. I have been very gratified to hear many of the things that have been said by honorable senators on both sides of the chamber. We may have our little points of difference. I know that when we were in opposition we said that the Government never did enough. Now that you people are in opposition, the tables are turned and you say that this Government never gives enough. But let us be frank about these matters. The public is doing a great deal. I know that we all wish to do justice to our service personnel, but let us never forget that it is the great Australian public that provides the funds.
I support the bill, and I congratulate Senator Sir Walter Cooper on ten years of valuable service. In answer to an interjection, I say: May he have at least another ten years to continue his good work. I oppose the amendment.
– In supporting the amendment moved by Senator O’Byrne, I want to make a personal brief contribution to this debate. 1 feel impelled to speak because I feel very strongly on one or two matters. In order that Senator Mattner will be satisfied, 1 wish to make it clear that as far as we on this side of the chamber are concerned, it is not the Repatriation Department which is on trial for any omissions or deficiencies which exist in regard to the treatment of ex-servicemen and women in this country to-day. The responsibility does not lie with the Repatriation Department; it lies entirely with this Government, because the Government has the machinery and the equipment to correct every injustice that runs through the skein of repatriation benefits in this country.
It is no good for Senator Mattner to say that he is waiting for suggestions about how the onus of proof clause can be justly administered for all the soldiers associated with the two world wars. Senator Mattner, as a member of the Government parties, has an equal degree of responsibility with every one of his fellow members. We on this side of the chamber make suggestions on countless occasions whereby these measures can be corrected. If Senator Mattner had listened to his colleague, Senator Wedgwood, he might have gained some idea as to how some of the basic injustices in the act could be removed. Senator Wedgwood referred to the ever diminishing band of people who were involved in World War I. I agree with Senator Wedgwood that the number is narrowing year by year.
– Do you not think Senator Mattner would know anything about that?
– I am not suggesting that he does or does not know. He did not mention it in the contribution he made to the Senate to-night. When discussing the application of the onus-of-proof principle to returned servicemen and women who are trying to establish entitlement to a war pension, it is important that we should remember their numbers are ever diminishing. If we remember that, then the answer to the problem is clearly implied. If their numbers are diminishing year by year, I can see no reason why we should not, in all justice, remove the onus-of-proof provision and give every ex-serviceman or woman who suffers physical difficulties in the latter years of life an automatic entitlement because of the service they have rendered.
– Did you not hear Senator Mattner talking about that?
– I did not hear him make that suggestion. Senator Pearson’s interjection implies that Senator Mattner made that suggestion. If he did, then he has supplied the answer to his own question, and it is remarkable that he should now be seeking advice from this side of the chamber as to how to correct the situation.
– You were not here.
– I was here for almost the whole of Senator Manner’s speech and I listened to him very carefully, perhaps even more carefully than did Senator Pearson, because I was interested in what he had to say about the onus of proof.
– Keen going, senator. I am interested.
– -It appears that Senator Mattner and Senator Pearson have not the entire support of Government senators in their repeated interjections.
– Let us start with those 25,000 whom we know.
– Let us see if we can find some remedy for the existing situation under which this Government requires an applicant for war disablement entitlement to establish conclusively, beyond an: shadow of medical doubt, that he has a case for the entitlement. It is idle for any member of the Government to deny that this is the position to-day. How many senators on both sides of the chamber have had people calling on them in their rooms in the various capital cities of Australia putting before them cases which, at least in pur minds, are iron-clad? Being completely satisfied that there is a clear case for entitlement, we have gone to the various repatriation offices in the capital cities only to have the case rejected because cold, hard medical evidence cannot be produced to establish right to the entitlement. Honorable senators on the Government side are silent, and I am confident that they are silent because they agree with what I say. They know that what we are satisfied are genuine cases are rejected by the department and by the tribunal, not because the members of the tribunal are not satisfied in their minds and hearts that an entitlement should be granted but because the act is so hemmed in by cold hard facts that the applicant is faced with a hopeless task from the moment he lodges his application.
Honorable senators know that in these cases we parliamentary representatives then adopt the last recourse and go to the Minister. Of course, the Minister is fettered by the same bonds which encompass the repatriation officers in the capital cities of Australia, and for that reason he can give only the one reply. I am not suggesting - I never have done so - that the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) is not a kindly and humane man; but, like the repatriation officers in the various capital cities, he is bound by an act which does not contain any seeds of justice or mercy. All honorable senators will admit that that is the position to-day.
I commend the branches of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia throughout this country for the great work they do in seeking to establish entitlement for applicants. But they cannot do everything and, because they cannot do everything, many applicants who are not equipped and never will be equipped with ability to put a case in the best possible light are forced to appear before the tribunals in their own behalf. I am confident that many applications have been rejected not so much on the merits of the case but because of the way the case has been put. Here I suggest that if Senator Mattner and his colleagues on the Government side and all honorable senators on this side want to assist in remedying the situation that exists to-day we should make ourselves available to the utmost of our ability and time to assist applicants in their advocacy before the various tribunals. If we did that we might make some practicable contribution to overcoming what I consider to be an enormous injustice to the returned service personnel.
– Many of us have pleaded cases before these tribunals.
– It is idle to interject. The fact is that none of us in this chamber to-night is satisfied that the returned servicemen and returned servicewomen of the country are getting justice when they apply for war pensions. Not one man or woman in this Senate would be courageous enough to say that the existing machinery is completely just. That being so - it is not denied - then we have a duty to correct the position as quickly as possible and give justice to the everdiminishing band of people who stood between this country and the enemy in the days of World War I. and again during World War JJ.
I think it can be truly said that the greater degree of injustice is being suffered by the diggers of World War I. Perhaps that is because those who returned from World War II. were more enlightened and had greater facilities for ascertaining what their entitlement was. Having before them the example of what happened to the diggers of World War I., they made sure that whatever disability manifested itself, it was recorded and their interests safeguarded.
– And they had better records to enable them to prove their cases.
– That is so. We all know that many of the records relating to diggers of World War I. were lost or misplaced with the result that the returned personnel suffered. I think it would be true to say that there are thousands of men who returned from World War I. who did not report the first twinges of disabilities which were undoubtedly associated with the rigours of war, the mud fields and snow fields of Flanders and the other hazards they had to face. In true Australian style, they were determined to overcome the disability themselves and therefore did not report it or seek assistance. Of course, when the disability worsened in later life it was too late for them to establish entitlement to a war pension. They were unable to prove by medical evidence that they ought to be in receipt of a war pension. Everybody in this chamber tonight knows that to be true. That, in itself, should be sufficient reason for us to say: “ Let us throw down the barriers set up by this onus of proof and say to the last df the band of World War I. servicemen, If you feel that you should receive a pension, we will give you what a grateful country promised it would give you when you went away to defend its shores ‘ “.
I want now to touch on another matter which was discussed briefly by my colleague, Senator Drury. I think it ought to be developed. The honorable senator stated that certain persons in this country are entitled under the relevant acts, subject to certain conditions, such as a means test, to a basic pension in respect of sons who were killed during the war. To my knowledge, thousands of people in this category have suffered because of their lack of knowledge of the provisions of the act. It amounts almost to usury on the part of the Government that, once entitlement is established, payment is not made retrospectively to the time entitlement to pension began. If an act is framed in such a way as to safeguard a section of our community and to provide them with a pension, they should not be penalized because of their lack of knowledge of the act. I have known of cases, and no doubt many honorable senators on both sides of the chamber have too, in which people because of their ignorance of the act, have failed to receive hundreds of pounds to which they were entitled. I say that it is sharp dealing on the part of a government that says to such people: “ Although your entitlement began three, four, or five years ago, you have only now found out about it. You cannot have payment from the date of your entitlement, but only from the date of your application.”
What steps has this Government taken to establish at any given time the number of people who, under the provisions of this act, should be in receipt of that basic war pension? What steps has the Government taken to advise those people of their entitlement? The answer, of course, is that no steps have been taken. Many people are entitled to benefit from the provisions of the act, but are precluded from benefits because of lack of information. I appeal to the Minister to give earnest consideration to allowing those people to enjoy a right that the Government has conferred on them, but which it withholds from them because it has failed to advise them of the position. I do not think that anybody with an ounce of justice in his make-up would disagree with the argument that I am placing before the Senate.
I have got off my chest some of the things that have been disturbing me in regard to repatriation matters. I want the Government to recognize that in the amendment which has been moved by Senator O’Byrne there is no desire on our part to harass or to embarrass the Government. There is no wish on the part of the Labour Opposition to tear at the flank of the Government in a matter on which we should all be in complete agreement. Nevertheless, I say that the amendment contains provisions which, if they were adopted, would enable us to study some of the matters about which we are disturbed, matters that have been referred to by honorable senators on both sides of the chamber. Acceptance of the amendment would not be a sign of weakness on the part of the Government, but evidence of strength.
– T hope to make a short speech, and in the course of it I propose to make a practical suggestion. I am rather sorry that in the course of this debate there should have been too much playing-up of the disabilities of soldiers and a kind of appeal to pity, as though the men who fought in the First World War are a vanishing and useless race who need nothing but help from the community. I believe that the men of the First World War are still the best men in this community, and I believe that the great majority of them have still a worthwhile contribution to give. The whole tone of the debate, in which appeals are being made, sometimes by innuendo, for support from the official people, and attempts to play up the alleged grievances of soldiers, is not, I think, in accordance with the dignity of this chamber.
The practical suggestion I wish to make is that the linking together, the inseparability, of pensions and medical treatment is quite wrong. I know that that was written into the first act passed during the time of the Hughes Government, after World War I, and I know that it has the support of returned servicemen’s and other organizations; but it has led to all the controversies that we have heard bandied to and fro during this debate and to this argument about the onus of proof. If it is a question of paying out public money, there must be proof. I do not think it is possible for a man to be given a war pension unless it can be proved that his injury is the result of the war.
– He has to prove that it is.
– 1 wish the noisemakers opposite would let me develop the point. I do not think they have the slightest inkling yet of what 1 am going to say. Senator Courtice began to interject before I had said anything at all, which seems to indicate merely an intention to prevent the case being put.
I believe that the time has arrived, as a number of other speakers have suggested, when any man over a certain age whose disability may have been caused by the war, should be given treatment without any question. It is utterly impossible to prove whether a particular state of health at the moment is due to a war-caused injury or not, because, as we all know, the type of injury suffered by people of the extremely advanced age that everybody suggests all veterans of the First World War have reached, is one that normally attacks people from the age of 60 onwards. I think it is quite clear that most exservicemen of the First World War are now over 60 years of age. lt could be simply stated that after a certain age any war veteran would be entitled to hospital treatment for certain disabilities. They could be classified. I think it would be possible to rule out the malingerer and anybody who was suffering from something that was purely trivial. That, I think, would solve this whole problem.
Let me suggest a reason why that has not been done. I suggest to the Minister that the original act, because of the emotion at that time and because of the case put up by various organizations, simply stated that the pension was a matter of right, and that it ought to go to anybody who could prove that he had a certain degree of disability and that medical treatment was needed. I have had considerable experience of this matter because I was awarded a pension - I forget the exact proportions of it - in 1919, on my discharge. As soon as I was in a position to earn my living I renounced the pension. I did not think that I needed it and I did not see any reason why I was entitled to it. My disability at that time was causing me no trouble at all. Some twelve years later, when the disability began to give me trouble, I applied for medical treatment - not for a pension - and I was informed that I could not have medical treatment unless I had a pension. So, I had to go through the whole formula of being re-examined and of proving that my disability was war-caused. I have not renounced that pension. I do not know that my standard to-day in retaining it is better than the standard I had in my youth when I thought that I was not going to be an unnecessary expense to the community; but I have retained that small pension ever since. I believe that I would be entitled now to claim a larger pension - and I shall consider doing that, in the light of this debate, which seems to indicate that that is the right and proper attitude for everyone to adopt. But I wish to emphasize to the Minister that this matter could be solved by setting an age limit after which there would be no question as to how the disability was caused. The types of disabilities for which treatment would be provided could be listed - I do not mean a headache or a toothache or anything of an ordinary kind, but things of a serious nature foi which a man would be entitled to treatment if the disability went against him.
– That is all we want.
– No; no member of the Opposition has separated it from the question of pensions, and I am afraid that the Minister will not separate it. That seems to be the prevailing attitude. This, I believe is simply a part of the position we have drifted into - the new set of standards we have adopted since the social service state became a reality. I could go through the expenditure of this department and suggest certain ways in which money could be saved and retained for the people who really need it; but if I did that I would find that the organized people who talk about these things would say “You cannot do that. The social service state now has certain principles. It lays down that a person is entitled to a hand-out from the State on certain conditions.”
I am not a bit perturbed about any of the rates of pension suggested. Whether they are enough or not is something that I will not enter into. I remember when I left for the war, a gentleman who was presenting various members of the forces with a money belt made a very happy remark. He said, “ Although I am making this gift to you because it may be useful, the bond between you and your country will never be one of money “. That, I think, is profoundly true. For that reason, I deprecate any one saying that this amount or that amount is not enough. All the expenditure under this bill must be reckoned in connexion with all our other expenditure. It is very easy to pick out any one item and say that it is not enough to keep a widow. Of course, it is not; but if you increase expenditure in any one direction you must reduce somewhere else. I believe that the general policy that has been pursued by the present Minister and the present Government is beyond exception. I am not going to compare it with that of any other government of the past. I think that in general the administration of the Repatriation Department - the whole administration of pensions and of everything else connected with returned soldiers - has been excellent. But I will say this: Not one of the alleged representatives of the returned soldiers has more sympathy for them than has the Minister himself. I do not know any citizen of the Commonwealth who is more entitled to express an opinion on repatriation than he is; and I will not enter into any dispute with regard to the Returned Servicemen’s League or about what this or that official may have said, because the league is not a pressure group. If any one attempts to make it merely a pressure group to get benefits, whether they are justified or not, he betrays the very principles on which it was founded. I know that the Minister has worked cordially with any body of men which has claimed the right and has had the right to speak for the ex-servicemen.
I said I hoped to make a short speech. I hope that my suggestion will be seriously considered by the Minister, even in the teeth of opposition from outside bodies or from his own officials, because I believe it is workable and that it could be put into force. Finally, I wish everybody who thinks he is doing a benefit to the men who fought in the First World War would give up the habit of referring to them as people who need to be pitied. I count it a great and glorious experience to have served in the First World War, and any disability I have suffered, or may suffer, is dust in the balance compared with the experience of having belonged to the most glorious company of men I have ever known.
– Like Senator McCallum, I too, do not think that the men of the First World War are to be pitied; they are to be honoured. I feel that the proposal which the Opposition has put forward has been endorsed by some members on the Government side, and to that degree this debate has been conducted on a non-party level which is appropriate in view of the character of the measure. Something we have in common is the desire to make treatment in repatriation hospitals available to men and women of the First World War. It is not a matter of pensions at all. Quite recently, I was speaking to a former president of the Returned Servicemen’s League in my own State. Several members of that organization were present, all of whom were First World War veterans. Now most of them have retired from very responsible government positions or public positions.
We were discussing the question of repatriation. One of them said to me “ The only thing that is wanting now to make my satisfaction with life complete is the feeling that if anything should happen to me I would be able to go into a repatriation hospital amongst some of my old cobbers and pass my declining days in peace. I have never cost this country a penny since the First World War “. That is true of a number of them. They have never made a claim upon the Government - for pensions or for anything else. I do not think it is beyond the bounds of possibility for the Repatriation Department to evolve a formula whereby all ex-servicemen and women of the First World War shall be enabled to receive treatment in a repatriation hospital if the necessity arises, even if it is necessary to classify the illnesses and say that they have to be treated in that way.
I support the amendment that has been moved by Senator O’Byrne. What I have to say should not be interpreted as carping criticism of the Government or the Minister in regard to this bill, because I really believe that the amendment is justified. It indicates that we wish the bill to - be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide rates of repatriation benefits adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of national income, such rates to lake effect as from the first pension pay day in July, 1959.
I feel that the proposed retrospectivity provision is one that every member of this chamber must support. It is only a very few months since we brought down with great haste in this chamber a bill which gave to us, the members of the Senate, and to the members of another place, increases in our own salaries; and we did not quibble about the retrospective provision in that legislation. It behoves us now to deal with our ex-servicemen and women in the same way as we dealt with ourselves. The proposed retrospective provision needs no further elaboration.
There are some aspects of the bill as presented by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) with which I am in complete disagreement. The first is the fact that the wife of a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner receives only £1 15s. 6d. a week. The T.P.I. pension is £12 5s. a week for a single pensioner, but a married pensioner receives an extra £1 15s. 6d. a week. I am certain that the Minister himself does not consider that his wife is worth only about 14 per cent, of his value to the community. That is what is happening in this bill. His wife will only receive £1 15s. 6d. a week. How will that work out in practice? The T.P.I. pensioner will receive £12 5s. a week and his wife will receive £1 15s. 6d. a week - or a total of £14 0s. 6d. Each will thus receive £7 0s. 3d. Instead of the T.P.I. pensioner receiving the £12 5s. to which he is entitled he will receive only £7. I am sure that such a person would not fail to share the total pension with his wife. Certainly, they could receive an additional £2 9s. 6d. from the Department of Social Services. That brings the total sum to £16 10s. a week, but the amount available to each is still only £8 5s. That gives the T.P.I. pensioner £4 5s. less than the minimum figure that the Government says he should receive.
– Do all married men share their income equally with their wives?
– I have no firsthand knowledge of that, but the Minister should know. I thank him for the numerous occasions upon which he has helped me to assist war widows and war pensioners, but I should like to direct attention to one anomaly in particular. If a child of a war widow remains at school after reaching the age of 16 - in order, perhaps, to complete secondary education - no medical benefits are payable. The widow is forced to meet the cost of medical or hospital treatment out of her pension. In the last year, five or six such cases have come under my notice. A minor amendment of the bill could rectify that position at little cost.
We have heard a great deal this evening about the onus of proof. I do not imagine that the Minister has seen an article which appeared in yesterday’s Melbourne “ Sun “ about a citizen of Perth who is endeavouring to prove that he is a returned serviceman. It illustrates better than could any words of mine the fact that the onus of proof is still on the ex-serviceman. We all know that men who enlisted in the Air Force during the last war had to undertake to serve in any theatre. Many were frustrated and disappointed when they were unable to get out of Australia. Often good pilots were kept here in order to train other pilots. One of my brothers, who enlisted in the first week of the war, was very upset that he did not get beyond Darwin. The case described in the newspaper is that of an ex-Royal Australian Air Force man who is trying desperately to prove that he once flew in a service aircraft more than three miles out to sea. This sounds fantastic, but apparently it is true. The press account reads -
Hope’s chances of getting a war pension depend directly on whether he can find proof.
If he really got three miles out to sea on a routine flight between Perth and Adelaide in 1944, he is officially a returned serviceman.
If he can’t establish that he was outside the three-mile limit while in the services, then he is not a returned man and not entitled to the pension.
Apparently, if he went in the “ Zephyr “ to Rottnest, which is 12 miles off the coast he would be classed as a returned serviceman. This man, who is now in Hollywood Repatriation Hospital, Perth, with tuberculosis, has a wife and four children to support. I was under the impression that an ex-serviceman with tuberculosis almost automatically received medical treatment and a pension from the Government while so suffering. Here we have the case of a man who cannot get a tuberculosis pension because he cannot prove that he was three miles beyond our shores during the war. I quote further from the newspaper report -
He said to-day that the vital flight occurred in November, 1944 . . .
Now, fifteen years later, it is rather difficult to prove that he flew away from the coast at that time. There is no record of what he claims happened so, in the hope of attracting the attention of any of his companions on that flight, he inserted an advertisement in the personal column of a newspaper. This is how an ex-serviceman is required to provide proof in these matters. The advertisement reads -
Any R.A.A.F. who made that non-stop flight from Maylands across the Bight to Parafield in November 1944 (remember the Dutch crew?), please contact B.H., care of Whitehead Newsagency, Shenton Park, Perth. This could be to your advantage.
Though this man can give details of the flight he must produce some one who can support his statement. In this case the onus is certainly on the ex-serviceman.
– He ls required to give proof that he was overseas. He is not asked to prove that he contracted tuberculosis while on service.
– I am trying to find out whether men who enlisted for overseas service, and have contracted tuberculosis, are entitled to a pension. It is not their fault that they were not sent overseas. From the time a man enlisted until the time he was discharged his body was at the disposal of the R.A.A.F.
– If he had not been overseas he would not be entitled to a pension.
– Apparently he has been overseas, but to what extent is not clear. That is a ridiculous situation. Also, it is difficult for many veterans of the first world war to prove, in the absence of records, that their disabilities were warcaused. We know how difficult it was to get these young fellows to undergo, when they returned, the full medical checkup that servicemen are subjected to now. Indeed, many of the present-day tests were not even in existence then. Some of them had been away for four or five years and their only wish was to get out of the Army, and away from all that it meant, as quickly as they could. Now, 40 years later some of their disabilities, which surely do not stem merely from advanced years, are becoming apparent.
Some years ago I happened to be travelling to Perth on a plane and discovered in the course of conversation with a fellow passenger that he was the very witness for whom I had been looking since a repatriation case had come under my notice four years earlier. The man involved had been wounded during his army career. The full effect of his war injuries did not become apparent until years later, and it was not until I accidentally encountered a witness that he was able to prove it. Unfortunately, that kind of coincidence may not happen even once in every twenty years. Many of these men from the first world war have been given the benefit of the doubt, but the onus of proof should not rest on their shoulders. The object of the legislation passed in the days when Mr. Chifley was
Prime Minister was to ensure that, where a doubt existed, the ex-serviceman got the benefit of the doubt.
The trouble to-day is that there is no appeal from the final tribunal which decides these matters. During the last general election campaign we proposed in our policy that there should be some appeal from the decisions of tribunals because their effects are so far-reaching. They affect not only the ex-serviceman himself but also his wife and very often his family. In the case of industrial tribunals, if there is a question of compensation for industrial injury and the appellant is not satisfied with the decision of the court, he can appeal to a higher authority. We on the Opposition side say there should be some appeal to a higher authority in the case of repatriation benefits.
The Repatriation Department as a whole does a very good job. I have had nothing but courtesy from the members of its staff and, of course, from the Minister for Repatriation himself; but I feel quite a lot more could be done with the facilities and the personnel in that department to assist ex-servicemen and women. In Western Australia, we have a fine repatriation. hospital with an excellent staff. Our public hospitals are overcrowded, but at the repatriation hospital we have wards which are not fully occupied and some of them are empty. If ex-servicemen could receive treatment there under the hospital benefits scheme, even if they were not entitled to free treatment, such a prospect would be most attractive to them, and treatment among their old comrades would help towards their recovery.
Since the payments proposed in this bill are not to become operative until it is passed, I will not delay its passage; but I hope the Minister will have another look at the anomalies in the bill concerning the small allowances paid to wives of T.P.I. pensioners and try to get the payments generally made retrospective to 1st July. That would ease our conscience a bit when we consider what ex-service personnel must think of us since we introduced retrospective clauses into our own salaries bill.
– I rise to support the bill which illustrates the Government’s policy of giving positive benefits to perhaps the most deserving section of our community - the exservicemen and their dependants. For that reason alone, if for no other, I must reject the amendment submitted by the Opposition which is nebulous and devoid of any constructive substance. If I were to take my views one step further, I would make the charge that the amendment has been designed for reasons of party political expediency. In substantiation of that charge, I remind the Senate that there is not one single reference in the amendment to any particular clause in the bill. There is no indication that the Opposition believes the amendment is designed to grant relief perhaps to some sections who, they consider, are not being justly treated to-day. The bill is positive in its attempt to improve the lot of the ex-servicemen and their dependants whilst the amendment is devoid of any real intention. I hope the Senate rejects it.
When the Budget was introduced, of necessity only a brief reference was made to repatriation benefits. I think it is fair to say that that could be expected in a document of the magnitude of the Budget. The real worth of this legislation could not be made public at that time. Those of us who have been privileged to be associated with the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) were quietly confident that he would produce a document with painstaking care that would meet the needs of the people whom he is always ready to serve, commensurate with the state of the national economy.
I am proud of the fact that the Minister has, for the past ten years, built for himself a lasting monument by the way in which he has administered the Repatriation Department. Ten years ago at the direction of this Government he was charged with the responsibility of writing a new chapter in the history of repatriation. No one will challenge my statement when 1 say that he has not only secured but has also maintained the confidence and the affection of the great body of men and women he has been specifically chosen to serve. I offer the Minister my congratulations upon the great service he has given to this country. I challenge any one to go the length and breadth of Australia and find any man who will criticize our esteemed Minister for Repatriation. They might criticize some of the legislation that the Government has decided shall be the law relating to repatriation, but all will agree that the Minister has administered his portfolio in a humanitarian way that will long be remembered.
If any tangible proof were needed of what I say, I would remind the Senate that in 1949, war pensions distributed in Australia totalled £18,000,000. In this year, 1959-60, that figure has been raised to £59,000,000. The service pension in 1949 totalled £1,300,000. To-day, the total expenditure is £7,000,000. Surely that is conclusive proof that this Government has been determined from the start to show the returned servicemen that it realizes its obligations to them as a Government representing a grateful people.
As my colleagues on the Government side of the chamber have adequately dealt with any criticism by the Opposition of specific clauses in this legislation, I shall touch briefly on two matters which are our responsibility as a people. I believe it is fair to say at the outset that we who have lived through two world wars, and even the rising generation whose only contact with the First World War is the Anzac Day celebrations, realize that great sacrifices have been made for the freedom we enjoy to-day. I am sure that we as a people are willing and prepared to make some sacrifices that we may discharge our debt of gratitude to those who have made our freedom possible. For that reason, I believe there is a section of returned men from the First World War who need special attention. I press a claim for them that they should be provided with free medical and hospital benefits. I know this is not new and that it has concerned the Minister for a long time. I believe he would welcome an expression of opinion on this matter from the people of Australia through the Senate. I remind the Senate that by the standards of to-day and of World War If. the numbers concerned are comparatively small. In World War I., 417.000 men of this country volunteered to serve in any capacity in any theatre of war. Of that number, 65,000 made the supreme sacrifice. The men who gave their lives and the men who returned registered in the annals of our history the birth of a nation. Since those days, we have been regarded as a people of substance, of courage, and of determination. For those reasons, our debt to those men is specially significant. Sad to relate, the passing of time is thinning their ranks. Perhaps one of the most saddening sights, when we pay our tributes on Anzac Day, is the thinning ranks of men of World War I. We see the physical disabilities from which they suffer, but the same old courageous approach to their task is there, as with determination they take their places in the march. It is reliably estimated that today, 40 years later, some 20,000 of those men who returned are what are known as burnt-out diggers. I think it is true to say that those men initially deprived themselves of rights to pensions and hospital treatment to which they were entitled. I know from my own personal contacts - I think honorable senators on both sides will agree with me - that those men who returned from World War I. had one ambition: to get out and get home. They refused the opportunities available to them to have medical examinations to’ determine whether they had potential disabilities that would hamper them for life. They said: “ No, let us get out. Let us get home.” That would be natural in any home-loving man. To-day, we find so many of them without pension rights and without hospital benefit rights.
We have heard to-day a good deal about empty beds in repatriation hospitals. I know that the Minister is concerned at this state of affairs, and is continually examining the position to ensure that facilities for hospital treatment are available. I am of opinion that not one hospital bed should be empty if a returned man is in need of it. If there are not sufficient hospital beds, we as a people should say quite unmistakably that we are prepared to give these men the best possible hospital accomodation and treatment. I suggest with great respect to the Minister and to the Government that we, as a people, are prepared to make additional sacrifices, if necessary, to ensure that these men, who made such a magnificent contribution to our freedom and heritage, are catered for in the eventide of their lives.
I want to refer to one other matter about which we have heard a good deal to-day. It relates not only to World War I. men, but also to World War II. men. This is the onus-of-proof provision. The most rewarding task for us, who have the privilege of serving in Parliament, is to try to be of service to returned men. All of us have had the melancholy experience of having to inform those who sought our assistance that for stated reasons their physical disabilities cannot be classified as being the result of war service. The matter all hinges on onus of proof. The legislation establishing the onus of proof is, in my opinion, magnificent legislation. It is unchallengeable. For the benefit of the Senate I shall quote the following statement by the Minister: -
Ordinarily, the onus lies on the party who makes a claim to prove the facts necessary to support it. Thus, unless otherwise prescribed by Parliament, the onus would be upon the claimant for a pension under the Repatriation Act to establish that the necessary conditions are fulfilled.
In the Repatriation Act, Parliament has completely reversed the normal process. It has expressly declared in Section 47: - “ (a) that it shall not be necessary for the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof to support his claim, application or appeal; and “ (b) that in ail cases whatsoever the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority opposing the claim, application or appeal.”
The effect of this is that it is not for the claimant to prove that he is entitled to a pension, but it is for any opposing person or authority to prove that he is not entitled. In every case the question is not: “ Has the claimant satisfied the tribunal that he is right? “ but, “ Has the opposing person or authority satisfied the tribunal that the claimant is wrong? “
I think fair-minded people will agree that that indicates an attempt by the Government to ensure that the onus of proof is not upon the man who seeks to have his disabilities classified as resulting from war service.
From the legislation we pass to the administration of it. On that level I am afraid I have not the answer. I cannot conceive of any method or procedure that can be written into legislation or policy to relieve those persons, who believe they are justified in regarding their disabilities as being the result of war service. I say advisedly but with some reservation that it may be that the academic or professional medical man has not that complete spirit of Anzac that might just tip the scales in favour of the man who needs that consideration. This is not a problem that governments can solve. I suggest that a solution can only come when the people are prepared to state emphatically that returned ex-servicemen of both world wars are entitled to the benefit of every doubt and to the fullest consideration that we can give them. Only then will we ease the suffering that these people should not be asked to bear.
I make no criticism of the Government, the Minister or the department. Honorable senators on both sides have been most generous in their appreciation of the department and the Minister. I am sure that if we, as a people, accept the responsibility of telling the Government that these are the things we want to have written into the act in order to ensure that the latter days of these people will be made happier, the Government will not be found wanting.
[10.20]. - First of all, I should like to thank Senator Wade and other honorable senators for the kindly remarks they have made about the work I have done in repatriation over the last ten years. It has been a great pleasure for me to have been able to do something in this field during those years. Naturally, a Minister must have a government at the back of him to enable him to do the things he wants to do. I have been very fortunate in having at the back of mea government which has made it possible to give legislative effect to the proposals that I have brought up. I have also had behind me a department that has worked very loyally during the whole of that period. The Repatriation Department has something like 8,000 members, and I think I can say that they are all good, loyal and solid workers.
I have listened with great interest to the various contributions that have been made by Government and Opposition senators to the debate on the bill which is before the Senate now. I think that the matters that were most widely debated were those concerning the tribunals, hospital treatment for the members of the forces who fought in the 1914-18 war, and the operation of section 47 of the act, which deals with the onus of proof and the benefit of the doubt. Senator Wade read out to the Senate an interpretation of the onus-of-proof provision. That interpretation was given in 1952 by the then Attorney-General, Senator Spicer. I had some doubt as to how the onus-of-proof provisions were being interpreted by the boards, the commission and the tribunals, and I sent a copy of the legal interpretation I had received to each of the tribunals and boards and to the commission. I asked them to state in writing how they were interpreting section 47. They all assured me that, by and large, the interpretation that had been given to me by the Attorney-General was identical with their own.
Senator Toohey suggested that none of the honorable senators on this side of the chamber believed that the onus of proof and benefit of the doubt provisions were being interpreted in the correct way. I can assure all honorable senators that since I circulated that legal interpretation in 1952, I have been entirely confident that the provisions have been properly interpreted and properly carried out by the boards, the commission and the tribunals. I have no hesitation in saying that.
It may be as well for honorable senators on both sides of the chamber to be told precisely how a claim for a pension is dealt with by the different bodies concerned. In the first place, any man can make a claim for a pension for a disability that he thinks has been caused by or aggravated by war service. He can make a claim in writing, saying that his injury was due to war service, or he can call at the offices of tho Repatriation Department in his State and put in a claim personally over the counter. That claim is then examined immediately. The medical and service files of the man are sent for and carefully gone through by members of the department. The man is then called for a medical examination. If he has to travel, his travelling expenses are paid, and he is also paid for the time he loses from his work as a result of his examination. His case is examined by the repatriation board, which goes carefully through the man’s file and the report of the medical officers. The case is thoroughly examined and a decision is arrived at. If the man’s claim is accepted, an assessment for a pension is made.
I should like to say here that 99 per cent, of the male members of the Repatriation Department are ex-members of the forces. That is the number one point I wish to make. We have in the department a largs number of returned men who are incapacitated in some way or another. A board consists of three members, all of whom are returned soldiers. One of the members is appointed from a panel of names sent in by a soldiers’ organization which has a federal affiliation - that is, which has branches in each of the States. The member appointed in this way is generally the secretary of the R.S.L. in the State concerned. The position is that two of the three members of a board are not members of the Repatriation Department and do not come under the authority of the department. They are members who can give free opinions. So, on each board you have three returned soldiers, who naturally are sympathetic towards another returned soldier, and two of them are not members of the Repatriation Department. I do not see how you could get a fairer beginning than that.
If a man’s claim is rejected, he can appeal to the commission. In about 1954 I was a bit worried that perhaps a man who had had his claim rejected would not bother to write in and lodge an appeal. At that time a man had to write in to say that he wanted to appeal. To overcome that difficulty, I had a form enclosed with each letter saying that a man’s claim had been rejected. All that a man had to do then was to sign his name on the bottom of that form, signifying that he wanted to appeal against the decision of the board. This has resulted in a considerable increase in the number of appeals
In the case of appeals to the commission, we have the same set-up. The commission consists of three commissioners, all returned soldiers, one of them being a nominee selected from a panel of names submitted by an ex-servicemen’s organization. So far as I can remember, the nominee selected has been the federal secretary of the R.S.L. I emphasize that this is a completely independent commission. Here again, if the appeal is rejected, we include with the notice of rejection a claim form for use by the applicant should he wish to oppeal to the higher tribunal. The appeals tribunal was set up in 1929, the year in which I first became a member of the Senate. The legislation under which it was established was mainly the work of returned soldiers’ organizations. They were asked by Sir Neville Howse, who was then Minister for Repatriation, to state in writing exactly what they wanted. They stated that they wanted a body that was completely independent of government control for it was thought that by having such a body the returned servicemen would get a fair deal. So successful has that legislation been that it has been altered very little since 1929.
The Entitlement Appeals Tribunal again consists of three members, one of whom is a nominee selected from a panel submitted by a returned soldiers’ organization, and again all three members are returned servicemen. It has often been said to me that this tribunal is subject to the control of the Government, that it has to do what it is told; but I can assure honorable members that in my ten years experience I have proved that it is an entirely independent tribunal. I am responsible for the salaries of members and for their itinerary. For instance, I can move the tribunal from one State to another to expedite hearings, but I have no say whatever in its decisions or its functioning. I emphasize also that neither Parliament nor the Government can alter a decision of this tribunal. Yet such decision is not necessarily final because if an applicant can obtain fresh evidence to support his claim he can have his application reheard. Australia is the only country in the world in which this can be done. For example, in Canada, once an appeal is rejected, that is the end of the matter; there is no re-opening the case. Here, on the other hand, during my term as Minister, some cases have been re-opened three and four years after an appeal had been rejected and, after hearing further evidence, the tribunal has granted the claim.
Honorable senators have referred to the onus of proof. I point out that the onus of proof rests not on the applicant but on the adjudicating authority. The tribunal has to be satisfied beyond any doubt that justice has been done. If it is in any doubt at all, it is required by the act to give the applicant the benefit of that doubt. We all know of cases in which, to the layman, the evidence appears to establish beyond doubt that a disability is due to war service even when the medical evidence contradicts that; but I can assure honorable senators that during my ten years as Minister the adjudicating authority has given the applicant the benefit of the doubt in all cases. Further, during my term there have been cases in which applications have been granted after further evidence has been submitted. I suggest that the fact that my department is paying pensions to over 646,000 members of the forces and their dependants is conclusive proof that the benefit of the doubt is given to applicants. The total enlistments in both war3 would not number more than about 1,200,000, and there are 646,000 people drawing pensions and allowances to-day. And we have not yet reached the peak, for that number is increasing slowly each year.
It should interest honorable senators to know that in 1957-58, over 800 new claims were accepted for 1914-18 war disabilities. Forty years after the cessation of hostilities, 800 new claims were accepted. New Zealand and Australia are the only two countries accepting 1914-18 war claims now. All other countries have had a time limit within which applications had to be made. They have had that limit since 1939. In some countries it was ten years while in others it was fifteen years; but we shall continue to accept claims so long as there is any one left to submit them.
I come now to the treatment in hospital of 1914-18 war veterans for complaints other than war-caused disabilities. Here I emphasize that the act was framed solely to deal with war-caused disabilities and disabilities aggravated by war service. To a large extent, that is how the act has operated for a good many years, but during the last twenty years we have allowed certain categories of people to receive treatment in repatriation hospitals for disabilities that are not war-caused. Those categories include war widows and their children, widowed mothers of ex-servicemen, totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen, and those in receipt of 100 per cent, of the general rate pension. Recently, we provided that nurses of the 1914-18 war also could enter repatriation hospitals for treatment of disabilities that were not warcaused.
I fully agree that our repatriation hospitals should be used to the greatest extent possible, but we have not sufficient hospital accommodation for all ex-servicemen of World War I. to be entitled to treatment for disabilities, whether war-caused or otherwise. Admittedly, at Concord and Heidelberg, our two largest hospitals, we have vacant beds and vacant wards, but on the other hand, at the Hobart hospital we have no vacant space at all. We shall begin this year to build new wards at that hospital because there is not sufficient accommodation to cope with all the exservicemen with war-caused disabilities who require treatment. At the Greenslopes hospital, in Brisbane, we have a little spare accommodation, but not a great deal. There is accommodation available in Western Australia, and there is a certain amount in South Australia, but at no repatriation hospital could we take all ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war who might require treatment of disabilities, whether war-caused or not.
As honorable senators know, the policy of the department is to make treatment available to more and more ex-servicemen. I think that the lowest estimate given during the debate of the number of exservicemen of World War I. who would be entitled to such treatment was 120,000. There would be insufficient hospital accommodation to cope with that number. Personally, I should prefer to see those who are in the greatest need accommodated first. Those with first priority naturally are the exservicemen who are suffering from warcaused disabilities. After those exservicemen come the men who are totally incapacitated, those on the 100 per cent, pension rate, the widows and the nurses. I think the next step would be to take those who are in indigent circumstances, those who are in need. That is more or less the policy under which the department is working.
Senator Laught referred to the first schedule of the bill and to the fact that rates of pension varied according to the ranks that members of the forces held. All I can say is that this is a relic of the early days of repatriation. We followed the
British system of paying a private soldier or his dependants a pension at a certain rate, a corporal and his dependants at a rate that was a little higher, and so on. We have continued that practice, but since 1 have been Minister for Repatriation inc. eases of rates have been uniform, That is to say, if pensions have been increased by 7s. 6d. a week, the private and the general have received the same amount by way of increase. The system has remained as it was when it was first adopted in about 1916 or 1918.
– It is worth having a look at, is it not?
– We could not very well discard it altogether. The rates of pension could not now be made the same for all ranks and their dependants, because to do so would mean that some people would lose a right that was given to them years ago. I do not think that any one would agree to the pension of an ex-serviceman of commissioned rank, or his dependants, being reduced. As I have said, if pensions are increased by 10s. a week, the private soldier receives 10s., and so do the major, the colonel and the general. We have continued the system because to do away with it would be a very drastic step, and I am sure that quite a large number of people would object.
I agree with those honorable senators who have said that our limb factories are very good. That is also the opinion of people from overseas. Captain Canty, a senior orthopaedic surgeon at a large naval hospital in America, visited Australia last year and saw something of our limb factories at Sydney and Melbourne. When he was leaving Australia he asked whether he could take with him a special type of artificial knee that we manufacture in this country. It is our own invention. He wanted to take one of them back to America so that it could be copied there. He said that he had seen no better limb factories in America or in any other part of the world to which he had travelled. Naturally, a great deal more of this kind of work is done in America than is done in Australia.
Both Senator Armstrong and Senator Laught suggested that the output of our limb factories might be increased. I point out that that has already been done. Because of the number of men who needed artificial limbs after World War II. ended, the factories could not cope with additional work, but during the last ten years it has been possible to widen the classifications of people who may receive artificial limbs from the Commonwealth limb factories. Those people include social service cases who lose limbs. After exservicemen, they have the first call on us. In addition, we meet requests for limbs from organizations such as the Red Cross and the Departments of Health in the various States. If a person can produce a medical certificate to say that he is unable to get a limb manufactured by a private firm, we will manufacture the limb for him. I am very pleased to be able to say that all the difficult limbs that are needed in Australia to-day are manufactured by our artificial limb factories. They have done remarkably good work and have executed most difficult fittings.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator O’Byrne’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
This Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
.- I move -
Leave out all words after “ shall “, insert “ be deemed to have come into operation on the 9th day of July, One thousand nine hundred and fiftynine. “.
The habit has grown up, not in the Parliament but in the Treasury, of deciding that legislation shall take effect from some future date. This is a matter which should be very closely looked at by honorable senators. In this instance, the effect of the clause is that the increased benefits provided by the bill will not become payable until some time in October. I point out that frequently the awards of the Arbitration Court and other tribunals operate retrospectively from the first day of the financial year. On the stock exchange, people gauge from directors’ reports the degree to which companies have progressed, or otherwise, since the first day of the financial year; yet year after year in this Parliament provision is made that bills which grant improvements or concessions, in order to catch up with the rise in the cost of living, shall take effect from the day on which they receive the Royal Assent. I urge the Government to accept the amendment.
[10.58]. - The Government is not prepared to accept the amendment. We have followed the practice that has been observed for a number of years.
– Very briefly, I acknowledge that this has been the practice under governments of all kinds, and I suppose there is no greater pain than the pain of a new idea. All governments have been conservative in this particular matter, but the change will come eventually.
When we face the facts, we find that the increases in this bill were announced in the Parliament on 11th August by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in the Budget speech. They will not be paid until October. In other words, they must wait some two months from the date of the announcement, and some three months from the beginning of the financial year. It is high time that this longestablished practice was changed.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Chairman do now leave the chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the negative.
– These increases and benefits have been promised for a considerable period. According to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) the total cost in a full year will be £4,021,000, and for the remainder of this year, £3,016,000. In other words, the cost of meeting the request of the Opposition would be only £1,000,000 more than that budgeted for by the Treasurer. The Government cannot say that it lacks the funds. The spending of another £1,000,000 in addition to the proposed expenditure of £1,681,000,000 will not throw the Budget out of proportion. I point out to the Leader of the Government (Senator Spooner) that if he will take the trouble to look he will find ample trust funds, which have been tucked away by this Government down the years. For instance, in the Loan Consolidation and Reserve Account there is at the moment £237,000,000. Despite this, the Government refuses to provide an extra £1,000,000 so that these increases can be paid at an earlier date. I would point out that, in that trust account, there are in the hands of the Minister readily realizable securities: only £52,000,000 is in treasury bills.
– But that fund is committed, not to revenue expenditure of this sort, but to loans.
– It is committed to a number of things. The Government’s practice has been to transfer moneys from one trust account to another, and in and out of revenue.
– But, as you know, the fund is intended for the underwriting of State loans.
– It is intended for more than that; for instance, for buying up securities, for paying off loans and other associated purposes. The honorable senator will recall the many occasions upon which trust fund balances have been transferred back to revenue with the approval of this Parliament. Indeed, that has been done on a lavish scale. I have criticized that procedure in this place year after year. I leave the matter there, but press the point that I have made.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator O’Byrne’s amendment) be left out.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 to 5 agreed to.
.- I move -
That the following new clause be inserted in the bill:- “ 5a. Section eighty-nine of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (2.).”.
Section proposed to be amended - “89. - (1.) Where a service pensioner or an applicant for a service pension has accumulated property . . . (2.) A service pension is not payable to a person the net capital value of whose accumulated property exceeds One thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds.”
A ceiling limit of £2,250 to the income that may be earned by persons in receipt of a service pension is to be fixed, but we contend that these limits have become a kind of means test which, with increasing costs of living, do not take due account of the inflationary spiral.
In actual fact, a ceiling of £2,750 would make the present concessions fully effective, but we do not want to set any specific figure. We want to eliminate this subsection which places the ceiling at £2.250. With the decreasing value of the pension, the 9d. a fortnight by which the pension is reduced after the limit is reached, becomes 19s. 6d. for every £10 over £200. With a ceiling of £2.250. an amount of £1 over that amount will make a difference to the pensioner of £47 2s. 6d. a year. That anomaly should be closely scrutinized by the Government. If the amendment is agreed to, that anomaly will be rectified and the full value of the inaugural increase will be available to the eligible person.
Senator Sir WALTER COOPER (Queensland - Minister for Repatriation) [11.13].- The ceiling of £2,250 is actually the social service maximum. That is the amount of property that a person may own without completely losing eligibility for pension. Naturally, we follow the social service ceiling in dealing with a service pension. The provision of £2,250 means that a man and his wife may have property assets to the value of £4,500. We believe that is a fair thing. The Government will not accept the amendment.
– 1 support the amendment that has been moved by Senator O’Byrne. lt appears that the Government has not given adequate thought to this matter. We are talking of the service pension which is equivalent to the age or invalid pension in quantum. That is to be raised by 7s. 6d. a week or £19 10s. a year. Before the rise in income, a position arose at the £2,250 level of property where the beneficiary was cut right out at that figure. The person who had £1 more would lose £27 10s. a year on the present provisions. With the increase of 7s. 6d. a week, that anomaly brought about by cutting off at a particular figure will be increased to £47 2s. 6d. In other words, the Government has made the anomaly practically twice as bad as it was before. At the cut-off rate in the existing pension rate, the jolt was severe enough. A person who received £1 over the limit of property, or £2,251, lost more than £27 a year but now that the income has been increased by 7s. 6d. a week or £19 10s. a year and the ceiling of property has been left where it has been since 1958, an increase of £1 in the value of a person’s accumulated property will cause him to lose £47 2s. 6d. a year
– He could spend that £1.
– He could spend that £47 2s. 6d. too, if you let him have it. There is no difficulty about spending it. His difficulty is to get his hands on it. Of course, his assets might be in a form not readily realizable; and there are inevitably marginal cases. In any field when an arbitrary amount is fixed, you will get border line cases and anomalies. I was hoping that when the Government looked at this matter in relation to social services generally, it would realize that it was accentuating the anomaly; but when we see the Government allowing the position to get worse, we feel that either it did not give the matter proper consideration or that, having failed to do so, it is determined not to alter the position. The Minister is putting a grave blot on repatriation administration by not only perpetuating an anomaly but also adding to it.
– Did you include in the £47 2s. 6d. the £19 10s. you referred to as representing an increase?
– When I say £47 2s. 6d., I am allowing for the increase in the pension of 7s. 6d. or £19 10s. a year. Wittingly or unwittingly, the Government is creating a bad anomaly. I hope that even at this late stage it will be corrected. This difficulty will arise in the age pension field also.
The relevant section provides that where a service pensioner or an applicant for a service pension has accumulated property, the net capital value of which exceeds £200, the amount of service pension payable to the pensioner shall be reduced by 9d. a fortnight for every complete £10 by which the capital value of the property exceeds £200. That sets the scale. The next sub-section sets the limit. It provides that a service pension shall not be payable in any case to a person when the net capital value of accumulated property exceeds £2,250. It would take an addition of about £480 to that figure to exceed the pension and to run it right out to the last £10. That would be the logical and clear thing to do. You achieve the purpose in one of two ways. You certainly cover it if you add to that limit, and do as we propose in our amendment; that is, simply repeal the sub-section that sets the limit. Then any run-out at the rate of 9d. a fortnight for every complete £10 would bring to a dead stop any anomaly, awkward hiatus or gap.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator O’Byrne’s amendment) be inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Clauses 6 to 10 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 2nd September (vide page 451), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This bill is complementary to the Repatriation Bill, and the provisions of each are usually debated at the same time. The context is the same. Whereas the Repatriation Bill provides for pensions and allowances for ex-servicemen, this bill contains the same provisions for merchant seamen. We oppose this bill for the reason that we opposed the’ Repatriation Bill. The Government is not making sufficient provision for the maintenance of the standard of living that is an accepted part of our Australian way of life. It has not made provision for meeting the increasing costs resulting from spiralling inflation. Therefore, on behalf of the Opposition, I move -
Leave out all words after “ That “, insert “ the bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide rates of seamen’s war pensions and allowances adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to take effect as from the first pay day in July, One thousand nine hundred and fiftynine.”.
– in reply - The Government does not accept the Opposition’s amendment for the same reasons as were given by my colleague, Senator Sir Walter Cooper, for the rejection of a similar amendment proposed to the Repatriation Bill. The Senate is well aware that it is the practice, year by year, for these bills to go in tandem. The Senate has just rejected a similar amendment to the Repatriation Bill. The justification for an amendment of this nature to this bill is even less obvious than it was in the case of the other bill.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator O’Byrne’s amendment) be left out
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Senate adjourned at 11.35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 16 September 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1959/19590916_senate_23_s15/>.