26th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMuIlin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, in view of the assurances given by the Government that adequate protective clauses existed in the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement and that these would be invoked if the canning pea growing industry in Australia was threatened by imports, and in view of a substantial rise in the level of imports of processed peas from New Zealand posing a serious and growing threat to the Australian industry, will the Minister say what the Government proposes now to do to safeguard the Australian industry’.’
– Broadly, the position with relation to the New ZealandAustralia Free Trade Agreement is that if it. is considered that the importation »f any product from New Zealand is harming any Australian industry the people concerned in that industry have the right - I think the duty - to make representations to the Minister for Trade and Industry with a view to having invoked this provision in the Agreement. That is the position in a nutshell.
– I address a question lo the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, ls the Minister aware that several States are introducing’ legislation to make provision for the payment of compensation to people who may be injured when going to the aid of the police, and to innocent persons who may be injured as a result of crime? Will the Minister bring to the attention of the Minister for the Interior the desirability of the Federal Government’s introducing similar legislation in the Australian Capital Territory and in the Northern Territory?
-] am aware that at least one State Government is bringing down legislation to provide for the payment of compensation to people who are injured when aiding police in the performance of their duty. I will certainly take up with the Minister for the Interior his suggestion with relation to introducing similar legislation in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory and obtain a detailed answer for the honourable senator.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry whether his attention has been drawn to articles appearing in recent issues of the daily Press relating to difficulties being experienced by the printing industry in Australia due to the importation of printed books - from Hong Kong in particular. Had the Minister been previously informed of the difficulties confronting the printing industry because of these imports? Would it be factual to state that these imports from Hong Kong have trebled in the last 1.2 months? Will the Minister urgently convene a conference of representatives of unions and employers in an endeavour to find a solution to this difficulty?
– ] understand that some concern has been expressed in relation to the competition with the printing industry coming from books and materials produced in Hong Kong and Japan. One factor involved in the situation is that books are imported duty free. 1 sought some information from the Department of Trade and Industry following representations that Senator Laucke put to me on the matter this morning. This information will probably cover both the inquiry that he made and the question that Senator Milliner has now posed. I am informed that discussions on the problems of the book manufacturing industry have been held between officers of the Department of Trade and Industry and the Printing and Allied Trades Employers Federation. Those discussions have reached the stage where the industry should shortly be able to submit to the Government proposals for assistance. When that is done the Government will give those proposals serious consideration. It is the policy of the Government to give assistance to industries that are found to be economic and efficient.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Customs and Excise, fs Australia importing phosphate rock from
Togoland? If so, is the Minister aware of complaints from farmers that phosphate rock imported from that area is causing damage to bags and machinery? If the complaints are justified, will the Government use its best endeavours to ensure that phosphate rock is imported only from areas that produce a satisfactory finished product?
– The British Phosphate Commissioners import phosphate rock from Nauru, Ocean Island and Christmas Island, and also from Florida, in the United States. I am not aware whether any phosphate rock comes in from Togoland. We will make inquiries into the matter and, if any phosphate rock that is injurious to the containers in which superphosphate is sold and used is being imported, we certainly will look into the matter raised in the last part of the honourable senator’s question.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for National Development been drawn to a recent statement by Dr Hicks, a top nuclear scientist from Great Britain, who has stated that a new and simple type of nuclear power station could be installed by Australian industry on a do it yourself basis and be highly competitive, and that Australian industries could make 80% of the components required for such a station? What consideration is being given by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission to these developments and to the advances in the application of nuclear power to industry in Japan? Has the Commission or the Minister for National Development requested any representative groups of Australian industry to study the proposals?
-] am aware of the terrific advances that have been made by scientists throughout the world in the generation of nuclear energy by the use of uranium, U203. There is no doubt in my mind and in the minds of other members of the Government that in a few years nuclear power stations will be able to generate electricity at a cheaper cost than thermal power stations on coal fields will be able to do. The position is being examined very closely by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Government. I will direct the question to the Minister for National
Development so that a detailed answer can be sent direct to the honourable senator.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Has the Commonwealth Government received from the Tasmanian Government any request for assistance for the drought stricken farmers of the east coast area of Tasmania, where rainfall since last year has been less than 50% of the normal fall? If such a request has been received, what was its nature and what action has been taken as a result of it?
– I am not aware of any request that may have been made to the Commonwealth Government by the Tasmanian Government in relation to economic difficulties consequent upon the lack of rainfall on the east coast of Tasmania. I will contact the Acting Treasurer, and 1 hope to be able to give a reply very soon.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Has the attention of the Attorney-General been drawn to an article which appeared in last Saturday’s issue of the Melbourne ‘Truth’ which stated that a Melbourne man is planning to manufacture and market a secret spy weapon which will enable people to see through walls? Can the Minister advise the Senate whether similar devices are being imported? Has the Commonwealth power to prohibit the manufacture and sale of such devices in Australia? If not, will he use his good offices with the Attorney-General of Victoria and the Attorneys-General of other States to have the manufacture and sale of this device prohibited?
– Neither my perspicacity nor my introspectivity is equal to dealing with articles in the ‘Truth*. 1 will scarcely ever be able to answer questions based on articles from that source. I do not give any legal opinion as to whether or not the Commonwealth has power to regulate the manufacture and sale of such devices, although I think an opinion on that matter would readily be available from a comparatively inexperienced lawyer. I abstain from giving an opinion out of deference to the practice. 1 suggest that the Commonwealth’s power would lie at the stage of importation. I know of the honourable senator’s concern in relation to this matter, having listened last week to his most thoughtful speech, if I am permitted to make that comment. 1 have no doubt that the Attorney-General will take note of the subject matter of his question.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, ls the Minister for Shipping and Transport aware that the Western Australian Government is seriously considering the introduction of barge carrying ships in order to facilitate the transport of goods and to cheapen shipping costs on the Western Australian coast? Has the Commonwealth Government considered the use of barge carrying ships as a means of restoring the Australian coastal trade and thus reducing the present high costs involved in rail and road transport?
– Vessels of the Western Australian State Shipping Service operating between Fremantle and northern ports have to frequent ports where very high tides are experienced. Very often the tide runs out and leaves a ship stranded. The Western Australian Government therefore is considering the use of burges as a cheaper method of transport. 1 do not know whether the Commonwealth Government has considered using barges on other shipping routes, but I will make inquiries from the Minister for Shipping and Transport and obtain a reply to the honourable senator’s question.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs. I ask whether the Minister for External Affairs was correctly reported in the journal of his own department, ‘Current Notes’, as having said, in a radio interview on 3rd June:
From the point of view of security Asia needs external assistance. And it is not only a case of needing the United States of America, it needs the beneficent interest of the Soviet Union, for example.
Does the Minister believe, especially in view of the recent invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia by Russia, that the interest of Russia in Asia would be beneficent? Was the Minister misquoted by his own Department? Has he since modified or changed his attitude towards Russia from that quoted in the radio interview of 3rd June?
– The Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party has asked me, as the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, whether that Minister was accurately reported in a departmental document styled ‘Current Notes’. I shall ask the Minister for External Affairs and let the honourable senator know.
– ls the Minister for Customs and Excise able to verify the statement of the Chairman of the Tasmanian Potato Marketing Board that the 250 tons of potatoes imported last week from New Zealand for processing or allegedly for processing and found to be on arrival unfit for processing is the end of such importations? fs he able to say whether it is correct that in this year of plentiful supply of potatoes in the Commonwealth there is a shortage of tubers in the Commonwealth suitable for such processes?
– 1 am sorry that I have not. the answer to the honourable senator’s question. But I will find out the answer and obtain for the honourable senator a detailed reply to the question that lie has asked.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate in his capacity as Minister representing the Prime Minister who is in charge of the Public Service. I ask the Minister: ls he aware that staff employees in government and semi-government departments, such as the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, on application, can have moneys deducted from their salaries for contributions to hospital and medical benefits funds, insurance and the like, on payment of a fee by these funds to meet the costs incurred? I further ask the Minister: Will the Government give the same concession to members of Commonwealth Public Service associations and members of Commonwealth Public Service unions in similar bodies that are under Federal control to have such deductions made?
– I think that probably a distinction is made between staff employees of corporations and members of the Commonwealth Public Service. As I pointed out in a brief answer yesterday to a question asked by, 1 think, Senator Condon Byrne, the requirements, rights and responsibilities of a corporation are set down in an Act of Parliament originally and it may well be-
– It is one staff now.
– lt may be that is where the difficulty arises. In any case, I will seek the information and get it to the honourable senator as quickly as possible.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior disclose to the Senate what arrangements have been made for honourable senators to have simultaneous access with members in the other place to the final report of the electoral commissioners regarding the proposed redistribution?
- Mr President, the honourable senator has asked this question on the last three sitting days. I am pleased to be able to inform him that honourable senators will have the same opportunity as members of the House of Representatives to look at the report of the electoral commissioners on the proposed new electoral boundaries. The report will be tabled some time later today.
– My question is addressed to either the Minister representing (he Minister for Education and Science or the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. I ask: Is the appropriate Minister aware that it is some 4 years since the report of the Weeden Committee which inquired into the use of television as an educational aid was presented to this Parliament and also that the same time has elapsed since the Government decided not to implement the recommendations of that Committee? Is the Minister aware also that particularly over the last 4 years throughout
Australia a grave shortage of qualified teachers and teaching aids has developed and that many trained teachers in Australia are migrating to Canada? Will the Minister agree that it is increasingly apparent that our educational system needs all possible assistance if Australian schools are to function effectively and efficiently? Will the Minister therefore request the Government to review further the recommendations of the Weeden Committee for the establishment of educational television stations?
– The Minister for Education and Science is aware of. the need for more teaching staff in Australian schools. I indicated last week that television seems to be one medium by which further assistance could be given with advantage to education. I believe that the honourable senator’s suggestion is appropriate and I will certainly ask the Minister to reconsider the application of the Weeden Committee’s report.
– Has the Minister for Customs and Excise seen reports that the British film titled ‘How I Won the War’, which has been extensively shown in Britain, the United Stales of America and elsewhere, has been withheld from distribution in Australia because of some sort of political pressure? If that is the case, has action been taken by any authority under the control of his Department to refuse permission for that film to be shown in Australia? If so, why?
– 1 am sorry that I cannot answer the honourable senator’s question. I will obtain an answer and send it direct to him.
– Can the Minister for Housing state whether the War Service Homes Division has made any advances on properties in South Australia which are the subject of strata titles? If so. how many advances have been made?
– I could not at the moment give the honourable senator the details he requests. We do. of course, make advances in respect of strata title properties. I am quite certain that this will have been done for properties in South Australia, i will obtain a detailed answer for the honourable senator and give it to him as soon as possible.
– 1 preface my question, which 1 direct to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, by reminding her that according to Press reports increased pension payments will noi be made until 10th October 1968. Can the Minister inform honourable senators why the increases cannot be paid immediately? Has the delay in fixing a payment date been caused by the absence of the Minister for Social Services on an overseas jaunt?
– 1 think the comment made by the honourable senator about Mr Wentworths very important overseas visit is unjust.
– What about the pensioners? Fs the delay not unjust to them?
– If the honourable senator will remain silent lor a moment I will continue to answer his question. Mr Wentworth went overseas to attend a very important conference. The contribution he made at that conference has beer, of great value. 1 believe the experience and knowledge that the Minister gained at the conference will be of benefit to his work as Minister for Social Services. The honourable senator asked about the date of payment of the increases in pensions. As has always been the practice, the increased pension payments will be made alter the passage of the relevant legislation through the Senate and the other Mouse. As is the usual custom, the payments will be made on the first pay day after the Bills have received the royal assent and have become law.
– I ask the Minister representing i he .Minister for Health: .ls it a fact that the Hospital Benefits Council of Victoria has applied for approval for an increase in medical benefit payments, without increasing contributions, to date from 1st October. the day on which increased general practitioners fees are to come into effect? Has the Minister been advised by the
Commonwealth Health Insurance Council to reject or defer the proposal pending the result of a survey being conducted by the Council? If the facts are as stated, will not the delay in approving increased benefits cause considerable hardship to Victorian contributors when fees are increased on 1 st October? For how long does the Minister propose to allow this state of affairs to continue?
– I cannot give detailed answers to some of the questions asked by the honourable senator: 1 will take up those points with my colleague. T do have a little information on this which I think might be of interest to the honourable senator. As I understood his question, he inquired about an application by health benefit funds to increase their medical benefit payments without increasing contributions and he asked whether a decision on this had been deferred while a survey was being made by the Department of Health. My information is that the Commonwealth Health. Insurance Council has recommended that there should be no increase in benefits until a comprehensive survey has been made of the relationship between fees and benefits for all services. This survey is being carried out by the Department of Health on an Australia-wide basis and the results will be considered by the Commonwealth Health Insurance Council at its next meeting later this year. I shall take up with my colleague the other matters about which the honourable senator inquired.
– I address a question to the Minister for Customs and Excise. Has the Customs Department in Queensland, acting under regulation 4a of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations, seized the film ‘American Crimes in Vietnam’ on the ground that the film placed undue emphasis on horror and violence? Who decides whether emphasis in a film is undue? After the successful showing of the film ‘Inside North Vietnam’ in the Senate Opposition Party room, will the Minister make the film ‘American Crimes in Vietnam* available for viewing by honourable senators so that they can make a judgment on the propriety of the action of his Department in Queensland?
– Many questions are asked about film censorship. In relation to the particular question that the honourable senator has now asked, 1 am unable to say whether or not the film to which he referred has been seized, ff it is possible to make available for viewing a film similar to the one that he has mentioned I am prepared to do this. We are making arrangements now to show a film of this type to members of Parliament in the Senate Opposition Party Room.
– In directing a question to the Minister for Customs and Excise I refer by way of preface to question No. 412 which he answered yesterday. Among other things he stated:
The lion park at Warragamba has been registered as a zoo by the Department of Health and the usual bond has been given in regard to such registration.
Can the Minister now tell the Senate what is the monetary value of the bond referred to?
– I am afraid that at this moment I cannot tell the honourable senator the exact value of the monetary bond involved. However, I should like to take this opportunity to inform the Senate that within the last fortnight I have visited Warragamba and inspected the lion establishment where about fifty lions are held in an area of 100 acres. Many people in the immediate area of the lion park have claimed that the park is unsafe. I inform the Senate, and Senator Mulvihill in particular, that the park is surrounded by a cyclone wire fence 15 feet high. The bottom 6 feet of the fence is of 8-gauge wire and the remaining 9 feet is of 10-gauge wire. The fence posts are bent in such a way that no lion could possibly escape. But in addition to this, about 10 feet inside the boundary fence is another fence al least 6 feet high which a lion would have to jump before attempting to escape. I can honestly say that there would not be one chance in a million - I would say that there is no chance at all - of a lion escaping from Warragamba Park.
– The Minister will get me the information about the bond?
– My question to the Leader of the Government follows on from that asked by Senator Keeffe. In view of the question asked by the honourable senator as to why the increases in pensions recently announced in the Budget are not already payable, and in view of the fact that Senator Keeffe is the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party, does the Minister consider that there would develop under any future Labor government a trend to eliminate the power of Parliament to approve of budgetary proposals?
– The situation in relation to Senator Keeffe as Federal President of the Australian Labor Party would be completely beyond me, because 1 would not know what type of considerations come into that office. Bui I am grateful for the question because 1 want to make this point abundantly clear. Indeed, I would have thought that Senator Keeffe and every other senator would know the true position. Until such lime as the Parliament passes any variations of social service or repatriation benefits it is just not possible by our law to pay any increase in benefits. The situation is that the Social Services Bill has not yet come to the Senate. 1 have already indicated to the Leader of the Opposition as a matter of courtesy that we propose to introduce the Repatriation Bill today and deal with it tomorrow. We shall deal with the Social Services Bill following that. We would need to secure their passage through this place by the end of next week to enable the royal assent to be given not. later than 1st October, and payments will then automatically be made. We all know that we just cannot carry today a piece of legislation providing for increases in pensions and expect that the increases can be paid tomorrow. Even in this computer age a period of processing is involved. The Department of Social Services and the Repatriation Department do all the basic work. They fix a forward date in anticipation of passage of the legislation. Responsibility for paying on the due date will be the responsibility, shared between the Senate and the House of Representatives, to give a speedy passage to the legislation. I hope the honourable senator will remember that when we come to consider the legislation in this place.
– I direct to the Leader of the Government a question that arises out of what he has just said, ls it not very unsatisfactory that any legislative chamber should be faced with the kind of suggestion that .the Leader of the Government has just made, that legislation should be rushed through the chamber, otherwise people may lose increased pension payments for I week or more? Is not this a threat which should not be held over the head of any chamber? Is it not the simple remedy to bring in the legislation with a date specified in it? The matter should not be left to the date of the royal assent. The Government could pick a date. It could backdate increases to 1st July or to the Budget date or it could specify a date such as 1st October. Then if legislative consideration runs past the date for a week or two people will get a back payment of the increase. There would then be no problem at all and no-one would suffer from the fact that mature consideration had been given to the legislation in this chamber, ls that not right?
– The honourable senator has a very poor memory, because the procedure to which I have referred has been followed in this Parliament since long before this Government came into power. It is the practice that has always been followed. It was followed by the Chifley Government and it has been followed since. What is done is that an anticipatory date is arrived at in the departments and the preliminary work is done so that increases may be paid when the legislation has been passed. In fairness to everybody concerned, let me say that through the years the Opposition has always been conscious of (he desirability of getting the legislation through to enable increases to be paid. I am still confident, despite the window dressing and the little bit of nonsense that may be going on, that that situation will evolve tomorrow and next week.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. As the year 1969 marks the occasion of 50 years’ continuous service by the International
Labour Organisation in advancing the interests of underprivileged people throughout the world, would the Minister consider convening a tripartite conference of Government representatives and representatives of trade unions and employers associations to consider and advise the Government how best Australia can participate in acknowledging the work of the ILO in an appropriate manner?
– I find the honourable senator’s suggestion quite interesting and I will have great pleasure in submitting it to the Minister for consideration.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services. I preface it by stating that sections 22 and 25 of the Social Services Act provide that an age pension and an invalid pension respectively shall not be paid to a person if he is not deserving of a pension. Have any pensions been refused under either section of the Act? What makes a person not deserving of a pension?
– The question is one which I think warrants a careful and detailed reply. I suggest the honourable senator put it on tha notice paper and 1 will obtain the information for him.
Fil l AIRCRAFT
– I repeat a question to the Leader of the Government that I have asked several times previously. Will the Government present to the Senate a statement dealing with the history of tha delays, major faults and the usefulness of the FI 1 1 aircraft?
– I have nothing to add to what I said yesterday when my statement incorporated the Prime Minister’s answer to a question in another place yesterday.
– My question also is directed to the Leader of the Government. Has he yet an answer to my question, which I have asked several times, relating to the cost of the FI 1 1 aircraft? I remind him that yesterday he promised a reply.
– Yes, I have the information with me now. 1 intended to pass it on to the honourable senator later but I will do so now since he has posed the question again. In the first place the honourable senator asked what amount had been paid by the Australian Government to date towards the purchase’ of the FI 1 1 aircraft. I inform him that the amount paid to 23rd August 196S is $139.31 lm. He then asked when the next payment was due. The information is that payments are made monthly, the next one being due on 20th September 1968. The third part of his question related to the amount of that payment. lt will be SI. 63m. I can give the honourable senator a copy of the information if he wishes to have it.
(Question No. 227)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice:
– The Acting Minister for Trade and Industry has supplied the following answer:
Australia’s exports include a very wide range of manufactured goods and processed and unprocessed primary products. Pricing policies are determined by individual firms and marketing authorities and the price information requested is not normally available to the Commonwealth. Moreover, even in those cases where prices in world markets are freely quoted, such prices vary considerably over a period of time. The only case in which the Commonwealth has even an indirect responsibility for the pricing of a product in foreign markets is thai of wheat. This arises from the fact that, as a signatory to the International Grains Arrangement, the Commonwealth Government has undertaken that Australian wheat will not be offered in world markets below the minimum price established under the Arrangement. lt is regrettably true that prices received in certain markets for products such as sugar, dairy products and eggs are currently at very depressed levels and below the prevailing domestic price.
(Question No. 406)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
What was the total amount paid to each of the Stales by way of allowances for tuberculosis patients, in each of the years I960 to 1968?
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following reply:
The attached table shows the amounts paid by States for each of the years requested:
ALLOWANCES PAID UNDER TUBERCULOSIS ACT 1948 FINANCIAL YEARS 1959-60 TO 1967-68
Fill AIRCRAFT (Question No. 431)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Air. upon notice:
Are Air Force crew members who are being trained to operate and man the Fill planes being trained in I he use of nuclear weapons?
– The Minister for Air has supplied the following answer:
– Some time ago. Senator Keeffe asked me a question relating to the sale of Dakota aircraft. I undertook to obtain certain information relating to one part of that question. The honourable senator’s question was:
Will the Leader of the Government inform the Senate of the amount expended on maintenance, including repairs, new pans and general overhaul during the 12 months preceding sale, on each of the seven Dakota aircraft recently sold by the Royal Australian Air Force?
The Minister for Air has supplied the following answer:
Prior to sale (he aircraft were flown to the Department of Supply Aircraft Repair Workshops at Parafield for removal of valuable equipments, and for maintenance in a flying and saleable condition pending disposal by the Department o( Supply.
The amount expended al Parafield was as follows:
For a considerable portion of 12 months preceding sale, the aircraft were engaged in RAAF operations and accumulated an aggregate exceeding 1.000 flying hours. Normal squadron maintenance was carried out whilst the aircraft were in service and to support this flying effort, spares at an assessed value of 310,000 would have been replaced. No major overhauls were performed during the 12 months period as, to the extent that this was practicable, aircraft were withdrawn from service as they became due for overhaul.
– -On 7th May, Senator O’Byrne asked me whether special officers of the Department of Trade and Industry could be posted to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Peking, Manila, Singapore,
Djakarta and other areas in Asia with a view of gaining alternative markets for Australian apples. 1 wish to inform the honourable senator that I have been advised by the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry that we have had trade commissioner posts in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Manila, Tokyo, Osaka and Djakarta for many years, whilst a post was opened in Taiwan in 1967. Trade commissioners in these posts continuously assist in the promotion of Australian apples as well as other products. They are fully briefed on the supply position regarding apples and the importance of maintaining and increasing exports. They also have close liaison with the Australian Apple and Pear Board.
As a result of promotional work carried out by the industry and with the assistance of the Department of Trade and Industry and trade commissioners, exports of apples to Hong Kong, Manila and Singapore have shown an upward trend in recent years. Sales in those markets increased from 500,000 bushels in 1 963 to 700.000 bushels in 1967. Import restrictions seriously restrict (he development of our trade in apples with Indonesia, Taiwan and China. However, some small direct shipments have been made to Djakarta and Australian supplies have also reached the Indonesian market from Singapore. The only apple imports into Taiwan are of South Korean origin resulting from reciprocal agreement between he two countries. China is a major supplier of apples to other Asian countries and has in the past competed with Australian supplies due to overlapping seasons.
The Overseas Trade Publicity Committee, which comprises representatives of the statutory marketing Boards and the Government, is actively engaged in the promotion of Australian primary products overseas. In 1968-69 it will be spending §2,257,830 in overseas promotion of which some $166,000 will be spent on the export promotion of apples and pears in markets of importance to Australia. In view of the continuing promotional work of trade commissioners and the Overseas Trade Publicity Committee it is nol considered that there would be any advantage in appointing special officers from the Department of Trade and Industry to trade commissioner posts to promote exports of Australian apples.
– I have received from Senator Ormonde a letter requesting his discharge from the Senate Select Committee on Air Pollution.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) - by leave - agreed to:
That Senator Ormonde be discharged from membership of the Senate Select Committee on Air Pollution.
– I advise the Senate thatI have received from the Leader of the Opposition a letter appointing Senator Georges to fill the vacancy on the Senate Select Committee on Air Pollution.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McKellar) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the Government’s repatriation Budget proposals. The Government in its Budget deliberations this year looked closely at what could be done to improve repatriation pensions and benefits, especially for the more seriously disabled, and for war widows and children. In consequence the Bill now before the Senate provides increased rates for totally and permanently incapacitated and intermediate rate pensioners, and introduces a new allowance called the special compensation allowance for more seriously incapacitated general rate pensioners. Increases in attendants allowance also are provided. Pensions for war widows and war orphans are to be increased, in accordance with the overall intention to assist families without a breadwinner. A number of changes in the service pensions area, which parallel those being made under social services legislation, are also made in this Bill.In what followsI shall explain these changes in more detail.
The Bill provides for an amendment to the Second Schedule to the Repatriation
Act to give effect to an increase of S3 per week in the special TPI rate of pension which will henceforth be $33.50 per week. This rate of pension is payable to those, who because of war caused incapacity, are prevented from earning more than a negligible percentage of a living wage, and to the war blinded. It is payable also to ex-servicemen who are temporarily totally incapacitated, and to certain sufferers from tuberculosis. In accordance with usual practice additional amounts payable under the first six items of the Fifth Schedule for serious amputation and loss of vision also are being increased by $3 per week so that the total war pension payment to pensioners with these disabilities will continue to equal the TPI rate pension. The intermediate rate of war pension payable under the First Schedule to those who, because of war caused incapacity can work only part time or intermittently, will also be increased by $3 per week to a new rale of $24.25 per week.
The Bill also provides for the introduction of a new benefit which I believe will be welcomed by ex-servicemen as a worthwhile addition to the repatriation war compensation structure. This is the special compensation allowance, which is intended to provide additional compensation for those who, although able to work, are none the less seriously incapacitated by war caused disabilities. The allowance will be payable to those general rate pensioners whose actual incapacity from war caused disablement ranges from 75% to 100%. The amount of allowance will range from $3 per week for the eligible 100% pensioner to $2.25 per week for the eligible 75% general rate pensioner. Thus, for example, a 100% pensioner whose pension is $12 per week may receive in addition an allowance of $3 per week, making his total payment $15 per week, and a 75% pensioner who now receives pension of $9 per week may receive in addition an allowance of$2.25 per week, making his total payment $11.25 per week.
AH general rate pensioners in the 75% to 100% group, whose assessment does not include some element for tuberculosis, defective vision or defective hearing, will automatically qualify. However, as a result of specific legislative provision or long standing practice, assessment of these three disabilities for war pension purposes can bc higher than would be the case if the assessment were based on the degree of actual incapacity. For pulmonary tuberculosis, the Repatriation Act itself requires that the rate of pension may never fall below 100% although the pensioner’s actual incapacity may be less; and defects of vision and hearing are assessed for pension purposes before they are corrected or alleviated by the use of glasses or hearing aids. For this reason genera] rate pensioners whose assessment includes some element in respect of tuberculosis, or defective vision or hearing, will not necessarily receive the new allowance. Nor will they necessarily be excluded. Their cases will be individually reviewed arid their eligibility for the allowance determined in the light of their present actual incapacity. Their assessment for pension will not be affected by this review. The usual rights of appeal to an Assessment Appeal Tribunal from an unfavourable determination of th» Repatriation. Commission or a Repatriation Board will be available if a pensioner is not satisfied with his assessment for the allowance. lt will not be necessary for general rate pensioners assessed at 75% to 100% to apply for the allowance. Individual cases will bc examined and payment of the allowance to those eligible will be made progressively as quickly as possible after assent to the amending legislation. Arrears will be paid where appropriate to the operative date of the legislation. Those who do not qualify for the allowance and those whose assessment for the allowance is less than their assessment for pension will be advised so that they may exercise their right of appeal in relation to the allowance if they wish to do so. Introduction of this allowance is a valuable innovation in the war compensation field and the Government believes it will be well received by the ex-servicemen’s organisations and individual ex-servicemen.
Turning now to war widows and orphans, I point out that the Bill amends the First Schedule to the Act to provide an increase of $1 per week in the war widow’s pension which will become $14 per week. Pensions for orphan children are also to be increased by amendment to the Third Schedule. The pension for a war orphan who has lost one parent through war service will rise by $1 per week. New rates will be $5.40 per week for first child and S4.25 per week for other children. For a double orphan the pension will rise by $2 to $10.15 per week. Increases in the rates of attendants allowance payable under the Second and Fifth Schedules to those who are so disabled by war caused incapacity as to require the services of attendants are also provided. These allowances are at two separate rates. The lower rate will be increased by $.1 per week to $7.50 per week and the higher rate by $1.50 per week to $12 per week.
The Bill also makes a number of changes in the service pension area, in parallel with social services changes. These are in addition to changes which will flow automatically to service pensioners in consequence of changes being, made in the social services legislation. Benefits to flow in that way will be increases of Si per week for single service pensioners, making the new rate $14 per week, and 75c each for married couples, making the rate $12.50 per week each; and provision for payment of service pension at the single rate to a pensioner whose spouse is receiving unemployment or sickness benefit.
I now refer to the service pension changes to be made in the present Bill. First, there is to be an increase of $1 per week in the pension payable in respect of the first child of a service pensioner. The new rate will be $2.50 per week. Concurrently with this increase in the rate a change will be made to accord with changes in the Social Services Act, in relation to payment of the child’s pension. That Act will henceforth provide that the pension in respect of a first child who is in the father’s care, custody and control will be paid as an addition to the member’s pension. In the case of the comparable repatriation child the same practice will be adopted. Two changes which are necessary to preserve the rights of 6rst children under the repatriation legislation because they have hitherto been paid pensions in their own right will be made at the same time. First, provision will be made to ensure that the pension is payable to a child who is not in the member’s care, custody and control; and second, there will also be an amendment to preserve the right of a service pensioner’s first child to receive pension at the child’s rate if the member dies. These changes, which make no difference to the total amount of payment, can be explained in more detail at the Committee stage. The maximum rate of service pension payable to the wife of a service pensioner will be increased by Si. to $7 per week by amendment to section 85.
The Bill also includes a new service pension benefit in parallel with social services changes, lt is proposed that where a married couple are both means test pensioners and one of them dies, the surviving partner, if a service pensioner, will continue to receive for six instalments the amount that would have been payable to both partners had one of them nol died. This will be of considerable assistance to many pensioners in the distressing and difficult period following a death. There can, however, be some circumstances in which a surviving partner would receive a higher amount of means test pension if this provision were not applied. The Bill includes a clause to ensure that the higher amount of pension will be payable in that case.
The bill also appropriates the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent necessary to provide during the current financial year the additional benefits to which the Bill gives effect. All of the foregoing amendments will come into force from the date on which the amending Act receives royal assent. A table which sets out in full the repatriation Budget details, including those made by this Bill, has been prepared, lt is available for the information of honourable senators and for convenience has been attached to the copies of this speech which are being circulated. The measures 1 have outlined represent a further advance in the development of repatriation compensation measures and I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Bishop) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Mckellar) read a first lime.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill before the Senate is to give effect to such of the Budget decisions being implemented by the Repatriation Bill as are relevant also to seamen’s war pensions and allowances. The first of the two main purposes of the Bill is to increase certain pension and allowance rates. Under paragraph (a) of clause 4 the intermediate rate pension is increased by $6 to $48.50 per fortnight. Paragraph (b) provides, in respect of children whose father, having been an Australian mariner coming under the Act. is dead, for an increase of $2 in the fortnightly rules of pension, making the rate for the first child $1.0.80 per fortnight and that for each other child S8.50 per fortnight. Paragraph (c) provides for an increase of $4 in the fortnightly rate of pension payable for each child where the mother is dead also, bringing that rate up to S20.30.
New First and Second Schedules arc substituted by clause 8. In the new First Schedule the fortnightly rates of pension in column 2 payable to a widow on the death of an Australian mariner covered by the Act are all increased by $2. to a minimum of $28 per fortnight. In the new Second Schedule the existing S.I 3 allowance per fortnight for an attendant needed by a mariner pensioner is increased to $15 and the $21 allowance, payable where both arms have been lost, to $24. The increase of $6 per fortnight in the rale of the pension for totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners and related special pensions, bringing the rate to $67 per fortnight, does not have to be effected by this Bill, as the amended rate under the Repatriation Act will apply by virtue of section 22a of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act.
The second main purpose of the Bill is to introduce the new special compensation allowance. As I have explained the allowance fully during my second reading speech on the Repatriation Bill, 1 shall not cover that ground in detail again. Briefly, as. you are. aware, the new allowance will provide additional compensation for those general rate pensioners under the Act who, although able to work, are none the less seriously incapacitated by war caused disability. The maximum rate of allowance will be $6 per fortnight for the 100% rate pensioner scaling downwards proportionately to $4.50 for the 75% rate pensioner. The Seamen’s Pensions and Allowances Committees will determine eligibility for payment of the new allowance, and a right of appeal against such an assessment will, under section 7, lie to the Repatriation Commission.
Certain amendments are necessary in consequence of the insertion of provision for the special compensation allowance, to ensure that the allowance is included in the meaning of ‘pension’ and excluded from the rate of pension in the sections concerned. These are effected by clauses 3, 6 and 7. This Bill, together with the Repatriation Bill, gives effect to the Government’s decision to further extend the pension and allowance benefits available underthe Acts concerned, and I have pleasure in commending it to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Bishop) adjourned.
Consideration resumed from 17 September (vide page 694).
Proposed expenditure. $298,247.000. Proposed provision. $88,000.
– The questions I wish to address to the Minister are related to the appropriations for administration of his Department and for war and service pensions and allowances. They are general questions. I would like the Minister to consider the propositions I will advance as to the means established to recommend rates of pensions in particular circumstances.In debates on repatriation in this chamber in recent years references have been made to proposals made to the Government by the Returned Services League for increases in pensions. The Repatriation Bill introduced by the Minister this afternoon provides for increases in certain pensions, but as a percentage of the basic wage the new pensions are below the percentage that applied in 1920; that is to say, repatriation pensions in 1920 represented a higher percentage of the then basic wage than current repatriation pensions represent of the current basic wage. Later in my speech I will give further details of those percentages. I am sure the Minister is familiar with the position.
I ask the Minister to advise me of the methods established to analyse representations made by the Returned Services League and by the Government committee which handles repatriation matters. I wish to know also whether the Repatriation Department makes a detailed study of the granting of pensions and the practices of the various repatriation tribunals and boards. Regularly each year the Returned Services League and other bodies make recommendations to the Government that pension standards should be maintained at levels formerly operating. While there has been a recent slight upward trend. I remind the Minister that in 1920 the pension for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen was 103% of the then basic wage. In 1943 the TPI pension had dropped back to 100% of the basic wage; in 1950 it had reached 101%; in 1967 - last year - it was 81%: and with the current increases it will still be only 89% of the present total wage. The general rale 100% pension in 1920 was 54% of the basic wage of that time; in 1943 it was 52%; in 1950 it was 51%; in 1967 it was 32%; and with the current increases it is still 32%. I am interested in whether the present method of arriving at the amounts to be given as service pensions calls for a review. In the past we have been told by the Minister that however much people might recommend advances in pension rates, usually increases are restricted or are cut back by the general budgetary arrangements and requirements. What sort of consideration has the Minister given to having the Repatriation Commission or some other body report on the feasibility of automatic increases?
I turn now to the question of medical records which come under the same division of the Estimates. 1 am interested in how the Repatriation Act is administered and what effect its administration has on war and service pensions. We all know from what the Minister has said in the past - I quoted his words on the subject - that in attempting to qualify for a disability pension an ex-serviceman is often called upon to produce satisfactory evidence or medical records to support his claim. When this subject has been raised in this chamber and in the other place mention has been made of the restrictions which apply inthe absence of such evidence. Despite that the Minister has always said that the onus of proof is not on an applicant. Let me remind him of what he said in 1966, after which 1 would like him to tell me what has been done as a result of what he said and complaints that have been raised on the subject. This is what the Minister said as reported in Hansard at page 602 on 21st September 1966:
While 1 think of it, I should like to emphasise - I hope honourable senators will emphasise this to the young chaps who are going away today, because they could not be given better advice on repatriation - that servicemen, before they are discharged from the service in which they arc serving, should make sure that they have a really good medical check-up. One of the troubles over the years has been that too many men have been anxious to get out of the service - this is only natural - and have said: There is nothing wrong with me; I am all right’. They omitted to mention things which at that stage were perhaps only minor complaints, but which later came against them. Had they mentioned their complaints before they were discharged, they would have been examined and probably would have saved themselves a lot of trouble and been given an entitlement that they may not have been able to obtain later. I emphasise that that is good advice for any of us to give when we have the opportunity to do so.
They are the first two preliminary questions that 1 address to the Minister. I should like to know what action the Minister has taken as a result of controversies which have arisen during Senate debates, and I should like to know whether these matters can be further investigated and new procedures adopted to avoid injustice.
– 1 refer fi rsl to the question asked by Senator Bishop regarding what happens to submissions on repatriation matters. These submissions, which come first to me as Minister, come not only from the Returned Services League but also from other organisations. T do not know how many I received last year, but in the year before I had submissions from 16 or 17 bodies, including the RSL and other organisations of ex-service men and women. I believe that I have stated before in this place the procedure which is followed when submissions are made. When the RSL makes submissions, they come first to me. Then T arrange for the RSL to present its submissions to a Cabinet sub-committee composed of ex-servicemen-. T have forgotten how many members are on that committee al the moment, but T believe that there are either 16 or 17. The presentation of a submission to the committee gives the members of the committee an opportunity to hear at first hand what it is that the RSL ls asking for. The committee members are presented with a copy of the submissions, which usually arc fairly long and have quite a deal of detail.
Even before any of this happens the Repatriation Department, which has received a copy of the submissions from me, examines the proposal in detail and supplies me with information as to the estimated cost of granting what has been sought. But even before this happens, in many cases, the advice of the Repatriation Department is sought by ex-servicemen’s organisations. Advice is freely given to them. My Department is always on the lookout to be able to assist these bodies in any way possible. The assistance given is not always recognised, I am afraid, but I can assure honourable senators that assistance is given by me and by all members of the Department.
After it has been decided by the committee that the entitlement should be granted, or whatever it is that is being sought, the final decision then rests with the Government. That involves a meeting of Ministers to decide what the Budget will contain. I have never been in the happy position of getting all that I have asked for in the way of repatriation, and I think the same can be said of every other Minister, no matter what his portfolio. This year organisations have been considerably aided by a Cabinet sub-committee, known as the Welfare Committee, which was set up by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton). All submissions have been considered by this committee in detail. I have found the Welfare Committee to be quite valuable because it has been able to examine thoroughly submissions which have been made and has been able to make recommendations to the general meeting of Ministers when the Budget has been about to be brought down. I should add that submissions from all bodies receive the same treatment, with the exception that other bodies do not have the privilege granted to the RSL of putting its case before the ex-servicemen’s committee of Cabinet. I should add also that the private members or back-benchers, for want of a better word, also have an exservicemen’s committee which receives submissions from the RSL and other bodies. This committee, in turn, makes representations to me as Minister. Although it may not recommend everything that the RSL is seeking, it expresses views on what it thinks should by done. This advice also is quite valuable.
asked whether we had considered automatic increases of repatriation pensions. I understand that many years ago this suggestion was put forward. I understand also that it happened at a time when the late Mr Chifley was Prime Minister. I believe that he was on the verge of granting it. and then, for some reason which I have forgotten, the proposal was not proceeded with. I believe that it was mainly at the instance of the RSL that the proposal was not agreed to. Apparently at that time the RSL felt thatit was not a good idea, although Mr Chifley was in favour of it. The RSL is now whipping the cat, although it was through its own action that this proposal was abandoned many years ago.
Senator Bishop referred to the advice that I had given to servicemen going overseas. I agree that he quoted me correctly. I have given this advice on many occasions, but alsoI have pointed out that the absence of medical records and the other evidence which I suggested that it would be useful for them to have does not preclude them from an entitlement to repatriation benefits. However, it does make it much easier if they have this evidence. The honourable senator did not mention this today, but 1 know that he has mentioned it on several occasions in the past.I remind the Senate also that each year we have about 10,000 appeals being heard by the various repatriation boards, assessment appeal tribunals and entitlement appeal tribunals. Only the other day I tabled reports from our entitlement appeal tribunals which show that, overall, about 18% of these appeals are granted. When they get 10,000 appeals over the course of a year it is understandable that there are some disappointed applicants. Consequently some of these chaps - not all of them, I am sure - feel that they are not given the benefit of the doubt as provided in section 47 of the Act.
– What I am trying to get the Minister to reconsider, in view of what he said in the statement that I quoted from Hansard in relation to the importance of records, is his fairly consistent attitude that the existing provisions of the Repatriation Act in regard to onus of proof are satisfactory. Let me refer first to an answer that he gave to Senator Ormonde on 10th September. Senator Ormonde asked:
The Minister replied: 1 and 2. An ex-soldier is not required to prove that injuries or illness were war caused, sincethe legislation specifically relieves him of that obligation and places the onus of proof on the person or authority who contends thatthe claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed tothe full extent claimed. In addition to this special provision, the legislation requires all reasonable inferences to be drawn in the ex-soldier’s favour, and that he be given the benefit of any doubt. This includes doubt asto any question whatsoever which arises for decision under his claim, application or appeal. Taken together, these provisions constitute a sound and reasonable approach to the determination of claims by ex-soldiers for acceptance of injuries or illness as due to war service.
I ask the Minister whether he is aware that the Returned Services League itself has proposed an amendment to the Act toget around this dispute and controversy as to whether the existing provisions are satisfactory. He will remember that the Opposition advanced such an amendment in this chamber and nearly succeeded in getting it carried into legislation.
The Minister admits that a lack of information has an important bearing on an ex-soldier’s application for a disability pension. He knows very well that there are numerous such cases. He will have before him soon a South Australian case from one of my files in relation to which there is an indication that if a record had existed the applicant would have got morethan he did get. The current report of the Repatriation Commission shows in a table of appeals on page 66 that 1,758 appeals to the Commission - which is the first stage - were accepted and 12,959 were rejected. Many of these were rejected for the reasons that. I have mentioned - reasons which the Minister seems to appreciate. He has taken part in debates on the matter in this chamber and has defended the present Repatriation
Aci. In view of this, I should like to know what he has done as Minister to promote discussion, particularly by the Repatriation Department, of aspects which have been raised in the Senate and in representations to him by the RSL for amendment of the Act. What precisely has he done? If the Government is against the appointment of a special committee will he consider taking action as Minister to promote investigations within the Department of the two aspects 1 have mentioned.
Finally, 1 should like to raise the question of medical practitioners. The Minister will remember that during the debate on the Mooney case he referred to having received complaints from two doctors. To mc and lo other senators who do quite a bit of repatriation work and try to help applicants, one of the important matters is that in many instances a case stands or falls on medical advice, which puts laymen, Ministers and senators a bit out of focus; they have no strength in these matters. Where records are absent the chance of success of an applicant is very small. Obviously, these doctors have a very strong influence in determining applications. 1 should like to know what is the policy of the Department or of the Minister in securing these doctors? Does the Department seek to get doctors who have had experience in the Services, especially under war conditions? Are they in fact exservicemen? If they are not ex-servicemen, are there proper training and reorientation programmes, as there should be, to make them familiar with the sort of conditions under which servicemen serve?
– Getting back to the first question that Senator Bishop asked, I am sure that he has heard me say several times that if any doubt exists the benefit of it must be given to the applicant. I am quite sure that this has been done in all the cases that I have been able to examine in which some doubt existed. The first question that I asked my predecessor was whether he was of opinion thai appellants were being given the benefit of: the provisions of section 47. He told me that in his opinion they were. Having had this job for about 3i years, I must say that this is also my opinion. The personnel of the determining authorities are human beings and I will not say that they do not sometimes make mistakes. It is inevitable that they do. I see many files and if 1 feel in relation to any of these that something may have been overlooked - I came across one the other day, as a matter of fact - T refer them back and ask for an examination of this aspect. I emphasise, as I have emphasised many times, that I have no power to direct a determining authority, and I do not think that any Minister should have such a power. 1 come now to section 47. If. an appeal is rejected by a tribunal the appellant is naturally biased in his view. In many instances he feels that he was not given the benefit of the doubt. However, I must point out that whereas a doubt could exist in his mind the doubt which is referred to in the legislation must be in the mind of the determining authority, whether it be a board, the Commission or a tribunal. Quite frankly, 1 have not seen any need al all to alter section 47. It is correct, as Senator Bishop said, that applications have been made by ex-service bodies for a close look at the Act. I have said that in some respects the Act needs tidying up, and I have made representations to the Government along these lines. However I have always been, and always will be, very strongly opposed to the setting up of a Senate select committee to look into the Act. Such a committee would not have the time necessary to devote to the subject because to tidy up this Act in the way it should be done would be a very big job.
The honourable senator asked what was done by way of discussion with the Returned Services League and other bodies concerning improvements to the Act. The organisations make submissions to me. During the course of the year I receive many letters, particularly from the National Headquarters of the RSL. The normal procedure is that letters flow from the States to the National Headquarters and then on to me. Suggestions are made as to what should be done with regard to certain provisions in the Repatriation Act. Those suggestions are examined. They are not refused or accepted without examination. We accept some of the suggestions but, to be quite frank, the majority we do not accept. The point is that they are examined and not simply cast aside. If I have any doubts the suggestions are sent to my departmental officers who investigate them and inform mc what is involved. A decision is then made and the organisation concerned is advised of it. By this means the Act is under continual review.
I remind honourable senators that the organisations have branches in the six States, in Papua and New Guinea and in the Australian Capital Territory. Each of those branches has an annual meeting as well as other meetings during the year. They pass resolutions on matters relating to repatriation which go finally to the State body. The State body then has a look at the matter and, if it is warranted, the matter is passed on to the Federal organisation. Therefore, as I have said already, there is in effect a continuing review of the Repatriation Act by these men who. after all. are pretty expert in this field because of the ambit of repatriation matters with which they deal.
Senator Bishop suggested that doctors on the panel have a very big bearing on the decision that is made. A war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal consists of three men, none of whom normally is a doctor. A war pensions assessment appeal tribunal consists of a chairman - of course he must be a returned serviceman and a lawyer - who calls in a couple of doctors who are skilled in the complaint from which the applicant alleges he is suffering. That does not necessarily mean that the doctors make the decision. They advise the chairman of the tribunal who then says yea or nay, having had the benefit of the doctors’ advice on the particular ailment under review. The usual practice is for the chairman to send to me the names of the doctors who he thinks will be of assistance. He submits information on their standing and makes his recommendation. The names are then referred to our Director of Medical Services and if everything appears to be in order the doctors are placed on the panel. At present we have something like 5,000 doctors throughout Australia on whom we can call.
Senator Bishop also asked whether the doctors are returned servicemen. Quite frankly, a lot of them are not although at one time practically all of them had served in the forces. The older ones are now falling by the wayside by reason of age and we have had to rely on doctors who are not returned servicemen. To overcome that position we show them three films - I have seen two of them - indicating the conditions that our elderly returned servicemen, particularly those who served in the First World War, had to endure. One film depicts action in France and Gallipoli and another shows action in New Guinea. The films show the activities of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. As I have said, the purpose of these films is to educate the younger men who have nol had Service experience, to give them some idea of what ex-servicemen went through in the service of their country. Now our troops are engaged in Vietnam. Quite a number of doctors are serving there for periods. We have our own repatriation team comprising twelve or fifteen men at Vung Tait. I saw them when 1 was there.
– I intervene in this discussion to direct my remarks to Division 462. They stem from a submission I have received from a Mr Bailey of Revesby in New South Wales concerning proviso (c) to section 101 of the Repatriation Act. As the Minister will appreciate, Mr Bailey is a member of the unique band of men who had service with two different nations. He served with both the Australian and Canadian forces in the First World War and with the Australian forces in the Second World War. I think that men who served in the forces of two countries in two wars merit special consideration.
The Minister, in a letter to me dated 1 2th July 1968, pointed out that it was not possible for a returned serviceman lo receive two pensions from two governments. Proviso (c) of that section of the Act requires that in the assessment of an Australian pension the amount of a pension a person is entitled to receive from another country is taken into account. In other words, a form of means test is imposed. It will’ be recalled that last year the Senate enlarged the ambit of benefits to certain categories of servicemen of the First World War in relation to hospital treatment. It is obvious that there will not be too many people who served in the First World War and the Second World War.
I recognise that the Repatriation Department, like every other department, is subject to certain Treasury directions. Nevertheless, in the light of the Minister’s expressed sympathy with some of these men who have suffered tremendous pain, I believe that servicemen in the category to which I have referred, who now would be in their late 60s or early 70s, should have the benefit of the two pensions. I am sure that the Minister, in view of his own wartime experiences, will agree that Mr Bailey and others in his category certainly lived their lives the hard way by serving in two armies. I bel’ieve that the Bailey case epitomises a certain grievance. I received a further letter from Mr Bailey a week ago. I think he is at present in the Concord repatriation hospital.
I do not expect the Minister to revolutionise completely the pensions structure as a result of my submission but I can see no reason why some discretionary power cannot be exercised to allow the.se men who, as 1 have said, are in their tate 60s or early 70s, to receive the two pensions. They are not princely sums. These men now are certainly paying, in the form of physical disabilities, for the ordeals they endured. 1 think the Minister and his advisers could evolve a scheme whereby the servicemen in the category to which 1 have referred could be granted this privilege.
– I want to refer first to the estimates for dic Repatriation Department for this year. Because of its long existence - it has been in existence since the First World War - the Department naturally has become expert at estimating. Last year $274,403,000 was appropriated and the amount expended was $272,383,146. The appropriation sought for this year is $298,247,000. Tomorrow we shall be debating the Government’s legislation to grant increased benefits to exservicemen. When the Department tries to estimate what its outgoings will be by way of new and improved repatriation benefits, it cannot be sure that its estimate will be as accurate as that made for expenditure in the previous year. I believe that by about this time next year we shall be able to say that in 1968-69 the Repatriation Department’s costs in services and benefits to exservicemen and their dependants have touched the $300m mark. This is a very great sum of money to be paying out for repatriation purposes and it is an indication of the care which the Government has to exercise when making up its mind on increased benefits.
I should like to take this opportunity to ask the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) one or two questions. The first relates to the appropriation for other repatriation benefits. I refer in particular to the appropriation for pharmaceutical services. The amount sought this year is $14,560,000. Does that amount include provision for drugs and medicines supplied to repatriation hospital patients? Or is the hospital medicine covered in the item which relates to administrative expenses on medical supplies? I believe the answer will be that the drugs and medicines for repatriation hospital patients are covered by the $14,560,000 to which I have referred.
I am not going to actually query that provision, but I should like to have sonic assurance from the Minister that the controlling authorities, right from the top of the Department through to the person in charge of stores in each of the repatriation hospitals, are impressed with the necessity for care and economy in administration. I am not a pharmaceutically trained person or a medical man, but I have a feeling that unless care is taken along the lines I am suggesting there could be great waste not only in repatriation hospitals but in all government controlled hospitals throughout Australia. So quickly do the types of drugs available and the brand names change, and so quickly do some drugs become favourites with doctors that there is a great fear in my mind that sufficient care is not taken in hospital administration to ensure that drugs for hospital requirements are not ordered in too great quantities, so that if the medical profession decides, after supplies of one drug have come in, to prescribe another type of drug for a similar type of illness, there will not be any waste through drugs already delivered not being used. Drugs are very expensive items in the administration of repatriation hospitals and I hope that the Minister and the Department will bear in mind my plea, not to cut off the supply of the latest available drugs to patients of repatriation hospitals but just to see that the system of ordering drugs is so controlled that they are not ordered in too great quantities. I believe, too, that care should be taken by the medical superintendents of repatriation hospitals to make sure that some doctors are not, regardless of economy, prescribing certain drugs that have to be purchased from outside when there are equally satisfactory drugs in stock in the hospitals themselves.
My second point relates to the provision of $1,710,000 for fees for visiting medical specialists and to the provision of $8,530,000 for specialist, local medical officer and ancillary medical services. Between these two items an expenditure of approximately $10m flows from the Repatriation Department alone to the medical profession in Australia. 1 want to make two points in connection with this aspect. The provision of this money proves to my mind beyond all doubt that those who are in need of medical attention under the Repatriation Department are able to call on the best medical brains in Australia. It is of great credit to the medical profession that its specialists in all fields of medicine and its general practitioners render such wonderful service for repatriation, and it is of great credit to the Repatriation Department that, over and above what is paid to the medical officers employed by it, it spends another $10m a year on the two items to which 1 have referred. I am certain that all of us who are interested in seeing that exservicemen, their widows and others entitled to repatriation hospital and medical services receive these benefits can feel confident that these people are getting a very good deal from the Department, this year as in past years.
My final question on this aspect relates to the sum of $5,300 which is provided by way of grant for employment placement activities of the Returned Services League. Being a member of a sub-branch of the RSL I know that the sub-branches co-operate fully with the Repatriation Department. And so they should. 1 believe also that the Repatriation Department gives every co-operation to the sub-branches. It is not the subbranches of the RSL throughout Australia nor, really, the members of the State branches of the RSL throughout Australia, who are critical of the Government. The critics of the Government seem to be confined to those in the top echelon of persons controlling the publicity activities of the RSL.
I know that Senator O’Byrne will agree with me when I say that the sub-branch in Launceston could almost be termed an always available branch of the Repatriation Department. There are no permanent employees of the Repatriation Department at Launceston, and the Launceston subbranch of the RSL does a terrific amount of work on behalf of the Department. I feel sure that the Minister knows and appreciates this. No doubt senators representing other parts of Australia have similar knowledge of the way in which the RSL co-operates with the Repatriation Department. I should be interested to know under what terms and roughly to whom this $5,300 granted for employment placement activities is paid.
– 1 am interested in the questions that Senator Bishop raised as to entitlements and whether justice is being done to returned servicemen. I was most interested in the Minister’s reply to Senator Bishop, in which he said: ‘After all, the members of tribunals are only human. Sometimes they may make a mistake. If they do, I look into the matter or refer it back to them and see whether the mistake can be rectified.’ The members of tribunals are only human; and even if mistakes are made only on rare occasions the person who suffers is the returned serviceman. He should not suffer, even on rare occasions. The Repatriation Act is designed to ensure not that mistakes will not be made but that they cannot be made.
Whilst it has been stated that there is a need for revision of the Repatriation Act, there is definitely no need for revision of section 47, which is one of the most generous sections in any Act. It gives the returned serviceman an entitlement if there is the least suspicion that his disability could have been war caused. That is the wording of the section. But there is concrete proof that in cases in which there must bc a reasonable doubt that the disabilities are not war caused men are not receiving their entitlement after applying to an entitlement appeal tribunal. This is an example of the tribunals not implementing section 47 correctly. I raised in this chamber the case of a man whose application to an assessment appeal tribunal was rejected. Because I believed that the rejection was an injustice [ complained about it in this chamber. The Minister referred the case back to the Repatriation Commission and on a later application, with no further proof, the Commission granted a total and permanent incapacity pension to that applicant, lt must have become obvious to the members of the Commission that some injustice had been done.
I wish to take some time to examine section 47 and to show how, if it were applied properly, it would be impossible for men to be deprived of pensions, whereas in fact they are being so deprived. 1 have always maintained that there should be a judicial body so that cases would be dealt with by an authority whose members were capable of interpreting an Act of Parliament, were capable of evaluating evidence, were trained in evaluating evidence and knew what evidence to accept and what evidence to reject. As the Minister says, the doubt must be in the minds of the members ofthe tribunal. A man cannot receive a pension simply by hawking himself around from doctor to doctor until he finds one who says that his disability may be war caused. Section 47 (1.) reads:
The Commission, a Board, an Appeal Tribunal and an Assessment Appeal Tribunal,- that means anyone who has the authority to hear a claim - in hearing, determining or deciding a claim, application or appeal, shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case, shall not be bound by technicalities or legal forms or rides of evidence and shall give to the claimant, applicant or appellant the benefit of any doubt - (a) as to the existence of any fact, matter, cause or circumstance which would be favourable to the claimant, applicant or appellant; . . .
So any of those tribunals must give the exserviceman the benefit of the doubt as to the existence of any fact, matter, cause or circumstance that may be favourable. The benefit of the doubt on the slightest thing that may be favourable must go to the exserviceman. If there is a suspicion that his disability could be war caused, unless some other provision of this section is involved he must receive a pension. Sub-section (2.) reads:
It shall not be necessary (or the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof to support his claim, application or appeal-
The ex-serviceman has no responsibility for bringing any proof that his disability is war caused; he simply makes his claim - but the Commission, Board, Appeal Tribunal or Assessment Appeal Tribunal determining or deciding the claim, application or appeal shall be entitled to draw, and shall draw, from all the circum- stances of the case, from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant, applicant or appellant-
The tribunal is entitled to draw an inference from any circumstance of the case only if such inference is in favour of the exserviceman - and in all cases whatsoever the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority who contends that the claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed tothe full extent claimed.
The section makes it clear that any exserviceman can claim that he is suffering from a war caused disability; that if he does so the tribunal must give him the benefit of the doubt on any fact, matter, cause or circumstance that comes before it; that the applicant need not produce any proof, because there is no responsibility on him to prove anything; and that during the hearing the tribunal can draw an inference only if that inference is in favour of the applicant, otherwise it has to act on basic facts. That means that the applicant must receive a pension in the absence of other evidence, and. as the section states, the onus of proof in respect of that other evidence ‘shall lie on the person or authority who contends that the claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed to the full extent claimed’. If the person or authority does not satisfy that onus of proof, under the section the applicant must be successful to the full extent of his claim. The responsibility is on someone else to prove otherwise, and that someone else cannot rely on inferences or circumstantial evidence; he must prove that the applicant should not receive the pension claimed.
Let us see how this section applies in practice. As the Minister has said, an entitlement appeal tribunal consists of a legal man as chairman and two laymen who are exservicemen recommended by ex-service organisations. They make a decision on the whole of the case. Even if the chairman, who is trained in interpreting decisions and statutes, rules in accordance with his interpretation, he is in the minority on the tribunal and the two laymen, who are without the qualifications and probably without the capacity to interpret decisions and statutes, can give a majority decision.
There is a glaring injustice in a case that I raised in this chamber in November last year. It is the case of a returned serviceman who is suffering from hypertension. All that he is asking for is recognition that his disability is war caused. He will not seek a pension, because he is working. The evidence lo support his claim comes from the only two doctors who have examined him. One is Dr Wilson from the Repatriation Department in Adelaide, and the other is Mr Ey, who is a hypertension specialist. At one time the medical belief was that hypertension was hereditary, but today the medical belief is changing. Hypertension need not of necessity be hereditary, but can have some other cause and can occur some time, after the event that caused it. In the case thai went to the tribunal, which I will cite, the family history of the claimant indicates that it was not hereditary. The family history shows no trace of it in the parents, sisters and brothers of the claimant. Both doctors say that they do not know the cause, but it could bc war caused.
The claimant was a member of the Royal Australian Navy during the last war. The hypertension could result from a state of anxiety incurred during his service. The history of his service shows periods during which the anxiety must have been great. He was on a ship which was under attack from enemy bombers. He was a boiler attendant down below, where it was hot. His mother died during his period of service and he was refused leave lo attend the funeral. All these factors had an effect upon him. Section 47 of the Aci refers to a ‘fact, matter, cause or circumstance’. The applicant was entitled to a decision unless someone could produce proof to upset the opinions given by the two doctors. No other medical witness gave evidence during th c hearing. Whoever had the responsibility of disproving the claim - and under the Act the responsibility is on someone to disprove it - had to do so without any alternative medical evidence because none was presented. There was a responsibility to prove that the certificates or the opinions of Dr Wilson and Mr Ey were incorrect, hut they were not called as witnesses for the purpose of examination to test whether their opinions were correct. 1 referred the matter to the Minister. At all times the Minister has been prepared to listen lo arguments. As he said today, he upholds (he decisions of his tribunals and has confidence in them. My claim is that they are nol giving the benefit of the section to the applicants. I do not think the 2158I/6R- .v- fill members of the tribunals understand the section. I told the Minister that this man, before any judicial tribunal in Australia, could establish his case under section 47 and prove his claim to entitlement. The Minister replied:
Your basic point is that, because a non-medical tribunal has taken a decision as to the relevance of medical evidence from medical experts, the repatriation legislation and machinery should be condemned.
I have never said that it should be condemned. I have high praise for section 47, properly applied. I say that some other tribunal should be able to hear an appeal. The Minister’s reply continued:
You say further that this and other cases would succeed before a judicial tribunal.
Whether or nol a judicial tribunal (by which I take you lo mean a tribunal comprising members of the legal profession) would have reached a different decision can only be a matter for speculation. However, you may not have appreciated that a judicial tribunal would itself be a non-medical tribunal, and thus, 1 should think, open to the same criticism in principle which you apply to (he non-medical repatriation tribunal. Indeed, it is by no means unusual for judicial tribunals to be faced with the need to make decisions about the relevance and weight to be attached to expert evidence on technical matters in which they themselves have no expertise.
That shows a complete lack of knowledge of the operation of a judicial tribunal. Every day of the week judicial tribunals determine the value lo be placed on medical evidence in compensation claims resulting from road accidents. Such tribunals are constituted by men who have been trained to evaluate evidence. They do not substitute their opinions for medical opinions.
– lt is called establishing the weight.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
Senator McKELLAR (New South Wales - Minister for Repatriation) ‘5.6] - I propose to answer some questions, while I have the answers reasonably fresh in my mind, before more questions are asked. Senator Mulvihills final question was in relation to the number of people who received pensions from different governments, one pension being offset against the other. lt is true that some people are receiving such pensions, f. do not know the circumstances. The number is not very great, but there are some. Senator Marriott mentioned drugs. Also he raised a question about payments to the Returned Services League by the Repatriation Department. The payments were for the purpose of assisting certain members of the RSL to obtain employment. The only condition imposed on the payments is that the RSL provide the Department with information and statistics as to the nature of the activities of persons assisted and the results obtained. I am informed that each incoming Minister has reviewed the need for this grant. We all have been of the same opinion, that we should continue the work that has been done in this connection.
Senator Marriott also referred to the cost of medicines. These are very costly. 1 think they cost something like $lm for 12 months. 1 remind him that the repatriation hospitals have had approximately 60,000 in-patients during the 12 months. Because of the large number of patients I think it is understandable that this sum is expended. In addition to the 60,000 patients in our hospitals, there are patients in hospitals other than repatriation hospitals and there are out-patients who need medicines. When I visit repatriation hospitals 1 look mi the stores section. One, two or more people may be employed there. Being a layman, I would not have any idea of the types of drugs that should be stocked. It always seems to me that the medicine cabinets are well kept and well stocked. The stocks seem to bc fairly adequate. A hospital like the Concord hospital, which has about 1,500 beds, needs a fairly large stock of medicines on hand. On any given day there are approximately 3.000 patients in repatriation hospitals throughout Australia. When we look at these figures we realise that a large stock of medicines is needed.
In the case of obsolete stores - some medicines would come under this heading, 1 should imagine - from time to time permission is asked to write them off. I always examine very closely such requests, as I examine requests to purchase foodstuffs, having regard to the period for which they are needed. If I have any doubt or if there seems to be any discrepancy I ask for details before I authorise the writing-off or the purchasing, as the case may be. T remind Senator Marriott that the drugs used for patients in repatriation hospitals come under Division 462, not Division 466. II is expected that during the coming year the cost of such drugs will be about Jim. Our system of ordering ensures that the drugs are not wasted. The contracts drawn up with suppliers provide for escape clauses in appropriate circumstances. It is possible therefore to provide up to date drugs in all circumstances.
I wish to mention that not only do we provide up to date drugs but also we provide in our repatriation hospitals treatment that we feel is as modern as we can possibly get. We have in our hospitals some of the most modern departments that are to be found in any hospital in Australia. We are continually improving this position. I hope that these are matters which honourable senators will bear in mind. The fact that large expenditures are incurred through the provisions of drugs and the upkeep of our hospitals only goes to show that repatriation is not simply a matter of the payment of pensions. This is something that I try to hammer home on many occasions because it is the truth.
Senator Cavanagh and 1 always seem to agree to differ. We cannot do anything else regarding some of the cases which he brings to me because he seems to get quite a few tough cases. I think the honourable senator realises that I have done my best in regard to them. I wish to express my appreciation of the manner in which he handles his cases. I think that the honourable senator does realise thai I speak the truth when I say that I do my best. The honourable senator has a different idea as to the workings of some of our determining authorities from the idea that I have. I wish- to remind him on the subject of the onus of proof, about which he and I have often had discussions, that the relevant provisions in this respect are to be found in section 47 of the Repatriation Act, as the honourable senator mentioned. The first provision of this nature was introduced in 1929 and amendments were carried in 1934 and 1940. 1 think Senator Cavanagh knows these facts.
The law is clear and has been explained to the Parliament by two former AttorneysGeneral, Senator Spicer, as he then was, and Sir Garfield Barwick. Shortly, the law states that claims and appeals are to be decided according to natural justice and according to the merits of each case and that the determining authorities are not to be bound by technicalities, legal forms or the laws of evidence. While I am thinking of it, might I interpose here that the honourable senator referred to the words ‘substantial justice’. In very many of the letters that I send out this phrase is used. When I first came across it, I thought: ‘What is this “ substantial justice “?’ I said: ‘It is cither justice or it is not’. I did not like this expression. I made inquiries and I found that the use of the words ‘substantial justice’ does mean that one can draw on the fact that this justice is not strictly according to law. It gives the determining authorities the benefit of seeing that substantial justice is arrived at in the claimant’s favour, mark you, and not in any other form. That is why these words ‘substantial justice’ are used. I can assure the Committee and Senator Cavanagh that the position as I have outlined i! is true.
I come back to the ruling that has been given. It provides that a claimant or an appellant is to be given the benefit of any doubt and that all reasonable inferences are to be drawn in his favour to the exclusion of any other inferences. Finally, a claimant or an appellant does not have to prove his case but the determining authority is to allow a case unless the Commonwealth proves to it that the claim should not be allowed. Where any doubt exists in the mind of the determining authority, a claim is allowed.
Members of determining authorities, Repatriation Boards, the Repatriation Commission, War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals and the Chairmen of the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunals are all ex-servicemen who have had overseas service. On each Board, the Commission and each Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, one member is a person selected from a list of names submitted by an exservice organisation, as Senator Cavanagh has pointed out. 1 remind the honourable senator that all members of an Assessment Appeal Tribunal are qualified lawyers. This provision ensures full and sympathetic application of the legislation. Misunderstanding about section 47 comes from persons who do not understand that the doubt to which the section refers, as 1 said earlier, is a doubt in the mind of the determining authority after its consideration of the evidence in accordance with section
This is important. It is all very well for people outside these determining authorities to say that the position of a certain person is such and such. This person perhaps may go to his doctor and bc told that he has a case for the receipt of repatriation benefits. He may be told that he is entitled to a benefit or a pension. But the important thing is that unless one has all of the facts one cannot pass judgment on a case. Honourable senators who have been through these debates with me before know I have said that on many occasions there is a pack of files feet high when a case is being heard. 1 think that those words clear up most of the points that have been brought up to this stage of the debate.
Senator LAWRIE (Queensland) [5.151 - I wish to raise two matters, Mr Minister. The first is this: Inside the back cover of the annual report of the Repatriation Commission for 1967-63, it is stated that there is an outpatient clinic at the Taxation Building, Adelaide Street, Brisbane. On page 70 of the report we find Table 17 which is headed ‘Outpatient attendances 1967-68’ and in which it is stated that 34,185 persons attended this outpatients’ clinic in Brisbane. I presume that most of those attendances would be in Brisbane. I wish to refer to the position of this outpatients’ clinic.
Many of these outpatients cannot walk to the clinic. Some of them live in the suburbs. These people have to be taken to the clinic by Commonwealth cars. T am informed that this service accounts for a large part of the usage of the Commonwealth car pool, I understand, in all States but particularly in Brisbane. Until about one month ago, a loading zone was immediately outside the Taxation Building in Adelaide Street. A Commonwealth car could stop there and a driver, as in many cases he must, could help the patient up about 20 or 25 stairs into the foyer. The driver could assist the patient into a lift if he had to go to the top floor and might even have had to take the patient to that floor. Whatever the case was, the driver might have had to do this and reverse the procedure when he came to collect a patient and take him home.
The position has been completely altered in the last month or so. The administration of the city of Brisbane has removed that loading zone and has put in its place a bus stop. The Minister may say that this matter does not come within the control of his Department but I claim that it does because the interests of patients are affected very much. The position today is that a driver of a Commonwealth car. if he docs stop in this bus stop area in order to take a patient up the steps and put him in a lift or follows the reverse procedure when he comes to collect a patient, has committed an offence. If he cannot stop in the bus stop area, he has to compete for a parking zone, probably one that is metered, or park some considerable distance away from the Taxation Building. The distance can be as much as a block away from the building.
– The driver would go around into Wharf Street.
– Even so, he may nol be able to get in there.
– There is a space where he can.
– He has still to help the patient into the building and out again. This is so in many cases. This is something that I believe the Repatriation Department should look at. lt should clear the matter up because the area where the parking space was provided before was very convenient for patients. Something should be done about the matter not only in the interests of the patients concerned, but also in the interests of our Commonwealth car drivers in Brisbane. So, I appeal to the Minister to have a look at this matter.
– 1 certainly will.
– The other matter about, which I wish to ask the Minister is medical examinations, referred to in Division 460, subdivision 2, item 05. 1 would like to know why, when nearly all the other estimates in this subdivision have risen, the estimate for 1968-69 for this item is $216,000 as against actual expenditure last financial year of $235,000.
– I refer to Division No. 466 - Other Repatriation Benefits, and specifically to item 02 - Pharmaceutical services. 1 mention first of all. the annual report of the Repatriation
Commission for 1967-68 which states at page 19: . . pharmaceutical benefits prescribed by local medical officers for eligible departmental patients are dispensed by pharmaceutical chemists of the patient’s choice. Some 7,000 chemists throughout Australia dispense repatriation prescriptions.
An amount of $14,560,000 is appropriated for pharmaceutical services for 1968-69. Last year the appropriation was about $14.6m and the expenditure about $14. 3m. It is an item of very great significance in the scheme of repatriation benefits. When combined with the appropriation for specialist, local medical officer and ancillary services the total appropriated is about $24m. This represents a higher cost than the total administrative costs of running the Department. It is an amount nearly as great as the total cost of repatriation hospitals and other institutions. 1 wish to draw the attention of the Minister to the costs being met by the Repatriation Department because it has no better avenue to supply the needs of exservicemen for prescriptions given by a local medical officer than through a local chemist. Other honourable senators have drawn attention to the very high cost of pharmaceutical drugs throughout Australia. Recently in Tasmania attention was drawn to some of the charges made under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. In my view the time has come for the Repatriation Department to insist on joining with the pharmaceutical benefits scheme in having the needs of patients receiving Commonwealth benefits in various ways filled by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission.
Some drugs are available to hospitals in Tasmania through the Central Medical Store, a State instrumentality. I have drawn up a table of relative costs of drugs supplied to Tasmanian hospitals by the Central Medical Store and drugs supplied to the Commonwealth by local chemists in meeting the needs of individual ex-servicemen prescribed for by local medical officers. Tetracycline capsules, in quantities of 16, are supplied by the Central Medical Store to Tasmanian hospitals at a cost of $1.30; the charge to the Commonwealth Department of Health by retail pharmacies is $2.24, a mark-up of about 60%. Pencillin caupsules, in quantities of 16, are supplied by the Central Medical Store to Tasmanian hospitals for 50c, a price which would include a margin to cover administrative costs; the same product is sold to the Department of Health by retail pharmacies at $1.52, a mark-up of about 200%. Pholcodine linctus supplied to Tasmanian hospitals at 15c is sold to the Commonwealth Department of Health at $1.06, a mark-up of about 600%. Frusemide, a diuretic, sold for $3.01 to Tasmanian hospitals, is sold for $4.74 to the Department of Health, a mark-up of about 60%. Amylobarbitone tablets - 50 milligrams - in quantities of 100, sold for 15c to hospitals, cost the Department of Health 86c, a mark-up of about 500% . Prednisolone, sold for 18c to hospitals, costs the Department of Health $1.43, a mark-up of about 800%. Phenylbutazone tablets which cost hospitals 48c cost the Department of Health 97c, a mark-up of about 100%. Diazipam, which costs hospitals $2.50, costs the Department of Health $4.75, a mark-up of about 90%.
I have pointed out these discrepancies to highlight the alarming growth in the appropriations made annually for repatriation pharmaceutical services. The trend does not apply only to the Repatriation Department. It applies to many other organisations and instrumentalities for which the Commonwealth ultimately pays the bill. Very close attention should be directed to the costs of these pharmaceutical services because of the proliferation of chemists and the ever increasing costs of drugs. In my view a Commonwealth instrumentality should be set up to direct Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in the manufacture of drugs which are in the greatest demand. I repeat, drugs for which there are lesser demand could be manufactured by private industry. The drugs in greatest use should be manufactured and distributed by Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. There is no doubt in my mind that unless that step is taken the charges for drugs met by , the Commonwealth in various fields will continue to incease
I turn now to consider the appropriation for specialist, local medical officer and ancillary medical services. Local medical officers are friends, counsellors and guides to exservicemen suffering from war caused disabilities. Under terms and conditions agreed upon with the Australian Medical Association, general practitioner services are provided by about 5,700 doctors under the local medical officer scheme. Quite a number of specialists are also called upon to provide their services. In respect of the services of specialists there is a trend that should be very closely watched, not only by the Repatriation Department but also by the Commonwealth as it affects the national health service.
Specialists traditionally have been men with a considerable period of medical study and service. They have attended conferences, and so on, and have established a very high reputation. But there is a trend today for younger doctors to put up their plates and, as it were, to take people in off the streets. In a sense, these younger doctors wish to have their cake and eat it, too. They are able to classify themselves as specialists. 1 do not know what procedure is necessary for a medical practitioner to call himself a specialist, but because they are specialists they charge higher fees than local medical officers and these costs must be met by the Department. I believe that we are getting to the stage where a very close examination of this situation should be made by the highest medical authority, the Australian Medical Association, to see whether people who have set themselves up as specialists are entitled to do so. This is a very important matter. Under items 01 and 02 of Division 466 we provide for an expenditure of about $23m. As Senator McKellar has rightly said, repatriation is not only a matter of pensions.
In da wing attention to items 01 and 02 1 am prompted to remark that if economies could be effected in these items it would be possible for further concessions to be made in the repatriation field to those who really heed assistance. I do not begrudge the chemist his fair margin; he is providing a service to the public. I do not begrudge the fees that are paid to doctors; that is to recoup them for their years of study, their great skill and great knowledge. But, human nature being what it is and the modern economic system being what it is, the rat race has spread across the whole canvas of activity today. I believe that when this Department has to meet these quite alarming charges the very closest scrutiny should be directed to them. I hope that the Minister can give me an assurance that these charges have been under close review and that the Repatriation Department is making a relatively hard bargain with chemists, even through its local medical officers, to see that every cent that is allocated is well spent and that the main purpose of the expenditure, which is to provide the best that can be provided for exservicemen, is achieved.
The other matter that 1 wanted to raise is the ever pressing one that hovers about the lives of many people. I refer to the ever growing cost of funerals. It is most unfortunate that all funeral costs are increasing. The city councils which govern cemeteries are finding that their charges are going up. It is costing more for a service at the cemetery, more for an area for burial and more for services at a crematorium. Charges made by funeral directors are increasing all the time. This is an area in which it is difficult to do much. This is a sad time and a very delicate time for everyone concerned with the death of a loved one. Nevertheless, I believe that the amount of the funeral benefit which has remained at a fairly low level all through the years is totally inadequate.
– So do I.
– 1 think that some special consideration should be given to making this a more realistic grant to those who need it.
Order! The honourable senators time has expired.
– I have a simple question which I direct to the Minister. It relates to Division 462, item 02, which provides for extra duty pay. Does that amount include the payment to medical practitioners? Presuming that it does, in what circumstances do they become entitled to extra duty pay rather than to recreation leave beyond what they would otherwise be entitled to receive? What limitation is placed upon the taking of such leave? 1 would be grateful for some explanation of those matters.
– I want to raise some matters which arise under item 01 - Pensions and allowances for incapacitated ex-servicemen and their dependants - of Division 466. I am dis appointed to see that this appropriation is not larger than it is on this occasion so that we may grant to ex-servicemen from the Boer War and the Second World War who are aged more than 70 years free medical services irrespective of whether their illness is war caused. An examination of the figures indicates, if my arithmetic is correct, that the Repatriation Department as a whole over the previous year underspent its appropriation by about $2m. Under Division 466 which relates to other repatriation benefits the underspending was about $600,000. If we consider the number of persons over the age of 70 years who served in the Boer War or the Second World War we realise that the cost of providing free medical services to them would be very little compared with the $2m which was not spent in the last financial year.
Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes said in another place in 1965 that there remained 116.000 ex-servicemen who had served in the Boer War or the Second World War, but on 1 3th June this year, in a reply to Mr Calwell, we learned that the number of survivors is now only 91,500. So in that short period of 3 years there was a reduction of 24,500 in the number of persons who may require medical services. I feel that this is a gesture that the Government could make to these ex-servicemen. Tt would cost the Repatriation Department very little. I think it reasonable to assume that quite a large percentage of these persons would already be receiving these medical benefits free, that a large proportion of them would be age pensioners and receiving some form of free medical benefit, which I believe they should all be entitled to receive. So if we extended this benefit to all ex-servicemen who are over 70 years of age we would not be involved in a great deal of expenditure or enough to affect the Budget in any way. I feel that an appropriation of this nature would be a gesture that the Government could make in recognition of the service that these people have given and the age that they have reached.
Last year the amount appropriated for various medical services was underspent by about $40,000, and the amount appropriated for pharmaceutical services was underspent by about $334,000; Despite the fact that there was underspending in many of the appropriations, almost invariably additional amounts have been appropriated for the forthcoming year. I appeal to the Minister to have these benefits extended to the ex-servicemen to whom I have referred. I feel that they have earned them. For many years the Returned Services League has asked for the benefits to be extended through repatriation services and I feel that we should not wait too long before granting the benefits to the ex-servicemen concerned. According to the figures that I have cited and that I assume to be accurate, we are losing ex-servicemen of World War II at an average of about 8,000 a year. I think one can assume that this rate will increase as they get older.
I refer now to the provision for pensions and allowances for incapacitated exservicemen and their dependants, and in particular to recreation and transport allowances. 1 understand that despite the fact that transport costs have risen considerably over the years there has been no increase in these allowances for over 40 years. We all know the position in relation to rises in tram, bus and taxi fares. I think it is time we examined the allowances and brought them up to date. A letter that I have received from a member of the RSL indicates that these allowances were fixed first in 1927 at a rate of from £5 to £10, with a departmental officer having the right to determine the appropriate amount. I am informed that there has been no increase whatever since 1927. A world war has intervened, we have soldiers returned from the Korean War and we are now having wounded returning from Vietnam. If they are injured in such a manner as to make them eligible for these allowances, they are being asked to accept them at a rate fixed by a grateful government in 1927. If what I am saying is factual, now is the time to review allowances which have not been increased for 41 years.
– In reply to Senator Lawrie let me say that I will take up the matter that he raised concerning the entrance to our office in Brisbane. He sought some information in relation to item 05 of subdivision 2 of Division 460. The reduction in this item is due mainly to the fact that one of the war pension assessment appeal tribunals is not being reappointed. The reason is that we have overcome to a large degree the backlog with which we were faced. Therefore, we fell that it was not in the best interests of repatriation that we should continue with this tribunal. We are watching the position and should the backlog become too great and the delays before appeals are heard too long, we shall have to consider whether or not we should reappoint the tribunal. At the present time we do not think that we need to do this.
Senator O’Byrne mentioned the cost of drugs. The prices quoted for supplies from the Tasmanian Stores Board would be for large quantities in bulk. Comparable prices for supplies from local pharmacists would be for small quantities on individual prescriptions, for which the price would include dispensing fees, container fees, wastage factors and overhead margins.
– Are you happy with the situation?
– We call tenders for the supply of drugs throughout Australia. This is largely for patient service and convenience. Some of the drugs that we need we do not order in large quantities. In such cases we have to purchase in smaller quantities and as a result they are dearer. I feel that the system that we have adopted is the best that we can adopt in the circumstances. I can assure the honourable senator that the cost factor is being continually watched. Senator O’Byrne referred also to expenditure on specialists. I assure him that this also is carefully controlled. In the main, prior approval of the Department is required for specialist examination. In all cases reports of specialists after completion of the medical examination are scrutinised by a departmental medical officer. In relation to local medical officers, the Department carries out extensive checks of claims for payment in order to control over-visiting by doctors. Over-visiting on a minor scale is difficult to detect and we do depend to a considerable extent on the integrity of doctors. Only a small minority cause concern. These are very carefully watched. The honourable senator referred also to funeral benefits. As I said by way of interjection, I agree that the benefits are too low. It is. not my fault that this is so and I am still hoping that we can get them raised.
Senator Poyser suggested giving free medical treatment to Boer War veterans and people of a like age. I point out to him that this benefit is already being given to those who can qualify under the means test. What we have to do in relation to repatriation, as we cannot get all of the money that we require, is to look for the areas of what we consider to be the greatest need. It would be a bit incongruous, I think, to give free medical treatment to persons who cannot qualify under the means test and are in a position to pay, when by so doing we would deny finance for the provision of benefits to people who are really in greater need. When the day comes, if it ever does come, that we can meet the requirements of those who are in greatest need, this matter should be looked at.I appreciate all that the honourable senator has said. We are indebted to these people.It is just a question of the cake being only so big; I am sorry to have to put it in that way.
Silling suspended from 5.47 to 8 p.m.
– Pursuant to the provisions of Section 23a of the Commonwealth Electoral ActI present copies of the report, with maps showing the boundaries of each proposed Division, by the Distribution Commissioners for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia. Western Australia and Tasmania, together with copies of suggestions, comments or objections lodged with the res pective Commissioners .
For the information of honourable senators I also present a copy of a statement by Mr F. L. Ley. a Distribution Commissionerfor the State of New South Wales, showing his reasons for dissent from the proposals by the Distribution Commissioners relating to the Divisions of Lyne and New England, and a copy of a statement by Mr I. F. Weise, a Distribution Commissioner for the State of Queensland, showing his reasons for dissent from the proposals by the Distribution Commissioners relating to the Divisions of Capricornia. Darling Downs. Dawson, Fisher, Kennedy. Maranoa and Wide Bay.
Proposed expenditure. $298,247,000.
Proposed provision, $88,000.
– I refer to Division 460 - Administrative - and direct my remarks to the administration of the Department generally. I shall indicate by citing particular cases the callous disregard by the Department of the rights of ex-servicemen and women. Frankly,I cannot understand why the Minister is so extraordinarily unpopular because to me he is a decent sort of chap, a returned serviceman, and a person who would have a measure of sympathy for ex-servicemen and women. But for some reason he is particularly unacceptable - this may be because of directions by Cabinet or the Treasury - to the executives of ex-service organisations throughout Australia.
On one occasion we had a debate in this chamber on repatriation matters. In some measure I was sympathetic to the Minister because of the condemnation of him that was expressed at a social occasion. But it was a big issue and the Government would have been wise to investigate it in order to protect the Minister. I want to know why the Government, through its Minister for Repatriation, is unacceptable to ex-service organisations. Is it because there is an unsympathetic approach to the onus of proof provisions in the Repatriation Act which provide that the onus is on the Department in each and every case and not on the claimant? One has only to hear the stories of claimants and read the letters that they write to us to know that the Government shows no acceptance of the onus of proof provisions.
I believe that it is much harder today than it was some years ago to obtain a TPI pension or a service pension of any type other than the age service pension which, as honourable senators know, is awarded to men of 60 years of age and women of 55. Why has this occurred? Let me cite a specific case. An ex-serviceman has been accepted by the Repatriation Department as having hypertension - high blood pressure with associated giddiness. In his job he has to climb poles. He, and the department employing him. realise that he is a menace to himself when carrying out the duties of his occupation, but although hypertension has been accepted by the Repatriation Department there is no sympathetic appreciation by the Department of its responsibility. When one realises how difficult it is today for the ordinary person to receive a TPI pension one will see that the Department is completely callous in its disregard of the people whom it claims to assist.
The Returned Services League has been associated with and sympathetic to the Government for many years but for the :past 2 or 3 years it has opposed the Government to the extent that in the last Senate election - you, Mr Chairman, being an ex-serviceman will recall this - it sent out 500,00 circulars to the people of Australia condemning the Government for its unsympathetic administration of the Repatriation Act. The Government has no regard for ex-servicemen. Although there has been a slight elevation in payments in this Budget, for years there has been a depreciation in the proportionate value of the various service pension rates. These pensions have not been improved when one compares them with the elevation in wages that has taken place. Wages have been elevated much more than have service pensions.
War widows are not sympathetic to the Government. In fact, no section of the ex-service organisations in the country is sympathetic to the Government. Nowhere docs one hear praise of the Government. 1 sympathise with the Minister because I do not think this is a matter in his own hands; it is in the hands of Cabinet and, more particularly, in the hands of the Treasury. As everyone knows, the Treasury has a callous disregard for people when money has to bc distributed. We all know that it has a responsibility to see that money is spent legitimately and with responsibility, but it also has an obligation to see that money is disbursed in accordance with Acts of the Parliament of Australia. The Treasury has not done that.
I ask the Minister why the Department is so unpopular at present. Why is it so difficult for people to obtain a TPI pension and other service pensions? If we analyse the record we will find that more and more claims are being thrown out and, to an increasing degree, the onus of proof being placed on the claimant despite the fact that in the Act of Parliament which the Minister administers it is provided that the onus shall rest upon the Department. I think the Minister tries to do a sympathetic job but he does it in a particularly unsympathetic way. Why are so many claims rejected? 1 know people who have been affected. They are not my patients but they have told me their story. Their claim has been substantiated and their condition has been accepted by the Department as being due to war service but when their condition worsens their claim for further consideration in the matter of increased pension is rejected. I am putting that question straight to the Minister and asking why this occurs.
Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) [8.9J - Before the suspension of the silling I had gone to some lengths to give what 1 thought was a reasonable interpretation of section 47 of the Act. The Minister and I faced this question honestly but we seemed to place a different interpretation on the section. While he was upholding his tribunals, I expressed some doubt as to whether they arc giving the benefit of the doubt lo the applicant as provided by seclion 47 of the Act. The Minister seeks to support his case by quoting two opinions by a previous Attorney-General wilh relation to the application of section 47. Far be it from me to try to dispute any opinion given by an Attorney-General in the Federal Parliament; but I am wondering whether we may have been misinterpreting what the Attorney-General actually said. I think we are. If I am right in my belief, then that misinterpretation by the Minister of the Attorney-General’s opinion, when passed down through the Department to the tribunal, could lead to wrong decisions by the tribunal. In this way, the tribunal could be misled into applying section 47 in a way which was never intended.
The Minister has stated quite clearly that amendments have been made to this section over the years for the purpose of further assisting an applicant to establish his claim. lt will be remembered that I argued that there is no responsibility on the applicant to prove his claim. Section 2 of the Act provides that in all cases the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority who contends that the claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed to the full extent claimed. Therefore 1 submit that the very fact that an application is made is justification for the granting of the claim unless the authority can prove that no claim lies or that the claim should not be granted to the extent requested. The authority has to prove that. The only conclusion which the tribunal is empowered lo arrive at, if it has any doubt whatever on the evidence before it, is one in favour of the applicant.
I repeat that the opinion given by the Attorney-General as to the onus of proof is that when appearing before the tribunal the Commission has placed upon it the onus of proving that the applicant has no claim or that he has made no case for the granting of benefit to the extent claimed. If, in presenting its case, the Commission creates some doubt in the mind of the tribunal, if the tribunal is doubtful as to whether the Commission has discharged the onus of proof, then the decision must be given in favour of the applicant. I submit that that is the proper interpretation of the opinion expressed by the Attorney-General on two occasions. If the Minister, who 1 am sure has endeavoured to do justice according to his understanding of the position, can show that my interpretation of what the Attorney-General said is wrong, then my argument is blown sky high. My submission is that the only interpretation that one can give to the words contained in this section is that which I have put forward. If I am wrong, then it is up to the Minister to show that I am wrong. I submit that the onus is on the Commission to prove that an applicant has no case.
Let me mention one case in which 1 appeared on behalf of an applicant. The man in question was suffering from hypertension. Two doctors said that they did not know the cause of the complaint. His medical history showed that it was not hereditary. Both doctors certified that the complaint could have been due to war service. In those circumstances, and with the protection accorded under section 47 of the Aci. that man cannot fail to succeed in his claim. The. Commission, however, ruled that the medical reports should not be accepted. I submit now, as I did on the actual occasion, that the Commission could reject the medical report only for two reasons. One would be that medical evidence superior to that submitted by the applicant supported the rejection of the reports. Here, of course, we have a clear illustration of how much better it would be to have cases such as that determined by a judicial body in that such a body would be better qualified to evaluate the evidence submitted. In the case to which I refer, there was no other medical evidence. It could happen that skilled counsel could, by cross examination, get from the applicant’s medical witnesses an admission or a statement that could influence the tribunal against granting the claim; but in this case there was no cross-examination of the witnesses called for the applicant.
Of the two medical witnesses relied on by the applicant, one was a specialist in the complaint from which the man was suffering and the other was a doctor employed by the Repatriation Department. Both said that they did not know what caused the complaint but it could have been caused by war service. Although there was no rebuttal of that evidence, the claim was dismissed. I should like the Minister to explain to me how he could claim that that particular applicant had extended to him the benefit of section 47 of the Act. I submit he cannot show that the benefit of this section was extended to this man. I mention that as only one of the many injustices we see under this Act. I submit that the Government has a responsibility to rectify this matter. It has a responsibility to alter the Act either by including in it an instruction to those who comprise a tribunal as to what is the correct interpretation of section 47 or by giving the right of appeal to a judicial tribunal, to ensure that this type of thing does not happen again.
The Minister told us today that the Chairman of the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal is a legal man qualified to interpret the Act. He also told us that on it there are two doctors who are experts in the particular complaint for which the applicant seeks a pension. The Tribunal’s duty is to decide whether there should be an increase in the pension or whether, for example, the applicant should be granted a TPI pension, a ITI pension or an ordinary war pension. In the case in which I appeared, five or six doctors had expressed the opinion that the applicant was totally and permanently incapacitated. The opinion of those doctors was disregarded. The Tribunal said to mc on that occasion: ‘Mr Cavanagh, we do not decide the question on that basis. We have two experts who will make the determination.’ Those two experts there and then decided that this man was capable of employment despite the fact that his medical history proved that he was not. He was disqualified from receiving a pension because of the opinion arrived at by those two authorities in that cursory examination on that day. 1 suppose that they were sincerely of the opinion that he was capable of engaging in employment. I think the disability involved was arthritis, which affects a person to different degrees on different days of the week and at different times of the year. Surely if there was a judicial inquiry into the matters an assessment could be made on the whole of the evidence that was produced. Doctors making an examination on a particular day can never give the benefit of section 47 to an applicant.
While I say that section 47 is a good provision insofar as it is applied properly, for an assessment appeal tribunal to make an assessment on an examination without recourse to the whole record is wrong. My argument is that the benefit of the doubt was not given to the applicant in the case which 1 cited and which involved hypertension. Under the present method of applying the section, which is not the correct method, the benefit of the doubt cannot be given to an applicant. People may be contributing to the false application of the Act by quoting the opinion of a former AttorneyGeneral when that opinion was given in respect of doubt about the Repatriation Commission’s evidence and not about an applicant’s case.
Senator KEEFFE (Queensland) 18.22]- 1 wish to raise queries in respect of a number of points. I refer, first of all, to Division 460, which covers a number of items. The first subdivision covers extra duly pay as well as salaries and allowances. 1 will refer later to the appropriation for incidental and other expenditure. There is a jump from an expenditure of S 133,033 last financial year to an appropriation of 5192,000 this financial year. Dealing with the general appropriation for administration, 1 point out that many complaints in relation to pensions and allowances were not answered in the Budget. I do not propose to deal with those in detail now because 1 will have a later opportunity to expand on my views in that regard.
I refer again to matters that I have raised in this chamber before in relation to compensation for the youngsters who are currently being injured or killed in Vietnam. 1 have before me a letter setting out resolutions that were carried at the annual meeting of the Queensland Branch of the Australian Legion. One of those resolutions, which I believe should be included in Hansard, is in these terms:
That this annual meeting request an investigation of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund in relation to national service trainees. The trainees have recently been conscripted into a scheme at a cost of S5.13 a fortnight if single and $9 it married. Trainees claim that they lose money on the scheme.
The Minister will recall that in Mackay a considerable time ago he made a statement on which 1 based a question that I asked in this chamber. He very properly pointed out that this scheme had been introduced. I was critical of it at the time. I raised this matter in the Budget debate as a direct result of a complaint that I received from a young conscript who was then serving in Queensland. I do not think it is fair to the youngsters that they will not derive any benefit from contributing to the scheme. The scheme does not cover the overall obligations of the Government. I trust that the Minister will see fit to have a further investigation made of the scheme insofar as it relates to national service trainees.
I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me that the appropriation for incidental and other expenditure includes sufficient for the establishment of an office of the Repatriation Department at Townsville, in north Queensland. This issue has been a bone of contention and argument between him and me practically ever since 1 came into the Senate. Townsville is about 1.000 miles from the metropolitan area. There is no logical reason why a branch office cannot be established in the growing Townsville area. 1 would like to hear the Minister’s comments on the matter. M he has incorporated the cost of establishing such an office in the appropriation for incidental and other expenditure, [ shall have the honour of complimenting him.
I refer now to the appropriation for pensions and allowances for incapacitated exservicemen and their dependants. Let me quote another resolution which was carried by the Queensland Branch of the Australian Legion and which related to pensioners, including repatriation pensioners. It is in these terms:
That this annual general meeting of the Australian Legion (Queensland Branch) expresses its disgust at the paltry treatment of all pensioners in the 1968 Budget, believing that after years of service to Australia these people are deserving of better treatment and living standards than they now have.
A little while ago I heard my colleague, Senator Dittmer, refer to the actions of the Minister in regard to repatriation. Me was quite complimentary in his early remarks. He said that the Minister might be having trouble with the Treasury or some other section of government. When we are debating measures of this nature, it is significant to note the very small number of members of the Government Parties who sit in the chamber and hear the debate. That shows a complete lack of interest. I believe that it is symbolic of the general attitude of the Government to the whole field of repatriation.
– I believe that it is because some of the speeches are pretty boring.
– We hear bright remarks like that one from our friend Senator Webster, who is a member of the Australian Country Party. I thought he would have shown a little more sense; but apparently he finds the discussion of repatriation matters boring.
-(Senator Drake-Brockman).- Order! The honourable senator will come back to the estimates under discussion.
– I think Senator Webster was referring in an oblique way to the estimates, because he said he found the debate boring. 1 would like that to be recorded. I do not think we can emphasise enough the fact that pensions have not been brought up to the standard to which they should have been raised. That is one of the reasons why they are a continuing problem. On 1st May of this year the Minister, in reply to a question, gave the number of pensioners who, at 31st March, were receiving benefits as a result of service in Vietnam. I believe that it is very important that these figures be recorded in the report of a debate of this nature. The Minister’s reply reads:
At 31st March 1968, 1,698 pensions were being paid in consequence of Vietnam service.
Details are as follows:
So 1,698 persons - members themselves and their wives or widows and children - are receiving benefits as a result of Australia’s involvement in Vietnam. I know that when the occasion suits the Government it tries to brush aside the importance of the Vietnam conflict. The Government ought to be taking a very serious interest in that conflict now. The young people who are serving in Vietnam should be receiving all the benefits that the country and the Government can give them. This is not the case. The tendency on the part of the Government is to overlook such problems. On a previous occasion I quoted the name of the person who had the very dubious honour of being the youngest widow of the Vietnam war.
An anomaly exists regarding the benefits that ought to be given to returned servicemen in relation to sales tax levied on cars provided for totally and permanently incapacitated service pensioners. The Minister, in reply to a question I asked earlier this year, supplied an answer which was incomplete. The Government ought lo be prepared to take responsibility on every occasion when the disability of an exserviceman is in question. One part of the question I asked - and I think it is pertinent to this debate because it is covered by the division of the Estimates to which I have referred - was:
Are sales tax reductions on cars purchased under this agreement purely the responsibility of the particular dealer?
The unsatisfactory answer that I received was as follows:
The service pensioner deals, of course with a retail motor dealer and he looks to the retail dealerto sell at a price which does not include sales tax, A retail dealer who receives a claim for exemption from sales tax from a totally and permanently incapacitated service pensioner may arrange with his supplier either to supply him with a vehicle free of sales tax to enable him to fulfil the pensioner’s order or to credit him with the tax if the vehicle is one already in the dealer’s tax-paid stock. The dealer should . . .
It does not say that the dealer shall -
If a benefit of this nature is to be applicable to this classification of incapacitated service pensioner, there ought to be some standard practice, otherwise unscrupulous dealers will lake ex-servicemen for a ride, to use an Australian slang term.I hope that the Minister and the Department will look at this matter.
Could the Minister explain how the sum for miscellaneous expenditure under Division 466 was expended? So far as I am concerned, this sort of thing is a continual bogy in relation to most sections of the Estimates. Sometimes tremendously large sums are shown under not very informative headings. This is one such instance. The expenditure last year was $1,376,330. The appropriation for this year is $1,430,000. Admittedly the increase is not very large compared with other sections of the appropriations. Nevertheless the sum is a significant one.I think we are entitled to a clearer indication of how the money is expended and of the purpose of the bulk of the appropriation. In a budget of$298m for this Department it forms a significant part. I shall reserve my comments on a number of other matters until later because I do not want to overload the Minister’s intellectual capacity to deal with the knotty questions that I have outlined.
– I draw the Committee’s attention to the remarks made by Senator Wood when he was the Temporary Chairman last week. The Committee is now considering particulars of proposed expenditure. Honourable senators are able to probe particular items of expenditure.I ask them not to make second reading speeches but rather to ask questions of the Minister.
– At the suspension of the sitting I had still to answer Senator Poyser’s question about the recreation transport allowance. The reply with which I have been provided is that the recreation transport allowance is payable to persons whose war caused incapacity prevents or makes very difficult their use of public transport. It is designed to allow them to use hired transport, usually taxis. As I understand it, taxi fares have not increased to the same extent as have transport costs since 1927. As is the case with all other pensions and allowances, the recreation transport allowance is reviewed regularly. It is true that there has been no increase for many years. I do not propose to refer to those remarks made by Senator Dittmer that were of a personal nature.
– I praised the Minister.
– I do not suggest that the honourable senator was unkind. He is not usually unkind to me.I acknowledge that. The honourable senator is of the opinion that a totally and permanently incapacitated pension entitlement is harder to obtain now than it was some time ago. I do not know his grounds for that view.I do not think this is so. I do not think his contention can be substantiated on perusing the facts. To the best of my knowledge, those who are eligible for TPI benefits state their case, as is the normal procedure.I do not think they have any more difficulty in obtaining an entitlement now than they had some years ago.
Senator Cavanagh again referredto section 47 of the Act. He andI have had many discussions on it. He thought that the tribunals did not understand or were not carrying out the provisions of section 47 as was intended.I remind him that we have four war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals, comprising a total of twelve men. The war pensions assessment appeal tribunals are staffed by seven men. That is a total of nineteen men. I remind the honourable senator that these tribunals have been acting in their various capacities since 1929. I cannot accept the suggestion that the members are not fully aware of what section 47 means. These people, who are permanent employees, have been operating for too long for that to be so. How long has the honourable senator been exercising his interest in repatriation? I know that he has taken an interest in these affairs, but he has devoted a comparatively short time to them compared with the time devoted to them by these men who do nothing else. This is their permanent job. I cannot accept that they are not aware of what section 47 means. The honourable senator mentioned a particular case. I think he said earlier that he did not expect that I would reply in relation to the case of one individual. Thai is so. I am prepared to deal with any case, as the honourable senator acknowledged earlier, but I do not think this is the occasion to refer to a particular case. The honourable senator also mentioned that doctors might give advice on the condition of an appellant on a given day. These doctors are skilled in their profession. They would not be called upon to do the job that they are called upon to do unless they were qualified to do that job. I do not think that it is beyond the bounds of realism to appreciate that the doctors surely would take some notice of the fact that the condition of an appellant on a particular day might be normal. If the complaint is a spasmodic type, surely the doctors would take note of the condition of an appellant as it was affected by this fact. After all, the doctors are skilled in these fields. I think that here again the fears expressed by the honourable senator are unfounded.
I turn now to the remarks made by Senator Keeffe who asked questions concerning Divisions 460, 464 and 466. One of the things that the honourable senator mentioned was compensation for the chaps who are serving in Vietnam. The honourable senator made reference to some remarks that I made at a Returned Services League gathering in Queensland. The position is that the provisions of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund have been extended to the national servicemen serving in Vietnam. Previously, this had not been done. What is more important about this provision is that it has been made retrospective to the date of enlistment of the first national serviceman. What does this mean in effect? For all practical purposes, it doubles the amount that the national serviceman who is a TPI will receive from the Repatriation Department. The national serviceman receives almost the same amount from the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund as do other ser vicemen. This was the scheme which the Government decided upon instead of the insurance scheme in which I had taken some interest and on which I had spent a lot of time.
I think that Senator Keeffe also sought some information about incidental and other expenditure which is item 09 in sub-division 2 of Division 460. The honourable senator asked to be told the reason why the expenditure for 1968-69 is expected to be $59,000 more than it was last year. The explanation for this increase is as follows: Provision for the employment of the services of management consultants to assist in clerical work measurement procedures in the Department will cost $30,000. We have found that the introduction of this system has saved us money. This is why it has been introduced. While it naturally costs money to put this system into operation, we will be saving money in the long run. Increased freight and cartage costs due to general increased activity and rates, improved courier services in New South Wales and a new collection service for paid pension cheques will cost $10,000. As the full programmed reprint of departmental publications was not completed in 1967-68, a further provision will be required in the financial year 1968-69. A slight increase in the number of departmental pamphlets to be printed in 1968-69 is expected also. This will cost $8,000. The expected increase in compensation payments will amount to $3,000. Provision for increased repairs and maintenance of office machines will amount to $2,000 and $6,000 is appropriated wilh regard to increased provisions for armoured escort charges, staff advertising, transport and personnel expenses and fire prevention training. 1 emphasise that this last item is most important. This gives a total increase of $59,000.
The honourable senator also sought information with regard to Division 466, item 10, Miscellaneous. The appropriation this financial year is $1,430,000. This appropriation covers payments, under repatriation regulations, for recreational transport allowances, medical rehabilitation, funeral expenses, small business loans, educational grants for children under 12 years and reciprocal arrangements with other countries. The breakup for 1967-68 is as follows: Recreational transport allowance, $630,000; funeral expenses, $368,000. medical rehabilitation and provision of car allowances, $116,000, with $303,000 being provided for other educational grants for children, loss of wages and immediate assistance making a total of $1,430,000. I point: out that the items that I have detailed are some of the things that are never mentioned when the ordinary rank and file person talks about what has been clone in the way of repatriation. These are payments quite outside pensions. These are some of the additional benefits that are granted to people who are in need. I think I have dealt with the questions that have been asked to this stage.
– Mr Chairman, 1 wish to raise two new matters. 1 am referring to Division No. 464 - War and Service Pensions and Allowances. Before I deal with these matters, I wish to point out that the discussion that has taken place tonight only indicates the sort of queries which arise in the minds of honourable senators about the existing provisions of the Act, the onus of proof requirement and the other matters that have been complained about by the RSL. These matters should be taken note of by the Government. The Minister for Repatriation, after the debates that have taken place in the Senate recently, should have sent these questions back to the Repatriation Department and the Repatriation Commission and asked for their opinions of the troubles that have arisen in regard to these matters. Maybe we can discuss these things at a later stage.
The question that 1 am interested in is the matter of representations which were made to the Minister by members of the Federated TB Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Association of Australia about the automatic acceptance of tuberculosis in respect of servicemen who are now serving in Vietnam. 1 remind the Minister of the position of which I think he is well aware. Under the Repatriation Act at the present time, section 73 (3) provides for the acceptance automatically of tuberculosis with regard to people who have served in a theatre of war. Representations have been made to the Minister by the organisations concerned that he might consider the disabilities of those who are now serving in Vietnam as coming within the provisions of that section. On the first occasion that the organisations concerned met the Minister, he rejected their representations. An exchange of correspondence, which has been sent to all honourable senators, took place between the Minister and the organisations. Recently, the Minister pointed out in answer to a question asked by Senator Milliner that he was going to reconsider the position.
asked the Minister:
Will the Minister for Repatriation give favourable consideration to extending to Australian troops serving in Vietnam the benefit of acceptance of pulmonary tuberculosis as a war caused disability in accordance with the provisions of section 37 (3) of the Repatriation Act?
The second paragraph of the reply given by the Minister reads:
Approaches have been made to me by representatives of the Federated T.B. Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Association for the acceptance of pulmonary tuberculosis as a war caused disability. The position is very different from the circumstances of previous wars because the incidence of tuberculosis in those limes was very much higher than it has proved to be at present. The present thinking of my Department is that there is very little danger of our troops contracting this disease. One of the fears expressed by the T.B. Association is that although our troops are not so much in danger of contracting the disease at present while they are young, well trained and (it, it is possible that they could contract it in future years. If this proves to be the case, provided that it can be shown to be war-caused, naturally the servicemen concerned will receive the compensation due to them because they have contracted the disease. The latest approach of the T.B. Association has been somewhat different and I intend to examine it in the course of the next few days.
As the Minister knows, what he has said means simply that the applicant has to go through the very difficult process of trying to prove that the particular disease is war caused. We know so much about this matter from the discussion tonight and the discussions that, have taken place at other times. 1 cannot understand why in this day, when the annual report of the Repatriation Commission refers to the declining incidence of tuberculosis, such a strong stand should be taken up by the Minister against accepting this proposal.
I refer to page 29 of the annual report of the Repatriation Commission where it is stated:
At page 30 the report states:
Tuberculosis ex-servicemen requiring hospital treatment - the daily average number of patients in tuberculosis wards in repatriation institutions has shown a marked reduction. In the last 1 1 years the bed requirements have become less than onethird of the 1955-56 number.
The organisation gave evidence to the Minister of special medical opinion of conditions of servicemen now in Vietnam and the incidence of tuberculosis in that country. Its representations were rejected on that occasion and have since been repeated. On 8th August last the organisation sent letters to members of this Parliament asking them to raise the matter in the Parliament. 1 would like to know whether the Minister has 5’et made a decision on the matter. If the Minister has again rejected the representations, I would like to know his reasons for so doing.
My other question relates to the cost of the propos.il, raised by the Opposition on a previous occasion, that free hospitalisation be granted to veterans of the Boer War and World War I. The Minister will remember that (he Opposition in the Senate proposed an amendment to the Repatriation Act in order to provide for free hospitalisation lor those war veterans, as recommended by the Returned Services League. The RSL had formerly made its recommendation to the Cabinet sub-committee dealing with repatriation matters. That sub-committee had rejected the request. The amendment proposed by the Opposition met with a lot of objection on the score of cost. At the time the Minister estimated the cot of the proposal al up to Si Om, despite the fact that ex-servicemen of the Boer War and World War I are each year steadily decreasing in numbers. I would like the Minister to give a current estimate of the cost of such *a proposal. I understand that it has been examined again this year. I would also like to know the basis upon which the estimate was made and on what basis was the estimate tested within the Repatriation Department?
To sum up. I wish to know whether the Minister has made a decision in respect of tuberculosis incurred bv our servicemen in Vietnam. I also would like to have a current estimate of the cost of providing free hospitalisation for veterans of the Boer War and World War I.
– 1 refer the Minister to the Auditor-General’s Report for 1967-68. At page 211 it states that the number of repatriation pensioners feil by approximately 13,000 in that year. A high proportion of the decrease was attributed to World War II ex-servicemen. The number of World War I repatriation pensioners fell by about 5,000, and the number of World War II pensioners by about 12,000. The numbers of pensioners in other categories rose slightly. I would like the Minister to forecast whether the number of repatriation pensioners is likely gradually to taper off, or continue evenly for a time and then taper off suddenly.
At page 212 the Auditor-General’s report slates that the cost of the Soldiers’ Children Education Scheme rose by $256,179 in consequence of higher fees, fares, cost of books and equipment and higher rates of living and education allowances, lt states - and this is my point - that more children are entering the scheme and some are remaining in it for longer periods than formerly. 1 would like the Minister to tell me whether the number of children entering the scheme is likely to continue to increase, and if so, how long it is expected to be before the intake begins to level out and then to crop. Al the bottom of page 212 the report slates:
In one Slate 53,274.35 was recovered from two medical practitioners in partnership for incorrectly claiming for medical services, and for prescribing in respect of persons who were not eligible for such services at the expense of the Department. A total of $784.08 was withheld from amounts otherwise payable to a medical practitioner in another Slate following his conviction on a charge of having made an untrue statement in a claim upon the Department.
The local medical officer appointments of the three practitioners concerned were cancelled.
Although the report refers to a conviction of one medical practitioner it does not refer to conviction of the other two medical practitioners. Was action taken against those two doctors, or was the money simply recovered and no further action taken?
Senator MCCLELLAND (New South Wales) f8.56 - I wish to relate my remarks to the appropriation for the administration of the Repatriation Department. I propose to be brief. My main concern is the type of circular sent out to ex-servicemen after lodging appeals and having them heard by war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals. I will make a suggestion to the Department, through the Minister, that might be of some assistance to the Department and of great assistance to ex-servicemen in understanding the situation. Sub-sections (3.) and (4.) of section 64 of the Repatriation Act relate to the attitude to be taken by war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals after hearing appeals. Sub-section (3.) states:
K, upon the bearing of an appeal by an appeal tribunal, no further evidence is tendered which, in the opinion of the tribunal has a substantial bearing upon the appellant’s claim, the tribunal shall decide the appeal.
If the course of action set out in that subsection is followed, an applicant is eventually notified that no further evidence was tendered which had a substantial bearing on the appeal, and the tribunal then determined the matter. Sub-section (4.) states:
If, upon the hearing of an appeal before an appeal tribunal, further evidence is tendered which, in the opinion of the tribunal, has a substantial bearing upon the appellant’s claim, the tribunal shall again refer the claim to the Commission for reconsideration.
In other words, if evidence is submitted which, in the opinion of the tribunal, has a substantial bearing upon an appellant’s claim, under sub-section (4.) it is mandatory for a tribunal to refer the matter back to the Commission for further consideration. In that event, an appellant would be notified that the tribunal bad considered thai the further evidence tendered had a substantial bearing upon the claim and the matter was being referred back to the Commission. A stereotyped form of letter containing thai advice would be sent to an applicant.
A number of such cases which have occurred in New South Wales have been brought lo my attention. The appellants have been unable to understand why the tribunal should refer the matter back to the Commission. Generally speaking, in the first instance the Commission has rejected the application. An appeal has been lodged and further evidence heard by an appeal tribunal, which has expressed the opinion that that evidence has a substantial bearing on the appellant’s claim. An appellant in that position cannot understand why it is necessary for a tribunal to refer the matter back to the Commission which, in the first instance, rejected the claim. I suggest to the Minister and to his Department that when a letter is sent out from the appeal tribunal stating that it has determined that the further evidence presented has a substantial bearing upon the claim, the tetter should set out also that in accordance with section 64 (4) it is mandatory for the tribunal to refer the claim back to the Commission for reconsideration. I believe that if that short sentence were put into such a letter it would explain to the appellant what was happening. Frankly, a great number of appellants feel that something is being put over them when in fact the appeal tribunal is acting only as it can act in accordance with that sub-section. Therefore, I make that suggestion to the Minister and his Department in the belief that it will produce a better understanding between ex-servicemen generally and the Repatriation Department.
– I refer to maintenance of patients in nondepartmental institutions, which is item 03 of Division 466. The proposed expenditure for this year is $5,170,000 and the expenditure last year was $4,831,416. In round figures, the expenditure this year will be $338,000 more than the expenditure last year. This item is referred to at page 211 of the report of the Auditor-General which states:
Treatment provided in the Department is supplemented by the use of non-departmental institutions. Expenditure on the maintenance of patients in such institutions during 1967-68 amounted to $4,831,416 . . .
That is the figure 1 mentioned as the expenditure for last year. This item is referred to also at page 22 of the report of the Repatriation Commission under the heading Non-departmental Hospitals’. The report states:
During the year more extensive use was made of State and community in-patient facilities for acute treatment of all departmental patients and for long-term care of ex-servicemen receiving treatment for war-caused disabilities.
I would like the Minister to tell me what type of institution is being used and what type of treatment is given to the patients. Can he tell me whether these nondepartmental institutions are supervised by his Department? There is a reference to repatriation blocks at mental hospitals under item 01 of Division 885, capital works and services, in Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1968-69. The appropriation this year for this item is $88,000. Are we to gather from this that the Repatriation Department is building blocks in mental hospitals which are not attached to Repatriation Department institutions? Are these mental hospitals part of the non-departmental institutions referred to in the Commission’s report and the Auditor-General’s report? Does this item suggest also that these blocks cannot be built in the present repatriation hospitals but have to be built at non-departmental institutions? Are we to infer from this that we have not enough repatriation hospitals to serve the ne:ds of ex-servicemen who need hospitalisation at. the present time? 1 should like the Minister to tell me also whether the blocks that are built at nondepartmental institutions are staffed by Repatriation Department personnel or by personnel under the control of the nondepartmental hospital or institution.
Referring again to the Appropriation Bill (No. I), the total expenditure for repatriation hospitals and other institutions proposed under Division 462 is 527,797,000. The amount proposed for the maintenance of patients in non-departmental institutions, which is item 03 of Division 466. other repatriation benefits, is $5,170,000. That is about 16% of the total amount spent in repatriation hospitals and other institutions. 1 feel that this is quite a big percentage of the amount spent in repatriation hospitals and other institutions. Yet this amount of $5,170,000 is spent for the maintenance of patients in non-departmental institutions only. At page 212 of the Auditor-General’s report we are told why the expenditure on departmental institutions was higher, lt is stated that this resulted in higher charges for the maintenance of patients in nondepartmental institutions. Would the Minister please answer these questions because f feel that the amount spent on nondepartmental institutions could be more advantageously spent in improving or expanding our present repatriation hospitals.
– First I should like to answer three or four questions asked by Senator Bishop. He asked what the position was with regard to submissions made by the Federated TB Sailors, Soldiers and Airmens Association of Aus tralia which interviewed me here a few weeks ago and also saw the Government members Ex-servicemen’s Committee and, I understand, the Opposition’s Exservicemen’s Committee.
– They got a more sympathetic hearing from us.
– This is understandable, because the Opposition has no responsibility. If we were in opposition we would be doing exactly the same.
– And if we were the Government we would discharge our responsibilities.
– That is what the honourable senator says now. However, the position is that I can understand the fears held by members of the association. They are judging on the experience of men who are suffering from tuberculosis. They are inclined to try to forecast the sequence of events in Vietnam and to assume that it will be comparable with what occurred in World War I and World War II. However, fortunately the treatment of tuberculosis in Australia today has reached such a stage that, without any doubt at all. their fears are mainly unfounded. Although I am glad to be able to say that, I can still understand their feelings.
The position is that in Vietnam we have had one case of tuberculosis up to this point of time, yet I suppose among the civilian population of South Vietnam there is more tuberculosis than in many of the countries in which our troops were fighting in World Wars I and II. That we have had only one case of tuberculosis is due to several reasons. One is that as I understand it, a far closer check is kept on the health of our soldiers and the possibility of contracting tuberculosis is thus reduced. Further, there are now more effective preventive measures that can be taken to avoid contracting this disease. Therefore, we feel, on the best medical advice that we can get, that the provisions that existed regarding tuberculosis in World Wars 1 and II should not apply for those of our troops who are engaged in Vietnam. I will be writing a letter to the association in a few days. I do not think that the honourable senator would expect me to give an answer in this chamber until the association received my reply. This is only a matter of courtesy.
– Will you be saying yes?
– If the honourable senator waits, he will find out. Reference was also made to free hospitalisation for those persons who arc called burnt-out diggers. I replied on this matter earlier when the honourable senator was out of the chamber. Senator Lawrie asked a couple of questions. He raised one query about termination of the appointments of three local medical officers. He referred to the Auditor-General’s report, and asked whether the first two medical officers were prosecuted. Legal proceedings were not instituted against them because the Attorney-General, after carefully examining all of the facts and circumstances of the cases, considered that the actions of the medical officers concerned did not amount to fraud and there were no other grounds on which prosecutions could be launched.
The honourable senator referred to the fall of about 13,000 in the number of pensioners during 1.967-68 and asked whether this trend was likely to continue. There is quite a big decrease every year in the number of pensioners from World War I. When I first took over this portfolio there were about 108,000. Today, less than 4 years later, there are about 93,000, so honourable senators can see that there is a big fall in the number. On the other hand, pensioners from World War II are increasing. Our report gives a total of about 507,000 to 30th June, with a total of over 600,000 in the number of pensioners from the two world wars, the Korean War, Vietnam and special overseas service. I cannot see that we may expect any great decrease in the immediate future in the number of pensioners for whom we will have to provide benefits.
Senator Lawrie also mentioned the provision for soldiers’ children. This has proved most successful. Speaking from memory, about. 8,000 children are receiving education benefits from the Repatriation Department. We have been helped to a very great extent by people in all the States who have given up their time to assist in this work. As I pointed out before, padres, a woman judge, members of Parliament and other people in almost all walks of life owe their education to this scheme.
Senator McClelland came forward with a suggestion in relation to sub-sections 3 and 4 of section 64. Appellants today usually get good advice from their ex-service organisations. If they do not, it is the fault of the organisations of which they are members because, goodness knows, they do know the score. Senator Drury asked why we erected buildings in State institutions. Two of these come to mind. One is at Bundoora in Victoria, where only this year I opened two new blocks. We made provision for about 68 beds in very modern buildings. Bundoora is conducted by the State departments, which we reimburse for the services that they carry out on our behalf. The same conditions apply to Callan Park in New South Wales where I opened a block, 1 think last year. Senator Drury referred to money spent on patients in nondepartmental hospitals and the nature of treatment given. It is just not possible to treat them in repatriation institutions. A case that comes to mind is at the Claremont hospital in Western Australia, to which we send people for rehabilitation purposes. Having seen all of such institutions in Australia, I think this is the best. Our people go there daily to receive treatment in an endeavour to bring them back to their normal daily occupations. The arrangement is a tremendous success. Here again we dovetail with the States and reimburse them for their services. It is a very good institution indeed. I am pretty certain that we have made a film of it for the benefit of the other States.
- Mr Temporary Chairman-
– Mr Temporary Chairman
– Order! Calls are being made of senators who have not spoken since before the suspension.
– 1 refer to the provision for miscellaneous expenditure under Division 466. Prior to the suspension I raised this question in relation to Division 464, which provides for pensions and allowances for incapacitated ex-servicemen and their dependants. Since I spoke the Minister, in answering a question by Senator Keeffe, related recreation and transport allowances to miscellaneous expenditure. When I asked a question on the subject I expected a serious, considered, responsible reply from the Minister as to why there had been no increase in the transport allowances since 1927.
After the suspension the Minister dismissed my question in a few words. Basically, he said that increases had not been made in recreation and transport allowances since 1927 because taxi fares had not risen as much as bus and tram fares. Honourable senators deserve a more responsible reply from a Minister associated wilh the Repatriation Department. His advisers must find a better reason for leaving this provision unaltered for 41 years, lt is utter nonsense to suggest that taxi fares have nol risen as much as have hus and tram fares. I know what 1 am talking about, because this is a field in which I spent many years of my life: I happen to be an ex-tramwayman. I rode on a bus last week in the city of Geelong where I live, and paid 10c for a section for which I used to pay 4c. In 1940 a taxi fare for a journey from my home was V6d.: it is now SI. 20. So let us not have a supercilious argument put before us on such an important question.
One would think that it would cost the Government millions of dollars to give some justice to this section of the community. According to the annual report only 3,034 persons are receiving these allowances. The number fell by 30 in the last financial year. The total cost to the Government was $617,000. When one examines underspending in the various sections of the Department’s operations one finds that in one section alone it underspent Far more than that amount. I again appeal to the Minister to give a responsible reply to the Senate on the question why these returned soldiers, who are incapacitated to the extent that they cannot use public transport, have not received an increase in this allowance for 41 years. I suggest this is probably because there are only some 3,000 of them and they have no voting strength at elections. I am greatly disturbed at being fobbed ofl” with such an answer to a very serious question that I raised on behalf of 3.034 almost totally incapacitated ex-servicemen.
I refer to Division 464 and ask the Minister whether it is a fact that, in relation to ancillary services to ex-servicemen in this year 1968, he caused to be sent, or did himself send, a letter to local medical officers indicating that they had to cut back on chiropody services to ex-servicemen. This matter has been raised with me and there seems to be some indication that such a letter was sent.
– Over my signature?
– That is the indication in the document I have in my hand.
– Over my signal ure?
– The document 1 have says that I should ask the Minister for a copy of a letter sent to all local medical officers in regard to cutting down chiropody treatment, lt is stated that the letter was sent out this year and that this is another money-saving idea. If such a letter was sent I should like to know whether it was sent by yourself, Mr Minister, or by a departmental officer. What are the reasons for cutting back on this service which is so necessary, particularly to elderly exservicemen who served in the earlier wars? 1 would be very grateful to have answers lo those questions.
Senator ORMONDE (New South Wales) 19.23] - Some months ago - probably nearer 12 months ago - the Senate carried a motion supporting the idea that all exservicemen of the First World War who appear before tribunals should be given the benefit of not having to prove I hal their disabilities were related to the First World War. Honourable senators who participated in the debate at that time had in mind the small number of people concerned and the fact that the number was falling at the rate of 4,000 or 5,000 a year, lt was generally agreed - I thought the Government was impressed at the time - that exservicemen, at least those who were in the First World War and who now would be 70 years of age or thereabouts, were entitled to extra consideration when they approached the tribunals. My short query to the Minister is this: Did the Government take any notice of the motion that was developed and carried in the Senate when certain Ministers expressed sympathy with the idea? Since then has the Government done anything to arrive at a decision on this matter?
– r want to ask the Minister a few brief questions which require simple answers. This afternoon Senator Lawrie asked the Minister about the removal of the loading zone from the front of the Taxation Building in Adelaide Street. Brisbane. The zone has now been replaced by a bus stop. This has resulted in great inconvenience to repatriation pensioners who travel by Commonwealth cars to the outpatients section in the Taxation Building. Some of these people are in wheel chairs and many of them are on crutches, lt was most convenient for the cars to be able to stop immediately in front of the entrance to the Taxation Building. Following removal of the loading zone the cars now have to go around the corner into Wharf Street to park and patients have to go down a hill and, on their return, go up a hill either on crutches or in a wheel chair. This is a definite cause of inconvenience.
Have the Department’s administrative officers made representations to the City Council? In fairness to the Minister I point out that this situation is not peculiar to this location. Loading zones have been concelled in many parts of Brisbane, particularly in front of the Commonwealth Parliament offices, which causes inconvenience to members. Transport authorities which wish to deliver goods there and in other parts of Brisbane have been subjected to so much inconvenience that this matter is now the basis of a dispute between members of the Transport Workers Union and the City Council. I can understand the attitude of the City Council because for many years it has been deprived of revenue by the Government which has been in control of the Treasury of this nation. I can understand the City Council trying to preserve its revenue as much as it possibly can. That is why the loading zones have been cancelled and parking meters have been installed. 1 should like the Minister to tell me whether representations have been made to the City Council to preserve the rights of repatriation patients when attending the outpatients facilities available to them in the Taxation Building in Brisbane.
Senator Bishop raised the question of recognition, for repatriation purposes, of tuberculosis in servicemen reluming from Vietnam. Some time ago I posed a question on behalf of the people concerned. The suggestion was that there had been only one case so far of tuberculosis in a serviceman returning from Vietnam. We know that the incidence of tuberculosis in Vietnam is high, possibly higher than it is among the Arabs of the Middle East, yet tuberculosis is recognised automatically by the Department as being caused by service in that area in the First World War and the Second World War, and in martial conflicts in special areas. Why is there discrimination in relation to Vietnam? As we know, there is a substantial difference in the repatriation allowance to ex-servicemen and that paid to civilians. I cannot understand the difference in approach which discriminates against men who have served in Vietnam.
We do not know how many cases will occur. I do not know, and I do not think the Minister knows or that any of his advisers know, that tuberculosis is war caused. I think there was probably a measure of sentimental appreciation of responsibility in recognising tuberculosis as being caused by war service in certain fields of martial activity, but 1 cannot understand this grossly discriminatory approach of differentiating between those people who have served in Vietnam and those who have served in other war areas. What is the reason for it? What is in the letter that the Minister sent to the Association? I feel certain that he will be kind enough to tell me.
I have in mind the thousands of war torn bodies and war ravaged minds which are treated in repatriation hospitals throughout Australia and I ask the Minister to tell me just how much pure research is done on the clinical material available to the authorities, and how many medical officers and other ancillary Service personnel are engaged in full time research. There is a tremendous amount of clinical material available in this particular field. Because I do not think the repatriation authorities recognise their responsibility to the field of medical research, I ask the Minister how many personnel are engaged on full time research in this sphere.
There is another matter about which I have asked questions before and about which the Minister promised to give me an answer. Perhaps on this occasion he can tell me why there is discrimination against the female sex in relation to repatriation benefits. As the Minister knows, althoughthe mother or father of a son killed in war service may be in receipt of an age person, he or she still receives a special repatriation allowance despite the fact that neither the father nor the mother was dependent financially on the son when he lost his life during war service or at the time when his death occurred because of war service. On the other hand, the age pensioner parent of a daughter who loses her life at the war or whose death is due to war service receives no such allowance unless that parent was dependent or partially dependent on the daughter at the time of her death. Why is there this discrimination? It may be a relic of the olden days of masculine superiority, the days when there was gross discrimination against the female sex. But surely this Government and its predecessors have been in office long enough to have eliminated this gross discrimination. I have inquired of the Repatriation Department on a number of occasions, but no one there can tell me the reason for the discrimination. The Minister cannot say that he has not been asked about this before. I have asked questions, and 1 hope that he can give me an answer now.
The Commonwealth Government will not give equal pay to the sexes for equal work, nor will it give equal benefits to the sexes in the repatriation field. I should like to know the reason why there is discrimination in the granting of repatriation benefits. Why is it that the pensioner parents of a son who is killed at war or whose death is due to war service are entitled to a special allowance even though they may not be financially dependent upon the son at the time of his death while the pensioner parents of a daughter killed in similar cirstances are not entitled to this benefit unless they were dependent or partially dependent upon her at the time of her death?
– I entered this debate for only one reason tonight. That was to question whether benefits were being extended to exservicemen under the Repatriation Act in accordance with the intentions of the Parliament. The first point to remember is that the Repatriation Act is an Act which has for its purpose the granting of benefits. Therefore, if the Act is being administered incorrectly, so that certain eligible persons are deprived of benefits, then it is being administered contrary to the intention of Parliament and a disservice is being done to ex-servicemen.
I said earlier that I do not think exservicemen are receiving the benefit they were intended to enjoy under section 47 of the Act. This relates to the onus of proof. The Minister stated that the doubt had to be in the mind of the tribunal-
– Or the determining authority.
– Or the determining authority. He quoted the opinions of two Attorneys-General to support his argument. He argued that if there was no doubt in the mind of the determining tribunal no benefit could be extended to the claimant.
In reply to that argument, I quoted the wording of section 47 of the Act. I submitted that the only doubt which the tribunal had authority to take into consideration was a doubt which must be created by the Commission when opposing the application. The reply which the Minister gave to me on the second occasion was irresponsible and bordered on the offensive. This Parliament is being asked to appropriate some $300m for this Department and I submit that when someone raises a legitimate point the Minister has a responsibility to answer it. The Minister argued that because certain persons in his Department have been administering the Act for 29 years while I have been studying it for only a short period, those persons must be right and I must be wrong.
I do not hold myself up as any authority. I gave what I thought was a correct interpretation of the wording in section 47 of the Act. Surely those who are here assisting the Minister are sufficiently qualified to be able to advise him on these matters. I want to know whether the interpretation I placed upon that section of the Act is correct or incorrect. If it is incorrect, what is the correct interpretation? lust what power has the tribunal to determine this question? Can it only accept inferences?
The Act says that inferences must be drawn in favour of the applicant. To what doubt does the Act refer if it does not relate to a doubt created by those who oppose the application? It does not matter what has been going on for 29 years. The point is that if my interpretation of this section is correct - and 1 submit it is - then benefits that should be paid are not being paid to many people today. The Minister must have available to him sufficiently qualified assistants to be able to say whether my interpretation is correct or wrong.
I have already mentioned one instance in which although a man established a prima facie case for entitlement the Tribunal, without calling evidence to rebut that prima facie case and, despite the obligation upon it under section 47 of the Act to extend the benefit of any doubt to the applicant, dismissed the application. Why was the person in question deprived of his benefit? Was the Tribunal acting according to the provisions of the legislation on that occasion? lt is of no use the Minister seeking to shirk responsibility by saying: ‘Someone else has decided this and I am not accepting responsibility.’ The Minister has a responsibility to see that the Act is interpreted correctly and that everyone who is entitled to benefit under the Act receives that benefit. I repeat that if there is any doubt at all, the applicant is entitled to the benefit of it.
I have mentioned a case in which a person who established his right to a benefit has been denied that benefit. The Minister replied by saying that certain persons have been administering these provisions for 29 years and that is an end to the matter. Valid questions have been put to him tonight. No one doubts the skill of the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal, but has that body the right to ignore the evidence of doctors who arc equally skilled as the medical members of the Tribunal and who have submitted evidence establishing this man’s entitlement? Should there not be some basis for evaluating the professional evidence presented to the Tribunal? Is it sufficient to say that because two doctors who make an examination are of a certain opinion their evidence should be accepted, because they are skilled men, in preference to the evidence of five equally skilled medical men, as was done in the case to which I referred? Surely the applicant for whom I appeared is entitled to better treatment than that. 1 submit firstly that the benefit of the doubt was not given to the applicant. In view of the method1 by which the hearings of the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunals are conducted, 1 doubt whether the provisions of section 47 of the Act could ever be extended to an applicant. I repeat that the Minister has a responsibility to answer questions posed to him and not just to pass them off without any concern for the applicant because someone has been doing certain things over a long period. Is there any validity in the case I have submitted? If there is not. then let the Minister explain where 1 am wrong in my approach to the matter. If there is validity in it, then justice has clearly been denied to the exserviceman on behalf of whom I acted on that occasion.
– ] refer to Senator Poyser’s question related to recreation and transport allowances. I answered it by giving him the information that I had available. Obviously he is not satisfied with that. I wish to inform him that that is the only information that I have at hand at the moment. If he requires further information 1 will see whether I can obtain it for him.
He also questioned me about whether I had sent a certain letter. He was apparentlyquoting from a document, but he did not say who sent it. I understand that it related to local medical officers imposing restrictions on chiropody treatment. 1 questioned him as to whether he thought 1 had signed the document. I have no recollection at all of signing such a letter. For the life of me, I cannot think that I would sign it. .1 am informed that the central office of my Department did not send out such a letter. It is possible, although I am very doubtful about this, that some sort of letter in those terms was sent by a particular branch. I would be very surprised if a branch did send out a letter of that nature. However, I will make inquiries into the matter and see whether that happened.
asked whether the Government had done anything about a resolution which was passed by the Senate some time ago to the effect that First World War soldiers be accepted automatically for hospital and medical treatment. The answer is no. Senator Dittmer asked how many people were engaged full time in medical research. I think he will realise that the Repatriation Department has no charter to undertake pure research. We do have researchers in our hospitals, although on a limited scale. The Department does undertake a limited amount of research associated with the treatment of patients. The following reference is made to research in the annual report of the Repatriation Commission under the heading ‘Medical Research’:
In recent years the Department has encouraged a greater development of clinical research as part of its medical treatment services. The research programme involves a comparison of different treatment procedures, an assessment and evaluation of the results of treatment and the selection of the best methods of case management available.
A Central Medical Research Advisory Committee has been established to co-ordinate and consider specific research projects and to advise on policy. A Branch Medical Research Advisory Committee has also been established in each Slate to submit evaluations and recommendations on proposed medical research projects.
Among the many research projects now being undertaken throughout the Department is a study of chronic bronchitis among ex-servicemen. The study is aimed at analysingthe factors involved inthe causation of this disease and the efficiency of the various treatment measures, and is being carried out in conjunction with the Department’s automatic data processing team.
Another project where computer assistance has been employed is the evaluation of the results of gastric surgery. An investigation has also been undertaken into the long range results of kidney disease in ex-servicemen and research initiated into the management of patients suffering from certain cancers.
I think Senator Dittmer said something about giving preference or equal treatment to females. Unfortunately my attention was distracted when he mentioned this matter.
– The Government does not give equal treatment to the mothers and fathers of females who are deceased.
– I have not the answer to the honourable senator’s question at the moment. I will see whether I can obtain it.
– Will the Minister try to obtain the history of the matter and the reasons why the Government discriminates?
– All right: I will see whether I can obtain an answer to that question. Senator Cavanagh raised the question of section 47 again. I say to him, if he thought my answer was offensive, that it was not meant to be offensive at all. As I mentioned earlier, he and I do not see eye to eye on this subject. We never have, and I am coming to the opinion that we never will.
– Answer the points that I put. Do not evade them.
– The honourable senator has his view andI have mine. I am firmly convinced that section 47 is being observed. I say to Senator Cavanagh that I. do not think this is the place or the lime to consider individual cases. If he has individual cases and if he brings them before me. I certainly will have a look at them.
– I have brought them before the Minister.
– Well, bring them before me again. The honourable senator has the opportunity to do that. But I repeat that this is not the time or the place to examine individual cases. I do not think it is reasonable to expect that they will be examined on an occasion such as this. The honourable senator has his opportunity to bring them before me. I certainly will give him whatever assistance I can. The objections that he has raised and the views that he has expressed on section 47 over the past 2 or 3 years have been confined to three or four cases, have they not?
– They are the only ones I have mentioned, but I could mention dozens.
– I do not think the honourable senator could do that. Let us remember that about 10,000 appeals are heard in a year. How many complaints do we receive? We receive a few from Senator Cavanagh and we might receive a few from somebody else. That shows that on the whole there is no question that section 47 is being observed. When about 10,000 cases are dealt with, obviously there must be some cases in which individuals think that they have not received the benefit of the doubt. In the cases that Senator Cavanagh has mentioned, that is also his opinion. But let me say with due deference to him - here againI do not want to be offensive - that he has not had the opportunity to see allthe files that are available to the determining authorities when they make their decisions on these cases. I believe that, until he sees those files, he cannot rightfully say: This man did not receive the benefit of the doubt’. I know that I will not convince him on this point. He says that I have a responsibility to see that the Act is carried out. I recognise that responsibility and I endeavour to discharge it. He and 1 will not ever agree on this point. In conclusion, let me emphasise that there is no thought in my mind of being offensive to him or to any other honourable senator.
– 1 refer to the appropriation of $8,530,000 for specialist, local medical officer and ancillary medical services under Division 466. A non-soldier patient who decides to go to a medical man goes to his local medical man first and then, if necessary, he is referred to a specialist. In other words, nearly all people have to go to two doctors instead of one. As one who has paid a fair amount of money for medical treatment, 1 have always regarded that as an imposition. The scheme may be all right, but 1 have always regarded this requirement as an imposition.
– Bui the honourable senator has a suspicious nature.
– That is right. My question is: Concerning the appropriation of $8,530,000, in all cases in which a patient is referred from a local medical officer to a specialist will the Government pay the referral fee, or is there some sort of average charge over the whole system? In either case, I think the doctors are doing pretty well. Whereas in private practice a patient may not necessarily be referred to a specialist, is there an inclination in the Repatriation Department to refer patients to specialists automatically, thus involving a charge for two doctors instead of one. ls there any percentage relationship between the charges of the local medical officer and the specialist? ls a patient referred to a specialist automatically or only when it is necessary? A doctor in private practice might be inclined to say to a patient who is a basic wage earner: ‘I can handle this case. There is no need for you to go to a specialist’. Would the temptation be to refer patients to specialists or would departmental officers decide each case on ils merits and not on the basis that since the Government has the money to pay, therefore it should pay?
The sum of $3,100,000 has been allocated for the Soldiers Children Education Scheme, which appears under Division 466 also. When replying to another honourable senator on this side about the matter the Minister spoke of the people who had been educated under the scheme. He said that two had become politicians and that some had become lawyers. He indicated that the scheme was quite successful, ls it a separate education system or does it operate in conjunction with our general education services? 1 gained the impression, from what the Minister said, that ii was something special and distinct from the educational systems operating in Australia. Can the Minister also inform me whether or not nurses, medical orderlies, male nurses, and others in repatriation hospitals are receiving the increases in salaries that have been awarded to employees in public and private hospitals? There have been some notable increases in salaries and notable improvements in conditions because of the agitation of employees in public and private hospitals. Have the improvements in workingconditions and wage standards flowed through to the repatriation hospitals? If I remember rightly, the Department had difficulty obtaining nurses and nursing aidcs for repatriation hospitals because of some differentiation in wage standards. Will the Minister reply on that matter also?
– I shall now move the amendment which has been circulated to honourable senators. I move:
I want to speak only briefly on the matter because the discussion on the Repatriation Department estimates tonight has proved once again that the matter of repatriation expenditure is controversial, that there is a great division in the Parliament regarding the Government’s treatment of exservicemen, and on the way in which the Act is applied and whether it is applied justly to all people. There is a clear case for some improvement. Annually Parliament reviews these expenses, discusses the Repatriation Bills that are introduced and argues the merits of the rates of the pension and the effectiveness of the Repatriation Act to give the kind of justice which has been recommended by committees of review. On each occasion we find that Parliament considers that justice has not been done. In addition to criticisms in Parliament, outside Parliament in the public arena a number of exservice organisations, including the national organisation, the Returned Services League of Australia, which has very easy access to the Government, complain bitterly about pension standards and the effect of the Act. There is every reason to ask for a Senate committee to be appointed and that the committee should consider the matter. The issues were canvassed as recently as May 1967, when the Opposition moved such a proposition in the Senate, not in Committee. I suggest that what has happened tonight has strengthened the view that we and the RSL hold, that the Government has not changed its policy on repatriation. After the canvassing of the issues in Parliament I questioned the Minister for Repatriation on what he might have done. I received the simple answer: The debate took place, but 1 have not changed my opinion. I have not sent any issues back to the Repatriation Commission for examination.’ The Government’s own committee has not considered this matter, other than to discuss the amounts of pensions. I have stated that while pension rates have been improved slightly, they have not been brought to the standard of the 1920 base, which the national ex-service organisations have requested. I have pointed out that it is a long time since any review by a parliamentary committee has been conducted. The last review was in 1941. Some alterations, some review of the issues and some improvements were made. That was during the war years. It is high time that the Senate considered what should be done. It seems very clear that the Minister agrees that for many reasons injustice can be done to applicants who apply to the Repatriation Commission, and the various tribunals. Some of the reasons are that there is a lack of medical evidence, a lack of records, etc. The Minister has gone on record as saying that young people in the Services ought to pay special attention to ensure that everything that happens to them in the Services is recorded. If they do not do so the end result is that they do not get their entitlements. lt is no good the Minister saying that the cases are few and far between. They are not. Each honourable senator has had brought to him cases of ex-servicemen who have made application to the various repatriation bodies for their entitlements. For a number of reasons they have not received their entitlements. Many of the reasons are purely technical ones. There is no way of correcting this position under the Act. The Minister has made it clear that we can go to him. We do go to him. To be fair to him, he is courteous. Tonight he has made it clear that he cannot intervene in these matters. He can read the correspondence but he can take no action because of the operation of the Act. There is a great need for a Senate committee. I end on the note on which I began. These matters have been argued previously in the Senate. There is a need for a committee as proposed in the amendment that I have moved.
– I remind the Committee that at least twice in this debate the Chairman has told us what an Estimates debate is and how it provides the opportunity for honourable senators to ask questions and to probe the financial activities of the Repatriation Department or whatever department is under review. In a short contribution to the debate this afternoon I reminded the Committee that we were probing the proposed expenditure of $300m by the Repatriation Department in this financial year. Suddenly at 9.30 tonight, while the debate on the Estimates was continuing, rumours circulated in the corridors that the debate would not continue as a probing of the expenditure of $300m but would develop into a debate on whether or not a Senate select committee should be appointed to inquire into and report upon all aspects of repatriation. This, I believe, under the new leadership of the Australian Labor Party in the Senate, is bordering on opposition by deceit and opposition by surprise. It is taking out of the debate on the Estimates the correct role of honourable senators and is giving an opportunity to plunge not only the Committee but also the Repatriation Department into what possibly will be a party political wrangle. We are being plunged into making repatriation a political football.
This is all the more extraordinary because only at the beginning of this year when we had a similar debate on the appointment of a select committee of the Senate to inquire into repatriation the Government gave its reasons for not agreeing to the setting up of such a committee. Only the Tuesday before last when this sort of position., by surprise and deceit, was being foisted upon the Government did the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) - and 1 hope I quote him fairly - acknowledge that the Senate by a previous vote had indicated that it was at present, concerning select committees, fully if not more than fully occupied. That is why, in coming to that agreement and in reaching that opinion. 1 believe that the Australian Labor Party decided not to go on with the motions of which it has given notice calling upon the Senate to set up additional select committees.
However the Opposition, at 9.30 o’clock tonight in an estimates debate, has moved an amendment for the appointment of a Senate select committee to inquire into repatriation. The Opposition knows perfectly well - it has admitted as much - that the Senate now is fully committed in respect of select committees. Yet Senator Bishop now moves this amendment. I believe thai the Opposition has acted in a hypocritical manner. The Opposition knows that the Senate has not the manpower to handle such an undertaking or to carry out the work that this committee, if appointed, would have to do in the next 12 months to 18 months, if it were to do its work thoroughly, as would be appropriate to a Senate select committee. So, 1 believe that we can quite fairly say that the Opposition has made a count of heads and found that this amendment will be defeated, and that the committee will not be set up.
The Opposition cannot want this committee to be set up because the Leader of the Opposition has agreed that the Senate is fully committed with committee work. Knowing the vast audience of radio listeners that the Senate has throughout Australia every Wednesday night, the Australian Labor Party has decided to try to tickle the ears of the listeners by suggesting that in reality it is interested in improving the welfare of and increasing the benefits paid to ex-servicemen. All that the members of the ALP are doing is trying to make political capital for themselves and their party al a time when the Cairns and the Calwells are divided and we cannot see one for another and no-one knows what is going to be what. Honourable members opposite are trying to take the heat off themselves and are using the recipients of repatriation benefits for this purpose.
If the Opposition were sincere in its move and if it bad followed the normal parliamentary tradition of decency and fair play, the Government would have been told some lime this morning that this was the action that the Opposition proposed to take during the Estimates debate. But the Opposition wanted to catch the Government by surprise. It did not want the Government to pick its debating learn, ft did not want the members of the Government to be able to prepare their notes. The Opposition thinks thar it can take us by surprise and that its members can talk while we remain dumb and do not answer any points that they may make in support of their desire to have a Senate select committee appointed to inquire into repatriation.
Well, I want to tell the Opposition this: 1 first knew about this amendment at 9.30 o’clock tonight. Curiously enough, in tidying up my office only last Monday morning, I threw away the notes of the speech that 1 made when a similar proposal was before the Senate earlier this year. So, I will not be making the same speech again. But if the Opposition is trying to catch Government supporters by surprise, I am certain that we have not been taken by surprise and that we will be just as vocal as, but more sincere in our approach to this amendment than, honourable senators opposite.
Ex-senator Sir Denham Henty really started the Senate moving along the lines of being the workshop of the Parliament - to quote the words of my colleague, Senator Laught - by the formation of Senate select committees inquiring into subjects of importance to the people. These Senate select committees have been appointed to inquire not on party political lines and not into important matters of fiscal policy of the Government, but into matters of national interest and concerning the welfare of all the Australian people. The Australian Labor Party went along with this idea. It gave the impression, which now has proved to be a pretence, that it saw a new era dawning for the Senate when this chamber could become of even greater value than it was to the Australian people. Now, with its newly found possibility of controlling the Senate, the Opposition has wiped its principles and I believe that it has wiped itsthought of improving the role of the Senate by introducing motions for the appointment of select committees, which is what this amendment seeks, in order to denigrate the system of Senate select committees and play party politics.
I cannot speak for the Government. My judgment in this respect might be called into question. But if I had any power in government and if an Opposition carried on in this way respecting committees of the Senate, I would be very wary before I voted any funds for the purpose of the setting up of any Senate select committees. In other words,I believe that this larrikin attitude, which is purely and simply a party political attitude–
-(Senator Drake-Brockman).- Order!
– Mr Chairman, I rise to a point of order.
– I will hear the point of order from Senator O’Byrne.
– Mr Chairman, I draw your attention to standing order 418 which states:
No Senator shall use offensive words against cither Mouse of Parliament or any Member of such House, or of any House of a State Parliament, or against any Statute, unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal, and all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on Members shall be considered highly disorderly.
It is my point of order that Senator Marriott is highly disorderly in using this extravagant language in imputing improper motives to honourable senators on this side of the Committee.
– What is the honourable senator objecting to?
– Order! Senator Webster, you are out of your seat. You will cease interjecting.
– Senator Marriott used the word ‘deceit’ three times.
– The Chair was calling Senator Marriott to order just before the point of order was taken by Senator
O’Byrne. Senator Marriott, I want to point out to you that you must not tend to disparage another senator. I think that you were doing that.
– What was the word objected to?
– It was ‘larrikin’.
– I said ‘larrikin attitude’. If that is offensive to the Opposition, I will withdraw it. I will say thatI believe that the attitude–
– Do not bark.
-It is better than whimpering as the honourable senator does. [ will just say that the attitude of the ALP is such that what I have already said tonight will show plainly to the readers of Hansard, to the public who are listening in and to those who may read of whatI have said if any of it gets into the Press, what is the attitude and what is the objective of the Australian Labor Party in trying to set up a select committee of the Senate to inquire into repatriation.
The purpose of the proposed select committee, according to the amendment moved, is:
I hope that one of my legal colleagues will have the time and the inclination to look at the precise wording of that amendment and, with his analytical mind, explain to the Senate what type of inquiry the Opposition really is asking the Senate to appoint.I am a member of the Returned Services League. There has been a member of the RSL in my family since 1918. I believe that members of the League throughout Australia will not be pleased by the motion moved by the Opposition at this time. The only result it can really achieve it this debate, if the debate is prolonged, is to delay discussion of repatriation measures which are waiting to be incorporated in the legislation so that the increased benefits for repatriation pensioners provided for in the Budget may be paid. I do not believe that ordinary members of the RSL will give much credit to the Opposition for its action.
I am not claiming that members of the Returned Services League and other exservice organisations are fully satisfied that everything in the repatriation field is correct and that all repatriation benefits are as large and as fair as they should be. But I believe that a vast majority of ex-service men and women, and the widows and children of deceased ex-servicemen are satisfied that Australia has the most generous repatriation service in the world.
I assume that the time allotted to me to speak on this occasion is the normal time allotted at the Committee stage of debates. Had the Opposition moved its motion in the traditional manner 1 would have been allotted a longer time to speak and to answer the case of the Opposition. Senator Bishop has done a lot of speaking today. He has been through this exercise before and it must be getting monotonous for him. lt is understandable that he did not want to give full details of why the Opposition wants a select committee set up to inquire into repatriation matters. If my memory serves me correctly the type of inquiry to be conducted by such a committee would be in a rather different form from that usually envisaged, in that it would deal purely with financial aspects.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
[10.13] - I think it is important to answer the queries raised by Senator Ormonde. He referred to the appropriation for specialist, local medical officer and ancillary medical services. He referred particularly to the cost of specialist services. The information I have been given is that in the total appropriation of $8,530,000, $647,000 is provided for specialist services, $5. 5m for local medical officers and $1.7m for chiropody, physiotherapy, domiciliary nursing, surgical aids and appliances and so on. There is no question of automatic reference to specialists. Speaking generally, an ex-serviceman will go first to his local medical officer who may decide, as in the case of an ordinary member of the community, to refer him to a specialist, but in this case after approval has been obtained from the Department. In this respect due regard is paid to the opinion of departmental medical officers. As a general rule, prior approval of the Department is required for specialist examinations. The only exception is that in country areas a local medical officer has limited authority to refer a patient to a specialist for a single consultation under certain circumstances. The reports of specialists’ examinations are scrutinised by a departmental medical officer before payment is made.
asked whether the repatriation nursing staff receive the same salary increases as nursing staff in other hospitals. I am informed that there is a Commonwealth rate of pay for nursing staff. However, there is a system of allowances which gives the Department flexibility to match State rates where necessary. The honourable senator also inquired about the education system. As I recall his query, he asked whether the normal education system is used under the repatriation scheme. I am informed that the normal State education systems are used. Education boards take the place of the deceased or seriously ill parents and give guidance with a view to ensuring that the children receive the best education available within their own capabilities.
– Like Senator Bishop, I feel that the discussion on the Repatriation Department’s estimates tonight has raised a number of points. I particularly want to refer to a request I made for further details about the establishment of a branch office of the Repatriation Department at Townsville, largely because of its isolation. I did not receive a satisfactory answer to that question, or to a couple of other questions I asked. I do not think that is good enough for a department of the nature of the Repatriation Department which ministers to the requirements of so many disabled and ill people in the community’. 1 also feel that the only way to obtain justice for the people we are battling for is to support the motion moved by Senator Bishop that a Senate select committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon all aspects of expenditure on and in connection with repatriation and all other matters incidental thereto.
I remind honourable senators that amongst the points at issue are things associated in many ways with pensions - or lack of pensions - and medical treatment. Honourable senators will recall that a long time- ago the Opposition moved an amendment to the Repatriation Act to provide for free hospitalisation of veterans of the Boer
War and World War I. In fact, the Senate decided to provide such treatment for those unfortunate people.
I do not believe the excuse is tenable that the cost involved in providing such treatment is too great for this Government or any other government to bear. I would like lo know what Senator Marriott thought on the occasion that the Senate decided by a majority vote to provide free hospitalisation for those war veterans. The Government subsequently backed down and free treatment is still not provided, although a period of over 2 years has elapsed. Boer War veterans are only a handful of people in the community today. The numbers of World War I veterans are rapidly dwindling. Those veterans are suffering because of their inability to obtain proper medical treatment. The provisions in the Budget for war widows, wives of pensioners and their dependent children, war orphans and people suffering from disabilities that do not attract the maximum pension show quite clearly that they are the underprivileged section of the community. The Government has failed on every occasion, over a period of many years, to meet the requirements of these people. I see no better way of meeting their requirements than by having a select committee to inquire into all aspects associated wilh returned servicemen, particularly those who are badly disabled and in need of medical treatment.
– Has the honourable senator read the amendment?
– I read it out so that Senator Marriott would know what it was.
– Did the honourable senator understand it?
– 1 understood it completely; I read it out so that you would understand it. It was only for that reason that I spelt it out. ff the honourable senator examines the amendment in its correct perspective he will find that it is fairly wide ranging. In particular it says, and I ask him to listen to this:
– It is meaningless.
– It is not; it is meaningless only to those who do not want to understand it. 1 come now to some of the statements made by Senator Marriott in this chamber a lew moments ago. He talked about being a small boy of the Liberal Party. He made some shocking statements. He said that this amendment had been introduced by deceit. 1 respectfully submit that he fears that the Government has something to hide and that is why he does not want an amendment of this type introduced. I respectfully submit also that if any deceit has been practised by anybody it has been practised by this Government on all returned servicemen in Australia, lt ill behoves the honourable senator to refer to disputes in the Australian Labor Party when he can look in six States of Australia and see disputes raging between the Country Party and the Liberal Party. If it were not for those disputes we would probably have stable government and the underprivileged people of the community would benefit as a result.
– How can the honourable senator say that after we have been 19 years in government.
– I thank Senator Webster for that small interjection. When he is able to come back from Vietnam wearing a returned servicemen’s badge I shall listen to him. Senator Marriott, to whom I was referring a while ago, said in the course of his wild statements thai he felt that the Government was remaining dumb. In this he was right. He claimed that in his opinion members of the Returned Services League would give the Opposition no credit for introducing a resolution of this nature. He claimed also that, the Government’s repatriation system was the most generous in the world. I would strongly question whether it is the most generous in the world. Even if it were, this is no excuse for not giving the best to those people who were prepared to give their lives and health for this country. To give a further denial to or rebuttal of his statements, I refer to what was said by Sir William Yeo, the New South Wales State President of the Returned Services League. A report of his remarks appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald’ of 25th March 1968 in these terms:
If I had my way, they-
He was referring to members of the Government: arc the chaps 1 would flog, because they are recreant to everything that is clean and decent in this country’, Sir William said angrily.
As long as they sit and not light for their former comrades, this position will exist.’ lt was widely said that ex-service men and women had made a sacrifice for their country, Sir William told a ‘pension protest’ meeting.
Hut war widows and dependants of exservicemen had already made one sacrifice.
Now they are making a double sacrifice’, he said.
And so the article goes on. We have seen in these Estimates and in the latter provisions in the Budget the great disparity in pensions that has developed over a number of years of neglect, as a result of which the total and permanent incapacity rate pension lost about 20% of its value in relation to the basic wage. At one time the TPI pension was 101% of the basic wage, but until the recent increases it had fallen to about 80%. 1 refer now to the general rate pension for disabilities. We were told when we served in the Second World War and in the Korean war that we would be adequately compensated. 1 assume that the Government tells the kids going to Vietnam the same story. In fact the Minister for Repatriation has said this to troops on more than one occasion. He has said that they will be adequately compensated for any loss that they suffer as a result of their service for country.’ I suggest that they are not being adequately compensated. We find that the disability pension has lost the same amount of purchasing power, in present day conditions and because of present day inflationary trends in the economy, as was lost in the TPI pension. But the general rate pension was not increased; there is no provision for it in the Estimates, except in respect of a very limited number of people who are receiving a pension between the 75% disability rate and 100% disability rate. The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) was careful to point out, as was the Minister for Repatriation, that this would apply to a small number of people only. We were told that it would apply to some but not to all.
Regardless of whether the disability is great or small, if a sum is allocated weekly or fortnightly as compensation for injuries or ill health, it must be kept in proportion to the rising costs that we associate with our economic situation. But the Government has failed to do this. Not only has it failed on this occasion to do this but it has failed to do so for a great number of years. It has made no significant increases, particularly in the latter group of pensions. We hear much of what has been done for the war widows. I suppose the Government’s attitude in this respect is in keeping with its usual inhuman approach to most disabled or underprivileged people in the community. We have seen this in relation to social service pensions as well as with repatriation pensions. The Government gave a miserly increase to war widows on this occasion and shouted to the roof tops about how fantastic it was. But, of course, it would not grant retrospectivity and the increase will be granted in accordance with the horse and buggy altitude that has been adopted with regard to pensions in this and other fields.
I believe that our time is well occupied in debating this amendment and I regret that a Government supporter has suggested in a disparaging way that the Opposition has put up this resolution for political purposes only. I can tell him that that suggestion is quite untrue. Although members of the Government parties may not have at heart the worries of those whose health has suffered, or are not concerned about those who received war wounds in the service of their country, members of the Opposition are concerned about these matters. I hope that the amendment will be carried.
– Firstly I express my regret that earlier I omitted to reply to Senator Keeffe’s request regarding the setting up of a regional office at Townsville. My failure to reply was an oversight. I had made a note of his question but in replying I completely forgot to mention it. The position with regard to that office is still the same as when I replied to him on this subject some months ago. Consideration has been given to establishing a regional office at Townsville, but we have not had the volume of work - I shall put it that way - that would justify the setting up of an office in that area. The policy of the Department is against the setting up of an office unless there is a big volume of repatriation work in the area. That is why the Department is still of the opinion that the setting up of a regional office at Townsville is not warranted.
– I rise only because some of the statements which have been made by Senator Keeffe in support of the amendment moved by Senator Bishop appear to warrant some sort of answer. We have, of course, from time to time heard from Senator Keeffe allegations of the character that we have heard tonight - extravagant allegations of a general character not supported by evidence. In short, Senator Keeffe was saying that what is provided at the present time in the way of repatriation benefits and allowances is not sufficient. His expression was that we should give to these people the best. I would imagine that it would be the desire of every Australian, to the extent that Australian resources could afford it, to give to ex-servicemen who are entitled to these allowances the utmost that the economy can afford. Always with regard to persons receiving repatriation benefits, with regard to pensioners, with regard to other deserving classes in the community who, by reason of some special qualification, are entitled to some subsidy from government, there is the desire to give the utmost, but it must always be a question of what can be afforded, having regard first to the resources available and secondly to other priorities.
We have heard from time to time general criticism from members of the Opposition that various social service payments are insufficient. Tonight it happens to be claimed by them that repatriation benefits and allowances arc insufficient. If the Opposition were to have its way and were really put to the test in relation to the suggestions it makes, where would the money come from? We did not hear from Senator Bishop or Senator Keeffe tonight any suggestion as to where the money could come from. If we look at the matter that we are really debating, namely the estimates of the Repatriation Department, we find that this year the expenditure estimated is $298m, an increase of $26m on the amount expended last year. The Government therefore cannot be justly castigated on any basis that it is not keeping abreast of the requirements of growth and of the mild inflation which is part of our system, and making adequate provision for those who, year by year, expect their claims to be considered. We have in this Budget increases in the amounts payable to totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners.. There are increases in the general rate and intermediate rate pensions. There are increases in the pensions payable to war widows and war orphans. There are increased allowances in respect of attendants, clothing and education, and of course, because of the increase in age and invalid pensions, there is an increase in service pensions. In addition, there are other facilities for which provision, as the Budget indicates, is increased. These are all part of the estimates that we are now considering.
In these circumstances there is a general complaint by the Opposition which finds, expression in an amendment in these terms:
At the end of the question which is before the Senate these words be added: and recommends to the Senate that a select committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon all aspects of expenditure on and in connection with repatriation and all matters incidental thereto’.
It is a meaningless amendment. What is meant by ‘inquire into and report upon all aspects of expenditure on and in connection with repatriation’? If there is to be any point in an investigation by a committee there must be terms of reference. There must be criteria on which that committee is to judge. Nothing is achieved by saying simply ‘inquire into expenditure’. What is the committeeto look for? Is it to look to sec whether or not (he expenditure is in accordance with what is in the estimates? Is the committee to inquire as to whether or not the expenditure has been properly accounted for? These are matters which are just left wide open.
Of course, the Senate has available to it the reports which come annually from the Auditor-General. Under the Audit Act he has to report to the Parliament on matters with which the Audit Act is concerned. Likewise, there is provision for the Public Accounts Committee, which has a continuing obligation to examine expenditure and to ascertain whether it is in accordance with proper accounting and in accordance with what has been laid down or passed by the Parliament as appropriate expenditure. To that extent the amendment, if one can extract meaning from its terms, simply seeks to have a select committee do that which the Public Accounts Committee is doing. In terms of sheer analysis of the amendment, it is merely a political gimmick because it has no meaning to it. I ask any senator, and in particular Senator Bishop - because Senator Keeffe has now left the chamber - to indicate what is meant by inquire into and report upon all aspects of expenditure on and in connection with repatriation’? As the amendment stands at the moment it ought not to command any attention from the Committee, because it is meaningless.
Senator POYSER (Victoria) [10.35.1- f rise to support the .amendment moved by Senator Bishop. It should be clearly stated that the amendment has been deliberately proposed in these terms to enable a full inquiry into all aspects of repatriation. This has been requested by the Returned Services League and representatives of other exservice organisations for many many months - in fact, for many many years - because they are not satisfied with the performance of this Government. They have shown this in very clear terms in recent months. It was shown quite clearly when Sir William Yeo, who would not be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be a great radical, indicated in headlines and in statements that he would flog Government supporters who are returned soldiers because they have betrayed returned soldiers while sitting in this Parliament. He stated quite clearly:
The Government is reminded that the principle to bc maintained as a national obligation is one of fair compensation for incapacity, ill-health and bereavement. Ample evidence exists to support the unanimous contention of this meeting that in recent years the principle has not been honoured by the Government in office.
Senator Greenwood, to back his case spoke of some of the benefits that will arise from this Budget. He very glibly mentioned the matter of an increase in the general rate pension. Let him or the Minister stand in this chamber tonight and tell us exactly what that means. The most ambiguous statement in the Budget is this reference to an increase in the general pension. Some persons receiving from 75% to 100% of the general pension will get it and some will not. There is no explanation as to who will and who will not receive it. There is no explanation as yet as to who will be the arbitrator or the judge of those who have incapacity at that level and who will receive the increase.
There is no indication that a means test will be imposed. I challenge the Minister to tell the Senate whether he has in mind a means test for returned soldiers who are receiving from 75% to 100% of the general pension. If that is in fact the method whereby these increases will be made the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) should have made it quite clear in the Budget Speech. So the most ambiguous section of the Budget is the indication that certain persons, but not all, will receive an increase in the general rale pension. We have not as yet been told by any responsible Minister who will and who will not benefit from this increase. Let us cut out the nonsense, get down to tintacks, and come clean in relation to what ex-servicemen are to receive. There is no doubt that ex-service organisations are in revolt. Only this year the Victorian conference of the RSL carried a resolution of no confidence in the Minister for Repatriation.
– On quite unfounded grounds.
– lt was a unanimous decision arrived at by representatives of every sub-branch in Victoria yet Senator Greenwood says: ‘On quite unfounded grounds’. Was Senator Greenwood present at the conference? Did he take part in the debate? Did he hear the arguments that were submitted in relation to that resolution? If he was present, he should have voted against it. If he was not present, he has no right to claim in this chamber that the grounds were unfounded.
Let us go back a little further and see what the CTA sub-branch of the RSL in Victoria has to say about this. The subbranch wrote to all Victorian members of Parliament prior to the 1966 general election and the 1967 Senate election. In the 28th February 1968 edition of ‘Mufti’ there is a precis of the replies received from them. I shall choose the replies of only three because they are Ministers of this Government. Let me tell the Senate the views of those three Ministers on RSL matters and pensions and conditions generally. Referring to the then Senator Gorton, now Prime Minister of this country, Mufti’ says:
The Senator’s reply of the 26th October is merely an acknowledgment of receipt of our letter, but the sub-branch believes a look at his parliamentary effort will not establish he has been in favour of the League’s approaches in this regard.
The journal indicates a complete lack of confidence in the Prime Minister’s intentions to do anything for ex-servicemen in Victoria. The reply of the Minister for immigration, Mr Snedden, is summarised in this way:
Another reply from a senior member of the Government who is prepared to merge the pension entitlements with other demands. The sub-branch has tried to make it clear to Mr Snedden the League is entitled to expect priorities and preferences should be maintained in respect of these pensions before they become completely lost and submerged in, and probably overwhelmed by, other more recent demands.
This is what ‘Mufti’ has to say about the reply received from Mr Sinclair, the Minister for Social Services:
The detail offered contained a number of inaccuracies. Does nothing except endeavour to blind the position with science instead of admitting the position as it is.
Those are the views of the RSL which is the voice of ex-servicemen in this country.
– lt is one voice, not the voice.
– It is the voice of the majority of ex-servicemen in this country. On many occasions I have heard you, Mr Minister, extol its virtues and the work that it does in the interests of ex-servicemen. 1 venture to say that no-one in this Senate would claim that the RSL is not the voice of ex-servicemen so far as this Government is concerned because its representatives meet the Government’s committee in conference and they meet you, Sir, as the Minister in conference every year before the Budget is framed and submitted to the Parliament. They meet with representatives of the Government because the Government recognises the RSL as the voice of exservicemen. Because you now are at odds with the RSL you wish to deny it and say that in fact it is not the official voice of ex-servicemen.
At the repatriation level the RSL is accepted as the voice of ex-servicemen because it is the RSL which in the main supplies the advocates for ex-servicemen who appear before the tribunals, irrespective of whether the ex-servicemen are members of the League. On many occasions we have heard the view expressed in this House that the RSL is the voice of ex-servicemen. When that voice is raised against the Government you decide that no longer does it represent the ex-servicemen of this country and that some other organisation may or should do so.
Tonight this Committee has a real opportunity to investigate all the ills of the Repatriation Act. The problems associated with the RSL and its grievances are sufficient to warrant the appointment of a select committee. The RSL has real grievances because we have heard from Senator Cavanagh, Senator Bishop and Senator Keeffe, not only tonight but on other occasions, of many cases of ex-servicemen who believe that the Act is not being administered as it should be administered. The Act provides that ex-servicemen should be treated in a particular manner and we believe that they are being treated in an entirely different manner. .
I should like to hear evidence from witnesses before a select committee so that we could submit a report to the Parliament which would define clearly for cxservicemen, the organisations - representing exservicemen, and the citizens of this country the rights of ex-servicemen who have fought, for Australia in two world wars. The amendment is clear cut in every respect. It is not an amendment which, as Senator Greenwood has said, means nothing. It is an amendment which means everything, lt is an amendment which gives the broadest possible interpretation to the matters that the committee would investigate. If this proposal is accepted we will have a report before the next Budget. That report will enable the Government to’ submit a Budget which will cater for the interests of exservicemen.
– Senator Poyser has raised certain matters in relation to the estimates for the Department of Repatriation. In the first place, he said that the special compensation provision which has been introduced for the first time in the Bill that I presented to the Senate this afternoon did not make the position, clear. All I can .say to him is that he could not have been, listening to my second reading speech on the Bill because the speech made very clear what the special compensation was.
It sets out to give $3 to those receiving a 100% pension and the amount reduces on a pro rata basis down to those receiving a 75% pension. All ex-servicemen receiving between a 75% and a 100% pension, with the exception of those suffering perhaps from bacl eyesight, bad hearing or tuberculosis, will benefit. The provision stated specifically that those ex-servicemen were not automatically included in the special compensation rate but it also stated that they were not specifically excluded either. In those cases it would be a matter of individual assessment of their entitlement to the special compensation rate. That was made quite clear and all I can say is that the honourable senator could not have been listening.
He said that 1 was at odds with the Returned Services League. 1 deny that at the outset. I do not consider that I am at odds with the RSL. A motion was moved at the RSL conference in Victoria and 1 have received letters from representatives of some of the branches who attended. 1 will not traverse the matter but I strongly deny that I am at odds with the RSL. I also deny that the RSL is the voice of ex-servicemen. lt is indeed the main voice but it is not the only voice. Earlier tonight 1 mentioned some 16 or 17 organisations which had presented submissions to me the year before last on behalf of ex-servicemen. I do not know how many there were this year. 1 do not know whether the proposed amendment seeks the appointment of a select committee of the Senate. Can anyone tell me that? Let me say at the outset that if this is the usual amendment moved by the Opposition, one seeking the appointment of a Senate select committee, I am very strongly opposed to it just as I have been opposed to similar amendments on all other occasions. 1 oppose it because such a committee could not do the job which, in fairness to the Opposition, 1 think both it and the RSL want done. We have had experience of Senate select committees here before, and they have done very good work; but there is a limit to what they can do’ because of the time available to them to carry out the work that they are set up to do. In my view, the task of tidying up the Repatriation Act and going thoroughly into the question of benefits would be far too great for any Senate select committee to carry out in the time available to it. That is why I have always opposed such a committee and why I am still opposed to it.
Honourable senators have heard me say before that the Repatriation Act certainly needs tidying up. Additions have been made to it over the years and it has now reached a stage where it badly needs tidying up. As I said earlier tonight, I have made recommendations to the full Ministry in relation to the matter. I repeat, if the amendment proposed by the Opposition tonight relates to the setting up of a Senate select committee - and I do not know whether it does - 1 am strongly opposed to it.
Senator BISHOP (South Australia) 1 1 0.52 ( - I take the opportunity of saying a very few words about the proposed amendment, in reply to what has been said by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) and Senator Greenwood. The Minister has opposed similar amendments on previous occasions. I remind the Committee that on Nth May 1967 the Labor Party moved for the appointment of a Senate select committee lo inquire into all aspects’ of repatriation. The purpose of submilting this amendment in Committee is to make a recommendation to the Senate, f point out that the proposal reads: ‘Recommends lo the Senate. . . .’ Whatever we may do here will be only a recommendation to the Senate. Wc have no desire to impede the passage of the Bill. We have submitted the matter in Committee wilh a view to restricting the length of the debate. If we moved it in the Senate people would accuse us of delaying the granting of this expenditure.
The first proposal in the amendment is that the Committee should recommend to the Senate that a select committee be set up to deal with all repatriation matters. When we begin to talk about expenditure in or in connection with repatriation we must talk about the Act itself, about pensions, about the onus of proof and other matters that we have canvassed many limes before. I submit that the Opposition is being reasonable in that the proposal will not delay agreement to the proposed expenditure in any way.
– When did you make up your mind to move this amendment?
– Senator Marriott knows as well as 1 do that this matter has been debated not only annually but sometimes twice a year. Indeed, feeling about the issues involved is so strong that the honourable senator himself has been moved to rise lo his feet and put forward strong cases on certain points. Therefore, this must be a burning question to him as well as to us.
Repatriation is a burning question not only to ex-servicemen’s organisations but to those persons who are not getting the benefits they are entitled to enjoy. This proposal is not submitted as a political stunt. We all know that there is need of improvement. The Minister himself has admitted this need. He said tonight that mistakes are being made but he cannot rectify them because he has no power.
– 1 do not think I said mistakes have been made.
– You can explain it if you like.
– Be fair.
– I. understand the position to be that if I write to you about a man who has been refused a disability pension ail you can do is read the correspondence, ls that right? Are you prepared to go before the Chairman of the Repatriation Commission and argue that the man should get a disability pension?
– I will answer thai.
– I understand you can read the correspondence but, as you said before, even if you wanted to you could nol get round what you think is the real meaning of the Act. What we are suggesting tonight was supported on one occasion by a Government supporter who is now a Minister. The only reservation the Minister has about the proposal is that the job is too big for a Senate select committee.
A Senate select committee did examine the Act and certain proposed amendments in 1943. All we want tonight is what we asked for in 1967. We want the establishment of some sort of Committee before which people who have grievances and people who have a thorough knowledge of the Act as well as those who administer the Act can explain the difficulties that arise and the advantages that accrue from certain proposals. There is certainly a need for such a committee.
Both Senator Cavanagh and 1 have referred to certain cases of rejection of benefits. Every honourable senator has re presentations made to him about individual cases. I can name people who have won decorations but who cannot get a pension. I can mention one man who served in New Guinea in difficult jungle conditions and who, despite that harrowing experience has been denied any consideration whatsoever. We all know of many cases in which technicalities are preventing deserving men from enjoying any benefits.
We say that there ought to be some body set up to examine such cases. I remember when Senator Wright came down on the side of appointing such a committee. He said at the time that he was prepared to accept the proposition. At the present time, the Minister is unable to do anything to help us because he is hamstrung by what he thinks the Act means. We submit that his interpretation is not correct. The RSL does not agree with his interpretation, nor do a number of other organisations. They want the Act amended. This is a burning question. It is just as important as (he question of pension.
– There seem to be many things mixed up here. We have been concerned with expenditure proposals for the Department of Repatriation. Then: in the midst of all this, we suddenly find descending upon us from above an amendment which proposes the appointment of a select committee to look into the expenditures in various fairly ill-defined ways, lt does not say what sort of select committee, what it is to consist of, what its terms of reference are, whether it is to be a committee of the Senate or of the House. of Representatives or of both Houses or ,of neither House. We really could not vote on the proposal as it stands, because it is simply too loose. Really, it is obviously a .stunt. The reason for it, I cannot tell.
On many occasions we have spoken of the ability of the Senate to staff effectively with senators and members of the Senate’s own staff a select committee such as this. Surely we have argued this point fully many times. We on the Government side have demonstrated With facts and figures that the proposal is impossible. Our colleagues in the Democratic Labor Party have also mentioned the impossibility of doing this effectively. So it seems to me that in this proposal we have nothing more than a stunt, lt could not be anything more than that. IE we were to try to do it, how could we do it? How does it work? When do we do it? What are we dealing with? I suggest that it is completely irrelevant and useless.
I should like to turn my mind briefly to the question of expenditures for the Department itself. We have all been dealing today with what I call the revenue or expenditures of the Department of Repatriation. I am concerned to find out from the Minister and the Department something about the capital expenditures of the Department. 1 am reminded to do this because of the speech delivered by Senator Cormack during the Budget debate when he spoke of the responsibility of the Senate to have particular regard to capital expenditures, for which it has special responsibilities. I feel that, as we proceed through the debate on the proposed expenditures we might, as a group of senators, give a little consideration to capital works programmes.
– Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Temporary Chairman do now leave the chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative. (The Temporary Chairman, having reported to the Senate)
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman) - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– The late sitting last night deprived me of the opportunity to raise two matters which I believe are important. So I take the opportunity to raise them tonight. I am very concerned about the Government’s allocation of contracts to private firms to the detriment of possible government industry in one case and to the detriment of the taxpayers who have to meet the cost in another. 1 will be brief. Early this year tenders were called for rolling stock for the standardised railway line from Port Pirie to Broken Hill. When tenders closed it was found that the South Australian Railways workshop at Islington was the lowest tenderer for the manufacture of this rolling stock. The South Australian Railways has extensive machinery, plant and buildings for the production of rolling stock. At many times it is struggling to obtain orders to keep its men in employment. It was thought that, being the lowest tenderer, it would get the contract. But I am informed that at the insistence of the Commonwealth Government fresh tenders had to be obtained and that the Perry Engineering Co. Ltd of Adelaide, which was an original tenderer, submitted a fresh tender at a lower price in order to compete with the Islington railway workshops, and secured the contract.
I do not want to indulge in personalities on this occasion, but anyone who reads Hansard of 1962 will see that I pointed out that preference was given to the Perry Engineering Co. Ltd, or an organisation of which Mr Frank Perry was managing director, in the purchase of equipment for the mail sorting branch in Currie Street, Adelaide. I also pointed out Mr Perry’s association with the Liberal and Country League in South Australia. Naturally I will be asked: ‘Who is your authority for making accusations such as these?’ Let me state that I quote no less an authority than the Premier of South Australia, Mr Steele Hall, who replied in writing to the Trades and Labour Council. A deputation from the Council waited on the Premier or Minister of Transport in South Australia and complained about the. lack of work going to (he South Australian Railways and the curtailment of some services. The Premier replied to the President of the Trades and Labour Council in a letter which was dated 26th June 1968 and which contained the following paragraph:
With regard lo the Islington workshops, the Government has no intention of depriving the workshops of work which can be appropriately carried out at Islington. The recent instance of a tender being recalled involved a rail standardisation contract. This action was only taken at the insistence of the Commonwealth Government. This has recently been explained by the Minister of Transport to representatives of the Islington Workshops Industrial and Welfare Committee. lt may be too much to expect to receive tonight a reply from a Minister who represents a Minister in another place. But I give notice that I will insist on receiving an explanation of this action before I will be prepared to vote for the approving of the estimates of the Department of Shipping and Transport.
The other matter that 1 raise relates to the building of a satellite earth station at Ceduna, in South Australia. On 10th September the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) issued a Press statement which stated, in part:
The Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia) has let a contract for $538,450 for the erection of the satellite earth station building at Ceduna in South Australia.
The history of the letting of that contract, as I know it, is that the architects for the job - Brown, Brewer and Gregory, of Sydney - invited five Adelaide builders to lender for the job. 1 know that four of them were Fricker Bros Pty Ltd, Dillingham Constructions Pty Ltd, S. J. Weir Pty Ltd and Hansen and Yuncken Pty Ltd. There was one other. At the request of Rider Hunt and Partners, quantity surveyors, of Adelaide, that tenders should be invited from a wider section of the trade than those five firms, public tenders were called for the erection of this satellite earth station. When tenders closed a contract for $538,450 was let to Hansen and Yuncken Pty Ltd, a large building company that operates throughout Australia.
Among the unsuccessful tenderers was J. H. Evins. Construction Co. Pty Ltd, a quite large. . building contractor in South Australia. Mr J. Horton Evins is the President of the Master Builders Association in South Australia. His company submitted a tender of $498,000. T. T. Sheldrick Pty Ltd, another big building firm in South Australia, submitted a tender of a fraction over $500,000. D. G. Madin Pty Ltd, a big contracting firm in South Australia, submitted a tender of $480,960. Those figures show that three contractors tendered for the work at below the price tendered by the successful contractor. There might have been more, but I know of those three. The difference between the lowest tender price and the price submitted by the successful tenderer was $57,490.
– It was more than $2m in one case in Tasmania under a Labor government.
– The honourable senator does not agree with it, but because a Labor government is at fault he seems to justify this Liberal-Country Party Government being at fault. I am nol in the position of criticising a Labor government, but T accept the honourable senator’s capacity to do the job in his home State. I happen to be a member of this Parliament and I want to know why a government accepts a contract price that is $57,490 in excess of the lowest tender for the job.
It is reasonable to refuse lo accept the lowest-lender if, on investigation, it is found that the capabilities of the builder submilting that tender are such that it seems improbable that he could complete the contract, or if his price is so remarkably low that in the opinion of the architect concerned it would not be possible for him to carry out the contract. But in this case, if the lowest tenderer had the necessary capabilities and if his tender was not ridiculously low, in my opinion he should have got the contract. The two reasons that would justify accepting a higher tender price did not apply in the case of D. G. Madin Pty Ltd. Mr Gregory, of Brown, Brewer and Gregory, of Sydney - the architects for the project - visited Adelaide on 19th August to interview the people who had submitted or were considering submitting tenders for the job. The three firms that submitted’ prices below that submitted by the successful tenderer are recognised, prominent and capable contractors and do big jobs in the city of Adelaide. Horton Evins is President of the South Australian ‘.Master Builders Association. ‘ ‘ .
I do not expect the Minister to supply an answer tonight, but the estimates in relation to the Postmaster-General’s Department will be discussed soon. 1 demand an answer as to why the contract was let to a tenderer whose tender was at least fourth from the lowest.
[11.14] - Senator Cavanagh has directed certain matters, through me, to my colleague the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme). As the honourable senator would appreciate I could not possibly answer the points raised tonight. I will endeavour to obtain for him all the information that I can.
– Senator Cavanagh has raised certain matters regarding the building of rolling stock for the railway line between Port Pirie and Broken Hill. He charged the Commonwealth Government with interfering and not allowing the State Government to accept a contract submitted by a certain tenderer. I did not like his remark that the State Government recalled tenders because a very high ranking South Australian Liberal was the chairman of directors of Perry Engineering Company Ltd. The honourable senator must know that under the rail standardisation legislation the Commonwealth provides all the money, a portion of which has to be repaid to the Commonwealth by the State concerned. I shall refer to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) the charges made and obtain a reply for the honourable senator.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.16 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 18 September 1968, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1968/19680918_senate_26_s38/>.