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Thursday, 16 March 1961

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- I rise to-night to bring to the notice of the House the failure of the Government to fulfil its responsibilities in the case of an ex-member of the Women's Australian Auxiliary Air Force. This unfortunate woman has given me permission to mention her name in this Parliament. She is Mrs. Dorothy Gwen Betts, and she resides at 25 Moresby-street, Wallsend, with her husband and three young children. She is Australian-born and 35 years of age. Mrs. Betts is continually bedridden and suffers severe pain for which she receives injections almost hourly. During the day. when her husband is at work and her two older children at school, she has the assistance in the home of a nine-year-old daughter, who gives her injections to relieve her pain.

Mrs. Bettswas formerly Miss Fraser, and she enlisted in the Women's Australian Auxiliary Air Force in September 1943. She was in good health at that time and was eager to serve her country. She was passed as Al in health. In February 1945 she was discharged as medically unfit for further service. Her left thumb was amputated as a result of an accident in the service and she also suffered severe caustic soda burns to the left leg, on which skin grafts were carried out.

When she was discharged from the service the unfortunate woman applied for a repatriation pension, but this was refused by a repatriation board on the ground that the disabilities did not warrant a pension. She appealed against the decision and was granted a 100 per cent, war pension. This was later reduced to 20 per cent., without any reasonable explanation being given. The reduction of pension was made eight months after the pension was first granted, although no medical examination was carried out at the time. Mrs. Betts did not know her rights, and she simply accepted the decision. She has been cast aside by the Repatriation Department like a piece of scrap. She has become, virtually, driftwood in the eyes of the department. Through ignorance she erred in not appealing when the pension was reduced. However, it is common in this capitalist society of ours to find justice being refused the weaker members of the community. They have to fight for justice, and so, as I say, the treatment of this woman is not unusual. 1 wrote to the Minister for Repatriation on 23rd December last, asking him to have independent medical referees sent to this woman's home. Dr. Sullivan, of the Repatriation medical section, had recommended, some four weeks prior to my writing to the Minister, that the Repatriation Department should send two doctors to her home. As it was then the time of the Christmas recess I realized that there would be some delay. On 17th February the new Minister for Repatriation, the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne), replied to the effect that the matter was being further considered, and that a report from Dr. Sullivan and clinical notes from the various hospitals were being awaited.

This matter is urgent. I have been to this unfortunate woman's home, in company with the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), on several occasions. It is a tragic case. She is dying from a disease that has been diagnosed as dermatomyositis. She is weakening daily and will not recover, and in the twilight of her life, she is receiving no assistance from this Government. Doctors do not know the cause of this uncommon disease, and I am informed that there are only about 25 persons in the world suffering from it. Mrs. Betts believes, as I do, that the disease was a result of the caustic soda burns that she suffered in the service. She is now lying in her bed at Wallsend and paying £7 to £8 a week for drugs, and about £4 a week for doctors who are attending her. Her husband earns about £30 a week as an employee of the Electricity Commission of New South Wales. Mrs.

Betts stated, in a letter to me, that the disease has caused her to spend fifteen and a half months in hospital. She further says that for the last two and a half years she has been completely bedridden, unable to walk and able to move only with assistance. She says in her letter -

Unfortunately I am confined to the house and naturally cannot travel in any mode of transport whatsoever. The reason I am claiming an increase in pension, in my opinion the disease dermatomyositis was caused by the caustic soda burns and also could be attributed to cholera injections and other vaccinations received while in the services; that is the reason why I say it is a war service disability.

I appeal to this Government to do something for this woman, as a matter of urgency, if only for humanitarian reasons. It is a tragic case, as I have said, and the woman is getting practically no assistance whatsoever from this Government. I hope I never learn of a similar case in the course of my public life, but I can assure the House that I will continue to speak up in this Parliament if by doing so I can assist the poor, the exploited and the weak.

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