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Wednesday, 2 December 1936

Senator SAMPSON (Tasmania) . - We welcome the proposals contained in this bill because they further extend the privileges granted to ex-service men. The Government's decision that applicants for war pensions should have the right of appeal from the decisions of the Repatriation Commission to an independent tribunal was a very wise and generous one. The work done by the tribunal since its inception has justified its existence. There has been quite a lot of criticism with regard to the decisions of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal and great stress has been made of the fact that a large number of appeals heard by that body had not been upheld. We must coolly and calmly consider this matter and avoid the making of wild or loose statements. My own experience since 1920 has been that the Repatriation

Commission has always given fair and sympathetic consideration to the claims of applicants for war pensions. If that be so, it follows that cases in which appeals have been made from the decisions of the commission have already been thoroughly investigated and sifted. I am not surprised, therefore, in turning up the report of the No. .1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, to find that up to the 30th June, 1936, of 14,718 appeals heard by the tribunal only 2,699 were successful. I myself have appeared before the tribunal on various occasions to give evidence on behalf of applicants; in some cases I have represented them before that body. In all fairness I must say that my reception by the tribunal and the latitude allowed by it to appellants in order to bring out the salient facts of their claims, left nothing to be desired. The members of .the tribunal were at all times sympathetic. I say that without hesitation or diffidence. I have received hosts of letters from unsuccessful applicants abusing (that body, but I do not think that such criticism has been just. All the members of the tribunals were themselves soldiers, and, in the case of the No. 1 tribunal, all had long active service in different theatres of war, and the assertion that they are harsh, bigoted or unsympathetic is, on the face of it, not fair or even honest criticism. There must be quite a lot of confusion with regard to service pensions which are a recent innovation; the conditions governing them are liberalized by the bill now before the Senate. A good deal has been said during the debate on this bill in regard to the definition of a " theatre of war ". A number of soldiers drawing war pensions to-day never left Australian shores and lots of soldiers drawing war pensions served overseas only in Egypt or in the training camps on Salisbury Plains and other parts of England. The war service pension, however, is awarded only to those men who, though their health has been broken through their service, have been unable to substantiate their claims for a war pension before either the Repatriation Commission or the Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. An applicant for a service pension has to prove that he saw service in a theatre of war, and in this regard I listened with interest to the speech of Senator Hardy. The honorable senator is always worth listening to because he goes to a great deal of trouble and research in the preparation of his speeches. He dealt at length with the memorable march of the . men of the 4th and 5th Australian Divisions from Tel-el-Kebir to the Suez Canal, and complained that because the men who took part in that march did not cross to the eastern side of the canal they were considered by the commission not to have served in a theatre of war and to be therefore ineligible for a service pension. The point I wish to bring out, however, is that the men who took part in that march, and suffered in health in consequence, would be entitled to receive a war pension whether they crossed the Canal or not.

Senator Hardy - If they could prove their claims.

Senator SAMPSON - Of course. I suggest that practically every man serving at that time in the 4th and 5th Australian divisions did actually cross the Canal because the purpose of the march was to cross the Canal and to take up defensive positions seven miles to the east of it. Therefore, ipso facto, all, save a few who dropped by the way and were taken to hospital to recover, served in a theatre of war as defined by the Commis- sion.

My honorable and gallant friend, Senator Brand, made a plea for Australians who served in the Boer War. The various contingents sent by Australia to South Africa were recruited in the first instance by the several colonies, federation being not yet accomplished, and later by the Commonwealth. Immediately they, arrived in South Africa the Australian troops were taken over by the Imperial Government, by which they were clothed, equipped, fed and paid. The British Government was responsible for the payment of war pensions to men injured in that conflict, and, in fact, those men who did receive a pension received it from the United Kingdom. When the troops returned to Australia from the Boer War, there was, of course, no Repatriation Department in existence although various funds had been subscribed by patriotic citizens to assist them. Most of the men who returned in ill health had a thin time; they did not have the after-care which was extended to the men of the Australian Imperial Force. Extreme difficulty was experienced in fighting their claims for war pensions because of the fact that such claims had to be lodged with the British Ministry of Pensions 12,000 miles away. It is a long time now since the Boer War ended and the various associations of South African veterans scattered throughout Australia have found it increasingly difficult to look after their fellow war veterans, who, as a result of their active service, are now broken in health. We have from time to time endeavoured to get the Australian Government to provide free medical treatment for them. I hope that that privilege will be extended tothe small remnant of South African veterans who still remain alive. We who were their comrades in the campaign have endeavoured to help them from our own pockets, but the assistance that can be given in this way is not adequate. I endorse and most wholeheartedly support the request of Senator Brand that even at this late hour, 34 years after the declaration of peace, at Vereeniging, the Government should carefully consider the possibility of extending to South African veterans the privileges granted to soldiers who served in the Great War.

SenatorFoll. - Have the medical records of the South African veterans been kept?

Senator SAMPSON - Yes, but they are very difficult to trace. In 1926 I had a case which I took up with Sir Neville Howse who, being in England at the time, promised to give it his personal attention.

Senator Foll - The records were overseas ?

Senator SAMPSON - Yes. A resident of Hobart who enlisted in the Bushmen's contingent, made application for a war pension because of injuries he had sustained during the war. With great difficulty we were able to prove his claim. There have been other cases which have presented similar difficulties. One which comes readily to my mind is that of a man who enlisted for service at Launceston, Tasmania. He received injuries at

Rhenosterkop but was unable to substantiate his claim when he came back from the war. At that time there were no soldiers' organizations to look after the claims of applicants. Injured soldiers who returned from : the Boer War were treated in the general hospitals of the States and discharged from the army. I urge the Government and the Minister for Repatriation to give careful consideration to the claims of those men.

Another matter which has exercised the minds of soldiers and many members of this chamber is the position of employees of the Repatriation Commission. All members of the staff served overseas, and yet superannuation and furlough rights are denied to them. It is high time that these men were given the same privileges as are enjoyed by other members of the Public Service.

I.   have received several letters lately in relation to this bill. Some of them are anonymous and contain scurrilous statements and I shall not refer further to them, but I cannot allow to pass a statement contained in a letter from the Secretary of the Unaccepted Tubercular Soldiers Association. The writer says -

The Commission is wholly unsympathetic and mostly in opposition to the soldier.

Having been actively engaged in promoting the welfare of soldiers from the time that I returned from the war until now, I say that that statement is entirely without foundation. One has only to study the personnel of the Repatriation Commission to realize that. The commission consists of three men, all of whom served overseas. One of them is a limbless soldier, having lost his right arm at the battle of Lagnicourt. Another was badly wounded at Gallipoli on the third day after the landing there. The commission consists of men with distinguished war service. They are, moreover, honorable men, and it is a wilful distortion of the truth to say that they are harsh and unsympathetic in their consideration of the claims of soldiers. Scurrilous statements of that nature, which are made from time to time hurt. The Repatriation Commission is doing a big work most capably and sympathetically. If I speak with some feeling on this subject, it is because these men are my personal friends whose worth I know. The

Chairmanof the Commission was my platoon sergeant. He landed on Gallipoli on the 25th April, 1915. He is a very fine man indeed, and had he not been wounded in the early days of the campaign, would have gone very far as a soldier. These men, who are themselves " diggers ", understand the " digger ". One has only to meet them to realize that they are ardent and sincere workers on behalf of their less fortunate comrades.

Similarly, the Entitlements Appeal Tribunal and the two assessment tribunals consist of men who served with the forces. It would be extraordinary indeed, if after searching Australia to find men suitable for such positions, the choice fell on men who were antagonistic to the soldiers. I point out, moreover, that the returned soldiers themselves, through the Federal Executive of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, submit to the Government a panel of 'names, from which the Government selects a representative on the tribunal. Generally, the man placed first on the panel is selected.


Senator SAMPSON - No; but as a rule he is selected. It will be seen, therefore, that the soldiers, themselves, have a good deal of say in the constitution of the tribunals. The same thing applies when vacancies occur on the Repatriation Commission.

I welcome this bill as a step forward. One of the most pleasing features of this country's repatriation legislation is the fact that, in this chamber at least, the repatriation of Australian soldiers has never been made a party matter. All governments have acted in the belief that the people of Australia desire that the men who served their country shall be treated fairly, and generously. Cases of hardship inevitably arise, for it is almost impossible to pass laws which -will meet every individual need. The bill, however, gives legislative effect to proposals for which some of us have striven for many years, and, therefore, I welcome it.

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