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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1708


Mr HODGMAN(5.27) —The Hawke socialist Government stands condemned as a government which has shamelessly betrayed over one million decent Australians. I talk about Australia's 650,000 ex-service men and women. I talk about their dependants. I talk about our war widows. The Hawke socialist Government is a lying, Judas government which has betrayed the ex-service men and women of Australia. I am proud to be associated in this debate with the shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer), and members of the Opposition-Her Majesty's loyal Opposition-who are fighting for Australia's ex-servicemen and women and who will continue the fight until they get justice. It is an incredible and disgraceful state of affairs that the Australian Labor Party, once led by a very great Australian, Ben Chifley, has sunk to such a state that it is criticised and condemned day and night in every Returned Services League club in the country as a government which has betrayed the men and women who fought for this country and for its freedom. It has betrayed the dependants of those who died that we might live in liberty.

It is now 27 days from Anzac Day 1987, the seventy-second anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, on 25 April 1915. Never in my life have I been more disgusted with any government than with this lying, Judas, Hawke socialist Government which has betrayed Australia's ex- service men and women. I feel very strongly about this. One of my uncles has died as a result of war wounds. My father is a life member of the RSL. My other two uncles saw service in defence of this country. Every day in my office I receive representations from widows and dependants of Australian ex-service men and women who are being denied justice by a government which took the opportunity to destroy one of the few pieces of legislation ever enacted in this Parliament which came about as the work of two very great Australians on opposite sides of the political fence, the late Hon. Dr H. V. Evatt and the late Hon. Sir John Spicer. It must never be forgotten by those who canvass and work for the welfare of veterans in Australia that it was as the result of a 30-year campaign that Dr H. V. Evatt and Sir John Spicer, on this side of the House, put together the formula for a burden of proof provision which would enable those who were justly entitled to assistance to receive it. That all went following the O'Brien case. This Government has effectively said: `The door is now wide open; we will cut back'. Members of the Government have the hypocrisy to stand in this Parliament and laud this legislation because it clears up poverty traps, but they have created more poverty traps in the ex-service community than any government in the history of Australia. I will come to cases in a moment to demonstrate my point.

This is a government which has betrayed, betrayed and betrayed. It is a government which has lied; which has misled and which has misrepresented. It is a government which shamed Australia. On 25 April 1987 members of this Government will attend commemoration services around the nation and utter those historic words `Lest we forget'. They have not just forgotten; they have betrayed our ex-service community. They should check the way they are received in the Returned Services League clubs around Australia this year. The veterans are too well mannered to vent their anger at the dawn service or at services later in the day, but if members of the Government front up on Anzac Day to the RSL and ex-servicemen's clubs of Australia they will be told, in words so strong that I cannot mention them in this Parliament, exactly what the ex-service community thinks of them. The ex-service community has had this Government.

This is a government which has unofficially legislated to abolish the totally and permanently incapacitated pension. How so? I will deal in a moment with section 24 of the Veterans' Entitlements Act, which ought to have been the subject of amendment by this Government but, of course, it has now moved to deal with other areas in an endeavour to deflect attention from what it has done with section 24. If an ex-serviceman is over 65 years of age and has worked his guts out and kept going despite his disabilities and he then seeks to apply for a TPI pension, this Government has legislated to make it virtually impossible for him to be granted such a pension. Before honourable members opposite ask `What do you know about it?', let me just say that on behalf of the State RSL in Tasmania I have handled in an honorary capacity nearly 100 appeals before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, 25 of which have been dealt with already. In not one case has the decision gone in favour of the veteran. I looked up my notes from when I spoke in this House on 17 October last year. I nearly wept at the reference to the Lockley case. I knew Mr Lockley well; he was a very fine man. He was a man who kept working despite serious war-caused and service-related disabilities. He did not want a pension. He told me once `I am not after anything', but as he was dying it was brought home to him very forcibly that he should have been on a TPI pension years ago, and that in a few short weeks his wife would be deprived of her husband.

As I said in this House on 14 April last year, the veteran concerned would not apply for a pension until he was virtually on his deathbed. He lodged an application but he has now died. His widow is in virtually an impossible position because the records of that ex-serviceman, going back 40 years, are incomplete. Parts are missing. A week ago I spent a day and a half, thanks to this Hawke socialist Government, arguing on behalf of a veteran and do you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, the argument was about whether he fell forwards, backwards or sideways when he came off a truck in the middle of an air raid at Milne Bay. That man's back is ruined and he should have been on the TPI pension 20 years ago. That is what they are arguing about. Do honourable members want me to tell them about Ron Wilson who is now blind, or Billy Harman who is dying of cancer and has only a few months to live? This Government, to its eternal shame, is saying to those veterans: `No TPI pension for you'. Do honourable members want me to tell them about a widow who came to my office and said: `He won't apply and I am in a difficult predicament because I know he is dying, the doctors know he is dying, everybody knows he is dying but he won't apply'? As in the Lockley case, he would not apply as he had so much pride. When he made his application-not for him, but so his widow would get something when he died-it was too late.

We have a cruel and horrible piece of legislation on our hands. I see it day in and day out. It is only ameliorated by those in the Department of Veterans' Affairs with judgment and compassion who can and occasionally do act in an administrative capacity. I hope that the paranoids in the Hawke socialist Government will not fly up in the air and say `Ah ha, this man must be a supporter of Hodgman', but we have a Deputy Commissioner in Tasmania whom I regard as one the finest men I have ever met. I have probably put his career on the line by complimenting him, but I know it is a view held on both sides of politics that John O'Connor is a very fine, efficient, compassionate and humane administrator. I have heard that from my Labor colleagues in Tasmania, as I have heard it from my colleague the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) and others.

You see, Mr Deputy Speaker, the problem is all the injustices that come and go. What justice is there in quibbling or arguing about Army records that are 44 years old? They are nearly as old as me. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal will tell honourable members that in many cases the pages are illegible. They are indecipherable. What do we do with a man who suffered severe and acute headache and pain? There were no doctors available in the middle of a conflict, so the serviceman would have been seen by a sick-bay attendant. He would have been demobilised, but within a short time may have suffered loss of vision. That man may now be blind but the Government says: `Ah ha, you cannot prove it was because of war service'. Under the legislation, before this disgraceful Government changed the burden of proof, the benefit of the doubt went to the veteran. Let me remind honourable members that it said: `The application should be granted unless it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that there is no causal link between the disability and his war service'. What do we have today? Have a look at section 24, which the Government put on the statute books. It is relevant to this legislation because the legislation talks about the elimination of poverty traps. I too am talking about the elimination of poverty traps for veterans and their dependants who are denied justice by a heartless, cruel and betraying government. I will quote what a veteran has to prove to get a TPI pension today, and members of the Hawke socialist Government should listen to it because they voted for it and made this the law of Australia. Section 24 of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, under the heading `Special rate of pension', says:

(1) This section applies to a veteran, other than a veteran to whom section 25 applies-

that covers the temporarily incapacitated rate-

if-

(a) there is in force in respect of the veteran a determination under this Act determining that the degree of incapacity of the veteran from war-caused injury or war-caused disease, or both, is 100 per centum;

A veteran has to be 100 per cent incapacitated now before he can apply for a TPI pension. I have heard of decisions of the Veterans' Review Board where it said `We would have put this man on to TPI but because he was only 60 or 70 per cent incapacitated we can't'. He has to go to 100 per cent and then start all over again. What about the man or woman whose condition suddenly deteriorates and a medical practitioner says: `This person is not only TPI but is going to die in three months'? This wretched legislation says `Oh, that's a bit of bad luck, isn't it?' A person has to have a hearing first to get himself on to 100 per cent incapacitation before he can on to TPI. While in most cases, as the shadow Minister and honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer) would confirm, it can be said that that does not cause an injustice, in a very significant proportion it does. The Government should say that in the majority of cases, unless there are exceptional circumstances, the person should be on 100 per cent, but if the Veterans' Review Board or the Repatriation Commission believes that a person should go straight on to the TPI pension why not put him on to TPI instead of making him wait months and months to go before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and months and months for a decision? The Veterans' Review Board in some cases has not advised its decision until after 89 days. The period of right of appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is 90 days. I have seen the Repatriation Commission lodge an appeal on the ninetieth day. Cop that! A veteran won a TPI pension and he was not notified for 2 1/2 months that he had got it. The time for appealing runs from the date of notification. The Commission appealed on the 90th day-the very last day. The following week the Repatriation Commission moved to freeze the veteran's pension so that he did not get an increase. The $13,000 that was due to him was frozen. He is still deprived of it, nearly one year later. The veteran was given a TPI pension in February last year and he has not received a cent. The matter is before the AAT and it has reserved its decision, so I had better not say anything more about that. Section 24 (1) states:

(b) the veteran is totally and permanently incapacitated, that is to say, the veteran's incapacity from war-caused injury or war-caused disease, or both, is of such a nature as, of itself alone, to render the veteran incapable of undertaking remunerative work for periods aggregating more than 8 hours a week; and

(c) the veteran is, by reason of incapacity from that war-caused injury or war-caused disease, or both, alone, prevented from continuing to undertake remunerative work that the veteran was undertaking and is, by reason thereof, suffering a loss of salary or wages, or of earnings on his or her account, that the veteran would not be suffering if the veteran were free of that incapacity.

I have spoken with my distinguished, gallant and honourable colleague the member for Farrer about the grave injustice of what we call section 24 (1) (c) cases. Such a case involves a person who may be on a 100 per cent pension. The Commission might well accept that he has been put out of the work force by virtue of war-caused disability or disease alone. But then, because of his age, it says that it is not because of that alone that he cannot go back into the work force. I invite honourable members to listen to the logic of this: The Commission accepts that a person was put out of the work force because of war-caused disability or disease alone, but six or seven years down the track it says to that man: `Bad luck, old son. You are over 65 now. You have been out of the work force too long; nobody would have you back now. Your wife is not too well, is she? You have to stay at home and look after her a bit, haven't you? Bad luck, old son, it is not because of your war-caused disability or your war-caused disease alone'. If the Department can draw up any red herring, it will do so. There are some very fine people in the advocacy section of the Department of Veterans' Affairs against whom I have appeared-free, gratis and for nothing; I have not received one cent. I appear not as a Queen's Counsel but as Michael Hodgman, the Federal member for Denison, and for nothing. I know how acutely embarrassed they are when they have to ask red herring questions.

A man lost his TPI pension because he said, quite bluntly: `She's been a damned good wife to me for 47 years and, I suppose, I must admit in one sense that I should spend time at home with her'. The Department said: `Ah, you are not eligible for employment and it is not just because of your war-caused disability or war-caused disease; it is because you are looking after your wife. Your will receive no TPI pension'. The man said to me: `Well, Mike, if it comes to that, I will accept it, but it's a pretty rough way to be treated'.

We are arguing on medical records that are up to 47 years old. The doctors involved may be dead. A doctor told a man in 1945 that he had fibrositis. The claim was changed bureaucratically in 1953 to one of spondylitis. In 1986 spondylitis was rejected. Now, in 1987, the man is told: `It is a very unfortunate case. You should have stuck to fibrositis all the way through. You might have got up by now'. I have to tell that man, who cannot walk 25 yards, that that is how he is repaid by the country which he fought to save! A medical mistake by a junior medical practitioner 30 or 40 years ago in putting down the wrong title has eliminated that man from a TPI pension.

There is no justice in the system. If I appear frenzied, it is because I hate this disloyal and betraying Government for what it has done to the veterans. I know people in the Glenorchy Returned Services League Club and other clubs in my electorate, dyed in the wool Labor people, who will never vote Labor again because of what the Government has done to them.


Mr Cowan —We have all got them.


Mr HODGMAN —We all have them. And listen to this one: A Vietnam veteran was granted a TPI pension by the rotten Hawke socialist Government in March last year, and it was taken off him in November. I am going to go into chapter and verse on that case. We have now reached the stage where the Government takes TPI pensions back. The veteran was granted a TPI pension in March last year and it was taken off him in November last year. I have raised the matter with the Department. I have said: `If you do not fix this administratively and put him back on a TPI pension right now, I warn you that I will have this man and his case spread across the front page of every newspaper in Australia'.

I conclude by saying that the way to deal with the Government is to show my dossier of the six worst cases. At the appropriate time I will hand the dossier to 60 Minutes. 60 Minutes will interview those ordinary, decent Australians and their dependants who have been betrayed by the Government. I give you good advice, members of the Hawke socialist Government: Do not go too close to too many RSL clubs on Anzac Day; but if you do, pretend that you are Liberal or National Party members, because if the ex-servicemen find out that you are Australian Labor Party members and members of the lying, Judas, betraying Hawke socialist Labor Government, you will not get a glass of beer, you will get a black eye and a very thick ear.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. Before calling the honourable member for Scullin, I address the honourable member for Denison for his guidance. The Chair was reluctant to interrupt his speech, but in future he might observe the standing order requiring him to address the Chair and not honourable members directly.