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Tuesday, 7 August 2001
Page: 29333

Mr HORNE (6:14 PM) —Like all the speakers before me, I fully support the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (2001 Budget Measures) Bill 2001. People who have served in the defence of our country deserve our greatest compassion and our greatest support. Governments of both sides over a long period of time have shown that they have been compassionate. It has always been regarded by people who came to this country, particularly since the Second World War, that Australia cares for its veterans probably better than any other nation in the world. Of course, when people do receive benefits, there will always be people who miss out. I am not being critical of the government—not at all—but I want to take this opportunity tonight to say that there are some people who I consider equally deserving who have missed out.

A couple of examples are constituents of mine who approached me after the budget, in particular because of that $25,000 that was granted to prisoners of war of the Japanese in World War II. One constituent was a member of the Royal Australian Air Force and served in Bomber Command in Europe during the Second World War. He served with distinction. I believe he flew 32 missions against Germany, which was an excessive number. A tour of duty was regarded as 20, and he went back for his second tour of duty. His 32nd trip was his last one. Their plane was shot down. Five of his mates were killed outright, and two of them survived. They spent 18 months as prisoners of the Germans. He said to me, `Bob, if you think the Germans were civil to us, I can assure you they weren't.' He said, `We had been bombing their factories, their dams, their railways and their homes. They hated us more than any other enemy and they treated us accordingly.' How much does such a person get? Nothing. Did he experience trauma? Of course he did. He lost five mates. He did not know who would win the war. He did not know whether he would come home, and he gets nothing. I say to the minister that there are other people to be considered as well. We are not talking about a large number of people.

Only last week I interviewed a constituent whose situation I believe the minister should consider. This lady is in her early sixties. Her father died at Changi when she was four. She never knew her dad. The family circumstances were very poor, and at the age of four she was put in an orphanage. She stayed there until she was 12, when her mother remarried. Upon remarriage, her mother took her out of the orphanage. She told me she had an extremely unhappy childhood, and I believe her. She had no family, no dad. She knew her dad was dead, and it could all be put down to the war. Her mother would be entitled to $25,000 as a widow if she were still alive. She died three years ago. If the mother were still alive, there would be a benefit to the daughter too, because the $25,000 would be part of that estate. Because her mum is dead, no money goes to the estate and no money goes to the daughter—a daughter who experienced all the horrors of the result of the trauma of war.

On the other hand, let us consider a family of a young man who may have been imprisoned in Changi. There are people in my electorate who did serve in Changi. They did come back. They did regain health. I think of Tom Uren, for example, who served with distinction in this House and who became an Australian boxing champion. Certainly they lived through a living hell while they were imprisoned there, but they did come back, they did regain their health, they did have a career and they did have a family—or some of them did. Now, if they are alive, they get $25,000; if they are dead, and their wife is alive, the wife gets $25,000. Their children, who did not experience the horrors that my constituent experienced, will benefit from that $25,000 being part of their parents' estate. They did not suffer from the unsavoury effect—the horrific effect—of what war can do to a family, and yet they will benefit.

These are some of the injustices that I have become aware of. Of course, that is always a problem when benefits go out, and there will always be a cut-off line where the benefits stop, but I believe that there should be a process whereby people can be considered for a benefit. The benefit is there for some. The benefit should be there for all people who have been extremely disadvantaged by the effect of war.

I have outlined two cases of people who have been severely disadvantaged and are worthy of consideration of some benefit. But, because of the black-and-white nature of this legislation, they will receive none. As I indicated, I certainly support the legislation, and I commend it to the House. I would just like to say to the member for Dawson that I am actually a nasho and a member of the National Servicemen's Association. But that, of course, was something completely different. While I fully support national servicemen seeking some recognition, it can in no way be compared with what the servicemen who served in a full theatre of war and experienced all those horrors know about. We certainly did not know anything about that at all. But, of course, it was a great time. We were prepared to get out there and do what we had to do if the situation arose. Much later on, people were conscripted and served in Vietnam. This was another hell on earth to which we as a nation were conscripting people. Those Vietnam veterans deserve all our sympathy and compassion as well because they are one group that have been very unjustly treated by Australia. History will show that.