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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 131

Senator ROBERTSON —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs . I refer to the answer he gave me on 13 June relating to the underpayment of service pay and of repatriation benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ex-servicemen involved in World War II. I ask whether the Minister's attention has been drawn to an article on this subject by Peter Hastings in Monday's Sydney Morning Herald in which it is claimed that this discrimination was widespread throughout Australia. Can the Minister advise the Senate on progress to date in identifying and compensating those who have entitlements as veterans?

Senator GIETZELT —Yes, I do recall the question Senator Robertson raised with me in the last week of the previous session. I did undertake to see that some progress would be made with respect to our obligations to those who served Australia during World War II, namely the Torres Strait Islanders and Aborigines , particularly in the Northern Territory. I have also seen the article referred to by Senator Robertson which was written by Peter Hastings. As the article has suggested it is true that discriminatory pay rates, conditions of service, repatriation entitlements for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders were widespread during World War II, particularly for the Islanders who were recruited to the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion. That information has become available as a result of Major Hall's research into conditions that existed during World War II. In the same article Mr Hastings also refers to Aborigines in the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit.

Senator Robertson asked me about the underpayment of service pay. A total of 803 Aboriginal and Islander ex-servicemen who were underpaid have been identified from Army records and, to date, claims have been received by 747 of these ex-servicemen. Of those claims, 165 have been paid totalling $1.5m and an extra $3m has been allocated in the current Budget to meet the additional payments as a result of the assessments of those outstanding claims. Regarding the underpayment of repatriation benefits between the period 1943 to 1962, 10 claims have been accepted. Of these, seven claims have been paid and those amounts range from $162 to $25,000. The other three claims are currently being re-assessed. Senator Robertson's question of 13 June related specifically to Aborigines from Milingimbi in the Northern Territory who, it was claimed, served during World War II with no payment at all, receiving only tobacco and rations. I advise Senator Robertson and the Senate generally that I have sent correspondence to the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs seeking formal substantiation of these claims and of the military status of those people who have performed a particular service during that period of reconnaissance. These are currently being assessed, but I point out that there are some difficulties in identifying them because these activities took place over of 40 years ago.