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Tuesday, 19 December 1905

Mr EWING (Richmond) (VicePresident of the Executive Council) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

When this matter came before honorable members on the Estimates, they objected to special consideration being shown to the officers named, and to the form in which the proposal for compensation had been brought before them. I will trace briefly the history of the two cases. In 1902, consequent upon a vote taken in this Chamber, a large number of officers were retrenched. Colonel Price's name was not on the list of retrenched officers, but subsequently, he having in the meantime been sent to Brisbane, the Department desired him to place his name on that list. Had he done so he would have received a gratuity.

Mr Wilkinson - Was he not offered an alternative ?

Mr EWING - His name was not on the first list. He was asked to proceed to Brisbane, and did so. Some months afterwards, he was called upon to retire. He pointed out, however, and with justification, that in view of the fact that he had incurred considerable expense in proceeding to Brisbane, it was not quite fair to call uponhim to retire. The Department ought to have known before they sent Colonel Price to Brisbane, whether or not his services would be required.

Mr Maloney - I think that we should have a quorum.[Quorum formed.]

Mr EWING - The Government of the day should have definitely stated whether Colonel Price would or would not get any gratuity on his retirement if he completed his term of service in Brisbane. He was only informed, however, that no guarantee could be given that at the expiration of his extended period of service he would . receive a gratuity. Colonel Price replied that in view of the fact that in 1902 the Government were prepared to pay him £1,160 by way of gratuity, they surely would not treat him with any less liberality if he gave the Commonwealth the benefit of two years'more service. The present Government took the whole of these circumstances into consideration, and proposed that a gratuity of £800 should be paid. They found, however, that it was hopeless to persuade honorable members to regard the matter from their point of view. They determined, therefore, to deal only with the report of the Medical Board, that Colonel Price had been injured by an accident which had occurred to him whilst on duty.

Mr Maloney - I regret to be under the necessity of again directing attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]

Mr EWING - The Medical Board recommended, and Major-General Sir Edward Hutton approved of a grant of£500 to Colonel Price, on the ground that he had been maimed, and was practically unfit for any active civilian work. The Government would have been perfectly justified, on the strength of the report of the Medical Board, and of the General Officer Commanding, in making the proposed grant without any previous reference to Parliament. But they did not consider it desirable to follow that course, because there were circumstances connected with the case which might have made it appear that their conduct was not quitestraightforward.

Mr Reid - Why should we not treat privates and officers alike, according to some general scheme?

Mr EWING - The right honorable gentleman is taking very high ground. I would point out to him that privates are treated upon the same basis as officers.

Mr Reid - We never see a Bill introduced in order to make provision for a private.

Mr EWING - We have dealt with several claims on the part of militiamen and others, and we have taken the responsibility of making grants without first bringing the matter before Parliament. If the House thinks that an officer who leaves the service of the Commonwealth as a maimed man is not entitled to any compensation, it is quite within its rights in saying so.

Mr Kennedy - How was it that Colonel Price served for a couple of years after being maimed?

Sir John Forrest - He did not do so.

Mr EWING - I am prepared to accept the report of the Medical Board that Colonel Price is maimed, and unable to earn his living actively as a civilian. The case appears to me to deserve special consideration. The Government have no wish to show any special favour to officers as distinguished from privates. I would invite honorable members to bring under my notice the claim of any man who has left the military service after having been declared by the Medical Board to be unfit to earn his living owing to injuries received whilst on duty.

Mr Crouch - Will the honorable gentleman promise to deal with any such cases that may be brought under his notice?

Mr EWING - Certainly. I challenge any honorable member to produce a case of the kind I have indicated. The right honorable member for East Sydney has suggested that some system should be adopted for compensating officers and privates alike. I would point out, however, that we have been only five months in office. Why did the right honorable gentleman not formulate a system, and submit it to the House? We had to do the best we could in the absence of a pension or uniform retiring system, which I think should be provided for.

Mr Kelly - Will the Government bring in a scheme of pensions?

Mr EWING - We have the matter under consideration.

Mr Reid - Then Ministers should consider these cases in connexion with such a scheme.

Sir John Forrest - The right honorable member adopted a very different attitude last year. He promised to favorably consider the matter.

Mr Reid - No, I did not; but the matter was considered.

Mr EWING - The whole matter is entirely in the hands of honorable members, and if they think that Colonel Price, after, having served in the Military Forces for twenty-three years, is not entitled to any consideration the Government will have nothing more to say. Now I desire to say a few words with regard to Colonel Bayly. He had served in the Military Forces for twenty-three years, and had reached the age of forty-five, when he was overtaken by locomotor ataxia. The Medical Board reported that his case was hopeless, and that he could not live for more than a few months, or, at the outside, twelve months. The Government, in view of the special nature of the case, decided to ask the House to grant a gratuity. The leader of the Opposition says there is no system under which such a case can be provided for. I do not want any system to enable me to deal with a matter of this kind, because I am satisfied that honorable members will act justly when the matter is submitted to them. We prefer that the House should accept the responsibility.

Mr Kelly - The Government should have paid these officers under the regulations.

Mr EWING - I ask the honorable member whether, in the event of a man who had been working for him for more than twenty-three years' being attacked by a disease which rendered his restoration to health hopeless, he would turn him into the street? If the honorable member approves of the Government paying these officers under regulation, he will approve of our paying them under an Act of Parliament.

Mr Kelly - It is a most extraordinary proposal.

Mr EWING - I merely wish to know whether the claims of these officers appeal to the reasonableness of honorable members. In both cases action has been taken upon the advice of the Government Medical Board. We say that they are special cases, and we ask honorable members, as reasonable and generous men, to regard them as such.

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