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Thursday, 8 March 1928

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- Like many other honorable members, I have been approached by a number of returned soldiers suffering from tuberculosis who have asked me to use my influence with the Minister for Repatriation to secure pensions for them, and I have been a successful advocate on several occasions. While I appreciate the courtesy and consideration which have always been extended to me by the Minister in charge of Repatriation, I realize, as the honorable gentleman stated, that he is not all-powerful in the matter; that the Repatriation Commission has the discretionary power and can turn down applications for pensions. I could cite quite a number of such cases, but shall confine myself to one, of which I hope the Minister will take note. It is the case of a man named Carmody, the son of John Carmody, of Camboon, in Queensland. That man contracted tuberculosis after returning from the war, and spent a considerable time in a private hospital in Rockhampton, where he was treated by the doctor for tuberculosis contracted during war service. After spending about £400 on - medical treatment, and hospital expenses, Carmody died, fully believing that the department would pay the amount, or would, at least, pay him a pension to enable him to meet his obligations to the hospital and to his medical advisers. The department,- however, dilly-dallied over the matter. To-day his father, who is not in a good position financially, is expected to pay the hospital expenses and the. doctors' fees, amounting in all to about £400. That is unjust, and although that case has been before the Minister in charge of Repatriation, we are still awaiting a favorable reply. The Government should at least pay the hospital and medical expenses incurred by this man. I can see no objection to the motion moved by the honorable member for Adelaide. I think that it is reasonable, and if it is carried it will be an indication to the Government that honorable members, irrespective of party, believe that more liberal treatment should be meted out to tuberculosis sufferers who are returned soldiers. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Herbert (Dr. Nott) does not go far enough. . The amendment says that in order to be eligible for a pension applicants must be " accepted " by the Repatriation Department as suffering from tuberculosis, brought on by war service. There are many cases in which applicants have not yet been accepted by the department as suffering from tuberculosis due to the effects of ' war. The honorable member for Ballarat has one case in mind, while the case I have brought up is another. The department questions the truth of the statement that these people are suffering from tuberculosis as a result of war service, or that their condition was aggravated by war service. There are many men in that position to-day.

Mr Hughes - Would .those people not be accepted now ? If they were accepted, or certified, as suffering from the disease, would they not get the pension?

Mr FORDE - Not if their complaint was arrested before the 1st July, 1925. They would get it when their case was proved. The amendment would cover a certain number of cases at present excluded, but it would leave out other cases. The honorable member for Ballarat mentioned a case in which the Repatriation Department would not ac. cept the claim of a man suffering from tuberculosis.

Mr Hughes - What does " accept " mean?

Mr FORDE - I take it that it means when the department recognizes the man's claim that he is suffering from tuberculosis due to a war disability.

Mr Hughes - My point is that they get the pension now. If the .department says that they are suffering from tuberculosis owing to war service, they get the pension at the present time. Therefore, what does this amendment do?

Mr FORDE - The amendment moved by the honorable member for Herbert does not go far enough. It includes certain men who are at present excluded, but it would not cover other cases.

Mr Killen - Does the honorable member know that the amendment covers all that the Tubercular Association is asking for?

Mr FORDE - There are a number of cases in which the department has not accepted the applicants' statement that their disabilities were caused by war service. I admit that the amendment will cover some of the cases quoted by the Tubercular Soldiers' Association, but cases like that quoted by the honorable member for Ballarat will not be covered. Why should there be any doubt about this matter ? It is better that there should be nine cases of imposition than that one just claim should be disregarded. I take it that all those who are prepared to support the amendment of the honorable member for Herbert will also be prepared to go still further, and to support the motion moved by the honorable member for Adelaide. I am reminded that the last alteration of the practice of the department was authorized by Cabinet minute. Cabinet can accept this amendment, and give effect to it in the same way. What we have to consider is whether the Repatriation Act is being administered in a sufficiently generous way. The fact that returned soldiers' associations in every State are asking for the establishment of appeal boards to review pensions shows that there is a good deal of discontent and dissatisfaction among the returned soldiers themselves. According to the report of the Repatriation Commission 2,671 tubercular cases were treated last year. Only 1,047 tubercular soldiers are receiving the special rate pension of £4 a week, or £8 a fortnight. If the whole 2,671 were granted the special rate pension of £8 a fortnight it would cost £555,000 a year, as against £217,776 a year at present paid to 1,047 pensioners. When we consider the matter fairly, it is evident that the increased expenditure would be negligible ; quite a small amount, comparatively speaking. If the Government would only accept the motion of the honorable member for Adelaide it would satisfy some hundreds of soldiers who to-day are not accepted by the department as suffering from war disabilities, and who, in many cases, are practically starving. As the honorable member pointed out in his speech there are cases in which the wives are going out washing in order to earn enough money to keep their children and their tubercular husbands. The amendment of the honorable member for Herbert does not touch those cases at all.. The Minister himself admitted in the course of his speech that there were many cases in which the department previously refused pensions that were subsequently granted after he had had inquiries made. That shows clearly that the Repatriation Commission, which is really all powerful, and which can even disregard the Minister's advice, if it so desires, has on the Minister's own admission, made mistakes in the past. He has been able, by making suggestions to the commissioners, to induce them to change their minds. The Government should deal most generously with applicants for pensions. These men gave their very best, and suffered all kinds of hardships in the course of their war service. Their constitutions were so impaired that they became an easy prey to this dread disease. The Government has reduced taxation in many cases, thereby conferring benefits on a large section of wealthy people. These people own property, and had a great deal to lose if Great Britain had lost the war. Taxation on these people was reduced, but if it had been continued at the previous level until justice had been done by every applicant suffering from war disabilities, there would be ample money in the Treasury to pay the pensions to which the men are entitled. The Commonwealth income tax collection for the year 1921-22 was £16,790,000. In 1925-26 it had fallen to £10,858,000, due to reductions made by this Government in taxation that fell largely on the shoulders of the wealthy members of the community. The Government has reduced taxation for this year by £1,800,000. That sum would more than meet the increased cost of the pensions now asked for. There are other ways in which the Government ought to economize than by refusing pensions to those who are entitled to them. The very best we can give these sufferers would not compensate them for what they have been through. The Minister, in his reply, quoted statistics to show that the annual mortality per 10,000 of males in Australia was about the same amongst civilians suffering from tuberculosis as amongst soldiers suffering from that disease. There are, however, certain figures relating to males between the ages of 45 and 55' which show that while the annual mortality amongst civilians was only 13.94, that amongst returned soldiers was 27.10. I do not think that there is any one who will say that the returned soldiers to-day are get ting pensions which are too high, or which are nearly high enough. If we consider the increased cost of living, and the depreciation of the purchasing power of money, we shall find that taking the pre-war period from July of 1914 to the corresponding period of 1927, the prices of many commodities have increased by more than 50 per cent. The figures show that the cost of living increased by at least 50 per cent, between July," 1914, and May, 1927. The average index figure taken by the statistician for all commodities in July, 1914, was 1,000. By May, 1927, it had risen to 1,524. In other words, a pension which was worth 20s. in 1916 or 1917 is worth only 10s. to-day. I submit that, in view of all the facts, the Government should liberalize the pension conditions. Whether the maximum amount of pension payable be increased or not, exservice men who are suffering from tuberculosis should be given the benefit of the doubt and paid the pension. Instead of obliging these persons to prove that their condition is due to, or aggravated by, war service, the onus should be on the Government to prove that it is not so. Many returned men who appeared to be iri their usual health and strength after their return from abroad became victims to influenza and other pulmonary complaints soon after they settled in civil life, and later became infected with tuberculosis; but it is extremely difficult for them to prove that their condition is due to or aggravated by war service. I hope that the Government will see its way clear to accept the motion.

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