Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 8 March 1928

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) .- Even if the Government were prepared to accept the amendment of the honorable member for Herbert (Dr. Nott), it would not carry us far. I have no hesitation in saying that the present Minister in charge of Repatriation (Sir Neville Howse) is the best that we have yet' had. My experience of some previous Ministers in charge of this department was most unsatisfactory. One honorable gentleman designedly destroyed papers from an official file in order that they could not be produced in court, and he so far forgot himself that when he was in the witnessbox he did not tell the truth. These are serious charges, but I have made them repeatedly both inside and outside the House. They take us back to the Gunner Perry case. Although I am. willing to admit that the present Minister has done good work, I regret to say that the speech that he delivered this afternoon might have come more suitably from an equity barrister whose chief concern was to win his case, than from a Minister in charge of Repatriation. Reference has been made to the fact that the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) while on active service had to lie in a waterhole all one night, and was obliged to spend another night lying in mud. I presume that the Minister would not suggest that that kind of open-air treatment is good for anybody, or that it would do other than make the person who had to suffer it more susceptible than he would otherwise be to an attack of tuberculosis. I am not much impressed with the reports which certain continental and British authorities have made- on the effects of gassing. The older countries of the world have not sufficient money to provide pensions for their soldiers on the scale that we have been able to provide them for ours. I recollect a hero of the Balaclava charge who came into the London hospital in which I was working for his seventeenth operation, and I and others had to canvass sixpences from the students to purchase for him a little vehicle in which he could wheel himself about. He had lost both legs and- his pension was ls. a day ! The majority of the heroes of that charge died in the workhouse ; therefore, I do not look to the United Kingdom for an example in the treatment of soldiers. The parsimony of the Old Country is caused partly by the limited amount of money available for distribution amongst so many soldiers, and until recent times very cruel notions prevailed regarding what was due to the common soldier. To his eternal honour, Sir John Madden, then the Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria, stated publicly that he regretted that his lips had been made to utter promises to our soldiers in the South African war that were afterwards cruelly broken. I thought it right to obtain a letter from him setting forth the promise that had been made so that there could be no doubt about it. He honoured me with a long letter in reply which is still in my possession; the facts to which it relates are recorded in the Hansard of the Victorian Parliament. I gladly own that the soldiers in the last Great "War were treated better than those who served in South Africa, but I deny the Minister's statement that the promises made to the men who went overseas between 1914 and 1918 have been kept. I was a member of the Victorian State Enlistment Committee, the only member who continued with it from its formation until it was disbanded, and I know that the promises made from a thousand platforms to the soldiers have not been honoured. T admit that they could not have been. One promise was that the dependants of those who went to the front would never be in trouble, but every honorable member knows what happened. Why should a soldier who has risked his life for his country have to undergo the degradation of asking a member of Parliament to endeavour to get for him a pension from a Minister? I acknowledge that the present Minister for Repatriation has given more attention than did any of his predecessors to the cases I have brought under his notice^ and while he remains at the head of the department much may be forgiven it. But, after all, what is sympathy? I heard one man say recently, " Everybody has a lot of sympathy for the unemployed. I do not know what sympathy is worth, but I shall give ten vessels of soup to ten hungry men." We are asking from the Government practical sympathy for the soldiers who are ill. The vilest criminal in court is considered innocent until his guilt is proved. Treat the soldier in the same way. When he claims a pension, let the onus of proving that he is wrong be on the department; do not throw the responsibility on the unfortunate sufferer.

Reverting to Gunner Perry, that unfortunate was eleven days in the court, and if ever I suffered the pangs of Hades, it was while I was fighting his case, for I had been told by one Minister that the attack was directed against me and not against him. Ultimately after six months in a lunatic asylum he was granted a pension, and the foolish Defence Department re-engaged him as a recruiting agent in Queensland. Perry, who was a married man, persuaded a foolish girl to marry him. Later, when she discovered that he was already married, she made trouble, whereupon he gave her a thrashing and she disappeared. Three days later Perry also disappeared, and has never since been heard of ; he has never drawn his pension. I am not concerned with him, I believe him to be dead; but I hold that his real wife should not have been deprived of a pension because she cannot prove that her husband is deceased. The Defence Department has branches in every State; why cannot it find out what became of Perry, instead of throwing the responsibility upon a poor, weak, nervous woman ? In addition a police warrant has been issued for his arrest on a charge of bigamy.

Suggest corrections