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Thursday, 8 March 1928

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - What has this to do with the motion before the House ?

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - Lymph has been mentioned repeatedly in this debate, but . if you, sir, rule that this incident is irrelevant, I shall pass on. In 1926 I moved the following motion: -

In view of the facts -

1.   That, when the Australian men offered their lives to fight for their country, the Defence Department had the choice of the greatest surgeons and physicians to examine such men;

2.   That they had the advantage of the Health Department and the

Health Scientific Department to assist them in deciding whether the men volunteering were in a state of health or not;

3.   That hardships of war make more acute and observable latent and obscure weaknesses;

4.   That soldiers who are refused pensions are not permitted to see their files and are thus deprived of the opportunity where injustice is done to disprove the evidence upon which pensions, &c, have been refused; and in view of the many and generous promises continually reiterated from the multitude of enlistment platforms - it is the opinion of this House that no soldier who was accepted after passing such examinations and who actually went to the front and satisfactorily performed his allotted duties should be refused any rights under the War Pensions Act for himself or his dependants through certain present medical experts giving as their opinion the causes arose from pre-war causes.

It is also the opinion of this House that all men who offered their lives, and passed the above scientific examination, should be considered perfectly healthy men from that date; and that discretionary power be vested in the Repatriation Commissioners to grant pensions and other benefits where sufficient incapacity exists which did not appear at the time of enlistment - such discretionary power to be executed in the light of the character of the service rendered by the soldier.

I may decide to move that motion as an amendment to the proposal now before the House. The men in the Repatriation Department would gladly welcome such a declaration by this House, because it would relieve them of a lot of administrative difficulties. Not only is the sympathy of Colonel Semmens proved conclusively by his treatment of the many cases I have brought to his notice, but I believe all officers in the department would be more just and generous in the discharge of their duties were they not trammelled by the present law and the regulations made thereunder.

A great deal has been said to-day about war pensions. I find that in the United States of America the same amount of pension is paid to a private as to a fieldmarshal. In England the man on the lower rank gets a lower pension. In regard to insurance, in America no medical examination was necessary if the soldier had been accepted for service, and he could be insured up to 2,000 dollars without paying a premium and if he chose, could be insured for 10,000 dollars for a premium of £15 a year. It cost less to insure him for £2,000 than it cost me to insure two men who were at the front for £250 each. The widow or parent could receive a minimum pension of £16 3s. per month and a maximum of £27 12s. per month. The pension for total disablement with insurance benefits ranged from £18 5s. to £36 15s. a month. The Minister will- agree that that provision is more generous than ours. I than'k the Minister for Repatriation for having obtained for me .information in regard to the generosity of America to its soldiers. Under date of the 1st February of this year he wrote to me -

Dear Mr. Maloney, t

Adverting to the question asked by you in the House of Representatives on 18th March, 1927 (page 688 Hansard No. 6) inquiring as to whether the Government of the United States of America had decided to classify all soldiers' diseases from the date of enlistment only and had eliminated the " pre-existent " excuses for non-payment of pensions; i.e., that all men who were accepted for service were to be regarded as having been fit at the time of enlistment, and that in future the question of aggravation of a pre-enlistment disability would not arise, I have to say that information on the question has now been received from the United States Veterans' 'Bureau, Washington. The provision referred to is contained in the World War Veterans' Act and reads as follows: -

That for the purposes of this Act every such officer, enlisted man, or other member employed in the active service under the War Department or Navy Department who was discharged or who resigned prior to July 2, 1921, and every such officer, enlisted man, or other member employed in the active service under the War Department or Navy Department on or before November 11, 1918, who on or after July 2, 1921, is discharged or resigns, shall be conclusively held and taken to have been in sound condition when examined, accepted and enrolled for service, except as to defects, disorders, or infirmities made of record in any manner by proper authorities of the United States at the time of, or prior to, inception of active service, to the extent to which any such defect, disorder, or infirmity was so made of record.

Such a provision, if incorporated in the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act, would prove very effective. I hope that the Minister, in view of what America has done in regard to soldiers' pensions, will take steps to see that the Australian soldiers receive benefits similar to those conferred upon the American soldiers. Certain honorable members supported the motion that I moved in this House two years ago; but, when it came to a vote, it was made a party matter. Certainly the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) spoke in favour of the motion, and, had he been present at that division, I am sure that he would have voted for it. There is one point concerning which I think the Minister was in error. Our soldiers were the pick of Australia. The examination for enlistment was _ so severe that many Australians who were rejected went to England and were immediately accepted for active service. I personally know three men who did this, one of them having been rejected five times in Australia. I wish honorable members to get into their minds the fact that our soldiers were the flower of the manhood of Australia, and that the percentage of tubercular sufferers amongst them in the ordinary course of events should certainly not equal that of tubercular civilians. When the horrors of war had disappeared these nien had a long voyage during which to recuperate, so that the percentage of tubercular men amongst them is certainly the penalty of war. Yet we have these, miserable and wretched statements respecting the increased cost of pensions.- Did we count the millions during the: war? We expended over £300,000,000' for war purposes, and would have spent" double that amount had the necessity arisen. These men fought for us, and they are now reaching out their hands to every honorable member in this chamber asking not only for justice but for generous treatment, knowing that they offered their greatest asset - their lives - for us in our time of stress. Honorable members must not forget that the children of the 60,000 dead, whose bones lie across the seas, are helping to pay the interest on our war debt. Does any honorable member think that, if it were put to the vote, the people outsidewould refuse to assist our returned men who are suffering from tuberculosis and other diseases? Not for one moment. The good heart of the people of Australia would carry such a vote by a huge majority. The Minister, when speaking on the motion, mentioned other diseasesbesides tuberculosis. One was Bright's disease, which he will agree, although it is bad in certain stages, does not carry the danger that tuberculosis does to the dependants of its victims. Bright's disease is not so infectious as tuberculosis, and in that sense is not so dangerous. On second thoughts, I have decided not to move an amendment to the motion. I draw the attention of the Government to the following extract from a letter received from the Tubercular Sailors' and Soldiers' Association of New South Wales : -

There can he no doubt that, when this act was passed, it was intended by members of the House to grant all men who have been proved by medical evidence to be suffering from tuberculosis due to war service, a permanent pension. Thu act now reads - " All men proved to be " - which is a totally different matter. Under the present reading of the act, a soldier who is only proved once since 1st July, 1925, is eligible; while men who have been consistently proved for eight years prior to the passing of the act, and have, through clean living,, &c, become an arrested case, though still unable to either follow, or consistently follow, any occupation, are not eligible. We appeal to you for your support in this matter, which requires immediate attention."

A court of appeal should be established. The returned soldier has been refused the right that the criminal has of having his case tried in the courts of the country. When evidence is given against a criminal he may bring evidence in rebuttal. A cross-examination can be undertaken by legal men, which oftentimes discountenances the evidence against the criminal. But there is no cross-examination of the evidence against the returned soldier. He is refused permission to see his file. I do not accuse medical men of doing wrong, but I know of one instance in which three surgeons of the highest standing in Collins-street decided that a certain soldier's disability had been caused through the war. Another man sitting in a room, which might be called a star chamber, decided otherwise, and his decision stood. Had that case been heard by an appeal board, the evidence of the three doctors would have been accepted. The soldier is not permitted to know what charges have been made against him. His only opportunity to obtain redress is to approach a member of Parliament ; but, after ' all, there are only 76 members of this House as against 370,000 returned soldiers. It is, therefore, impossible for members of Parliament to obtain justice for all returned soldiers who are suffering from war disabilities. My wish is that, so long as this Government remains in office, the Minister may continue to hold his present position; but he would earn the gratitude of many honorable members if he would do justice to those unfortunate men who are holding out their hands to this Parliament for assistance.

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