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

Mr HUGHES (North Sydney) . - It appears to me that the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) has made out a case that every honorable member will find it difficult to answer. I should be surprised to learn that anybody is satisfied with the treatment now meted out to ex-members of the Australian Imperial Forces who are suffering from tuberculosis. The amendment of the honorable member for Herbert (Dr. Nott) which, I understand, was submitted at the request of the New South Wales branch of the Tubercular Soldiers' Association, no doubt does something to improve the position. ' I gather from the remarks of the honorable member, who was good enough to explain the object of his amendment to me, and from the statement of the Minister (Sir Neville Howse), that it would cover some of the cases which have been discussed, but not all. The Cabinet decision of July, 1925, provides for a permanent pension, and it. is a permanent pension that the Tubercular Soldiers' Association wants. Therefore, I wish to know if it is to be understood that if we carry the. amendment the men covered by it will receive a permanent pension?

Mr Coleman - I think that the honorable member for Herbert intends that to be the effect of his amendment, although he has not said so.

Mr HUGHES - Reading the amendment and the motion, there would certainly appear to be some doubt about the effect of what is proposed. I should be glad if the Minister would make it clear whether those who vote for the amendment are voting to give the persons covered by it the full permanent pension.

Mr Coleman - The Minister has refused to accept the amendment.

Sir Neville Howse - I said that the Government is prepared to re-examine all the cases, calling into consultation for that purpose specialists in lung disease, with the object of determining whether they are tubercular, and where tuberculosis is found, they will receive a permanent pension.

Mr HUGHES - Will that apply to persons not covered by the amendment?

Sir Neville Howse - It will cover all persons whose war service was the cause of the disease from which they are suffering. If we agreed to anything else we should be adopting 'the motion of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates).'

Mr HUGHES - With the exception of the last speaker, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), the Minister (Sir Neville Howse), and the mover of the amendment (Dr. Nott), we are all laymen, and we would like to be told - and the people generally would like to know - how war service is to be proved to have been the. cause of a disease so baffling, and so universal as tuberculosis. If the Minister were in a position to hold a post-mortem on the members of the Opposition - for him an inspiring and almost exhilarating prospect - in 98 per cent, of them he would discover the bacilli of tuberculosis or the cicatrices made by the disease. Practically every man who went to the war had within him the germ of tuberculosis of the lungs, and all that was required for the propagation : of the disease was favorable conditions. The conditions of active service were emphatically favorable to the development of the disease. Suppose that a workman were to bring a case against his employer in the civil courts, and to say to the court, " When I went to work for this man I was strong and healthy; I am now suffering from consumption. The conditions under which I worked are responsible for my ruined health. Many and many a night I was up to my waist in icy cold slush. Month after month I slept unsheltered and exposed, to the rudest blasts of winter. My sleep was disturbed by horrid visions, by night bombing, by high explosives, by gas attacks. For months and years I lived in hell." Do honorable members doubt that any jury on such evidence would not find " There is no reasonable doubt that the plaintiff's condition of health is due to the hardships he endured in the course of his employment ?"

A man needed to be made of iron to go through the war and remain as he was before it. An ex-soldier, a man about 42 years of age, saw me last Tuesday. He was suffering from disease of the optic nerve, and he was both deaf and blind. He had been a seaman, and had served in the Great War. When he returned he had gone to work for Palings, as a caretaker. Last October his sight failed him, so that he was unable to attend to his duties, and he went to the Randwick Military Hospital. He received attention, but the authorities decided that his blindness and deafness Were not due to war service.

This unfortunate man .is suffering from a disease which is incurable - I have seen the certificate - but, as I have said, the authorities declare that it was not due to war service. To what, then, is it due? He would be a bold man that would claim that the nervous system could be exposed to the fearful strain which the men of the Australian Imperial Force endured, and that the optic, aural or any other nerve would maintain its pristine vigour. The onus of proof must be shifted from the returned soldier to the department. Nothing will satisfy the people of Australia that this man Collins received a fair deal. It is infamous that any returned soldier should be. treated in this fashion. How can he prove that his disability is due to war service? How can the department disprove it? Put the finest athletes in the country at the front from six to twelve months, and let them undergo what our returned men experienced. How many of them would emerge from that ordeal with the vigour and vitality of youth unimpaired? Not one ! While I shall be very glad to accept any advantage that is offered by the Government, the promise of the Minister leaves things very much as they are. It is no concession to pile one expert on another. It is not mere experts that are -wanted, but simple justice. If experts were heaped on experts until the topmost reached the clouds, what would result? Nothing. How can any man say that tuberculosis in ex-soldiers was not due to or aggravated by war service? When these men went abroad they were certified as being fit - now they are wretched invalids. They are said to have had tubercular parents. They could have had no other, since none is free from tuberculosis. When they went away with our expeditionary forces they were pronounced healthy. Nothing was said about blood tests. But when they returned, the latest discoveries of science were utilized to prove that their disabilities were not due to war service. The disease from which they suffer was attributed to this or that cause - to their misconduct- to any cause except the war. They were told that their disability is not due to the war. If it is not, let the department prove that that is so. The mere fact that additional experts will be employed to inquire into the problem will not satisfy any one. These men were healthy when they went away; they are now diseased. Who brought them to that pass? I do not for one moment claim that there may not be cases of malingering, attempted gross deception

Sir Neville Howse - Very few.

Mr HUGHES - Very well. No one can pretend that the Collins case is not a deserving one. Let us alter the law. We have a majority, and all should vote to benefit our returned men. I shall vote for anything that will give them relief, no matter how much or how little it is.

Suggest corrections