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Thursday, 25 February 1932

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- In the course of the debate to-day upon the Financial Agreements Enforcement Bill, wo heard a good deal about the repudiation of obligations by the Premier of New- South Wales, and about the attitude of this Government towards such matters. When the financial emergency legislation was before this House last year, we were given to understand that the- necessary economies to be enforced included a percentage reduction of invalid, old-age and war- pensions. Those reductions were made. Now it appears that war pensions are to be reviewed, with the possibility of further reductions being made. I have received a communication from the Deputy Commissioner of the Repatriation Department, Sydney, in reply to certain representations which I had made concerning the treatment meted out to a war pensioner, directing my attention to regulation 2c, which reads as follows:-

Any pension payable to a dependant (notbeing tlie wife, widow, or child of a member of the Forces, or the widowed mother of a deceased unmarried member of the Forces where she became a widow either prior to or within three years after the death of the member) shall be subject to review, and if the dependant is deemed by the Commission not to be without adequate means of support, the Commission may reduce or cancel the pension according to the circumstances of the case.

The Deputy Commissioner added that a parent is not deemed to be without adequate means of support when his or her income from all sources amounts to £3 per fortnight. If the Government believes that £3 per fortnight is adequate for the support of a parent of a deceased soldier, we may assume that it believes that the basic wage should be in the vicinity of 30s. per week. This is an appropriate time to discuss this important principle, because another war is now being waged in the East, and Australia may be called upon to play her part. I hope, however, that the people of this country will not allow themselves to become so involved. One unfortunate mother, Mrs. Mary O'Neill, 27 Little Riley-street, Surry Hills, who listened to the appeals made by recruiting sergeants in the early days of the Great War, lost two sons. For a period of three years she was in receipt of a pension of 7s. 6d. a week. Upon review, her pension was increased to 40s. per fortnight. Under the financial emergency legislation passed last year, her "payments were reduced by 9s. per fortnight, and upon further review more recently, were cut down from 31s. to 25s. per fortnight. The department says that this unfortunate woman, who is 74 years of age, has adequate means of support, because she receives the old-age pension. As I have said, two of her sons served in the late war and paid the supreme sacrifice, and another son has been out of work for four years. This Government declares that £3 per fortnight is an adequate income for her. I urge the Minister to look carefully into this matter in a manner becoming to a national government, and to see whether the obligation of the nation to the parents of the men who went overseas has 'been discharged in this case. I could quote similar cases in which pensions have been reduced from 31s. to 25s. per fortnight.

I have been dealing for some months with the case of a returned soldier, Alfred George Bott, of 65 Surrey-street, Darlinghurst. When he returned from the war, lie was granted a pension because he had contracted rheumatism, and the department admitted that the complaint was due to his war service. The department has since reviewed his case, and it declares that he is not now suffering from rheumatism. It has, therefore, taken the pension away from him; but he has been an inmate of three public hospitals, and has been under the care of many specialists, who have treated him for the complaint of chronic rheumatism. On reexamination of the case, the doctors have decided that he is not suffering from rheumatism, but from nerves. Now even the department is prepared to admit that the complaint is rheumatism; but, after the lapse of so many years, it says that the malady is not due to war service. If any honorable members doubt my statements concerning this case, I should like them to visit this man in Sydney, and see for themselves the condition into which he has fallen as the result of serving his country in its hour of need. I would urge them to interview the mothers of deceased soldiers, and ask them whether they believe that the last war was in the interests of those Australians who made the actual sacrifice. I hope the Minister will give his personal attention to the matters that I have brought under his notice, and that honorable members who have similar cases in hand will support me.

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