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Tuesday, 15 March 1932

Mr McGRATH (Ballarat) . - I trust that the Minister will not agree to either adjourn the debate or withdraw the bill. This measure does not represent an attempt to deal with any of the wrongs from which the occupants of war service homes are suffering. The present Government has been in office only about ten weeks, and has not had time to investigate the position, which admittedly is serious. To accede to the requests of all honorable members would place a terrific strain on the finances of the Commonwealth. The Minister has done all that is possible in. the circumstances, by introducing a bill that will not cause injury to one occupier of a war service home.

Mr Watkins - What does it do?

Mr McGRATH - It restates the position as it was thought to exist. The undertaking to purchase war service homes has been entered into by returned soldiers on a certain definite understanding, which for years has not been challenged. Recently, however, a returned soldier named Davies tested the matter in the courts, and finally obtained from the Full Bench of the Supreme Court of Victoria the decision that the interpretation of the Commissioner was wrong. With a view to protecting not his own money, but that of the people of this country, the Commissioner placed the matter before the Minister, who now seeks to remedy the position by this short amendment of the act. I understand that the sum of £38,000 is involved. The returned soldiers who entered into agreements to purchase homes believed that the Commissioner was acting rightly; but by juggling with the meaning of words, at which' the legal fraternity are adept, the regulation in question was ruled to be ultravires of the commission.

The Minister has already appointed a committee to inquire into the grievances of returned soldiers. Unquestionably, many of them are suffering acutely from the existing depression, and cannot keep up their payments. I understand thai the representatives of returned soldiers were consulted in regard to the personnel of the committee.

Mr Francis - They submitted three names, from which we selected one.

Mr McGRATH - The personnel of the committee ha3 the approval of the returned soldiers' organizations.

Mr White - Not in Victoria.

Mr McGRATH - The Minister has said that it has the entire approval of Captain Dyett.

Mr White - He is the federal president of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia.

Mr McGRATH - Who is more entitled than the federal president of that body to speak on behalf of returned soldiers throughout the Commonwealth? These men have been urging the appointment of this committee for at least a year, probably longer. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) and others, during the time that they sat opposite, were insistent in their demand for the appointment of such a committee. Their efforts have produced at least this fruit. The bill is by no means a settlement of the grievances of those returned soldiers who have purchased war service homes. The whole matter must be investigated by a body of competent men, whose report will place us in a position to juda« as t.n what action ought to be taken.

Mr White - That is a reason for delaying the further consideration of this bill.

Mr McGRATH - We must protect the revenues of the country. The great bulk of returned men are not desirous of burgling the Treasury; they want to do what is honest and fair. I am' confident that when the committee has presented its report a much more important bill, wh'ich will remedy many grievance;, will be brought to this House. I support this measure, and shall have pleasure in voting for it.

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