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Thursday, 4 May 1939

Mr LANE (Barton) .- I congratulate the honorable member for Wentwortb (Mr. Harrison) upon his appointment as Minister for Repatriation. I am sure that he will understand much better than his predecessor many of the grievances which arise in connexion with the administration of his department. At present advocates who appear before the Assessment Tribunal are notallowed to be present when the medical advisers are examining applicants. I have been informed that it is a rule of the British Medical Association that no patient shall be examined in the presence of a layman. On several occasions I have appeared as an advocate before the tribunal on behalf of applicants whose claims have been rejected after they have been handled by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia. I have asked such applicants to secure a certificate from outside doctors, and with the aid of such evidence I have frequently had the cases re-opened, and conducted their appeals for them. In some instances, these men, on being examined at Randwick, have been informed that they are not. able to work. However, when such cases go before the specialists employed by the Assessment Tribunal advocates seem to come up against a solid wall. The doctors refuse to give any information at all. On several occasions, when the patient has had to be examined, I have requested to be allowed to accompany him, only to be asked why I should want to do so. That is as far as I get. The certificate of outside doctors that the men cannot work is completely ignored by the specialists advising the tribunals. The rejection of such claims very often means dire poverty for the applicants, many of whom have reached the age of 50 years. They are burnt-out soldiers who had undergone the stress of service in the front line for three or four years. It is claimed that the specialists are acting in the interests of the soldiers ; that may be, but the point I stress is that they are paid by the Government. I do not like to say so, but 1 believe that it would be a very good thing if the Assessment Tribunal did not place so much reliance upon the advice of the legal and medical men it now employs. It should rather seek assistance from men who have something of the milk of human kindness. I know of a man who is in receipt of an invalid pension but cannot get a repatriation pension. The Assessment Tribunal admits that he has had tuberculosis, but its experts say that the lesions have dried up, and that a medical test for tuberculosis shows no positive results. I was surprised to hear the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) state that in certain cases men suffering from tuberculosis cannot get a war pension. A difference of opinion arose over this matter in the party room, the point being taken that whilst a burntout soldier receives only 30s. a week the tubercular man can get £2 2s. I submit that the Repatriation Department should be completely overhauled. Some of the medical men employed by the department have been engaged for so long that they have become case-hardened. As soon as an applicant walks into the room they decide that he cannot get a pension.

Mr Rankin - And that can also bo said of some of the legal men employed by the Appeal Board.

Mr LANE - Yes. I repeat that the specialists employed by the tribunal invariably reject the certificates of outside medical men. I urge the Minister to overhaul the appeal machinery entirely. The tribunals should not rely so much on the advice of professional men who are immersed in technicalities, and very often are blind to the sufferings of many applicants. It is criminal to allow ex-soldiers suffering from war complaints to walk the streets when they are unable to obtain work. I know of a returned soldier who is given a 70 per cent, pension although he cannot work. He enters a hospital monthly, where he is told invariably to return home, and to take things easily as he is' unable to work. Despite frequent appeals only a 70 per cent, pension is paid. I hope some other honorable member has been able to discover just how these percentage pensions arc determined; I certainly have not. A very grave injustice is being done to returned soldiers by the adoption of this system. Some of the men have been given a service pension. I think it would be a good thing if this form of pension could be increased to £2 2s. a week. In my view there is no difference between a "burnt-out" ex-soldier who has been declared physically unfit, and one suffering from tuberculosis. Both ave unemployable, but the "burnt-out" man gets a pension of only 17s. a week for himself and wife.

Mr Gander - The amount is £1 a week now.

Mr McHugh - I know of hundreds of similar cases in my electorate.

Mr LANE - There must be many thousands of returned soldiers who, because of this differentiation, are now receiving State aid. Many war widows, who are unable to get a pension from the Repatriation Department, are obliged to turn to State governments for a widow's pension, and often they receive better treatment than they got from the Repatriation Department.

I have also been approached by a number of veterans of the South African "War for whom no provision has ever been made. I understand that during and after the Boer War, a large sum of money was subscribed by the public for their benefit, but it has been used by the ' New South "Wales Government for other purposes. Many of these men are now in grave difficulties. I hope that the Minister for Repatriation will give these matters his earnest consideration.

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