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Tuesday, 25 November 1941


Mr MORGAN (Reid) .- I endorse the sentiments expressed by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis). The main purpose of this hill is to bring service pensions into line with the recently increased invalid and old-,a.,a;e pensions, but it contains other amending proposals. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider certain suggestions for improving the lot of returned service men. We should lose no time in providing for the welfare of service men, numbers of whom are returning almost daily from the theatres of war without being accorded the treatment to which, they are entitled under the act.

This bill extends a measure of justice to veterans of the South African war. It is a travesty on justice and decency that we should only now, when it is too late for many of them to receive the benefits proposed, come to the assistance of men who fought for the country 40 years ago.

The bill also provides for the payment of the funeral expenses of returned soldiers by the Repatriation Department. This provision is to be retrospective to the 1st July, 1941, which recalls to mind the fact that the first returned soldier from the present war who died in Australia was not provided with a decent burial. This happened under the regime of the Menzies Government, when Australia was afforded the sorry spectacle of a soldier being buried in a pauper's grave. I am glad that the bill provides that such an occurrence shall not be repeated.

My experiences in connexion with claims made on behalf of returned soldiers or their dependants have been similar to those related by the honorable member for Moreton. I am disgusted with the treatment that has been meted out to them.' According to my experience, in nine cases out of ten, claims that should have been granted by the Repatriation Commission or by the Appeals Tribunal have been rejected. There is a saying, "Better that ten guilty men go free, than that one innocent man be wrongly convicted ". But the motto of the Repatriation Department seems to be, "Better that ten innocent persons go without their pensions, than that one person be granted a. pension to which he is not entitled ". The Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act provides that service pensions are payable only to members of the fighting services who had served in a theatre of war. But the conditions which applied when that provision was inserted in the act are entirely different from those which apply to-day. Men of the fighting forces undergo grave risks not only in theatres of war, but also during their period of training, when they are obliged to handle dangerous munitions and armaments. Incapacity, even death, has often been caused during training. It is now time for the act to be amended in order to provide for such cases. The law also provides that suicide, self-inflicted injuries, or injuries due to the default or wilful act of the person concerned, disqualify claims for compensation. The mentality of men who suffer the strain of modern warfare is often so impaired that they are driven to do things that they would not do ordinarily. A man of my acquaintance, who served in the war of 1914-18 and in the present war, was unable to secure employment to which he was suited when he returned to Australia. EYen.tua.lly lie came to me in__such a state of nervous disorder that he threatened to take his own life. I am satisfied that, had he done so, his death would have been the direct result of war service. Nevertheless, according to the act as it now stands, his dependants would not have been entitled to compensation. Claimants for war pensions are entitled, in certain circumstances, to representation before the Appeals Tribunal, but not bef ore the Repatriation Commission. However, such advocates must not be legal practitioners. This is very unfair to persons whose cases are being supported by members of Parliament who are also legal practitioners. Claimants frequently come to their parliamentary representatives in order to secure assistance, and in these circumstances no honorable member should be debarred from helping them. The act further provides that, if a claimant be represented by an advocate, he must bear the expenses of such representation. The commission, however, employs a regular advocate who has been trained to handle these eases, and who knows all of the principles that are involved.. The Government should provide for the appointment of a public advocate, at the expense of the Repatriation Department, to act on behalf of returned soldiers and their dependants. Claims before the commission and the Appeals Tribunal can riot be heard in open court at the present time. I do not know why this provision was included in the act, but 1 have no faith in tribunals which base their decisions on evidence taken in camera. I have seen too many abuses of justice under that system to have any confidence in it. Misleading evidence which is heard in public can be properly tested and disregarded, but when it is heard in camera it is frequently accepted without investigation. The best provision, in the interests of claimants, would be for cases to be heard ia open court at the discretion of the claimants. Female offenders have the privilege, on their first appearance in a police court, to have their cases heard in camera. A similar privilege at least should be extended to applicants for war service pensions if, for certain reasons, they do not wish the proceedings to be made public, but it should be left entirely to their discretion. Another provision of the act lays down that no appeal shall be made against any decision of the Entitlement Appeals Tribunal. That should be amended. At one time, applicants whose claims were rejected by the tribunal were allowed to appeal further to ministerial authority. Doubtless the present provision was inserted in order that Ministers should not be worried with frivolous claims, but claimants who have not received justice should have the right to appeal to the Minister. At the present time, when representations are made to the Minister on behalf of an applicant, the Minister replies invariably that he cannot take action. I am sure that if a provision, such as I suggest, were included in the act, we should not have the spectacle of the tribunal refusing time and time again to grant deserving claims on behalf of returned soldiers and their dependants. Like the honorable member for Moreton, I should like to quote a few instances to show that, in my experience, claimants do not receive the fair deal to which they are entitled.







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