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Tuesday, 25 November 1941

Mr MULCAHY (Lang) .- Like the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), I am pleased that the South African veterans are to receive the benefits of the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act, but I hope that this bill is but a forerunner of a complete revision of the repatriation law. Those of us who have been dealing with repatriation matters generally for many years consider that an overhaul of the act is long overdue. During the last Parliament the service pension was granted to returned soldiers who were unemployable. Although the right honorable member was temporarily absent from the Ministry when that measure was introduced, I believe that he was responsible for it, and may be given credit for that valuable recognition of the claims of the soldiers who fought in the last war. I believe that if he had bis way the act would be a much better instrument than it is to-day. I am satisfied that the Repatriation Commission has done excellent work, but the scope of the act has probably not enabled it to do all that it would have liked to do in the interests of the returned men.

I could cite many individual cases to show the need for amendments of the act, but those matters can best be dealt with later when the Estimates are under consideration. I suggest to the Minister that before the present sittings are concluded a select committee should be appointed to investigate anomalies in connexion with repatriation. Many amendments might well be made to the existing law, in order to do justice to soldiers who have returned from the last war. I believe that, within a few weeks, a select committee could furnish ample proof of the need for amendments of the act, with a view to eliminating anomalies with regard to returned soldiers generally. Men who are now coming back from the war apparently suffer from the effects of their experiences, but they are not entitled to the benefits of the act. I hope that some steps will be taken to do justice to those who have made sacrifices on behalf of the Empire in both this and the last war. Full recognition of the services of the veterans of the South African War was long overdue. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Lawson), other honorable members and I have frequently drawn attention to their claims, and I am glad that justice is now to be done to them.

When a soldier has applied for a pension, and his application has been refused, he may appeal against the decision ; but months may elapse before the appeal is heard. In the meantime he may be in need of medical attention, and I claim that he should immediately receive it, in order to prevent him from becoming permanently incapacitated. I have brought under notice of the Minister the case of a returned soldier who is suffering from spondylitis. If he is required to wait until his appeal is heard he may become a charge on the country for the rest of his life.

Mr Prowse - A stitch in time saves nine.

Mr MULCAHY - Yes. If he received medical attention immediately, quite probably he would be prevented from becoming a permanent charge on the community. When I brought a similar case to the notice of a previous Minister he ordered that the ex-soldier be given medical attention. His disability had not been proved to be due to his war service. I consider the present Minister should see that cases such as this receive medical attention.

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