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Tuesday, 25 November 1941

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - Every Minister for Repatriation since the passage of the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act has endeavoured to eliminate anomalies that have been revealed from time to time, but, in doing that, further anomalies have been created. Therefore, I welcome the suggestion of the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Mulcahy) that a select committee be appointed to investigate repatriation matters generally, with a view to submitting to the Government recommendations as to how anomalies could be eliminated. At present we have a patch-work act due to the efforts of successive governments and parliaments to improve it. Sometimes concessions of a purely political nature have been made to returned soldiers, and at other times governments have earnestly endeavoured to rectify anomalies. In the main, the act is approved by all reputable organizations of returned soldiers, because it is recognized that, in many cases of disability arising out of war service, relief has been given to applicants. Yet there are border-line cases that should have received the attention of successive governments, but unfortunately have not had the backing necessary to influence those governments. Owing to the altered conditions of warfare to-day, new repatriation problems will arise, and it will be impossible to deal satisfactorily with all applications for service pensions under the present law without creating further anomalies. Therefore, in my opinion, the act needs a complete revision, with a view to bringing it up to date.

The committee that I visualize would have to direct its attention to a matter of primary importance which has been stated clearly by successive Ministers for Repatriation. I refer to the need for the onus of proof of whether a soldier's disability was or was not due to war service to be placed, not upon the " digger ", but upon the Government. Honorable members can cite cases almost without number of men who havesuffered disabilities directly arising from their war service, but the fact of war origin could not be proved by the soldiers concerned, because records had been lost. I know of men who suffered disabilities in the line, but, rather than leave their units and thereby jeopardize the friendships so formed, they accepted medical treatment on the spot instead of being evacuated to a base hospital. Consequently they contracted disabilities which had had a detrimental effect upon them in after years, and, being unable to produce sufficient proof of the origin of their disability, they were deprived of the benefits of the act. In my opinion a man who goes overseas and endures the rigours of heavy campaigning and the other hardships of a soldier's life, becomes liable to physical disabilities that will take their toll in future years. One matter that will have to be considered by any committee or government that seeks to bring the Repatriation Act up to date is that relating to the onus of proof. I commend the Government for having adopted some of the proposals put forward by the previous Administration. The Government of which I was a member took a long-sighted view of repatriation problems generally, and established an X-ray test for men enlisting for service overseas. It was possible to find out whether on enlistment a soldier suffered from any physical disability. If the X-ray examination be sufficiently intensive it is possible to establish beyond all reasonable doubt whether on enlistment a man is in a sound physical condition. I have it on expert authority that the miniature X-ray sets that were being used do not give complete information to the experts who study the results; consequently, the earlier records cannot be relied upon to furnish unchallengeable evidence of the condition of the soldier at the time of enlistment. In some instances, it has been necessary to take further photographs with a larger machine. Doctors and specialists have protested, during the taking of photographs, against the inability of the small machine to make a complete registration. Any government which proposes to bring this legislation up to date will have to take into account the effect of the facilities for enlistment offered in the early days of this war to diggers of the last war.. While I was Minister for Repatriation I had to deal with many instances in which the Army authorities had accepted diggers for active service abroad without consulting the .Repatriation Commission as to whether or not they were suffering from disabilities. A previous Minister for the Army, the late Mr. Gr. A. Street, was greatly concerned at the failure of the Army authorities to accept 'the cooperation in this connexion freely offered by the excellent officers of the Repatriation Commission. Many diggers, upon enlistment, were found to be pensioners or pensionable subjects.; consequently., in due course, quite a crop of cases will be harvested from that field by the Repatriation Commission.

Service pensions are "paid in cash. Recently, the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Department has adopted the more up-to-date method of optional payment by cheque. The Minister might well adopt this method of payment to widows and others who request it in order to obviate lengthy journeys to the centres in -which payment is made, and the physical strain imposed by the long period of waiting which frequently occurs. On a previous occasion, I made this suggestion to the Minister; and subsequently, as Minister, I. directed that the alteration be made. The Minister would be commended by quite a number of service pensioners if he were to make the change. I support the bill, and commend the Minister for its early introduction.

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