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Wednesday, 20 May 1942

Mr CURTIN - The honorable member would surely not make the Minister for Repatriation the judge as to whether a man was, or was not, entitled to a pension ?

Mr MORGAN - No. It is a matter for a select committee of the House, which would consider various cases in order to see whether they should come under the provisions of the act. In the current issue of Smith's Weekly the following article appears: -

What is a returned soldier?

Federal Government's reluctance, or inability, to make up its mind on this question is leading up to a situation which, in other circumstances, would be Gilbertian. As it is. however, it is nothing short of tragic.

What is a Returned Soldier j Lop-sided Act should be Amended.

Men who have been at battle stations for months, who have been under enemy fire in Australian territory; men who fought at Rabaul - these cannot be classed as returned soldiers because of a lop-sided piece of legislation endorsed to meet the war of 1914-18 and never amended.

To a growing number of servicemen discharged honorably after a year, two years' service. Government says blandly: "You are - you are not!"

And men are left to scratch their heads and wonder what it is all about - banded a volunteer's badge, deprived of all rights and privileges the term " returned from active service " justly carries.

By proclamation on the 15th of last month, all persons subject to military law serving in Australia, or the Commonwealth territories, were declared to be on " active service." There was no definition, however, of what " active service " meant, and Defence Authorities are relying upon the regulations of 1914-18 which, for some strange reason, remain still on the Statute.

Proclamation was made under National Security Regulations. Ordinarily, it would seem, it would require very little effort to give it its obvious effect. Military, however, take the 1914-18 legislation as binding, even where it affects men discharged since the proclamation was made. An Army spokesman explained to Smith's " that it was not the military's job to interpret what a government meant, but merely to carry out what it ordered.

Proclamation, therefore, gets returned, discharged fighting men exactly nowhere.

Lads who fought the battle for Rabaul, who trekked into the New Britain jungle to escape and serve again, for instance, cannot claim consideration as returned soldiers, because they have not served abroad

Nor can the men who give the Japs hell from Darwin. " Smith's " has abundant proof that their treatment has been the cause of considerabledistress both among the men and their dependants. They consider they have been insulted.

Here are three typical instances of what is happening under archaic regulations which the Government insists must be enforced.

The article goes on to cite instances similar to the one which I have just mentioned. This matter should not he left to departmental officials, but should be inquired into by a select committee. Che Minister said that he was considering the matter in conjunction with officials of the department, but that i& not satisfactory because the administrative acts of those officials might also need to be inquired into. This man was offered work in a munitions factory, but though the wages were good, he could not take the job because of his disability. He should be given light duties until his health is restored. As a returned soldier from the last war, he was in possession of a war service home, on which he was obliged to make payments. He has not been given a sustenance allowance, and has had to accept relief for himself and his family from the State. He should not be forced into the position of accepting charitable relief from the State authorities. He has also been paying off the cost of his furniture, and I submit that the moratorium should apply, not only to men on active service, but also to men who have been discharged from the Army. This man necessarily got behind in his payments, and when that happens it is apt to undermine a man's health.

On a previous occasion I referred to the matter of the production of munitions. I asked the Prime Minister why the Board of Area Management in Sydney lacked authority to make payments. The Prime Minister's reply was satisfactory as far as it went, but I understand that all items of capital expenditure must still be referred to Mr. Nixon, the Director of Finance, of Melbourne, who has been very ill for the last five or six weeks.

Mr Curtin - That is not correct.

Mr MORGAN - I have been given that information on reliable authority.

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