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Thursday, 24 September 1942
Page: 930

Mr MORGAN (Reid) (3:25 AM) .- I draw the attention of the committee to certain matters pertaining to the administration of the Repatriation Department. Towards the conclusion of the last sittings of Parliament, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) promised that a committee would be set up to inquire into anomalies in the Commonwealth Repatriation Act and its administration. A joint committee representing all parties in the Parliament was duly set up, and its report is now before Cabinet. I understand that amending legislation will be brought down in the near future. I regret, however, that the committee was not deputed to inquire into the administration of the act. It is the considered opinion of representatives of the returned soldiers that the ad/ministration needs to be overhauled. I quote the following report of proceedings at the last congress of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League in Sydney: -

Charges wore ninda at the Returned Soldiers League Congress to-day by the League Pension Officer (Mr. A. E. Roberts) that soldiers of this war discharged unfit were not getting pensions and had to pay for medical treatment themselves.

A delegate asked Mr. Roberts whether the Government picked the " most inhuman men " to put on the Repatriation Board. Mr. Roberts said, " It is no good putting bills on the statute-book unless they are administered in a proper manner. The act could be, and should bo, more liberally interpreted."

Congress, on the motion of the Parramatta Macarthur sub-branch, decided to recommend that war pensions be increased to cope with the rising cost of living.

On the motion of the North Sydney subbranch, Congress decided that widows' and children's pensions should be increased by 50 per cent.

Mr McDonald - The committee has reported upon the administration of the act.

Mr MORGAN - I was assured by the chairman of the committee that it had not gone into the matter of administration. The Appeals Entitlement Tribunal lias been reconstituted by the Minister because it was found to be out of touch with returned soldiers. When he found that 450 out of 500 appeals had been turned down, the Minister saw that it was lime to act. Tho Assessment Tribunal, consisting of medical men, also needs to be overhauled. Some of those who serve on this tribunal were previously in the employ of insurance companies, where their duty was to refuse as many applications as they could, and they have carried this policy into their work on the Assessment Tribunal. The tribunal in its present form should be abolished, and whilst medical men should still be called upon to advise the commission, they should not be given authority.

Mr Frost - Who should do this work ?

Mr MORGAN - It should be given to men who are qualified to sift the evidence placed before them. I could cite numerous cases in point, but I shall mention only one which comes to my notice. The Appeal Tribunal has disallowed a returned soldier's claim in respect of neurasthenia, fibrositis, gastritis and gastrogeneous diarrhoea. -This returned soldier from the last war and his wife are rearing a family of six young Australians, two of whom are still wholly dependent on them; yet all he gets is a miserly pension of 2s. a week for himself and a total of 7s. 4d. a fortnight to support himself, his wife and two children. Is it any wonder that this man is a nervous wreck? How he or his family exists at all is beyond my comprehension. I lodged on his behalf medical certificates by reputable medical men, which bear out that his disability is definitely due to war service and that he is unable to do any work whatever. Butt medical evidence should not be required to show that there is a palpable injustice being done to this man, who left these shores to make Australia a land "fit for heroes to live in". I now cite another case which was mentioned in this House by the present Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) when in opposition. As reported in Hansard of the 5th December, 1940, page 501, the honorable gentleman said -

Mcn were robbed after the last war and are still being robbed. To illustrate how the returned soldiers from the last war are being robbed, I cite tho -case of one man. He is suffering from the following disabilities: - neurasthenia, urticaria, injury to right leg, fractured nose, right femoral hernia, right inguinal hernia, all of which are accepted as being due to war service, and neuritis in the right arm, defective vision, glycosuria, emphymea, pulmonary fibrosis, spondylitis, which are not regarded as being due to such service. This returned soldier has a pension of 12s. (id. a week. With all those ailments, lu> would be incapable of doing any work. Yet, when he applied for a service pension, which is granted only in cases of total incapacity, his application was rejected on the grounds that he was not totally incapacitated. 1 do not know what other disability lie could be suffering from in order to render him totally incapacitated. There are many other such cases.

F.   have received many letters to the same effect in respect of men who have served in the present war. I mentioned in this House recently the case of a man who, after serving sixteen months in this war and four years in the last war, was unable to obtain a civilian suit when he was discharged. He was denied a sustenance allowance, and he could not get suitable employment; yet the Repatriation Department rejected his application for a pension, with the result that he had ito accept the dole for himself and his family. Those are not the conditions for which men are fighting. That returned members of the Australian Imperial Force are receiving similar treatment is shown in the following letter which I received lately from a returned soldier of the present war : -

Having road an article concerning tho overhaul of the Hepatization Act and noting that you were one of the advocates, I would like to thank you on behalf of about 30 of us, all returnees from this war, who have been discharged with chest trouble and been told that we must have had tho complaints on enlistment.

Also, .1 would like to state my own case as an example of the treatment we ' have been receiving.

My first medical board on enlistment for the Australian .Imperial Force consisted of two doctors, J. Bedford El well and John Powell, both specialists oil the Repatriation Board. I did five months' intensive training at Bedbank. Queensland, before embarking for the Middle East. After five months in Palestine and Egypt, I was returned to Australia as medically unfit, with asthma and emphysema.

On applying for medical treatment after discharge, I was told that I was not entitled to it as my complaint was not due to, or aggravated by, war service. Also, Dr. Minde, of Brisbane, who by the way has not examined mc, stated that in his opinion I must have been at least 05 per cent, disabled before enlistment.

Doctors have a " hide " to say such things. When these men are accepted for service, they are good enough physically to fight for their country, but when they come back they are told that they must have been 65 per cent, disabled before enlistment. Fancy such a verdict being given by a doctor who did not even see the man !

Mr Frost - If he did not see the soldier, how could he have given that opinion of him

Mr MORGAN - I do not know; but that kind of thing has happened on more than one occasion. Some doctors in the employment of the Repatriation Department are unsuitable for their work. 1 have in mind a miner's widow who was claiming compensation from an insurance company in respect of the death of her husband. A doctor who was a witness on behalf of the insurance company listened to the evidence, and although he knew nothing of the deceased man, he went into the witness box and for ten minutes gave evidence against the claim. Fortunately, the woman won the case and received worker's compensation amounting to £850. That doctor was paid £105 by the insurance company for his evidence. He was a witness in three or four cases in that court on the same day. and if his payment was at the same rate in each instance, he was well paid for his day's work. He is a specialist practising in Macquarie-street. The letter continues -

In a speech given by Mr. P. Spender when he was Minister for the Army, at a recruiting rally, he stated that, with the machinery nt the Army's disposal (X-rays and such), no man would be able to enlist unless absolutely Al and therefore the onus would bo on the Government to provide for any nian invalided back from overseas.

Before enlistment, I followed heavy work, such as quarry labourer and bridge-rigging, but since my discharge I am unable to do heavy work and I have not worked a full week yet, and it is costing me upwards of £1 for medicine and treatment every week and so my wife and children are being made to suffer, having to go without things they badly need.

I have been before the Entitlement Tribunal mid in the evidence submitted against me was a statement supposed to have been made by mc stating that I was torpedoed whilst in tho Navy in 1915. In answer to this, I produced my birth certificate, which proves that in 1915 I was only twelve years of age and was still at school.

That is the sort of evidence that is accepted against these men. The hearing of these cases should be in open court if the soldier so desires. I have never seen any good come from hearings in closed courts -

Also, it stated I was an inmate of the Dalby Hospital in 193S. I wrote to thu secretary of the hospital and got a reply to say that no person of my name was ever in the Dalby Hospital, but still this evidence was not allowed in my favour and I am still refused medical treatment.

Hoping this will be of some assistance to you in getting the act overhauled, and thereby 9 How us to get our just dues.

Those facts in relation to a soldier of this war justify m y claim that the administration of the act should he overhauled. The root cause of the trouble is that medical men are called upon to arbitrate in these cases and that their chief aim is to save the Government as much money as possible instead of meting out justice in accordance "with facts and the principles laid clown in the act. The act places the onus on the Administration, so that if the soldier can mate out a prima facie case he should bc given the benefit of the doubt. The act is not being carried out, and therefore I urge that its administration -be looked into. I ask only for common justice. I also urge that men appearing before these tribunals should be entitled to have some one to represent them. Just as provision is made for public advocates in our courts, so these men should 1 1 fi ve some one to look after their interests.

A3 much of the evidence consists of medical terms, Latin quotations and highsounding phrases, a trained advocate is necessary if these men arc to receive a fair deal. It has been suggested that the men are satisfied with the Administration, but the proceedings at the congress of returned soldiers revealed their true attitude. I urge the Government to consider these matters if for no other reason than that its failure to do so will rebound on the Government. At the congress, there was a suggestion that returned soldiers should form a separate political party, but I un glad that wiser counsels prevailed and that the motions were rejected. Later, a vote of confidence in the Government was carried. I hope that that confidence will be justified. I am riot criticizing the present Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost), as he has not long been in charge of the department; and moreover the tribunal is outside his jurisdiction. That, should not be. No tribunal appointed by this Parliament should be free from control by the Parliament. That is why I suggest the appointment of a standing committee of members of all parties to deal with these matters. It is poor consolation to be told that a case of injustice cannot be remedied because the Minister has no jurisdiction. Returned soldiers should not be denied justice. One delegate at the conference of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's .Imperial League of Australia directed attention to the number of members of Parliament in the Army, and made comparisons. That was unfair, because the age of the vast majority of honorable members debars them from taking a combatant's part. However, most of them have relatives and friends in the fighting forces; I have two sons in the Army. Honorable members should give practical expression to their sympathy for returned soldiers, by amending the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act for the purpose of rectifying anomalies.

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