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Thursday, 27 June 1946

Mr RYAN (Flinders) .- The tragic story of Ambon and Rabaul is not and should not be the subject of political controversy.- When the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) raised the subject, he certainly did not have any idea of bringing it into the political sphere.

Mr Lazzarini - I had a different impression.

Mr RYAN - I notice smiles on the faces of honorable members opposite, but I remind them that this sad story had its genesis during the life of the MenziesGovernment, whilst the end occurred under the Government which now occupies the treasury bench. Therefore, obviously blame, if blame there be,' i3 not attachable to any one political party.

Mr Lazzarini - That is the only fair statement which has been made on the subject.

Mr RYAN - That statement ' was made earlier. I also received a copy of the document . which the honorable member for Richmond read. It was distributed by members of various associa-tions connected with those unfortunate men who took part in the two expeditions. Like the honorable member for Richmond, I consider that this story might well be further clarified in order that relatives of the ill-fated troops, and others who take a close interest in the story may know the truth, as far as it can be ascertained. Therefore, I urge the Government to accept the proposal of the honorable member for Richmond. After all, we are not here to engage in a witch hunt. All we desire is to ascertain the truth of the events which took place.

I desire now to refer to the matter 'of the .refund of allotments made to nondependants of servicemen who were reported missing and then presumed dead, and who finally were found on further evidence to have died earlier than the date on which their death was presumed. On previous occasions, other honorable members have raised this subject. This afternoon the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) referred to it. During the last session, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) and the honorable member for Balaclava urged the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) to endeavour to ascertain whether more generous treatment could be accorded to those non-dependants' who had been in receipt of the allotment. The following is a report of the Minister's reply: -

The Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) denied today that there were any cases in which n. soldier's dependants had been required to refund allotments or dependants' allowances received after the date of the soldier's death.

The Government's policy was to continue allotments and dependants' allowances for one month from the date on which the death was reported to the Repatriation Commission and the pension began the day after the cessation of allotments and allowances.

Where a non-dependant receiver of an allotment could show himself to be unable to refund any overpayment after death, recovery would not be effected. r cite a typical example of a large number of cases which have arisen. A serviceman made an allotment to his mother before he proceeded to Singapore. After he had been taken prisoner, he was sent to that horror spot, the Siam-Burma railway, where he worked under the Japanese. About two years later, a fairly reliable report was. received that he had died. The date of his demise, was presumed to be some time, in 1944. After the, war further' inquiries were, made, and it was discovered that the. man died a year before the date he was presumed to. be dead. The result was that about a month ago his mother-, whom. I know quite, well, as she lives not far from me, received what I regard as a peremptory if no callous, note demanding the refund' of about a year's allotment. The financial position of the family was such that the amount, about £20, could be provided, without much hardship, but what upset this unfortunate lady and, in fact, reduced her almost to a state of nervous prostration, was that the Government had acted in such a callous way in respect of a man who had given his life for his country. That case is one of a considerable number of the same kind. I suppose fifteen or twenty of them have been brought to my notice. Looking at the matter from a strictly logical' point of view, it may be said that the Government is justified in demanding refunds of overpayments in such cases, but surely these matters should be dealt with, not in the terms of strict logic, but in a generous and humane fashion. Women have come to me in tears to describe certain inhuman treatment to which they have beon subjected in respect of their beloved dead. I ask the Government to make an investigation with, the object of rendering unnecessary the refund of money in cases of this description. The amount involved cannot possibly be very large, nor can the number of Gases be considerable. We know the number of casualties in the war, the number of our men who were taken prisoner, and the number of such prisoners who died. The amount overpaid in allotments in respect of persons presumed to be dead would be a mere bagatelle in comparison with the heavy expenditure that is still being incurred in connexion with the war. I therefore ask the Government to deal with this subject in a generous spirit.

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