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Thursday, 4 July 1946

Mr MORGAN (Reid) .- The Government, in making very liberal provision for the payment of a war gratuity to ex-members of the fighting services, has laid it down 'as a matter of general principle that the gratuity shall not be payable in cash for a period of five and a half years from the termination of hostilities. That, generally speaking, is a wise provision in the interests of both the ex-serviceman and the community. Many ex-servicemen will have deferred pay coming to them, and that will enable them to settle down until the economic conditions of the country become stabilized. They will not be the victims of unscrupulous people such as those who preyed upon ex-servicemen of World War I., the war gratuity of many of whom was whittled away, whilst others became indebted to money-lenders. The Government has made certain exceptions to the general rule, one exception being that an ex-serviceman who desires to acquire a home may obtain financial accommodation through approved lending institutions, including the Commonwealth Bank and the Rural Bank, and have his war gratuity applied to the reduction of his indebtedness. Many ex-servicemen are waiting to take advantage of that provision; but it appears that it. will not operate until there has been compliance with various formalities. Many cases have come to my notice lately. Quite recently, an ex-serviceman applied for assistance to the Rural Bank, only to find that the officials of that institution did not have any application forms, or any information to guide them, in the transaction of such business. I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), or whoever is dealing with the matter, to expedite the procedure, so that those who are waiting may proceed with the purchase or erection of a home. In other cases there is warrant for the liberalization of the provisions. I refer particu-' larly to elderly ex-servicemen. A constituent . of mine who served in World War I. and World War II., in the latter for about five years or more, is now about 63 years of age. His wife is 67 years of age. Because of sickness in his family, and other heavy expenses which he has had to incur, he desires to obtain immediate payment of his war gratuity. He is precluded from borrowing for the purpose of acquiring his own home, because most of the lending institutions will not make advances to elderly people on account of the possibility of their being unable to complete the repayments during their lifetime. This man has a grandson, aged twelve years, -for whom he has undertaken to care and provide, his parents being dead. Immediate payment of his war gratuity would be preferable to withholding it for five years, at the end of which time he might not be alive to enjoy it. Another ex-serviceman, 60 years of age, who had been in one of the services for some time, has reared a family of ten children, seven of whom are still dependent on him. Because of his age, he finds it difficult to obtain employment, private employers not being willing to engage men of an advanced age who may become entitled to ' the payment of worker's' compensation. He was in the upholstery business employed before he enlisted, and now desires to establish himself in that business on his own account. He has obtained some contracts, but needs a little money. His war gratuity amounts to only £30, and the immediate payment of it would not have any effect upon the general -scheme, whereas it would be of considerable advantage to him at a time when he badly needs it, by enabling him to provide himself with necessary facilities: He applied to the Repatriation Commission for a grant under the provision which relates to ex-servicemen conducting business enterprises on their own account. The Commission, after an inquiry, decided that as he had not been employed on his own account previously he had not the necessary experience and knowledge to branch out independently now. He is quite willing to have his war gratuity set off against any grant or loan that may be made to him by the Repatriation. Commission.

The purchase of furniture is in much the same category as the acquirement of a home, because it is a necessary part of a home. It would be far better for an exserviceman to apply his war gratuity to this purpose than . to borrow, from a money-lender or to enter into a hirepurchase agreement involving the payment of a high rate of interest. Such cases call for the liberalization of the conditions under which the war gratuity may be payable immediately.'

The Government has widened considerably the benefits obtainable under the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act, thanks to the recommendations of the committee "of which the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) was the chairman. I believe that that act has been very sympathetically administered during the regime of this Government. But in all acts of that description anomalies are bound to occur. An instance that came to my notice recently relates to an exserviceman of the last war who is a constituent of mine. This man enlisted in the last war, but, because at that time troops were not being sent to France, he was sent to New Guinea where he served for one year and 191 days. He is now 55 years of age, and because of ill health he has been obliged to relinquish his employment with the Tramways Department in Sydney. He is now unemployed. Had he served in a theatre pf war in either the last war, or World War I. he would be entitled to a service pension, but the Repatriation Department has ruled that he is not entitled because he did not . serve in a theatre of war. I am surprised at that ruling. When the repatriation legislation was last amended I studied the provisions of the bill carefully, and I was under the impression that the definition of theatre of war inserted in that legislation applied to World War I. as well as to the last war. In fact, that provision was con.siderably liberalized, some servicemen who did not even leave Australia being, in certain circumstances, classed as having served in a theatre of war. In reply to this man's application the Repatriation Commission wrote -

I have to advise that your claim for .a service pension has been rejected by the Repatriation

Board on the ground that you did not serve in a theatre of war as denned by the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act 1920-1943.

This case discloses an anomaly, because . in the last war New Guinea and islands in the Pacific were considered to be theatres of, war.' In World War I. this man suffered the rigours of the tropical climate and life in the jungle as a soldier in New Guinea. Surely, he is as much entitled to a service pension as any soldier who served in the Pacific Islands during the last war, and certainly more entitled to it than those men who did not even leave Australia, but, because of particular circumstances, are entitled to it. However, I am sure that the Government, which has shown its preparedness to approach these matters in the light of experience, will give sympathetic consideration to cases of this kind, and at the earliest opportunity effect an appropriate amendment of the legislation to cover such cases.

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