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Thursday, 4 July 1946

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- I take this opportunity to refer to anomalies arising under our repatriation legislation. I know that I have raised these matters repeatedly on previous occasions, but I make no apology for doing so again. I do not care who derives the credit for any adjustment to rectify anomalies. I am glad that the honorable member for Reid' (Mr. Morgan) .and the honorable member for Martin ,(Mr. Daly) have particularly dealt with the subject which I am about to raise; and I hope that as the result of representations by honorable members on both sides of the chamber the Government will take, heed of these matters. I do not say that the anomalies are the Minister's fault, but he is partly responsible for the unsympathetic treatment in cases of the kind I shall mention. I agree with the honorable member for Reid that this legislation, which was intended to give justice to the serviceman, and which has been improved from time to time,, is still deficient in many respects. Servicemen realize that fact. It is not a political matter. I ask honorable members opposite to co-operate with honorable members on this side of. the chamber in our endeavours to have anomalies adjusted.

I refer first to the dependent parent's pension. The rate of this pension was reduced by the Scullin Government during the depression. I do not throw that up 'at the present Government. The reduction was made of necessity; but whilst other classes of pensions have been restored in full, the pension payable to dependent parents has not been restored. All of us know of parents who believed that pensions would be payable to them automatically upon the death of their sons in the services. I know of- two sons, with one of whom I served in this war, who were killed within a period of a few weeks. They were the only children in their family. Their parents enjoyed a very small income, the husband receiving a retirement allowance after long service with a business firm. When these parents applied for a dependent parent's pension, a local police officer was sent to their home to investigate their affairs, and because it was found that approximately £4 a week was coming in to the home they were told that they were not eligible to receive the pension. They had to fill in a very humiliating application form similar to that which applicants for the old-age pension must present. They should not be treated in this way. If, for example, the sons of these parents had not volunteered, or if they had' served only in the forces at home, they would be living in comfort 'to-day. But now,' after the sons' allotments have ceased, they are told by the Government which has always said that it is grateful to the servicemen, that they are not eligible to receive the dependent parent's pension if they own property to the value of £400, although it may be only unusable land, or if they have an income over the old-age pension limit. In order to obtain a pension they have to prove to the commission that they are practically destitute. Do honorable members consider that that is fair treatment of the dependants of men who have given their lives in the defence of this country?

On previous occasions I have forcefully criticized the administration of the "War Service Homes Department, particularly the failure of the Government to build up a stock of building materials in order to enable the department to undertake a building programme immediately following the conclusion of hostilities. Many people are unjustly excluded from registering for a home. They are not even given a chance to have their names placed on the list of those eligible. I. have in mind the case of the widow of a serviceman. I am sure that honorable members do not know that a willow i3 ineligible for a war service home if she possesses only a few hundred pounds and her only income is a pension, whereas a widow who is affluent, even a de facto widow, can register for a war service home. But the legitimate widow of a serviceman, who may possess only a few hundred pounds and her widow's pension, after a searching examination by an official of the War Service Homes Department, is refused a home on the ground that she is not a good risk. Under this system the person who is most in need of help is refused assistance. I read from a letter written by the Deputy Commissioner to the widow of an air-gunner whose brother also was killed -

Your application for assistance to build a home has been carefully considered, but I regret there is no alternative than to decline it since, unfortunately, the income- in your own right cannot be regarded as sufficient to warrant the Commission's making you an advance under the War Service Homes Act.

The provisions of the act make it incumbent upon . the Commission to ensure that each applicant has reasonable prospects of being financially able to fulfil the obligations which would be imposed by any security to be entered into, and which would include not only payment of principal and interest by monthly instalments, but rates, insurance and maintenance costs.

Does it not astound honorable members that a young widow with the burden of rearing children and in need of a home is refused a war service home because she is not in affluent circumstances? In a letter to me that widow's sister, also a war widow, writes -

It seems ridiculous that a girl has to be debarred from owning her own home and making one for her child simply because she has not sufficient income. How, might I ask, is she to acquire an income when she has a child to look after or maybe even two. The pittance these girls are asked to live on isn't, and never will be, enough to run a home on, so isn't it time, either the Government or the people of Australia saw to it that they got enough? Surely their husbands' lives are worth more to -their country than this.

How can they afford- to buy a home on £3 7s. Cd. a week! It's impossible isn't it and yet to my way of thinking the girls with the least income should be the ones to be helped first. Their reasoning just doesn't make sense to me.

You may quote my sister-in-law's case in Parliament or to Mr. Lazzarini and most definitely to the Minister for Repatriation.

The Minister for .Repatriation (Mr. Frost) is familiar with such cases. A deputation representing war widows awaited upon him to discuss them, and he had no answer to give except to point to the act. That was months ago, but still nothing has been done to effect an improvement. Surely the Government must feel some sense of responsibility when the way in which the act' is being administered has the effect of driving widows into poverty. In the case I have cited, the widow had £500, and was receiving a pension of £2 10s. a "week. If that is regarded by the authorities as insufficient security, the Government should increase the pension. Personally, I believe that a pension of £2 10s. a week is not enough for the widow of a man who has lost his life in the service of his country.

The entitlement tribunals are charged with the duty of reviewing the cases of applicants who have been refused pensions, but it is a very difficult tribunal to interview. Some time ago, I was approached by a man who had been discharged from one of the services on medical grounds, but he was refused a pension, and was living in poverty. He was fit when he enlisted, and now is anything but fit, and has undergone two operations. When he was refused a pension he applied for a hearing before the Entitlement Board, and was again turned down. I was so sorry for him that I went myself before the board with him. Let it be understood that if it is difficult for a member of Parliament to get a hearing before the Entitlement Board, it is much more difficult for Private Smith or Gunner Jones. The board seemed disposed to' reconsider its finding, but the claim has not yet been settled. I have here a letter from the wife of a man who has been fighting a claim for years,, and the board has decided at last that he is entitled to a pension. Now he must go through all the procedure again in the way of medical examinations, and his wife recently wrote to me in these terms -

You may recall that I wrote you on the 25th July, 1945, sending copy of a letter I had addressed to the Prime Minister regarding my husband's case in particular and neurosis cases in general amongst returned soldiers. You kindly replied on the 8th October, and on the 5th November sent me a copy of the letter from the Minister of Repatriation to the Prime Minister advising an appeal to the Entitlement Tribunal.

I am pleased to say that my husband's appeal to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal was successful, but instead of bringing relief it has only led to more anxiety, as he is now being required to submit to a further series of medical examinations, which I fee] is more than is really necessary.

That is in line with the case mentioned by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) in which a man who had been refused a pension was shortly afterwards declared insane and committed to Callan Park. A few years ago, I appeared before the Entitlement Tribunal on behalf of a man who had been held as a prisoner of war by the Turks at the same time that I was myself a prisoner. He became so ill that he was exchanged by the Turks, and they made very few exchanges. Subsequently, his widow applied for a .pension, but was refused. I went before the board myself, and was able to have the decision reversed. Medical testimony was that the man had died from such and such a. cause, and outside specialists were asked if that condition was likely to be the result of war service. That is .the sort of question which members of the tribunal ask doctors, and, of course, the doctor can fairly say that the condition could have arisen from other causes. Had. I not been there to say what I knew of the case the widow would not have received a pension and she and her five children would have suffered undue hardship. I know of another man who had been badly beaten in captivity; he was practically a mental case and was receiving 100 per cent, pension when he died in .a remote hospital. His widow has tried unsuccessfully to get a pension, and although I have written in her behalf the board has refused to reopen her case as his death is claimed to be not due .to war service, and no further relevant evidence is available. The Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act, which is a beneficent measure, and is liberal in many respects, yet permits such unjust anomalies as these.

Under the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Act, an unemployed exserviceman in receipt of a war pension of, say, 25s. a week, has the amount of his pension deducted from the 27s. a week which he is entitled to receive as an unemployed person. This provision does not apply to persons who are receiving income in similar circumstances from other sources - from a friendly society, for instance. "When the bill was before the Parliament, I moved, an amendment to this provision, and the Minister in charge of the bill promised that he would see what he could do to adjust the matter. I should like to know whether it has been adjusted.

Mr Holloway - I do not know.'

Mr WHITE - It is not fair that an ex-serviceman should have the amount of his" pension deducted from an unemployment . relief payment whilst a man on strike will not suffer a reduction in respect of any strike relief payments he may be receiving from his union.

Mr Makin - Unemployment relief is not paid to men on strike.

Mr WHITE - Well, an anomaly still exists, because persons receiving payments from other sources do not have the amount deducted from, their unemployment relief pay, whereas ex-servicemen receiving pensions do suffer a reduction. In my opinion, the Entitlement Board might well be abolished and the cases ' be allowed to come before a court, where the parties would receive justice more expeditiously. If the Government wishes to have the matter investigated so that the deficiencies and operation of the act can be authenticated, let it call a conference with all the service organizations concerned. The servicemen and dependants generally do not want charity, but only a fair deal. Many of them defy their disabilities and make no claim for a pension; but others who cannot help themselves should get the pension it was intended they should receive, according to the measure of their disability or hardship, but which is often denied them by regulations. As an alternative to a conference, the All-party Soldiers Committee should be reconstituted. I was overseas when ' that committee sat previously or I would have placed some of these matters before it. Undoubtedly, the committee did valuable work in increasing the rates of pension, but it failed to adjust these -anomalies which I bring to the notice of the Government in the hope that something will be done to rectify them in the very near future. -Mr. POLLARD (Ballarat) [10.36].- An announcement was made last week that the Government in its wisdom had decided so to liberalize the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act as to bring within the ambit of pensions eligibility approximately 114,000 additional people. Recently I had occasion to visit the headquarters of the Pensions Department in Melbourne, where I was astonished to see the staff crowded into rooms which, from the health point of view, were shockingly inadequate. I was so shocked that I asked to be taken round the whole of the office accommodation, with a view to ascertaining whether what I saw at first glance was a general indication of the position throughout the whole of the building occupied by the department. I ascertained that not only was there general overcrowding, but that it was even worse in some sections than in the section I first visited. If 114,000 additional people are to be brought within the ambit of the invalid and old-age pensions legislation, it must be obvious that the departmental staff will have to be increased, and that the accommodation at present available will be more inadequate than ever. I hesitate to think what would be the effect from the health point of view if. an increased staff were housed in the existing accommodation in Melbourne. It seems strange that on the one hand the Government should make available for the relief of sufferers from . tuberculosis an amount of £250,000, while on the other hand it creates within one of its own departments the very conditions in which the tuberculosis germ thrives. I bring this matter before the Government in the hope that prompt action will be taken to ensure that the Melbourne staff of the department is more adequately housed. I trust that the Minister in

Charge of the House will convey to his colleague, the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna), the very desperate need that exists to improve the conditions under which the staff of this important department is working.

Mr Holloway - I shall be glad to do so.

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