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Thursday, 13 October 1955

Mr JOSHUA (Ballarat) (Leader of the Anti-Communist Labour party) . - I think it must be said, in all fairness, that this very important bill is the most generous that has come before this House for many years. Honorable members have endeavoured to approach the matter in a non-party spirit. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) told us throughout his speech that he was adopting a non-party attitude, and I commend him for that. While I am commending persons, I commend the honorable member for Dawson (Mr. Davidson) for his speech, which was one of the most informative that we have heard for a considerable time. However, several matters must be mentioned. First, the amendment moved by the Opposition is formal. I am disappointed in it, because it prevents me from placing before the Chair an amendment which I think would be far more useful and which merits great consideration. I shall now have to leave it until later when we are in committee. I intended to move for the addition of a new clause to make provision for the establishment of a royal commission to ascertain and inform the Parliament of suitable standards of living and comfort which should be established and maintained for the comfort and needs of the various recipients of repatriation payments. Let us look at the greater reason for such an amendment than for the purely formal amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). This bill provides for most generous treatment to certain sections of ex-servicemen. Totally and permanently incapacitated soldiers who are married will receive £15 a week, and they have expressed complete satisfaction with that amount. It is not for us to say whether or not that amount is sufficient; it is for the ex-servicemen themselves, and I am glad that they have written in those terms to the Minister. The extraordinary position is that nobody knows why the amount should be £15 a week. Let us take the case of a man on a 100 per cent, pension, who receives, in addition, an age pension. If he is married, he and his wife will receive £14 10s. a week. Let us consider the case of a man who is over 60 years of age, and who, all his life, has suffered a 100 per cent, disability. At that age he would be quite unfit for any sort of work at all. He receives £14 10s. a week, while the totally and permanently incapacitated soldier and his wife receive £15 a week. I do not see any reason for the difference. They are very fine distinctions and the payments should be based on some system or reasoning, but up to date I have not found any system or reasoning in the fixing of those variations in rates.

The honorable member for Lalor directed attention to the position of widows, but he did not really deal with the matter at all. If a royal commission examined these matters, it would have before it evidence relating to the conditions of war widows. For example, why should a war widow be limited to an income of £7 10s. a week under the terms of this bill, when a totally and permanently incapacitated single exserviceman will receive £9 15s. a week? Where is the rhyme and reason for that differentiation? The war widow has lost her man. She sent him away to the war and he was killed. She faces life as a widow without her partner. For some reason or other she is regarded as being able to get by on considerably less than is some soldier who did his job and returned in a very bad state of health. He receives £9 15s. a week, but for some reason the war widow is supposed to get by on £7 10s. a week. That is really a grievous matter which a royal commission should consider, especially as- the War Widows Guild has, time and time again, made representations for better treatment and produced supporting evidence to the Government. There are only a few of these people, but they merit the greatest consideration. I know a lady who recently became a war widow. She and her husband lived together in a flat, for which they paid about £4 a week. Then her husband died as a result of war injuries. She receives a pension of £7 10s. a week, but she has to pay £4 a week for her flat. Does the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) think that she should give up her flat and take a room somewhere else at a lower rent? Surely honorable members will agree that, when a woman loses her husband, the home in which she lived with him is the greatest asset that she has. She can invite her friends there and can continue to live in much the same way as before. It is quite clear that a pension of £7 10s. a week is not enough to enable a war widow to pay for reasonably comfortable accommodation. I say that the pension should be increased, in accordance with a formula based on evidence produced before a royal commission such as I have suggested.

Some months ago, one newspaper - from the look of the print on the cutting that I have, it was probably the Melbourne Argus, the journal that always supports me - published the budget of a war widow with two children. The mother's allowance was £4 a week. It will be £4 10s. a. week when this bill has been passed. The children's allowance was £1 14s. 6d. a week. That will not be altered by this bill. The home allowance was £1 14s. 6d. a week. That will not be altered either. The cost of maintaining a home has risen in the same way as other costs have risen, but there is to be no increase of the home allowance. The education allowance shown in the budget was lis. 6d. a week. That will not be increased by this measure. The total income of the widow was £8 lis. a week. When this bill has been passed, it will be £9 ls. a week. Then her expenses were given. As a family man, I think the figures were very near to the mark. Milk cost her 15s. 9d. a week, bread 8s. 2d. meat £2, groceries £2 5s., fruit and vegetables £1 3s. - they seemed to like a lot of fruit, but fruit is good for children - rent £2 5s., firewood 10s., and gas and electricity 14s. The total was £10 0s. lid. I think that is a very reasonable budget. But, although her expenses were £10 0s. lid. a week a few months ago, her income when this bill has been passed will be only £9 ls. The newspaper article stated that child endowment of 15s. a week had been excluded from her income, but excluded from her outgoings was expenditure on clothing, school fees, chemist's goods and entertainment.

It must be apparent to all honorable members that the pension proposed for war widows will be grossly inadequate. It is high time that a proper inquiry was made into the needs of pensioners. If we had proper information about those needs, I believe the war widows would be much more likely to receive justice than they are at present. The amendment that I have foreshadowed suggests that we try to ascertain a suitable standard of living for pensioners, which then should be established and maintained. The totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen have asked that their standard of living be maintained. They appreciate what the Government has done for them, but they realize that the benefits that have been conferred upon them now may be taken from them by a depreciation of the value of money as time goes on. They want their present standard of living to be maintained. They suggest that their pension should be attached, so to speak, to the basic wage, the C series index or some other reliable guide to the real value of money from time to time.

We hope that that will be done. We believe that it must be done before any real progress can be made in this field. It will not be of much use to increase the war widow's pension from £4 to £4 10s. a week if wo do not increase also the home allowance, the children's allowance and the education allowance. As the value of money decreases, so the value of pensions and allowances decreases also. We must find some means to maintain the real value of these payments.

I turn to the appeal tribunals. I am grieved that the honorable member for Parkes has foreshadowed an amendment which any member of the Labour party should regard as scandalous. It is not in accordance with Labour principles, and the splinter group over there ought to be ashamed of itself for having prepared it. The honorable member for Parkes said -

One of the amendments that I foreshadow concerns the matter of appeals, which we consider can best he handled by the High Court as the final arbiter.

Surely that conflicts with everything that the Labour party has ever said on the subject. Labour men have never been in favour of appeals in repatriation cases being subjected to the expensive processes of the law, if that can be avoided. When that amendment is put, this party, as the true Labour party, will not support it.

I wish to deal with the appeal tribunals as I have found them to be. It was wrong and reprehensible for the honorable member for Parkes to make a statement such as this -

That the resistance is there is made manifest when one reads that brilliant medical men outside the Repatriation Department who give their evidence - unbiased evidence - and are careful to write a case history in order to help the department, arc brushed aside.

That is completely wrong. The honorable member should not have made such a statement. If he had investigated some of the cases dealt with by the tribunals, as most honorable members have done, he would know that the tribunals are composed of responsible men. They have their difficulties, of which they are well aware. An appeal tribunal consists of a legal man, assisted by medical men. When the members of a tribunal make a decision, they make it on the basis of legal requirements and the medical evidence supplied to them. I have been at pains to help some people to supply that evidence on certain occasions. The tribunals are prepared to receive any evidence that can be adduced in support of a claim, even evidence of a fragmentary nature. Tribunal members have told me that they are bound to make their decisions on the basis of legal requirements, medical evidence and what they know of medical science. Sometimes, although they would like very much to allow an appeal, legal requirements and the medical evidence produced preclude them from doing so. They have the quality that is called human sympathy. They would like to use it to influence decisions in favour of applicants, but they dare not do so. They are sympathetic men but, as members of, so to speak, a legal and scientific tribunal, they are bound to make their decisions on the basis of the facts. I have always found that they do so in a most responsible manner.

The honorable member for Dawson foreshadowed an amendment, the effect of which would be to enable people who could produce extra evidence to place that evidence before a tribunal, without the necessity, as I gathered from what the honorable member said, for the evidence to be examined by the tribunal first to see whether it was material and relevant. "Mr. Francis. - The honorable member for Dawson did not foreshadow an amendment. He referred to a clause of the bill which proposes an amendment of the act.

Mr JOSHUA - I took it that that was the purport of the amendment. Under the act as it stands, if a person produces additional medical evidence, that evidence is submitted to the tribunal, which has to decide whether the evidence is material and relevant to the case. If the tribunal decides that the evidence is materia] and relevant, it proceeds to re-hear the case. That is the present procedure. Under the new procedure, when additional medical evidence is produced, the tribunal will re-own the case and consider the evidence. It will not have to decide, as a preliminary step, whether the evidence is material and relevant to the case. I do not think that provision will be of very much help.

I suggest that the Government give consideration to another method of granting relief, which I feel is warranted and goes to the very root of this business about the onus of proof. I know of claims that were rejected - quite soundly rejected - by appeal tribunals, although the tribunals were sympathetic to the claimants, because the necessary evidence had not been produced. I say that a man who had an honorable and gallant record in the forces, who for years preserved his independence, supported himself and paid his own medical expenses, is entitled to every consideration.

Silting suspended from 1245 to 8.15 p.m.

Mr JOSHUA - Before the suspension of the sitting, I bad been dealing with the onus of proof, and I had indicated that, in my opinion and experience, the members of the "War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunals did their work with great patience and a great sense of responsibility, and that they made their decisions after taking into consideration the legal aspect and the scientific and medical evidence placed before them. However, in some cases, although the tribunal is eager to assist disabled ex-servicemen, it is unable to make a finding in favour of the appellant because there is insufficient medical or scientific evidence to support the appeal.

The Government has introduced amending legislation which it believes will be of assistance to applicants for pensions. During the suspension, I was informed by some honorable members that the Government proposes to make provision in the Repatriation Act for a process that has been in operation for some time, the benefits of which some ex-servicemen have already enjoyed. It is proposed that any additional evidence that is obtained shall be considered by the Repatriation Commission, and shall then be submitted to the appeal tribunal to decide whether it is material to the case. I understand that in some cases ex-servicemen have not been permitted to attend the sittings of appeal tribunals at which additional evidence has been considered, but it is now proposed that they shall be permitted to do so. I assume that those persons who are assisting the appellants will be permitted to attend, and that they will be able to give evidence in support of the appeal. I have enjoyed that privilege on some occasions when I have assisted exservicemen. My party supports that part of the amending legislation which makes provision for such a procedure.

The particular point to which I wish to direct attention is the fact that the inclusion of such a provision in the act will not overcome all the difficulties that are associated with the onus of proof. Very close examination reveals that one element that ought to be considered is being left out of consideration. I think the Parliament should direct its attention towards providing that an ex-serviceman shall be entitled to have the whole of his case properly ' and sympathetically reviewed. At the committee stage, I propose to move an amendment to provide that the appeal tribunal, having considered all the evidence, may make a suitable recommendation to the Minister for sympathetic treatment of the application. That element is not included in the existing legislation, but I believe that it is the desire of the Parliament that it should be considered. Ex-servicemen are supposed to receive sympathetic treatment. The Minister will probably say that on many occasions he has stated that the Repatriation Department gives sympathetic consideration to these cases.

Mr Francis - And I repeat that statement, without qualification.

Mr JOSHUA - Let me inform the Minister that, as the law stands, a war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal is not in a position to give sympathetic consideration. The tribunal, after examining the material medical, scientific and legal aspects of the case, may not find in favour of the appellant, but that is as far as it can go. I have been told by one tribunal that that is as far as it can go, and I agree that that is so. What I am saying is that other evidence which is received during the hearing does not get any consideration at all.

Mr Francis - I should like the honorable member to tell me what evidence cannot be given, and why it cannot be given.

Mr JOSHUA - -I did not say that the evidence is not given. I said that it is given, but that it does not receive con sideration. Let me quote the case of a soldier who fought in Egypt during World War I., and who was evacuated sick. The evidence placed before the tribunal revealed that he was a gallant soldier. Some difficulty was experienced in relation to his medical records but, with the assistance of the tribunal and the assisting officers, that matter was straightened out. It seems that the soldier in question suffered from some sort of stomach trouble. The evidence revealed that he collapsed on the first day after his discharge from the Army and that thereafter he was treated by a doctor, who charged him for his services. This young man had a job on the trams for about twenty years. Although he had frequent absences from work because of his stomach trouble, he did not receive any benefit from the Repatriation Department. He gave every indication of being a man of independence who stood on his own feet, and who endeavoured to earn his living and lead a respectable life without calling on anybody else for assistance. Eventually he suffered from an ulcer, and it became necessary to decide whether his war service had anything to do with this condition, which had been developing for years. The tribunal decided, on the evidence before it, that his war service had nothing to do with his condition.

Mr Francis - The evidence that the honorable member has just outlined could be placed before the tribunal.

Mr JOSHUA - I gave the evidence to the appeal tribunal. The certificate that we obtained from his employer had been obtained with great difficulty. The original employer had died, but his song furnished a certificate stating that they had been working with this lad when he collapsed. I also obtained certificates from the tramway board to prove his long absences from work. The whole history of this case indicated that it was a very deserving one, but we were unable to obtain the necessary medical evidence for the tribunal to find in the appellant's favour. Unfortunately, one doctor had died, but another doctor who had treated him for twelve years furnished a certificate that was in his favour.

Sir ERIC HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Which is the evidence that the honorable member says could not be considered ?

Mr JOSHUA - I produced to the tribunal additional evidence in the form of letters and certificates. I said to the tribunal, " This is the best evidence that L can furnish ", and the tribunal said that the evidence would be considered. [ then said, " In the event of the tribunal finding that this evidence is material and relevant, I wish to tell you that I cannot furnish any further evidence. Is the evidence that I have furnished sufficient to enable this man to win his appeal?" The tribunal replied, " If we decide that this evidence is relevant, he has gone a long way towards winning his case ". But the tribunal eventually decided that the evidence that was produced was not sufficient to enable the appellant to win his case.

Mr Francis - How long ago did this happen ?

Mr JOSHUA - It happened only a few months ago. I say that here is a case of a man who has a gallant record, and is a very fine type of man who is worthy of all the consideration he can be given by the department and this House, and I am sure that everybody would willingly give it to him, but the entitlement appeals tribunal did not see its way clear to allow the appeal, although it had every sympathy with the appellant. Can the Minister say that the element of sympathy was being given its full weight?

Sir ERIC HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - "With great respect, the honorable member said that the evidence had been placed before the tribunal, which found that some of it was not relevant. The tribunal obviously considered the whole of the evidence.

Mr JOSHUA - The tribunal considered the medical aspect only. I say that what should be considered are not only the legal and medical aspects, but also the element of sympathy, which must enter into consideration of a matter, because that element is recognized in our ordinary judicial procedures. Many juries which bring in a verdict of guilty add a recommendation for mercy to the verdict. This is not exactly in the same category as a recommendation for mercy, but it is along the same lines. We are trying, in relation to this case, to have the element of sympathy given itS full weight, and sympathetic treatment accorded to the appellant. We say that that principle is based on sound reasoning, and is analogous to an established judicial practice. I believe that in some cases the entitlement appeals tribunal should make a recommendation to the Minister, or the Repatriation Commission, stating that, as far as it can see, the case cannot succeed, but that it draws the attention of the Minister to certain facts corollary to the case.

Mr Francis - If the honorable gentleman will identify the case for me I shall examine it.

Mr JOSHUA - The tribunal could direct the attention of the Minister to the fact that the evidence in the case had raised difficulties, and that one doctor had died, but there was evidence based on certificates which the tribunal believed to be true yet could not recognize it as medical evidence, because of its lack of weight as such evidence. I believe that if the tribunal were empowered to do so. it would render to the Minister such a certificate recommending sympathetic treatment and relief could be granted in cases in which the tribunals cannot grant it at present. I believe that the tribunals would be happy to operate such a system. I do not mean that a tribunal would make such a recommendation in every case, because there are some instances in which obviously the appellants have no real case but are trying to build one up. In other cases, however, there is an element of doubt, and there are other factors which should have the most sympathetic consideration. I believe that tribunals could examine those aspects of cases and, where they thought fit, could make appropriate recommendations to the Minister for the granting of relief. I think that the adoption of such a procedure would overcome much of the difficulty we are experiencing and would prevent much of the quite unwarranted criticism of entitlement appeals tribunals which, as far as they can go at present, are doing a very good job.

In my opinion the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) made a very weak reply to the case advanced for free medical treatment for the wives of blinded ex-servicemen. The British Medical Association is quite willing that this small section of the community be so treated, and if doctors are willing to engage in such treatment the Government might well take advantage of their willingness and make this service available, quite apart from the desirability of extending such a benefit to other sections of the community. The fact is that the wives of blinded ex-servicemen can get this treatment from the medical profession if the Government is agreeable; they have asked for it, and the British Medical Association is prepared to give it. .! should like the Government to consider seriously the provision of this service.

Earlier in my speech I mentioned the inadequacy of widows' pensions and stated that in order to raise them to the level of the pension paid to a single totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman would mean an increase of £2 5s. a week of pension and involve an additional expenditure of £3,300,000 a year. I think that that would be wise expenditure, and as the Government has exhibited such a generous spirit in relation to many aspects of this bill - something I am glad to see and which I am sure will gladden the hearts of the whole community - I should like to consider this matter further, and to ensure that war widows get something extra.

During the committee stage my party will move two amendments, one of which will provide that a new clause be added to make provision for the establishment of a royal commission to ascertain and inform the Parliament of suitable standards of living and comfort which should be established and maintained for the comfort and needs of the various recipients of repatriation payments.

The only other point with which I wish to deal is that I have encountered, as other honorable members must have encountered, cases of war widows who, at the age of 50, find that their eldest children, aged sixteen-

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