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Thursday, 13 October 1955

Mr WIGHT (Lilley) .- It is not often that the Government has the pleasure of bringing into this Parliament a bill, which receives commendation from all sides of the House. It is usual for the Opposition to criticize strongly any bill of this character. On this occasion that has not been the case. The last speaker on the Opposition side, the honorable' member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua), paid the most complimentary tributes to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) and the Government for the introduction of this legislation, lie made two points, however, to which I wish to reply. First, the honorable member for Ballarat said that the reply made by the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) to the case put for dependants of blinded ex-servicemen was weak. Let me inform the honorable member for Ballarat that the honorable member for Bowman did not make a weak reply to the case, but gave a very explicit and truthful reply to it. He pointed out that this was not a matter to be dealt with under the Repatriation Act, or by the Minister for Repatriation. It conies within a completely different field. The honorable member for Bowman has been investigating this subject with a view to trying to ascertain whether, if there is really an anomaly, it can be rectified. If the honorable member for Ballarat had done justice to the honorable member for Bowman he would have paid a tribute to him rather than suggest that the reply made by the honorable member for Bowman to the case advanced was somewhat weak.

The other point raised by the honorable member for Ballarat concerns entitlement appeals tribunals, in relation to which he proposes to submit an amendment during the committee stage. I cannot agree with his views on that matter. He has suggested that if the decision of a tribunal is adverse to the appellant, there should be recourse to the Minister for Repatriation so that the appellant may put his case to the Minister for further consideration. I suggest that if such a system were implemented, every single appeal rejected by the tribunals would be brought to the Minister, who would have time to do nothing else but examine case histories of rejected appeals. I would resist strongly any suggestion that we should remove from the entitlement appeals tribunals the right to be com.petely independent bodies. Who can deny that the most just, the most sympathetic and the most fair way of dealing with repatriation problems is finally to give them to independent tribunals constituted, as the entitlement appeals tribunals are constituted, of ex-servicemen with distinguished war records, who were described by the State president of the returned servicemen's league in Queensland as " bending over backwards to try to assist ex-servicemen in the hearing of cases " ? Sol can assure the honorable member for Ballarat that at the committee stage his amendment will meet with a considerable amount of opposition.

It was pleasant to hear the genuine attempt of all honorable members who have taken part in this debate to express themselves with real sincerity in relation to the repatriation of ex-servicemen. I think that the honorable member for Bowman expressed the position clearly this morning when he said that all governments had done much to improve the standards of repatriation.

The honorable member for Bowman cited the number of people who benefit from repatriation in the United Kingdom and in Australia. He was asked by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) whether his figures included dependants. At that time, the honorable member for Bowman had not the full report from which he was quoting, and was not quite clear whether the figures included dependants. I am now able to state that the figures given at that time do include dependants. During the suspension of the sitting, I obtained this information for which the honorable member for Parkes asked. As at the 31st August, 1953, Australia, with a population of 9,000,000, had 584,975 persons - that is ex-servicemen and dependants - who were in receipt of war pensions under the Repatriation Act in respect of service in the wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45. These figures do not include service pensions. In the United Kingdom, with its population of over 50,000,000, only 900,141 persons, including dependants were in receipt of pensions in respect of service in both wars under United Kingdom legislation.

Another interesting point which I think is worth knowing, is that the amount of money expended by the United Kingdom Government on repatriation as at the 31st March, 1954, was £43,156,719, whereas, in Australia, the figure was £36,7S5,6S4. I quote those figures further to illustrate how proud all members of the Australian Parliament may be, because the members of all parties helped to bring about these benefits. So all honorable members and the people of Australia may be proud of the manner in which they have honoured their obligation to the ex-servicemen of this country.

All governments, State and Federal, in this country, have done much in the matter of rehabilitation and the repatriation of our ex-servicemen - all governments, that is, but one. One government only has evaded and refused to shoulder its responsibility in that matter, and that is the present Queensland Government. I am not being political when I make this statement. Let me say that war service land settlement is one important part of repatriation and reestablishment. The late Premier of Queensland, the Honorable Mr. E. J. Hanlon, was a returned soldier, and he did introduce a scheme of war service land settlement. But he was succeeded by the present Premier, a Mr. Gair, who has expressed his sentiments about returned soldiers in the Queensland Parliament. I shall quote from a copy of the Queensland Parliamentary Debates. When a member of the Queensland Parliament was emphasizing the need for the Queensland Government to play its part in the repatriation of ex-servicemen, Mr. Gair interjected -

Men went to the war to get out of their obligations.

Let that be clearly understood; the Premier of Queensland stated that men went to the war to get out of their obligations.

Mr Haylen - On what date was that said?

Mr WIGHT - In 1932. It is reported at page 923 of the Queensland Parliamentary Debates.Mr. Gair said that by way of an interjection which was followed by uproar. I have perused the report of that debate, and I find that there is no record of the present Premier rising to his feet in order to make a personal explanation to suggest that he did not mean what he had said. He did mean what he said, and he proved it recently. After the previous Labour Premier of Queensland, who was a returned soldier, had introduced war service land settlement in that state, this gentleman, Mr. Gair, abolished it. No longer can the ex-servicemen of Queensland avail themselves of a soldier settlement- scheme.

I shall now deal with the bill before the House. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Repatriation Act 1920-1954. It will do three things of great importance. First, it will increase pension rates. Secondly, it will abolish the limitations on pensions which could be received by ex-servicemen by abolishing the ceiling limits. Thirdly, it will amend the machinery that deals with appeals heard by appeals tribunals. The proposed increases in pensions are worthy of examination. The first increase concerns the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, the totally and temporarily incapacitated exservicemen, and blind persons, all of whom are grouped under the beading of special pension rates. The special pension rate has been increased from £9 5s. to £9 15s. a week for a single man. That is the amount of income that a totally and permanently incapacitated, or a totally and temporarily disabled, soldier will now receive if he is not of the age at which he i? also able to claim the service pension. In addition, there has been an increase from £1 15s. a week to £2 15s. a week in the allowance paid to the attendants of totally and permanently incapacitated and blinded ex-servicemen who, because of their disabilities, require to have the attention of attendants.

Suggestions have been made in the past that this Government has not been giving these people sufficient remuneration. It should be clearly established that this is the basic rate of pension which the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman can receive. If he is single, hp will receive £9 15s. If he has a wife and child, the following rates will bo payable: - A pensioner and his wife will be paid, bv way of pension and allowance, a total of £11 10s. 6d. a week.

A married pensioner with a child aged twelve years will receive, in respect of the child, a war pension of 13s. 9d. a week, an education allowance of lis. 6d. a week and child endowment of 10s. a week. If he also has a child of fourteen years, he will receive in respect of that child a war pension of 13s. 9d., an education allowance of 15s. and child endowment of 5s. The family income will then total £14 19s. 6d. a. week. If the father is so incapacitated that he needs the assistance of an attendant, an additional £2 15s. a week will be paid to him, making a total income for that family of £17 ]4s. 6d. I consider that that is a generous and reasonable pension.

Under the terms of this bill, the Government is abolishing the ceiling which previously limited the income of a single pensioner to £5 12s. 6d. and the income of a married pensioner to £9 12s. 6d. As a result of the abolition of the ceiling rates, the totally and permanently disabled ex-serviceman who attains the agc of 60 years will be able to draw, in addition to his war pension, his social services pension which is known as the service pension. That means that if he is eligible for a service, age or invalid pension as well as his totally and permanently incapacitated pension, his total income will bc- £15. I suggest that this indicates that, the Government has gone thoroughly through the Repatriation Act in order to ascertain the problems which are associated with repatriation and which are causing the greatest difficulties to exservicemen. In order to obtain this information, the Minister for Repatriation has been in constant contact \vith all ex-servicemen's organizations. In the period of time during which he has been Minister for Repatriation, he has gradually implemented all the requirements of ex-servicemen. The general rate pension, which is usually referred to as the " 100 per cent, rate " has been increased from £4 10s. to £4 15s. Let me make it clear that the 100 per cent, disability is an entirely different classification from the totally and temporarily or totally and permanently disabled classification to which I have just referred. A pensioner whose war pension classification is 300 per cent, is able to work and, indeed, he does. If such a pensioner is so incapacitated as to be unable to work, he would qualify for the totally and temporarily or totally and permanently disabled pension, that is the special rate to which I previously referred. Therefore, a married man on the 100 per cent, rate will receive a pension payment of £6 10s. Cd. In addition, he may earn his living. For this he must be paid, under the law, no less, than the award rate. He will certainly receive more than the basic wage. Let us consider how much extra his family will receive if there are children. I am assuming that he has not attained the age of 60 years. If he has a child aged twelve years, a war pension allowance of 13s. 9d. a week and child endowment of 103. a week will be paid in respect of that child. If he has another child, fourteen years of age, he will receive a further war pension allowance of 13s. 9d. a week, and child endowment of 5s. a week. In all, he will receive £8 13s. a week in pension payments in addition to what be can earn by reason of his employment in industry. That sum is paid by the Repatriation Department to compensate him for the disability from which he suffers as a result of war service. Under the existing legislation, because of the ceiling limits which were imposed in 1943, once a pensioner attains the age of 60 years and becomes eligible for the service pension, he is denied the full service pension. If, by that time, he is single, or a widower, he is unable to obtain from both his pensions more than £5 12s. 6d. a week. If he is married he can obtain no more from the two pensions than £9 12s. 6d. a week. However, under the amending legislation which we are now discussing the situation will be very different. Instead of £5 12s. 6d., the single pensioner will be entitled to £7 10s. If he is married, he and his wife may receive between them, from service, age, and war pensions, a total of £14 10s. 6d. a week. Therefore, the Government can claim that it is bringing the war pensioners into a field in which they will not be prejudiced because of their war service, as they were when ceiling limits were imposed.

I come now to the proposed increase of war widows' pensions. The honorable member for Ballarat referred to the situation in which war widows were placed.

Under this bill a war widow who is more than 60 years of age may obtain an income of £7 10s. a week. This will be made up of a war pension of £4 10s., a domestic allowance of £1 14s. 6d., and an age pension of £1 5s. 6d. A widow who is ineligible for the age pension and has, say, two children, one of whom is under twelve years of age, will receive a war pension of £4 10s., and a domestic allowance - because she has children - of £1 14s. 6d. For the other child aged, say, thirteen years, she will receive a war pension of £1 6s. 6d., an education allowance of lis. 6d., and child endowment of 5s. The total income for the three members of the family will be £9 16s. a week. If the widow happens to have three children, one of whom is attending a university, her total income will be £13 7s. a week. Therefore, the Government can say quite honestly that it has faced its obligations and done what can only be described as a first-class, and sympathetic job in regard to war pension rates. As I have said, the service pension has been raised from £3 10s. to £4. Therefore, pensioners in the 60 years and over bracket will benefit not only by the pension increase but also by the abolition of the ceiling limits.

I want now to come to the alteration j, proposed in clause 6, in the method of hearing appeals. These proposals were referred to by the honorable member for Ballarat. First, I should say that the claim of an ex-serviceman undergoes a series of hearings, which begin when he first seeks from the department recognition that his disability has been due to war service. The medical evidence i3 then considered by a repatriation board. This comprises three returned soldiers, who give the claim every consideration, and "bend over backwards" - to quote the words of the State president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia in Queensland - to give the ex-servicemen the benefit of the doubt. It must be remembered that the board includes at least one member who has been selected from a panel of names submitted by the ex-servicemen's organizations. It is reasonable to assume that if those organizations felt that their representative on the board was not doing his job, or that sympathetic consideration was not being given to claims, he would be removed from the board, upon the expiration of the period for which he had been appointed. That could be done by omitting his name from the panel of possible appointees submitted to the department.

Mr Joshua - The finding is not based on sympathy.

Mr WIGHT - Honorable members must not forget that sympathy comes into the matter when the onus of proof is under consideration. The benefit of the doubt is always given to the appellant.

Mr Joshua - The finding is based on the medical evidence.

Mr WIGHT - All the available evidence is placed before the board and the onus of proof is removed from the appellant. The board will go out of its way to giant the claim if there is in the evidence anything that will make it possible to attribute his disability to war service. If an appellant feels that the board has dealt harshly with him he may appeal to the Repatriation Commission which, again, consists of ex-servicemen, whom one would reasonably expect to be sympathetic. The Repatriation Commission goes right through the medical history of an ex-serviceman who lodges an appeal, and searches through the files in_ an endeavour to find some way of tying up the disability for which he has appealed with something that happened during his war service. If the commission is unable to satisfy its mind that there is no doubt whatsoever about the cause of the disability, and if it finds for certain that, it cannot relate the appellant's disability to his war service, it rejects the appeal. If the commission rejects the appeal, the appellant can make his final appeal to a completely independent tribunal.

Mr Beazley - But the commission does not call evidence to prove that the disability is not related to the appellant's war service.!

Mr WIGHT - I shall explain thai aspect of the matter in a moment. The tribunal, which, also, is composed only of ex-servicemen, is inclined to be sympathetic to the cause of the ex-service man. It considers the evidence that is now submitted, not only by the appellant, but also by his advocate. That is the manner in which appeals are dealt with. The commission makes available a full summary and the medical history that is relevant in regard to the appellant - all medical history, because there may be something in it that the appellant or his advocate can link to the disability in respect of which he is claiming. The summary of medical evidence is perused by the tribunal, and it is closely scrutinized by the advocate, or by the appellant himself, because somewhere in the summary of evidence the advocate who has been selected by the appellant from, perhaps, the returned servicemen's league, which supplies an officer for this purpose, or from the Repatriation Department, which also supplies officers for this purpose, or one of the skilled advocates who is available, may find something related to war service. The advocate can, with permission, search the full files relating to the appellant which are in the possession of the Repatriation Department. So, he is able to construct his case to enable him to place before the tribunal all of the evidence and the interpretations that can be gained from what is contained in the summary of evidence. In order to support the claim, he has the right to go to any medical man he wishes to select. The advocate can go to the medical man, show him the summary of evidence, and ask, " Can you relate this to the disability that is suffered by this ex-serviceman ? " Invariably, the medical officer W 111 do his utmost - he will go to extreme ends - to relate the disability to war service, because he is sympathetically inclined to ex-servicemen. So the advocate and the appellant go before the tribunal.

It has been suggested that the onus of proof must be on the commission and the board to disprove that the disability was caused by the appellant's war service. Now consider the usual procedure that the commission adopts. The appellant has all the evidence which might show that his disability is related to his war service. The tribunal, sitting in judgment, peruses the summary of evidence and the files. As the matter has gone to the tribunal, it is reasonable to assume, because it was rejected by the board, and rejected, also, by the commission, that there is evidence contained in the summary of evidence which disproves, in the minds of the members of the commission, that the appellant's disability could possibly have been caused by his war service. So the advocate terriers to the tribunal, on behalf of the appellant, the arguments as to why the appellant's disability can be related to his war service, Immediately some doubt may be created in the mind of the tribunal, which is required to weigh the evidence that has been submitted by both the commission and the appellant. The tribunal weighs this evidence. If it is possible to give credence to the arguments advanced by the advocate, the matter is resolved in favour of the ex-serviceman - always with the onus of proof on the commission to prove that the disability is not related to the appellant's war service. Any element of doubt must be in the mind of the tribunal, and it is unreasonable to assume that any ex-serviceman-

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