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Thursday, 13 October 1955

Mr GRIFFITHS (Shortland) .- This debate has proved to be really remarkable inasmuch as every supporter of the Government who has spoken so far has endeavoured to defend the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), the officials of the Repatriation Department, and the Repatriation Act. They have strictly avoided any reference to the justification of the various tribunals refusing pensions in cases to which so much publicity has been given lately. I refer to the cases of Dr. Glissan, Laurie Atkins, and Mrs. Latter. I believe that the Government members are unhappy about the position in relation to those cases, which are similar to many other cases that have been mentioned in this House from time to time by me and by other honorable members. That is why I have repeatedly stated that there should have been established another joint parliamentary committee to discuss and work out all of the problems associated with the Repatriation Act, especially those involving the application of section 47.

I do not intend to answer the long dissertation of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), and the aspects that have been raised by the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) and other supporters of the Government. The honorable member for Lilley has explained the procedure of the tribunals, and he asserted that they bend over backwards to try to help ex-servicemen in their applications for war pensions. The honorable member explained at length how the tribunals examine all of the files and evidence at their disposal. However, he forgets - and the repatriation tribunals forget - that many things happen during war-time of which no record is made. I believe that that is true to-day especially in relation to ex-ser\ icemen of World War I., many of whom have suffered during the last 30 or 40 years from disabilities due to the service that they gave to the nation. In many instances there is no record of events which caused their disabilities, because they happened on the field of battle. That can be proved by people who are able to give evidence of what actually happened in certain encounters in France during World War I., and, more recently, in Malaya. I consider that something should be done to put beyond all doubt the application of the Repatriation Act to ex-servicemen who require assistance. Once and for all, this matter should be elevated above party politics.

The honorable member for Bowman indicated that he favoured in some respects an appeal from the decision of a tribunal in relation to a matter of law. I want to say to him that, as far as I know, the intention of an amendment that was moved in another place by the Labour Opposition was to enable matters which it was considered the tribunals had not properly assessed to be decided by a supreme court or the High Court. I urge the Government parties' ex-servicemen's committee, of which the honorable member for Bowman is a member, to reconsider this matter before consideration of the bill in committee is completed. I urge him to ask the » Government to adopt Labour's proposal to enable something to be given to ex-servicemen who are refused pensions because the tribunals have discharged the onus of proof. I consider that it should not be left to the determining authority to decide whether or not it should discharge the onus of proof. The Minister for Repatriation recently said in another place -

We could argue for a month about the onus of proof and the benefit of the doubt provisions.

I do not propose to do so. Briefly, the benefit of the doubt provision refers to a doubt that the authority has, and not to a doubt in a doctor's mind. I want to know what is the use of section 48 of the act which requires doctors to furnish an opinion relating to the cases they have in hand. They are asked to express an opinion as to whether they have a doubt. They are asked to express an opinion as to whether they are sure, one way or the other, that the ailment or complaint from which the ex-serviceman has died could have, been either caused or aggravated by war. I believe that this matter will have to be determined finally by this Parliament, whether it be during the term of this Government, or during the term of a Labour government when it is returned. I will certainly pursue the matter until such time as it is satisfactorily adjusted in the interests of ex-servicemen.

Mr McColm - I hope it will be before Labour's time.

Mr GRIFFITHS - I hope it will be adjusted before Labour's time, because we cannot allow cases such as those of Dr. Glissan, Laurie Atkins and Mrs. Latter, as well as my own cases of Cantello and others, to continue as they are. These instances are causing nasty doubts in the minds of the public with relation to the deal the ex-servicemen have been getting under this act.

The bill before the House does two things. It provides for increased benefits to war pensioners and some of their dependants. It makes a number of other changes which, I believe, will be of great benefit to all those who come within the ambit of the legislation. Still, I believe that such benefits fall far short of what should be done for ex-servicemen, and it is because the Opposition holds that view that the honorable member for Parkes has submitted an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill. I hope that, at least, the Government will have a look at the proposals, even if it does not accede to them. These proposals are designed to make the Repatriation Act what it should be - an act to compensate all those who gave such valiant service to the nation and impaired their own general health and physical well-being in doing so. I support the amendment, and I hope that the Government will see the wisdom of accepting it, because the proposed increases undoubtedly are not sufficient for the requirements of those who come within the pensions provisions. We should be failing in our responsibilities if we did not congratulate the Government and the Minister for Repatriation upon the improvements they have effected to the act by the increased payments and by lifting the ceiling limits. But why have the wives of service pensioners been forgotten? Why has no provision been made for the thousands of ex-servicemen whose applications the tribunals cannot recognize and, therefore, must refuse? I have endeavoured over a long period to find out just how many servicemen have been affected in this way. Not so long ago, I asked a series of questions in this House in an endeavour to ascertain how many ex-servicemen of World War I., who saw active service abroad, are still living, how many applications for pensions have been rejected, how many servicemen of World War I., who were discharged from military service medically unfit, are still alive, and how many medically unfit servicemen there are who have never been granted a war pension. I am told that, there are no statistics available.

The general rate pension has been increased by 10s. to £4 15s. a week, while the wife's allowance remains at £1 15s. 6d. This means that a 100 per cent, war pensioner and his wife receive between them a total of £6 10s. a week on which to live. Here, it is interesting to , repeat what the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Francis) said in this chamber during his second-reading speech on this bill. Dealing with the increases in costs that had taken place over the past six years, he said -

The proposed new rate for the genera] rate pension of a member is £4 15s. a week, which is an increase of £2 a week on the rate payable in 1049. In this case, if we make a comparison of pension rates and the C series index figures, we find that the pension has risen by 73 per cent, ae against a rise of 67 per cent, in the C series index figures.

I want to know where the Minister got his figures. If the percentages he quotes are right, then the statement made by the

Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in the White Paper, which he presented with the budget, must be wrong. At that time, the Treasurer said that the wholesale prices of basic material and foodstuffs had increased by 75 per cent., and that retail prices had increased similarly. That meant a general increase of 75 per cent. But the Minister says that the C series index figures have increased by only 67 per cent. There we have a difference of at least 8 per cent, between the figures quoted by the Treasurer and those put forward by the Minister. That would represent the addition of approximately 6s. 6d. to the proposed increase of 10s. in the pension payable under this bill.

Mr Hamilton - Is the honorable member assuming that that is all that the man on 100 per cent, pension has to live on?

Mr GRIFFITHS - I am referring to the percentages quoted by the Minister in his second-reading speech and those stated by the Treasurer in the White Paper he submitted with his budget. One or the other is right. I do not know which is right and which is wrong, but I do think that Cabinet Ministers should get together and decide which percentage is right. The actual prices people have to pay for their commodities, as shown by the Statistician's figures, should be the yardstick by which the rates of pension are fixed. This would enable recipients to derive full value from their pensions. In view of the difference between the percentage quoted by the Minister and the actual rise in costs, it must be abundantly clear to every one that the pension increases proposed by the Government are not sufficient. My criticism against the Repatriation Act is that it allows glaring examples of injustices to ex-servicemen to continue, even in the face of intense public feeling.

I want now to congratulate the newspapers that have taken up the fight for the ex-servicemen. Especially do I congratulate Truth, which has indicated quite clearly its displeasure over the interpretation of section 48, which contains the onus of proof provision. As I have said over a long period in this House, the Repatriation Department does not apply the spirit and intention of this section to the cases with which it deals. I am more convinced to-day than ever before - this is being illustrated every day - that there is a cold, calculated and inhuman approach made by the Repatriation Department to the problems of thousands of ex-servicemen, especially those of World War I.

When we members on this side of the House criticize from time to time the failure of the Government to do something with relation to this measure, we are immediately assailed with the cry that the Labour party did nothing about it in the years when it was in office. All I can say is that if the Labour Government did nothing about relieving the position, or about adjusting it, many of my colleagues and I were not in this House at the time, and I feel that this assertion is no excuse for the Government continuing to perpetrate a wrong which has existed for so long.

Recently, the Minister for the Navy attacked me in the House because I raised certain matters affecting exservicemen. He said I had always been flogging a dead horse, that I was talking on matters about which I knew nothing. That may be so, but at least those matters are affecting some of my constituents. I know the sufferings and privations they have had to endure because their income is insufficient for them i to live properly. Irrespective of what the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) may do, or may say, or think of me, I shall continue to raise these matters until exservicemen receive justice from the government of the day, whatever may be its political complexion. If iis clear to the great majority of people that there is something wrong with the Repatriation Act, as is clearly demonstrated by the cases that have been ventilated in the press. For example, there is the case of Dr. Glissan, a man who gave yeoman service to the nation in two world wars. He worked sixteen hours, and probably twenty hours, a day, and was called out at all hours of the night. Such strenuous activity must undermine the health of a man over a period of years. I know a doctor in my own electorate who is unable to continue his practice any longer and who refuses to apply to the Repatriation Commission for a pension because, as he says, he will not grovel to and be humiliated by the commission. The treatment that he fears is a great reward for faithful service to the nation !

There is the case also of " digger " Laurie Atkins. We all have read about it in the newspapers. I understand from the newspaper reports that he joined the 41th Australian Watercraft Workshops Section in 1941. He developed arthritis in 1942 and was declared medically unfit, but continued in service until 1945. He served in the Pacific islands, often waist-deep in water. Will any honorable member say that working in cold and wet conditions could not have contributed to his contracting arthritis? Another case is that of Mrs. Latter. A number of doctors, including specialists, have stated that Mr. Latter's death was due to reticular sarcoma, which could have resulted from his sufferings in a French prisonerofwar camp, where he suffered from diarrhoea and recurrent attacks of dysentery. It is interesting to note that the Minister for Repatriation accepted the opinion of Professor King about Latter's illness, and quoted that opinion in full, but, at the same time, he refused to make available the opinion of Professor Harvey Sutton.

I wish to mention also the case of an ex-serviceman who served in World War I. and World War II. It has been said that former soldiers receive the benefit of the doubt. This man has been a serviceman all his life. I have a list of his military discharges, which date from 1898 to 1943. He served in the Boer War, offered his services in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, but was rejected, and served in World War I. He was granted a pension in 1917. This ex-serviceman holds a certificate - the only one I have seen, although I have asked many former soldiers whether they have it - which was issued in 1919. It states -

No. 2180, Sgt. Arthur T. Ford, No. 1 Seige Brigade, served with honour and was disabled in the Great War. Honorably discharged on May 9th, 1D17.

He received a pension from the date of his discharge until 1933. In 1928 he obtained a position in the PostmasterGeneral's Department. He was discharged from Randwick Military Hospital, where he spent some months, in 1.933, and returned to work in the Post master-General's Department. Re enlisted in 1940 and served until 1943. The records reveal that, throughout the years since 1933, he has applied and reapplied for the restoration of his pension on the ground that he is suffering from neurasthenia and neuritis. I have seen him many times. His right arm and leg are completely crippled as the result of a siege gun rolling on him in England in 1915. When he was unable to continue serving, owing to the state of his health, he was discharged from the military forces in 1943. He tried to return to his former position in the PostmasterGeneral's Department. I have a certificate from Dr. John J. Donnellan, of Blacktown, which states that Mr. Ford was suffering from neuritis of the right arm, hand and foot and that, in the opinion of Dr. Donnellan, he was incapable of doing other than the lightest work. The restoration of his war pension was refused. Over the years, doctors have expressed the view that he suffered from neurasthenia and neuritis caused by war service. In fact, Dr. R. Walsh, of Strathfield, at one time stated -

Undoubtedly medically fit when I passed you at South Head for the Australian Imperial Forces and put you into Lydd Hospital, 1st October, 1915, with neurasthenia. Will most certainly support your claim. Request must come from Repatriation Department, so as I can give day and date, as I have no official record.

Dr. Parkerstated, in 1934, that Mr. Ford was suffering from neurosis caused by war service. Dr. J. Fraser Boag stated, in 1934 also, that he was suffering from nervous debility and neurasthenia caused by war service. Dr. Boag later made a declaration confirming the statement in his certificate. Dr. Stiles stated that he was suffering from neuritis caused by war service. In certificate after certificate, it is stated that this former soldier suffered from a complaint caused by war service; yet the repatriation tribunals have refused to restore his pension. The Repatriation Commission states now that he suffers from general degeneration of the limbs. Of course a man more than 70 years of age would suffer from some form of degeneration. When he was discharged from the military forces he could not get back his former job in the Postmaster-General's Department. He was refused a service pension because he had a little too much money, and he and his wife are now forced to live on the age pension. In spite of this kind of treatment, Government supporters say that the various assessment appeal tribunals and the Repatriation Commission act fairly in the interests of ex-servicemen.

Mr Brand - The application made by the gentleman in question was rejected when a Labour government was in office.

Mr GRIFFITHS - I do not care what happened when Labour was in office. I want the matter rectified now. I have been trying for five years to have it rectified. Honorable members opposite who always hark back to what a Labour government did or did not do leave me cold. If a Labour administration did something wrong, that is no reason why this Government should perpetuate an injustice.

Time will not allow me to discuss at length another case that I have in mind, but I wish to mention it briefly to show honorable members how the Repatriation Commission acts. This is the case of a woman who was married to a former soldier in 1919. The reply given by the Minister for Repatriation to a letter that [ wrote to him states that the exserviceman referred to was discharged from the forces on the 19th May, 1918, and was granted a pension from the 20th May, 1.918, in respect of debility following gassing. On the 29th March, 1919, he was married, and a child was born on the 14th April, 1919. Honorable members will note that the child was born only about a fortnight after the marriage. Having returned from World War I., this ex-serviceman seduced a young woman nineteen years of age, and then abandoned her. He was finally traced within a fortnight of the child's birth, and married the young woman. T invite honorable members to read a letter written by him to his wife on the 18th September, 1921. I have never seen its like for sheer illiteracy. Subsequently, he left the young woman whom he had seduced and infected with venereal disease. The child was born blind, and its mother is now blind in one eve. The Repatriation Commission withdrew her pension early in 3933 because it considered that she had entered into a de facto relationship with another man. The full pension has never been restored. The ex-serviceman, who was no good at all, died at the Liverpool State Hospital in 1954, from carcinoma of the stomach. At the time of his death he was unmarried and was receiving a pension in respect of debility following gassing. The Repatriation Department knew well where this man was in 1944, because on the 11th February, 1944, it wrote to the Newcastle representative of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, saying -

Your letter of 1st February, 15)44, would appear to refer to the above-named, and I would be glad if you would advise the wife that information as to her husband's present whereabouts is confidential and may not be disclosed.

The department knew that this man was in a State home, that he was in receipt of a 50 per cent, pension, and that he was possibly dying of a carcinoma. Itknew that this woman was not getting a "razoo". I have been to the police and to other authorities to try to find her a home and so that she could receive a pension or some other means of subsistence. To-day, she is living under the roof of a man who promised her mother in 1944 that he would provide a home for her daughter as long as she lived. She takes as many as ten epileptic fits a day as a result of the venereal disease contracted from the soldier in 191S. The Repatriation Department knows full well that this man died as a result of war-caused injuries. In 1952, a pension of 35s. 6d. a fortnight was restored, and that is all she has to live on. She said to me recently, " They will have to do something before long, or I will go over the cliff and they will then have to bury me ". The Department of Social Services has said that it does not regard her as a single woman and that she is living in a de facto marital relationship with this man. The police have stated that they have no interest in the case, that she had borne a baby and nobody knows where it is, although it is supposed to be adopted. The Newcastle Hospital is treating her now and has been doing so for some years. I have a certificate from the hospital stating that she is attending the psychiatric department and is unable to earn her living because of ill health, as she is suffering from epilepsy and hypertension. She is living on 17s. 9d. a week.

We are told that the Repatriation Department is doing its job. I believe its job is to do something for such people as this woman who can do nothing for herself. Payments to war widows in respect of children cease when the children reach sixteen years of age. The Repatriation Department should advise widows, and if children are unable to earn a living, it is the department's job to see that they are trained to do so.

Mr Wight - Why does this lady not marry her de facto husband?

Mr GRIFFITHS - He is not her de facto husband. If the honorable member bad made a pledge to do something for a person, he would not turn her out if he had any Christian instincts at all. This woman has no one at all. I am not pleading her case because to do so means votes for me, but because there is some appeal to humanity in it. The Department of Social Services refuses to acknowledge her. The Repatriation Department likewise refuses to acknowledge her. One might ask why this man has given her a room. I can assure honorable members that any one who saw the woman could not believe that a man would have a de facto marital relationship with her. There is a humanitarian aspect to the case. The Repatriation Department is not doing its job as it should be. I invite any honorable member opposite to examine this file and see what he makes of it. He will conclude that it is time that the Government took stock of the position and did something in the interests of such people.

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