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Thursday, 13 October 1955


Mr McLEAY (Boothby) . - I am pleased to have the opportunity at this late stage to make a slight contribution to the debate, even if it is for no other reason than to pay tribute to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) for the excellent job that he has done on behalf of the Government during his term of office. The Minister has gained a wide experience in his association with ex-servicemen, and he has a sympathetic and practical understanding of their problems. As has already been stated, he has an open door for anybody who wishes to see him about any problem. It can be said, at the same time, that he is a man of great responsibility, and that he is not willing to be subjected to pressure by various groups within the service organizations and by other persons who wish to obtain cheap publicity at the expense of ex-servicemen. I have a very high regard for him and for his opinion, and a great admiration for the job that he has done under hardship and under a handicap because of the price that he has paid in the defence of his country. I do not want to cite a lot of figures. Frankly, although it is rare for me to be unable to follow the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), I did not follow him too clearly this afternoon, and I think he went astray in his argument regarding recipients of the special rate pension. I shall therefore remind the House of the three groups of pensions. The special rate pension, which is payable to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, is to be increased by 10s. a week to £9 15s. a week for a single man, whilst a married man and his wife will receive £11 10s. 6d. a week war pension between them. A pensioner couple with two children of, say, twelve years and fourteen years of age, will receive between them, by way of war pensions, educational allowances and child endowment, a total of £19 4s. 6d. a week, their pensions of £11 10s. 6d., war pension, £3 9s. 6d. for service, age or invalid pension, war pension for a child aged twelve, 13s. 9d., service pension for child 2s. 6d., educational allowance 12s. 6d., child endowment 10s. ; and for the child aged fourteen, war pension 13s. 9d., service pension lis. 6d., educational allowance 15s., and child endowment 5s. In my view that can be regarded as a recognition of the price these people have paid as a result of the service they have given to their country.

I think we can justly say that since this Government came into office we are entitled to some credit for repatriation reforms. Ex-service Government supporters have been responsible for persuading the Cabinet to have written into the Japanese Peace Treaty provisions which resulted in some repayment to exprisoners of war who suffered at the hands of the Japanese. We must never forget that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who regularly advocated a reward for prisoners of war, at one stage received from the Labour Government a definite " No " when he asked for further assistance for ex-prisoners of war, and was told, in effect, that he was wasting his time in continuing to raise the matter. It stands to the credit of the ex-service supporters of the Government that they were able to persuade the Government that it had an obligation to ex-prisoners of war of the Japanese. We are also very proud of the fact that the Government made available an amount of £250,000 as a fund from which would be met the needs of those prisoners of war who suffered in the war.

The Government waa also responsible for removing the " snoopers " section of the legislation, under which the private affairs of war widows were pried into by officials. It also encouraged war widows to remarry by giving them a grant of a year's pension on marriage, so as to make it possible for them to equip themselves with domestic necessaries. The Government has also laid a great deal of emphasis on the domestic allowance, so as to relieve the strain on the wives of war pensioners who have to stay at home and rear their children, and are therefore unable to supplement the family income. We are also proud of the fact that we reduced the deposits on war service homes for war widows, so that now the sum of £50 is accepted as a deposit, lt was this Government which removed the anomaly under which war widow pensioners were in an invidious position compared with de facto widows. It gave war widows the right to have their pensions posted to, them instead of their having to join in a queue every fortnight to collect them.

I should also like to say a word in praise of the many organizations throughout Australia that have rendered very great service by supporting the interests of the dependants of men killed in war, no matter what government was in office. I should like to pay a tribute to the legacy clubs of Australia for the excellent job they have done in helping families of servicemen killed in war. Having seen some of the splendid service rendered by girls' clubs, boys' clubs, camps, employment committees, and problem committees of Legacy, I know that they have done a tremendous job in assisting the Government to honor its responsibilities to the dependants of men killed in war. I think it is appropriate that I should pay a tribute to men who, in an honorary capacity, have done so much ever since the legacy clubs were formed to help the dependants of their fallen comrades. I know that in the financial year 1953-54 the amount raised by Legacy in South Australia from the public, and expended on behalf of the dependants of men killed in war, was between £45,000 and £50,000.

I should also like to pay a tribute to the South Australian Government, which is largely honouring the Commonwealth's obligations by providing a housing scheme for war widows and dependants of dead servicemen of World War I. As a result of the vision and courage of the South Australian government of the day, a scheme was initiated after World War I. under which any war widow, whose husband had died as a result of the war, could get a house of her own for 7s. 6d. a week, and had the right to purchase it at any stage for £650, which wa3 the capital cost. To-day, as a result of the vision and wisdom and generosity of that South Australian government, many war widows own their own homes, of which they were first tenants, and later, purchasers on favorable terms. I think a tribute should be paid also to the present South Australian Premier for his continued sympathetic attitude towards exservicemen. As a result of discussions and collaboration with Legacy he came to an arrangement for the provision of homes for war widows under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. In that matter he did a really good job. Not only is the South Australian Premier a returned serviceman, but he has also never lost his interest in the welfare of ex-servicemen, nor his sympathy with them.

The only other point that I wish to touch concerns a problem in relation to which I am able to convince myself that I am right, although up to date I have not been able to convince anybody else in the same way. I wish to direct attention to the problems of young married service pensioners. I suggest to the Government that this is the appropriate time to examine the anomaly that exists in relation to the means test as it applies to service pensions. A married age pensioner is entitled to receive an income of £364 a year, apart from pension, without its affecting the pension rate, but the service pensioner is in a different position. Within a fortnight of his starting to earn extra money his pension becomes subject to the means test, and if he earns more than £15 a week his pension is suspended. If he works continuously for 24 weeks he may have the whole of his pension suspended during that time, and at the end of the year, although he has earned only £360, which is below the amount that an age pensioner may earn, his pension is not restored to him. The amount that he can lose as a result of this interpretation of a section of one act in comparison with another, both of which are a Commonwealth responsibility, should be looked at. I feel certain that, having put the case to the Minister for Repatriation I have convinced him that there is an injustice. We have an obligation to ex-servicemen to see that, if ex-service personnel do not receive more than civilians, at least they should not receive anything less. I feel that it is the obligation of every exserviceman to fight for that case. Tn this regard, I pay a tribute to the Minister for Repatriation for 'the excellent job that he has done, for the attention that he has given to these arguments and for his acceptance of some of them.

The army nurse who has reached the evening of her life is a worthy case for tolerance, sympathy and understanding, and I think that she should receive an amount beyond the age pension. I feel that 99 per cent, of the men who served in the war would be prepared to give up anything in order to assist those dear old army girls - the " Old Barges " as they were affectionally called. They had more courage and more vigour than many of us, as they carried on in 1914-18, and in the kid's war. I feel that they have a very strong case for consideration. The Repatriation Department should open its heart a little and allow these people certain hospitalization so they will not be dependent on a neighbour to run in to them with a cup of cold, weak tea to sustain them in the evening of their lives. I hope that the Minister, although he has taken a firm stand against classifying any particular group, will examine this situation as a whole. I urge him to accord these people all the sympathy in his heart, and assist a section of the Australian Imperial Force that has the affection, the esteem and the admiration of every honorable member who served in the forces.







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