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Thursday, 13 October 1955

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable member for Yarra will remain silent.

Mr FRANCIS - I know of no groups of people who regard as highly as do the ex-servicemen's organizations in Australia legislation enacted especially for their benefit. I say that as a member of a Cabinet sub-committee that considers the problems of ex-servicemen. Needless to say, all the members of that sub-committee are ex-servicemen. They frequently meet representatives of most of the exservicemen's organizations, who are invited into the Cabinet room to discuss their problems with the sub-committee. I say advisedly that ex-servicemen have a very warm and generous appreciation of what the Government has done for them. The Minister for Repatriation read in another place a telegram from the Commonwealth Council of Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers' Associations expressing thanks to the Cabinet, to the exservicemen's committee, and to himself, for increasing the ceiling rates, and stating that the consequential benefits to many would be greatly appreciated.

Mr Andrews - Where did that telegram come from?

Mr FRANCIS - It was sent by Mr. Wingate, the federal president of the organization, and Mr. Storer, the honorary federal secretary.

This afternoon the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) tried to base his arguments on a very old and antiquated document that originated with the same organization, although it was contrary to the telegram of appreciation sent on the 19th September, after the announcement of the Government's proposals.

Honorable members may examine the problem in any way they wish. Let us recall how Labour treated ex-servicemen and compare that treatment with the treatment that ex-servicemen have received from this Administration. In 1943, the pension paid to totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners waa £4 16s. a week. The Labour Government allowed it to remain unaltered in 1944 and 1945, although living costs were increasing rapidly.

Mr Calwell - Living costs did not increase during the war.

Mr FRANCIS - The rate was allowed to remain unaltered in 1946, 1947 and 1948. This Government took office on the 16th December, 1949, by which time the rate had been increased to £5 6s. a week. In 1950, this Administration increased it to £7 a week, in 1951, to £S 15s. a week, in 1953, to £9 5s. a week, and it proposes now to increase the rate to £9 15s. a week. That treatment is in sharp contrast with the treatment meted out by Labour; yet honorable members opposite state that this Government has no sympathy with exservicemen. I remind them that this Administration has done for repatriation pensioners something that no other administration has done.

Let us compare the position in Australia with that in Great Britain. This comparison will reveal that there is no occasion for the amendment. Australia has a population of approximately 9.000.000. The population of the United Kingdom is more than 50,000,000. At the 31st August of this year, 584,975 persons, including ex-servicemen and their dependants, were receiving war pensions in respect of World War I. and World War II. under our Repatriation Act. At the 31st December, 1954, 900,141 persons, including ex-servicemen and their dependants, were receiving war pensions in respect of both wars under the repatriation legislation of the United Kingdom. For the year ended the 31st March, 1954, expenditure on war pensions in the United Kingdom was £43,156,719, for 900,141 persons, whereas at the 30th June, 1954, expenditure on war pensions in Australia was at the rate of £36,785,684 annually, for 584,975 persons. This comparison clearly demonstrates that pensions in Australia are greater than those in Great Britain.

Mr Calwell - The Minister is making a secondreading speech.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order ! I remind the Minister that the purpose of the amendment is to postpone the clause.

Mr FRANCIS - It is designed to postpone the clause so that a royal commission may be appointed to investigate the administration of the Repatriation Act. I wish to prove that there is no occasion for the appointment of a royal commission, and I have just pointed out that the scale of repatriation benefits in Australia is substantially better throughout than the scale of benefits in Great Britain. The standard of repatriation pensions in Australia is generally much higher.

Mr Calwell - It always has been. It was higher when Labour was in office.

Mr FRANCIS - If I were the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), I would not mention what happened when Labour was in office, because, for four years, the Labour Government did not increase repatriation pensions by one penny. It has never even considered increasing them. I wish honorable members to understand clearly that the Cabinet sub-committee of exservicemen regularly reviews repatriation problems. The Government members ex-servicemen's committee gives a lot of time and thought to the examination of these problems and to the discussion of them with representatives of exservicemen's organizations. I say without hesitation that ex-servicemen have never had so much goodwill for any administration as they have for this Government. I. repeat that there is no occasion for the amendment. No ex-servicemen's organization has asked the Government to appoint a royal commission. Therefore, I move -

That the question be now put.

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