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Thursday, 13 October 1955

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) . - I move -

That the following new clause be inserted: - "3a. After section twentyfour of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - 24aa. Where a member of the Forces has been granted a discharge on the ground of medical unfitness and that unfitness did not arise -

(a)   from intentionally self-inflicted injuries: or

(b)   from, or from any occurrence that happened during the commission of, a serious breach of discipline by the member, the Commonwealth shall, subject to this Act, be liable to pay to the member or his dependants, or both, as the case may be, pension in accordance with this Division.'.".

This is the Parliamentary Draftsman's concept of a human problem to which, sooner or later, we must face up. It is the problem of the man who has been discharged medically unfit after service overseas, and of his eligibility for a pension. The amendment, which I hope the Government will accept, will provide that service in a theatre of war shall be one of the pre-requisites to eligibility for a pension. The other pre-requisite will be that the applicant's unfitness did not arise from intentionally self-inflicted injuries, or from any occurrence that happened during the commission by him of a serious breach of discipline. The reason why the proviso about self-inflicted wounds has been inserted is because it appears in the original act. The simple fact is that when men are discharged from the services medically unfit after service in a theatre of war they sometimes find it impossible to obtain a pension. Their applications to the Repatriation Commission, and, later, their appeals to the entitlement appeals tribunals, are rejected despite the fact that they obviously left the services as a result of having been declared medically unfit. Here is one of the most screaming and glaring anomalies that occur in relation to the Repatriation Act. This is the time, now that the Government has made a move in relation to increases, for the Minister to consider the matter that I have raised. On the face of it, this is something which rather disturbs honorable members who, in the course of their ordinary work as parliamentarians, meet with these cases. A man comes to an honorable member and says, " I have been discharged from the Army, medically unfit. When I go to the Repatriation Department, I am refused a pension because the injury in respect of which I claim a pension is not accepted by the department as being due to war service ". It is to deal with the perplexity of such a man that this amendment has been proposed.

I dare say every honorable member knows of a case similar to the one I am about to relate. I have selected the case of Mervyn Holland because it has been regarded by the returned servicemen's organization in Sydney as a test case. It concerns a soldier of World War II. who was discharged as medically unfit after long service in New Guinea and was then refused a pension. On his medical sheet which was filled in upon enlistment appear the following references to his health: Sight defects, nil; distinguishing marks or scars, nil; x-ray, O.K. - or the equivalent mark; all other tests, satisfactory. So, in the circumstances, Mervyn Holland was a fit man when he went to New Guinea.

He served in the forces in New Guinea for a couple of years, and was discharged as medically unfit owing to disabilities incurred as the result of service there. Those disabilities included a skin disease and a rare complaint, similar to yaws, contracted in New Guinea, tinea and other conditions of neurasthenia - conditions arising out of tropical service and debility which resulted in his being discharged.

Conversation being audible,

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! There is too much audible conversation.

Mr HAYLEN - These conditions resulted in his being discharged on the 10th June, 1944, as medically unfit. At the same time, during his service, he became deaf. The deafness was progressive and it was some months after leaving the Army that total deafness came upon him. It was pointed out by his own local medical adviser that this was the natural consequence of his other disabilities. He approached the Repatriation Department, only to be turned down. The decision of the Repatriation Commission and of the tribunal was that his deafness was not due to war service.

That is the height of absurdity. Here is a young man whose fitness has been vouched for in the terms that I have quoted. He was fit in all respects when accepted for service in the Army. He went to the Middle East and later to New Guinea and there he suffered the disabilities that are inseparable from tropical service. As the result of those disabilities being aggravated beyond the ordinary run of those complaints in the tropics, he was discharged. One of the other consequences of his service has been progressive deafness which worsened until he became stone deaf. Since he was a fit man when he joined the Army iri 1939, and since he was an unfit man in 1944, it is senseless for the Repatriation Commission, the tribunal or any body of doctors to say that this man's deafness was not due to war service.

Mr Wight - When did he start to go deaf?

Mr HAYLEN - Upon leaving the Army he was not as deaf as he afterwards became. It was a progressive case. Who could say, even if he left the Army in full possession of his hearing, that his service was not the cause of his deafness? But I understand from the papers that were supplied to me that the deafness- was progressive. He was not absolutely deaf when he left the Army, but he became stone deaf.

The point that I now raise concerns the fact that the man's discharge was marked " owing to medical unfitness ". Does that mean anything? It is an extraordinary anomaly that such a state of affairs as this can exist: A man may come to a member of this Parliament and say, " There is my discharge from the Army, medically unfit ' ". The member asks him, " Do you. get a pension ? " He says, " No, because my illness is not due to war service; and the Army discharged me as medically unfit ". What nonsense that makes of the onus-of-proof section of the Repatriation Act ! lt bears out my general contention that something is haywire somewhere in the whole approach to pensions.

This amendment has been moved in all sincerity. Honorable members opposite have come up against this problem and it is rather a poser. Often, a serviceman who has left the Army after serving in a theatre of war has been discharged as medically unfit. All the Opposition asks is that the bill should give him an automatic entitlement to a pension; but the assessment, or the amount of the pension to be paid must be left to the commission or a tribunal for determination. The case that I have mentioned is one of many. I daresay that every other honorable member would be able to submit such a case. But as this is a recent case concerning a man from the last war, and as all the relevant facts are fresh, I submit the case to the Minister for the Army as irrefutable evidence that he should do something in regard to this section of the a.ct and accept the proposed amendment.

I shall sum up, in the few moments that are left to me, by saying that nothing special is asked for in this amendment because, in many cases, medically unfit men do get pensions; but when an applicant for a pension has had his discharge endorsed " medically unfit " repatriation doctors should be prepared to follow the matter through so as to ascertain whether or not a deterioration in the man's health has resulted from service in the forces. How ridiculous it is for the department to tell such a man as I have mentioned that this disablement happened to him after the Army had sent him home.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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