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Thursday, 13 October 1955

Mr WIGHT (Lilley) .- Honorable members should recognize that this is a completely redundant amendment, and not in conformity with the arguments of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) or the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley). I challenge either of those honorable gentlemen to bring into this Parliament any evidence that a soldier who became ill or suffered an incapacity in a " war zone ", not as a result of a self-inflicted wound or of anything described in paragraph (&), such as an incapacity arising from any occurrence that happened during a serious breach of discipline, has not to-day a repatriation entitlement.

Mr Haylen - I could bring forward evidence of a dozen such cases.

Mr WIGHT - The honorable member for Parkes mentioned the case of a soldier who served in the Middle East and New Guinea and returned to Australia suffering from a skin disease, tinea, and neurasthenia. He was then discharged as medically unfit. I should say that Soldier has an entitlement from the Repatriation Commission for those three conditions. If, subsequent to his discharge, he began to grow progressively deaf he could apply for recognition of the fact that his deafness was attributable to war service. If the Repatriation Commission were able to produce evidence that his deafness was hereditary or had been brought about by conditions that existed subsequent to his war service, it would have discharged the onus of proof under section 47. That responsibility would be transferred to the exserviceman, who would have to show that while he was still in the Army some incident occurred that could possibly be related to his deafness, or that a previously existing condition had been so aggravated as to induce deafness. If the soldier is able to produce such evidence even to the board - it would not have to go as far as the tribunal - or, indeed, to the Repatriation Commission, it would not be rejected, but would be accepted immediately.

Mr Haylen - But it has been rejected.

Mr WIGHT - Every ex-serviceman member of this committee who has had experience in these .cases knows that that is true. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) tried to mislead the committee into believing that the ex-serviceman, upon being discharged on medical grounds, did not receive recognition or entitlement for the very illnesses for which he was discharged. That is complete nonsense. Immediately a serviceman is discharged on medical grounds, he is accepted automatically by the Repatriation Department for an entitlement for the very medical disabilities for which he was discharged. The proposed new clause is redundant. The Opposition is trying to convince people who are not familiar with the repatriation services that an anomaly exists when it does not exist at all. Consequently, I oppose the amendment.

Mr Beazley - Apparently the honorable member considers that anybody who disagrees with him does so from an ulterior motive. What a convenient theory !

Mr WIGHT - The honorable member for Fremantle should be a good judge of such conduct, having set such an example in this chamber on a number of occasions.

Dr Evatt - The honorable member for Lilley is only stooging for the department.

Mr WIGHT - Let me say that I should not have the courage to stand up in this Parliament and say that these things were true if they were not true.

Mr Beazley - I do not dispute the honorable member's sincerity.

Mr WIGHT - During my eleven years' experience in close association with ex-servicemen, I have never heard of one case in line with the case that was suggested of a soldier being discharged with a disability and the Repatriation Department refusing to grant him a pension. Let me say that I have seen hundreds of cases brought before the Returned Servicemen's League in respect of which, upon the first evidence being submitted that the ex-serviceman had found some disability which could have contributed towards an aggravation of a condition from which he suffered, the Repatriation Department has not immediately said, " Then we will accept your condition without further argument", and he has not had to appear before the board. What th.e Opposition is trying to suggest is that legislation has to be introduced to meet cases where a board has failed to carry out its responsibility under the act. The Opposition claims that not only is the board - which consists of ex-servicemen, one of whom has been appointed by an ex-servicemen's organization - insincere, but also that the commission, which likewise consists of three ex-servicemen, one of whom is appointed by an exservicemen's organization, is insincere in carrying out responsibilities under the act. In other words, the Opposition is laughing at the Repatriation Act and the whole system of repatriation. I challenge any member of the Opposition who has raised this issue to check the agenda of the conference of the Returned Servicemen's League which will take place within the next week or two. I defy honorable members opposite to find anything like this on the agenda for decision. Are honorable members opposite trying to tell me that if an anomaly like this exists, the thousands of ex-servicemen who subscribe to the league would not have directed attention to it in the subbranches; that the sub-branches would not iri turn have brought it to the notice of the districts, the districts to the State branches, and the State executives to the federal executive of the league so that it would be included on the agenda? I notice the honorable member for Werriwa perusing the report of the 1944 federal conference of the Returned Servicemen's League. Let me assure him that he will not find it in that report either. The amendment is a hollow sham, and I oppose it. It has been brought forward for no other purpose than to create a doubt in the minds of the ex-servicemen who submit claims to the Repatriation Department.

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