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Thursday, 13 October 1955

Sir ERIC HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I was extremely interested to hear the Leader of the Opposition on this question of section 47. I have heard him so often deal with section 47, but I was amazed to find that he can generate so much heat in putting the case again, because his record with regard to it is notorious. I think I should say something about it, because it is perfectly true that he did give an opinion. It is perfectly true that the amendment was made, but it is equally true that having given the opinion, and being the AttorneyGeneral of a government, he was not game enough to enforce it. When the entitlement appeals tribunal made a statutory report to the Parliament and criticized the commission for failing to implement the amendment that the honorable member speaks about, strengthening its criticism by quoting the opinion given by the Attorney-General on that occasion, the Minister for Repatriation at that time told the entitlement appeals tribunal that if it did not withdraw that statutory report and alter it he would dismiss the members of the tribunal. In other words, he stood over an appeal tribunal - the high court of appeal for the exservicemen in repatriation cases - and said to the members, "Either you withdraw your statutory report to the Parliament or I shall dismiss you ". When, as honest gentlemen, they refused to withdraw the report, he did dismiss them. The AttorneyGeneral of that day remained silent. Although he had given an opinion, he did not attempt to enforce it on a member of the Cabinet of which he was a member. But now he comes into the chamber and, with a great deal of heat, says that these rules must be obeyed. Let me tell the right honorable gentleman that the rules are being obeyed. Let us take a. simple An ex-serviceman claims that he is entitled to a pension because a disability from which he is suffering is war-caused. He, makes the simple averment that his disability is due to his war service. He advances no evidence but that averment. What happens then ? The case goes to the local repatriation board. It is the board's job to prove that the disability was either caused or not caused by war service.


Sir ERIC HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is. Let us assume that the board considers that it has evidence sufficient to justify it in rejecting the application. Then the case goes to the Repatriation Commission. The commission also must discharge the onus of proof that lies on it. If the com- mission is satisfied that the board acted properly and says it is convinced that the disability is not due to war service, the " digger " has the right to appeal to the entitlement appeals tribunal - the high court of appeal in these cases.

If he appeals to the tribunal, the whole of the evidence taken up to that point is made available to the tribunal and also to his advocate. The evidence which, in the opinion of the board and the commission, proved that the injury was not due to war service is made available to the appellant's advocate, so there is no hole in the corner business. The appeal tribunal has the right to upset the finding of the commission, because it is the high court of appeal.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Do not look at me all the time.

Sir ERIC HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I thought I could convey some information to the honorable member, but I am afraid that is hopeless. I shall not look at him. I shall look at one of the intelligent members of the Opposition, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). I hope I shall not embarrass him. At that point of time, the appeal tribunal can upset the decision made by the commission if it is satisfied that it has not been proved conclusively that the disability is not associated with, or is not the direct outcome of the appellant's war service. There we have the whole system working properly.

The right honorable gentleman refers to a returned servicemen's organization in New South Wales. No objection has been made to the present procedure by either the federal body or any of the other State branches of that organization. The ex-servicemen's committee of Cabinet listens to every request made by responsible members of the organization at the federal level. We sit in conference with them in the Cabinet room here in Canberra. Not once have they raised the question of the onus of proof provisions with us. But we know full well the politics that are associated with the New South Wales organization. It stands on its own in this matter.

Let me say clearly that all the fuss and fury in which the right honorable gentleman has indulged stands exposed for what it is. "When he was AttorneyGeneral, he gave an opinion on legislation introduced by the Government of which he was a member, but the Minister for Repatriation in that Government refused to act in conformity with the opinion. He stood over the high court of appeal of the returned servicemen in an intimidating manner. He threatened the members with dismissal unless they withdrew a statutory report to the Parliament. When they refused to do so, he dismissed them peremptorily. Although the right honorable gentleman took no action in the matter then, now that he is the Leader of the Opposition he finds that it is something to which he must pay attention. He says that the rules must be obeyed. The AttorneyGeneral in this Government has given an opinion on the matter that is on all fours with the opinion given by the right honorable gentleman, but the great difference is that, under this Government, the opinion is being complied with. The present Attorney-General has the strength of character necessary to ensure that when he expresses an opinion, effect will be given to it in the quarters to which it is directed. That is the difference between this Government and the Government of which the right honorable gentleman was a member. Exservicemen can always turn to this Government for relief of their disabilities, knowing full well that we will give them that relief. We do not pay lip-service to them, as honorable gentlemen opposite did when they were in office. We take definite action.

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