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Tuesday, 30 October 1956

Mr ROBERTON (Riverina) (Minister for Social Services) , - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill seeks to revise certain eligibility provisions of the War Service Homes Act consistent with the Government's decision and duty to adjust repatriation and other contingent benefits arising out of service in both Korea and Malaya. It has been rendered necessary by the changes which have taken place in the organization of Australian defence units serving overseas in Malaya and Korea. In addition, this bill affords an opportunity to adjust the eligibility provisions of the act to include those who, during the 1939-45 war, served on the high seas in various types of ships, but have been excluded by strict legal technicalities and interpretations from the existing eligibility provisions of the act.

Subsequent to the despatch of Australian forces to engage in the war-like operations in Korea and Malaya, the War Service Homes Act was amended in December, 1 95 1 , to include service personnel who were posted for duty in connection with those operations and who actually proceeded overseas. When hostilities ceased in Korea, following the signing of the armistice on 27th July, 1953, the great majority of the

Australian forces was withdrawn. As operational areas, in fact, no longer exist in Korea, the provision in the act concerning service in that area is no longer applicable and this amending bill is designed to omit service in an operational area in Korea as a qualification for war service homes.

The Government's decision to re-organize the forces serving in Malaya as the Australian component of what is called the Strategic Reserve in Malaya made it necessary for special conditions to be drawn up covering operational service of this kind and repatriation benefits arising from such service will now be governed by the provisions of the Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Act 1956. To clarify the position and to establish a uniform policy for all classes of service benefits available to qualified persons, the Government decided to amend the War Service Homes Act.

The amendment provides that eligibility for war service homes will be available to those who become entitled to a repatriation benefit in consequence of an incapacity, or to their dependants in case of death. This is the main purpose of the bill. There are other minor amendments. The act, as it stands at present, provides that, in addition to members of the forces, members of the crews of ships who had sea-going service in vessels trading between ports on the Australian coast, or between Australian ports and any other ports during World War II. are eligible persons within the meaning of the act.

Applications have been received from a small number of persons who served in various types of ships during World War II. who could not qualify for war service homes under the act because they did not legally fall within the definition of " eligible persons " in the strict terms of the act. They include members of the crews of troop transport ships, hospital ships and canteen workers on ships of the Royal Australian Navy. When these applications were examined, it became obvious to the Government that the nature of the service of the applicants justified their inclusion to receive the benefits of the act precisely in the same way as members of the mercantile marine and other seafaring personnel who are already provided for under the act, and the amendments in this billare designed to correct these anomalies.

It is my duty to emphasize that, in effect, these amendments do not extend the provisions of the War Service Homes Act to new categories of persons, but merely overcome technical discrepancies affecting those who served on the high seas under conditions equally as hazardous as those of seagoing personnel who are already covered by the act. Indeed,I am bound to say that some of the categories of persons who will now be included served at battle stations on Royal Australian Naval ships and, in several instances, served in ships that were sunk by enemy action. The bill has no other purposes, and it is my pleasure to commend it to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.

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