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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- When the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) introduced this measure, I felt that the House would have for its consideration something worthy of the title of the bill. However, on examination we find that, far from providing adequately for men who are serving in Malaya, or are part and parcel of the strategic reserve, there is to be exercised a very substantial degree of differentiation between the benefits available to the men who served in World War T. or World War II., or even in Korea, and those available under this measure. In those circumstances, I suggest that it would appear that, whilst the Repatriation Commission was probably willing to have introduced a straightforward bill to amend the Repatriation Act, in all probability the heavy hand of the Treasury descended on the commission and, instead of getting a straightforward amending bill, we have a completely new and separate bill to deal with a specific portion of our forces serving in Malaya, making separate provisions in respect of the eligibility of ex-members of those forces -for benefits - provisions completely separate from those covering all other men who served in any hostilities overseas. Surely there is something seriously amiss. After all, not a very large number of men is involved. It has been said that the menaces, the dangers, the hazards to which they are exposed, or will be exposed, are not comparable with the hazards faced by the men who took part in World War I. or World War II. Irrespective of which branch of the services any section of men may have served in during the world wars, it is part truism that a very substantial number of the men engaged in any war, or who will be engaged in any coming war, were never or will never be, subjected to the risk of experiencing any real hardship as a result of their service. Why, therefore, in regard to those forces, of which probably only an infinitesimal portion will experience any real danger, should we apply a separate act, and exclude from benefits those men who are serving under what the Government pleases to term rather different and perhaps less dangerous circumstances? 1 think it is admitted that men going on patrol operations and making contact with bandits are subjected to an equal degree of danger as men engaged in any other war operations. Yet on no other occasion when the Government has amended repatriation provisions has it ever said to this Parliament, " We know that men who served in certain categories in World War I. and World War II. were never in any real danger, and because of that we shall apply some limitation in respect of the men in those categories." In the words of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney), the Government said " Well, you know, a few of these men have been on patrol," and then decided to bring down a limiting act. There is no provision in the bill regarding eligibility in respect of tuberculosis, in the same sense as there is in the Repatriation Act, covering the men engaged in any other war, whether they served at head-quarters in the field or in some section of an operational unit, or in any comparatively safe. position than men in the front line served in. There is discretion in the act covering World War I. or World War II. to deal with that problem.

Is it said that, because in this war only a few men would actually be in a hazardous position, even they should be deprived of eligibility that is now enjoyed by the men of World War I. and World War II.? The eligibility of those men for repatriation benefits in respect of tuberculosis was only won in this Parliament after a battle extending over nearly 30 years. Is this Parliament going to decide that at this juncture, when the Government ought to be doing the right thing, it shall not do it so that there will take place for the next 25 years a battle to give the same eligibility in respect of tuberculosis to men who serve in these particular units? It is absurd. It savours of the niggling of the Treasury. It savours of some cheeseparing policy to save a few pounds. Such a policy, in view of agitations, delays, appeals and further attempts to amend the law, would not ultimately save the nation anything.

The men who suffer from tuberculosis, whether they be civilians or not, are a charge on the nation, and by giving a few of these people eligibility for tuberculosis pensions, as it was given to the men of the two preceding wars, the Government might incur a little extra cost but at least it will effect an indirect saving to the nation in the ultimate advantage that would accrue. I suggest that if the right thing had been done in regard to these men the Government would have introduced a bill entitled " A Bill to Amend the Repatriation Act " and would have provided that all the benefits which apply under the existing repatriation legislation would have been made available to these men without any qualification whatsoever.

The Minister for Health, in his secondreading speech, said that these men belong to our Permanent Forces. He said that they have enlisted in a defence organization and therefore they, in effect, are not in the same category as men who are volunteers. They are not in the same category as were men who fought in the wars that preceded these operations. I remind the Parliament that in World War I. and World II., some personnel were in the Permanent Forces - a small number I admit - but the repatriation legislation does not exclude from the benefits of the Repatriation Act men who served in World War I. or World War II. and who were, at the time that hostilities broke out, members of His Majesty's defence forces in Australia. Why this discrimination?

Another criticism which I ask the Minister to consider is that under the terms of this bill regulations may be made to confer certain benefits on members of the forces who may suffer certain disabilities as the result of their services in those forces. What does that mean? Does that indicate that the regulations that will be gazetted to deal with these men will be less generous than the regulations now operating to cover all the men who served in World War I. and World War II.? What sort of policy will that be? It will give rise to a chaotic position in administration; a waste of time in administration; officers running around with files, and working out to what extent some regulation applies to a World War I. man, or a World War II. man, and to what extent a similar regulation under this bill applies to a man who served in Malaya or in the strategic forces in some area outside Australia. The whole thing is absurd. It is a cheeseparing, miserable attempt, in the guise of a benefit, to apply to this particular body of men a limited eligibility should they unfortunately need to seek assistance as a result of their service in this operation. Those are my main criticisms.

In addition, I point out another example of cheesesparing. Some of these men cannot have seen shot or shell, although they are eligible to be called upon for active service, but the Government says, " We will not make you eligible tor service pensions. You will not be eligible in the same way as men of World War I. or World War II. for service pensions". Why? These men have gone to Malaya. They are available to go to any other theatre of operation. They are no different in any way from the men who served in Korea, Egypt, France or any other theatre of war. Yet the Government says, " We will not make them eligible for a service pension ". Why? Is it contended that the strain on a man of a nervous disposition who serves on the island of Penang, is less than the nervous strain on a man who served at base headquarters in France or Egypt in either of the two world wars? I cannot see that that is so. The man who has never been called upon to do actual fighting under the circumstances now operating in Malaya and has not suffered actual injury may return to Australia after having been on Penang for a couple of years and become a neurotic. He may become a mental wreck - a case of shell shock although he has never " seen a shell fired. That was the experience in World 1. and World War II. But more men were involved in World War I. and World War II., and they wielded a greater political pressure than the men affected by this bill. The returned soldiers' league was very active, as it still is, on behalf of the men of World War I. and World War II. Because of the vast numbers of men in those wars and the consequent great influence that they could exercise, the returned soldiers' league was able to prevail upon governments to give a better entitlement to the men who served in the two world wars. There was no proof that men suffered am war disability, but it gave to them eligibility for a service pension.

Mr Cleaver - It is still there.

Mr POLLARD - I invite the .honorable member to show me that it is available under this bill. In this measure there is no provision for men who have served in Malaya or in areas adjacent to Malaya as members of the strategic reserve to receive a service pension at the age of 60. Is that correct?

Mr Cleaver - Yes.

Mr POLLARD - Very well. But I cannot allow the honorable member to put me off my main theme. That state of affairs to which I have referred is disgraceful. It will rebound on governments in the future. These men will undoubtedly support political agitation. The returned soldiers' league will be pleased to take up their case for them. The Government will have to go to its draftsman. There will be conferences with the Treasury. There will be talks in Cabinet. The Government will be fiddling and messing around twenty years hence wilh a view to giving eligibility to these great fellows who served in Malaya and the territories adjacent to Malaya. I am glad to know that the honorable member for Perth has admitted that no eligibility is provided under this bill. I want to know in what respect the cases of many men in this force in Malaya differs from those of many men who were in the forces during World War I. and World War TI. Can you tell me?

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