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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr McCOLM (Bowman) (12:31 PM) .It gives me great pleasure to speak on this bill to-night, because it is some years since I have been able to support a war service measure brought in by the Government. That does not mean to say that 1 am not completely in agreement with the

Government's existing policy in respect of war service homes, but I propose to restrict myself to the bill, with the exception of one suggestion I should like to make. I believe that consideration should be given to providing war service homes assistance to people who live in outlying areas and who, at present, may be debarred, under section 24 of the act, if I remember rightly, from assistance on the grounds that the position in which they wish to build a home, or the property on which they wish to build it, does not make the venture an economic proposition, in that some possible future financial risk for the War Service Homes Division is involved. I believe it is unjust that an ex-serviceman who lives in outback parts of the country or even in a comparatively remote area should be debarred from war service homes assistance on the ground that he wants to build in a remote area, because, after all, many of the men who joined the services and fought, and are eligible for war service homes assistance, came from such remote areas. I think that some serious consideration should be given to making some form of insurance available in the future to provide a coverage for the War Service Homes Division against loss. Thereby, I think, we would be able to assist those men I have mentioned, who richly deserve assistance.

As I have said, 1 am very pleased to be supporting this bill because, as the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) has mentioned, the bill seeks to correct a number of anomalies that apply to seamen. I remember an unfortunate case of men who were canteen assistants on H.M.A.S.

Perth " which, as honorable members will recall, was sunk by enemy action. Because these men were civilians, and despite the fact that they manned action stations when the ship went into action, they were debarred from any form of repatriation benefits. The only benefit they could get was workers' compensation. This bill will help to remove anomalies of that kind. The Minister might well look into some other anomalies which affect merchant seamen who served during the war. The position has been that, provided they obtained a certificate stating that they had served in certain ships in certain areas al certain times, they were eligible to benefit under the Re-establishment and Employment Act. But the sole authority able to provide these men with a certificate to make them eligible to benefit under that aci went out of existence in 1952. An\ eligible seaman who did not apply for n certificate before then is now debarred from assistance to which, in my opinion, he is justly entitled.

The amendment to be moved to clause 3 is a good one. I am very pleased that the Government has decided upon it. Had the clause remained as it was, a number of anomalies and some considerable problems would have been created for the future. We would have seen a position in which a man would have won a high decoration for fighting the enemy and if he had not been wounded, or even if he had been wounded but not sufficiently to receive a pension, he would not have been eligible for a war service home. The honorable and gallant gentleman from Lilley (Mr. Wight), who unfortunately, in the course of duty, is not in this House to-night, said the other day that a man could fight and get a decoration but not be eligible for a war service home, but somebody could sit in a chair, and gel haemorrhoids, and get a 5 per cent, pension, and be eligible for a war service home. That would have been a fantastic situation. I regret that the honorable member for Lilley is not here to put that case himself. I know that he intended to talk on this measure but, unfortunately, you. sir, decided that he should not. 1 think it is most important that the vital principle of war service homes assistance will be retained with the proposed amendment. In the past, a man has become eligible for a war service home by virtue of the fact that he was on active service in a certain place at a certain time. The provision which is to be deleted would have done away with that principle. The amendment will retain it. From time to time, now, the Governor-General will bc able to proclaim an area in which fighting has taken place as an operational area, and every man who has been in that area will then become eligible. I commend the Government for its decision to amend that provision. I should like to express the thanks of those members of the Government members ex-servicemen's committee who spoke with the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) on this matter. We had a lengthy discussion with him, and on their behalf 1 should like to thank the Minister for the hearing that he gave us and for the decision that he recommended and which is being implemented.

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