Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 27 March 1957

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- A fairly reliable way of judging the quality of a government is to consider the way in which it treats the individual Australian citizen. The present Government has been guilty of many contemptible acts against the ordinary members of the Australian community, but probably it is shown at its worst in the treatment that it metes out to the parents of a serviceman who has the misfortune to be killed, not during war-time, but while he is performing his duties in peace-time. I wish to put before the Parliament a case that I have raised in this House on a number of occasions. In my opinion it will merit repetition. It concerns an aircraftsman who met his death in 1953. He was engaged, in the course of his duties, in destroying unserviceable equipment by fire. After the fire had died down, and an inspection was being made to ensure that the unserviceable equipment had been destroyed, a live shell, which had become mixed with the equipment, exploded. This aircraftsman was injured and was taken to Lithgow hospital, where he died. The court of inquiry said that he was killed by a million to one chance.

This young man was 32 years of age, and he was single. He was an only child, and his father, who suffered greatly from shock as a result of his death, lost a good deal of time from his work. I took the matter up with the then Minister for Air, who now is the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon). He advised me that this young man had been buried with full Air Force honours. The payment of compensation to the aged parents, however, was an entirely different matter; it was a matter for decision by the Commissioner for Commonwealth Employees' Compensation. I was amazed at the questionaire sent out to the parents, because it seems that although such servicemen are covered by the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act, it does not automatically follow that compensation is paid on their death. After the death of this young serviceman, the parents had to prove their dependence on him prior to death. They had to provide information concerning their average weekly household expenses. They had to go into detail and state how much they spent on food, how much for rent, and how much for clothing. Then they were asked to say how many contributions were made by the deceased to such expenses, and they had to produce proof of the contributions made by their late son. They also had to prove details of expenditure by, or on behalf of, the dependants themselves. Honorable members can understand that family relationships do not involve the passage of receipts for expenditure, because that is not the way in which the Australian family manages its affairs.

After a great deal of agitation, and after taking the matter backwards and forwards to and from the responsible Minister and the Commissioner for Commonwealth Employees' Compensation, eventually I was able to extract from them an amount of £200 as compensation for the bereaved mother. The father is getting on in years, and because of the shock of his son's death his capacity for earning a livelihood has been reduced. Having regard to the tremendous expense involved in running a household to-day, surely it could not be thought that £200 is adequate compensation. The old people accepted it because they had no alternative. Then they made a further request. They asked that a headstone be placed over the grave of their deceased son. There is a volume of correspondence on this matter. It was taken to the Government, considered by the Cabinet, put up for review by the Minister, and eventually this Government, which is literally rolling in money from taxation, decided that it has not the financial capacity to meet this expense. What expense would be involved, even if the Government accepted responsibility for putting a headstone over the grave of every serviceman who died while serving with the forces, and not merely from a minor complaint that he might contract as a civilian? How many such cases would there be in peace-time in this country? Applying the Government's ruling on this matter it would seem that the graves of the four airmen killed at Duntroon recently will not be marked by headstones erected by the Government. We heard so much about the heroic sacrifice of these airmen, who, to prevent further loss of life, deliberately diverted their aircraft away from one of the Army buildings. The Government should show great respect for such deceased servicemen.

I hope that the Government will have * look at the matter. How much money would it involve? A few hundred pounds over a period of years would be all that was necessary to give these aged parents the opportunity to have the graves of their sons, who sacrificed their lives in the service of this country just as if they had lost their lives in warfare, marked in a proper manner.

Now let me turn to another subject. It refers to the question of import restrictions. I am wondering how much longer the Government intends to wait before it allows the public to know something of its intentions in respect of the easing of import restrictions. Everybody in this Parliament must be aware - no doubt every honorable member has had cases brought to his notice - of struggling Australian industries, many of them not very large, but nevertheless important to this country, which are being very adversely affected by continuance of the Government's policy of clamping down on applications for licences by small Australian industries, while being most generous in handing out licences to the big monopolies.

I want to refer to a young Australian industry which was established by a certain gentleman during the war years to meet the needs of the community and of the nation in respect of goods which could not at that time be obtained from overseas. The undertaking, Argon Instruments, carries on its operations at Devonshirestreet, Surry Hills, Sydney. This little industry was established during the war years to manufacture scientific equipment, and it was most successful. The proprietor has a number of testimonials from officers of various government departments, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and from a number of medical men in charge of hospitals throughout the country, referring to the excellence of his work. One might have imagined that this man would have been encouraged. When the war ended and his business became less profitable, he decided that he could carry on quite comfortably if he were allowed to continue to manufacture scientific equipment, provided that he could get an adequate supply of moulded glass, so that he could supply the accessories that went with the particular equipment he was providing for various government departments.

He applied to Crown Crystal Glass Proprietary Limited which, at that time, as it probably still is, was the only manufacturer of moulded glass in Australia. What happened? When he went to the Crown Crystal Glass people he was told that they could not supply him with his needs because he was not a member of the organization that covered those who were engaged in the manufacture of scientific equipment. He thereupon applied for membership, but was told that he was not eligible for membership. He could not join the organization, and Crown Crystal Glass Proprietary Limited refused. to supply him with locally produced moulded glass. He then applied for a £25,000 import licence and was refused.

Suggest corrections