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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

The CHAIRMAN - I shall not exclude discussion on this matter, but I point out that a later clause deals with a related matter. This subject could be discussed then.

Mr HAYLEN - The compensation offered after three trainees were drowned at Muswellbrook or Singleton has been shown to be shockingly inadequate. The parents of one of the unfortunate boys live in the electorate of the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin). The parents of another of the boys live in my electorate, and a Liberal member, the name of whose electorate escapes me for the moment is dealing with the case of the third boy. Because of a storm, the creek was swollen, but the order was given to get the jeeps across the creek. As a result, three boys were drowned. I have no need to harrow the feelings of honorable members by giving details, but I shall discuss the question of compensation. When we approached the Minister, who was very helpful, we ran into trouble arising from the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act. We unearthed a shocking state of affairs. Though legally the accidents fitted within the pattern of the act and though these hazards of universal training touched the conscience of the people, when it came to the question of compensation the act was so narrow and the interpretation of it so mean-spirited that I made representations to the Minister for the Army, and in due course he made representations to the Treasury.

If those boys had received injuries which resulted in their death outside the Army - for instance, arising from work in a factory - the awards made by compensation courts show that the amount paid would have been very high. Under the Commonwealth Compensation Act, the amount is limited. In the case of the late Private Jones, his parents have been asked to accept £250. In the case of the boy who lived in the electorate of the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, the amount is considerably higher. The lady in my electorate received a questionnaire framed in most aggressive, legalistic jargon, which she could not understand. My complaint on her behalf is that the amount was completely inadequate. This boy, like other youngsters of eighteen years of age, gave some sort of general support to the household, but it could not be said that he was the sole support of his mother. He had an ailing father and a sister who worked. When I made the plea that the question should be looked at from the humanistic rather than the bureaucratic side, I received a broadside of two pages from the legal authority. The lady received a questionnaire which she considered offensive, and I agree with her view. It asked questions such as, " If your son paid you £5 a week board and it is now estimated that it costs £5 a week to feed a boarder, what have you lost? ". The questions were not quite so crude as that, but that is how they appear when they are translated. The Minister was shocked by the language and wrote accordingly. He received a letter from the head of his department which only confused the issue, because the officer was stooging for the compensation authority.

If we are to have even a short-circuited system of call up and if 12,000 trainees are to be under our care, I suggest to the Government and to the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) that we examine not only the question of income tax exemptions or remissions but also the question of compensation. I ask honorable members to consider how grievous this subject must be to the parents concerned. It does not matter whether the boys are lost in manoeuvres or in action; to the parents concerned, they have lost their children who served in universal training. The parents then run into a sort of blank wall and a great deal of discourtesy arising from the way in which the act has been framed. They have to go wherever they can to get an explanation of their rights. They are told by the military authorities that their sons have done a great job and it is highly regrettable that they should have lost their lives while serving. But nothing is done to give the parents something solid and practical by way of useful compensation.

If this is not a matter for an amendment at this stage, surely we should all look at the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act. The Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act contains some shocking anomalies. Some of its provisions are the acme of meanness. If this is the basis of compensation it is very bad for the ordinary public servant, but in the special case of accidents to servicemen serving under a compulsory training system, something should be done in other legislation. There are ex gratia payment provisions under almost every act.

We should try to correct the anomaly that has been revealed because other similar cases might arise. We do not feel very happy - and I am sure Government members do not either - to think that we have a rigid, iron-clad compensation act, administered with a terrorist approach by the Treasury, which is determined to give the minimum of compensation to the parents of these three servicemen concerned. If the Minister is considering the question of taxation, I would like him to give me a reply to questions I have asked relating to compensation for members of the Military Forces.

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