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Wednesday, 19 April 1961

Mr JESS (La Trobe) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,I always take great pleasure in following the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), who, I know, takes a great interest in these matters. I am pleased to hear him go on record as emphasizing the rights of ex-servicemen and saying that they should be given a fair go, and so on. I think that many honorable members on both sides of the House forget that their words do go on record and that their remarks are available to be checked on similar subjects but under different circumstances.

The honorable member for Parkes, in his preamble, referred to the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) as the colonel supporting the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer). I could not help being struck by the tone of voice which the honorable member for Parkes used when referring to the honorable member for Maribyrnong, who was a colonel in the Army and who had a very successful career in that service. I say frankly that I did not appreciate the tone used by the honorable member for Parkes or his observations about the brass and the dull heads, or whatever were the terms he used, on the Military Board. The persons concerned are very fine gentlemen who volunteered to serve their country, who have served for many years, and who well merit the respect of every one in this House. I am quite sure that honorable members generally give them that respect.

I am most grateful, as I am sure is every other honorable member, for the support which has been accorded to this measure on both sides of the House. I think that all honorable members will admit that it is not 100 per cent, perfect. Many things need to be done. As time goes by, we find that weaknesses have shown up, and I hope that these will be corrected. I trust that as mistakes become apparent the Government will be prepared to look into them and amend the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act, just as it is doing by means of this measure.

The honorable member for Parkes said that all this talk about confusion over the system of pensions and the like was a lot of balderdash. That was the effect of his words, although I forget the exact terms which he used. I am willing to give the honorable member the greatest possible credit if he can explain clearly the detail of the formulas and figures used in working out this system of pensions. If he could do that, I would take my hat off to him. I have taken the trouble to turn up the " Hansard " report of the consideration in committee of the Defence Forces Retire ment Benefits Bill 1948, on 3rd June, /948. Mr. Archie Cameron, who was then member for Barker, asked Mr. Dedman, who was at the time Minister for Defence, a specific question about the formula used in calculating the contributions payable by the Commonwealth. I forget who was Treasurer at that time, but 1 suggest that even he must have been amazed at the reply given by Mr. Dedman, who stated that the formula was (A - B) -\- A X C.

Mr Barnard - What is difficult about that?

Mr JESS - This is the formula which the honorable member for Parkes said was quite simple. The point that I am trying to make - and I accept this as it was stated quite honestly by the honorable member for Maribyrnong - is that since this formula was first introduced, despite the many amending measures, there has been a lot of confusion among both commissioned officers and other ranks in the services about the exact ramifications of the formula. The consideration of this bill affords an opportunity to reconsider this matter.

I turn now to another point concerning which I am rather in agreement with the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds). I have recently had referred to me the case of a young Fleet Air Arm officer who, if my memory serves me correctly, went to England after he had completed his training and passed out at the end of his course. On his return to Australia, he was posted to the Naval Air Station, at Nowra, in New South Wales. The day before he was to join his ship, he crashed on the tarmac at Nowra. As a result of his injuries, he was granted a 100 per cent, pension, I believe. This young man has been in a very serious nervous condition and is paralysed right down one side of his body. He has quite considerable ability and has endeavoured to study in order to make something worth while of the life which has been completely ruined for him. I understand that under the terms of the principal act persons who receive 100 per cent, pensions have to come up for medical examination every year. Approximately three months ago, the case of this young Fleet Air Arm officer was brought to my notice, and I was told that his pension had been reduced from 100 per cent to. I think, about 75 per cent.

Mr Duthie - Shocking!

Mr JESS - I agreed at the time that the reduction was shocking. When 1 took the matter up, I found that the reduction was due not so much to the policy of the Government - 1 say this in all fairness - as to the attitude of one of the medical officers in charge of the case, who said: " You have a job. You are able to earn some money. Therefore, we have to reduce your pension by a certain percentage." The Government restored the rate of pension to 100 per cent, immediately the case was brought to its notice. I saw another doctor who said it was ridiculous that men with disabilities which entitle them to a 100 per cent, pension, and who have no hope of recovery, have to come up for reexamination every year. I feel that once a person receives a 100 per cent, pension with no hope of physical improvement, any income that he could earn ought to be a matter for himself and that he should continue to get his pension.

I think that there is in this respect a difference between procedures relating to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund and those relating to repatriation pensions. Perhaps the argument is that, in one instance, the disability is sustained in wartime and, in the other instance, the disability is contracted in peace-time. However, I consider that a pilot who is a permanent officer of the Fleet Air Arm, who is prepared to serve in war should it occur tonight or to-morrow and who has crashed in training should be treated in the same way and given the same facilities as are repatriation pensioners.

As 1 said earlier, I think that there are some anomalies in the defence forces retirement benefits scheme. I am sure that honorable members on both sides of the House are aware of those anomalies and are working to investigate them and see how they can be removed. I hope that we all will work together to ensure that disabled servicemen receive a reasonable and satisfactory reward for the sacrifices which they have been prepared to make in times of either war or peace. Slanging of the permanent defence forces and their officers should not be indulged in in this House. There is no more glorious profession than that of the serviceman who signs on to serve his country and who is prepared to die in certain eventualities. I know that nobody really intended to belittle men who were prepared to serve in that way. I am sure that we all agree that we should do everything possible for those who have been disabled, and I am sure that we all will do our best for them.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.

Message recommending appropriation reported.

In committee (Consideration of Administrator's message):

Motion (by Mr. Cramer) agreed to -

That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act 1959.

Resolution reported and adopted.

In committee: Consideration resumed.

Bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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