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Wednesday, 2 May 1973
Page: 1592

Mr GARRICK (Batman) - I do not intend to speak at any great length because I believe this Bill is so important and so long overdue as to need very little defending. But there are a few things that I think should be said. The honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) expressed his complete reactionary philosophy by accusing the Australian Labor Party, as he designated us, of offering a bribe to servicemen. I would like to point out that he has also shown his disappointment by not understanding or refusing to recognise the fact that what he calls the Australian Labor Party is today the Govern ment; he still has not learned that those on his side of the House were not bom to rule. If offering and paying decent wages and granting decent conditions to our servicemen and women is a bribe then the Opposition would have been well advised, when its members were in Government, to have paid bribes to the servicemen instead of conscripting our gallant young men and sending them to death in Vietnam.

The last occasions on which this scheme was studied in any detail in this Parliament were in November 1968 when the maximum advance was raised from $7,000 to $8,000 and in November 1971 when the maximum advance was increased to $9,000. These increases in the limit have hardly kept pace with the rising costs of land and homes in all States. It was once possible for a home to be financed completely by the war service homes grant. This was the case in 1951-52 when the average cost of . a dwelling and land in New South Wales was $5,050. The maximum loan available for a war service home was then $5,500. This Bill is the emergence of the Government's stated aim of restoring this sort of relativity. As the Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson) advised the Parliament in his second reading speech the Bill has four main purposes: Firstly, to make provision for the extension of the war service homes scheme to include those members of the forces who have completed a specified period of defence service; secondly, to make provision for an increase in the maximum loan under the scheme from $9,000 to $12,000; thirdly, to make provision for the granting of war service homes benefits to certain unmarried female persons with qualifying service under the Act; fourthly, to provide for the extension of eligibility to certain persons who served overseas with the Australian forces in the 1939-45 war, or in war-like operations subsequent to that war, as accredited representatives of a welfare organisation.

The extension of the war service homes scheme to include those members of the forces who have completed a specified period of defence service should surprise no one, for when the Australian Labor Party was in Opposition we said we would abolish conscription. Accompanying that promise was our stated aim to make the conditions of service in the armed forces such that we would attract to the service of their country not only sufficient suitable young men and women, but also that we would retain the services of these trained people, as they would be, after their first term of enlistment was ended. It was our party's well-publicised judgement that attractive conditions of service would make it easier for young men and women to make their decision to enlist in the service of their country without being penalised relative to the remainder of the community. This Bill is putting that judgment to the test, and the future will reveal the truth of that judgment. If the future reveals that the judgment was in error, we may be accused of bad judgment. But even so the moral question would still remain, and I believe that few people would agree that young men and women who have willingly offered to serve their country and pay the supreme sacrifice if needs be, should be disadvantaged in relation to the remainder of the community, but it does appear that since 1949 Austraiian governments have not subscribed to this sentiment.

While I have frequently heard it said that any War Service Homes Act is better than no Act, I have never subscribed to this view. An Act which does justice to many but not all tends to obscure the fact that many never receive justice at all. There appears to have been, in some governments since 1949, a ready willingness to aim at the happiness of the greatest number, and to permit the perpetuation of injustice to many, not as a temporary expedient to be remembered, but as an end. This certainly appears to have been the case with the War Service Homes Act. The basic philosophy governing it has not changed in many years. For that reason I am pleased that this Bill not only changes the basic philosophy of the Act, but also, in doing so, extends the eligibility for benefits to single and widowed nurses and ex-service women without dependants, who have the necessary qualifying service under the Act. It is regrettable that the people in this category have been denied justice for many years, particularly so as they do not qualify for housing accommodation under any of the public housing schemes of the States, and they experience great difficulty in obtaining housing loans from institutional lenders because of their age, and because of their sex. This Bill not only gives belated justice to the women in this category, but also gives justice to those members of welfare organisations who served overseas. We are advised that some persons in this category met their deaths on service, and others became prisoners of war and it is fit and proper that there should be an extension of benefits to give justice to these people and their dependants.

The proposed amendments in this Bill, are, in their implications, the most far reaching in terms of beneficial consequences of any amendments made during the past 20 years. While the implications of these changes are more important than the changed name of the Bill, which will now be known as the Defence Services Homes Bill, the extent of the changed implications certainly justifies the changed name. The provisions in this Bill will not only enable the scheme to continue making an important contribution to the national welfare by assisting eligible persons and their families in all parts of the Commonwealth to obtain homes but will also bring the privilege of these benefits and restore justice to many who were previously deprived. I have no hesitation in commending the Bill and I congratulate the Minister.

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