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Tuesday, 28 June 1921

Senator DUNCAN - That is so. One section of the community calls for economy in one direction, and another in another direction, and were all the suggestions which are made given effect to, we should have economy carried to such a ridiculous extent that Government expenditure, would be reduced to practically nothing; the industries of the community would be. shut up; and our affairs would be left in such a chaotic condition that we should' be obliged practically to put up the shutters. But without .going tosuch lengths, we can stress the necessity on the; .part of the Government, and of every Department of the Government, of getting full value for every £1 expended. It is often wise to expend money to increase business, and. if the Government spend money in that way, there is .not much to be said against it. But I know, m common with other honorable senators, that in some cases public money is expended for which we are not receiving full value. Whilst the public, I think, are agreed that the Government are doing fairly well, there is a general feeling that more might be done to meet the wishes of the community in this, connexion.

Passing from that, I wish 'to deal with one or two questions raised by the Leader of the Opposition '(Senator Gardiner). I am- sorry that the honorable senator is not here, because I do not like to criticise - the utterances of any honorable senator in his absence. I must reply to one statement which he made concerning returned soldiers. Before to-day the honorable senator has stood here as the champion of the returned soldiers. It is not often that such a claim is put forward by 'a member of the political party to which the honorable senator belongs. On the contrary, we find members of the Labour . party going out of their way on every possible occasion to attack the returned soldiers and their organizations.. We have seen this particularly in New South Wales, the State which I have the honour to represent. There we have a Labour Government with full power to do everything it desires to do for the returned soldiers, but up to date it has done nothing fox them. On the contrary, this party, which Senator Gardiner would have us believe is so friendly to the returned soldiers, has either taken away every privilege which the National party gave to the returned soldiers in New South Wales, or else proposes to take away the few that still remain. We have heard Senator Gardiner himself declaring in this Chamber that whilst he believes that preference to unionists is a magnificent thing, he considers preference to returned soldiers an iniquitous principle which should not be followed by the present or arty other Government. In the circumstances, it is somewhat amazing to now find the honorable senator taking up the cudgels on behalf of the. returned soldiers. and criticising the administrationthe present Governmentas it affects their interests. I feel sure that neitherthe returned soldiers nor their organizations will look to Senator Gardiner, orthe party to which he belongs to champion their rights or redress their wrongs.. They are looking particularly to the present Commonwealth Government, which they helped to create, and I say without fear of contradiction that whilst the Government have made mistakes, and in one or two instances pretty big mistakes, in their treatment of returned soldiers, it may still besaid that, on the whole, returned soldiers and their organizations have received more sympathetic consideration from the Federal Government than from any other Government in Australia..

I agree very largely with what Senator Gardiner has said on the subject of cashing gratuity bonds. I think the time has come when it should be possible for us, without disturbing the money market to any great extent, or depreciating materially the value of the bonds, to make them negotiable on the Stock Exchange or elsewhere.

Senator Pearce - Does not the honorable senator see that to make gratuity bonds negptiable, would be equivalent to the floating of a loan for £14,000,000? Does he not think that that would depreciate the value of stocks?

Senator DUNCAN - I do not think that it would be equivalent to a loan for as much as £14,000,000.

Senator Pearce - Unless there are buyers for the bonds, it would be of no value to the returned soldiers to make them negotiable.

Senator DUNCAN - But the Minister will agree that there is a large number of returned soldiers who are, fortunately, in a position to hold their bonds until they are redeemed at the due date. They believe that in their bonds they havea good security upon which they are getting a reasonable rate of interest. There was a section amongst the' returned soldiers who wanted the money at once, that they might have a good time. There were others in need' of the money to carry out some work, or wipe out some outstanding debts. Most of these men have already made arrangements for the cashing of their bonds. Ever since the bonds were issued people outside and financial institutions have been cashing them.

Senator Pearce - Bonds to the value of £14,000,000 have been, cashed.

Senator DUNCAN - I venture to say that nearly all the men who most needed the cash, and those who, if given the cash would not have used it wisely, have already been met. The majority of those whose bonds have not yet been cashed are men who are prepared to hold them, and if the Government were to make the gratuity bonds negotiable to-day, a very; large percentage of returned soldiers who. hold those bonds would not throw them upon the market, because they would have to sell them at a discount..

Senator Pearce - Then they do not need that they should be made negotiable.

Senator DUNCAN - There are some who really want the money. I have endeavoured on several occasions to secure cash for gratuity bonds for people who have been in necessitous circumstances. Men and women who have really needed money, as. I knew from inquiries I made, have had their applications for cash for their bonds turned down by the Gratuity Board. I have appealed against the decisions of the Board in several cases without success. In many cases hardship has been inflicted upon people by the refusal of. the Gratuity Board in New South Wales to cash bonds for returned soldiers or the dependants of returned soldiers. It is not good for the Government or for the Commonwealth that there should be disgruntled people going about, feeling that they are suffering gross injustice. If they cannot get money for their gratuity bonds when they are really in need, of what use are the bonds to them?

Senator Earle - The money will be handy when it falls due.

Senator DUNCAN - If the honorable senator had to wait until 1924 for a feed, of what use would it be to him?

Senator Earle - This is not a feed, it is a gratuity. The honorable senator knows that.

Senator DUNCAN - It must not be forgotten that the war gratuity was not given to our soldiers as a charity.

Senator Pearce - It was certainly a gift.

Senator DUNCAN -If a gift has no negotiable value, it is worthless.

Senator Pearce - I would like a few gifts of the same kind.

Senator DUNCAN - That is quite all right. The Minister would like a few gifts of the same kind, because he could afford to wait until the bonds mature.

Senator Pearce - -Fifty per cent, of our war gratuity bonds have already been cashed, and, consequently, it is fair to assume that the necessitous cases have been dealt with.

Senator DUNCAN - But if only 1 per cent, of necessitous cases has not yet been dealt with, we are inflicting an injustice and hardship, upon the holders of these bonds.

Senator Cox - I would like the honorable senator to cite one necessitous case which has been turned down by the Government.

Senator DUNCAN - The Government have not turned down any case.

Senator Cox - Then what has the honorable senator to grumble about?

Senator DUNCAN - The honorable senator knows that it is the War Gratuity Board which deals with these matters. I have a number of cases before that- Board at the present time, some of which have been outstanding for months, and yet I have been unable to get a decision upon them. It is idle to say that this Board consists of returned. soldiers who ought to have the sympathy of returned soldiers at heart. Certainly I am not satisfied with the treatment which I have received in regard to many applications for the cashing of bonds which have been made to the Board in Sydney. It frequently happens that the members who constitute that body are so rushed with business .that they are unable to give to each application the consideration which it merits. In the earlier stages, I would have opposed the payment of cash to our returned soldiers. I believe that the indiscriminate granting of cash then would have been a most unwise procedure. But the time has now arrived when we should see that those who really need money for their bonds should b"e able to get it if they so desire. If the bonds were made negotiable, their holders could go upon the open market and obtain cash for them, provided that they were willing to sell at a discount.

There is just one other matter to which I desire to address myself. It relates to the answer _ given by the Minister for Repatriation this afternoon to a question which I put to him regarding the payment of the gratuity to nurses who>were recruited in Australia for the Imperial Army, and who left here to nursewounded Tommies upon the other side of the world before we sent our own nursesoverseas. These nurses have been, tosome extent, sympathetically treated by the Commonwealth Government, inasmuch as, -they have received an allowance of £50 for the period of theirservice in the British Army. But Ministers declare that the war gratuity cannot be paid to them, inasmuch as they were not members of the Australian Imperial Force. I do not think that the. Government should shelter themselves, behind that plea. These nurses wereraised by the Commonwealth Government for the Imperial authorities. In other words, the Government acted aa agents for the British Government in enlisting them. The Defence Department was responsible for sending them abroad.

Senator Pearce - We made the arrangements.

Senator DUNCAN -The nurses -were Australian girls, who did their duty upon the other side of the world equally with the nurses in our own Forces. They havereturned to Australia, and have been granted some little consideration. But I hold that they should be given the equivalent of what has been given to the nursesin the Australian Imperial Force.

Senator Rowell - Would not the honorable senator's argument apply to the munition workers also ?

Senator Pearce - It does not evenapply to the Australians who served in the British Army.

Senator DUNCAN - The Minister has now drawn another distinction, which shows the difference there is between the nurses of whom I speak and Australians who enlisted in the British Army. The Defence Department was not responsible for the enlistment of any Australian in the British Army. The Government did not act as agents for the Imperial authorities in that connexion.

Senator Pearce - Where is the difference between these- nurses and the Australians of whom the honorable senator speaks ?

Senator DUNCAN - The Australians did not enlist here. But the nurses to "whom I am referring did enlist here in response to an appeal by the Defence Department upon behalf of the British Government. If the Minister (Senator Pearce) cannot see a difference between the two cases, I can.

Senator Senior - There is a difference, but it does not establish the honorable senator's case.

Senator DUNCAN - I think that further consideration should be given to the position occupied by these very worthy girls.

Senator Wilson - How many are there?

Senator DUNCAN - There are 126 who were attached to the Queen Alexandra Nursing Service. I do hope that the Government will recognise the necessity which exists at the present time for carrying on the affairs of this country as economically as possible. There ls a big feeling outside the Parliament in favour of economy, and the movement is one of which we must take some cognisance. Particularly is it necessary for the Government to exercise economy in view of the very serious financial obligations which will confront us in the near future. We have enormous commitments connected with very heavy loans falling due, and we want, as far as possible, so to conduct the affairs of the Commonwealth that we shall be able, not merely to pay our way, but also to show a very considerable credit balance.

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