Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 29 June 1921

Senator FOSTER (Tasmania) .- Senator Gardinerspoke of the war gratuity bonds, and the promises made by the Prime Minister when the gratuity was first mooted to him by the Returned Soldiers' League. I wish to state the promises which, in my opinion, were made to the men, and the belief which the majority of them held regarding the ultimate cashing of the bonds. I was present, not as the representative of one of theStates, but as a sort of adviser to the representative from Tasmania, when we first interviewed the Prime Minister regarding the bonds. After considerable discussion, it was felt at the time that it would be impossible for the Commonwealth to raise money to provide a gratuity payable in cash to the returned men. The Prime Minister put it to us very frankly that the only possible market then open to borrow the money required to pay the bonds was the American, market, and that, in view of the rate of exchange - at that time the £1 sterling ' was worth only ia little over three dollars - and the high rate of interest obtainable in America, it would be unwise to consider a cash payment. He then dealt rather fully with the fact that great sums of money would have to be raised for repatriation purposes, and finally it was put to him by one of our delegates that the soldiers would be . prepared to accept a gratuity payable in nonnegotiable bonds. The Prime Minister asked the representative of each State individually whether he would accept that suggestion on behalf of the soldiers of his State, and the men accepted it unanimously. The position, as I understood it - although I .admit that on this point I am at variance with one or two of my colleagues who were present - was as follows: - The Commonwealth guaranteed, in regard to necessitous cases, £500,000 a year from revenue. I think that wa3 all that was guaranteed at that time. That sum was to be . used for cashing bonds in necessitous cases, and where soldiers were married, after their return. In addition, any man applying for a "War Service Home, or for assistance in land settlement, or in any other .phase of the activities of the Repatriation Department, could cash his bond in repayment of his indebtedness in that direction. I was also clearly of the opinion that the total amount of the indemnity which the Prime Minister then hoped would be payable by Germany in May, 1921,. was to be used in reducing the amount owing at that date on the war gratuity bonds, apart from the amount which had been paid in necessitous cases or through the Repatriation and "War Service Homes Departments. It was further suggested that the banks might cash a certain amount. The Minister for Repatriation may not be aware qf ihe fact, but I know that, in the initial stages of the negotiations which the league conducted with the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister set his face very definitely against the banks cashing any of the bonds, because he said, "We are in the position of being able to say, - or of having to say, to the, banks, with regard to the loans which we are floating for repatriation purposes, that they must take up whatever amount is undersubscribed." I think he also said, regarding a loan which the Government had recently floated, that" the Government had called on the banks to take up £4,000,000 or £5.000,000 compulsorily. I understood that, if the German indemnity was not paid when it became due, the Government was pledged to make good, to that extent at least, not less than one-third of the bonds then, remaining, by redeeming them in -cash. Some of my colleagues differ from my understanding of what the Prime Minister promised at the time, but in support of. my view I would point out that a various number of millions was spoken -of in computing the amount of money which would be. claimed from the War Gratuity Branch of the Treasury on account of soldiers who used their bonds to make payments to the Repatriation Department, and the strong point which the Prime Minister made, in my recollection, was that the loan which, would be floated for repatriation purposes would be relieved to the extent of the value of the. bonds which were paid over to the Repatriation Department. That is, if £10,000,000 were paid into the Repatriation Department in the shape of gratuity bonds, the repatriation loan of £20,000,000 or £25,000,000 would be relieved of the payment of that amount of cash.


Senator FOSTER - If a soldier was granted land on rental, as was the case in Tasmania, and the rent fell due, he could pay with a gratuity bond. I admit that if the State Government was the landlord, and wanted the rent, it would look to the Commonwealth Government to cash the bond, but I understood at the time that the Prime Minister hoped that that would not be necessary. I believe that an arrangement was afterwards made by which a certain number of business people - I know some of them in Melbourne - were granted permission to cash war gratuity bonds, thus relieving the Treasury of the obligation to cash them in a certain number of necessitous cases, "But on the distinct understanding that those business people would not be able to demand cash for the bonds at the Treasury immediately. To that extent the Treasury would be relieved, but not entirely. I believe the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) was about to interject that the Government had to find the money in any case. I was. under the impression that the amount expended for repatriation purposes, and that which was paid out from the Treasury, after exceeding the £500,000 per year, would be apart from the one-third which would afterwards be required. In justice to the Government I think it is fair to say that I know that the promised expenditure of £500,000 has been largely exceeded, and that very much better arrangements have been made by the Government than were contemplated in connexion with the permission given to business people to cash bonds in certain circumstances. As far as possible, I believe the Treasurer has done all he could to meet' the position. Further, the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, which has a mem.bership of over 150,000, has agreed that the present is not an opportune time to endeavour to raise a special loan for the cashing of bonds, particularly wh'en a number of the holders are not needing the cash, and in that way the soldiershave again shown that they have the interest of Australia at heart. I know of one man who has framed his bond, and has it hanging on the wall, which indicates that he never intends to cash it ; but that, of course, is an extreme case. . There are, however, thousands of men to-day who are in need of money; but, on the other hand, there are some whose immediate requirements are not pressing. From the information I have gathered from members of" the War Gratuity Board, there are few ex-soldiers in Australia who ave really necessitous and who have been unable to get their bonds cashed.

Following on the. question I submitted to the Minister for Repatriation as to whether, in the event of the death of a soldier his widowed mother, if she had children depending upon her, would receive a pension, I received the reply that if it could be shown that the soldier was the Support of the family, or that the mother had had children who were dependent upon her twelve months prior to the enlistment of. the soldier, a pension would be paid. My contention has always been that we have to consider what a soldier would have been doing if he had lived. A case might arise where a boy of nineteen had enlisted, and after going to the Front his father died. It is said by certain supporters of the attitude adopted by the

Minister or the Commission, that a boy of nineteen could not do much in keeping his mother, or brothers, or sisters- That may be so in some cases. A boy may have enlisted at nineteen, and have been killed when he was twenty, but if he had lived until he was twenty-three or twentyfour, he would have been the main support of his mother, and brothers, and sisters.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think that point is in dispute. What the Commissioners ask is why it is that the boy who . was killed was always the one supporting his mother, and not those who remained alive.

Senator FOSTER - I am glad to have that explanation. Notwithstanding the reply it was definitely and distinctly stated that in cases where it could be shown that a mother was dependent upon a boy twelve months prior to the enlistment, a pension would be paid. I think the Minister will give me credit for not attempting to push a claim where I have felt that the exsoldiers or their dependants were endeavouring to impose upon the Department. I know of a case where a man had received training at a vocational school, and was afterwards earning £4 18s. per week. Later, when he was out of work he submitted a claim for an allowance; but when inquiries were1' made it was found that the total income of the four people with whom he was living, in addition to the £2 2s. he received, was £6 19s. per week. When I was asked to assist in obtaining an extra living allowance I said that I would not do anything of the kind. I was informed, I believe by the Board, that amending legislation was required to give it power -to pay pensions to the widowed mother or brothers and sisters of a deceased soldier, unless it could be proved that the soldier had been supporting his mother. '

I do not wish to weary the Senate by making lengthy references to the work of the War Service Homes Department, because the Minister has assured me this afternoon that my patience will not be tried much longer. But this question' is one which concerns a great many widows of soldiers and widowed .mothers. Many took possession of houses on the understanding that they were to cost £700, but have subsequently been informed that the price was to be increased to £836. I introduced a deputation of women to the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr.

Rodgers), many of whom went into homes costing £700, but six or seven months afterwards they received a notice from the War Service Homes Commission saying that the houses were to cost £836, and requesting that the additional amount be paid immediately.

Senator Earle - I know of similar cases where the soldiers have thrown up their homes.

Senator Wilson - And some have refused to take them at all.

Senator FOSTER - Yes. I believe it will be necessary for the Government to shoulder the responsibility, and I am hoping that when the Minister replies he will make a statement to that effect. When people such as those I have mentioned have agreed to purchase homes at £700, it is often an absolute impossibility for them to find an additional £136, particularly when many of them are receiving reduced pensions. The living allowance has been dispensed with, and the amount received in thousands of cases is 20 or 30 per cent. less than it was when the price was fixed at £700. They cannot possibly find the interest by way of rent for the larger amount. I think it is time those who are engaged in constructing these homes began to give the soldiers for whom the houses are being built a fair deal.I know of one instance where a Deputy Commissioner visited a building where a workman was tossing bricks about in a careless manner, and when he was asked how many bricks he was laying he replied, " Do you know this is a War Service Homes job?" The officer replied, ' Yes, it is ; you put on your coat and go to the office for your wages." I think some of those who- speak of our returned soldiers and of the sacrifices they have made, should endeavour to give them a fairer deal by rendering service in keeping with the money they receive, which would be the means of houses being built at a more reasonable cost.

Suggest corrections