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Thursday, 13 October 1921

Senator FOSTER (Tasmania) . - In connexion with this matter, a deputation representing the returned soldiers whose pensions have been reduced as a consequence of the cutting out of living allowances, waited upon the Government; and following upon it I asked a question of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) early this year regarding the pension payable to the dependent widowed. Smother of a deceased soldier who also had children dependent upon him.-

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Those pensions have been increased.

Senator FOSTER - I do not think they have been increased since I asked the question.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Certainly they have. They were increased two or three weeks ago

Senator FOSTER - The question I asked was hot so much in regard to the actual amount of pension as to the provision that the Commission can grant a pension only if it is shown that the widowed mother and family were dependent upon the soldier at the time of enlistment.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It goes further than that.

Senator FOSTER - I have been given to understand that the Commission has made it known that, under the policy which the Minister' has just mentioned, it cannot grant such a pension. I know the circumstances of 'a case in which a man had enlisted and had gone abroad'. At the time of his enlistment he was not earning more than sufficient to keep himself. After three years he died while still away on active service. Meanwhile his father also had died. It was held by the Commission that since the soldier had not been responsible for .the maintenance of his mother and his brothers and sisters 'at the time of his enlistment, or at the actual period of his death, no pension could be paid. Honorable senators will agree that in every such case consideration should be given not only to the facts but to the possibility of what the deceased soldier would have been earning, and what he would have been doing with his money, had he been alive to-day. This young man of whom I speak would have been the bread-winner for the family. It may be said, of course, that he might have married, and have had his own home to look after. That is an argument which cannot be gainsaid; but it is quite likely that he would have taken upon himself the responsibility of maintaining his mother and the rest of the family. Steps should be taken to give the Commission power to deal sympathetically with cases of this kind. In the early days of the Returned Soldiers' League a suggestion was put forward, primarily, I believe, by Senator Bolton, that the Commission should be given certain discretionary powers. Only a few months ago the members of the Commission informed a deputation that, in respect of certain details, they were driving a horse and cart through the Act in their effort to afford relief in hard cases, particularly having in view the fact of the living allowance having been stopped, and the pension scale not having been adequately increased. Meanwhile, however, the Commission has been advised that discretion of this nature cannot any longer be permitted, and that the provisions of the Act must be strictly adhered to. It thus becomes a matter for Parliament to consider whether the funds of the country cannot be devoted to making something like proper provision for needy widows, widowed mothers, and other dependants.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The original minimum was 35s. The amount has now been restored to what it was previously, namely, £2 2s.

Senator FOSTER - I am glad to hear that. I hope the Minister will again consider whether there is sufficient power under the Act to permit the Commission to meet cases of hardship where the circumstances are extreme.

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