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Wednesday, 4 December 1935

Senator COLLETT (Western Australia) . - I do not propose to deal with claims or cases, because this measure is of such general excellence that it does not need many words of mine to commend it to honorable senators. The bill when enacted means that this Parliament, on behalf of and in the name of the people of Australia, will have made a further attempt to mitigate the natural effects of service in the Great War. In comparison with other countries, Australia has been generous to its sailors and soldiers who fought for it, and I know that that generosity is appreciated. There is, of course, a limit to the resources of this country. The other day I asked for some figures which will be very illuminating, showing the amount expended upon repatriation per capita of enlistments during the last nineteen or twenty years. Unfortunately, the figures have not yet been made available. The principal point I wish to make is that the benefits proposed should he confined to those whose condition is traceable to their war service, and also to the relatives of those who have died as a result of such incapacity. Most ex-service men are sincerely interested in the fate of their one-time comrades. The saddest moments experienced by surviving ex-service men are those in which memory returns, and they think of their comrades who did not survive battle. There is a feeling of great personal loss and a sense of national loss. There is no doubt that during the Great War the best of Australia's young men gave up their lives for their country, and the nation is the poorer in consequence. Despite the dreadfulness of the last war it was undoubtedly the dawn of a great understanding. Despite differences of creed, education and so-called differences of class, it illustrated worth, bred toleration, and secured co-operation in achieving the objective. Nearly all of those who enlisted in Australia were Australians in the fullest sense of the word, and, I say without hestitation that could those who died be restored to life, we would be further along the road of progress than we are to-day. I say that not merely for sentimental purposes, but to suggest a reason why the benefits which the nation can afford to give, and which are too few, should be .bestowed only in deserving quarters. By all means let us avoid the false generosity and scandal associated with the system of one of our war allies. May I make that point plain? There were, men in Australia who enlisted and who did not serve. There were also men who were allowed to enlist and for whom effective service was barred from the outset. To that extent the medical services at this end were responsible, and in consequence there has been a heavy charge upon the nation ever since. Assistance should be reserved for the deserving and needy. The cumulative physical after effects of the last war are not yet fully understood. Some honorable senators are able to detect their presence and progress. For that reason I am glad that attention is being paid to the burnt-out or unemployable cases. The granting of a pension at 60 years of age is commendable and I heartily endorse the proposal. Nothing could make a greater claim upon our sympathies than the sight of a man with whom we were once proud to serve, growing prematurely old and going down hill rapidly. The provision made m the bill for such cases will afford great satisfaction, not only to the men affected, but also to their comrades who are still fit. I have mentioned the generosity of the terms of this bill, but I think that the Government has had brought before it other types of cases equally deserving, if not needing urgent consideration. Sooner or later rightful pressure will be applied for a recognition of their claims, and I ask that an investigation into the ways and means of assisting them should commence at once, and the way be prepared for future pronouncements. Some mention has been made of the representations made by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia. I assure some honorable senators that that body is non-partisan in politics. It was formed to afford help to those who needed it, and to continue to render to the nation service equivalent to that which its members voluntarily rendered during the Great War. So far as I know that organization preserves that attitude, and it should be regarded as free from party political prejudice. It is actuated only. by the best of motives, and its efforts on behalf of ex-service men should be appreciated by all honorable senators. Eor these reasons it is entitled to have its proposals received and treated with every respect. I support the bill.

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