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Friday, 27 November 1936

Senator BRAND - I trust that when preparing the next year's Estimates, the Government will rectify the anomaly which now exists through the withholding of pensions from the wives and children of disabled soldier pensioners who have married since the 1st October, 1931. Believing the Financial Emergency Act 1931 to be of a temporary character, a war pensioner who married after that date, was under the impression that when the financial resources of the Commonwealth permitted it, his wife and children, if any, would be entitled to the same privileges as a pensioner who married prior to that date. When in J une, 1931, the financial position was explained to the delegates representing various service organizations who met in Canberra, they voluntarily agreed to the suspension of that and other concessions amounting to £1,000,000, as their contribution towards easing the financial embarrassment of the government of the day. With the exception of this one, all the concessions suspended at the time have been restored, and the ex-service pensioners naturally feel that there is a moral obligation upon the Government to grant their request. I do not know how many have married since the 1st October, 1931, but those who have consider that since all other sections of the community have had restored to them the reductions temporarily made under the Financial Emergency Act 1931, they, too, should receive consideration. No doubt the case of the " digger " who, when on his death-bed, went through the marriage ceremony with his nursing sister in order to enable her to get a pension, will be mentioned by some honorable senators. They should not, however, compare such, isolated cases "with the many pensioners of marriageable age, who desire a life's helpmate to make their existence less burdensome and more cheerful. Of course, there must be a limit to such pensions. Other dominions have already fixed a date on which such wives and children shall cease to be a burden on the community. Australia must eventually take similar action and fix a date, say, twelve months hence, when the appropriate section of the act shall lapse. Meanwhile, there is moral obligation to accede to the requests of those who married after the 1st October, 1931, under the impression that the privileges prevailing prior to that date would be granted when the opportunity presented itself. I trust that the Government will rectify this omission. Should an amendment be brought forward fixing, say, the 1st July, 1937, or the 1st January, 1938, as the date after which pensions as the result of marriage shall not be allowed, I shall support it.

I take this opportunity to appeal to the Government to grant a service pension to South African war veterans who are in necessitous circumstances. New Zealand has recognized the justice of paying a service pension to these men. Our sister dominion does not differentiate between the South African campaign and the Great War. About 18,000 Australians took part in the South African war over 35 years ago, 76 per cent, of whom also served in the Great War, and are therefore entitled to the benefits provided under our Repatriation Act. The majority of the remaining 24 per cent, are not in need of any assistance, but about 250 throughout the Commonwealth are unemployable because of advancing years, or mental or physical incapacity, indirectly due to the rigours of active service. While £133,000,000 has been expended on repatriation benefits to participants in the Great War, the Commonwealth has incurred little or no post-war expenditure in connexion with those who fought in the South African war - the cradle of the Australian Imperial Forces. The Imperial Government has met, and is still meeting, expenditure on dependants' pensions. This residue of about 250 veterans is a "lost legion". Some are in old men's homes or benevolent institutions; others, owing to being unemployable, are assisted by the South

African Soldiers Association in each State. Having been president of the Victorian association for four years, I know the circumstances of many of these men. Sometimes we are asked to pay the funeral expenses of an old comrade, who, otherwise, would be buried as a pauper. That should not be permitted. These organizations, with small memberships, are not powerful bodies wielding the influence of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, and kindred associations. In this Parliament there are seven ex-soldiers who served in South Africa, and who know that the conditions of service in that campaign were not so easy as some imagine. I appeal to the Government to come to the assistance of that "lost legion" of South African war veterans by granting a service pension such as is granted by the New Zealand Government to those similarly situated.

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