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Friday, 27 November 1936

Senator DEIN (New South Wales) . - I welcome this bill, because it is designed to give additional- benefits to a section of ex-soldiers to whom this Parliament and the people are under a definite obligation. Whilst I appreciate what has been done for them by the governments that have been in office since the war, I am convinced that no Ministry has been too liberal. In many instances the ex-soldiers have not received ' the assistance to which they are entitled. Men who, in health and strength, left these shores at the request of the Government, and are now disabled from any cause whatever, should be helped in their declining years. The army of returned men is rapidly decreasing. Prom year to year, the Parliament slightly widens the scope of this legislation, but I think that bolder steps might well be taken to help men who, through no fault of their own, are now broken in mind and body. Irrespective of the causes of their disability they are entitled to a reasonably good pension. Since I became a member of the Parliament of the Commonwealth, many cases of hardship have been brought under my notice, some of which appear to me to be quite genuine; but the persons concerned have not been able to convince the Repatriation Commission or any other tribunal that their disability is the result of war service. Of these cases, two or three stand out boldly. First, my attention was drawn to one instance of hardship imposed, not on the soldier himself, because the unfortunate man had died, but on the grandmother of his children. He returned to Australia suffering from a severe gunshot wound in the shoulder; it was a bad case. Soon after his return he married, and in due course two children were born. Unfortunately, his condition became much worse, until eventually he was confined to a mental hospital, where later he committed suicide. Three months afterwards his wife died of cancer. The grandmother, who was looking after the children, approached me to ascertain whether the Repatriation Department would grant a pension to the children. She said:. " While I am alive, I shall be able toobtain a little assistance from the State Government, on which. we can manage fairly well; but if anything happens to me, what will become of the children?" On her behalf I made representations to the department. In reply, I received an intimation that, as the soldier had committed suicide, his demise was not attributable to war service; in the circumstances, therefore, the department could render no assistance to the children. The communication added that, even if upon the death of the grandmother, the children would not be eligible to receive- assistance from . the department. That is the severest case of hardship in my experience.

Like Senator Hardy and Senator Arkins, I have had brought under my notice an instance of hardship in connexion with the definition of " theatre of war ". This case is of recent origin. One of my friends, who had had a gruelling time in Egypt, and, I believe, participated in the march along the Blue Nile mentioned by Senator Hardy,- enjoyed good health until two months ago, when he was stricken with paralysis. At the present time he is lying in the Prince Alfred Hospital, his legs in plaster and his arms useless. The doctor stated that there is no hope at all of his recovery. On behalf of his wife, I made the necessary representations to the Repatriation Department, but in this case the reply was that my friend was not entitled to a service pension because he had not served in a theatre of war. As a soldier he had served in Egypt; but his services were not recognized in this connexion by the tribunal. He has since made application for an invalid pension, which undoubtedly will be granted to him. That is an instance of a returned soldier having at the behest of the Government of this country risked his life on the other side of the world in the interests of Australia. If he is entitled to any pension at all, it is only right that he should receive it in recognition of his war services.

Instances such as these make one feel that, much as the Government has done and much as the people of Australia have been willing that the Government should do, for these men, we have not yet gone so far as we should go. With so much of the wealth of Australia distributed among a comparatively small population, we can afford to give the Australian soldier, if he is genuinely in need of assistance, a greater degree of comfort than any other country can grant to its returned mcn. Why should not we do it? I should like to see the Government take a bold step in this connexion and render additional assistance to deserving cases. As time goes on, further amendments will be made' to the act, and it is only on such occasions that we have an opportunity to plead for consideration of cases in respect of which anomalies or hardships exist. When it is proposed to amend the act again, I hope that Ministers of the Senate will bring under the notice of the Minister for Expatriation (Mr. Hughes) and Cabinet generally the representations made in this chamber, in order that returned soldiers may be given that assistance to which they are entitled.

Debate (on motion by' Senator Sampson) adjourned.

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