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Wednesday, 17 September 1941


Senator COLLETT (Western Australia) (Minister for Repatriation) . - by leave - It is unnecessary to remind honorable senators that for two years we have been at war, but now that the toll of human flesh and blood is made evident by the existence of unfillable gaps in our families and amongst our friends, by the growing numbers of wounded and sick in the hospitals, and by the appearance in the streets of the cities of the long-ago familiar " hospital blues ", there is a commendable and increasing concern on the part of members of this Parliament and others as to whether the Government is alive to the responsibility which lies upon it and is taking adequate measures to meet the situation.

Therefore, it seems that at this juncture I may render some assistance to honorable senators if I recount, as briefly as I can, something of what has been done, and also of that which is in the mind of the Government in regard to the needs of the immediate future. For this purpose I have prepared a statement, and I propose, with the. indulgence of honorable senators, to present a broad picture of those repatriation activities upon which they are, no doubt, often consulted, and upon which, from time to time, they are good enough to refer to me as the responsible Minister. I would ask honorable senators to understand that, in the use of the word "exsoldier " in this statement, I include sailors, airmen and the members of the nursing service.

As at the 30th June, 1941, the total sum expended on repatriation was over £290.000,000. which included the following items: - War pensions, £171,569,093; service pensions £1,973,212; medical treatment, £10,263,064; employment and Vocational training, £7,712,421; soldiers' children educational scheme, £2,232,148; war gratuity, soldier settlement and war service homes, £91,000,000. This total disregards the cost of placing and maintaining the forces in the field, and all military expenditure. We may well say that this is a considerable sum to be raised from a population such as that of Australia, but the fact that the taxpayers have made the contribution without complaint may be taken as a striking and eminently satisfactory appreciation of the services to the nation rendered by the men and women who volunteered during the 1914-18 war.

The development and extension of legislation relating to war pensions since the passing of the War Pensions Act in 1914 is of considerable interest and indicative of the sympathetic consideration that has been extended by successive governments since that date. War pension rates in the original act were provided as follows for soldiers with the rank of private and their dependants, with increased rates for higher ranks. For total incapacity: Member, 40s. a fortnight; wife, 20s. a fortnight; and each child, 10s. a fortnight. The rates for widows and children of deceased soldiers were 40s. and 10s. a fortnight respectively. Provision was also made for pensions for certain other dependants.

In 1916 the rates were revised and increased as follows: - For total incapacity: Member, 60s. a fortnight; wife, 30s. a fortnight; first child, 20s. a fortnight; second child, 15s. a fortnight ; and third and subsequent, 10s. a fortnight. The rates payable to widows and other dependants remained unaltered, but those for children of deceased soldiers were increased to the rate as provided in respect of total incapacity, but the pensions of children both of whose parents are dead were increased to allow of the following scale: - Up to 10 years, £1 a fortnight; ten to fourteen years, £1 5s. a fortnight; fourteen to sixteen years, £1 10s. a fortnight.

No further amendments occurred for four years, but in 1920 the Government entrusted the administration of war pensions to the Repatriation Commission, and an amendment was inserted in the

Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act embodying the appropriate legislation. The opportunity was then taken to place the rates of war pensions on a more liberal basis. The minimum rate for total incapacity was set down at £4 4s. a fortnight for a member up to and including the rank of Lieutenant, whilst the rate for a wife was increased from £1 10s. to £1 16s. a fortnight, and those of the children remained as amended in 1916. Special pensions of £8 a fortnight were provided for (a) blinded soldiers; (Z>) totally and permanently incapacitated members, that is, incapacitated for life from earning other than a negligible percentage of the living wage; and (c) in cases of pulmonary tuberculosis, authority was given under this section for the payment of a special pension not exceeding £8 a fortnight in defined cases. The pension in respect of wives and children and special rate pensioners remained as for the general 100 per centum rate.

As regards widows, the minimum pension was left as in the 1916 act, but provision was made for the payment of a pension of not less than £4 4s. a fortnight where there were dependent children, and at such other rates, not exceeding £4 4s. a fortnight, as the commission deemed expedient, where the widow had no dependent children. Equivalent benefits by way of war pensions and living allowance were afforded widowed mothers of deceased unmarried soldiers, and in cases of other parents, rates enabling pension to be supplemented to provide adequate means of support were authorized. Where any parent has lost a son as the result of war service, a pension may be granted if at any time such parent is without adequate means of support, and irrespective of whether or not there was dependence upon the deceased son prior to his enlistment. In considering the question of adequate means, the ability of other sons or daughters to contribute to the support of their mother or father is disregarded. The cost of living, when these rates were decided on, was approximately the same as obtained in the first year of the present war, and when the index figure relating to cost of living dropped considerably in the intervening years, no reduction of the rates of pensions of former members of the forces took place, although, in 1931, at the time of the depression, certain dependants' pensions suffered some reduction. These decreases, however, have in the main, now been restored.

The next extension of the act was in 1922, when an attendant's allowance of £2 a fortnight was granted to men suffering spinal injury and thus unable to care for themselves. This allowance, of course, was in addition to the special pension of £S a fortnight for the member and normal rates for wife and children. By the tame amendment, the fifth schedule, having reference to specific injuries by way of amputation, &c, was added to the act. This awarded allowances over and above the general pension rate, ranging from 7e. a fortnight in respect of loss of an arm below the elbow or a leg below the knee, to £3 16s. a fortnight for the more severe double amputations. Examples of how these allowances operate are -

 

In addition, attendants' allowances of £4 a fortnight and £2 a fortnight were authorized in appropriate cases. From 1922 onwards, various other forms of allowances were approved in supplementation of certain types of pensions. These included an attendant's allowance of £2 a fortnight for blinded soldiers; an allowance of 15s. a fortnight for soldiers suffering total loss of vision in one eye,; £2 a fortnight for members temporarily totally incapacitated; and an additional 5s. a fortnight for the third and subsequent children, thereby placing all children after the first on an equal basis.

It is appropriate, and will probably be of considerable interest to honorable senators, that I should relate the avenues of application and appeal available to former members of the forces and their dependants in connexion with war pensions administration. The act confers on a Repatriation Board in each State the authority to grant or refuse a war pension. Against a board's decision, there is the right of appeal to the Repatriation Commission. Until 1929, the commission was the final arbiter, but in that year a very definite variation of policy was adopted, when the Government decided on the appointment of tribunals for the purpose of hearing appeals against adverse decisions of the commission, both in respect of entitlement and assessment. The personnel of the Repatriation Commission and Repatriation Boards consists in each case of three members, all of whom are returned .soldiers, and one of whom is the nominee of returned soldier organizations. The tribunals established were the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal and the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal. The Entitlement Tribunal consists of three members, all returned soldiers, the chairman of which must have been admitted to practise as a barrister or solicitor of the High Court or of a supreme court of Australia; one member is nominated by soldier organizations, and the third is a government appointee. This tribunal travels throughout the Commonwealth, and the act makes provision for an appellant to be present at the hearing of his appeal, and may also be represented thereat by an advocate other than a legal practitioner. Moreover, certain travelling expenses necessarily incurred in his attendance before the tribunal may be paid to the appellant. The constitution of the Assessment Tribunal is somewhat different, as its function is, in fact, the assessment of the degree of disability suffered as a result of war service. Such a determination must necessarily depend largely upon the medical evidence, hence the personnel of this tribunal comprises a chairman, with legal qualifications similar to the chairman of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, who must be the nominee of returned soldier organizations, and two medical members selected from panels of doctors in the respective States, who also are in almost every instance returned soldiers, approved by the Minister. By this means the tribunal can have, and it is so constituted as to have, the services of specialists in their respective spheres available to sit on the tribunal. The chairman of the Assessment Tribunal travels throughout the States, but the medical members are selected from a panel of practitioners in each capital city. As in respect of appeals to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, travelling expenses are payable to the appellants.

It will be seen that these tribunals have no relation whatsoever to the repatriation administration, and thus they afford soldier appellants entirely independent avenues of appeal. For purposes of convenience the tribunals function in offices provided by the commission. It may be well if I were to emphasize that the law does not permit of any interference on the part of the Minister of State administering the Repatriation Act with the findings and decisions of these appeal tribunals, nor is it desirable that he should do so.

Another pleasing feature of our legislation is the absence of any time limit within which a former member of the forces must apply for the acceptance of a condition as being resultant from war service. Even when his case has been adjudicated upon by the three statutory bodies mentioned herein, and he subsequently submits new evidence which has a material bearing on the case, the claim may be re-opened. It is only right to make known, too, that in the collection of evidence in support of an application, the ex-soldier is given every possible assistance by the Repatriation Commission. In fact, where inquiries are necessary in relation to medical treatment, employment, &c, the commission undertakes them, and bears the cost of such investigation.

With the introduction of the financial emergency legislation in 1931, the Government of the day was constrained to effect certain reductions of the pensions of dependants, but those of the ex-soldiers themselves were unaltered ; and as soon as the financial position permitted, action was taken to bring about appropriate adjustments of the pensions of dependants. In its approach to this vital question, the Government sought the advice and assistance of a special committee of returned soldiers, representing the various soldier organizations, and acted substantially on the recommendations of that committee.

The act of 1920 provided that a sp:(na rate pension was not payable for any period that the member was maintained in an institution at the public expense. Later, this provision was modified somewhat by the insertion of the words "except for a short period". That phrase was interpreted by the commission first as 28 days, but later as 42 days, and the act was amended in 1935 to allow this extension.

Several marked advances were incorporated in the amendments of 1934-35. Payment of pension at not less than 100 per centum rate was granted to any exmember suffering incapacity as the result of pulmonary tuberculosis due to war service. This means that although incapacitation through pulmonary tuberculosis may decrease even to a considerable degree, the war pension will continue to be paid at 100 per centum rate. There is little need to enlarge on the generous nature of this provision, and its consequent ease of mind to the recipient, in that he is relieved of anxiety as to any possible reduction of his pension. Section 31a validated by legislation the concession first authorized by the Government in 1925.

Another important decision is embodied in section 39a. The Government decided to pay pensions to dependants, at rates as in respect of death, where at the time of death the member was in receipt of a special rate pension, and irrespective of the cause of death and its relationship to war service. This concession likewise was made applicable in cases in which pensions were being paid under the first eight items of the fifth schedule to the act - that is, in every case under this schedule in which an ex-member is receiving an allowance of 36s. or more, over and above the general 100 per centum rate.

Early in 1938 the Repatriation Commission decided to introduce a policy of stabilization of war pensions. It decided that in cases in which the incapacity for which pension was payable was apparently permanent, future reviews would be discontinued. This policy was adopted by the commission in an endeavour to give to the ex-soldiers a permanent sense of security by relieving them of anxiety as to their war pensions in the future, and also to obviate the necessity, and sometimes the inconvenience, of attending for regular medical examination. As the result of the foregoing procedure, approximately 95 per cent. of the war pensions payable in respect of the 1914-18 war have now been stabilized. A pensioner is informed in writing when stabilization is effected, and also that should he at any future date consider that his war-caused incapacity has increased he may apply for a review of his pension, which will be arranged forthwith.

Before leaving the subject of pensions, I desire to direct attention to a cogent factor, which, in discussion, is often overlooked although it is perhaps one of the most common causes of misunderstanding. War pensions must of necessity be based on the degree of physical damage by injury or disease suffered as the result of war service, and must not be influenced by the economic circumstances of the exsoldier. This governing principle has been followed by almost every country throughout the world, and unless such basis be maintained the whole system would tend to become chaotic. Put in another way, it means that the ex-soldier, having had his war disabilities assessed, and the appropriate treatment and pension arranged for and granted, is then discharged from service and becomes, in effect, an ordinary member of the community. Unfortunately, he is, as such, still heir to the malignant processes of nature and also to the ills which beset the ordinary citizen. For these the Commonwealth Parliament has not yet assumed direct responsibility. Some of us may regret this, but I feelassured that when, in these enlightened days, public opinion brings about the desired improvements of our social services, such difficulties will disappear. It is interesting to record that war pensions being paid in respect of incapacity caused as the result of the war of 1914-18 remain current, even though the ex-member may have re-enlisted and served in the Forces during the present war. It might be as well to state here that this is not applicable to service pensions, in respect of which income from whatever source must be taken into account. As at the 30th June, 1941, war pensions were being paid to 75,767 ex-members of the Forces, 123,787 dependants of incapacitated exmembers of the Forces, and 25,937 dependants of deceased ex-members, with a total annual liability of £7,412,684.

In 1935 legislation which instituted the payment of service pensions as from January, 1936, was introduced. These pensions constitute a social benefit, especially for ex-members of the Forces. They are granted on one or other of the following grounds : -

(a)   age;

(b)   permanentunemployability ;

(c)   suffering from pulmonary tuber culosis.

An ex-member becomes eligible to apply for a service pension on reaching the age of 60 years, provided that he has served in a theatre of war, whilst a female member - a nurse - who has reached the age of 55 years, and either embarked for service abroad, or served abroad, becomes likewise eligible. Under b a male member is eligible if he served in a theatre of war and by reason of physical or mental disablement is permanently unemployable, even though such disablement was not the result of war service. The same conditions apply in respect of a. female exmember, except that service abroad need not necessarily have been in a theatre of war. Under c an ex-member is eligible if suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, even though such condition is not the result of war service. Furthermore, there is no qualification as to the necessity for service in a theatre of war. In respect of both b and c, the ex-member's wife, if married before the 2nd October, 1941, and children, up to and including four in number, if born prior to the foregoing date, may also be granted service pensions. On the 30th June, 1941, service pensions were being paid to 8,368 exmembers and 5,713 dependants, with an annual liability of £533,622. As each year passes a 'considerable number of ex-members who served in the 1914-18 war reach the age of eligibility, and thus the annual liability will increase steadily for some years to come.

For the medical and surgical treatment of soldiers military hospitals were, of course, established in connexion with the last war. These were afterwards taken over by the commission, and in the years which followed the cessation of hostilities the institutions were improved considerably and equipped according to modern hospital standards. The result is that up-to-date general hospitals, sanatoria and clinics are available for the treatment of all war-caused and waraggravated disabilities. On the 31st July last, there were 1,373 soldiers of the last war undergoing in-patient treatment at departmental institutions, and 24,877 attending for out-patient treatment. In addition, treatment was being given to other dominion ex-soldiers and certain Defence personnel ; of these 525 were inpatients, and 686 were attending for out-patient treatment.

Concomitant with the work of the general hospitals was the essential service rendered by the Repatriation artificial limb ' factories. These factories aTe staffed by specially trained artisans, who, being amputees themselves, are able to appreciate the peculiar needs of those requiring artificial and surgical aids. These aids include surgical boots, spinal jackets - in fact, a wide range of appliances which are calculated to assist the man in his calling and recreation. On the subject of the manufacture of artificial limbs, the commission has, moreover, maintained close contact with leading overseas authorities, and it can be said, without fear of challenge, that the articles which are produced in the repatriation factories in Australia are equal to any produced elsewhere.

As the result of having to undergo a course of medical treatment, the patient may be prevented from following his usual occupation, and in consideration of this, provision exists for the granting of a sustenance allowance. The amount .payable is such as will, together with any war pension, bring the patient's allowance up to the equivalent of a full war pension. In the early years following the war of 1914-18 the Government made provision for widows, widowed mothers and orphans of deceased ex-soldiers to receive medical benefits through the medium of the friendly societies. An important part of the activities designed for the more immediate re-establishment of soldiers returning from the war of 1914-18 was the vocational training scheme. The main part of the scheme covered training for trades, those eligible being the ex-soldier who, owing to war disabilities, was unable to follow his pre-war occupation, or who, at the time of enlistment, was under 20 years of age. If preliminary training was necessary, it was given at special schools, vocational training sustenance being paid at rates ranging from 84s. to 160s. a fortnight, according to whether the trainee was single or married, and the number of children in the family. When 40 per cent, efficient, the trainee was placed with an employer who paid the journeyman wage, but was reimbursed 60 per cent, thereof by the Commonwealth. From time to time the trainee's efficiency was reviewed, and as the efficiency of the trainee increased the payment to the employer "was correspondingly reduced. Professional training was provided for the ex-soldier who was qualified to enter a university, and who at the time of enlistment was under the age of twenty years and in a position to undertake the course if assisted by a grant of £150. Professional training was also provided for those who, prior to enlistment, had intended to enter upon a professional course and were not more than 30 years of age at the time of application, or, irrespective of age, had entered upon the course. The assistance granted in these cases was the payment of fees for the course as a gift, and sustenance, up to 42s. a week, for the first academic year. Assistance was also granted to an ex-soldier who, although in employment, was desirous of undergoing a course of training with a view to increasing his efficiency or to qualifying for a better position. Further assistance, namely, sustenance for succeeding academic years, and the

In pursuance of a Cabinet decision during the financial year 1927-28 ex-soldiers who, through their war service, were incapacitated to such a degree that their means of locomotion were restricted to cots or wheeled chairs, may be granted an allowance of £10 a month for recreational transport purposes. A similar allowance, but of only £5 a month, may be granted to ex-soldiers who, through the war, have suffered double amputation - one leg above the knee and the other below the knee. As at the end of June. 1941, 167 ex-soldiers were receiving £10 a month, and 29 were receiving £5 a month. The







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