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Wednesday, 17 September 1941

Repatriation. 275

So far I have dealt with factual matters the practical reactions to which are recorded in our history or are evidenced in our surroundings. Let me now pass on to reflections upon the present tragic conflict and bring to notice the acts and proposals associated with the welfare of those who, like their older relatives, are serving us so gallantly abroad. When the present war commenced, the Government lost no time in appointing an inter-departmental committee to advise it on the question of pension rights for members of the present forces, and it may be stated that the war pension and medical treatment rights under the principal act have been made available to them, with the exception that, in the case of men serving in Australia only, disabilities or death, in order to be pensionable, must be directly attributable to war service. This was considered quite reasonable and necessary in view of the large number of men who would be enlisted and probably never be required to serve overseas - for example, the ground staff of the Royal Australian Air Force. The main cases affected by this change were those men killed or injured whilst on leave. However, this matter has been recently dealt with by the introduction of a regulation which allows of the acceptance of claims where an accident has occurred whilst travelling on leave to or from camp or other place of service employment provided that the [17 September, 1941.] soldier had been enlisted for overseas service. This, in effect, means that where a man serving overseas dies or is incapacitated from an occurrence happening during the period he was a member of the forces, pension will be paid as in the last war, and where a man with service in Australia only dies or is incapacitated as the direct result of war service, pension will also be paid to, or on his behalf, at the same rates as in the last war. Coincidental with the extension of pension and treatment facilities for the present war, provision was also made for the children of deceased or totally and permanently incapacitated soldiers to participate in the benefits of the soldiers' children education scheme. Medical benefits for widows and children of deceased soldiers on the same lines as those provided during the last war and the funeral benefits previously mentioned have also been extended. During and since the last war it has been possible to use the splendid facilities of St. Dunstan's in England for men who were blinded; but because of the fact that Australians in the main are in theatres of war nearer to their own country than England, and the lack of shipping accommodation, blinded soldiers will be returned to Australia. Moreover, it would be unfair to subject men, already disabled, to the possibility of further injury through England's air raids. The Government took steps to survey the requirements in Australia in case it should be necessary to face the problem of handling blinded men. With this in view, a committee was appointed and a useful report has been submitted. In this there is a clear indication of the course to be pursued, and the Government will provide any necessary training and equipment should the need arise.

This brings me to the question of training and employment. Because the conditions which are now operating in Australia are so vastly different from those which were operating during the last war, it was felt that it would not be sufficient merely to extend the provisions of the old regulations to meet the requirements of the soldiers of the new Army. That would have been comparatively easy. It was apparent, however, that many new problems would have to be faced, looming largely among them the difficulties attendant on the retraining of men engaged in what are essentially war-time industries and the question of industrial absorptive capacity. Moreover, the implementing of an education scheme for serving members of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, had to be taken into account, as did the whole question of reconstruction which must come about after the war. For these reasons, it was obvious that no really useful end would be achieved by attempting to draw up a concrete scheme before the whole matter had been thoroughly investigated and reported on by persons qualified to express opinions on the many and varied phases of the problem. In this regard, I may say that advantage was taken of the existence of the Inter-depar[mental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction which had been convened by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt). A sub-committee was formed and subsequently a comprehensive report was submitted by representatives of the Departments of Labour and National Service, Army, and Air, and the Repatriation Commission on the question of training and employment. Although the Government has not yet reached finality with regard to that report, that does not mean that nothing of a concrete nature has been done. On the contrary, regulations have been passed empowering the Repatriation Commission to proceed with the placing in employment of men who, in the meantime, are returning from service overseas. Already, as in the cases of maimed and partially invalided soldiers, the need for some system of vocational training being immediately available has been demonstrated, and the Government has under consideration a tentative scheme intended to function until the major proposal has been fully examined and reduced to workable limits. A decision upon the matter may be expected at an early date. For those awaiting employment a sustenance allowance is payable as follows : - Ex-member, £2 2s. weekly ; wife, 18s. weekly ; each child with a maximum of three, 7s. 6d. weekly. Sustenance is, of course, inclusive of any war pension which may be payable, and is available for an aggregate period of three months. As at the 31st July last, 940 applications for employment had been received, and of this number 707 were placed, 97 had lapsed for various reasons, and 136 still remained to be placed. The total amount paid in sustenance from the inception of the scheme in January, 1941, amounted to £6,074. In connexion with the employment of discharged soldiers, it is of interest to note in passing that, under the National Security (Reinstatement in Civil Employment) Regulations, a former employer can be compelled to re-employ an ex-soldier who gave up a position in order to enlist.

Regulations, which have recently been promulgated, also provide for the supply of any necessary tools of trade to the value of £10 by way of gift and, in addition, an amount of £40 by way of loan. Where men have secured employment in country districts the regulations empower the commission to grant the applicant his fare to the place of employment. The mention of employment will naturally invoke in many minds the question of preference to returned soldiers. To this principle the Government has already expressed its adherence. But it proposes to go farther and endeavour to secure its uniform observance throughout the Commonwealth not only in the public services but with private employers as well. To this end a conference with State authorities will be sought at an early date in order to discuss ways and means.

Another provision recently approved by the Government is that of free passages to the Commonwealth of the wives and children of members of the Forces who have married while serving abroad, and in this regard arrangements are already in train, given that shipping facilities are available to provide the necessary transport accommodation.

I turn now to another phase of repatriation, the matter of war service homes. The governing legislation was enacted in 1918 and became operative as from March, 1919. Parliament has since approved of sundry amendments to the parent act, and the Forces serving us to-day have access to its benefits. To the 30th June, 1941, the total number of homes provided since the commencement of the original scheme in 1919 was 37,409. Of this total there remained at that date 25,135 homes still subject to the act, because liability had not been discharged. Loans granted covered proposals for the erection of new homes, purchase of already-erected dwellings and discharge of mortgages, or other encumbrances, where onerous conditions existed in connexion with agreements entered into privately by eligible persons for the purchase of homes. The total expenditure during the period since the commencement to the 30th June, 1941, has been £29,840,064.

Whilst tie scheme generally forms part of the broader field of repatriation in that the Commonwealth bears the cost of administration, it is primarily a business undertaking designed for the purpose of assisting eligible persons individually to obtain loans for the purpose of erecting, or acquiring, a home on easy repayment terms. The statutory limit of the act as regards loans is £950, and' repayment may be spread over a term not exceeding 45 years and, in the case of widows, 50 years. It will be, perhaps, of interest if I mention here some typical repayment instalments which are calculated on an actuarial basis for repayment of loans at the prescribed rate of interest, i.e., 4 per cent. over different periods: -

In addition to these liberal terms for repayment of loans the act provides sinking fund facilities, to which fund borrowers may lodge to their credit sums additional to the monthly instalment payable in accordance with the agreement entered into respecting the loan. Such sums earn interest at the same rate as is chargeable on the loan, and may be used to meet rates, repairs, instalments accruing due, &c, or allowed to accumulate to discharge the loan earlier than agreed upon. Comprehensive insurance is provided for by the act for all homes, and premiums are much below those obtainable from companies transacting business of this nature in the ordinary way. The minimum deposit is 10 per cent, of the capital cost or valuation, and security is by way of mortgage, the title to the property being in the name of the applicant borrower. Each applicant is allowed full freedom in the choice of locality and subject to the approval of plans and specifications by the commission, is permitted, if he so chooses, to employ his own architect and builder. Homes are erected on the contract system after calling competitive tenders.

It has been suggested that, perhaps, the commission could arrange for the erection of numbers of homes of more or less cheap construction which could be let on a tenancy basis at low rentals, but I should like to point out in this connexion that Parliament never intended, nor does the act empower, the commission to engage in schemes for the erection of homes for the purpose of letting them on a tenancy basis as may be embarked upon by municipal authorities or private enterprise. The commission's functions are restricted to the granting of loans to enable individual eligible persons to erect, or acquire, homes on the prescribed conditions, one of which is that the home, when erected, shall be substantial and durable. At present, and as was expected, only a few applications have been lodged by members of the Forces, and these have been lifted for consideration in their order of lodgment, subject to funds being available. It is not anticipated that any appreciable increase in receipt of application will occur until such time as greater numbers of the overseas troops are returning. It is hoped that by then labour, material and moneys now being diverted towards the national war effort will be again available for the pursuits of peace and general reconstruction including the housing question. The liberal terms in connexion with the acquisition of homes under the act applicable to returning members of the Forces, will contribute in no small measure eventually in relieving the home shortage throughout the Commonwealth.

A novel feature of the act is the assistance which may be afforded to widows and widowed mothers of deceased Australian soldiers, and to the wives of Australian exsoldiers who are permanently, or temporarily, insane. It will be observed from a perusal of the monthly repayment figures I have quoted that repayment instalments on the basis of a 50-year term, applicable to widow applicants in this category, give weekly equivalents of monthly instalments as follows: -

 

When a widow has bran assisted under the provisions of the act, and her circumstances are such that hardship would be caused by meeting payments due, the act empowers relief to be afforded in respect of instalments, current rates and taxes, &c, payment of these being met by the commission from a special trust account, and charged against the property itself. This provision ensures security of tenure in the home and removes anxiety to widows who, through matters beyond their own control, are unable to meet payments in connexion with the agreement entered into for the purchase of the home.

One might draw up a full list of the benefits which were provided in connexion with the last war, and proceed to compare them with those which are now available in connexion with the present war, but I do not think that any useful purpose would be achieved. Two forms of assistance which were available in the last war occur to me at the moment, namely, land settlement and the establishing of exsoldiers in small businesses. Land settlement in connexion with the last war was not generally attended with a great deal of success, and before anything of the kind is again contemplated the whole matter would have to be very closely examined. The States handled the scheme before, but the bulk of the criticism was levelled at the Commonwealth. The policy of again establishing soldiers in small businesses is one which also requires the most careful consideration in view of the experience arising out of the last war.

It is difficult to sum up, in a limited space, the whole question of repatriation, but I think that sufficient has been said to show that the Government is giving serious consideration to the problems which have arisen, and which will arise, as a result of the present war. It must be remembered that at the corresponding stage of the last war, i.e., after two years of hostilities, practically nothing had been done towards any serious repatriation policy other than providing pensions and medical treatment.

I conclude by saying that such success as has attended the administration of the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act and the War Service Homes Act can be credited largely to the loyal efforts of the personnel of the Repatriation Commission, the Commissioner of War Service Homes, and their respective staffs, backed very substantially by the returned soldier organizations, whose advice and experience, availed of by past governments, has facilitated progressive and constructive improvements in legislation. . To these organizations, I commend the younger members of our new fighting forces who, in perplexity, may seek wisdom where wisdom has been born of the many tribulations of their older brethren of 1914-18.







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