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Thursday, 22 October 1964

Senator SANDFORD (Victoria) .- I shall refer briefly to the general administration of the Repatriation Department. Repatriation was covered fully when the Repatriation Bill was before the Senate fairly recently. Following the advocacy of Opposition senators in relation to repatriation matters generally, will the Minister say whether anything has been done, or whether anything is proposed to be done, to more or less streamline the operations of the Repatriation Department, particularly in regard to the hearing and finalising of appeals that come before the various appeal tribunals?

As is known, an application for repatriation benefits is considered first by the Repatriation Commission. If the commission rejects the application the applicant has the right of appeal to a higher authority. But, as has been mentioned so often in this chamber, the disturbing feature, which still persists, is that there is such a time lag between the lodging of an application for repatriation benefits and the finalising of the appeal. Will the Minister say whether anything has been done, or whether anything is contemplated, along the lines of perhaps increasing the number of appeal tribunals? I have not the figures readily available at the moment but I know that there are many thousands of cases listed for hearing by the various determining authorities. I want to stress a point that I have made so often. In each succeeding year the time lag is becoming much more serious particularly for ex-servicemen from the First World War. Time and tide wait for no man, and these ex-servicemen are growing older every year. They are doubly disadvantaged by the unduly lengthy time lag.

The application of the vexatious and controversial onus of proof provisions of the Act also arises. Will the Government insist that the onus of proof shall lie fairly and squarely on the determining authority in accordance with the Parliament's intention when these provisions were inserted in the Act by a Labour Government, I think during the war years? Will the Government do something to set at rest not only the mind of the individual who lodges an appeal but also the minds of returned servicemen's organisations? Men are being driven to desperation and distraction in their endeavours to place their cases fairly and squarely before appeal tribunals.

I say unhesitatingly that in many cases there is a good deal of justification for believing that the onus of proof provisions are not being applied as the Parliament intended they should be applied. I have here a letter from an ex-serviceman who served in the First World War. This is only one of many cases that have come to my notice. This letter was published in the Melbourne " Truth " under the heading " Hostile Tribunals ". The ex-serviceman may be exaggerating. I do not cast any reflection on the personnel of the tribunals, but the letter recounts this man's experiences. We all know how volatile some ex-diggers can be. We know that they vary in their approach to bodies of authority. The letter is in these terms -

I have had 16 Repatriation tribunals, mostly hostile with untruths and insults.

He has claimed in various letters to me - I have a very thick file on this ex-serviceman - that he has been actually insulted before some of the tribunals. In one instance he was told to seek admission to an old men's home. That is not much consolation to a man who has served his country not only in the First World War but also in the Second World War. The letter continues -

I am now marathon 80 years old, and the survivor of 13 mcn in a platoon thai stuck out heavy mustard gas all night on May IS, 1918, at Villers Bretonneux. 1 refuse to attend any more-

He means tribunals - end would like to see these tribunals abolished.

That may be an exaggerated view of the way in which the appeal tribunals and the Repatriation Department generally operate, but it is an indication of individuals - -there arc thousands of them - being dissatisfied with the time lag for one thing, and with appearances before appeal tribunals. As we all know, there is no appeal against the decision of the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal unless fresh evidence is brought to light. Without reading all of the letter, the writer says -

Federal member Mr. Fraser-

The man lives in the western districts of Victoria - did no good. Insisted on me supplying fresh evidence. I wrote back and told him it was a trick question used for years by Repatriation and what belter evidence did he want than letters from officers and mcn-

Presumably officers and men with whom he had served. This man claims that he has submitted to the appeal tribunals statutory declarations by officers and men with whom he served, which indicate that he suffered the effects of mustard gas. However, he was not sufficiently bad to be evacuated. Everybody who served in the forces knows perfectly well that tens of thousands of servicemen were affected by mustard gas, but not sufficiently badly to bc evacuated, so this docs not show on their medical history sheets. Many of us, out of a sense of loyalty in our young, impressionable, tender years, did not want to leave our mates. We would sooner remain with our unit than be evacuated unless, to use the vernacular, we were cot cases. Many thousands of men in these circumstances elected to remain with their units.

Any medical man of any repute would back up the argument that mustard gas must have a serious effect in later years. This individual considers that in many respects he has not had a fair deal from the Repatriation Department and the various appeal tribunals before which he has appeared. I should like to know from the Minister whether anything has been done to streamline the whole procedure to bring it up to date, particularly as to the operation of the onus of proof provision, and the time lag which is very serious and becomes more serious every year. Further, I should like to know whether the Government has done anything or whether it intends to do anything in regard to the recognition of cancer as a war caused disability for the purposes of repatriation, lt will be recalled that during the recent debate on amendments to the Repatriation Act, the Minister himself said that in certain circumstances cancer cases were accepted by the Repatriation Department. Everybody, even the kindergarten child, knows that the medical profession has not the foggiest idea of what causes cancer. If cancer is accepted in certain circumstances, that conveys the impression that in certain circumstances the medical profession actually knows the cause of it and has attributed it to war service. Having regard to the fact that the cause of cancer is not known by the most eminent medical authorities, I suggest that no medical authority can in fact deny that cancer in ex-servicemen has been either caused or aggravated by war service.

I should like to know from the Minister whether anything has been done or whether anything is contemplated in regard to that vital question. It is a matter that has been advoacted and submitted by all exservicemen's associations in Australia. The advocacy does not come entirely from us on the Opposition side. It comes from those organisations and through the Parliament it is being directed directly to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz). Three of the most important matters discussed in the recent debate in this chamber on (he Repatriation Act related to appeal tribunals, the onus of proof, and the recognition of cancer as a war caused disability. The other important matter that we debated was the provision of hospitalisation and medical treatment of ex-servicemen of World War I.

There is no need for me to repeat what I said then and what I have said often in this chamber. Obviously, the numbers of ex-servicemen of World War I are diminishing every year. It does not follow, as some people might think, that if hospitalisation and medical treatment are provided for ex-servicemen of World War I, all of them will apply for admission to hospitals and medical treatment immediately. Only those in need would apply. There are many, as we all know, who are in such circumstances as would permit them to obtain their own hospital treatment and medical attention. I should like to know from the Minister whether anything has been done along these lines. These are important questions and they are becoming more important every year. I suggest that the Government should do something about hospitalisation and medical treatment for ex-servicemen of World War I, because the matter is of vital importance.

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