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Thursday, 12 November 1964

Senator MATTNER (South Australia) . - 1 am delighted to know that Senator Hendrickson has seen fit to pay a tribute to what has been done by the Repatriation Department generally. It is only fair to say that all governments, to the best of their ability, and regardless of political colour, have tried to place on the statute book most of the ideals of the people of Australia who have most generously supported the returned ex-service men and women in the community. I do not know of any other country that has treated its returned service men and women as well as Australia has done, irrespective of the government that has been in power. I know that cases of hardship occur. I was delighted to hear Senator Hendrickson speak about the 1914-18 service men and women. The honorable senator will recall that in this chamber some years ago I fought for the principle of free hospitalisation for the 19.14-18 men who were not in receipt of a war pension, and eventually the Repatriation Department agreed to this. Never let us forget that for years Senator Sir Walter Cooper was Minister for Repatriation. He followed in the footsteps of many devoted men who held that portfolio. Because of his experience, and perhaps as a result of his own physical disability, he had a very accurate knowledge of what was required.

Getting back to the question of hospitalisation, we did obtain for the service pensioner free hospitalisation in repatriation hospitals. I hope that honorable senators will not think me presumptious when I say that this is one of the very good things that we did. I take a great deal of quiet satisfaction in knowing that in some way I was responsible for getting the matter carried through the Parliament, with the assistance particularly of Senator Ivy Wedgwood. Honorable senators know as well as I do that there are certain ways and means of achieving your aim in Parliament. I should like to pay a tribute to Senator Ivy Wedgood for what she did on behalf of these pensioners.

What are the facts about this matter? I shall not go into the vexed question of the onus of proof. At the time about which I am speaking there were 1,400 vacant beds in repatriation hospitals. We wished the hospitals to remain open. Some of them were training hospitals, and what could be better than to try to keep those hospitals open? Many ex-service personnel were receiving the service pension. They were Incapacitated and this prevented them from following their normal occupations, but their incapacities were not due wholly and solely to war service These men and women had to be treated somewhere. At the time public hospitals were overcrowded but there were 1,400 beds available in repatriation hospitals. What could have been better and - please do not misunderstand me when I say cheaper - than to have these men and women occupy beds in repatriation hospitals? Thanks to Senator Sir Walter Cooper and the Government we achieved our aim.

I suggest to honorable senators, and the public generally, that that was one of the greatest and best things that was ever done for returned servicemen. In this chamber I was castigated because I said that I believed it was better to give hospital treatment to men and women in that category than to give it to what I said were men and women financially secure.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Senator MATTNER - Before the suspension of the sitting I was speaking about the hospitalisation that had been granted to our service pensioners by the Repatriation Department. I think that having access to repatriation hospitals is of enormous value to these people, particularly because the means test is applied to them. There are ex-service men and women from the 1914-18 war who are receiving service pensions and who are entitled to free hospitalisation. Also, there are ex-servicemen of the Second World War whose decline in health is not attributable to war service but who come under the provisions of the War Pensions Act, and receive free hospitalisation. This has placed a great strain on the existing repatriation hospitals.

Many of the hospitals were built years ago. We know the gallant efforts that the Repatriation Department is making to keep the hospitals somewhere near the standards that are required in 1964. We know that there are very few vacant beds. I suppose I could say truthfully that there are no vacant beds in the repatriation hospitals, and it does not appear that there will be any great change in that connection. In fact, it is anticipated that there will be a greater demand for hospitalisation in the next ten years than there is at the present time.

I ask the Government whether it can see its way clear to provide free hospitalisation for the diggers of the South African War and of World War I who do not have an entitlement under the Act or a service pension to receive free hospitalisation. I believe that we are getting closer to doing so every day. It need not necessarily be provided in repatriation hospitals. Judging by the figures that are given in the report of the Repatriation Department, it costs £42 a week, or perhaps a little more, to accommodate a person in a repatriation hospital. I make the suggestion that perhaps hospitals in country areas and some of the city and suburban hospitals could be used to provide hospital facilities for ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war and other wars. I think that would be a practical means of overcoming this difficulty. I hope that the Government and the Repatriation Department will consider that suggestion and see whether it is possible to accept it.

Generally speaking, I think that hospitalisation in country hospitals costs from £30 to £35 a week, which is not as expensive as hospitalisation in repatriation hospitals. I believe that those hospitals would provide excellent treatment.

Senator Kendall - There would be the problem of getting staff.

Senator MATTNER - I appreciate that point, but I also appreciate that if these people were admitted as repatriation cases it would be of immense advantage to the boards that are running the country hospitals. I make that suggestion because I think that perhaps it is the only possible way in which we can provide free hospitalisation for the ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war. Other people in the community also think that this should be done. As I have said, whether we are on this side of the chamber or the other side we all are concerned to do what we think should be done for our exservicemen of the South African war, of World War I, of World War II and of other theatres of war.

Mr. Deputy President,I am indebted to you for the indulgence you gave given me in order that I might discuss this matter. The Bill is really a machinery measure. It deals with some of the matters which we have found by trial and error should be included in the Repatriation Act. It is usual in the Budget session for a repatriation bill to be introduced, for the purpose of amending the Repatriation Act. The Department has found that the provisions contained in the Bill that is before us today should be included in the Act.

Finally, I want to pay a tribute to the Repatriation Department, particularly on behalf of men of my vintage. If, by any chance, we feel that we should have a medical check up because our health is not as good as it should be, we can go to the Repatriation Department and have an examination. Our state of health is fully investigated and a diagnosis is made. If X-rays are required, the Department pays for them. If we are required to be hospitalised while pathological tests are carried out, the hospitalisation in a repatriation hospital is free. I am glad that honorable senators on both sides of the Senate are in agreement that the Repatriation Department is doing a good job for ex-service men and women. I support the Bill.

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