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Thursday, 12 November 1964

Senator KENNELLY (Victoria) .- I was rather intrigued by the statement of the Minister, who has had extensive experience in hospital administration, that the average time spent in repatriation hospitals is 22 days. I admit that the majority of patients are now getting up in years, but would not the Minister agree that a period of 22 days seems to be rather excessive? Some months ago I instanced a' hospital in Melbourne where the average stay was 3.76 days. That seemed to me to be a very short time. We all are more interested in this subject now than possibly we' were in the past. I do not want to debate the matter I am about to mention because we shall be discussing it later. I merely mention that we are now confronted with a situation which is really foreign to peacetime conditions in this country. The Government proposes to take certain steps because it cannot attract sufficient men to the armed forces. In his reply to an interjection and also when answering the comments of Senator Wright, the Minister seemed to base his argument on cost. No doubt the Minister will have more to say about the matter later.

A lad in the Services today may contract an illness. After he has served his time and is discharged, does the Minister say that he is entitled only to workers' compensation? If that is so, I do not think it is good enough. 1 do not claim that great numbers of servicemen would be placed in this position. I hope that is not so, but it is possible. The defence legislation recently passed by the Parliament provides that servicemen volunteer for overseas service. Does a serviceman become entitled to repatriation benefit only when he goes overseas, although from the day he enlists he leaves himself open, by his own decision, to be sent overseas at any time? If I undestand the Minister correctly, a serviceman becomes entitled to repatriation benefits only when he is serving or has served in a theatre of war.

Senator Anderson - Yes.

Senator KENNELLY - I do not know how far we can go on this question. The Minister traced the career of a serviceman in Malaysia to 1963. There was a little trouble in Malaysia only last week, according to what we read in the Press. Are our servicemen in Malaysia entitled to benefits equal to those provided by the repatriation legislation? I do not want to intrude on the ground of other honorable senators, but what about service in Vietnam, to which Senator Willesee referred? What is the position of Australian servicemen who go to Vietnam? Let us be practical about it, because this matter has a bearing not only on the present debate, but also on the debate which should take place tomorrow. Tomorrow we will be much more in earnest and will be throwing our weight about more than we are doing now.

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