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Thursday, 12 November 1964

Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Customs and Excise) . - I should like first to inform Senator Kennelly that the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act covers Australian servicemen in overseas danger areas.

Senator Kennelly - Would the Minister say that the benefits allowable under that Act to returned servicemen are as good as the benefits allowable under the Repatriation Act?

Senator ANDERSON - Yes, it follows the same pattern. The next point concerns the Australian Regular Army. Members of the Army have normal sick leave provisions.

Upon discharge, they are covered by the provisions of workers' compensation. No serviceman would be told: " Now that you have contracted an illness because of your service, we are going to discharge you". It would not happen that way. The benefits obtainable under the Repatriation Act would apply to members of the Australian Regular Army. 1 refer to sick leave and medical treatment. The Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act is related definitely to overseas service. It is a separate Act from the other acts I have enumerated, which carry, in the main, the same benefits to meet the various contingencies that have been referred to this afternoon.

Senator Kennellyreferred to the average length of stay in hospital and very properly asked whether 22.3 days was an unusually long stay in hospital. Of course it is. For surgery, other than in major or terminal cases, the average stay in hospital would be about half that period. I say that from my background knowledge. I want to draw attention to the type of hospitalisation we are confronted with in this situation. Page 17 of the report of the Repatriation Commission shows that while the average length of stay of a patient in a repatriation hospital is 22.3 days, in certain categories of illness - such as tuberculosis - the average stay is 66.1 days. For psychiatric treatment the average stay is 20 days. I think all honorable senators will understand that these illnesses do not lend themselves to treatment of short duration. A good example of such an illness is tuberculosis, a complaint which stems noticeably from service in the First World War, particularly among servicemen who were gassed. This Parliament recognises tuberculosis as a war caused disability and special treatment for it is provided at all levels. Honorable senators should bear in mind that the figure of 22.3 days varies up and down.

Senator Wright - That is why an average is u> ken.

Senator ANDERSON - It is an average. The figure is high because it relates to cases which are peculiar to ex-servicemen who have undergone privations during war service, in the First and Second World Wars, or in Korea or Malaya. They are more likely to spend longer periods in hospital, particularly men of the First World War. They are now getting up in years and many of them are admitted with terminal complaints. This means that they stay in repatriation hospitals until the end of their lives. I acknowledge that it is a long period, but it is peculiar to repatriation hospitals.

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