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Wednesday, 19 May 1965

Senator MCKELLAR (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Repatriation) - In anticipation of this question, I had the following information prepared to present to the Senate: I have seen the newspaper report in question. Members of Appeal Tribunals are not required to take an oath not to disclose any of the evidence put before them but in practice, and very properly, they do not disclose details of evidence, much of which is necessarily of a personal and confidential nature. Considerable public interest was aroused in this case following Press reports, from which it could be inferred that Mrs. Partridge had been granted a war widow's pension in circumstances under which a war pension would not be granted to other widows of ex-servicemen. The reports, which stated that her pension had been granted as a special act of grace, were incorrect. I repeat that they were incorrect. In fact, the grant had been made strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Repatriation Act and under normal procedures.

Mrs. Partridgeclaimed that her husband's death was due to war service. Her claim was examined in the Department and, with all the available evidence, was referred to the State Repatriation Board for determination. The Repatriation Board disallowed the claim and the widow exercised her right under section 29 of the Repatriation Act to appeal to the Repatriation Commission, which disallowed the appeal. Thereupon Mrs. Partridge exercised her further right of appeal to a War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, which allowed the appeal. Appeal tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies set up under the Repatriation Act as the final determining authorities for war pension claims. Her appeal was heard in accordance with the usual procedures and she was represented by an advocate.

Appeal Tribunals are not required to give reasons for their decisions and in practice do not do so. However, it should be appreciated that the Appeal Tribunal which decided this case had all the evidence before it, and it is proper to assume that it reached its decision on a careful assessment of that evidence and in accordance with the special provisions of the Act which require it to determine appeals with due regard to the benefit of the doubt and onus of proof. If the Appeal Tribunal was in any doubt about the cause of death, that doubt had to be resolved in favour of the appellant.

It should also be understood that in determining whether the death of an exserviceman is due to war service for purposes of the repatriation legislation, it is often necessary to look beyond the immediate cause of death and to determine whether that cause was itself contributed to by disabilities due to war service.

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