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Friday, 21 May 1965

Senator BISHOP (South Australia) . - Mr. President, Opposition members do not oppose the measure because we consider that it is urgent. We also consider that it is a very tentative measure. Much of what has been expressed by the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) in his second reading speech is not contained in the Bill. I want to refer, first of all, to the three principles the Minister laid down in that speech. He said the principles that have guided the Government in considering the form and content of this legislation have been -

We want to avoid, as far as practicable, and certainly to minimise, the possibility that those called upon to serve their country under the national service scheme may be disadvantaged by comparison with those not called up. The character of this current national service scheme is different from its predecessor. A major difference is the length of the period a national serviceman will be away from his civilian employment. This cannot but present for some young men problems of re-establishment. On the other hand the length and character of the service may open up new prospects and opportunities on return to civil life. Many will obviously benefit from this. It seems prudent to draw heavily on the arrangements for protection of rights and re-establishment benefits that were so carefully worked out in respect of men called up during the last war. At the same time it is necessary to remember and take account of the distinctions between that situation and the situation that we confront under this national service scheme.

We think that the third point I read is the reason why the Minister has not in fact established an organisation of the kind which existed during the last war and which we contend should be set up at the present time. The scope of the Bill does not meet our ideas, but we do not intend to oppose it.

The Opposition suggests that there should be a scheme similar to the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, organised as a result of co-operation between management and labour, which could deal with the re-establishment and retraining problems of young men whose employment might be disturbed because of their service in the Defence forces. At the present time the Department of Labour and National Service is coping with that work. The Department has a branch which deals with apprenticeship problems and, according to the Minister, it will attempt to handle matters of rehabilitation and retraining of young men returning to employment after their period of national service. If a young man finds that his job is not available when he returns to civil life the services of the Department of Labour and National Service will be available to him to enable him to take action against his employer. It is claimed that the Department will provide facilities to a person who is unable to find employment or who needs to be retrained. We of the Opposition suggest that basically this organisation will not be suitable because in dealing with young men who are returning to civil life after their period of national service training, the Department will be meeting problems which are different from those encountered in the ordinary employment services that it provides.

We should be working towards the establishment of an organisation which will be able to do the things that were done by the appropriate bodies after the last war and also after the Korean War. In that respect, the bodies concerned were established after discussions with the trade union movement. There were discussions between representatives of the Government, the employer organisations and the trade unions as a preliminary to their establishment. As a result they were tripartite bodies which accepted the responsibility of training and the protecton of reestablishment rights. Apparently the only argument which the Government has against the establishment of such an organisation is that the situation now is different so far as numbers are concerned in that from 1st July next there will be about 4,500 national service trainees a year and perhaps after two years there will be approximately 6,500 young men coming back on to the labour market.

I suggest as the central point of the Labour Party's objection to the Government's scheme that there should be a separation of the normal services of the Department of Labour and National Service in respect of employment, training and rehabilitation, from the employment training and rehabilitation of young men who have completed their national service in a period of national emergency although that period may not be so defined under the Defence Act. Let us consider the position of a young man who serves his period of national service in an area which is not a specified area or, as we said during the last war, an operational area. Let us suppose that he serves in Australia. His position will be different from that of the young man who serves in an operational area and whose rights will be secured under the Repatriation Act. While we of the Opposition have stated frequently that the provisions of the Repatriation Act could be improved, there is no doubt that they provide for fairly good standards. A young man who has served his period of training in an operational area will have recourse to many organisations and there will be many methods by which he may seek to compensate himself for any disability which he may have suffered because of his service to the nation. The young man who serves in other than a prescribed area will have no such rights. He will be obliged to fall back on the ordinary services provided by the Department of Labour and National Service.

It is true that clause 12 of the Bill provides for certain re-establishment rights to be available on discharge after two years national service training. Let us suppose that a young man's employer does not give him his job back. He is able, in the terms of clause 14, to apply for action to be taken against the employer, and a penalty of £100 may be imposed on an employer who is in breach of the act. Under the legislation, certain defences are open to an employer to justify his failure to re-employ a person on his return from national service. In this respect the Minister has said that the officers of the Department will be available to assist the young man. I again suggest that there should be a separate organisation to deal with cases such as that. We believe that the departmental officers who handle such matters should be separate from those who deal with the ordinary run of applications made to the Department in respect of civil employment, the requirements of the work force and so on. We are of the opinion that for this reason there should be a reappraisal of the Bill by the Government.

Perhaps the Government will argue that this is a temporary measure. We are putting forward these suggestions because we think they are the kind of preliminaries which should have been considered before the organisation was set up. The Minister stated in his second reading speech that the Government had written into the Bill the usual clauses providing protection for the employee who wants to get his job back. We suggest that these clauses are very wide and that unless the Department is specially equipped and has a specific task imposed on it by the Parliament and the Minister to protect the persons concerned it is going to be a long process for a man who wants to get his job back and encounters difficulty. Assume, for instance, that a young man is told by his boss: "We have reorganised the factory. The industry is different now. We have put in six new machines. You were a third-class machinist before, but we have no position for a third-class machinist now." That young man must resort to the processes provided for in clause 12 of the Bill in order to establish his right to reemployment. It seems to me that that is a good reason why we should have a separate organisation to deal with cases such as that and that they should not be dealt with by the present organisation within the Department of Labour and National Service.

In saying that, I do not want it to be thought that I am reflecting on the officers of the Department. I know from first hand experience that they are expert in their job and are performing in a first class manner the work of the Department and the mission which the Government has given them. I know they are very capable, but I think there is a substantial case for the establishment of an organisation of the kind that we had during the war. In fact, I think we still have in operation the main regional body of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. I was connected with the scheme for many years. The important thing was that there was complete agreement between government, management and labour that persons accepted for retraining because of disabilities would be absorbed into industry and would be under no responsibility in that regard. The Government must organise the economy to provide for this sort of situation.

Another difficulty that will not be overcome by the Bill nor, I think, by any regulation, is that which will confront a young person who, when he comes out of the services, finds that he cannot be retrained. In the Services he may have been engaged in manual work and when he is discharged may find that the factory or undertaking at which he was employed has ceased operations. That young person will find himself in exactly the same position as an ordinary civilian who was not called up. He may be asked to nominate a job, or his chances of employment may be canvassed by the Department. This sort of thing seems to us to run counter to the sort of presciption to which the Minister referred - that is, that a young person should not be disadvantaged as compared with those who do not go away. We appeal to the Government to give very strong consideration to this difficulty.

I come now to the position of a young person who goes into what I refer to as an operational area but which the Bill refers to as a prescribed area, and who when he is discharged is suffering from some disability. That disability may not have been caused by actual war; he may have been run over by a tractor or struck by a motor vehicle. That young person will come under the provisions of the Repatriation Act. He will have records and so on to establish his claim. But a person who does not serve in a prescribed area will be covered by the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act, unless within the terms of this Bill he remains on Service pay until he is well again In any case, when he is discharged he will come under the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act, which I suggest are by no means good. Although he was recruited into the defence forces at the demand of the Government in order to defend his country, this person will be treated in exactly the same way as a person who remained at home. He should not be disadvantaged but should be treated as well as would any other serviceman.

It has been stated that the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act are much the same as those of other compensation Acts within the Commonwealth, but that is not so. Under the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act, Service entitlements may be used to make up a man's entitlement while he is on injury pay. No other compensation legislation in Australia contains such a provision. Under the South Australian compensation Act, an employee of the Government in that State who is injured receives injury pay. While he is receiving that compensation he may also receive any other benefits to which he is entitled, such as superannuation. I repeat that under the Commonwealth legislation such benefits may be used to make up the amount to which a man is entitled. I know that rates of compensation were increased in November last, but the Commonwealth Act is still not as good as the State Acts.

A striking feature of the administration of the Commonwealth legislation is that there is a great deal of delay in settling claims. I suppose either the Department of the Army or the Department of Labour and National Service will process claims for compensation. I do not know whether they will be able to obtain quicker action than can be obtained at the present time. I know of my own experience - I think it is well known within the Department concerned - that many claims for ordinary compensation take from 12 to 18 months to settle. That is much longer than is taken in private industry. So the young person who is discharged from the Services and to whom I have referred will be disadvantaged in this respect, too.

A young person who, at the completion of his training period, finds that his employer's enterprise has folded up should not have to apply for unemployment benefit but should be able to obtain special payments while he is waiting to be re-employed. He should be able to continue to draw pay in the same way as a person who is sick at the expiration of his term of service. That sick person remains on Service pay. A young person who cannot immediately be re-employed should not have to fall back upon social service benefits but should be entitled to something better.

Of course, the central point of our argument is that there should be established, in association with the State Governments, the employers and the unions, a separate organisation like the original Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme. The Minister has stated that the Commonwealth will take up with the State Governments and other authorities the matter of providing training facilities. Special consideration should be given to the provision of training establishments. In some States such training facilities just do not exist. In South Australia, for example, a special benefit was extended to an apprentice who had passed certain subjects at the Leaving examination. His period of apprenticeship was shortened. But we cannot accommodate electrical apprentices in South Australia who fall into this category, simply because we have not the facilities with which to do so. The Department will have to face up to that sort of situation. In our opinion, whilst this Bill does make provision for the reestablishment of ex-servicemen, not sufficient consideration has been given to the establishment of a wide, positive organisation. I hope the Government will direct its attention to this matter.

I now want to refer to what seems to me to be the situation in relation to a disabled person who has not served in a prescribed area. Under the terms of clause 48, that person would get nothing more or less than would a civilian. The clause reads -

While a disabled person is receiving treatment under Part VIII of the Social Services Act 1947-1964 in its operation as extended by this Part, he shall be paid -

(a)   a rehabilitation allowance at the same rate of the invalid pension that would for the time being be payable to him under PartIII of that Act if he were in receipt of that pension; and

(b)   an amount equal to the rate of any wife's allowance and child's allowance that would, if he were in receipt of that pension, be payable to his wife under that Part.

I repeat that it would seem that such an ex-serviceman will be no better off than if he were a disabled civilian.

I have outlined our main views on the Bill. They are not objections but are warnings to the Government about the need to adopt a more positive approach to reestablishment. We do not oppose the Bill, but we suggest that this emergency legislation, which it seems will be supplemented by regulations, will not be adequate to meet the situation even though only small numbers of persons will be coming on to the labour market. To counter the argument that only a small number of persons will be involved and that we can cope with them, I suggest that it is possible that we may have a situation in which the employment market is not good. Then the problems associated with re-establishing these young people will be much greater, and as the numbers increase the position will be aggravated. It seems to us that the central point is that the Government must move towards the sort of organisation that we had during the last war, which proved so effective in discharging our obligations to those young people who served. Our obligations are growing more urgent, because on 1st July 4,500 young people will be going into the Services, so the Government should now announce its intention to canvas this field with labour.

It is of no use to suggest that a section of the Department of Labour and National Service, however dedicated it may be, however aware of the position in industry, however great its facilities to contact employers, can discharge this duty by its ordinary processes. There must be a system, such as is applied to the apprenticeship scheme, whereby a separate composite section is established in the Department with the strong backing of the sections of the community of which I have spoken. As far as I know, there have been no discussions. There has simply been a decision by the Government, no doubt after consultation with the Army and the Department of Labour and National Service. There has been no wide canvas of the situation with management, with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and with the various State Governments, all of which bodies will be involved in re-establishment, re-employment, retraining, rehabilitation, and provision of the training facilities which must be obtained if the purposes of the Bill are to be achieved. I suggest that these are urgent considerations to which the Government ought to direct its mind. It seems to me that the matter cannot be left for expression in regulations, without being covered by legislation. The obligations ought to be clearly shown for everybody to see. The young person who goes into one of the Services should know exactly the sort of advantages that he can obtain upon discharge.

In view of the level of costs today, we think that the amount of gratuity is small. The amount to be provided is £40 for two years, or £20 a year, which is not much more than ls. a day. It is not enough, when considered in relation to the payments made during the First World War. I do not care whether this amount is the same as that which is applicable to members of the Australian Regular Army. We believe that it is insufficient. It is equivalent to the amount of about 4d. a day, which applied during the last war.

It seems to me that the discharge leave to be provided is too small. A person who is discharged will receive only seven days leave. He will receive ordinary service pay while he is in the Service. If a young fellow is discharged after giving two years service he should receive longer discharge leave than seven days. Most of us used the period immediately after discharge from the Services in trying to become assimilated into the community again. This takes time. One needs adequate time to share again with his family and friends the conditions which he lost during service.

I leave these submissions to the Senate. The Government ought to consider them seriously. If it cannot act on them at this stage, it ought to set about discussions and negotiations to do the sort of things that were done during World War II and which are still being done for former members of the Korean force.

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