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Friday, 21 May 1965

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) .- I express my appreciation of both the content and the spirit of Senator Bishop's speech on what I believe is a very important national question. I think that the nation is becoming increasingly conscious of the need that the Government has seen to develop the strength of our defence forces and the defence mechanism generally. I believe that this Bill is one of the important bills associated with the mere legal definition of rights in that connection, but it should be uppermost in the minds of all that in a matter such as this the legal mechanics are the least important. Tt is the work that is done in the administration of this defence effort that will appeal to the spirit of the servicemen and the nation in support of them. I wish particularly to express appreciation of Senator Bishop's method of address, the respectful way in which he referred to the units of the Army, and the earnest concern that he showed for matters which are important to them individually.

This Defence (Re-establishment) Bill concerns itself with the protection of servicemen in relation to their civil employment once the demands of service cause the dislocation in that civil employment. Provision is made for a moratorium, that is, for protection of national servicemen in respect of civil obligations under mortgages, agreements for purchase of land, hire purchase agreements, and the like. It is essential to recognise that servicemen come into a special category, once the demands of service abstract them from civil occupations. Part IV deals with vocational training, in regard to which Senator Bishop called upon his own special experience to give us an insight into what is really required. That was undoubtedly in line with my theme, but I speak without the specialised knowledge upon which Senator Bishop can draw. It is most important, I believe, that these men should have ac assurance from the country, whose Parliament has taken the serious step of imposing on them a compulsory obligation to serve for two years and, if there is war, longer, at home 01 abroad. It is important that we should guarantee them such rights as will give them a sense of justice, and this question of vocational training is most important.

I was pleased to hear the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton), when introducing the Bill, acknowledge the great success that attended the reconstruction training scheme when members of the forces were discharged after World War II. That scheme provided many grand opportunities for exservicemen who were willing to take advantage of it. The succeeding provisions of the Bill relate to the rehabilitation of disabled persons, the provision of re-establishment loans and a few miscellaneous matters.

From its structure, it is obvious that the Bill covers only some of the matters that must be associated with defence if we are to have a properly integrated defence force which will be successful for its purposes. It is most important that these men be recognised by every section of the com munity, and especially by the Parliament as the national army. I recommend for the specific consideration of the Minister the importance of passing a law designed to protect these servicemen from insults and offensive expressions in the discharge of their duty, just as any public servant or any police officer has a law to protect him from insulting behaviour or insulting language in the discharge of his duty. Having regard to what has been said here, my meaning is quite plain. I do not mean to put a further edge on it, in deference to the very worthy speech made by Senator Bishop who, I believe, recognised this point.

The other all-important matter in relation to this Bill is to ensure that we recognise the nature of this service in regard to conditions of pay and leave and compensation payments for any injury sustained during service. We must have a proper outlook on this. I venture to suggest to the Minister that we are all too likely to hark back to the two world wars for our precedent on these things. In Australia, our outlook and our duties have been reorientated so much in the 20 years which have followed the Second World War. The fact that the sphere in which we are asking these men to discharge their duty is now in the Pacific area divorces this service altogether from the distinction previously drawn between overseas and home service.

We must consider seriously the difference which is being maintained in the field of compensation as between repatriation benefits and the civil compensation which is paid for injuries which may be sustained during service at home. Some of my colleagues look at me as though that proposal were not acceptable.

Senator Morris - Do not read that from my expression.

Senator WRIGHT - I am sorry. I was referring to Senator Morris, but having regard to his experiences in Tobruk I would be the last to offer a suggestion in relation to war service and these related matters which was not worthy of consideration by him. I will say no more than that.

In a question in the Senate a few days ago, which would not be very elucidating to people who do not follow the legal situation in these matters, I directed attention to questions raised by Mr. Justice Windeyer regarding compensation payable to victims and dependants of victims of the " Voyager " disaster. I remind the Senate that service victims of the disaster are not content to accept the scale of compensation provided by the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act and are seeking to have the matter judged on the common law basis of compensation founded upon the condition that if there has been any degree of fault on the part of the service in which they were serving when they were injured and in respect of the dependants of others who lost their lives - they are entitled to common law damages.

Recently a civilian was awarded damages of £12,000 or £13,000 for the loss of a hand, but a serious doubt has been created as to the availability of compensation on that basis to the widow of a serviceman. That raises the fundamental question of the principle upon which we should compensate Australian servicemen serving within Australia. When you compare the civilian road accident rate with the number of injuries sustained on service you must remember that serving members of the Australian Navy, Army and Air Force within Australia are today during training subjected increasingly to an accident risk rate more comparable with that to be expected in forward areas. But bear in mind what has been said about the civilian accident rate compared with the casualty rate in time of war; associate that with the fact that our front line is Vietnam or Malaysia and that our troops are daily undergoing risks in flying, in seagoing and in military manoeuvres in Darwin or North Queensland in proximity to the front line; remember that in our forward areas the enemy may inflict casualties on our servicemen, not only in direct conflict but also while they are servicing our front line, in the course of training and while performing other duties; and remember also that in those circumstances a servicemen who suffers an injury is treated on what we call the repatriation basis. I do not claim that I have sufficient knowledge to know whether it is proper to accept this position but the points (hat 1 have enumerated seem to me to demand that in this defence effort every honorable senator has a duty to yield any suggestion which will give a sense of justice to our troops.

I nin a firm believer in the fact that in time of peace or twilight war, such as we are now engaged in, you will inculcate a proper degree of success in the military service only if you engender in our servicemen the knowledge that they are being dealt with justly by the nation. Having created a unity in the forces, having obliterated the distinction between compulsory and voluntary service and the distinction between service at home and abroad, and having recognised our forces as a unified service, I suggest the Senate consider making proper provision for compensation for disablement or compensation for dependants in case of death.

Even on the basis of our repatriation scheme I want to go a little further than Senator Bishop went. We are a little too niggardly - I will be quite moderate - in the outlook that we, as a country, have towards war service pensions, particularly the pension payable to totally and permanently capacitated ex-servicemen. It is a reflection on our country. I have mentioned it here so that it can be considered because it is by considering a matter like this that we inculcate in the serviceman of today the spirit and the knowledge that the nation appreciates his service and will pay for it if he is disabled.

I pointed out in a question this week that it was as long ago as 1952 that the T.P.I, pension was equivalent to the basic wage. I do not wish to dwell upon this point; I merely wish to bring it into the theme of my speech. The pension is not sufficient recompense to men in all walks of life. Men in the lowest civilian employment who become totally and permanently incapacitated should not have to accept less than the basic wage. The Government pays nothing for the loss of the amenities of life or for the pain and suffering endured. The Government does not recognise that the man who is incapacitated would have had an opportunity to earn a weekly income substantially above that amount.

If we are to inculcate an element of justice into rehabilitation and pay proper compensation for service we must have regard to the incidence of the means test in the social service legislation in relation to war pensions. A man who is entitled to a war pension and retires at 65 loses the whole benefit of the war pension if he accepts the age pension. Such a denial cannot be reconciled with justice. However, I do not want to turn this debate into the channel of war pensions. I put the question to the Minister as a matter for consideration.

The scheme of rehabilitation, as honorable senators are aware, is administered by the Department of Labour and National Service. That Department has given grant service in the field of civilian employment and I am sure that no member of that Department will misunderstand me when I say that military personnel prefer to be dealt with by military personnel. I would not for a moment advocate that these matters should be administered by a defence department. The idea put forward by Senator Bishop is exactly the viewpoint that had suggested itself to me. I believe that a branch of the Department of Labour and National Service should devote its activities exclusively to co-operation in matters of recruitment and the establishment of a proper spirit of relationship with the trainees who have problems of civilian employment, re-establishment and so an. I do not think that a defence department would have the equipment or the contacts so necessary to success in the re-establishment of servicemen. A defence department would not have the contact with the civilian employment field that is held by the Department of Labour and National Service. A branch of that Department could instil in the men a spirit of co-operation and confidence. 1 have noticed that the Bill does not contain a provision for preference in employment. When the Bill reaches the Committee stage I shall have questions to ask in relation to difficulties in reemployment. I believe that preferences should be given to a national serviceman for a limited period, perhaps two years. For the first time a government of this country has imposed an obligation of compulsory service and, as a consequence, the nation must be assured that every right will be conferred upon our servicemen. We must assure the servicemen that upon discharge they will not be disadvantaged in relation to men who have had continuous contact with civil employment.

On discharge after two years service the trainees are to be paid by an administrative arrangement the sum of £40. With all the goodwill in the world and with every desire not to be contentious at this stage, I say that I regard the sum as completely contemptible. I remember when two of my brothers returned home in 1919. They were offered Billy Hughes suits. We were country bred, as honorable senators have noticed, and had no finesse with regard to suits. However, we appreciated that the suits that were offered to returned men then were not fit for dogs to sleep on in their kennels. They were dreadful.

Now we are to offer our discharged servicemen £40 after two years service. If I were a man returning to a municipal job with a pick and shovel, I would regard £40 as contemptible as superannuation or as a retirement benefit after two years national service. It is inadequate to provide all the things that are necessary to a man on his return to civilian life from military service. I plead with the Government: If our servicemen are to believe that we are treating them justly £200 is not a penny too much for even a man who was the most lowly paid worker at the time of his enlistment in the Army. As for the boy whose opportunities are dislocated by his military service and is prevented from earning three times the amount of his service pay, a payment of £40 on discharge is completely inadequate. Pensions are granted to public servants, and members of this Parliament are paid pensions and travelling expenses, but after two years service a man is to receive £40. To me that is a pitiable grant.

The provision to pay a discharged serviceman for an extra week upon his discharge after two years service is also completely inadequate and most regrettable. It does not conform to my sense of justice in any way. Through you, Mr. Deputy President, I ask the Senate and the nation whether or not we are in duty bound to attempt to mould opinion within the Returned Servicemen's League to obliterate the distinction drawn between home and overseas service. If we are to have unity in our Army we must get rid of distinctions that were more appropriate to World War I and World War II. In World War I our troops fought in Europe; in World War II they fought in Europe and Africa and later in the Pacific area. Those servicemen enlisted voluntarily for overseas service. Now our servicemen accept the duty compulsorily imposed upon them to serve wherever they are sent. It may be to Darwin or to Borneo. I have unlimited respect for membership of the Returned Servicemen's

League. I have such respect for it that I would give my ears to be a member, lt engenders a spirit in the returned servicemen that is equal to the nobility of war service itself. I appeal through this Parliament for acceptance of these men as recognised members of that organisation or a special branch of it. In 20 years a situation will develop in which this organisation has a permanent place in the community. It would be discharging its true function if these men were properly recognised as discharging military service when called upon to do so by the nation.

I have one final point to submit to the Senate. Insofar as defence is a consideration in all these matters, the time has come to establish a system of insurance against war damage to property. When Churchill visited the war ruins of London he said that it was proper to establish a system of mutual insurance against war damage and to exact a premium for that purpose from property owners who were at risk, whether their property was damaged or not. The time has come in the defence of Australia when it is appropriate that finance as required should be made available for a system of war risk insurance. Under this system, owners of property in Australia would pay a proper insurance premium to provide payment for defence services. This would not be a capital levy in any sense. The proposal is not out of line with ordinary thinking on social and national responsibilities. Such a scheme would be a great aid in providing unity of outlook between the commercial, pastoral and civilian sections of the community for whose defence this service is being rendered. It would be a just method of financing a defence effort as an adjunct to present sources of public revenue.

I have spoken in this spirit to aid the passage of the Bill and to secure a substantial measure of recognition of the claims of servicemen. I have directed attention to these matters in an earnest hope that they will receive consideration by the Government. I hope the Government will regard defence as at risk of failure if we express it simply in terms of laws in this Parliament. These matters must be given proper expression through the country so that the people will realise that the Parliament properly evaluates the service that is given and is prepared to take the responsibility of paying for it.

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