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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2920

Senator ROBERTSON —I direct my question to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. The Minister will recall that shortly after this Government took office he and his colleagues the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs jointly announced that compensatory payments would be made to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander World War II ex-servicemen or their dependants for their underpayment, relative to white ex-servicemen, of service pay and, in subsequent years, of repatriation benefits. Is the Minister aware of claims that a number of Aborigines who served with military units in the north of Australia during the war, far from being underpaid were in fact unpaid? Is it the case that representations for compensation on behalf of these people have so far been rejected? Will he pursue the matter of their entitlement to compensatory payments and possibly also repatriation benefits?

Senator GIETZELT —It is true, as Senator Robertson suggested, that the Government moved with a great deal of alacrity to overcome some of the discriminatory practices that had existed during and since World War II in respect of Torres Strait islanders and Aborigines identified as being underpaid in relation to benefits and allowances due to them for their service during World War II. Several weeks ago I issued a Press statement which indicated that the first cheques had already been paid by my Department to Torres Strait Islanders who had been underpaid. But it appears now, based on a Press report that obviously appeared in the Northern Territory Press, that cases have been brought to notice not only of people being underpaid, but also not paid at all for service during World War II. Information has already arrived in my office which indicates that at least 67 Aboriginal men and one woman from the Milingimbi area of the Northern Territory carried out unpaid service with both the Australian and United States of America armies in northern Australia in World War II. It is quite likely that many Aboriginal persons from other areas of the Northern Territory also performed unpaid service of this type during the War.

I recall that it was part of the conventional wisdom at the time that many Aborigines were paid with a pack of tobacco and rations for performing services during that period. I understand they worked in such jobs as cooks, drivers and labourers. It is also claimed, according to one report, that on at least one occasion Aborigines were sent in dug-out canoes to clear mines from the coast of Australia. Of course, if this last report is true, it may be that my Department will have to examine the eligibility for a service pension and other repatriation benefits of those involved in mine clearing, on the grounds of their having been exposed to clear and present dangers from hostile enemy forces , which is the criterion under which those benefits are paid.

It is also claimed that at least one of the 68 Aborigines from Milingimbi was killed in action. If so, the question arises of compensatory payment such as a war widow's pension to his dependants. I must say that I am sympathetic to these claims, if they can be proven. I will take prompt action to look sympathetically at the claims and seek compensation where necessary. As Senator Robertson has raised this matter with me, I will make sure that it is taken up with my colleague the Minister for Defence, Mr Scholes, as well as referring the matter specifically to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Holding.