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Thursday, 4 May 1939

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- I take this opportunity to direct the attention of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Harrison) to what I consider a serious anomaly in the Repatriation Act. The fact is that some returned soldiers suffering from tuberculosis are paid only a service pension, even though they may have served in a theatre of war, whilst others who may not have done so receive a war pension.

Mr Lazzarini - Why did not the honorable member bring the matter before the notice of the Cabinet of which he was a member ?

Mr WHITE - The discussions in Cabinet are not mentioned in this chamber. I made many recommendations to Cabinet for a better deal for returned soldiers, some of which have been adopted. As the matter stands, the widows of some returned soldiers, who may have had excellent records, receive a very small service pension of only 17s. a week instead of £2 2s., to which they would have been entitled had the husbands been in receipt of a war pension and died .from war causes. I know that the Repatriation Act is a good act and that it is well administered; but there should be some section under which, instead of relying on probabilities, it could be presumed that a person's condition was due to war service. I know of a man, with a good Gallipoli record, who died on the eve of Anzac Day, and who, in 1934, found that he was suffering from tuberculosis.- He was refused a pension because it was said that his condition was not due to war service. Medical authorities will say that 70 per cent, of the population suffer at some time from tuberculosis, but that some are able to throw it off and in other cases the disease is arrested. It is quite likely that in the cases of many men who have suffered great hardship or wounds the disease has been aggravated by war service. How can it be definitely stated whether a man's condition is or is not due to war service? Doctors give an honest opinion on the facts before them. But men employed in a pay office or at divisional head-quarters - I do not say this in a derogatory sense - would be in touch with hospitals, and if they had pleurisy or a heavy cold it would be entered on their medical records. On the other hand, a man in a distant unit or a prisoner of war would not have any opportunity to have minor ailments recorded and there would be nothing to show that an illness from which he was suffering on his return to Australia was linked to his war' service. It is unnecessary to go into details. Honorable members can imagine the position of a sufferer from tuberculosis spending his last days in hospital and being told that his illness was not due to war service. In most cases the wives and children would be faced with poverty. Another man in the same ward with a similar complaint and who had not served in a theatre of war would know that his widow would receive a pension because his condition was said to be due to war service. I trust that the new Minister for Repatriation will investigate the matter. I believe that he will. Unless this anomaly be removed I propose to introduce a private bill for the purpose of ensuring that justice will be done in such cases. Perhaps it would be practicable to appoint a select committee, representative of both sides of the chamber, to consider the whole of the Repatriation Act.

Mr GEORGE LAWSON (BRISBANE, QUEENSLAND) - We have been complaining for years.

Mr WHITE - Yes; there are many matters which need adjusting. Such complaints as that to which I have referred could probably be adjusted after inquiry by a select committee of the House. This is a matter which should be given early and close attention by the new Minister.

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