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Tuesday, 25 November 1941

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- It is proposed to amend certain sections of the act relating to the provision of medical treatment for men suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. I see no reason why persons suffering from other forms of tuberculosis should not enjoy similar benefits. I could never understand why sufferers from this particular dread disease should be accorded special benefits denied to other sufferers. I believe that persons suffering from asthma, bronchitis and the effects of gas should be placed on the same footing as those suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis.

Sir George Bell - So they are, if it can be shown that their condition is due to war service.

Mr CALWELL - Not in every case, and not as a right, Some patients who suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis have recovered. The improvements that medical science has effected in the treatment of this disease in recent years have enabled a number of those who,.,m, the past, might have succumbed , to it, restored to health.

Although soldiers who were gassed in the last war may be affected in many ways in after life, the Repatriation Commission declares that their death or suffering is not necessarily due to war service. Soldiers who were gassed may develop complaints of the lungs or stomach; gassing may even lead to cancer. But persons who suffer indirectly from their war service and who cannot themselves prove, or whose relatives cannot prove, that the injuries or sufferings were due to war service, cannot secure, under the Repatriation Act, as they should be entitled to secure, benefits similar to those obtained by persons suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. In fact, a person suffering ' from pulmonary tuberculosis is not required to show that the disease was caused by war service. The very fact that he i3 suffering from that disease is, ipso facto, accepted as being directly due to war service.

Mr Pollard - That is not so.

Mr CALWELL - The relevant section of the act indicates that it is.

Mr Paterson - A special concession n provided for a person suffering from tuberculosis.

Mr CALWELL - The act provides-

A pension under this section shall not be granted to a member of the forces unless the member, in the opinion of the conranmission or a board, is permanently unemployable and, in the case of a man, has served in a theatre of war or, in the case of a woman, has served abroad or embarked for service abroad or is suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis.

The act does not provide that such persons must be suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis at the time of the outbreak of wa;r. Furthermore, it does not state that they have to relate their suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis to war service. The mere fact that they are suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis when they apply for a pension is sufficient ground.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member is incorrect.

Mr CALWELL - I fail to see how the act can be interpreted differently. The phraseology seems to be- perfectly clear. In fact,, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) introduced the amending legislation, for which he received much commendation from, soldiers' organizations.

Mr Pollard - The provision is. for a service pension and hospital treatment only.

Mr CALWELL - -Then I have misunderstood the section. In my opinion, all returned soldiers, should be eligible, whether or not they be suffering from war injuries, for medical treatment and for admission to all hospitals controlled by the Repatriation Commission. At present, they cannot be- admitted to repatriation hospitals unless the ailments from which they are suffering are attributable to war service.

Mr Hughes - Or aggravated by it.

Mr CALWELL - I shall cite the case of a man named Rooney, whose relatives came to see me about a fortnight ago. Aged 76 years, he had served in the Boer War and in the last war. He was drawing a small pension because he was suffering from bronchitis, but the authorities decided that that illness was not sufficiently serious to warrant his admission to hospital. He was also suffering from another complaint, but as that was not traceable to war service, he- could not be admitted to a repatriation hospital. The Repatriation Commission, with all the sympathy that it could expend upon this case, could not find for him accommodation in any public hospital.. Finally, I approached the chairman of the- committee of an old men's home for the purpose of securing the admission of Mr. Rooney to the institution.

Mr Hughes - He would be eligible for a service pension.

Mr CALWELL - He was receiving a small pension because he was suffering from bronchitis, but he had developed another ailment which, the authorities declared, was not d due to war service. Consequently, he could not be admitted to a repatriation hospital. The ailment from which he was suffering, and not the bronchitis, was that which was causing his illness. ' ' i

Mr Frost - What amount of pension did he receive?

Mr CALWELL - Probably only a few shillings- a week. In addition, he was receiving the old-age pension. My contention is that this man, because he was receiving a service pension when he took ill, should have been admitted to a repatriation hospital. Under the existing act, he could not be admitted. In my opinion, every soldier who takes ill should be eligible for admission to a repatriation hospital and the obligation should not be cast upon the community to provide treatment for him in a public hospital. Even if the patient desires to enter a public hospital, as Mr. Rooney did, he cannot always secure admission. Melbourne is poorly supplied with public hospitals compared with Brisbane and Sydney. The two daughters of Mr. Rooney were employed in munitions factories, and one had to leave her position in order to care for her father. Eventually, the attention that he required became too much for her, but, despite intensive efforts, she could not secure his admission to a hospital. The Repatriation Commission also tried unsuccessfully to assist her. When the Minister proposes to make further amendments of the act, he should liberalize this section, because a grateful country should continue to show its gratitude until the death of a former soldier, and should not expend it all within the space of a few years after his return. We should not content ourselves with waving flags and promising to him all kind of assistance. If, after twenty years he seeks medical attention and hospital treatment, he should not be told that his injuries are not such as to warrant his admission to a repatriation hospital. I am aware that the cost of pensions and treatment for returned soldiers total's £10,000,000 a year, but we should not begrudge one penny of that sum. The price is not too high to pay to those who were asked to fight for 5s. a day in order to defeat our enemies. On behalf of Australia and the Empire they performed magnificent service, and now, after all these years, their efforts should not be forgotten.

An unfortunate man named Burke, as the result of spinal injuries, is unable ia work, and the Repatriation Commis sion granted to him something less than the full pension. In my opinion, if a person is as incapacitated as one who is suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, he should receive similar treatment from the Repatriation. Commission. I see no reason for the differentiation. Next session, .the Government should liberalize this provision, and I ask the Minister to take a favorable view of my representations to him. If necessary, let it cost money! If we are able to find £200,000,000 a year for the purpose of fighting the war, surely we can find a few more million pounds for the veterans of other wars. If in the picturesque phrase of a former Treasurer, the Right Honorable R. G. Casey, " The sky is the limit regarding war expenditure ", why should not a ceiling slightly lower than the sky be the limit - much higher than the present limit - for men who are suffering from war injuries?

I also notice that we are prepared, in a burst of generosity, to increase funeral expenses. If we were to expend a little more money on people when they were alive, we would not feel that we have to be generous about them when they die. We should not be under the obligation, as it were, to .salve our consciences with the recollection that, even if we did not treat them very well while .they were living, we at, least gave to them a decent burial.

I now desire to refer to the case of a man named Laing.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I cannot allow further mention of .particular cases in this debate.

Mr CALWELL - This is a case bordering on tuberculosis.

Mr SPEAKER -I shall watch the honorable member carefully in order to see that he does not .digress.

Mr CALWELL - This case was recently brought to my notice, and I have made representations regarding it to the Repatriation Commission. I speak subject to correction and without notes, but in this instance the treatment similar to that which is meted out to persons suffering from tuberculosis should have been given. The widow of whom I am speaking has not been granted a pension. She feels that a grateful country has quickly forgotten the sacrifice that she and her husband made. Many other people are in a similar plight. At the conclusion of this war all of the magnificent hospitals which have been erected in the suburbs of our capital cities will ultimately pass to the civil authorities. In the course of 40 years few soldiers will remain to occupy them, and the State authorities will assume control of them.

Mr Mulcahy - Another war or two will occur before then.

Mr CALWELL - I have no doubt that if the capitalistic system of society remains we shall have recurring Avars. They are inevitable. If we have an eye for markets and seek spheres of influence, and rival imperialisms take the stage, wars will be fought.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The scope of the debate is becoming too wide. The honorable member must confine his remarks to the terms of the bill.

Mr CALWELL - To return to public hospitals, which -are provided for war victims, I .ask the Government to make representations to the State authorities which will ultimately become the beneficiaries of the largesse of the Commonwealth, to co-operate by making special provision for soldiers. That is not too much to ask, because they will ultimately receive these very fine buildings for civil needs.

The limited scope of the bill prevents me from suggesting further necessary amendments of the act. I hope that the Minister will be very sympathetic in his consideration of the needs of the veterans of the Boer war .and of the last war, and of the men who return from the present war. The provision regarding veterans of the Boer war was announced with a flourish of trumpets by the last Government, and its action has been confirmed by the present Administration. After all it does not mean a great deal. It provides that a man who reached the age of 60 years and is under '65 years, at which age he is eligible to receive an old-age pension, shall be entitled to receive a service pension. As nearly 40 years have elapsed since the Boer war concluded, there must be very few of its veterans who are under 60 years of age, and not very many between 6.0 and 65 years of age. The concession is of no real importance, and I hope that any benefits which ave conferred in future will be more substantial than the provision which is made in this bill.

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