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Thursday, 27 June 1946

Mr CHAMBERS - Private enterprise should be producing the goods that are required.

Mr FRANCIS - If the honorable member ' for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) were not so entirely uninterested in the subject he would be supporting me. He and his colleagues should be doing their utmost to force the Government to honour its promises.

I strongly protest also against the failure of the Government to administer the War Gratuity ACt more effectively. Hundreds of returned men and women who expected to obtain their gratuities without delay for the purpose of building or buying a home have discovered that prescribed authorities which should have been established under the act have not been established. This is most unsatisfactory. Section 22 of the War Gratuity Act reads -

Upon the recommendation of a presribed authority, made in pursuance of an application by a member, the Minister may authorize the then present value of the whole or portion of the war gratuity to which the member is entitled to be transferred to the War Service Homes. Commissioner or any other authority approved by a- prescribed authority for the purpose of being credited by the Commissioner or other authority, by way of deposit or otherwise, towards the cost of the erection or purchase of a dwelling-house for the member, and the whole or portion of the war gratuity may, thereupon, be so transferred.

I have made a most Careful inquiry to ascertain whether the prescribed authority has been established, but the results have been entirely negative; yet, the act was assented to nearly twelve months ago. Quite recently I brought -to the attention of the Government the case of a young married couple - a returned soldier "with a fine 'record of gallantry and a young woman who had served with ability and had reached the rank of sergeant. They had married and desired to cash their gratuities so that they could purchase a home. Two months had passed before I received a reply from the Minister, stating that the matter was still under consideration. This is the comment of the ex-serviceman who wrote to me -

It is difficult to understand why in urgent financial circumstances such as was the case with Mr. and Mrs. Cox, the Government cannot give special consideration to a request of this nature from ex-service personnel, and more particularly when that request is in reference to the provision of a home in which to live, and the request is no more, in fact, than to be permitted to utilize their own hard-won funds earned in the defence of their country. At the best it is scant interest or gratitude for services rendered. .

Why has not the Government prescribed an authority? Hundreds of men desire to obtain homes and settle down. The home-building efforts of the Government are a scandal of the first magnitude. Under pressure from the Opposition in this House, the legislation was amended to provide that the war gratuity could be used for the purpose of building homes, yet the .Government has not yet prescribed an authority which will enable that to be done. According to the latest advice from the department, the list has not yet been published. No Government could defend such a long delay, and no honorable member opposite who has any association with ex-servicemen should tolerate it for a moment. I also ask that permission be granted for the use of the gratuity for the enlargement of a home already owned by an ex-serviceman, foi" necessary' repairs, painting and overhauling, and 'for the purchase of any furniture required. Many requests are being made for permission to use the money in these ways, yet nothing has been done to make that possible. The failure to prescribe an authority to implement section 22 of the act is a grave reflection on the Minister and others responsible for the administration of this legislation. There a re also other irritating delays and handicaps. I cite the case of an ex-serviceman who applied for a loan of £200 to buy an ice-run. "When . two months had elapsed, he had not received a reply. He was then sent an application form, which a Philadelphia lawyer and an accountant would require weeks to complete; it consisted of two foolscap pages of questions. When the completed form had been lodged with the authorities, there was a further delay of two months, and meanwhile the offer to sell the icerun had been withdrawn. lt is impossible for a discharged serviceman to obtain a suit of clothes within a reasonable period, and while waiting for one he has to wear a sports coat and a pair of trousers. The Government should co-operate with the textile industry in providing the materials that are needed, and the ex-servicemen should then be given preference in the tailoring of suits with the least possible delay. Many ex-servicemen have written to me pointing out that they had been out of the Army for two months before any one would listen to them, and had then to wait for five or six months before they could obtain suits. No Government supporter should be satisfied with the existing position.

Mr Chambers - There was a government woollen mill at Geelong, and the party supported by the honorable- gentleman was responsible for disposing of it.

Mr FRANCIS - There have been government woollen mills, butcher shops and fish shops which have been a complete failure. In Queensland a Labour government recklessly expended public funds in the establishment of State butcher shops, timber mills, and other industrial enterprises, every one of which failed. The Administration in that State led by Mr. McCormack disposed of all the State industrial activities because they had proved financially disastrous. Inefficiency is always associated with government enterprises of that sort. If honorable members opposite can suggest only the establishment of woollen mills as a solution of the problem of clothing exservicemen, those men are in a sorry plight indeed, and Government supporters will feel the weight of their indignation at an early date. When the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) sought information as to how much material suitable for clothing was being exported, he was informed that the total quantity exported was 3,000,000 square yards, of which 886,000 square yards had been sent to Russia. All this material was exported between January and April of this year. Applications have' been made to various departments by men desirous of engaging in an industry or business, for the right to obtain supplies of rationed, goods, and every handicap has been placed in their way. The Government should adopt a more co-' operative attitude towards ex-servicemen who want to engage in industry. Business enterprises are hard enough to conduct to-day without having the further irritation of lack of sympathy on the part of the Government.

I draw attention to the delay of the Government in dealing with surplus canteen funds. The last balance-sheet about which I have been able to obtain any information dealt with the period up to the 30th June, 1943. The canteen balance was then shown to be between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000. The Government has not a policy in regard to the disposal of those funds, which were accumulated as the result of sales of goods to service men and women while they were in the forces. Many of the amounts charged for goods which they purchased from the canteens were excessive. Any profit should have been devoted to the provision of additional amenities while the war was on. Three years have passed but the Government has not issued u statement setting out the manner in which the funds are to be utilized. They should be devoted to the purpose of helping the needy ex-servicemen and their dependants. The men are suspicious of what is to be done with the money. It is due to those who made the surplus possible by the purchase of goods, that the Government should state its intentions clearly.

I draw intention again to a matter which I raised in this House when the Re-establishment and Employment Bill was being considered. I refer to Government amendments which made inoperative section 84 (9) (c) of the Commonwealth Public Service Act. Under that act and the Defence Act, the Naval Defence Act and the Air Force Act, power was taken to give to any ex-serviceman who had been employed continuously in the Commonwealth Public Service for a period of two years, the right to a permanent position. After World War I., thousands of exservicemen were able to obtain permanent employment in the Commonwealth Public Service under the provisions of section 84 (9) (,c) of the Commonwealth Public Service Act. Today, that privilege is denied to ex-servicemen. I have made representations on the matter by letter, and have placed on the notice-paper a question which has not been answered. I protest against the delay in answering it, and urge the Government to restore to ex-servicemen who have been temporary employees for two years, and have given efficient service, the .right of permanent appointment, on the recommendation of the Public Service Commissioner.

I direct the attention of the Acting Minister for Air (Mr. Makin) to the injustice that has been and is being done to Flight Sergeant " W ", whose number is 44967. He was discharged at Redbank camp, Queensland, on the 5th December . last. As he was being driven after discharge to Brisbane in a military truck, it was involved in a collision with a Royal Australian Air Force truck, and many of the discharged personnel were seriously injured, including some members of the Military Forces, who were immediately re-enlisted in the Army by the military authorities and sent to hospital. This flight sergeant too was taken to a military hospital, and has been in hospital ever since. So badly injured was his arm, that it has had to be broken and re-set three times in efforts to save it. He does, not know where he stands so far as the department is concerned. He has been moved from Queensland, and is in a convalescent home at Jervis Bay. Many letters in connexion with his case have been written to the Minister for Air by the Air Force Association, which has received only formal acknowledgments. There have been communications pointing out that an application had been made for the reenlistment of this man in the Air Force, and the last reply stated that the matter had been referred to the AttorneyGeneral's Department. From the 5th December of last year until to-day, 27th June, no satisfactory reply has been received as to how the man stands in regard to pay and conditions. I ask the Minister to have the matter carefully examined at once. I do not propose to let it rest until justice is done to this ex-serviceman, who will probably be maimed for life. The circumstances are such that the Minister should hang his head in shame. It is not right that the victim should be compelled to seek the assistance of service organizations in order to obtain justice. The State secretary of the organization wrote to the Minister without result, and later the federal secretary did the same. Now I have been asked to take a hand, and I intend to follow the matter through until justice is done. The Government should review its whole attitude towards re; habilitation. When the Reestablishment and Employment Bill was before the House we asked that one Minister be made responsible for all phases of rehabilitation, but our request was refused. Now, so many Ministers are concerned with the subject that it is impossible to get any one of them to take responsibility. Until there is a single ministry for rehabilitation ex-servicemen will not receive justice. The flight sergeant of whom I am speaking was discharged on the 5th December, and was injured on that day. The Air Force should have immediately taken him back and given him full pay and allowances. His treatment is typical of the attitude of the Government to the welfare of exservicemen.

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