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Thursday, 12 November 1959

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I compliment the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) on raising this matter.

Too frequently in this Parliament we hear complaints about the treatment of exservicemen. The present complaint could not have come at a more appropriate time, because only yesterday we celebrated Remembrance Day. Members of the Parliament trooped across to the various functions that were held as part of the ceremonies and here, on the very next night, we have an instance of discrimination against ex-servicemen by a public authority. Members of the ex-servicemen's committee on the Government side of the House have either gone to sleep or are afraid to raise their voices in protest against some of the actions of the Government.

I take this opportunity to raise a matter regarding ex-servicemen. I raised it on a previous occasion, but I think it is appropriate to bring it under the notice of the Government again. It refers to exservicemen who have reached the state of permanent invalidity as a result of war service but whose disability is not accepted by the Repatriation authorities as war-caused or aggravated by war service. They are now incapable of caring for themselves and have neither kith nor kin in a position to provide the care and attention necessary in the last days of their lives. These men are not cared for in repatriation hospitals because the act does not make any provision for them. The War Veterans' Home will not accept them because they are bed-ridden, and private institutions are too costly for men with limited income.

An obligation rests on the Government to care for these men. I am speaking about bed-ridden ex-servicemen who have never been able to satisfy the Repatriation Commission that their disabilities resulted from war service or have been aggravated by war service. They have neither kith nor kin to care for them and the repatriation hospitals are unable to cater for them because of the decision of the Government and of the Repatriation Commission to limit the treatment in repatriation hospitals to disabilities that have been accepted as warcaused. A number of organizations have been pressing the Government to do something for these men. One such organization is the 53rd Battalion A.I.F. Association. I received its letter on this subject some time ago and raised it at that time. I again bring it to the notice of the Government now.

The other matter that I wanted to refer to concerns the attitude of Ministers when answering questions on notice. The idea behind putting a question on the noticepaper is that Ministers could not be expected to give the information sought in some questions without recourse to their departmental records. However, when a member puts a question on the noticepaper, he expects to get the information that he is seeking and not the type of reply that I have received in recent times in reply to several questions that I placed on the notice-paper. One question was directed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). I shall read the question and then the answer, and ask honorable members on both sides of the House whether they regard the answer as a reasonable reply to my request. I asked -

1.   What Commonwealth interests in industrial or commercial undertakings have been disposed of since 1949?

2.   What amount of Commonwealth money was invested in each undertaking and what price was obtained as a result of each sale?

3.   Were these investments profitable at the time of disposal; if so, why was each of them sold?

Here is the answer - 1 to 3. It has been the established and wellknown policy of the Government to dispose of the Commonwealth interest in industrial or commercial undertakings whenever it believed that the activity was more appropriate for private enterprise or whenever the purpose for which the undertaking was established or acquired no longer existed. Action taken from time to time in accordance with this policy is a matter of public knowledge.

I imagine that the reason that the Government has not given a reply is because it is ashamed of its record and because the details would make such a list of betrayals of public interests by this Government that, for political reasons, it is afraid to release the information. But I have my rights as a member of this Parliament and when I seek information from a Minister which can be readily provided, I expect to have it supplied to me. I asked a question, also. of the acting Treasurer. It was in these term si -

What is the present value of the Australian pound in terms of the C series index as compared with the year 1948-49?

Here is the answer -

Any comparison in terms of the C series index would apply only to the "purchasing power" of the pound over the component items of that index combined in their specified proportions. Dispersion of prices and charges renders it impossible to compil a general measure that will represent, in all. circummstances and in all classes of transactions, changes in the value of money from onedate to another.

Who would accept that as a proper answer to a question? It is not difficult to supply the information. Everybody knows that C series index figures are compiled on a certain list of comodities, and it is the simplest thing in the world to make a comparison between the cost of those commodities in 1948-49 and their cost now, and to assess the value of the £1 in relation to the C series index. It is not a difficult matter at all. I do not want to know, as the acting Treasurer has indicated in his reply, about the items of the index " combined in their specific proportions ", and about the " dispersion of prices and charges which renders it impossible to compile a general measure ". The question to which I required a reply was simple and. straightforward.

We know that the Government has become very arrogant of recent times. We very rarely see the Prime Minister in the chamber during the debate on the motion to adjourn, which is one of the few occasions on which the back-benchers, as we are termed - the ordinary members of the Parliament - have the opportunity to question Ministers. If that is to be the attitude of the Government, we will know how to act. I remember that in the days of our Government the ministerial bench would be filled with Ministers during the adjournment debate waiting to hear of any matters that might affect their departments. But this Government leaves one tired Minister at the table, half-asleep and completely disinterested in the proceedings. He has that longing look in his eyes, hoping that I will either conclude very shortly or that my time will have expired. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) who now sits on the front bench has just arrived in the chamber. So, we have two Ministers and twelve members on the Government side when these important matters are being raised. It is remarkable if we ever receive any reply at all to the matters that we raise.

Even if the Ministers are absent and for some reason cannot attend in the chamber, they should make some arrangement to have any matters affecting their departments referred to them, as we did when we were in office, and a reply, furnished to the member who had raised: a particular matter. Honorable., members can- go through the records since this Government took- office' and they wilt find; that very rarely has any member obtained: a. reply to. any question, that he. has raised during the adjournment debate; It is, about time that the' Government sat up and took some- notice because the Opposition has rights in this Parliament. It has. the. right to. question Ministers and the Government, and. the Government is: obliged, to. give us. a reply.

Some Ministers become a little restless when, the time reaches a. couple of minutes after, midnight. I give: them this undertaking, that if they adopt this attitude they willbe kept here night after night to listen- to members of the Opposition raising important matters unless they are prepared, as they were for a period, to gag. the debate night after night. But there is a limit to what they can do in that direction because the people of this country do not want a gagged and. muzzled Opposition. They want us to raise these matters.

I ask the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), who is at the table, at least to refer my remarks to the respective Ministers and ask that I be afforded a reasonable reply to the questions that I have raised.

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