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Tuesday, 30 November 1971
Page: 3801

Mr KILLEN (Moreton) - The acerbity of language which the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) has used does not in my view contribute anything at all to solving the problems which are before the Committee. I have used the plural of the word 'problem' because there are in my opinion two distinct problems as far as this amendment is concerned. May I state them? The first is to broaden the war service homes entitlement so as to give every servicemen and every ex-serviceman an entitlement to war service homes. That proposition stands on its own. .1 am informed - and I have no reason to doubt - that in general figures this proposition would involve some 300,000 ex-servicemen and would call for an initial sum of $60m.

The second problem is the problem to which I adverted last Thursday evening. That was the problem of those who have gone to Vietnam - the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) agrees with this - but who have nol gone there specifically charged with operational work Can I tell the Committee how this problem originated? Some time last year, when I was the Acting Minister for Air, my friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) on the adjournment one evening raised the case of members of the Royal Australian Air Force who flew out of

Richmond to Saigon on a number of occasions. My honourable friend put to me the dilemma that these people were in. He said quite briskly and, with respect, quite accurately firstly, that they had no repatriation cover; secondly, that they had no war service entitlement; thirdly, that they had no basis upon which to found an eligibility for membership of the Returned Services League of Australia; and fourthly, that they had no entitlement to wear any Vietnam ribbon. The honourable gentleman referred to the fact that a number of these characters - I used the term 'characters' on Thursday night in no sense of disrespect; they are members of the Air Force and every one of them is a great character - were a bit browned off. My sympathy lay with them because it had been my experience, as Minister for the Navy, to find members of the Navy saying: 'Why is it that, when we serve in HMAS "Sydney" and take troops and equipment to Vung Tau, we are not covered by the Repatriation Act and are not entitled to war service homes assistance?' In those days - this would be no infringement of an oath as an Executive Councillor - I discussed it with members of the Department of the Navy and we put various views to the Department of Defence. Those views went through the departmental channels and were processed. T thought that this was in fact an anomaly but an anomaly, firstly, that was deserving of being cured and, secondly, that could be cured. That is why, on Thursday night, when I began my speech I said:

The amendment suggested by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) does not meet tha objections I have in mind.

And it does not meet the objections I have in mind. The objection I had in mind, as my honourable friend conceded, was the position of these servicemen who through no fault of their own had gone into what I describe as a theatre of war. It seems to me to be a silly and precious form of characterisation to say that going into Saigon in 1965-66 was not going into a theatre of war. That was the view I took on Thursday night. I maintain it. May I point out to the Committee 2 anomalies. They are quite palpable.

Mr Uren - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke. His amendment suits you.

Mr KILLEN - It does not. I am reasonably capable of putting my case without any assistance from the honourable gentleman. I want to mention the case of a young sailor serving on the gun line of a destroyer. He had been there for a short time when he developed appendicitis and an appendectomy was performed. Having gone on to the gun line in the role that he did, he has a repatriation entitlement, a war service homes entitlement, he is entitled to wear a Vietnam ribbon and he also has eligibility to join the RSL. This sailor was transferred to HMAS 'Sydney'. AH those on the 'Sydney' have no such entitlements. I suggest that this is wrong. I think it is an anomaly. What form of words will cure it I do not know. May I give another illustration. A flight-lieutenant taking a Hercules aircraft into Saigon - in 1965-66 taking aircraft into Saigon certainly had a measure of hazard about it - was hit by mortar fire. What is he covered by? He is covered by the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act. He has no war service homes entitlement, no entitlement to wear a Vietnam ribbon and no eligibility to join the RSL. Yet a person who had gone into Vietnam, who had spent the requisite amount of time at Nui Dat and who was similarly wounded is covered by the Repatriation Act.

What I am putting to the Committee with the utmost goodwill is that the form of distinguishing between the 2 cases is desperately artificial. In what way are we to cure this anomaly? I put it to my honourable friend from Reid that he can move an amendment to the War Service Homes Bill which in one grand sweep will cover the lot. My objection on Thursday night and my objection now is that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Reid does not refer to the people that I have specifically in mind. What I suggest the Committee should do and what I hope the Parliament will do is go to the fountain of origin of this silly distinction, and that is the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act. I am quite convinced that if we got the advisers from the relevant departments together they would be able to come up with some formula which in a critical sense would cover the objections which I have in mind and which 1 have had in mind for some very considerable tune.

On Thursday night the Leader of the House, the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz), said in the Parliament that he had seen the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and that an undertaking had been given that this matter would be considered. I was informed this afternoon by the Minister for National Development that a paper prepared by the Minister for Housing (Mr Kevin Cairns) is currently before the Cabinet. I believe implicitly what the Minister for National Development has told me and I hope that the Committee will believe the Minister for National Development. I asked the Minister for Housing on Thursday night whether he would give us an undertaking to have another look at the matters I have raised and possibly have an amendment to the Bill put down in the Senate. But an amendment to the Bill put down in the Senate would meet my objections to it only with respect to war service homes. It would not meet my objections with respect to repatriation or eligibility for membership of the Returned Services League.

Mr Uren - Take a step at a time. Come with us on this.

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