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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3223

Mr BRYANT (Wills) (Minister for the Capital Territory) - There was one thing which came ringing through the speech of the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh), that State rights transcend human rights. The only thing that matters to members of the Opposition is that power shall be distributed to their friends. We do not have much concern for the protocols and precedents of the constitutional situation here; we are concerned with the rights of people. One of the other astonishing things was his very great admiration for the Queensland hospital system under which, I understand from what he said, some people can actually receive hospital treatment free. From what I have heard from the other honourable members opposite, this will mean that the hospitals will be flooded with Queenslanders and the hospitals will not be able to cope with the situation. I should have thought that in coming here to help the nation the honourable member would have been anxious that the principles behind that scheme - or those that shone out from his speech - would be extended to the benefit of the rest of the continent.

Now I want to speak briefly on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop), who I hope will be back on duty next week. Those things which were raised from both sides of the chamber in referring to the Repatriation Department's estimates will be given serious consideration. The honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) had something to say about eligibility for cancer treatment. My Party campaigned for a long while on the question of eligibility for cancer treatment. I know that people in the medical profession may say, just because we cannot say what causes cancer, that there is no obligation to accept cancer as being war caused. I suppose that as a grim sort of logic one can accept that. But a long while ago we started campaigning for this eligibility when we were further back and much closer to the war. It is a belief on this side of the chamber and, I would expect, on the other side of the chamber and in the community generally that, in a situation where a serviceman is beset with one of the most grievous of illnesses, there is little room for logic; what we want is compassion and humanity. One of the first things we did on being elected to office, after campaigning for it for years, was to extend eligibility for treatment for cancer to those who had served in a theatre of war.

The honourable member for Indi challenged that proposal. He said that it was illogical and that we should either not give it at all or we should give it to all ex-servicemen. Perhaps that is so, but our proposal is in line with the general principles upon which many of these benefits are extended; that is, they are given to people who have served in a theatre of war. This applies to the Service pension and also to tuberculosis benefits. The honourable member for Indi raised the question of what is an actual theatre of war. Perhaps it is time that we gave serious thought to the extension of these benefits right across the board to all those who had service in the forces and decided that the lines that were drawn on the map back in 1942 and 1943 were not necessarily valid. 1 shall ensure that that matter is taken up by the appropriate parts of the Government in an examination of this matter. It is also relevant to the questions raised by my honourable friend from Swan (Mr Bennett) who, I think, referred to a person who had served in the Merchant Navy and one who had served with the Americans. My own belief is that it is a question of service; it is not a question of where one was. It is not even a question of the quality of service as represented by rank or distinctions, but the fact that one has served. It is our objective continuously to extend repatriation benefits so that all doubts are removed. I would guess that in that objective we would have the support of honourable members from both sides of the chamber.

The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) raised several questions which we shall have examined. Firstly, I think that he was probably being a little unkind about the repatriation system in suggesting that rehabilitation benefits were not available and that the benefits of modern medicine were not available to the repatriation beneficiary. There is a research section of the Department which continuously examines the ways in which members receiving benefits shall be able to get better treatment. In reply to his remarks I would just pass the comment about compensation - that is of course what it is all about - that perhaps now, after almost 60 years since the foundation of the repatriation system, it is time that we started to look at compensation as having some value other than that simply of monetary return. For most people these days probably satisfactory medical treatment and services of that sort are more important than small pensions. A question was raised about the administration of the system. The repatriation system has been under continuous scrutiny since its inception. On the front page of the Repatriation Act it will be seen that there have been about 60 amendments to the Act over the years in an attempt to find a satisfactory system of administration and satisfactory rates of pension.

The question has also been raised of what sort of pensions ought to be paid and what is meant by adjusting pensions proportionately. We were asked what the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) meant when he said this in his policy speech. He mentioned that the basic compensation payments under the Repatriation Act should be given a fixed relationship to the Commonwealth minimum wage so that the special rates for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen are equal to the minimum wage, the general 100 per cent rate is equal to 50 per cent of that wage, and other pensions, rates and allowances are adjusted accordingly. In determining what proportion these should be it was considered that an increase of 25 per cent was appropriate. This was in line with the proposed increase of the special rate from $48 a week, when the Government took office, to the current minimum wage of $60.10 a week. I assure honourable members on both sides of the chamber that these matters will be examined thoroughly. I can assure honourable members that all the ideas that have been thrown into the ring on this occasion will be given much more serious consideration than has been the case in the past when this chamber has been the battleground for many ideas about repatriation but not too many initiatives have been taken by the previous Government in this regard.

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