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Wednesday, 7 November 1973
Page: 1582

Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) - I very quickly scanned this report after it was presented to the Senate. One passage at page 4 1 drew my attention. It is in the reservations which have been expressed by Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield and Senator Townley. It seems to suggest that the passage has received some credibility in the minds of the 2 senators concerned. That is why I raise the matter now. I wish to make my position quite clear on this. I disagree completely with the sentiments expressed in the paragraph, which states:

Doctors pointed out that 30 years after the last 'entitled ' war, no new claim for war caused disability can now be logically or medically sustained. Such disability, the doctors claim, would be entirely due to the ageing process.

To that I would simply say: 'Rot, absolute nonsense'. That suggests that no person would be entitled to initiate a claim for repatriation benefit for anything which happened to him in 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942 and the best part of 1943.

Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield - If he did not leave Australia.

Senator DEVITT -I accept that. The doctors say: 'No claim can be sustained after 30 years'.

Senator Little - They may be speaking medically.

Senator DEVITT - Wait a moment, Senator Little may speak in a moment if he wishes to. I merely wish to make this point clear because I think there will be people outside who, when they read this report, will be very disturbed if they think that its terms contain the suggestion that there should be no eligibility after 30 years.

Senator Byrne - Does the report mean that they are precluded by the Act or by the operations of the Act?

Senator DEVITT - It reads:

Doctors pointed out that 30 years after the last 'entitled ' war, no new claim for war caused disability can now be logically or medically sustained.

I know what that means because I have heard it so many times in the course of my work as an advocate before the Repatriation tribunals. They say: 'You cannot sustain this 30 years after the war'. Let me give the Senate one simple instance with which I had to deal recently.

Senator Byrne - That is a question of removal of the onus.

Senator DEVITT - That is right. Of course it is. I had somebody come to me who had been wounded at Tobruk by shellfire. He was seriously wounded in the knee. As a result of hospitalisation he subsequently recovered sufficiently to enable him to go back into civilian life and to continue in work there. As the years passed the disability reacted more and more against him, but he was one of those types of persons who said: 'I will not ask this country to support me. I will support myself. He was an independent sort of person. There are many of them in the Australian community, even in this day and age. So this man continued on under his own resources, but with an increasing medical disability as the years passed.

Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield - But he had this overseas service.

Senator DEVITT - Let me make my point.

Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield - But you are giving an example of a person who has seen active service. The paragraph to which you referred relates to people who have not seen active service.

Senator DEVITT - A man could have suffered a back injury or a spinal injury during initial training stages at the base camp. He could have carried this injury for years. It could have resulted in spondylitis, arthritis or one of the other conditions that affect people in the later stages of their lives.

Senator Little - All that the doctor is saying is that medically the applicant cannot sustain a claim after that period of time, and the doctor may be right.

Senator DEVITT - Can I make my speech? You can make yours later. I just point that out. In fact, it is a very dangerous thing -

Senator Little - I was just trying to save time.

Senator DEVITT - If I can speak over the top of Senator Little, it is a very dangerous thing to indicate that. I dissociate myself from the sentiments expressed in that paragraph. I recognise the valuable work which was done by those 2 senators, but / think that this is one aspect of the matter which has not been adequately thought out. I know the attitude of a lot of doctors. They say: 'Wipe them off'. Some doctor in South Australia made a fortune when he wrote the book called 'Be In It, Mate'. I disagree completely with the sentiments expressed in that book.

I know the situation. Let us face it. Those of us who have had a close and deep association with people in the repatriation area can pick the ones who are genuine and the ones who are not. It is pretty simple to do that. We know the old wartime bludgers, as we called them. They would apply year after year for repatriation benefits and be knocked back consistently. But there are many cases of people who in the latter stages of their lives- urged on in many instances by their families who are also suffering disability because of the diminished earning capacity of the exservicemanare persuaded to seek some repatriation benefit as a consequence of their diminished physical capacity. As I say I very quickly scanned the report. There may be many other sections in it to which I would like to address myself. I thought that reference should be made, on the day of this debate being initiated, to the fact that some of us have serious apprehensions about this particular provision in the dissenting report.

Motion (by Senator Cavanagh) proposed:

That the debate be now adjourned.

The PRESIDENT - May I suggest, Senator Cavanagh, that you move a motion that Senator Brown be given leave to continue his remarks and the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.

Motion ( by Senator Cavanagh) agreed to:

That the debate be now adjourned and Senator Brown have leave to continue his remarks.

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