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Tuesday, 25 November 1941


Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) .- The amendments proposed in this bill will have a threefold effect. The first amendment is intended to ensure that the provisions in relation to service pensions in future will conform to those relating to invalid and old-age pensions as varied by the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill passed last week. The service pension is virtually an old-age pension payable to a " burnt-out " or worn-out digger. Many of the men who returned from the last war became, as the result of their war service, prematurely aged, and incapable of doing permanent work. The service pension is payable to ex-soldiers, whether their disabilities can or cannot be proved to be due to war service. Service pensions are payable at 60 years of age, whereas old-age pensions are payable to male applicants only after they reach 65 years of age. The normal war pension is payable in excess of rates applicable to service pensions, but, in order to obtain a war pension, an ex-soldier must prove that his disability is due to war service.- The effect of clause 3' of the bill is that the service- pension shall be increased* by 2s. 6d. a week, making the maximum 23s. 6d. a week, which is the maximum rate of the invalid and old-age pension. The rate of pension payable to a service' pensioner's wife will remain at 18s:, which is the amount payable to- the wife- of a1 tot pensioner. The effect of clause 5 of the' bill is that the property exemption shall be £50: each- in respect of husband and wife, when both are pensioners. Hitherto a reduction of the pension has operated' in cases where the accumulated property of husband and wife exceeded £25» each. I congratulate the Government upon having liberalized the law rar this respect. Clause 6 provides that the amount of service pension payable to a pensioner in a public hospital or institution shall be 7s. 9d. a week as in the case of an old-age pensioner.. In this respect the position of the service pensioner, in comparison with that of an invalid or old-age pensioner will be slightly disadvantaged; but the new provision will make uniform the1 conditions of the invalid and oldage pensions legislation and that applying to service pensions. The passing of this bill will be a further step towards the perfecting of our repatriation legislation. Australia has led the world in the repatriation of its soldiers who served' in the last war, and any criticism that I might utter in regard to our repatriation measures would be directed at the administration and not at the legislation. Since our first repatriation act was passed in 1920, Australia has paid to pensioners and their dependants to the 30th June last, a sum of £290,000.000. This sum includes the following amounts : -

 

The total number of pensioners was 75,767 and dependants 149,724; total 225,491.

Clause 7 provides that the veterans of the South African War shall be admitted to the benefits of a service pension, and clause 8 extends medical treatment to those suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. This is a provision for which I have pressed' for many years. I have1 joined with other' returned soldier members of this House and the Senate in: deputations to successive Ministers for Hepatization. I thank the former Minister, Senator Collett, for getting Cabinet approval for this long-delayed concession, and the present Minister for so promptly bringing down this bil! to give Parliamentary sanction to the previous Government's decision. The number likely to qualify for this pension is estimated to be less than- 300, and I have never been able to understand previous reluctance to give to the South African War veterans repatriation benefits. The majority are about CO years of age, not old enough to qualify for the old-age pension, and they hardly comply with the conditions required for an invalid pension. Most of these men, who cannot earn a constant livelihood, because of advanced age or mental and physical incapacity due to the rigours of active service, have been living on charity and whatever help their more fortunate comrades can give them. The pension will enable them to obtain some of the necessaries of life in the eventide of their days, and will create- the right psychological effect on the- young' men who are being asked to don the King's uniform in the present world struggle. We should establish in our national life sound principles that those who are prepared to volunteer for the defence of the Commonwealth shall never want, and that, if for any reason, they cannot work, a service pension shall be granted. On the one hand, as no promise was given, these men realize there is no obligation upon the natio'n to give this assistance to them, and, therefore, they are the more grateful. On the other hand, the Commonwealth does owe to them something for the part they played in that campaign 40 years ago - a campaign which ended with magnanimous peace terms, .and created a new Dominion within the British Commonwealth of Nations. It forestalled any attempt by Germany, through the two Boer Republics, to extend its influence in the South as it had already done in West and East Africa. Despite the diehard Afrikander anti-British elements, the campaign brought peace between the two white races and peace between them and the black population numbering millions. It strengthened the Empire's strategical position during the last war. Had the territories in South Africa not been unified under the British Crown, Germany could take advantage of racial discord, and that could, in the present war as in the Great War, cause Australia serious concern. Though the warfare was different from that of the Great War, it was most exacting. Our troops had to engage in ceaseless night marches month after month, in a trying climate, to exercise constant vigilance, night and day, and to show the courage and initiative necessary to beat their opponents in guerilla warfare of which the Boers were recognized as the world's greatest exponents. Many of our soldiers carried on though enteric germs weakened their constitutions. The men who endured such privations, and suffered so much will lie assisted in their declining years by the service pension.

My criticism of our repatriation legislation is directed against the way in which it is now administered. The Administration is not so sympathetic as it was hitherto. Too many decisions ave passed on to the Appeal Boards for settlement. Whereas the applicants for pensions are entitled by law to have doubt resolved in their favour, the trend to-day is to give the benefit of any doubt to the department. This trend should be reversed.

In this war medical examination of our soldiers is most thorough. Examination of recruits by local doctors in the country precedes further medical and X-ray examination on arrival in camp, and some weeks later there is the necessity for a further examination by a medical board. Tn some instances, if recruits have been in camp for any length of time they receive a. final examination before sailing overseas. The soldier who successfully runs the gauntlet of these thorough tests should consider himself as being thoroughly fit. Yet the Repatriation Department is refusing pensions to soldiers who have returned from long overseas service on the ground that their disability is not due to war service.

I could cite many examples, but, owing to the need to conserve time, I shall cite only two. I shall identify the first as "C.R." of East Ipswich. This ex-soldier had been in camp for several months and was amongst the earliest to leave for Malaya. While there he developed Singapore disease in the ear. After periods of treatment in hospital he was returned to Australia, where it was thought treatment would hasten recovery. His disability after some weeks in hospital has been cured, but he is deaf in the affected ear and because of that has been discharged from, the Australian Imperial Force. His application for a pension was refused because he was a surf life-saver and did have a minor trouble in one ear as the result of sand and salt-water trouble; he had advised the medical authorities of that. This decision is most ridiculous. At least this man is entitled to the benefit of a doubt, or he is entitled to a pension because his ear condition has been aggravated by war service. The department has failed in its duty by leaving to the Appeal Board a decision that the Repatriation Commission should have made without any hesitation. Decisions of this character are hindering enlistments, and for that reason alone the Minister should review the attitude of his department to the members of the present Australian Imperial Force. The medical examinations which " C.R." had to go through, together with his attendance at many special schools of instruction before he was promoted to the rank of sergeant, show that his ear was all right before he went to Singapore, and a pension and future medical treatment should be assured to him without question, delay or irritation.







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