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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr COSTA (Banks) .- The Opposition supports this bill insofar as it will extend certain benefits to members of the Australian forces serving in the Far East Strategic Reserve and to members of the permanent forces. When the bills have been passed, the members of those forces will be brought within the provisions of the Repatriation Act, at any rate partially. It is clear that there will not be extended to them all of the benefits that are extended to men who served in World War I. and World War II. Those men who do not qualify even for partial benefits will come within the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act.

The Labour party believes that these measures do not go far enough. At the appropriate time, I shall support the amendment relating to tuberculosis that will be moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). All of the men serving with or in connexion with the Far East Strategic Reserve are members of the permanent forces. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), in his secondreading speech, said that in the case of the Strategic Reserve its members had, in their anti-bandit operations in Malaya, been exposed to an additional' operational risk, and, although the risk was not so great as it was in either of the two world wars, or in Korea, the Government felt that it merited the provision of a scheme of pensions based on that for war pensions under the Repatriation Act.

It is to be applied according to the degree of risk. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) has said that big risks are involved in jungle patrolling or the jungle fighting that could occur, but no risk is involved when performing duties in barracks. The provisions of sub-section (3.) and subsection (4.) of section 37 of the Repatriation Act, which gave to members of the forces who had served in a theatre of war an entitlement to a pension in respect of pulmonary tuberculosis not attributable to their war service, are not being extended to cover service with the Strategic Reserve. The Opposition is not satisfied with that. Incapacity or death from tuberculosis will be pensionable if it is attributable to service in Malaya, of course. If a serviceman develops tuberculosis at any time, it must be proved that it was due to his service in Malaya. The Minister for Repatriation explained that the onus-of-proof section will not apply completely, and I am afraid that where there is not a complete and automatic entitlement to these benefits disputes may arise, and that, as occurs under the Repatriation Act, a lot of people who we think should be entitled to benefits will be deprived of them.

I consider that service in Malaya is jus as hazardous to health as is service in any other theatre of war. Disease is much more prevalent in tropical areas, and therefore there are greater health risks in Malaya. There is no intensive shooting war at the moment, but one never knows when such a war may develop. It could develop very quickly, as has happened in the past on occasions. Therefore, Australian servicemen in Malaya are subjected to grave risks, and they should receive benefits equal to those given to servicemen who have served in other theatres of war. The honorable member for Perth agreed with the Government that the service pension should not apply to men serving in the Malayan theatre. I think it should, because, as I have pointed out, they are subject to a great many health risks and hazards. As honorable members know, the service pension applies to what is known as the " burnt-out digger ", who is entitled to receive the age pension at 60 instead of 65. I think servicemen who have served in Malaya should be able to obtain that benefit if they fall in need of it.

I turn now to the benefits for total and permanent incapacity due to tuberculosis. Under the Repatriation Act returned servicemen of World War I. and World War II. who suffer from tuberculosis which was contracted on service, or which is attributable to service, receive a full total and permanent incapacity pension, which is considerably greater than the tuberculosis pension. A single serviceman who is totally and permanently incapacitated with tuberculosis receives £9 10s. a week under the Repatriation Act, whereas a man who served in Malaya will receive only £6 2s. 6d. a week, subject to a means test. No means test is applicable to the pension paid under the Repatriation Act. The pension for a married man disabled by service in Malaya compares a little more favorably with that paid under the Repatriation Act. Under the Repatriation Act a serviceman who is totally and permanently incapacitated by tuberculosis, and who supports a wife and one child, receives £12 7s. a week, whereas a similarly disabled man whose disability is due to service in Malaya, and who supports a wife and one child, will receive £10 2s. 6d. a week, subject to a means test. There is another difference also. If the progress of the disease is arrested and infection of others by contagion is no longer likely, a disabled serviceman returned from service in Malaya is placed in the category of an invalid pensioner and his pension of £6 2s. 6d. a week is reduced. These restrictive conditions applicable to men whose disabilities are attributable to service in Malaya are inequi table. They should be accorded treatment similar to that given under the Repatriation Act.

The proposed amendment of the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act will be unfair to servicemen. When the Government amends measures such as this from time to time it should look at the overall picture. The rates of compensation payable under the act at present are not very liberal, since a man who supports a wife and one child is entitled to only £8 10s. a week. The act should at all times maintain the status of the family, and it should be reviewed in order to give to totally and permanently incapacitated men a total benefit equivalent to the award wage they received at the time they became incapacitated. Statistics show that in the last six years approximately £90,000,000 has been paid in premiums under the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act, but only about £50,000,000 has been paid out in benefits.

Mr. ACTING DEPUTYSPEAKER.Order! The honorable member is getting a little wide of the provisions of the bills now being discussed.

Mr COSTA -I am just pointing out that the benefits provided for men who have the misfortune to suffer disability on service in Malaya are inadequate. Now that they are under consideration, the opportunity should be taken to bring them up to date and make good the loss of purchasing power owing to the decline of the value of the £1.

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