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Friday, 10 December 1965

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- Mr. Speaker,naturally the Oppositon wants to take the opportunity to make some comments on this measure. I say first that we regret the fact that the Bill has been presented to this House only this morning and that we are asked to proceed to debate it straight away. The consideration of this measure in another place was completed yesterday. I have a roneoed copy of the second reading speech just made by the Minister for Health (Mr. Swartz) who represents in this chamber the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar). However, we on this side of the House have had only the most limited time to consider an important measure directly affecting members of the armed forces who serve overseas..

I think it would be as well to recall the events that have led up to the presentation of this Bill to the House only in the dying hours of the sessional period. Honorable members will recall that some time ago when the measure was being considered in another place the Australian Labour Party proposed an amendment because it considers that sufficient coverage for repatriation benefits is not being extended by the Government to members of the forces who leave this country for service overseas in what the Government has described as warlike operations. The amendment proposed by the Opposition in another place was designed to provide complete coverage from the time of departure from the last port of call when leaving Australia to the time of arrival at the first port of call on return to Australia. We believe that this is a matter only of common justice. The Government refused to recognise this when it introduced the Bill some time ago in another place. The Opposition then had time to consider the measure. It was able to ascertain on that occasion that this cover would not be provided for servicemen who were leaving Australia on their way to what are now described in the legislation as special areas overseas. The Opposition felt that the coverage should apply, as I have already indicated, from the time that a serviceman who had been allotted for special service overseas left from the last port of call until he reached the first port of call on his return to Australia. The Government postponed the legislation in another place to give further consideration to this question. The opposition appreciates that the Minister for Repatriation, and therefore the Government, has accepted the proposition which was put forward by the Opposition in another place that this coverage should, in common justice, be provided for servicemen leaving Australia to serve overseas in the specially defined areas.

Although we do not intend to oppose the passage of this Bill, I think it should be made perfectly clear that members of the Australian Labour Party who make up the Opposition of this Parliament are not satisfied that it covers completely all the requirements that should be incorporated in an Act to provide benefits for servicemen who are required to serve overseas. The view has been expressed in this place on a previous occasion that, particularly now that the Government has adopted a policy of conscription, all personnel who enlist or are conscripted for one of the three armed Services, whether serving overseas or not, should have full cover under the Repatriation Act. I am sure that the Minister for Health, who was formerly Minister for Repatriation, must appreciate that because of the commitments in which Australia has become involved in recent years there are far too many acts affecting Australian ex-servicemen and servicemen. It is the contention of honorable members on this side of the chamber that all this legislation should be overhauled in order to ensure complete cover not only for ex-servicemen of the First and Second World Wars, those who served in Korea and those who have been allotted for special service in specially defined areas overseas as referred to by the Minister, but also for those people who have been conscripted under legislation introduced by the Government in recent years and those who have volunteered for service in one of the armed Forces. They should all be entitled to full repatriation benefits as a result of their service.

To confirm that this is not a new suggestion coming from the Opposition I simply refer to a debate on this subject which took place on 11th November 1964. On that occasion the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) accepted the responsibility of moving on behalf of the Opposition an amendment to the motion for the second reading in these terms -

That all words after "that" be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof - " this House, while not refusing to give the Bill a second reading, is of opinion that the provisions of the Repatriation Act 1920-1964 should be extended to apply in respect of all service in the Defence force ".

The Opposition's contention at that time was quite clear. The honorable member for Lang on that occasion was speaking on the repatriation measure which had been introduced by the then Minister for Repatriation who is now Minister for Health and who is now sitting at the table. We felt then, and we still believe, that there was a need to consider complete repatriation coverage and benefits for all members of the Australian armed Services. We do not press this point at this stage, but we suggest that it is a matter that should engage the attention of the Government. We suggest that the Government give serious consideration to this aspect at some time in the future. It must be apparent to the Minister at the table, who has had responsibility for repatriation matters in this place for a not inconsiderable period, just as it is apparent to most honorable members in this place - certainly to those on this side of the chamber - that there is a need to overhaul the repatriation provisions. Obviously there are far too many acts which provide benefits in one way or another for those who have served in the armed Forces or who are now serving in a branch of the Forces.

I return now to the Bill. I have mentioned already that the Opposition is prepared to accept the measure because it now incorporates the amendment proposed by the

Opposition in another place. The Bill will now provide a measure of cover for servicemen who are assigned to special overseas service in a specially defined area. They will be covered for repatriation benefits no matter what means are used to transport them to an area overseas. I do not feel that the Bill provides adequate cover for all personnel who serve overseas. I have indicated on another occasion that the legislation should be extended to provide complete coverage for all servicemen who are serving overseas in a special area. This is another matter to which the Government might give serious consideration. Perhaps the Minister, if he replies to the points that have been raised, might be prepared to tell us what would happen in the event of a serviceman stationed at Butterworth in Malaya as a member of the ground crew suffering a serious disability which could not be claimed to be a result of hostile action. We should be given some explanation of what would happen in this situation. If repatriation cover would not extend to such a case the Government should give serious consideration to bringing it within the ambit of the legislation.

I believe that the same consideration should be given to all servicemen who are serving in any area that has been defined by the Government where it is possible that they might be required to engage in hostile action. In the past the Government has been prepared merely to describe these places as areas in which Australian servicemen can be engaged in warlike action. But there is another aspect of overseas service. A person serving in one of the defined areas may suffer various disabilities which can be contracted in those areas but which may not be a direct result of hostile action. Whether or not the disability results from hostile action, the Opposition contends that the Government should extend full repatriation benefits to such a serviceman. I acknowledge that the Minister for Repatriation in another place, in addition to accepting the Opposition's proposal concerning the transfer of servicemen overseas, has provided one other benefit that had not been foreseen by the Opposition when the amendment was prepared for submission to the Senate during the debate on the Bill in that place. The amendments as incorporated in this Bill by the Minister for Repatriation in another place also provide that a serviceman who is allotted to a special service area in another country will be covered for repatriation benefits as from the time of that allotment. The Opposition agrees that this provision will be readily acceptable not only to servicemen who are proceeding to a special area from Australia but also to members of the armed forces serving outside Australia who are allotted to service in a special area.

As I have indicated already, the Opposition does not oppose this legislation. We appreciate the fact that the Minister for Repatriation and the Government have been prepared to accept the views expressed by the Opposition that repatriation benefits should be available to servicemen allotted to service in special areas, from the time they leave this country or from the time they leave an area - other than special area - in which they are now serving, until they return.

I repeat that the Minister for Repatriation might give consideration also to amending the Repatriation Act to extend repatriation benefits to all serving members of the forces in this country. We think that this is fair and proper. We feel that they should be covered by the Repatriation Act rather than the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act, as at present. I realise that this is really a subject for another debate and I do not wish to deal with it at any great length this morning. I know that the Minister for Health (Mr. Swartz) will understand that lengthy delays occur when a member of the armed forces who suffers a disability during his full time service in Australia is obliged first to have his disability accepted as being due to his service and then to lodge his claim with the compensation authorities. We submit that the Government should give consideration to the representations made by the Opposition on a number of occasions that the Repatriation Act be amended to include all serving members of the armed forces.

I do not wish to delay the House any longer. I rose merely to make one or two comments about the legislation before us and to express our appreciation - if that is necessary, for the prompt way in which the Government accepted the amendment that was proposed by the Opposition in another place. I deprecate the kind of publicity that was given to those proceedings and the way in which the Press gave the credit for moving the amendment to a number of Liberal supporters in another place. The fact is that this amendment was prepared by the Opposition. Had the amendment not been proposed by the Opposition, the Bill surely would have been passed in its original form by the Senate. Therefore I suggest that those people who will enjoy the additional benefits which are incorporated in this legislation will give thought to the effort that was made on their behalf by the members of the Opposition in another place.

We do not oppose the Bill. We commend the Minister for the way in which he has amended it to provide the type of cover which I am sure not only all the members of this House but also all ex-servicemen's organisation and other interested bodies agree should be given to those who serve in' the defence of this country in areas overseas.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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