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Wednesday, 4 December 1935

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - The Opposition will support this measure. Whatever may be said as to the manner or method of payment or as to the amount of such payment to the repatriated soldier, one fact is outstanding, and that is that Australia promised the soldier that his future and that of his dependants would be secured. While the Opposition agrees with the hill and proposes to support it, we desire to emphasize certain facts. The first is that the bill is very belated. This measure, to provide for increased payments to returned soldiers and for the further protection of their position, should have been brought in immediately the Government, found itself in possession of surpluses, enabling it to make grants to any section of the community. Although the reply to that contention will be " better late than never " I feel that one of our duties as Australian legislators in an Australian parliament is to tell the Government on every conceivable occasion that before it distributes what I have previously described as largesse to those sections of the community which, in our opinion, are not, entitled to receive it, because they can afford not to apply for it, it should make restitution, not only to returned soldiers, but also to those other -classes which suffered by reason of the special emergency legislation, the depression, and other difficulties which have been encountered in recent years. I repeat, for the sake of emphasis, that, instead of this being done, such persons have been overlooked. With an expanding revenue in 1932-33, the Government granted property owners relief to the amount of £500,000 - a concession which continues as the years go by. Wealthy land owners benefited by remissions totalling £700,000, and at the end of 1933, despite these concessions and the granting of assistance to wheat-farmers, which, in our opinion, was very proper, there was a surplus of £3,500,000. For the financial year 1933-34, the number of beneficiaries increased, and they received a very handsome measure of relief. These included life-insurance companies, shipping companies, companies of various types dealing in property, and persons who paid land and income tax, the remissions totalling £2,750,000. Of course other benefits also accrued to those sections of the community by reductions of the tariff and in other directions. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), in his budget speech for 1933-34, referring to the reduction of the pension of dependants of returned soldiers, admitted that it had pressed onerously in some cases. Hence £248,000 was granted as a partial restora- ti on, hut it was not until the budget of 1934-35 that a full restoration was made. If honorable senators compare these meagre amounts with the sum of £10,000,000 a year involved in remissions of taxes to those sections of the community which I have termed the wealthy sections - or at least, the sections who are better off than many others - they will realize that what we have done for the repatriated soldier is nothing to boast about. It should never be forgotten - and this, I think, is a fitting occasion to emphasize it - that the possessions of the wealthy sections in this country were made secure to them by the sacrifices of Australian soldiers, many of whom laid down their lives, during the disastrous war years 1914-1918.

Senator McLeay - The remark also applies to the Labour party.

Senator COLLINGS - We, on this side of the chamber represent the workers who produce all wealth. Senator McLeay speaks for the wealth-takers. I repeat that security for the wealthy sections in this community was made possible by the sacrifices of Australian soldiers, and I contend that before this Government remits the taxes of those who can pay, a full measure of justice should be done to our returned soldiers.

There is another matter to which I desire to refer. It is one which so many people would rather gloss over or not emphasize sufficiently, but it is indi,cated in this bill in language so plain that he who runs may read. I allude to the awful consequences of the Great War. This morning whilst listening to the remarks of the Postmaster-General (Sena.tor A. J. McLachlan) when moving the second reading of the bill, I realized that there could be read into the measure much that was well worth emphasizing. Just imagine ! Already we have paid in war pensions £.130,000,000. This year our expenditure under this head will be £7,500,000: there are 1,600 in-patients and 17,000 out-patients receiving treatment in our hospitals, every one a victim of the disastrous war years. Last year 40,000 cases were treated and more than 146,000 out-patients attended departmental institutions. Then think of this awful commentary on the effects of the war :

Up to the present time there has been manufactured in this country 10,750 artificial legs at a cost of £194,000; 1,090 artificial arms at a cost of £22,000 ; 132 wheeled chairs at a cost of £19,000; 2-8,000 pairs of surgical boots at a cost of £72,000; 77 stump socks at a cost of £12,000; 3,367 pairs of crutches at a cost of £67,000 and 75,000 surgical appliances at a cost of £104,000.

I know that honorable senators and particularly those who served during the Great "War and therefore have a clear recollection of all its horrors, are fully informed of these grim facts. I cite them because I believe a wider knowledge of all that war means will make everyone of us even more determined than we are at the moment, if that be possible, to do everything that lies in our power, by way of legislation, example, and public utterances, to avoid a repetition of the horrors of those disastrous years. In the House of Representatives recently the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) admitted that 57,000 applications for pensions had been rejected. I suppose it would be quite safe to say that the majority of the applicants had applied over and over again without success. Because of these facts and having in mind the information given to the Senate by the Minister in charge of the bill, which provides for a liberalization and more sympathetic administration of the law relating to war pensions, the Opposition in this chamber will heartily support the measure.

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