Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 4 December 1935

Senator HARDY (New South Wales) . - I fully expected that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) would announce his cordial cooperation with the Government in the passage of the measure, and perhaps I was optimistic enough to believe that he might even congratulate the Government on its introduction or comment favorably on its liberal provisions. But I was amazed that, instead, in the earlier portion of his remarks he indicted the Government because it had not distributed to returned soldiers additional largesse from the surplus which he alleges it has been enjoying in recent years. The honorable gentleman also took advantage of the opportunity to indulge in political propoganda by referring to the Government's discriminatory - as he alleged - tactics in remitting taxes to certain sections of the people. Every one who studies this bill and thoroughly understands its implications will agree that it is the most generous legislation which has ever been introduced in this Senate.

Senator Collings - I said that itwas a generous measure, but belated.

Senator HARDY - If that is the only serious criticism which the honorable gentleman can advance, I need only remind him that our pensions legislation has been steadily evolving since the termination of the war, and that the structure now being completed is the result of many years' experience.

Senator Collings - The idea of distributing largesse to the wealthy sections of the community was very quickly evolved.

Senator HARDY - I do not say that this Government, of which I am a supporter, is entirely responsible for this class of legislation; but I do claim that the Government, realizing that, with the march of time, entirely new problems are being presented, has, by this bill, placed the coping stone on the war pensions structure of the Commonwealth, and I for one give honour where honour is due. The commitments of the Government this year in respect of war pensions, total £7,000,000, and our pensions legislation affects over 250,000 ex-soldiers.

The Leader of the Opposition has emphasized that this legislation is the direct result of participation in a disastrous war. I fully agree with him, and I suggest that recognition of this fact should induce all sections of the community to spare no effort to make the lot of these men easier as the years roll by. I say this, because it is only now that our returned soldiers are really -feeling the full effect of their war services, the majority being between the ages of 40- and 50 years. This is a fact which we should not overlook. There is one aspect which I desire to stress, and it is that this legislation is not the result of pressure in any shape or form from an organized minority. The returned soldiers of this country have never at any stage allowed to obtrude into party politics in their internal administration. They recognize no political class or party and have never attempted at any time to apply pressure on a government to introduce legislation in their particular interests. On this point it is interesting to note that history discloses that returned soldiers have not always been so punctilious in this regard. There have been occasions when, as organized minorities, soldiers who have taken part in wars have exerted pressure on governments of the clay. This will be seen from the following extract from an article in the Encyclopaedia of Social Services: -

In ancient Rome the breakdown of Latin agriculture as a result of the importation of grain from the provinces and the continuous wars of expansion resulted in the creation of a large class of disbanded, soldiers who at the time of the war were thrown into the landless proletariat of the city of Borne. As early as the time of Gracchus the unrest and clamour of this group, ready to give their political loyalty to any military adventurer, who promised them plunder from conquest, were a continuous threat to the established order.

Even in those times, soldiers upon their return from war found it difficult to fit into the economic life of the community, and in despair organized themselves in order to extract from the government certain privileges to which they considered they were entitled. Any such action has been entirely foreign to the policy of returned soldiers throughout the Commonwealth, and that is deserving of general recognition. The position is, however, different in the United States of America. In that country, organized minorities are the rule and not the exception. I take the following extract from an article appearing in the Encyclopaedia Britannica: -

It is estimated, for example, that assuming no further liberalization of the World War Pensions Law. the peak of expenditures will be readied in 1058, two years before the British world war pensions will be totally extinguished. Although the number of sick and wounded in service was far smaller than that of any other large power, the expenditure on United States world war veterans is greater than those of any other belligerent nations. In the year 1931-32 the total expenditure of the United States on world war veterans wa3 greater than the combined total of France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

It is known that the returned soldiers in America are ruthlessly using their organization for political purposes. The number of men of the armies of France, Germany and the United Kingdom who were disabled by wounds or sickness in the "World War totalled 8,124,579, the respective figures being 2,052,984, 4,202,028 and 1,869,567. The United States of America, whose soldiers are an organized minority, had 192,369 men disabled by wounds or sickness in that war. The significance of those figures is evident. In order to show what organized minorities can do, I shall refer to the total expenditure on behalf of the World War pensions for 1931-32. The expenditure by France amounted to 277,015,071 dollars. Germany expended 285,840,000 dollars, and the United Kingdom 240,260,724 dollars. The total expenditure by those three countries on behalf of disabled soldiers was . 803,115,795 dollars. Since only 192,369 of the men of the army of the United States of America suffered from wounds or sickness, it is interesting to note that in 1931-32 the expenditure on their behalf was 860,635,000 dollars- an amount which was greater than the combined totals of the three European countries which I have mentioned. Those figures indicate not . only what an organized minority can do, but also how a ruthless group can extract largesse from a government. The bill before the Senate is a recognition by the Commonwealth that pension laws must keep pace with the march of time, and I repeat that it has not been introduced because of any pressure from an organized minority. I do not say that the application of a reasonable amount of pressure is wrong; but I do pay a. tribute to the returned soldiers' organizations of Australia which, since the termination of the war, have avoided any political liaison, and have never attempted to hold the pistol to the head of any government. It is the duty of the government of any country to provide pensions for men disabled in its wars. As early as the reign of Queen Elizabeth, military captains complained that the maintenance and care of disabled soldiers " laid heavily upon them ". It is also interesting to note that the earliest instance of a central government taking action to provide pensions was the passing of a series of acts during the last decade of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) will be interested to know that during the reign of Charles II., the King announced his intention to erect a hospital for disabled soldiers and to endow it from the public revenue. Contributions were invited from the public, the King heading the list. But before long recourse had to be had to other means of financing the hospital, and finally it was kept going by deductions from the pay of the troops. We should be thankful that the legislation before us is on a moro generous foundation.

Among the other provisions of the bill to which attention might be drawn, the most outstanding is that which enables a " burnt-out " soldier to receive a pension. It is, of course, a fact that it is much easier to apply for a pension than to receive one. Under the Repatriation Act, a man must be able to show that the disability from which he is suffering has really been incurred in war service, or, at least, that war service contributed to his condition. Following a purely casual examination, it may be easy to say that the infirmity from which a soldier is suffering is due to war service, particularly if he served abroad for three or four years, but it is a most difficult thing to prove. Were the Repatriation Commission too ready f,o assume that all the complaints from which ex-soldiers suffer were, due to their war service, the annual war pensions bill, instead of being £7,000,000, would be far beyond Australia's capacity to pay. What is the principle governing war pensions to-day? The bestdefinition that I have heard is that of Sir George Chrystal, secretary of the British Minister for Pensions who said -

Bc sure your man is entitled; be sure that his disability is service incurred; and then nothing you can do is too good for him.

First, let us consider the admonition " Be sure your man is entitled ". What entitles a man to a war pension? It may be said that he is entitled to a war pension when his infirmity is due to his war service. It is not so easy, however, to prove a case before the Repatriation Commission. In cases of gunshot wounds, or wounds caused by high explosive shells, it is relatively easy to say that, the disability is due to war service.

The Repatriation Commission readily recognizes such cases, but it is the border-line case which presents many difficulties. For instance, a returned soldier suffering from acute asthma may claim that his condition is due to war service. What procedure is adopted in his case? First, he is taken to a local doctor who is told that when the man enlisted he was 100 per cent, fit; and as he spent., say, four years in the trenches, it is only reasonable to assume that his acute asthma, which makes him no longer able to work, is the result of his war service. The medical man is asked for a certificate that the ex-soldier's ailment is due to war service. Should he hesitate, he is quickly told that while in the trenches the exsoldier was subjected to all sorts of exposure, such as being left for long periods in wet clothes, and that his asthma is the natural outcome of his war experience. Notwithstanding the apparent soundness of the argument, any medical practitioner will say that it is impossible, on such evidence, to give a definite certificate that the man's ailment is due to his war service. He must certify on material evidence alone. That difficulty arises not only with bronchial complaints, but also with organic troubles. But even if the medical man grants a certificate that the ex-soldier's ailment is due to war service, or that such service has contributed to his infirmity, there is still the necessity to convince the Repatriation Commission. The claimant is then brought before the commission which has access to his medical history while a member of the forces. It must be remembered that at the time of his enlistment every man was supposed to be 100 per cent, fit, and that there may be no mention of any ailment during the period of his war service. The average soldier was about twenty years of age, and man; men went through their service abroad without any record of medical trouble, having been lucky enough not- to enter a hospital. Others, although fit cases for hospital treatment, remained in the trenches from patriotic motives. Such men are immediately confronted with a clean medical sheet covering their war service, and they find it difficult to prove that their infirmity is due to war service.

I.   have in mind the case of a man who suffered from acute asthma and sought a pension. Those who interested themselves in his case .first secured a number of statutory declarations from men who had known him before his enlistment that he was perfectly healthy at the time. Indeed, he was described as the strongest man in the district. It is generally admitted that the medical examination at the time of enlistment was, to say the least, hasty. There were no blood tests, and nothing to show whether or not i man was organically sound. The battalion history of the man to whom I have referred showed that he had been tha victim of a gas attack, but as he had not been evacuated on the date of the attack his name was not entered in the records as a casualty. That man did everything possible to stay in the line, and, consequently, there was no record on his medical sheet that he had suffered in any way from the gas attack. Considerable difficulty was experienced in proving that his asthma was due to war service and accentuated by gas. Indeed, it was not until the matron of a. hospital in England forwarded a declaration that during the war she had seen him, and was of the opinion that he then suffered from a chest complaint, that his application for a pension was approved. 1 do not want honorable senators to think that I arn charging the Repatriation Commission with harsh treatment of applicants for pensions. I know of many instances to the contrary. Nevertheless, we must admit that there are many borderline cases in which men could not prove to the commission that their infirmity was due to war service. It may be said that this legislation covers border-line cases, because it is not any longer necessary for an ex-soldier to prove that his infirmity is due to war service, since he has to prove only that he served in a theatre of war. That may be; but difficulty still exists in that the amount of pension granted to a " burnt-out " soldier may differ greatly from what it would be if he could prove to the commission that his infirmity was due to war service. To-day, if a man is 100 per cent, incapacitated, he is entitled to a weekly rate of 42s. for himself, 18s. for his wife, and 6s. for each child. Under this legis- lation. if he cannot prove that his infirmity was due to war service, he will come under the "burnt-out" clauses; but he will not receive 42s. a week. He could still come under the " burnt-out " clauses, although totally incapacitated, but he would then get only 15s a week for himself, 15s. for his wife, and 2s. 6d. for each child. These figures show the difference between the rates of pension payable ordinarily, and those to be paid under the " burnt-out " clause to an applicant who can prove that he is totally incapacitated. It may he said that such a man is unfortunately a border-line case. I cannot see how this anomaly could be overcome, because I cannot conceive of any method of proving border-line cases.

I propose now to deal with assessment of incapacity in respect of men suffering from chest complaints. If such a man is not able to follow his ordinary occupation, the assessment tribunal will assess his incapacity at about 60 per cent. If he can prove to the tribunal that his complaint is due to war service he will receive 25s. 3d. a week for himself, 10s. 9d. for his wife, and 3s. 7d. for each child, making his rate of pension approximately 40s. a week. Rut if he is a border-line case and cannot prove that his complaint is directly due to war service, he will have to take refuge under the " burnt-out " cla.uses. He will then receive 15s. a week for himself, 15s. for his wife, and 2s. 6d. for each child, thus suffering a disadvantage of 8s. a week. He will then come down to a 50 per cent, assessment, in which case, if his disability i3 recognized by the commission as being due to war service, he will receive a weekly rate of 21s. a week, 9s. for his wife, and 3s. for each child, making a total pension of 33s. a week. If such a man cannot prove his case, and I remind honorable senators that chest complaints are very difficult to prove, he will receive 33s. a week. Thus the " burnt-out " pension is equivalent to approximately a 50 per cent, rating, that is, if the applicant wins his case before the commission, and is able to prove that his injuries are due to war service. I point out these discrepancies without intending for one moment to move an amendment, but merely to show the discrepancy between applying to the commission and becoming a recognized case, and exercising the alternative of taking refuge under the " burnt-out " clauses. 1 shall have further comment to make in committee regarding these clauses. For instance, a good deal is to be said with regard to the term " permanently unemployable ". A man who is " permanently unemployable " is entitled to receive a pension, but in this connexion one immediately asks, " What is the definition of ' permanently unemployable and how is a ' digger ' to prove to the satisfaction of the commission that he i3 ' permanently unemployable ' ? " 1 could detail hundreds of cases that would come under this heading. For instance, there is the man who indulges to excess in alcoholic liquor. He is " permanently unemployable but is he to be entitled to a pension under the " burntout " clauses? It may be said that it is his own fault that he is " permanently unemployable ". When we remember that this country plucked boys of seventeen and eighteen years of age from all the steadying influences of life and threw them into the chaos of war, it is very debatable indeed whether this country is not liable for the sins those men commit to-day. I ask the Minister to elucidate this matter, and to tell me whether a man who is permanently unemployable owing to excessive indulgence in alcoholic liquor will be entitled to a pension under the " burnt-out " provisions of this measure.

Generally speaking, I congratulate the Government on this legislation, which I consider is very fine and generous. I know that it is sincerely appreciated by every organization of returned soldiers throughout the Commonwealth, all of which believe that the Government, in introducing this measure, has done the right thing; they are paying tribute where tribute is due. Again, I say .that this measure has not 'been introduced as the result of organized pressure on the Government, but is simply a recognition on the part of the Government that the march of time calls for an evolution of pension provisions. It is to the credit of the Government that it has followed Canada's precedent in proposing what are known as " burnt-out " clauses with the object of helping border-line cases.

Suggest corrections