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Wednesday, 4 December 1935

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) . - Honorable senators know that the Government has every sympathy with the class of widows to whom the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) has referred, but it has to remember that it owes a duty and responsibility to the returned soldiers in the passage of this measure. Already it has gone far beyond the financial liabilities that were contemplated when the measure was first considered by Cabinet. When it was first proposed to establish the new scheme of pensions set out in this measure the whole field of pensions was surveyed, and the Cabinet had the most complete statistics bearing on the matter placed before it. Even so far back as a year ago Cabinet gave consideration to the various classes of pensioners whom it was sought to assist, and at that time consideration was given to the class of widows mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, but regretfully the Government came to the conclusion that this class would have to be excluded from the provisions of this measure. Additional claims will alwaysarise where cases of hardship are being considered. For instance, I ask honorable senators to think of those soldiers who passed away without having enjoyed the benefit of any assistance of this character. Now that we are endeavouring to do something for their comrades who have survived, the cry is raised that the Government should extend the benefits in this direction and that. "We cannot wisely proceed on such a basis, and at the same time achieve a balanced budget. More recently the matter was re-considered and even during the last few days a series of Cabinet meetings devoted considerable time to the examination of proposals of the nature now submitted by the' leader of the Opposition. The Government is sympathetic to such proposals as I believe all honorable senators are, but I point out that in this measure the Government has given an earnest of its sympathy for the soldier, and it asks honorable senators to stand by what it has done. Let me briefly review the provisions of this bill. The Government seeks to give a pension at 55 years of age to returned nurses and at 60 years of age to returned soldiers, provided certain income and property limits are not exceeded, and provided also that the recipient served in a theatre of war. Irrespective of age, it is hoped to provide a service pension for former members of the Australian Imperial Forces, who served in a theatre of war, and who are permanently unemployable and whose property and income are less than the amounts prescribed. For the sufferer from pulmonary tuberculosis whose ailment has not been accepted as due to war service, the bill provides a service pension at any age, whether he served in a ' theatre of war or not, and whether he is permanently unemployable or not. It intends to give to him an invalid pension in addition to a service pension, and also free medical treatment in repatriation institutions. The bill removes the time limit concerning material aggravation cases and gives the right of appeal to a War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal or to a War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal. It is intended to accept as due to war service the death from any causes whatsoever of those who suffered blindness, or total and permanent incapacity under the second schedule of the act, and those who suffer warcaused double amputations, and to give their dependants increased war pension and other benefits. Commuted pensions are to be restored, and some effort has been made to alleviate the conditions of those whose advancing years make life more difficult. There are smaller benefits also, but from what I have said, honorable senators will agree that the Government has made a genuine effort to do as much as its financial resources will permit.

Turning now to the particular matter before the committee, I may state that the Government surveyed the situation. from every angle and regretfully decided that the provisions of the bill could nor. he further extended. When the proposition was first submitted, a survey of the national finances indicated that a. certain sum of money could be provided. On several occasions subsequently, that sum has been increased and with the addition of certain clauses to the bill, the expenditure will far exceed the amount which was originally anticipated. The Government has now reached a limit beyond which it cannot go. During the earnest and sympathetic discussions on this subject, members of the Government found it impossible to discriminate in their own minds between the widow of a man who died from pulmonary tuberculosis and the widow of a man who died from any other cause. To admit one class would inevitably create demands for other admissions and raise false hopes for benefits which certainly could not be conferred. The bill is a step forward in social legislation. The consequences will be far-reaching and the expenditure may, probably will, exceed calculations. A big departure has been made from the generally accepted principles of war pensioning and any additional departures cannot be countenanced. I shall select one complicating feature amongst many others to illustrate the difficulty in which the Government would find itself if the amendment were accepted. A returned soldier who, through war service, suffers incapacity at equivalent to 75 per cent., dies from causes entirely dissociated from his war service. His widow, provided the marriage occurred before the- 1st October, 1931, would be eligible tocontinue receiving the pension she was drawing at the time of her husband's death, i.e. 13s. 6d. a week. It will thus be seen that if a service pension is made available to the widow of a man who was not suffering at all as a result of war service she would be placed in a relatively better position than the widow of a man whose earning capacity and health had been undermined seriously by war service. Those whose husbands die after having been granted a service pension, present a responsibility which the Government is prepared to accept. in doing so it is acting more liberally than does Canada or New Zealand, where the maximum period of continuance is two years. It is impossible to include every class. The Government, in its selection, has endeavoured to confer benefits where they are most deserved and at the same time retain equitable relationship between the classes. I regret that the circumstances are such that the Government cannot accept the amendment.

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