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Friday, 27 November 1936

Senator GUTHRIE (Victoria) . - The existing act contains a number of anomalies of which, persons less acquainted with the legislation than is Senator Hardy are not aware. The object of this bill is to remove those anomalies, but it does not go far enough. It provides for further benefits to service pensioners and seeks to clarify the law in relation to the re-appointment of the members of the tribunals to deal with returned soldiers' pensions. As one who is not a returned soldier, I regard it as a great privilege to speak of the wonderful service rendered by the flower of Australia's manhood when the call came to save humanity and democracy. In this chamber are many honorable senators with splendid war records, but with that modesty which is so typical of Britishers who really do things, they are diffident about telling of what Australian men and women did during the Great "WarWhen the war broke out in 1914, the population of Australia was a little over 5,000,000, yet over 600,000 Australian's, the very flower of our manhood, volunteered for active service. Of those 600,000 volunteers, 406,000 were accepted, of whom no less than 60,000 paid the supreme sacrifice. It is very sad to have to record that, since the war, 60,000 other returned soldiers have, as a result of their almost superhuman efforts during the four awful years of the struggle, passed over the Great Divide, to join their comrades who fell upon the field of battle. We can never repay the soldier men of Australia and of the Empire for their great deeds and sacrifices; but we can have some pride in the fact that the Australian nation, a very young nation, with no centuries' old accumulation of wealth behind it, has probably done more for returned soldiers than has any other nation in the world. Up to date the expenditure within the Commonwealth on repatriation benefits to returned soldiers and their families has amounted to no less than £133,000,000. With a population of less than 7,000,000, Australia paid, in war pensions, for the twelve months ended the 30th June last, £7,520,228 to 258,282 pensioners.

The underlying principle of the Repatriation Act up to the present is that before a pension can be granted a soldier must prove that his disabilities are attributable to war service; but the receipt of an invalid or old-age pension does not prevent a soldier from securing a service pension. As Senator Hardy has convincingly pointed out, however, the Government has not yet gone far enough, in that service pensions are payable only to men who served in what has been geographically fixed as a " theatre of war ". There is conclusive evidence that many soldiers who desired to serve in the front line but were unable to do so, made sacrifices in other spheres almost equal to those of the troops who served in a theatre of war, but they are not eligible for a service pension. However, it is pleasing to note that there is now much more elasticity in both the law and its administration by the various pensions authorities. There is still room for considerable liberalization of the act. At present a man who served his country has to prove that his disability or illness was due to war service in order to qualify for a pension, but I have always maintained that the boot should have been on the other foot, and that the onus should have been thrown on the war pensions tribunals to prove that an applicant's disabilities were not attributable to war service. One pleasing feature in this bill is the extension of the benefits granted to tubercular soldiers. I am glad to see that the pension rate has been increased from 19s. a week to 31s. 7d. a week and that tubercular pensioners are in future to receive free treatment.

Senator Hardy - It would be better to recognize their disability as war caused and pay them a full pension ; it would cost only a few shillings.

Senator GUTHRIE - I agree. I desire to pay a tribute to our returned soldiers. Not only did they,- by their extraordinary service to the Empire, advance our people to a prominent place among the nations of the world, and create standards of bravery and efficiency second to none in history, but also by their behaviour since their return to Australia they have set an example of patriotic citizenship. When this country was in financial difficulties and it was necessary to introduce emergency measures to rectify the financial position, the organizations of returned soldiers voluntarily formulated and presented to the Government for adoption a scheme of reduced pensions involving a total reduction of this liability by £1,000,000 per annum. The returned soldiers were the last people in the Commonwealth who should have been called upon to make any sacrifices ; but they did it voluntarily, just as they voluntarily enlisted for active service in defence of the Empire in time of need.

One section of the repatriation legislation to which I take exception is 'that which provides that no pensions shall be paid to the wives and children of soldiers married after the 31st October, 1931. It must be evident that, as the years go by; very few marriages of returned soldiers will take place, and, at the first possible opportunity, the Government should make provision for the payment of pensions to the wives and children of men who married after that date. It is very gratifying that, in 1934, the Government was able to restore in full the cuts made in the pensions paid to the wives of soldiers.

I understand that Senator Brand proposes to recommend to the Government that service pensions should also be paid to veterans of the South African campaign. I have no desire to steal the honorable senator's thunder, but I say now that I endorse "most heartily the request which he proposes to make. No less than 18,000 Australians served in the Boer War; but no provision has been made to grant pensions to those who returned. Senator Brand has informed rae that at least 250 soldiers who rendered such wonderful service in the Boer War are more or less destitute at the present time. No less than 75 per cent, of those wonderful Australians who left Australia at the end of the last century to fight for their King and Empire in South Africa served in the Great War. For these figures also I am indebted to Senator Brand. We should be very proud of the fact that in this little assembly of 36 senators, no less than three, Senators Cox, Sampson, and Brand, not only fought in the Boer War, but also served their country again in the Great War. As a non-soldier, but nevertheless a loyal Australian, who is very proud of his country and of its manhood, I honour them.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - Yet it, is said that soldiers are reticent people.

Senator GUTHRIE - I have said a few words about the extraordinarily good behaviour and the loyality of the Australian soldiers after the terrible suffering they endured, while others who stayed behind in comfort were bettering their positions and improving their prospects in life. Those who had not the honour of fighting for their country can have no appreciation of the sufferings and the horrors of war. I am glad to know that the returned men, who hate war and will do everything possible to prevent its recurrence, dreading as they do all of its horrors and the misery which it inflicts upon soldiers, their parents, wives, and children, realize the necessity for defence preparation. At the annual conference of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, held at Adelaide recently, the following resolution was passed : -

That this congress is of the opinion that the ideals for which the Australian Imperial Force fought during 1914-18 can be maintained in this era of intense nationalism only by the adoption of universal military training to provide for the adequate defence of Australia.

That simultaneously with the reintroduction of universal military training, congress is of opinion that there should be some method of registration and organization of the whole of Australia's resources of wealth, man-power, material, and industry, and that, iu the event of a national crisis arising, the whole of those should be conscripted.

WitE those considered expressions of opinion by a splendid body of men representing the soldiers of Australia, I entirely agree. Whilst this bill goes a certain way to rectify anomalies, in my opinion, it does not go far enough. I repeat .that the onus of proving whether a soldier is entitled to a service pension should not be thrown upon the applicant, who, though he may be a good fighter, is very often not a good pleader. I have known of many applicants before pensions tribunals to become shy when facing the members of the tribunal; the onus of proof that the disabilities of an applicant are not attributable to war service should be thrown upon the tribunals. Generally speaking, the bill has much to commend it. We are indebted to the Government for liberalizing pensions, and for its treatment generally of returned soldiers. For these reasons, I have pleasure in supporting the measure.

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