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Friday, 27 November 1936

Senator ARKINS (New South Wales) . - Generally speaking, I support the opinions expressed by Senator Hardy. The members of the repatriation staff have earned furlough which should' be granted to them in the same way as it is granted to other branches of the Commonwealth Service. Many of these men have had a very strenuous time, which has interfered with their health. I trust that the Government will grant the concession suggested. The definition of " theatre of war " has exercised the minds of those who framed the principal act and those whose duty it has been to administer it. Residents of Great Britain lived comparatively close to a theatre of war, but Australians had to travel many thousands of miles before they could engage in actual warfare. I realize that an attempt has been made to widen the definition, but it is not yet sufficiently comprehensive. Senator Hardy has told us of the Blue Nile march, one of the greatest tragedies of the war, when Australian soldiers were forced to march through the desert under the most trying conditions. Although many miles from a theatre of war, and, therefore, quite out of reach of any hostile activity, many men were affected, physically and mentally. Some of them are more or less disabled in consequence, but they have been informed that the disabilities they arc experiencing are not due to servicein a theatre of war. An Australian soldier, after leaving this country, encountered varying climatic conditions which could be responsible for disabilities in some form; but he would not be eligible for a pension because he had not been in a theatre of war. A comrade similarly situated who went to Le Havre, and who might have been just as immune from the dangers of actual warfare, would be eligible for a pension.

Senator Hardy - Such a soldier could have been in Paris.

Senator ARKINS - Exactly ; I left Australia in the summer time, passed through the tropics, and arrived in England on the coldest day that had been experienced in that country for 36 years. The climatic conditions were most severe, and the low temperature was accompanied by conditions totally different from those experienced in Australia. The members of the 1st Canadian Expeditionary Force, who were more accustomed to lower temperatures than the Australian soldiers, arrived in England and were placed in bell tents. The presence of a high percentage of moisture in the atmosphere made the position even worse, and many of them died of pneumonia. The others were afterwards billeted. Men who did not actually serve in a theatre of war could, owing to the extreme climatic conditions, have had their health impaired. I hope that the Government will be able to devise a scheme under which the service pension may be obtained by ex-soldiers who are broken in health as the result of experiences outside the theatre of war. I have particulars before me of an application which was disallowed on the ground that the ex-soldier did not serve in the Egyptian theatre of war, which is defined by the commission as follows: -

(a)   All operations conducted by the

Egyptian Expeditionary Force cast of the Suez Canal between midnight 18th-19th March, 1916. and midnight11th-12th November, 1918: and

(b)   The operations on the Suez Canal at the end of January, 1915, in repulsing the Turkish attack at the right of Kantara. The unit engaged was part of the Third Australian Field Company of Engineers.

The Minister for Repatriation, in referring to this application, wrote -

I would explain that no appeal lies with either the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal or the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal, where an application for grant of service pension has been rejected by the Repatriation Commission on the grounds that the soldier did not serve in a theatre of war. Iti these circumstances, you will appreciate that it is not possible to take any further action in the matter.

I understand that some discretion is left to the officers who administer the act. If it can be directly proved that the injuries arose from war service the applicant receives the pension, but in many cases such proof is impossible. The medical evidence is often unobtainable; the doctors who attended the applicant may have died. In other instances, the applicant has suffered loss of memory.

Senator Hardy - Often the applicant is not informed as to the reason why his claim is rejected.

Senator ARKINS - That is so. I . agree with, the honorable senator who said that the onus of proof should be on the commission and that the reason for the rejection of the claim should be stated. Sometimes one can tell by a glance at the ex-soldier that his disabilities are due to war service. I know of a grandmother of two daughters of a deceased soldier who was wounded in France. He was hit on the head by a shell and severely injured. On his return to Australia his medical history was known. He ultimately died of a tumour on the brain. There was every indication that his death was the result of war injuries, but this could not be definitely proved. Shortly afterwards, his wife died, and the grandmother now has the responsibility of caring for the two children, although the Verge Trust promised to give the matter consideration. Despite the efforts of the Minister for Repatriation and myself, no pension has been granted in respect of the children. Is it right that a tribunal "which has been asked by the legislature to give applicants the benefit of any doubt should refuse assistance in such a case ? Similar instances of injustice come under notice constantly.

I.   understand that the theatre of war has been defined by the commission as the area east of the Suez Canal, France, and certain other regions. It seems to me that it would be preferable to call it the area in which the enemy operated, and any other locality where the lives or health of ex-soldiers were endangered, not merely from shell and rifle fire, but from bad food, or from atmospheric or unhygienic conditions on land or sea such as, for instance, those experienced on troopships. I was on a troopship for three months, and the sanitary conditions were so bad that it was difficult for one to bear them. An exsoldier who had a " cushy " job at Le Havre was regarded as serving in the theatre of war, but one who experienced the worst possible conditions in England, and was rendered unfit as the result of disease contracted there, would be deprived of the pension. I appeal to the Government to do all it can to widen the definition. Honorable senators have pointed out that successful applications for the pension have, occasionally, been made by imposters, but I know of men who richly deserve a pension, and have received no assistance.

The Government is acting wisely in removing certain anomalies, and increasing the benefits of certain classes of exsoldiers, but it would have acted more justly if it had first met completely the claims of men suffering from tuberculosis. I have been requested to urge the Government to go the whole distance in this regard. I realize that extra expenditure would be involved in acceding to all of the wishes of these men, but the additional cost would not be great. I understand that the Minister for Repatriation has promised to comply with their requests at the earliest possible opportunity and, in the circumstances, I have advised them to be content for the time being with the Minister's assurance. No doubt it will again be necessary to liberalize this legislation, and the special disabilities of tubercular ex-soldiers should then be fully recognized. I compliment the officers of the Repatriation Department upon their administration. Of course, their duty is to administer the act as it stands. For what they have done they have merited the praise of all of the service associations throughout the Commonwealth, and I personally thank them. The Minister for Repatriation has been a staunch friend of the returned soldiers, and I believe that 'he will always endeavour to see that the act is administered in their best interests.

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