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Wednesday, 2 December 1936

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) . - in reply - The debate upon this bill has been interesting and informative, lt serves to show the high esteem in which returned soldiers, a number of whom will benefit further by this legislation, are held by all parties constituting this Senate, lt is a tribute to the service which those men rendered in the interests of this country and of civilization. On the whole, honorable senators have shown a disposition to consider this matter dispassionately, and from every angle. Although I may have to dissent from some of the sentiments expressed during the debate, . I think they were dictated rather by the heart, as 'Senator Collings would say, than by the head. I wish first to point out one or two of the underlying principles of this legislation as it has come into being from time to time.

There has been a little confusion in the minds of honorable senators with regard to the distinction between a war pension and a service pension. A war pension is paid at a rate assessed after examination by competent medical authorities, irrespective of age, income, economic conditions or place of service, provided only that the incapacity is due to war service. That is the one test. If that is fulfilled, the war pension is then available. A service pension, however, is paid when the conditions of service, income, property, age, permanent unemployability from- any causes, and other factors combine to make the applicant eligible. All he has to do is to fall within the ambit of the definition as provided in the act, and he becomes entitled to a service pension without attributing his condition at all to his war service. It is necessary to keep that distinction well in mind, because I felt, in making notes of what the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) said in a very touching speech, that he would really persuade us to enact legislation to establish a. universal pension, so that every man who serves should have a pension, irrespective of what his condition might be. The Leader of the Opposition urged that the administration should be of an exceedingly sympathetic character. I have had prepared a short summary of what has been done by the people of this country, in order to show how the people have fulfilled what I regard as their obligation and duty to those men who went abroad :to serve their country. I should like to give a brief account of the rehabilitation of the nien who went overseas, because it is only by a review of the steps taken to meet our obligations that we can justify the present position to our own consciences, and view in proper perspective the accomplishments of the past. There were 416,809 enlistments for service in the Australian Imperial Force. Of those who returned 42,582 have since died or left Australia, and there are approximately 221,418 still living. To-day the average age of these former members of the Australian Imperial Force is approximately 45 years. There are over 188,000 returned soldiers under the age of 50 years. To assist those who returned the Government found 280,000 positions, and made .available nearly £2,500,000 in finding suitable employment for returned men. Local authorities throughout the Commonwealth were subsidized, and for a great many years an annual grant of £2,640 has been made available to the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia to assist in finding employment for its members. Altogether over 74,000 applications for vocational and industrial training were received. Nearly 28,000 men after training were placed in suitable employment, and the cost of this scheme was almost £5,000,000. Over £1,500,000 was made available in providing assistance for some 68,000 cases who applied for furniture, business plant, stock and similar things, whilst the treatment given by returned medical men and nurses in the commission's well-equipped and efficiently-staffed institutions throughout the Commonwealth has aroused the admiration of independent and wellqualified observers who have visited this country. Over £7,500,000 has been expended in the maintenance and medical treatment of returned soldiers, and as money is made available from time to time the commission is bringing its institutions more into line with modern conditions. Last year approximately £460,000 -was spent on the treatment and maintenance of the men and the institutions. Over 45,000 treatments were prescribed, and there were nearly 155,000 out-patient attendances. The number of men who are receiving out-door treatment is a striking commentary on what has been done. It is sad to contemplate the fact that, as these men grow older, their war disabilities become more pronounced. At the close of the year 1926, 5,981 were under treatment, whereas at the close of the year 1936, there were 22,130 receiving treatment at the hands of the commission. Honorable senators may not be aware that the commission pays capitation fees to friendly societies for widows,, widowed mothers, and children of' those who died as a result of war service,, and that these folk then benefit as members of the particular society to which they belong. At the moment nearly 14,000 cases are benefiting, and the cost last year exceeded £16,000. The soldiers' children education scheme, which, may be termed a living memorial to those who served, is one of the most interesting and valuable phases of our repatriation activities. Over 18,000 applications have been approved. Children to the number of 11,000 have completed training, and are qualified as wage-earners, and by far the greater majority of them are in continuous lucrative employment. So far this scheme has cost £1,680,000, the expenditure last year exceeding £86,000. At present over 6,000 children are undergoing training of some kind, and as a matter of interest, it may be mentioned that there are graduates in medicine, law, dentistry, arts, science, engineering, education and agriculture, whilst nearly every trade has its representatives. As indicative of the high standard, not only of learning, but also of sport and character, that these young representatives of a former worthy generation have attained, I mention with considerable pride that five of the repatriation trainees have been chosen as Rhodes scholars To assist those who are very seriously disabled and in receipt of the special rate of pension for the totally and permanently incapacitated, the commission makes available either £10 a month or £5 a month on certain conditions, in addition to pension, as recreation transportation allowance. The object of this grant is to enable these seriously incapacitated men to get a change of environment and enjoy in at least some measure those entertainments which are within their physical capacity. No fewer than 157 of these cases benefited to the aggregate amount of almost £15,000 last year. The expenditure on war pensions from the inception of the scheme to the end of June last is £133,153,503, the amount involved last year being £7,520,228. At the present time pensioners exceeding in number 260,000 are in receipt of pensions in the Commonwealth, whilst resident in the United Kingdom and other parts of the -world are over 7,000 pensioners. In Australia the commission deals with nearly 5,000 Imperial soldiers who have made their homes amongst us. I think those facts and figures should dissipate the suggestion which, I gathered, underlay the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. "I felt that he was suggesting that we had not treated the returned soldiers as generously as we ought, and also that he was advocating universal pensions.

Senator Collings - Not at all.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am glad to hear the honorable senator repudiate the suggestion. There are certain details connected with the administration of this department upon which I wish to touch. I am obliged to Senator Sampson, who spoke first this morning, for the tribute that he paid not only to the commission, but also to the tribunals which are charged with very difficult duties in relation to the administration. Firstly the Minister who presides over the Department of Repatriation is, whatever honorable senators may think about his politics, a whole-hearted sympathizer with the returned soldiers, as he was with the soldiers during the war. His administration is sympathetic and I have ventured to suggest to him at times that, in the interests of those men with whom he has had a long association, he would go so far as to give away the whole of the resources of the Commonwealth.

Senator Arkins - The honorable senator does not suggest that the repatriation legislation is perfect, does he?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We aim at perfection, although we do not always attain it. This legislation is all that Australia so far has been able to afford. It has been devised on generous lines; in fact, I share the opinion of

Senator AllanMacDonald that, after this bill has been passed, there will be no more generous legislation in the world as regards the treatment of returned soldiers. If time permitted, I could demonstrate it. Senator Sampson has dealt, I think, very effectively with the charge that the commission is not sympathetic. All I can say is that from every quarter and from every organization associated with the returned soldiers we have received tributes to the administration of the commisison and the appeal tribunals.

Senator Collings - I have letters from returned soldiers' associations complimenting me on the attitude I adopted last week.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is quite possible.

Senator Arkins - Why have there been so many amendments of this legislation ?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The necessities of the situation make amendments desirable from time to time. A prominent official of the returned soliders' organization in the State from which the Leader of the Opposition comes recently paid a decided tribute to the administration, not only of the appeal tribunals, but also of the commission itself.

Senator Collings - Hear, hear ! We all agree with that.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I fail to find any evidence of lack of sympathy. I do not desire that, in regard to repatriation administration, or in regard to any other tribunal set up to deal with the rights of individuals, we should fall into the habit of challenging the decisions of the umpire. I have always regarded the man who does that as a bad sport. Trouble will inevitably occur from time to time, but we have laid down certain principles, the effect of which, I think, is seen in the figures I have cited to the Senate this morning. They show that the administration has been generosity itself, and, after all is said and done, as the distinguished soldier from Queensland pointed out in the article to which I have referred, there is never any question that the benefit of the doubt, where a doubt has existed, has always gone to the returned soldier. An honorable senator suggested that the onus should be upon the War Pensions EntitlementTribunal to prove that the disability of a returned soldier is not due to war service, but I believe that all cases in which there has been a shadow of doubt have been decided in favour of the appellant. Reference has also been made to the lack of sympathetic consideration shown by the Entitlement Tribunal in certain cases, but as the members of that tribunal are all returned soldiers, all cases are dealt with sympathetically.

Senator Hardy - Not necessarily. The three members of the tribunal are colonels, and the " diggers " complain that their applications are determined by " brass hats ".

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - So long as they have not brass heads or brass hearts the law will be administered sympathetically. Senator Hardy also suggested that the members of the tribunal should publish their reasons for all decisions. In this connexion I am reminded of a junior member of the English bar who when appointed as a judge in Jamaica conferred with an eminent King's Counsel as to whether he should give reasons for his judgments. He was advised not to do so, and carried out his judicial duties with distinction for about three years. Elated by his success, and vain of his judicial acumen, he commenced to give reasons for his decisions ; immediately appeals were made to a higher tribunal, and his decisions were upset. The chief complaint of Senator Hardy is that the reasons for the decisions of the Entitlement Tribunal are not disclosed.

Senator Hardy - That is so.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It would not be of advantage to appellants if the reasons were given, because reapplications involve a complete rehearing of the claim.

Senator Hardy - But the appellants cannot ascertain the grounds on which the tribunal reached its decision.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Why should reasons be given? A jury gives its finding on the facts submitted.

The definition of " theatre of war " in our legislation is more generous than that in the Canadian act under which an applicant for a war pension has to prove that he is suffering disability, or contracted a disease, by a hostile act of the enemy. The New Zealand legislation provides that an applicant must prove that he served with a unit which actually engaged in conflict with the enemy. Senator Hardy who referred to the Blue Nile march, should remember that a war pension is still available to those who suffered disability as a result of service under such conditions.

Senator Hardy - Provided that the applicant can prove his case.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - There should be no difficulty in that; I do not admit that the administration is harsh in that respect. If concessions were extended to returned soldiers alleged to be suffering disability due to service in other than a theatre of war, consideration would have to be extended to those who suffered disabilities as a result of service in Australian camps, in which meningitis in a virulent form was prevalent.

Senator Hardy - 'Why not allow the commission to make a decision in each individual case. The commission has bound itself by a firm regulation.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - T doubt whether a decision of the commission, the members of which are familiar with the facts, should be interfered with. A determined effort is made to hold the scales evenly between returned soldiers and the taxpayers. The doubt is always resolved in favour of the applicant.

Senator Collings - We contend that it is not.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Why should the members of the commission act unsympathetically towards their former comrades by administering the law harshly? . Having had a long experience in the administration of the law, I know that the person who loses a case is always dissatisfied with the tribunal which gives a decision against him.

Senator Hardy - Will the Minister consider granting sufferers from tuberculosis a full war pension?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I understand that that matter is now receiving the attention of the Minister for Repatriation. I shall also submit to him the suggestions made concerning the granting of pensions to certain South

African War veterans, but the Government will have to consider carefully the payment of pensions to persons who served in a war which terminated 34 years ago. Some legislative limitation must be imposed in respect of pensions to the wives of returned soldiers .who remarry.

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