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Wednesday, 2 April 1941

Senator COLLETT (Western Australia) (Minister administering War Service Homes) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The hill itself is of a nature not requiring a lengthy explanation. It provides for certain alterations of the definition of " Australian soldier " contained in section 4 of the War Service Homes Act 1918- 1937. Its purpose is to include within that definition, members of the naval, military or air forces of the Commonwealth of Australia who, during the war which commenced in September, 1939, were enlisted or appointed for active service outside Australia or on a ship of war, and also to include persons who were members of the forces of the Bang's dominions other than the Commonwealth, and who, prior to their enlistment or engagement for active service, resided in Australia. The measure proposes the inclusion within the scope of eligibility to participate in the benefits of the act persons who, during the continuance of the present war, were employed under agreement as master, officer or seamen, or under indenture as. apprentices in sea-going services on any ships engaged in trading between a port of a State or territory of the Commonwealth, and any other port outside Australia and who, during such employment, were domiciled in Australia. The principal act, as amended by Act No. 35 of 1920, included, as eligible, members of the mercantile marine employed during the war of 1914-1918 who were domiciled in Australia and recipients of either the Australian mercantile marine war zone badge or the British mercantile marine medal.

The hazards and dangers of the present war are no less "than those which confronted officers and men of the sea-going services of the last war and the extension of the privileges of the scheme will commend itself to all who have some appreciation of the splendid services being rendered to the Empire by the mercantile marine. The amendments to section 4 also bring within the act certain dependants of the persons mentioned, similarly as the principal act includes dependants of members of the 1914-1918 forces. The act as it is now constituted covers only persons who were enlisted or engaged for active service and certain other denned service abroad during the war of 1914- 1918 and it is considered proper that the facilities provided by the principal act in connexion with assistance to acquire homes should be extended to those who in a like manner serve their King and country during the present war. There is no doubt that there will bo a number of the members of the forces who, upon their return to Australia,, will be desirous of marrying and setting up homes of their own, whilst others who are already married will also desire to acquire a home under the scheme.

The measure now before the Senate is practical and forms part of tho broader field of repatriation. It is of national importance because it will encourage the assumption of family responsibilities on the part of some of Australia's finest manhood, and, where the returned sailor, soldier or airman is already married, provide facilities to secure a home on easy terms for proper rehabilitation to the normal of peacetime life. The principal act was not introduced until December, 1918, after the conclusion of the war of 1914-1918, but it is considered that wherever possible matters which come within the category of post-war reconstruction should be initiated during the currency of the present war in order to lessen congestion when a demobilization of the Forces begins. There is evidence of a shortage in cottage homes throughout the Commonwealth, and whilst this, it is anticipated, will not become as acute as it was in 1918, the existing position warrants the proposed amendment in order to permit applications made by members of the Forces returning from active service overseas being accepted and dealt with gradually in their order of lodgement.

Senator Keane - Who will deal with the applications ?

Senator COLLETT - The War Service Homes Commissioner. There may, of necessity, be limited financial resources available for loans applied for under this act - due to the need for war expenditure in other directions - and loans will be subject to the funds which Parliament will be able to appropriate for the purpose. It is interesting to recall that during the war of 1914-1918 there were approximately 416,000 enlistments and to the 30th June, 1940, the total homes provided under the war service homes scheme was 37,385. The number of homes still subject to the act at the same date was 25,851. Although no forecast can he made at the present stage as to the number of enlistments which it will be necessary to accept for active service overseas during the present war, it is not anticipated that the percentage of eligible persons applying for loans will be in excess of the percentage under the principal act. That percentage works out at nine. Generally, the measure is of a machinery nature for the purpose of enabling the War Service Homes Commission to extend to members on active service in the present war benefits equal to those which were available in the war of 1914-1918. 1 can assure honorable senators that under the act that has been operating to date, a most useful and valuable service has been rendered to a large group of persons whose services to the nation called for the, fullest possible recognition. I consider it an especial privilege to submit and commend this measure to honorable senators, and I trust that the Senate will, without delay, pass it through all stages.

Debate (on motion by Senator Collings) adjourned.

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