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Wednesday, 29 April 1942

Senator BRAND (Victoria) .- There is general satisfaction in the fighting services at the public statement made by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) that ' the Government considers that the existing Empire decorations awarded by His Majesty the King for bravery, provide fully for the recognition of valor, distinguished service and devotion to duty by troops in the field. Apparently, the Minister's statement was made in answer to a suggestion that Australia should have its own medal for bravery. The existing awards for bravery and distinguished service in time of war on land, on the sea, or in the air, are tangible British Empire links which the great majority of Australian citizens hope will never be broken. I understand that some recommendations for honours and awards are being dealt with at present- and will be submitted to the King for approval in due course.

My attention has been drawn to the fact that numbers of men who served in the war of 1914-18 are being called up for compulsory military service. These men are prepared to serve" in the Volunteer Defence Corps or to assist in any recognized defence activity, but after having undertaken voluntarily, four years' active service in the last war, they object strongly to being compelled to serve in our defence forces now just because they are within the latest call-up age limits. They say, rightly, " Why should I be compelled to serve again when hundreds of eligible men are sheltering in so-called reserved occupations, or have been granted exemptions on the flimsiest excuses?" The proper place for these returned men is in the Volunteer Defence Corps, but they are debarred from enlisting because they are under 45 years of age. Many members of the Volunteer Defence Corps are men under 45 years of age, who although they are exempt from military service or are engaged on essential war industries, desire to possess some military knowledge. I suggest to the Government that returned soldiers who are under the minimum age limit be accepted as members of the Volunteer Defence Corps.

Hundreds of members of the Australian Military Forces have recorded their names for enrolment in the Australian Imperial Force, and I suggest that their transfer be effected, either by absorption into the existing units of the Australian Imperial Force, or by organization as first reinforcements. This would be an advantage- to the Australian Imperial Force when the time arrived, as it must do very soon, for a large-scale offensive, based on Australia. It is no use waiting until that offensive is launched against non-mandated territories before combing the Militia Forces for young men who desire to serve voluntarily in a force, the operations of which are not restricted by the Defence Act or section 13a of the National Security Act.

At question time this afternoon, I asked the Minister representing the Treasurer whether, in legislating for an increase of the invalid and old-age pension, dependants of men who gave their lives in the war of 1914-18 and the present war have been considered. In war-time, when colossal expenditure of public money in the interests of our safety and liberty as a nation is inescapable, is it a sound policy to increase pensions of any kind? There is a difference of opinion on this point, but I venture to say that there is no difference of opinion amongst the majority of Australian people that widows and widowed mothers of deceased service men who have given their all to safeguard our freedom should not be overlooked, if and when the money can be found to meet the higher costs of living. I claim that these people who might be in necessitous circumstances are entitled to increases of their pensions as much as invalid and old-age pensioners. Many of them have remarried, and so are no longer in need of assistance, hut 'hundreds are still battling along, rearing and educating their children, and denying themselves little extras which they require for their health and comfort. They have no big association to plead their case or to threaten the Government with action if their representations are ignored. The cost of living has increased, but the pensions of these people have remained static for some years. I ask Ministers in this chamber to use their influence with the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) to see if more consideration can be given to those deserving individuals. Perhaps the omission is an oversight, because I understand that the Government intends to increase the service pension to bring it into line with the invalid and old-age pension. That is as it should be, since the service pension is the soldier's invalid -Or old-age Dension, the qualification conditions being identical. I make these suggestions hopin cr that some. pood will come from them.

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