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Tuesday, 29 October 1974
Page: 2071

Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation) (Minister for Repatriation and Compensation) - in reply- I appreciate the congratulations of Senator Marriott. I realise that he was so magnetised by his admiration for me that he found it difficult to engage in the prognostications of gloom which he found necessary to incorporate in the rest of his otherwise sensible remarks. I though that the congratulatory parts of his speech were eminently sensible but some of the others were not quite so useful a contribution to the deliberations of this chamber. There are several things which perhaps ought to be commented on very briefly- perhaps rather more briefly than Senator Marriott commented on them. They are, first of all, that whatever the rate of inflation may be the increase in repatriation benefits while the Labor Government has been in office has been at a much greater rate that the rate of inflation. The increase has not been merely keeping up with inflation. It has gone a long way ahead of inflation.

In fact, among the benefits which this Government has increased- not only in these proposals but also in other proposals- have been the miserly allowances given by the previous Government to veterans of the Vietnam War. As a Party our position has been that although we were opposed to that war we believed that those Australians who were conscripted to fight in it were entitled to adequate repatriation benefits of a much greater nature than those given to them by the people who sent them off to that war. I must say that there is something of a syndrome to be found in these things. Just recently in New Zealand I happened to meet Senator Vance Hartke, the Chairman of the United States Senate Veteran Affairs Committee. He was one of the first members of the United States Congress to come out in total opposition to American participation in the Vietnam War. Senator Hartke. as Chairman of the United States Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, was responsible for a Bill which passed through both Houses of the United States Congress, giving adequate repatriationtype benefits to the American veterans of the Vietnam War. That Bill was vetoed by that great patriot and exponent of the Vietnam War, former President Nixon. I think something of a syndrome can be found. The generosity of the Governments in benefits to the veterans of the Vietnam War is in inverse proportion to their enthusiasm for sending conscripts to fight in it. We are proud of our record on both issues. We did not believe in sending the conscripts there, but when they were sent there they were entitled to receive adequate compensation for what they suffered as a result of serving in that war.

Senator Marriotthas said that the Repatriation Act should be consolidated. He has mentioned the fact that this Bill goes part of the way, which indeed it does. Since I became Minister I have been concerned to have a consolidated Repatriation Act prepared. Part of that consolidation was accomplished, I believe, insofar as the amendments to various Acts were dealt with here in the one Bill. At the moment one of the problems which we have is finding sufficient time for the draftsmen to prepare these Bills. The weight of legislation- important, necessary and overdue legislation- which this Government has introduced means that the draftsmen do not have the same time available as they had in the 23 years of lackadaisical, anti-Labor government. If the Opposition when in Government had been concerned about consolidating the Repatriation Act, there were 23 wasted years in which it could have done this instead of fiddling around doing so many unnecessary things.

When Senator Marriott apparently grudgingly supports these proposals but at the same time says that we must beware because they are inflationary and that the Government must take heed and be careful, and also makes some suggestion about the reduction of pensions at some future time, I think one clearly sees the thinking of the anti-Labor Parties on inflation. If the Opposition became the Government it would slash Bills such as the Bill which is before the Senate tonight which increases the benefits payable to the veterans of this country. The Opposition regards it as inflationary. I hope that every Returned Services League sub-branch in Australia is presented with a copy of Senator Marriott's speech on this question so that they can understand what Senator Marriott, speaking on behalf of the

Opposition, believes causes inflation and the sort of thing which he suggests should be done to stop inflation. I thank Senator Marriott once again for his congratulations and the Opposition for its cooperation in allowing the speedy passage of this Bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.

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