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Thursday, 29 March 1984
Page: 942


Senator MACKLIN(10.25) —Honourable senators receive a great deal of correspondence every day, and on some occasions one is confronted with what to do about a constituent's complaint or problem. Often one feels at a complete loss to be able to do anything. I would like to read a letter that I received today because I believe it contains an example of some of the problems that exist within our community on an individual basis. It comes from a veteran, who states:

I speak as an Australian front line solider who served his country without reservation for 5 years 10/12 months. I enlisted at 16 . . . served in every threatre of war as an infantry man or special operations behind enemy lines.

He had forged his birth certificate and changed his name, as often happened during the Second World War. The letter continues:

I was wounded, injured, suffered malaria . . . dysentry, dengue . . . tropical ulcers, malnutrition and was still fighting the Japanese 2 weeks after VJ ( Victory Japan day).

When I cam out after 4 months in hospital I was a mental and physical wreck. For 4 years I could not face the public-I was unemployed. It has taken years to literally pull myself out of the mire. I never (and neither have my frontline mates) expected that Australia owed me a living but certainly I . . . did expect justice.

Here are some examples.

(a) Although I had . . . dysentry the Repat refused to accept it as a war caused disability for seven years. I had to pay for my medical all that time-yet they had the medical evidence.

(b) only several months ago they finally accepted an injury to eye as war caused-because they said that there was no evidence-I was injured in Greece but it was never recorded.

(c) Although I was exposed to repeated and gross stress-see attached history-I was never debriefed, never had access to psychological treatment.

(b) the Repat has committed some dreadful errors of judgement, divulged medical history which penalised the future of the exsoldier.

Rather than itemise in this letter please refer to attached list of questions . . .

The Parliament have NO idea of what is being done to us. We have lost jobs or had them jeopardised because of our service, the insurance companies have penalised us. Many of us including myself had to pay our own medical expenses until finally we were accepted. We have lost our sick leave entitlements in some cases had to use our holidays to get treatment. In my case I did not have a holiday in 11 years . . .

It was not until 1983 when under the 'Freedom of Information Act 1982' I found out that the Repat had evidence of some of my illnesses-yet all this time they had kept asking me for evidence which in fact was in their possession-I also found out the Army had failed to include some wounds, injuries, diseases . . .

Please Sir-I know you are very busy-but please take time to digest what I have sent you. I repeat I and many of my mates have never thought that Australia owed us a living but No one ever told us we would have to subsidise our war caused medical costs for wounds and diseases experience whilst serving our country.

. . . please let me address the sitting. I am not a stirer, I am not political. ALL I ask is to please let me . . . adress Parliament and . . . explain what is being done to US who really served our country.

I am prepared to go to Canberra at my own cost.

. . . .

I can produce a lot of documentary evidence. I am. now 61. I have little time left. You politicians really do not know, are not aware of the grave injustices. Please let me speak.

Fairly obviously, it would not be possible for that ex-soldier to address the Senate but he has provided me with a list of questions that he would like put and I would like to put them now. I do not expected the Minister at the Table, the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) to answer them, but I believe they are the types of questions that one meets time and again from veterans around the country. While both the previous Government and the present Government try very hard at the legislative level and often at the administrative level to meet many of the complaints, the fact that these complaints still come, and seem to come in increasing numbers, leads me to be more and more concerned about the administration of the Repatriation Act of this country and its operation at various levels. Why is that so? Why do so many people still suffer from obvious injustices?

I would seek the indulgence of the Senate to read the list of questions on behalf of this person who obviously cannot speak before the Senate. Why has Repat refused claims allegedly on grounds of lack of medical evidence when in fact that evidence is in the medical files of the armed services? Why have the politicians reduced the drug entitlements of returned soldiers? How come the insurance companies are allowed to load the premiums on diggers who contracted tropical diseases during the war? How come the Army failed to include all medical history in the records of the ex-digger, making it impossible to prove what diseases, illnesses or wounds he has suffered? Why does it take up to eight months for a digger to get an appointment with a specialist? Why has the Government never carried out a survey of life expectancy based on abnormal stresses, wounds and diseases of ex-diggers? The insurance companies have and so penalise returned servicemen accordingly by loading premiums. How come Repat can refuse to accept a disability for up to seven years, and in one case 30 years, and then, when it does accept them, not backdate although the ex-soldier has been carrying the burden of related medical and doctors' expenses all that time? Politicians, workers and even reporters-or their estates-get lump sum settlements both in and out of court under common law or workers compensation. Why not the soldier? How come Repat can divulge a personal medical history to an ex-digger's firm and so endanger his employment? Why does an ex-soldier have to exhaust his sick leave entitlement with his firm, because of war caused disabilities, and then have to use up his annual leave? What right has Repat to ask employment and wage details of a recipient of a disability pension? Does this mean, for example, that if there are two ex-servicemen, each of whom has lost one hand, the one with double the salary of the other gets less disability pension?

Very obviously, some of those questions are relatively easy to answer but some are much more difficult. Some, in fact, are examples of injustices which have occurred time and again. I want to put that one person's request to me on the record not only because of what I have read out but also because he has included a copy of a diary that he kept during the war, from 1942 to two weeks after peace. The reason that the diary was kept for two weeks after peace was that at the end of the war this then young man had been behind enemy lines, often entirely alone and often working with people from various places. He was situated in Borneo for most of the war. When one reads the diary one is struck by the horror that that person went through. One entry in 1942 reads in such a way that one wonders how he could have maintained his sanity for another two or three years.

That person, who fulfilled his duty to the Australian nation, now has to write that letter in 1984. I believe that the fact he has had to do so is a blot on this nation. It is also a blot on this Parliament in terms of the type of overview that it has had of the administration of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, of the repatriation system. One wonders how we are eventually ever going to solve these problems. I and many other members of parliament receive similar letters time and again. Something must be done. These people who cry out for justice cannot be left. This person cannot be left alone at the age of 61, after all these years, to battle the repatriation system, to fight yet another war for what are just entitlements.