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Thursday, 28 November 1985
Page: 2459

Senator MACKLIN(12.30) —I move:

(10) That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendment:

Sub-clause 35 (1), definition of `allied veteran', leave out `, before 1 September 1957,'.

I wonder whether with your concurrence, Mr Temporary Chairman, I might range over matters concerning clause 35 and clause 81, both of which deal with allied veterans. Obviously we will vote at different times on these clauses, but I would like now to be able to refer to clause 81 as well.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Jessop) —There being no objection, that course may be followed.

Senator MACKLIN —Under the repatriation legislation currently in force, the conditions for eligibility for allied veterans who fought in conflicts in which Australia was involved are quite clear. I believe that no good reasons have been given for these to be changed. Inclusion of `before 1 September 1957' in a definition of allied veterans removes service pension rights from Allies whose service was post-Korean war. Of course we are talking mainly about veterans who are American, Korean, Thai or Vietnamese. That is the major group of people involved. No logical reason seems to have been given for discriminating against one particular group of allied veterans-that is, veterans who fought in the Vietnam war. Various reasons have been given in the community for this exclusion. One reason is cost, and I must admit that that is difficult to estimate. We have been given a figure of between 3,000 and 4,000 veterans. However, as Senator Lewis mentioned in his speech in the second reading debate, we are anxious to see how those calculations have been made.

Another reason given is that it is too difficult to find out who they are. I am not sure how that meshes with the first point because if we know that there are 3,000 or 4,000 veterans, presumably we know who they are. If we take it on its own merits, it would be tested by the normal civil standard of proof procedure under the veterans' entitlements legislation. A person would simply have to bring forward the proof required to be acceptable to the determining authorities. We have already established within the Veterans' Entitlements Bill mechanisms by which that will occur. There does not seem to me to be any particular difficulty involved with that exercise. If people are unable to produce sufficient proof they will not be accepted. Having spoken to a number of these veterans, they do have quite good documented proof that certainly convinces me that they were serving members of the South Vietnamese forces. I am not sure how this provision is meant to operate.

Another reason circulated simply involves racial discrimination, in that if all these veterans happened to be whites from America, Britain, France or Germany this problem would not occur. I do not suggest that that is a reason, and knowing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs I know that it certainly would not be, but that reason has been circulated in discussions. Given the context of the debate that floated around Australia about 1 1/2 years ago, it is understand- able how it has gained some credence in the community. I am quite sure-I know that Senator Lewis will agree and that the Minister will affirm my view-that no decisions made in relation to this clause will be based on any racial discrimination element whatsoever. It is useful for us to emphasise that, because it is extremely important that all parties stand together on this issue. This chamber must never be a party to making any decision, on any piece of legislation, based on such motives. I now put that matter aside, but I did want to mention it because it has been raised with me. I believe that it should be aired and it should be settled once and for all that that could never be a reason for any party in this place acting in a particular way on any piece of legislation.

The other matter I wish to raise-this is why I sought to range over clause 81 as well-is that I am concerned that we are setting up two groups of people in this country. We have people who have come here from overseas, who have stayed here to become citizens, and who previously fought with Australian soldiers. If they were French or German-we did have Germans fighting with us during the Second World War, not many people know that; I had the honour of meeting a few of them recently when I was in the German Democratic Republic-or anyone else who fought with us in any of those wars, up to and including the Korean War, and they are now Australian citizens, we are dealing with them under the legislation, except for some exclusions in terms of medical costs under clause 81. I will refer to that in more detail when we deal with that clause. But another group of Australian citizens who fought with Australian troops in a war, in Vietnam, will not be accepted. There are two groups of people. Why are we distinguishing between them? If there is a valid reason to take the first group, whatever that reason is it must apply to the second group. If not we are merely making an arbitrary distinction between two groups of Australian citizens, which I consider to be at variance with the spirit of our Constitution, under which all citizens, if they have equal basis for claim, are treated equally.

So we are going to have a group of people who came from South Vietnam and who are Australian citizens being treated differently from the way in which other people-for example, people from Britain who fought with Australians and who are now Australian citizens-are being treated. I abhor that situation. I do not think it is fair. It is not acceptable in Australia that we should make that arbitrary distinction between two groups of Australian citizens.