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Wednesday, 28 April 1915

Mr JENSEN (Bass) (Assistant Minister of Defence) . - I am sorry that the honorable member has brought up this subject in the House, because I do not know that it will have a tendency to improve matters.

Mr Mathews - Now, do not say that because I did that, the Department will get stubborn, and will not give the matter consideration.

Mr JENSEN - I am not suggesting that. We all have sufficient confidence in the Minister of Defence, Senator Pearce, to know that he will do everything possible to maintain the good name of the Australian troops.

Mr Mathews - Now, do not ask me to say anything nasty about the Department.

Mr JENSEN - If the honorable member suggests that the Government will do nothing because he has brought the matter up, it is useless for me to attempt to give him any assurance.

Mr Poynton - My experience is that it is very hard indeed to get satisfaction from the Department, and I know others have had the same experience. It has been very hard for me to get pay for the wives of men who have been sent away.

Mr JENSEN - The honorable member must not overlook the fact that there are thousands and thousands of cases to be dealt with.

Mr Poynton - But why add insult to injury, as has been done in some cases?

Mr JENSEN - I can assure the honorable member that the Defence Departmenthas done everything possible in order to comply with the request of the women of Australia who are in such a position because their husbands have gone to the front. In many cases, the difficulties have been due to the fact that the men signed on as single men, and thus left their wives and children unprotected. Those cases, however, are being inquired into.

Mr Mathews - Will you inquire into these cases'!

Mr JENSEN - Does the honorable member suggest that the Department has no feeling for these men ? There is no foundation whatever for such a statement as that.

Mr Poynton - There seems to be very little feeling. We want a Cromwell amongst the departmental officials to clear them out, root and branch.

Mr JENSEN - In his statement, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports said that several venereal cases were among those who were invalided from Egypt.

Mr Joseph Cook - I think he said four cases.

Mr JENSEN - No; he said that four had complained that they were classed as venereal cases, but did not have the disease at all, while others were medical cases unfit to go to the front.

Mr Mathews - But why are they discharged here when they cannot earn their living ?

Mr JENSEN - If the honorable member will only have a little patience he will understand the position better. My reply to his interjection is that the Department is inquiring into their cases, and that those who have been returned through no fault of their own, but merely because they were medically unfit, will come under the War Pensions Act. The honorable member will see, therefore, that we are making provision for them.

Mr Mathews - Let us hope so; but they have had no information of that kind, at any rate.

Mr JENSEN - If the honorable member had asked the Minister of Defence, that information would have been given to him.

Mr Mathews - Now do not makeme say anything nasty about the Department. Do not tell me that, because it is not true.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! Order!

Mr Mathews - The Minister of Defence had never yet redressed any wrong.

Mr JENSEN - I want to say further that those men returned as venereal cases will not get a pension even when they are discharged.

Mr Mathews - I am not asking for that.

Mr JENSEN - The honorable member says that men returned as unfit have been discharged, and thrown on the world as if the Department did not care for them, but I have shown we have made provision for such cases.

Mr Mathews - The men have not been told that, then. They are puzzled, and get no information.

Mr JENSEN - All the venereal cases returned from Egypt are sent out to Langwarrin. The pay of those men has been stopped already; but they are being treated, and will not be allowed to go until they are fit to associate with the general community again.

Mr Mathews - What I am complaining about is that some men were sent there, and theydid not have the disease at all.

Mr JENSEN - If there are such cases they will be fully inquired into, and I will see that justice is done to the men. The medically unfit cases are sent to the Police Hospital on the St. Kilda-road, and their pay will continue until they are discharged. It has not been stopped on their arrival in Australia at all.

Mr Mathews - You have already discharged some men who are medically unfit.

Mr JENSEN - Their case will be inquired into with regard to the pension.

Mr Mathews - But what method have they of bringing that matter before the Department?

Mr JENSEN - All that is required of them is that they make application to the War Pensions Board, and their case will be considered at once.

Mr Mathews - They will do that.

Mr JENSEN - The convalescent cases returned to Australia are sent to Osborne House, Geelong, and those men will be paid until they are discharged. If upon their discharge they are able to go into the world and earn their own living, of course they will not get the pension. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports has complained of the lack of information obtainable from the Defence Department about these men, and I want to say straight away that it is almost impossible to get communications through to the Defence Department by the same boat en which the soldiers return from Egypt to Australia. It takes a few days before the correspondence comes along, and yet the honorable member condemns the Defence Department because the information about the men is not at hand. The honorable member has been informed by the Department that as soon as the correspondence comes along, these soldiers will be notified, and if there is anything owing to them they will be duly paid.

Mr Anstey - Have they the records? How do they know what is to come to the men?

Mr JENSEN - The records will be forthcoming in every instance. If the honorable member for Melbourne Ports will think a little-

Mr Mathews - You have to think blooming hard for the Department.

Mr JENSEN - I am putting our side of the case to the honorable member, and I think it is a reasonable attitude for the Department to take up. We cannot decide any case which is invalided back here until we have the correspondence dealing with it. I have heard of warehousemen who have had goods landed in Australia for two or three weeks, though they had not received the invoices to enable them to get the goods out of bond. Is the honorable member condemning that system ?

Mr Mathews - Yes; it is bad business.

Mr JENSEN - It is the same thing with the Department. The honorable member complained about four men who are supposed to have had venereal disease, but who say that they never had it. If he will give me their names, I will have the men submitted to examination by the best medical authorities in Melbourne.

Mr Mathews - They have already given one of the men a clean certificate.

Mr JENSEN - If it can be proved that the men were not subjects of venereal disease, I am sure that the Defence Department will be the first to recognise the fact, and treat the men fairly. But as against that, it should be remembered that we are sending very many medical men to the front. They have all passed examination and received diplomas; and are honorable members to get up here and admit that the men we have sent to the front as medical men are not qualified to diagnose a case? If I adopted the view of my honorable friend, I should have to admit that we have sent away medical men who are unfit for the positions they hold. Am I going to admit that?

Mr Mathews - When other medical men differ from their diagnosis, what then ?

Mr JENSEN - Until I am assured that our medical men are wrong, I am not going to admit that these four cases have been diagnosed improperly.

Mr Mathews - That is fair: I will give the names to you. I have given one already.

Mr JENSEN - The honorable member quoted a letter he had received from the Defence Department. The very fact that the Secretary to the Department has supplied the honorable member with certain information goes to show that we are not attempting to hide anything.

Mr Mathews - You charged the men with being disorderly, and the officers say that they are not.

Mr JENSEN - That letter says that the captain reported the men, and if ho reported them, it was our duty to inform the honorable member if he had asked for information.

Mr Mathews - The captain previously complimented the whole of them.

Mr JENSEN - There is another aspect of the case. We have sent Australian soldiers to the front. Thousands of them have been in Egypt for some months, and under severe training. The honorable member has complained that, in some instances, men have been worked too hard.

Mr Mathews - Overworked and underfed.

Mr JENSEN - We have a high officer in command there, General Bridges, who is doing everything possible for the men. The news we get fromthat gentleman as regards the way in which everything is being carried out is encouraging to the Department.

Mr Mathews - The officers are all right.

Mr JENSEN - I would remind the honorable member that there is also in Egypt an Imperial officer to look into everything with a view to Imperial action.

Mr Mathews - All right. I. have been in a military camp, but the honorable member has not.

Mr JENSEN - The Imperial officer is General Birdwood.

Mr Mathews - No officers die of pneumonia; not one.

Mr JENSEN - The honorable member has brought up the question of pneumonia. The treatment which the cases of pneumonia at Broadmeadows - and there have been many cases - have received from the medical gentlemen shows a less percentage of deaths than has occurred outside of the camp from that disease.

Mr Mathews - As they are the most physically fit men in Australia the percentage of deaths ought to be less.

Mr JENSEN - Which goes to show that the treatment of the cases by the medical gentlemen has been satisfactory.

Mr Mathews - We have the cream of Australia in the camp.

Mr JENSEN - What has the honorable member to growl about? If I tell him, as I do, that the percentage of deaths under military treatment is less than the percentage of deaths outside of the camp, what can he charge the Defence Department with?

Mr Mathews - The percentage of deaths outside ought to be more, seeing that we have the cream of physical fitness at the camp.

Mr JENSEN - If that is what the honorable member admits, I almost feel that I might resume my seat, as there is nothing further for me to answer.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member's time has expired.

Mr Groom - Let the Minister continue.

Mr JENSEN - I do not desire an extension of my time.

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