Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 10 May 1928

Mr R GREEN (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I much regret that an attempt has been made to make this a party question, although I altogether absolve the mover of the motion, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) from such a charge. In discussing the matter with that honorable member some time ago I intimated to him that I did not think the appointment of a select committee was necessary.

The motion asks that an inquiry should be made into the advisableness of appointing an appeal board. At the last congress of the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia a motion was carried almost without discussion in favour of the principle of an appeal board.' It was thought that as the principle operated satisfactorily in other spheres, it should be just as satisfactory in respectto repatriation. The proposal went on automatically to the Federal Congress of the league which was held in Brisbane, and ,was unanimously endorsed. Consequently the claim of the honorable member for Reid that the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia is favorable to the appointment of an appeal board, is perfectly true. The principle is in operation in two of our sister dominions, and also in Great Britain, and it works well. There are slight differences between the constitutions of the boards in the various parts of the Empire, but the point is that they are independent. The powers of the

Canadian board of appeal are limited. The War Veterans' Association in that dominion is endeavouring to have the powers of the board increased, as at present it has authority to determine only the entitlement of an ex-soldier to a pension, and cannot deal with the assessment of a pension. In New Zealand one board deals- with the entitlement and assessment of pensions, but in the United Kingdom separate boards control these two branches of the work. No definite proposals have been made by the mover of the motion in this regard. He suggests that a select committee should be appointed to investigate the whole matter of soldiers' pensions and report to the Government. The recommendations of the royal commission to which reference has been made, state in paragraph 15 -

Your commissioners are of. the opinion that the Repatriation Department is greatly handi-capped by the inadequacy of the records as to the exact state of health of the soldiers on discharge from service.

Recently the State branch in New South Wales requested the British Medical Association to "ask its members to keep a complete record of any returned soldier patients who consulted them, as many exservice men's appeals had been refused because they were unable to produce definite evidence of the state of their health since they were discharged.. Exsoldiers have visited medical men, who, on being questioned, have stated that, as no- charge had been made for professional service, no record had been kept of the case. In these circumstances the exsoldiers have been prejudiced, as they have been unable to. support their case by medical opinion. During the last Parliament the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Hurry), the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) and myself were appointed a special sub-committee to deal with cases submitted to us by the Minister. That committee met every week and considered numerous cases requiring consideration. The other members of that committee will support me when I say that in 90 per cent, of the cases a final decision depended upon the medical reports, and as we were all laymen, we had to rely upon the medical opinion contained in the documents. We had not an opportunity to examine the applicants, although it would have been desirable to do so. Because of the futi- lity of carrying on in that way, and as a result of our "recommendations, a royal commission was appointed to report upon the matter first mentioned by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman). The whole subject was, I think, investigated more effectively than it could be by a select committee.

The Minister (Sir Neville Howse) said that be believed that even if the motion were carried and a committee were appointed, returned soldiers would not benefit. If he was referring to the principle of appeal boards, I disagree with him, because boards of appeal have been of considerable benefit to returned soldiers both in Canada and New Zealand. I have not seen the circular letter from the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia; but I have before me a report issued to the State councillors of New South Wales, of which I have the honour to be one, prior to the last council meeting, when pensions and other matters were fully considered. In other countries appeal boards are operating with great advantage to rer turned men, but I do not know whether that is due to the fact that their legisla- tion is more liberal than ours. Possibly it is not so rigid. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) referred, to appeal boards dealing simply, with an interpretation of the act, which is the crux of the whole matter. Our act requires amending; but I do not know whether that can be done during- the present Parliament. If an appeal board were appointed, some injustices, such as the Minister mentioned, may possibly result; but I cannot agree with his contention that the carrying of the motion will be detrimental to ex-service mcn. I admit that there would be much more dissatisfaction if the department were not under the control of a person possessing the qualifications and experience of the present Minister. The Minister's medical knowledge is of invaluable assistance to him in determining the claims of disabled soldiers. He has received many encomiums from both sides of the House for the manner in which he has been able, by his own interpretation of the act, to stretch its provisions, and to-day as a result the returned soldier is possibly in a better position than he would be under an appeal board. Notwithstanding that, I still contend that such a board must eventually be appointed, and the act amended so that the decisions of the board shall not be restricted in any way by legislation. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) pointed out that when he was the Minister for Repatriation he came up against the rigidity of the act on several occasions, and he paid a subtle compliment to the Minister on his ability to overcome the objections of the Repatriation Commission by applying his own interpretation to the provisions of the act.

Underlying' the amendment moved by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) is the suggestion that, when the act is. not being administered as it is at present, because of the reshuffling of portfolios or a change of Government, an appeal board shall be appointed,, and with that suggestion I heartily agree. I deliberately refrained from rising earlier in this debate until we had the definite assurance of the Treasurer,, on- behalf of the Government, that if the present administration changed in any way some other form of control of war pensions would be instituted, preferably an independent appeal board -to safeguard the rights of exservice men. In view of that assurance I am inclined to support the amendment, although at first it did not meet with my approval. I have disagreed with the Minister in charge of Repatriation on many occasions, and I still differ from him on several points. I recently had occasion, on the motion to adjourn the House, to bring a certain case under his notice; but taken, all round the Minister's administration of the Repatriation Department has been practically all that could be desired. We cannot' expect him to see eye to eye with us on every point. I give him credit for having his own point of view, and although disagreements have ocurred in the past and will occur in the future, I really believe that he is doing his best for the returned men. For that reason I think that the appointment of an appeal board should be postponed until such time as an alteration in the administration makes its establishment essential.

Suggest corrections