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Thursday, 13 September 1928

Sir NEVILLE HOWSE (CalareMinister in charge of Repatriation) . - The motion submitted by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) affirms that -

No claim for war pension can be rejected unless the Repatriation Department can show that the disability could not have been due to or aggravated by war service.

The honorable member pointed out, in a moderate speech, and with perfect clearness, that the rejection of claims for pensions is a matter that need not be considered now, because an appeal board has been promised. In practically the same breath he said that the appointment of an appeal board would not have the slightest effect on the matter raised by him, which is perfectly true. The whole speech of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), which dealt with the subject of the appointment of an appeal board, was entirely irrelevant to the present motion.

This subject has been discussed repeatedly in this chamber. Every country that has passed repatriation legislation has based it upon a definite principle. The principle underlying our Repatriation Act is that every ex-soldier shall have a claim for compensation for any disability caused by or aggravated by war service. - That is not what the motion submitted by the honorable member for Ballarat asks for. The adoption of his motion would mean that any ex-member of the Australian Imperial Force, man or woman, who may subsequent to discharge suffer from a disability, irrespective of whether it is due to an accident, injury, self-inflicted wound or other cause would be entitled to a war pension.

Mr MCGRATH - The Minister knows that that is not so.

Sir NEVILLE HOWSE -That is what the motion means; it may not be what the honorable member intends. The motion means that any ex-member of the force suffering from injury or disease due to any cause whatever shall be entitled to a pension. It would be ridiculous to consider the granting of pensions on those lines. All the trouble in connexion with repatriation claims has arisen because of the difficulty of determining the cause of the disability from which the claimantis suffering. On the whole subject of repatriation administration, I adhere exactly to what I said in May last. I much regret that I shall not be able to continue the practice I adopted when I took charge of repatriation of personally reviewing cases brought under my notice by honorable members or by others. The returns of the appeal board of New Zealand show that 20 or 25 per cent, of the appeals have been granted. But since I took over the repatriation administration in 1925 47.1 per cent, of the appeals lodged have been upheld. Therefore, it must be admitted that our exsoldiers have not been penalized by the system followed. I quite agree with the honorable member for Reid that the board appointed should be one constituted in a manner calculated to serve the best interests of the soldiers. The bona fides of the Government in this matter are shown by the fact that inquiries are being made from many other countries as to the operation of their appeal boards. The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League has been asked to ascertain from kindred associations in other parts of the world what difficulties, if any, have arisen with regard to appeal courts. This shows that the Government desires to have an appeal court that will act in the best interests of the men.

Mr Maxwell - The honorable member for Reid contends that, when a claimant has proved that he was a soldier, and gives prima facie evidence that he is suffering from a war disability, the onus of showing that his particular disability was not due to war service should be on the department.

Sir NEVILLE HOWSE - Suppose that the department is informed that the claimant is now suffering from, say, tuberculosis, it asks the medical authorities whether they cannot possibly connect his disability with his. war service. If there is any reasonable ground, however slight, for believing that the disability is connected with war service, the appellant receives the benefit of the doubt.

Mr McGrath - That is not the judges' statement.

Sir NEVILLE HOWSE - I am not concerned with that now. I am dealing with the facts. We must have regard to the underlying principle of our Repatriation Act, which is, as I have said, that the disability on account of which a pension is claimed must be proved to be in some way connected with war service. The number of successful appeals in Australia is greater than in any other country; that in itself is evidence that the desire of the department is to connect the ex-soldier's disability with his war service.

Mr Maxwell - On whom lies the onus of proving that the tuberculosis in the suppositious case mentioned by the Minister is the result of war service?

Sir NEVILLE HOWSE - The facts of service and of the presence of the disease being admitted, it has to be determined on medical evidence whether any connexion can be found between the service and the disability. If that can be done, the claimant receives all the benefits provided under the Repatriation Act.

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