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
Wednesday, 12 October 1949

Mr BARNARD (Bass) (Minister for Repatriation) . - I congratulate the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) on the temperate way in which he stated his case. Such behaviour is most unusual for him. On this occasion, he tiptoed through the tulips because he knew very well that there would be little justification for his remarks if he were carrying the responsibility that now rests upon me as Minister. He kept very carefully away from one aspect of repatriation that has been Qf special interest to him in recent years. He mentioned it in only a casual way, because he does not wish to have much to say about it. seeing that the election is so close. I refer to the question of the onus of proof in cases that come up for hearing before the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. I remind the honorable member for Wentworth that he was one of those who voted against the proposal to place the onus of proof on the Repatriation Commission, the 'State repatriation boards, and on the entitlement tribunal, tie poses as the champion of exservicemen, but when the Labour party, which was then in opposition, wished to place the onus of proof upon the various bodies that deal with applications for war pensions, he voted against the proposal.

Mr Harrison - And we subsequently put that provision in the act.

Mr BARNARD - Yes, but with what reluctance! The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) was one of those who voted for the proposal, 'but the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) voted with the honorable member for Wentworth against it. I can read the division list to the honorable member if he wants me to. The Labour Government has put the amending provision into operation with great pleasure, so that hundreds of men, who had been denied pensions when the honorable member for Wentworth was Minister for Repatriation, have received them since I have been Minister. However, I do not propose to pursue that point further, nor to place on record once more the relevant division list. That was done as recently as June last. The honorable member for Wentworth put his case very temperately, but some of his statements need to be appropriately replied to. First, he said that the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act should be completely overhauled, and that it had not been overhauled since its introduction by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). The honorable member knows that that is untrue, because an almost completely new act was introduced by my predecessor, Mr. Frost, who then represented Franklin.

Mr Harrison - Practically no alterations were made.

Mr BARNARD - It was almost a completely new act.


Mr BARNARD - If the honorable member reads it, he will find it almost a completely new act. Between- 1920 and 1943, so many anomalies came to light that it was decided to redraft the legislation in order to remove them. All the amendments of the principal act were consolidated as recently as 1943. So the honorable member draws a very long bow when he talks about the need for a complete overhaul of the act. I remind him that the amendments that were made in the 1943 act were based on the report and recommendations of a committee composed of returned soldiers from all sections of the Parliament. The committee was presided over by my honorable friend, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard). The new legislation provided for an increase of pensions by 20 per cent. The honorable member went on to talk about a 33-point plan. Actually, the plan presented to the Prime Minister (Mr Chifley) and myself is a 36-point plan. A good deal of time has been spent on examining the document. I presume that the honorable gentleman wanted to reduce it to a 33-point plan, because several of the requests made in it were adopted and passed into law about 12 months ago. I do not propose to take up the time of the committee in enumerating them, but half a dozen sections of the plan have already been given legislative force in compliance with a request made by ex-service organizations at least a year ago. So much for the plan. We are still examining other proposals which it contains. We hope to be able to reach a decision on some of the other requests contained in it as soon as the Cabinet, is able to have a look at it. The honorable gentleman went on to say that returned soldiers' pensions had been kept static. For the benefit of honorable members, I am getting out a document that gives a complete picture of pensions.

Mr Anthony - Will it have the Minister's photograph on it?

Mr BARNARD - No, I am not so proud of my photograph as all that.

There may be photographs of some repatriation institutions that we are proud of. Between 1914 and 1916, when soldiers were paid 6s. a day, the rate of pension was £2 a week. It was not until the 6th May, 1943, that the rate was increased to £2 10s. The honorable member criticizes the Government for not having done anything for ex-servicemen. In effect, he has said that since 1939 we have not done this or ought to have done that. But he ignores the fact that, between 1914 and 1943, the pension of returned soldiers was not increased. I could quote the figures to show the increase granted by this Government. A good deal has been said about the 100 per cent, pension, that is the pension paid to an ex-serviceman whose disability is assessed at 100 per cent, incapacity. Whereas he formerly received a pension of £2, he now receives £2 15s. a week, and he can earn whatever pay he is able to earn. In other words, there is no means test.

Mr Harrison - Surely a person in receipt of a 100 per cent, pension could not earn anything.

Mr BARNARD - The 100 per cent, man should not be confused with the ex-serviceman who receives a special pension.

Mr Thompson - The " T.P.I. "? .

Mr BARNARD - Yes, and the " T.T.I.". The totally and permanently incapacitated and totally temporarily incapacitated men are in an entirely different category from the 100 per cent, men. The man on the 100 per cent, pension may earn whatever he is physically or mentally capable of earning without interference to his pension. He is not subjected to the means test. The honorable member for Wentworth makes the astounding claim that ex-servicemen who work in industry, and have had the benefit of increases of the basic wage, should have their pensions fixed at a higher rate to accord with the increase of the cost of living. The pension has no relation whatever to the basic wage. Ex-service organizations - at least, the Returned Sailors. Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, which is the parent organization and which has looked after the welfare of ex-servicemen ever since World

War I. - have always argued against the adjustment of pensions on a sliding scale in accordance with rises or falls of the basic wage.

Mr Hughes - Explain why!

Mr BARNARD - The reason is that they do not desire the basic wage and the pension to be related as far as increases or decreases of the cost of living are concerned. They are prepared to rely on the generosity or lack of generosity of the Government in determining the rate of the pension. We have never applied falls or rises of the cost of living to any ex-service pensioner, from the " 100 per cent-er" to the "10 per cent-er". The increase of the pension was decided on by the Government, that is the Labour Government, because no other government gave an increase at all. NonLabour governments applied the means test to war widows. Until 1943, a widow who had a little property and let a couple of rooms to supplement her pension by a small amount, received the handsome pension of £1 3s. 6d. a week. The means test was always applied to widows until Labour came to the treasury bench in 1941.

Mr Thompson - The Minister is talking about the widows of soldiers?

Mr BARNARD - Yes. Ordinary widows did not receive a pension at all until we took office. We entirely removed the means test from war widows. No means test is applied to the 100 per cent, pensioner who, without suffering a reduction of his pension, may earn whatever his physical or mental condition allows him to earn. In earning that money, he reaps the benefit of increases of the basic wage in accordance with the increase of the cost of living.

Mr White - The means test is still applied to the parents of deceased soldiers.

Mr BARNARD - I shall come to that in a moment. It seems fallacious that the pension should be increased because the basic wage has been increased.

Mr Harrison - Why did the Government not maintain the pension that operated in 1939?

Mr BARNARD - The honorable gentleman should ask himself that question. Why did his Government not. apply it?


Mr BARNARD - Returned soldiers did not receive an increase of their pension until we gave it to them.

Mr White - They were better off in 1934.

Mr BARNARD - A lot of people say, " Take us back to the good old days ", but I notice that every one has more money in his pocket to-day than he had then.

Mr White - The golden age?

Mr BARNARD - We have got nearer the golden age.

Mr Hughes - The pension is like a wage; it is worth only what it will purchase.

Mr BARNARD - It is a pity that honorable members opposite cannot make up their minds. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) argues along one line and the honorable member for Wentworth along another line.

Mr Harrison - We are arguing along the same line.

Mr BARNARD - The arguments run counter to each other. The honorable member for Wentworth said that the pension should be regarded as compensation.

Mr Harrison - That is right.

Mr BARNARD - The honorable member agrees. The right honorable member for North Sydney said that the pension should increase according to the basic wage.

Mr Harrison - He did not.

Mr BARNARD - Honorable gentlemen opposite have never been able to make uo their minds to agree on anything.

Mr Harrison - Can the Minister not understand that we use the basic wage as an illustration?

Mr BARNARD - The honorable member for Wentworth describes the pension as compensation for services rendered. He talked about pensions being revised periodically. Pension rates were revised in 1943 and they have been revised at least twice since I have been Minister. Increases of pensions during my term of office have meant that an additional amount of £2,000,000 is now circulating among ex-servicemen.

Mr White -. - The increases have been offset by the increase of the cost of living.

Mr BARNARD - That applies to everybody. Surely the honorable member would not argue that a man who is in receipt of the basic wage and who receives a 100 per cent, war pension, should have it both ways. As far as special rate pensioners are concerned I agree that there is some validity in the argument that a man who is in receipt of a pension of £5 6s. a week for himself and £1 4s. a week for his wife, and who has to pay rent, must be having a struggle to live.

Mr White - Age pensioners can earn more.

Mr BARNARD - I agree with that. Some of these special rate pensioners earn some proportion of the basic wage, but what about the man who gets £3 or £4 a week from a superannuation fund? That amount is not taken into account because it is not produced by personal exertion. What about the man who is a director of a firm and who has an income that is not produced by personal exertion? We cannot measure all cases by the same yardstick. If a concession is given to one person it must be given all down the line.

Mr Harrison - The Minister insists upon calling it a pension. It is really a. compensation.

Mr BARNARD - It is described in the relevant act as a pension. Everybody refers to it as a pension and it has been referred to by that name right down through the years. The honorable member has raised an objection to the term used only because he wants to be critical about this whole subject. It is not of much use for the honorable member to shake his head about it, because that will not alter the position. The honorable gentleman referred to the special case of a tuberculous ex-serviceman. I deal with special cases every day. Special cases are always with us. The yardstick used in respect of other cases is not suitable for tubercular cases. Only recently the president of the Tubercular Sailors and Soldiers Association came to me and offered me his congratulations upon what the Government had done in the readjustment of pension rates for tuberculous ex-servicemen. The honorable gentleman mentioned a case of a man who married after a certain date, but he anticipated my answer because that was a matter that was decided long before a Labour government came into office. When returned servicemen's organizations made a recommendation to this Government regarding what they considered should be provided in the new act of 1943 they did not recommend the abolition of that particular section. They recommended that the maximum period in respect of soldiers from World War I. should be twenty years and that for soldiers of World War II. it should be fifteen years. That recommendation was made by returned soldiers, some of whom are still members of this Parliament. The Government accepted the recommendation and that provision remains in the act.

Let us return for a moment to the question of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. It is true that a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman with no children must be finding it hard to live on his rate of pension. But that is not all we do for him. We have a very excellent system of education for the children of such people. As soon as a child living at home starts to go to school he is enabled to get tram fares, books and so on until he reaches the age of thirteen years. The rate of educational allowance paid in respect of a child was formerly 6s. a week, but it has been increased by this Government to 9s. a week for children between the ages of thirteen and fourteen. We also provide school books and sporting requisites for such children. The educational allowance in respect of children between the ages of fourteen and sixteen is 12s. a week and at sixteen years of age, when the pension ceases to be payable, educational assistance goes up to 33s. a week if the child is living at home, and 50s. a week if living away from home. While children are at school we pay for books and provide sporting requisites. We even make an allowance to them if they go to a university. The allowance for a boy learning a trade is 45s. a week in his first year of appren ticeship, and for a girl it is 40s. a week. If the young people are living, away from home the rates are 60s. and 55s. respectively. The pension rate is not a maximum rate but it is a minimum rate, in effect, because of additional benefits available. The Government regards itself as not being ungenerous .to ex-servicemen. I agree that some sections of ex-servicemen have some difficulty in making ends meet, but I hope that a little later on we shall be able to review the matter and make some provision for those who find themselves in great difficulty because of rising prices. As far as the 36-poi.nt plan of the Returned Servicemen's League is concerned I hope that we shall be able to do something more about that matter in the very near future. The Government has a record of achievement of service to ex-servicemen since it has been in office of which it can be justly proud.

Mr White - Members of the Government would be the only ones who would be proud of it.

Mr BARNARD - The honorable gentleman may say that, but returned servicemen, especially those who have had some responsibility as officials of ex-servicemen's organizations, would tell the honorable member that they approve of what the Government has done for them in removing anomalies in the act and in providing more generous pensions, allowances, educational benefits and medical attention. I think that in many cases ex-servicemen recognize that while they may desire to have more, the Government has not been ungenerous to them.

Last week we heard some criticism of repatriation hospitals and of the Heidelberg Military Hospital in particular. Some general reference was made to repatriation hospitals by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett). The honorable gentleman is usually fairly generous in his comments on those matters. If he desires to level criticisms at repatriation hospitals I consider that he should cite specific instances. Almost daily I receive letters of commendation, not only from people high up in the social world who visit repatriation hospitals, but also from people lower down in the social scale. They commend the Government for the services rendered by the staffs of repatriation hospitals. I confess that in a big institution where there are perhaps 1,600 patients and a very big staff, there may be from time to time some matters that require tightening up. If such cases were brought to the notice of the department it would have an opportunity to deal with them. I say in conclusion that as far as repatriation hospitals are concerned the Government has real grounds for pride, and so have the returned soldiers.

Suggest corrections