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Thursday, 11 September 1958

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I wish to refer to the provision for repatriation services and the attitude of the Repatriation Commission towards those who, in their own opinion and the opinion of the medical profession, are entitled to repatriation benefits. I refer particularly to veterans of World War I. I do that because I believe that when the estimates come before the committee each year in relation to repatriation, there appears to be considerable disagreement even among honorable members as to the manner in which section 47 of the Repatriation Act is being interpreted and applied. In recent months, it has come to my notice that there is a tendency on the part of those who administer this section of the act to disregard completely medical reports which are in favour of applicants, particularly those who served in World War I. Two outstanding cases were brought to my notice recently. In those cases,, experts in the medical profession have given opinions which evidently support the claims of the applicants for relief. In point of fact, these cases go beyond the requirements of section 47.

Honorable members opposite who scoff at my views are either not in close contact with cases of disability suffered by World War I. veterans or they are not cognizant of the views of the medical officers and those who administer section 47 of the Repatriation Act. If honorable members want clear cases, I shall give them a classical example of the details that are required by those who are administering the act.

During the parliamentary recess, I had brought to my notice the case of a man who served in World War I. He enlisted in 1916 at the age of 21 years. In 1917, this man suffered gunshot wounds in the abdomen and chest and severe injuries to his right arm. After receiving treatment in England, he returned to France and was wounded again on 4th April, 1918. Again he was treated in hospital in England before returning to Australia. He arrived in Australia on 28th November, 1919. In March, 1920, a mastoid developed in his right ear. It was then found that a piece of shrapnel had entered his head when he was wounded in 1917 and was responsible for the development of the mastoid. This man was then in his early twenties, and he was granted a pension of 10 per cent, until 1922. In 1922, when he was 27 years of age, he again received medical treatment. I have seen his medical reports because I was privileged to act as his advocate. It was duly shown that he was suffering from deafness on the right side in 1922 when his pension was taken from him. He was discharged at that time without further eligibility for a war pension because it was anticipated that in six months' time his condition would have materially improved. But from then onwards, this man was not free of trouble with his right ear. His medical history shows that it had to be treated continuously to remove moisture and wax which appeared on the right side of his head. He received treatment in 1930 and in 1935, and the relevant medical reports show that the disability was related to his war service. However, he did not again apply to the Repatriation Commission for assistance until 1944, when he made a written application for the restoration of his war pension, but both the Repatriation Board and the tribunal decided that his then failing health was not attributable to his war injury.

The aspect of this matter that particularly attracted my attention was the fact that the repatriation authorities took the view that as they had not heard from the applicant from 1922 till 1944 - and presumably he was all right during that long period of 22 years - it was unlikely that his then condition had resulted from his war-caused disability. From 1944 till 1953 his case was continuously before the Repatriation Commission. As early as 6th May, 1944, a medical report confirmed the applicant's long-standing head trouble and it confirmed, also, that he had received treatment to his ear during the early 'thirties. The doctor who furnished that report stated that the mastoid trouble was related to the man's early military history.

This man's health deteriorated further and ultimately, on the recommendation of Dr. Nowland, a highly qualified medical practitioner in Sydney, he was admitted to Broughton Hall, presumably for the purpose of having the cause of his general breakdown in health established. It is well known that once a person is admitted to Broughton Hall on a doctor's recommendation, a very broad examination is conducted into all aspects of his mental condition. But what shocked me - and I think that this practice should be stamped out by whoever is responsible for the administration of repatriation boards - was my discovery that the details of what occurred at Broughton Hall- were transferred from the Broughton Hall file into the Repatriation Department's file, where they reacted to the disadvantage of the applicant. I say quite frankly that it is a shocking state of affairs when verbatim extracts are made from the files of institutions such as Broughton Hall in relation to returned ex-servicemen, placed on repatriation files and used against the applicants by doctors who advise the repatriation authorities from then on. This is a scandalous practice that should not be tolerated in any free country, particularly Australia. After all, the medical profession does not recommend the admittance of a man to Broughton Hall unless it is thought that an examination may reveal a condition of mental illness. But when even minute details are transferred from a Broughton Hall file to the Repatriation Department's files for consideration when a decision isbeing made as to whether the department should accept liability, I say that that is wrong, and that the practice should bestamped out immediately.

What happened in this particular case? On three successive occasions, the file went before officers of the Repatriation Commission sitting back in cushy jobs in Melbourne. They decided, on the reports of the doctors who examined the man at Broughton Hall, that he was not entitled to receive repatriation benefits in respect of a disability attributable to service in the First World War. I repeat that this is a scandalous state of affairs that should not be tolerated in any free country.

This man went back to Broughton Hall on the third occasion in 1957. Leaving aside all the certificates that had been obtained in his favour, I was able to obtain the report of the Medical Superintendent at Broughton Hall, under whose control the patient had been for many months. The report reads -

It seems perfectly clear that, in fact, if he had not been at the war and not received injuries, that he would not have suffered these disabilities or felt the need to seek medical attention. The point I make is that there could be no reasonable doubt that these occurrences were, in fact, responsible for a good deal of emotional distress and worry.

This report of the Medical Superintendent at Broughton Hall Psychiatric Clinic in favour of the applicant went to the Repatriation Commission in Melbourne, but was rejected on the advice of doctors sitting back in their offices.

I put it to the Government that this case illustrates the need for an immediate investigation, and an alteration with respect to the application of section 47 of the act. No longer should we tolerate a situation such as I have described in which details are transferred from an institution's file to the repatriation files. The effect of section 47, as it stands, is that before rejecting his claim the repatriation authorities -must prove that the applicant is not suffering from disabilities arising out of anything that happened during his war service. I should like to pay a tribute to the tribunal which Anally set aside the decision of the Repatriation Commission and, after fourteen years, granted to this applicant what he was justly entitled to. But leaving aside this case, let us abolish the practice of transferring details from institution files to repatriation files where they may react to the disadvantage of applicants. If the claims of an applicant are to be rejected, let them be rejected on the merits of the case, not by some one who has never seen the applicant, on something written into the repatriation file from medical reports on an institution file. I put it to the committee as firmly as I can that when we were able to present, under section 47, a report from the man who had this applicant under his control on three occasions - on the last occasion for eight long months - that should have been sufficient. But no, again the matter had to go back to the tribunal. If ever there was a time when those who administer section 47 should be forced, in some way or other, to give effect to the provisions of that section, it is when they are considering applications from veterans of World War 1. I am on my feet at this stage particularly to speak on behalf of the men of the 1914-18 war. There is a tendency now to say that if they went from 1922 to 1944, for instance, without applying for some benefit, increasing age must have been responsible in some way for the deterioration of their health.

It is a standing disgrace to this Parliament and to the administration of the act that conditions such as 1 have mentioned should continue. Another case, which is even worse than this one, came to my notice last week. For heaven's sake, let us have a look at the whole situation and tell the persons administering the act that this Government intends that section 47 shall be applied and that in future applicants will not be treated in this way.

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