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Thursday, 11 September 1958

Mr McCOLM (Bowman) .- I wish to refer to statements that appeared in the Toowoomba " Chronicle " on Saturday, 6th September, and in some form in a number of other newspapers throughout the country. Those statements make particular reference to a decision by the Federal Council of the Ex-prisoners of War Association to appeal again to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) seeking a medical review of all prisoners of war. To my mind, the article that appeared in the Toowoomba " Chronicle " gave a definitely misleading impression. From the article it would appear that the Ex-P.O.W. Association was making a personal attack on the Minister for Repatriation for his failure to see that a report made to the Repatriation Commission in 1952 was published. At the outset, I should like to make it quite clear that the large membership of the E.x-P.O.W. Association - I have the honour to be the patron of the Queensland section - has the very highest personal regard for the Minister for Repatriation. I make that statement without qualification of any kind.

However, there has been some criticism of refusal to comply with continued requests for a further medical review of ex-prisoners of war. I have for some time made representations on behalf of the association, seeking this review. The association believes that such a review is necessary. We come in fairly close contact with numbers of men who were prisoners of war, and we know that many of them are sufferin? from defects that could well have been caused by their prisoner-of-war experiences. They will not of their own volition claim repatriation benefits. If they could ask for a medical check-up, knowing that they would be given any treatment that might be necessary, and nothing more, a number of them would be only too willing to do so, but they are not prepared to make the request when they know full well that if a physical defect is discovered and attributed to their war service, a pension will be paid. I think it is a splendid thing that in this day and age some people adopt that attitude.

There have been previous medical reviews of prisoners of war. By December, 1951, the Repatriation Commission had completed, to use its own words, " a survey of the greater proportion of the former members who had endured captivity I draw attention to the words " the greater proportion ". There has never been a complete medical survey of all ex-prisoners of war since the examination they had on their discharge from the services. Dealing with the survey made up to December, 1951, of a total of 14,305 men known to have been recovered from the Japanese, 10,223 were examined and the survey in respect of them completed. In 324 cases, the survey had been partially completed, and in 2,118 cases men had not availed themselves of the advantages of the survey. That is quite a significant figure in its way. 1 wonder what real effort was made to induce those men to be examined. lt was not possible to locate 1,640 men. The reason given was that some probably had left the country and others probably had died before the survey commenced. If any of those 1,640 men died before the survey in 1951, they did not die of old age. Their deaths would be accidental or attributable to their war service. If the department has no record of them, obviously their dependants are not receiving repatriation benefits. I think that inquiries should be made to find out the cause of death in some of those cases.

There is not the slightest doubt that a larger percentage of the ever-decreasing number of ex-prisoners of war is suffering from severe ailments, lt was noticeable that in the period of from ten to twelve years after the war there was an outbreak of spinal troubles, arising from the beatings that the men had been given while they were prisoners of the Japanese. It took from ten to twelve years, and in some cases slightly longer, for the condition to become evident. I know of a case in which an application for a pension was rejected by the board and subsequently by the commission, but which I hope is being reviewed by the commission at the present time. If was the case of a man who had suffered from malaria in three different forms, who had had cardiac beri-beri and who Ki'! suffered from severe malnutrition. The written evidence of doctors who attended him was that on a number of occasions they thought he would not live for more than a few hours. Not many months ago, he developed a heart condition. He had one medical examination by a man who was not a heart specialist, but just a general prac titioner. That examination lasted for only a quarter of an hour, and later his application was rejected. He was not examined by a heart specialist. Subsequently he obtained documentary evidence from three medical men very well known in both the medical and ex-prisoner of war world. Each of those men stated categorically that in his opinion the man's condition was due to his war service, particularly to the time he spent as a Japanese ex-prisoner of war. Yet, in the face of that evidence, the commission rejected his application and suggested that he should take his case to a tribunal. A case such as that causes doubts to rise in one's mind at times as to whether section 47 of the act is being properly applied.

As a result of that case, I asked the Minister if he could let me know what percentage of ex-prisoners of war of the Japanese were suffering from heart conditions and what was the percentage in the case of people who had had normal service. So far, I have not had an answer, although the question was put to the Minister, I think, two months ago. I believe that many vitally important things, not only from the point of view of the . men themselves but also from the medical point of view, could be learnt from a complete further survey of ex-prisoners of war. I hope that it will be carried out.

I should like to raise a couple of other points which I believe are relevant. A number of people believe that prisoners of war, as a bunch, or a type, are inclined on the whole to be bloody-minded and to complain too much. However, this repatriation document states -

It is perhaps well to state at the outset that an impartial survey by the Commonwealth Employment Service in 1947 indicated that the prisoners of war have settled back into employment as successfully, if not more so, as any other group of ex-servicemen.

At times ex-prisoners of war may appear to be a little more blunt than other people, but 1 should like some of the department's medical men to remember that the conditions under which they lived in captivity were such that they were quickly able to sort out the reality from the bull. I know of one honorable member who went up for examination in the survey of 1951. He was a man with a very distinguished war record and had suffered from a number of diseases.

When he was called in, the medical officer asked, " What is wrong with you? " The honorable gentleman replied, "There is nothing wrong with me ". The medical officer then said, "Surely you must have something wrong with you ", and the honorable member said, " I get recurrent malaria, and dysentery occasionally, but I am more or less used to that ". The medical officer promptly replied, "Well, I knew that you bloody-well would have something wrong with you and be complaining about it ". It is the last three words that 1 think are significant, lt is the official attitude which so often creates resentment in the minds of ex-servicemen. Bureaucrats with no knowledge of the conditions under which these men lived fail to appreciate that many of us who came through unscathed know what happened to many of our comrades and know what is happening to their families now. We know that, in a comparatively Small number of cases, the people concerned are not getting the treatment that their position warrants. There are people who do not claim repatriation benefits although they would automatically be given them if they were called up for a medical examination.

I shall conclude by repeating that the Prisoners of War and Relatives Association, in making these complaints and submitting its further requests, is not reflecting personally on the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). I was present when he told the association that he did not propose making a further survey because his departmental officers had advised him that, in their opinion, it was not necessary. Though the final responsibility must be taken by the Minister, the decisions are often made by the departmental medical officers. I hope that that will be realized, and that something will be done about this matter. I hope that the people of Australia will realize also that the members of the Prisoners of War and Relatives Association have a very high personal regard and affection for Senator Cooper.

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