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, 25 September 1958

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) .- This bill, introduced by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) this morning, ls designed to give effect to the small increases of pensions to be paid to some sections of ex-servicemen, and to make certain general amendments to the Repatriation Act. But because these are the dying hours of the Parliament, to use the classical phrase, and because it is an appropriate time to refer, to alterations to this legislation, I should like to make some general comment along with an analysis of the bill.

One of the things that has struck me about this Parliament, which has been a weary sort of Parliament, is that despite the pious protestations of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his policy speech as far back as 1949, the condition of returned servicemen in this country has not been improved. We shall set out, in a series of speeches from this side of the House, to prove my point. There have been a lot of smarmy, oleaginous protestations from the other side of the House, which have not worked out to the benefit of the exserviceman. In fact, the ex-serviceman has been taken for a ride, because he believed that there was, resident in the members on the Government benches of this Parliament, a desire to do something for him. Let me support that statement by quoting the words that the Prime Minister used in his 1949 policy speech. He said -

Repatriation remains a great and proud responsibility.

Cannot you see the Prime Minister making that statement, and cannot you hear the empty winds blowing around his head? He did not mean a word of it! Then he said, referring to the parties now in office, which were at that time in Opposition -

The Opposition parties contain a majority of members who are ex-servicemen.

The implication there was that these honorable members would have the will to do something for the ex-serviceman, that the ex-serviceman could rely on them. He said -

We will sympathetically review financial allowances, particularly those related to disability or war widowhood in the light of all the circumstances

He also said -

We shall see to it that there is speed, financial and human justice and understanding in our administration of soldier problems.

I should say that the content of the Government side which did, and does, include many ex-servicemen, has not resulted in a good, solid parliament of opinion on improving the lot of ex-servicemen generally. From this side of the House we have brought re solutions forward designed to improve the condition of ex-servicemen. On many occasions, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), myself and other members of the Opposition's repatriation committee have attempted to get the Government to do something extra for exservicemen, always to be met by a solid wall of opposition, because these fights for the rights of ex-servicemen have always been settled on solid party lines. So that means that all the protestations of the Prime Minister, all the oily conversation and declarations have been as nothing when you come to analyse the position.

We can prove what we mean in this regard merely by looking at the present situation in which an additional 10s. in pension is to be made available to one section of service pensioners - the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. The Government - and the Repatriation Department in particular - has for a long time used a system of propaganda to the effect that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that these benefits are being applied generally. Nothing is further from the fact. As a matter of fact, so far as this increase of 10s. is concerned, it is only a question of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The recipient of a service pension who is a married man in receipt of a T.P.I, pension merely gets an adjustment of his pension, and receives no increase of income. We have thumped at the Minister over this in connexion with previous legislation. The honorable member for Bass, in particular, has done that. We have pointed it out at this table from time to time but the Government has protested that such is not the case. We believe that it is, and that a ceiling is imposed on ex-servicemen's pensions. I do not think it was ever intended that a ceiling should be imposed either on the social service segment or the repatriation segment of the pension. But it has been imposed by the Repatriation Department and it is not lifted when new payments are made. So only a section of the totally and permanently incapacitated recipients get this payment.

This has been discussed in another place where a senator on the Labour side drew attention to it and could get no answer. The Opposition believes that an attempt is being made to deceive and that some cheese-paring and catch-penny idea is in the mind of the Government concerning pensions.

The Minister, with a great deal of display, read what might be called a list of possibles. It is like the quizzes on the air; it is a list of what you can get if you are lucky. The totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner can get so much if he has the requisite number of children of the requisite age, if he is married, and if he is living in the circumstances described. The illustration given by the Minister cites the case of a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner who receives a war pension of £11 10s. and a service pension of £1 14s. 9d. a week. His wife receives a war pension of £1 15s. 6d., a service pension of £1 4s. 9d., and child endowment of 15s. a week. One child, being fourteen years of age, gets a war pension of 1 3s. 9d., a service pension of lis. 6d., and an education allowance of £1 5s. Another child, twelve years of age, gets a war pension of 13s. 9d., a service pension of 2s. 6d., and an education allowance of 16s. 6d. That all sounds very good, but since most of the totally and permanently incapacitated men - I would say 80 per cent, of them - are of World War I., it is highly improbable that more than a very small percentage of them have children of the age of fourteen years or twelve years. Therefore, this is a fictitious and completely unfair argument, based on circumstances that are unlikely to exist.

Mr Wilson - Why do you say that they are of World War I.?

Mr HAYLEN - Statistics show that an overwhelming percentage of totally and permanently incapacitated men are from World War I. Do you not agree?

Mr Wilson - No.

Mr HAYLEN - I think it is true.

Mr Wilson - There are a lot from World War II.

Mr HAYLEN - But the overwhelming percentage of them are from World War I. So the position of the T.P.I, pensioner has not been presented fairly in the Minister's speech. The Government has attempted to gild the lilly by stating a position that does not exist. Surely, with everybody so interested in repatriation matters, it is hardly helpful for the department to prepare these phoney statistics showing what it is possible for a pensioner to get in certain unlikely circumstances. There has been and, until this is adjusted, there will continue to be, concern on both sides of the House. I am sure that honorable members on the Government side feel as we do. I believe that they have never been convinced that a satisfactory explanation has been given of the ceiling on pensions. It has long been obvious that the man who served his country to a point above the line of duty and who, as the result, became totally and permanently incapacitated, should get at least the basic wage. But he has never received that amount. In this generous country, the Government has not been generous enough to pay him as much as the basic wage. In certain cases, the service pension or " burned-out " pension is added to the ordinary T.P.I, pension, but the Government, of its own decision - not the decision of the people or the Parliament - has imposed a ceiling on the amount that the T.P.I, man can receive. From that point, we on this side of the House continue to argue that there is unfairness in all these payments because they do not apply generally.

On the last occasion on which repatriation legislation was introduced, the honorable member for Bass, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) and Labour members in another place pointed out that the proposed benefit was not an overall benefit but a whimsical thing that rested here and there, depending on specified circumstances, some of which were highly unlikely. That was because the ceiling was not lifted. That is the point we still make. The conditions surrounding the payment of the T.P.I, pension will have to be sorted out and the matter brought to a conclusion very soon. There are about 10,000 T.P.I, pensioners. The payment of their pensions does not cost a great amount of money and it would not cost very much more to treat them all alike. That is the point that we make here in relation to repatriation which, like Mesopotamia, has become a sort of blessed word. We do not seem able to get a solution to this problem because it is wrapped up in so much red tape and bureaucracy. There are so many regulations and decisions by entitlement boards and things of that son, that it has become almost impossible for us to discuss the matter with any degree of clarity.

Another matter that is completely wretched concerns the wife of the T.P.I, pensioner. The wives of these men have been told that if they apply within ten days - or some equally fantastic short period - for hospitalization benefits they can get them. Why should any bureaucrat dare to impose a time limit on such applications? Surely it is fair enough to say to the wife of a T.P.I. man, "You are entitled to treatment just as your husband is because of his service to the country ". But some mean little bureaucrat says, " We are putting a time limit on you, and you will not get the benefits if we can stop you ". The regulation-ridden mind is at its worst in the Repatriation Department. So, a most worthy section of the community, along with the war widows, is bamboozled by this treatment. The wife of a T.P.I, man is not sure whether or not she is eligible for hospital treatment. If she does not conform to the ukase of the Repatriation Department that she must, within a certain number of days, declare herself to be the wife of a T.P.I, pensioner she will not receive the concession that is her due. That is wrong. The rights of these women should be clarified forthwith.

This is a piddling little piece of bureaucracy that should never have extended into the consideration of ex-servicemen's concessions and allowances and health treatment for their wives. The position to-day is neither one thing nor the other. Some wives have been accepted because they have applied within the prescribed time. Honorable members will know that because of representations that have come to them. On the other hand, others have not been accepted because of the time factor. I would like this position to be adjusted, either by regulation, or by whatever means the restriction was imposed originally. The time limit should be eliminated. It is a very bad thing and it helps in no way the general cause of repatriation in which we are all interested.

I see, also, that provision is made in the bill for an increase of 10s. a week in the allowances of certain classes of double amputees, in allowances for the children of men whose death has been the result of war service, and in the allowances for war widows. There is also an increase in the allowances payable under the education scheme for the children of ex-servicemen. Those are all good and worthy causes. This side of the House approves of them entirely and wishes to make no comment except to say that these things have been well done and that we congratulate the Government upon them. But when we consider the amount of money that is being allocated for these purposes we see that it is too little and too late. The increases proposed in the bill are good in themselves. But there are nearly 140,000 pensioners in this country. The T.P.I, pensioners are receiving an increase; but what about the 100 per cent, pensioner? What has he done? Is he not subject to the same increases in the cost of living? Why do we have this pinch-penny and piece-meal approach to repatriation? Surely the concept of social services of the average Australian includes the payment of repatriation benefits to men who have served in theatres of war.

When the mind of the public is attuned to a 10s. increase in the pension, they think in their own minds that that applies to all pensions - service pensions as well as social service pensions. Nobody on this side of the House or outside it would have niggled at the fact that additional money was required, despite the fact that the Government is budgeting for a deficit because of its own mismanagement. We would not have objected to an all-embracing pension change which included an increase of 10s. to all sections of the community which surely must include the 100 per cent, pensioner as well!

The totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners are to be in receipt of this amount only sectionally. Some will get it and some will not, and the 100 per cent, pensioners will get nothing at all. Then we come to the womenfolk who have not got medical benefits as yet. As you go down the list of the alterations envisaged in this bill, it is not always a matter of money with repatriation; it is a matter of sympathetic understanding of what must be done in the changed circumstances.

Everybody knows, in relation to repatriation, that we have a number of ill and ageing men from the First World War. Their problems are vastly different from what they were ten or fifteen years ago at least, or twenty years ago for certain. Hospitalization is one of them. They desire to have treatment at a military or repatriation hospital. The Americans have been able to cut red tape to this extent that any man who has been in a theatre of war or in an army, with very little reservation as to service or point of duty, can go to a repatriation hospital. In this country where social services are at a high level, everybody can get treatment for illness whether they have money or not. Surely, it is well within the ambit of this Parliament and of governmental activity to be able to provide hospitalization in repatriation hospitals for servicemen of World War I. They like that because of the comradeship of the association and because it is a right that they feel has been denied to them for many years. They would like to have that right given them before it is too late. That is the point in regard to so many of the simple things concerning repatriation. We are all guilty in that we have not done anything about this matter.

Mr Wheeler - In other words, in your opinion the department is too narrow in its interpretation of the act?

Mr HAYLEN - Splendidly expressed! I could not have done better myself and I thank the honorable member for the pause. Even Shakespeare had to rest now and again in passing from one ambit to another. Coming to the other point which the honorable member has expressed so clearly, I can leave that and direct attention to another anomaly in repatriation which has been created by all governments and sustained by this Government. It is the awful question of the old digger who is trying to get a pension and the large numbers of old diggers who are in that position. You have the old fellow who is a sufferer from tuberculosis with automatic acceptance if he has been in a theatre of war. His repatriation map shows whether there has been gas or circumstances which would lead to a presupposition that the man could have been infected in some way so that ultimately he became a tuberculosis case.

If you face enormous wars, you must face enormous recompense when the wars are over. There should be in Australia an automatic acceptance of cancer in an ex- serviceman as having been caused "by war service because it cannot be proved otherwise. All the bending backwards of the medical historians, medical examiners and referees cannot prove that an ex-serviceman did not contract cancer on active service because nobody knows whence it came. Therefore, in the circumstances, although it would involve great expense, if we accept the condition of the tuberculosis sufferer, to be logical we should do so in the case of cancer. There is not an honorable member on either side of the House who has not listened to a poignant story and sat helpless and grieving before a young exserviceman of World War II. stricken with cancer and unable to get help from the Repatriation Department because the disease is not considered to be due to war service. Not only is the man stricken and soon to die but the whole circumstances of his family are sharply worsened for the rest of the woman's life unless she marries again, and to the detriment of the younger members of the family. An enormous cash consideration is involved but it is not so enormous that we could not handle it. In any reframing of repatriation benefits, which should be done, we would do something about the cancer patient.

Let me return now to my original theme about the trickle of sick and ageing men who go to the Repatriation Department in an attempt to get a pension. In most cases, the applications are rejected. An analysis in the last debate on this matter of applications before the Repatriation Department and later by a tribunal showed that rejections totalled between 60 per cent, and 80 per cent. That is an enormous proportion of rejections. One of the reasons for that high proportion is that the digger who had a pretty good health history and would not report sick because he thought it was not done and you battled through, produced his A42 health papers which were virginal inasmuch as he had no record of illness. He had been a good soldier. When he felt sick, he did not report. He may not have been wounded. There may have been occasions when his service record would have led to the supposition that he was pensionable, say at 55. There is nothing there to show it. The man who had paraded every day whenever he felt a bit off colour and went for a number nine or a Mist. Tussi or just to have a quick look at the doctor would have an A42 form laded with cryptograms - sick here, sick there, hospitalized there, and so on. He is a certainty to get a pension and in more cases than enough he is not as worthy as the poor old bloke who had nothing on his A42 papers at all except the bare record that he was wounded once and went to hospital.

What do we do to meet these cases? What should we do in all sincerity? We ought to advance the age for eligibility for a burnt-out pension to 55 years. There would not be so many of them. It would be a gesture to those who need something. Nothing can be achieved with these eternal and infernal tribunals or the department itself. If you want to plunge a man of 56, 57, or up to 60 into despair, get an ailing or sick ex-serviceman of World War I. He is clutching at straws. He thinks he might get a pension. He gets embroiled in a paper war, and frequent visits to his member of Parliament, to the Repatriation Department, to tribunals and to legal aid departments; and the sum total of this weary round-about - this la ronde on which he rides - in an endeavour to get a pension is a final rejection by the department. In most cases, between 60 per cent, and 80 per cent, of the applicants are rejected because the onus of proof is not discharged.

I have always believed that the bureaucrat - for want of a better term - and the officers concerned in the Repatriation Department, still decide who gets a pension and who does not. This section has never been properly interpreted, and it never will be until we have a judicial mind examining the medical evidence at the conclusion of all inquiries so that when the inquiry is over and the evidence is sifted, the appropriate authority is able to say on the evidence, " This man should have had a pension ". There are miscarriages of justice in connexion with appeals because the legal mind is not applied to the question of evidence and the admissability of evidence and because, in so many cases, so many old " diggers " have been refused a pension because of that and because of the rigidity of the bureaucratic mind. The question that we have to face in the future is a reduction of the age at which an exserviceman can get a burnt-out pension.

Now, I wish to sum up. The 10s. which is to be given to the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner is sectional. It should never have been that way. It is a further rebuke to those on the benches on the Government side, heavily laden with returned soldiers of all ranks, who have not been able to overcome their own bureaucratic masters and give us a decent sympathetic repatriation act and a sympathetically run repatriation department. What do honorable members think of a provision of 10s. for one section of the T.P.I, pensioners and nothing for the 100 per cent, pensioners? What sort of hotch-potch and catch-penny idea is that? Either you give it, or you do not.

The second charge I make is that there has been a grievous miscarriage of justice, and an act of actual cruelty, in the failure to provide adequately for the ageing wife of a T.P.I, pensioner who needs medical treatment. At present she is subject to a time limit, and this must be remedied.

I believe that the onus of proof provisions are still the greatest bugbear in our repatriation legislation. Our machinery for assessing whether a man who, 40 years ago, was in a theatre of war, should now get a pension, is most unwieldy. We will have to scrap this old and cumbersome machinery and devise something nearer to the heart's desire. We must consider the matter of the incidence of cancer. We have to live in our own generation and take cognizance of the diseases of our generation. We must do something for those men who served in World War II. and who later fell victim to cancer - men whose deaths have caused great tragedy and hardship in the lives of many young people. These young men avoided the tragedy of being killed in action only to fall victim a few years later to the disease of cancer. Many young families then lost their breadwinners in even more grim and sickening circumstances than if they had been killed in action.

Some of these new concessions are overdue, but they have now been provided, and we on this side of the House give nothing but approval and express our approbation in this regard.

My final point is that the Repatriation Department and the repatriation system need a damn good shake-up. The system must be taken in hand by the Australian community, through its representatives on both sides of this House, and made to work, because we are now facing problems arising from the second world war which will increase in intensity and in numbers, although we have not yet fully discharged our responsibilities, as a wealthy nation, to those who served in World War I.

The most grievous acts of neglect on the part of the Government concern sectional pensions and the failure to provide sufficient money for recipients to cope with increases in the cost of living. The Government has also failed to provide hospitalization for some deserving cases. "Burned-out" pensions should be granted a good deal sooner, and there should be generally a more sympathetic consideration of pensions as pensions. I hope that any future Treasurer, whoever he may be, will make sure that if there is an increase of 5s., 10s. or £1 in the pension, the increase will cover all the necessitous cases. What more necessitous cases are there than the 100 per cent, pensioners, or even those receiving a proportion of the 100 per cent, pension, even down to those receiving 5s., 6s. or 7s. a week? The Department of Social Services and the Repatriation Department should team up and work together under a common policy of understanding concerning pensioners. They should watch all the ripples and repercussions that follow when money is paid to one section, to the detriment of another section equally worthy.

Suggest corrections