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Tuesday, 23 August 1960

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) .- I am rather astonished at the attitude the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) has taken in this matter and in relation to similar matters that were mentioned earlier in the sessional period. I do not think that ex-servicemen should be treated as a smear on a microscopic slide, or that we should discuss whether some one is illogical or balanced in his approach to these matters. The question is not whether the men who are pensionable or totally and permanently incapacitated are well cared for. The question is what has happened to the great mass of men who in later life have discovered that they have disabilities which they honestly believe were caused by their war service. Every member of this Parliament has met these men who sit before our desks and tell us how they missed a pension from the Repatriation Department.

That was the genesis of this motion. It was submitted because of a feeling that the Australian Labour Party's policy point on this matter, which was rejected by the electorate generally, might have a general appeal to the Parliament. The Labour Party stated in its policy in 1958 in relation to repatriation -

The time has come when medical and repatriation hospital attendance and treatment should be available to all returned servicemen and nurses of the first world war irrespective of whether war entitlement is established.

The Minister for Health was arguing on a line that had little relation to the suggestion of the Opposition. The argument is not whether those who claim a pension are well treated or whether those who are totally and permanently incapacitated are getting the appropriate benefit. The only argument between the two sides of this House is whether the benefit is enough at all times. When we are the Government, the Opposition thinks the provision is not enough. When the other side is in government, its supporters are satisfied that the repatriation provision is adequate. But this is something quite different altogether. As the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) has said this move is not made in any carping spirit. This is the sort of opportunity that we get so rarely in the House to have a look at these almost insoluble problems.

Some of these things do hurt us and give us the feeling that we have not done all that we could have done. Surely we must see that on the fringe of those who performed a great service in World War 1. are a lot of sick men; a lot of men who have fallen by the wayside; men in their late fifties or early sixties who obviously have been either mistreated by the Repatriation Department, which is only human, or have been completely passed over. Now that another world war has transpired the plight of the men of World War I. is not such a burning issue. It is not even such a voting issue. What Kipling said 50 years ago in relation to servicemen and their compensation is as fresh and as potent in its meaning as if it were written this morning. He said -

It's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' " Chuck him out, the brute! " But it's " Saviour of 'is country ", when the guns begin to shoot.

Of course, there are no more guns shooting to-day.

Mr Chaney - Kipling wrote that about the British Tommy at a certain period. Do you think he would have written it about the Australian servicemen?

Mr HAYLEN - Of course he would have written it about them. His poem was directed against the attitude of all civilians - civilian governments included - to the exservicemen. The honorable member for Perth seems to exhibit a personal resentment that this matter is being discussed. But let me ask him to look at the terms of the motion that we have proposed. It is designed to do something for those who have not received a pension. Does the honorable member believe that you can divide ex-servicemen into sections - those who receive a pension and those who do not matter? Does he think that any exserviceman does not know in his heart that we have not done everything that we could have done for those fellows on the perimeter? Every ex-serviceman knows the problem, and every member of this Parliament knows the problem. If we wanted an example of a repatriation doctor, we have had one in this chamber in the attitude of the Minister to-day. He takes the logical approach - you cannot do this; everything must follow a straight line; everything must be worked out according to Euclid. In himself he is a very skilful and a very human person, although he did not show it in his speech which was acid and coldblooded.

We do not ask for pensions. We ask that the remnant of those people who served in World War I. should receive free hospital treatment in repatriation hospitals. Prior to making this point a part of our policy in 1958, our investigations showed that many military hospitals had beds and personnel available when civilian hospitals were crowded to the doors and had long waiting lists of persons seeking admission. Our first responsibility is to do something for these sick ex-servicemen. Many of them have been to the Repatriation Department and have pleaded for a pension, but a pension has been denied them. Their only right to hospital treatment is as contributors of 3s. a week, or whatever it is, to a hospital fund. We believe that they have established a claim on our gratitude. It is true that there is pressure on our medical services, but you cannot allow the bureaucrats to say that this or that cannot be done, .or that this or that form must be completed. What we ask to-day could be done if the Government had the will to do it. It would be a not inconsiderable thing, and a pretty decent thing to do in the long run. Despite the fact that the machinery of repatriation grinds exceedingly small, the general concept of repatriation is a fine thing and, in this country, as fine as anything we possess.

Surely we can look with consideration on the problem of the ex-service man or woman who is sick and would like to be in a repatriation hospital. There is a lot of esprit de corps in this of which exservicemen in this House are aware. Even though an application for a pension may be rejected because the illness has not been proved to be due to war service, the ex-serviceman would still feel very much happier to be in a military hospital with his mates. This matter has been discussed on many occasions and has been agreed to in a general sense. Although the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) made some telling statistical references, this motion does not make any charges in relation to who should and should not receive a pension. The motion is in these terms -

That, in the opinion of this House, provision should be made for adequate medical treatment of ex-servicemen who served in the 1914-18 War.

As the Minister knows, that motion includes the men who receive the 100 per cent, pension. But there are so many lines of demarcation - the man on a partial pension who is able to get treatment in a repatriation hospital only for an injury for which he receives a pension, and so on. Those things should be swept aside in a much more generous approach to the matter.

The question that worries us all is the number of men of World War I. who apply for pensions and are scrubbed. The last statistics that the Opposition repatriation committee took out indicate that 80 per cent, of applications are rejected. Why are they rejected in view of the terms of section 47? We are not able to discuss that matter in detail because it was discussed last week during another debate, but the point is that if the onus of proof means anything - apparently it does not mean anything - the commission itself should decide whether an application should be accepted or rejected. The onus, by inference, should not be left on the ex-serviceman. If you have 80 per cent, of applications being rejected, what a terrible frustration you create in the applicants at the end of their days; what a terrible frustration you create among members of their families who believe the ex-servicemen should get a pension. Why do these men for whom we plead not receive medical treatment? Some may be age pensioners, but because they receive, perhaps, some little superannuation payment from a job on the railways or something of that kind, they are excluded from free medical treatment. So their applications go in day by day and are rejected. What a frustration there must be in their minds! They are not getting treatment when they should be getting it. They can go along as civilians and report themselves to be sick, but we shall not tidy up the question of ex-servicemen generally of World War 1. until we th ow open the doors of the Repatriation Department and afford them full treatment.

There would not be many thousands of persons concerned. If you consider the rate at which totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen are dying - some 80 a month - and if you consider the incidence of death among the 100 per cent, pensioners of World War I., you will see that the great mass of ex-servicemen who receive no compensation by way of pension are passing away at a fairly rapid rate. They have now reached the age of 60 years or more.

We have been attempting to have this matter discussed in the House for many months now. Our motion need only tap the wellsprings of human sympathy. It should not merely be given the bureaucratic answer that this cannot be done or that you will crowd out the hospitals. We have been told by the Government that our progress has been so rapid that we can do marvellous things. We can build £3.000,000 hotels, change the contours of rivers, throw brawling torrents through the mountain ranges to water the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Surely to do a belated service for the sick digger is not beyond the capacity of this country!

The Opposition and, I think, the Government believe that the Government can be caught up in its own bureaucratic machinery. The Minister has not shown very much sympathy although I know that he is a sympathetic person. I thought that his speech was rather arid and antiseptic. He should realize that a problem exists. I challenge any one to say that there is no problem. The member who does not meet these fellows does not look after his electorate. The member who does not know their misery does not get under the surface of his electorate. He does not know what goes on.

This is the sort of thing that happens. The ex-serviceman is able to say that his injury occurred at such and such a place. He knows the spot marked " X ". If he had reported to a field dressing station or to some other medical unit at the time, the incident may be noted in the records and it may be possible to check the details. In any event, the ex-serviceman is probably unable to find the evidence that he needs to satisfy the onus of proof that is put on him, because Snowy, Bluey or Curley, who were eye-witnesses, have long since passed on. This is the tragedy of it. Had one of his mates lived, the ex-serviceman would probably have been enjoying a full pension as some compensation during the declining years of his life. I have even advertised in country newspapers seeking former comrades of men in my electorate who have assured me that their old digger mates would be able to substantiate their stories if only they could find them.

We know that many ex-servicemen with disabilities have not pensions to-day simply because they belonged to the tougher element of the Army and did not report sick with every headache or belly ache. The Regimental Aid Post - the R.A.P. as it was known - and the medical officer's hut were anathema to them. You have only to read Doctor Bean's history of the First Australian Imperial Force to know that that is true. So many of these diggers were country men and tough citizens, and they did not want to report as sick or wounded unless they had had their heads half blown off. But now, in the declining years of their lives, they have nobody to speak for them in the ranks of the present Government, which has adopted a sort of regimented repatriation plan. The Government tells exservicemen that unless they can get over the hurdle they are outside the pale and nothing can be done for them, much as it would like to do something. Surely we can break down that attitude and say, " We can do something for you. Even if the medical evidence is that you are not entitled to a pension, it looks as though you have been through the mill and have been permanently aged by your experiences. You are a sick man." Why not give a pension to the old digger, the nursing sister and the others who sustained us in the days of 1914-18? There is no doubt that they ought to have pensions. The job of giving pensions to all of these people who need them would not be easy, but you could do it if you set your minds to it.

What I want to reiterate is that this motion does not refer to the problem of those who have established a claim to pensions or to the problem of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. It refers to people who are outside, as it were, and who cannot get in - people who deserve something although they have not established a claim to a pension. About 80 per cent, of them have been through the horrible, frustrating procedures of the Repatriation Commission, repatriation boards and war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals and have sought the help of the Legal Service Bureau. But, in the finish, they are flat on their faces again. They have taken it all, and we have to do something for them before it is too late. That is why this motion has been proposed. This is part of Labour's policy.

The Government may hope to establish an excuse in this debate and say that it will not do anything for these people. Incidentally, the debate on this motion would not have come on had the Government not been marking time while it waited for the resumption this evening of the debate on the Budget. It did not want to discuss this matter or other repatriation problems which have been listed on the notice-paper for months on end. But there happens to be a hiatus and a lag in business, and we have been able to bring up the problems of exservicemen and their need for medical treatment - a need that the Government could satisfy. We ask that it do so.

The Government may say that it will have to look at the facilities available in repatriation hospitals. It may ask, " How many more hospitals would be required? '' Are not we all working out the welfare state under principles which this Government has stolen from the socialist Australian Labour Party - a welfare state which this Government has never made something that it luxuriates in and is proud of? The welfare state means, in essence, that pensions are provided for our citizens. We are working towards a retirement benefit for every citizen. The easing of the means test on pensions is an indication of this. We are working slowly so that we shall not bankrupt ourselves in the process, first, for the payment of pensions and, later, for a medical service which will eventually be free. Let us do something for the exservicemen who are part of our society. Cannot we anticipate the march of time by doing these things now and reviving the repatriation system and giving reasonablebenefits to these people? All that the Opposition asks for in the motion proposed by the honorable member for Wills is that free medical treatment be available to the diggers, nurses and others who served in World War I. We shall doubtless be asked how we are to get the doctors and facilities that we need. All can be provided, and the Government will do a very good thing if it puts its mind to the task.

The pointI make is that comradeship, esprit de corps and the spirit of mateship are part of the Australian character in which we all share. They were implicit in the attitudes of the men who served in the Australian Army in the First World War, the Second World War and in any other wars, and in Army formations in peace-time. The men like to be together. The Government will do a wonderful and relatively easy thing if it says to exservicemen who need medical treatment, "You can receive treatment in repatriation hospitals in Sydney, Brisbane or anywhere else among your mates, even though you are not eligible for a repatriation pension. Because you are an ex-serviceman, we shall give you that treatment without question in gratitude for what you and your mates did in days that are almost forgotten." Poets have written much about the qualities of Australian soldiers.It was Ogilvie, a Scot, who wrote, in his poem, " The Anzac " -

The skies that arched his land were blue; The bush-born winds were warm and sweet;

And yet from earliest hours he knew, The floods of victory and defeat. From fierce floods thundering at his birth, From bush fires ravening as he played, He learned to fear no foe on earth, The bravest thing God ever made.

That was a tribute to the Anzacs. Another who was among the Anzacs - that old man from my electorate who shouted down on this august body the other day and told us what a lousy, inadequate pension he had - would like to get relief and receive medical treatment in a repatriation hospital. This is the burden and strength of the motion, and no matter how niggardly or miserable the Government may feel about the matter, it and not the Opposition has the power and the responsibility to do something. This is a little thing. If there is anything at all in the vaunted patriotism which the Government parades so much as to be almost offensive, it ought to do something for the sick and wounded diggers of the First World War by providing medical treatment for them in repatriation hospitals.

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