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Tuesday, 23 August 1960

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) seemed to strike the attitude that this is a matter for party consideration. He spoke about delving into " Hansard " for various statements. He had in mind that he may find some occasion on which the Australian Labour Party voted against a proposal that his party supported, and that he may be able to make some political capital out of it, if this party has apparently changed its attitude now. If he wants to indulge in that sort of thing on a subject such as this, he may just as well go back to what the Prime Minister said the rate of pay would be for those who volunteered for service in the 1914-18 war. All the Opposition wants to do now is to direct the attention of the Parliament to the fact that thousands of ex-servicemen to-day have no eligibility for hospital treatment because they do not receive benefit under the service pension provisions. They comprise a very small section of the community and any intelligent parliament would do something for them.

Mr Duthie - How many would there be?

Mr POLLARD - They are very few, but I do not know the number. The honorable member for Perth said that this year the cost of repatriation services would be about £97,000,000. I have the report of the Repatriation Commission giving the figures for 1958-59. Perhaps the honorable member has the report for 1959-60.

Mr Chaney - No. I referred to the estimates.

Mr POLLARD - The report of the Repatriation Commission for 1958-59 gives a figure of £77,000,000. The very pertinent point that the honorable member for Perth misses when he refers to costs is that the proposal of the Opposition would not cost more than a minute portion of the £77,000,000.

The report of the Repatriation Commission to which I have referred contains an appendix setting out the gross expenditure on medical treatment during the years 1958-59 and 1957-58, for all those who were accepted as eligible. The gross expenditure for 1958-59 was £12,173,000. This amount covered maintenance of institutions conducted by the commission; maintenance of repatriation artificial limb factories including the supply, renewal and repair of limbs, surgical aids, &c; maintenance of patients in other than repatriation institutions', sustenance allowances while undergoing medical treatment, awaiting fitting of limbs, etc.; fees to consultants, local medical officers, etc.; prescriptions dispensed under agreement with pharmacists; fares and travelling allowances to and from places of treatment; recreation transportation allowances for badly disabled members, and cost of gift motor cars purchased; surgical aids and appliances not manufactured by the commission; medical treatment of dependants other than in departmental institutions; and miscellaneous items. The commission's report also gives an. excellent analysis of the way in which every £1 was spent. We find that medical treatment - I would like the member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) to note this - for all those people who are accepted as eligible for hospital and medical treatment amounted to 3s. in the £1. Therefore, if we take threetwentieths of the total cost we get a sum of approximately £1,800,000 as the extra cost, or at least as the cost for medical treatment and that embraces all the particular expenditure that I have enumerated. It embraces the acceptance of men with infinitely worse and more costly disabilities than it is proposed should come under repatriation benefits if we accepted the recommendation of the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant).

Let us look at how the Government reacts to it. In regard to repatriation problems it has always been my honest feeling that it is not the lay members of the Repatriation Commission - not the members of the non-professional staff of the commission - who determine whether a man will be accepted for repatriation benefits. It is the members of the medical profession. All that the lay members - the non-professional, non-medical or nonsurgical staff - can do is to interpret the decision of the medical men. I would be the last to reflect on the good intentions, professional ability and judgment of the medical profession, but just as some people do not look upon judges as being infallible, I am not prepared to regard doctors as being infallible. Nor do I think the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) would claim that the diagnoses of the medical profession are always 100 per cent, correct. You will always find another doctor who will give another opinion - not always, perhaps, but very frequently - and it so happens that many members of this House have had that experience. They have consulted a medical practitioner and been told that they have such and such a complaint, and then have said, " I am not too sure. I will try some other medical gentleman out." Very often they have had a different report from the other doctor. Doctors have opened people up for certain complaints and disabilities and, lo and behold, just as a mechanic opens up a motor car after hearing a suspicious noise or suspecting that something is wrong with the engine, they have found that something entirely different is present.

It is useless for the Minister for Repatriation - I do not want to misrepresent him - to give the impression that a tribunal acting on the advice of a number of medical officers, determines that a man's disability is not due to war service and that that is the end of the matter. But is it, and should it be? There are members of this House who suffer war disabilities and are pensionable, but perhaps they are lucky. The case of a man who has a scar or an obvious war injury, is easy to decide. But what about the case of a man who from the point of view of a physical examination, or perhaps a psychiatric examination, has no apparent trouble? ls it not true, that as medical science develops, the medical profession and research workers make discoveries that previously were never dreamed of? Let us take one example. After World War I., the use of X-rays was comparatively rare; but, as time went on, soldiers who claimed pensions were more frequently X-rayed and it has now been discovered through research - possibly largely as the outcome of the atom bomb - that in certain circumstances X-rays can injure the human genes and change the whole blood circulatory system. Who knows what other discoveries will be made as time goes on? Is it not possible that in many cases a distinct injustice has been done? The motion moved by the honorable member for Wills does not suggest that at this stage we should accept a situation that would bring all those possible cases into line; but it does suggest that all men who served in World War I. and who require treatment should be accepted for repatriation benefit.

The honorable member for Perth placed great emphasis on the economic position, but he seems to overlook the fact that, increasingly, responsibility will be . taken nationally even by his own Government for the full cost of treatment of individuals in institutional hospitals. Surely, a little step in this direction will not matter very much. I suggest that the Government might even consider paying on behalf of these men who are not acceptable at the moment - these remnants of World War I. - their fees to a medical and hospital benefit association. I paid my fees during the week-end to the Australian Natives Association for the fullest cover I could get under the hospital benefits scheme, because none of us ever knows what will happen. I think it cost me £5 for the quarter. My suggestion would involve a payment of £5 a quarter to give each of these men cover as full as that provided under the hospital benefits scheme without any charge whatsoever upon the individual concerned. We in this House are fortunate; we have our mental and physical faculties, and I often think that our economic security tends to prevent us from obtaining first-hand knowledge of the situation of many other people in the community.

It is very easy, when you become relatively secure between elections, to fail to appreciate the position of a very large section of the community. Talk about the infallibility of tribunals and of the medical profession! Some time ago a widow who lost her husband in an accident in Victoria came to me. He had received a small pension, and it was alleged before the Repatriation Commission and finally before the tribunal that the man lost his life in this accident because of a wartime injury. That was a perfectly legitimate argument. The case went to all the tribunals and finally to the appeal tribunal and it was rejected. When further evidence was tendered it was also rejected. The widow asked me to take up the case with the Repatriation Commission, and I did so. I even stated the case in this House on one occasion. Finally I received from the widow a letter of thanks informing me that although she had not been a supporter of mine in the past, in future she would support me. I wrote back and told her that she was under no obligation to me for what I had done.

The day I got the letter of thanks attributing to me what had been done for the widow I said to my private secretary, "That is that". Then I said, "Hang it all, I'll have another go ". I wrote to General Wootten and reminded him of evidence given before the committee, ot which I was chairman, in which the then chairman of the Repatriation Commission, Sir Norman Mighell, had given as an illustration the case of a man with a leg injury who endeavoured to cross the road and had been struck by a tram and, on application to the Repatriation Commission, had been granted a pension. I quoted some other cases, including that of a man with a stomach disability who had to jump off a train at Albury to seek relief. He was knocked over by a train and, because he had an accepted war-caused injury, he was given a pension. I put those cases in a letter to General Wootten and in due course I received a letter saying that this man was accepted, and his widow got the full pension. The case having been finally rejected, should all that routine have been necessary? Just because in a fit of further sympathy I said, " Hang it all, I'll have another go ", the disability was accepted as the cause of death and the pension was forthcoming.

Mr Forbes - That is an argument for improving the administration.

Mr POLLARD - It is an argument for improving the generosity of the Parliament to men who are not as fortunately situated as those who can show actual physical evidence of their disability. People can be the victims of lack of infallibility on the part of the medical profession, just as some people are the victims of lack of infallibility on the part of the legal profession. We have lawyers differing and we have doctors differing. A great friend of mine, who is a very Christian gentleman, is a lawyer. On one occasion I related to him the details of the case of the widow of a man who had been employed by a very affluent gentleman. The husband, an old soldier, had been injured at work. I told the lawyer that I believed that the husband was entitled to worker's compensation, and that after he died the widow would be entitled to a war pension. He told me that in his opinion the widow was not entitled to a war pension. If that was the honest attitude of a great Christian gentleman, a man who specializes in his own line, what would be the attitude of some of the harder and harsher medical men to whose decision ex-servicemen are sometimes subject. I will give the Minister for Health the details of this particular case if he wishes to have them.

The attitude of mind of the Parliament when it decided the provisions of the Repatriation Act was that, whatever a man's economic circumstances, whether he was rich or poor, any disability that he suffered was to be accepted by the Government of a grateful country as being warcaused. At that stage all economic considerations were out of it. The people who would be concerned in the extension of benefits that the Opposition requests are a mere fringe of the population. So I appeal to honorable members opposite to take a more lenient view, and to accept the motion. I have here voluminous correspondence from a member of my own unit, who does not live in my electorate, telling of his experiences in running the gauntlet through various tribunals, finally appearing before the War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal. The time wasted in all this procedure, the mistakes made and the final disillusionment of many applicants are all illustrated in cases that have been mentioned in this House again and again, with all the dates and all the details given.

These things can be obviated. The cost of providing medical and hospital service and all the rest of it under our repatriation system to-day is only £1,800,000 a year. This covers hospital maintenance, provision of artificial limbs and motor cars for ex-servicemen, many other kinds of services, and payment to private and departmental medical practitioners. The amount involved in extending these services to the small remnant of people still alive from World War I. would be probably less than £100,000 per annum. At least the Government might undertake to pay the hospital benefit contributions of these old diggers as long as they live, and so assure them of cover under the hospital benefits scheme. The cost of this would be very small.

I hope that the House and the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), who has an arduous task, will accept the motion and act upon it.I say to the honorable member for Perth that the motion was not moved in a party political spirit, but in a real desire to do something for the people concerned. Even if justice is done to only 100 of these people, it is still well worth doing.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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