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Tuesday, 23 August 1960

Mr BRIMBLECOMBE (Maranoa) . - There is merit in the motion submitted by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant), which is designed to give some relief to the remnant of the old diggers of World War I. during the declining years of their lives. I do not say that because I am one of them. I believe, with the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney), that there were hundreds and probably thousands of those people after World War I. who did not know anything about their repatriation entitlements or expect to receive anything from the Repatriation Department. Their one desire was to get out of the services. Had they been submitted to a proper medical examination at the time many of them no doubt would be drawing some sort of benefit to-day.

We are not now speaking of those who are receiving benefits, but of the remnants who cannot qualify for benefits but who should receive some medical treatment from the Repatriation Department. At a recent monthly meeting of the members of my old unit in Brisbane there were more than 50 men who did not answer the roll call. Admittedly it had been an exceptional year in that respect. The old soldiers are dying off pretty quickly. Possibly had some of those who died been entitled to some form of free medical treatment they would still be alive to-day.

An aspect of the matter which the Government should consider is that when some of these old diggers become ill, even if they are in a financial position to pay their own medical benefit contributions, they would probably receive better medical treatment in a repatriation hospital, where they could be with their old cobbers and talk over common experiences, than they could receive elsewhere. They would get out of hospital much sooner and probably be a lot better off.

I believe that this matter should not be treated on a party-political basis. There are only a few of the old soldiers of World War I. now left, and there would probably be few of them who would ask for the right to this free treatment, because many of them are very independent in nature. I think the House should closely examine the possibility of giving this assistance to the old diggers.

Mr Turnbull - If they want it.

Mr BRIMBLECOMBE - Of course. I am not suggesting that it be made compulsory. An extension of medical treatment under the repatriation system would cover cases which are not now covered because the applicants have not discharged the onus of proof that their disabilities are war-caused. We know that many of these old diggers have had their applications rejected as a result of the onus of proof provision, and that under the act as it stands they are not entitled to benefits. I would say that some of the records from World War I. are not so complete as are the records kept in the last war. I do not want to make any comparison of the hardships suffered in the two World Wars. Comparisons between wars are odious. Some units suffered greater privations and dangers than others. The casualty lists show that some units suffered terrifically. One particular division which went into only three engagements in World War I. was almost wiped out. The statistical records quoted by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) will not help his case to any great extent. I think that we have to look at the matter from the point of view of the old burnt-out diggers, aged 65 and over, who are surely entitled to medical treatment among their old cobbers, among the people with whom they can talk as diggers.

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