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Tuesday, 26 March 1968

Mr STEWART (Lang) - The relief really showed on the face of the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) when he saw the light go on, indicating that he had one minute in which to conclude his speech. Anyone listening to the Minister could judge that he had no enthusiasm at all for his task. He presented a weak case. The case was opposed by twelve organisations representing over one million ex-scrvicemen, ex-service women and war widows throughout Australia. I congratulate the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Bass (Mr Barnard), in proposing a discussion on a matter of urgency today. I also congratulate the Returned Services League and the other ex-service organisations of men and women who met yesterday in Canberra and re-kindled their vigour to fight for the cause of their less fortunate and disabled comrades. For far too long the ex-service organisations have accepted the scant consideration given by the present Government to their submissions made prior to the presentation of each Budget. 1 appreciate the outlook adopted by the ex-service organisations in not pressing too violently when their claims have been, ignored and overlooked by the Government. After all, the organisations regarded themselves as being patriotic and non-political organisations. They did not want to enter into the political arena. They wanted to present their submissions logically, coolly and sensibly and they wanted the Government to consider those submissions in the manner in which they were presented. But their good faith and their decency were construed as weaknesses by the present Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) when he was Minister for Repatriation, just as they have been by the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) and by most of the other Ministers for Repatriation who have held that office since this Government came to power.

In 1964 I made a speech in the debate on the Repatriation Bill. I spoke about the privileged position enjoyed by the Returned Servicemen's League in being the only organisation in the community with direct access to the Cabinet. I said:

Has the preferential treatment that it has received been of any great advantage to it? I feel that it has not been anywhere near the advantage that the Minister and his predecessors and others have endeavoured to make out. I feel, also, that this concession of having direct access to Cabinet, together with a few CBE's plus a few honeyed words from the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) and various Ministers for Repatriation, has tended to draw the teeth of the RSL and to turn it into a tame cat organisation.

Those remarks appear at page 812 of Hansard for 1st September 1964. I am pleased to see that the RSL has taken the initiative and has convened a meeting of ex-service organisations to discuss repatriation benefits and their drastic fall in value. If my words of 1964 had even just a little to do with the new approach of the returned servicemen's organisations, then I am grateful that I uttered those words.

All ex-service men and women and all their organisations have every right to be angry and dissatisfied with present pension payments. Shortly before the Senate election in 1967 the RSL decided at a congress to put out a brochure on repatriation benefits. I have one of them in my hand at the moment. The notation on the front page is: Honoured in war, forgotten in peace.' On one of the other pages appears a comparative diagram for the total incapacity pension, showing that in 1920 the pension was 103% of the then Commonwealth basic wage. By 1943 it had dropped to 100% of the basic wage. We find that in 1950 it had risen to 101% of the then basic wage, but by 1967 it had dropped to 81% of the minimum wage. A further table shows that in 1920 the 100% pension, the highest rate for partial incapacity, was 54% of the basic wage. In 1943 it was 52% of the basic wage at that time, in 1950, it was 51% and in 1967 it was only 32% of then minimum wage. I have a bundle of these brochures which were authorised and published by the RSL. I seek your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, to have them distributed to honourable members who are now in the House, so that none of them may say that in the future he has never seen this brochure.

Let me take these figures a little further and give the House some information about how the pension rates have moved between 1964 and 1967. In 1964 the Commonwealth basic wage was $30.80 a week. In 1967 it was $37.55, an increase of $6.75 or 22%. Over the same period the pension for the totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman increased from $28.50 to $30.50, an increase of 7%, and the 100% general rate pension did not increase at all. These figures give some indication of the drastic fall in the pensions paid to these ex-servicemen.

Mr Buchanan - Do you not allow for the other alterations?

Mr STEWART - The rate of pension is the basic consideration. One of the honourable member's previous leaders, who held the office of Prime Minister for a great many years, said in 1949 that the rates of pensions would be maintained and, indeed, that they would be increased. Fringe benefits are not under discussion at all, and the fringe benefits have not had much effect in increasing the value of repatriation benefits. The Minister for Civil Aviation who spoke a few moments ago classified all these payments as compensatory payments. If there was a level of compensation in a certain year 20 or 30 years ago, that level of compensation should be maintained through the years. It should not decline year after year. It should be kept at that level, and this is the argument that the Labor Party puts on this issue.

At the conference held yesterday, twelve ex-servicemen's and women's organisations were represented. Many representatives made statements after a resolution had been adopted, and I shall quote a few of them, as set out in a Press statement issued by the National President of the RSL:

Mr A.J. Chambers, Federal President of the T.B. Association, compared the pension rates to those of senators arid other parliamentarians and pointed out that the T.P.I, pension had dropped from being 32% of a senators pay in 1920 to 17% at the present time.

An interesting comment was made by the National President of the War Widows' Guild. Mrs Eric Mayo, who said:

War Widows and other pensioners could only assume that they were being asked to pay for the war in Vietnam.

Of course the most violent comment came from the New South Wales State President of the Returned Servicemens League, Sir William Yeo. I must admit that he is noted for extravagant statements and 1 do not agree with the part of his statement in which he said he would Bog members of Parliament, if only because this method of punishment is outdated and the more modern method seems to be the water torture treatment. 1 have before me a newspaper report of Sir William Yeo's statement, which reads:

The New South Wales State President of. the Returned Servicemens League, Sir William Yeo strongly attacked ex-servicemen politicians today for their attitude towards war pensions. If anyone had forgotten ex-Sen icemen, it was today's exservice members of Parliament, he said. They had thrown away all thought of the comradeship they spoke about at reunions.

If 1 had my way, they are the chaps I would flog, because they are recreant to everything that is clean and decent in this country,' Sir William said angrily.

As long as they sit and not fight for their former comrades, this- position will exist.'

I would suggest to Sir William Yeo and to all members of ex-service men's and women's organisations that the best way to treat this Government is to withdraw from it their votes at election time. Over the years this Government has shown time and time again, just as did the Minister for Civil Aviation when he was Minister for Repatriation, a lack of sympathy for ex-servicemen and women and their problems. 1 agree wilh Sir William Yeo that ex-service members on the opposite side of the House play up their service careers at election time, but when repatriation matters are being discussed in this House they are silent and do not fight for their comrades.

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