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Thursday, 28 March 1968

Mr DALY (Grayndler) - -At a time when repatriation pensions are very important and have been the subject of a recent debate in the Parliament, I raise a matter that 1 consider represents a grave injustice to an ex-serviceman. Last October when 1 was sitting in my office in Sydney a blind ex-serviceman was shown into my room. 1 can disclose his name, because he has given me permission to do so. He was Mr M. M. Medlyn, of 51 West Street, Petersham. He lodged an application for a war pension some considerable time ago when he was a resident in the electorate of the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate). I have submitted his Service number and other details to the Repatriation Department. On 24th October 1967 I wrote to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) as follows:

I have been approached by Mr M. M. Medlyn of 51 West Street, Petersham, who lodged an application for a war pension some time ago.

Briefly, these are the circumstances as mentioned to me. Mr Medlyn enlisted in 1942 in the AIF Combat Unit, Al. Due to his 100% physical condition and height, he was drafted into the Armoured Corps. In 1944 he was discharged medically unfit suffering from chronic inflammation of all sinuses and neurosis. In 1959 he suffered total blindness and at the present time is only in receipt of an invalid pension.

It is not my intention to go into details of the case in the course of this letter as I am enclosing photostat copies of all the documents relating to his case including a complete history of his enlistment, service and medical history, together with other relevant documents which would appear to substantiate his claim for a pension.

I have those documents in my possession now. My letter continued:

A study of these documents indicates that the Department has evidently refused to take responsibility for the operation that was performed by an American surgeon. The fact of the matter is, however, that Mr Medlyn is now totally blind following service in the Armed Forces.

You now have the position where a man in perfect physical condition at that time is now blind due, so it appears, to the incompetence of the operating surgeon. To my mind it appears the Department cannot evade the responsibility for his condition on these grounds.

As mentioned earlier in my letter, a record of his case is available from the photostat copies of correspondence enclosed. If the facts shown are correct - and it appears that it is difficult to question them - this is one of the most glaring cases of injustice to an ex-serviceman that has come to my notice. 1 believe it merits full and careful investigation and 1 submit it to you with the request that it be specially referred to the authorities concerned in order that justice might be done and a pension granted.

Subsequently I received a reply from Senator McKellar dated 2nd January 1968, in which he acknowledged my letter and referred to the complaint from which Mr Medlyn was suffering. He wrote:

Mr Medlynhas unsuccessfully pursued his claim in respect of the above disabilities to the final determining authority, a War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. Once an appeal has been disallowed by a tribunal, the claim can only be reopened by the submission of further evidence which is material to and has a substantial bearing on the claim.

I therefore arranged for the statutory declaration by Mrs Medlyn and the medical certificates by Drs J. Woodburn and R. Black, which were attached to your representations, to bc submitted to the Repatriation Commission to determine whether they constituted evidence in the above sense. This was done, and on 20th December the Commission decided that they did not warrant a reopening of Mr Medlyn's claim.

There was no further inquiry. I am told that the man has not been examined for years. The Commission has no idea of Mr Medlyn's present condition. His claim has been dismissed on technical grounds, despite the fact that he is completely blind. The honourable member for Macarthur took this matter up in 1967. Mr Medlyn is now resident in my electorate and that is how he came to approach me. On 3 1 st August 1.967, Mr Medlyn wrote to Mr Bate as follows:

I refer to a letter addressed to you on 30th September 1966 by Repatriation Department. . . I cannot follow the Jack of logic, as this surgical error or negligence was performed on my person whilst serving as a soldier in the AIF.

Shortly after my discharge (unfit) from the AIF, I made a mistake by going direct to Macquarie Street specialists. I later realised 1 should have presented myself to Concord, but my eyesight was failing at that early stage, and 1 sought out the top men in the field.

I would be pleased if my case could bc looked into, as I have spent approximately 600 days in hospitals since discharge and have no assets whatsoever as a result of my afflictions. My wife and three sons have suffered privations beyond description, because of my lack of ability to provide.

At this moment he is in receipt of a blind pension. He receives nothing more. In July 1967 the lens of his left eye was removed by Mr Dean Butcher at the Sydney Eye Hospital. In September 1967 he had an acute secondary glaucoma. Hie drainage operation that was performed on him was not successful.

Mr Medlynhas submitted other detailed information in which he claims that his disability appears to be the result of the incompetence of the doctor who operated on him originally. Despite the fact that he was, at the time of his enlistment, a fine stamp of man, the Department refuses to accept any responsibility for the injury that has been done to him. I will not relate ail the details be has supplied, because some of the descriptions are somewhat sickening. For instance, after he was operated on the wound was left open and this resulted in subsequent damage. One telfer that he forwarded to me has written on it. the following:

This is an admission, a; an antral bucal fistula is nol a disease or a sickness, it is an unhealed, unstitched open wound as left by the American surgeon on the operating table. Without this there would not have been the secondary eye diseases following on.

In other words it boils down to the fact thai he was operated on by an American surgeon and the Government evidently refuses to accept responsibility for that surgeon's action. Obviously the surgeon was not qualified, in the circumstances, to perform the operation. Mr Medlyn was a man of great physique. He has supplied complete details concerning his health since his discharge. He can get no satisfaction from the Repatriation Department or from the Repatriation Commission. If the case he has presented to me is correct - and it is fully documented - then in .my long experience in the Parliament I have never seen a worse case of injustice to an exserviceman.

He has been refused a war pension at a time when Australians are dying in Vietnam and the Returned Services League is appealing for better treatment and pensions for repatriated ex-servicemen. This must have an effect on our troops in Vietnam. A totally blind man who gave hid best years for his country, and who during the war was allocated to a unit where a person had to be perfectly fit, claims that an operation performed on him by a military doctor - I admit that the doctor was an American - was responsible for his ailment, but the Repatriation Commission will not admit responsibility. To my mind this is scandalous treatment of an ex-serviceman. I challenge honourable members to meet this man, to observe his physique, and to realise fully how his disability is affecting him. He must hobble around with a stick. He receives only the pension paid to a blind person. He is trying to rear children in a proper atmosphere, but because of his disability be is compelled to live in want and squalor, as it were. If honourable members saw him they would recognise the justice of my submission.

I do not know the grounds on which the repatriation tribunal reached its decision. If the doctor was not qualified or he was not the person who should have performed the operation, this cannot be regarded as the responsibility of Mr Medlyn. He told me that at the time of his discharge his condition was so bad that he had to have treatment. So far as I am aware he sought such treatment with the approval of the authorities. 1 now submit this case and ask the Minister to arrange at least for this man to be medically examined again. I ask, not only that an independent authority should peruse the details of his medical history and case but see the man and examine him. The very least that should be done for him at this stage is to arrange another medical examination and make a complete review of his case. One cannot deny the evidence: The man is blind. He will describe the nature of his ailment and explain why it affects his eye. I bring this to the notice of the Parliament not for any political reason, but because I believe it merits attention and justice. The person concerned is entitled to the full protection of the

Repatriation Act in view of the great disability he has suffered in giving service to his country. I submit this case to the Parliament in the hope that the Minister will have the case reopened in justice to the man and his family.

Mr TURNBULL(Mallee) {3.6]- The subject on which I want to speak this afternoon concerns the Postmaster-General's Department. I have informed the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) that I will be speaking and I had hoped that he would be in the House. Nevertheless, I know that sometimes interviews hold Ministers in their offices and as the Minister is not here I am sure there is some reason for it. I made a statement to most of the papers in the Mallee electorate and I would like to read part of it to the House to let honourable members know what I am referring to. The statement as published reads:

Mr WintonTurnbull, M.H.R., has said, regarding the high cost of installations and conversion to automatic of rural telephone services, that almost continuous representations have been made to the Postmaster-General regarding the high cost to those subscribers living at a distance from the exchange.

He said that the Postmaster-General could not be held responsible for the high costs as it was his function to administer the Act and Regulations covering such operations.

We find that when the Postmaster-General's Department is converting from manual to automatic services a new exchange is installed. The price a farmer pays for connection to an automatic service depends on where the automatic exchange is situated. If the automatic exchange is near a farmer's house it is possible under the regulations that he would not have to pay anything at all for the service. If the exchange is within so many chains of the subscriber then the Postmaster-General's Department pays all the cost. But if a farmer's house is a long way - 6, 8, 10 miles or perhaps further - from the exchange then the cost multiplies and snowballs. I am told on good authority that in some cases the Postmaster-General's Department is calling upon subscribers to pay up to $2,000 or more for the line to the new automatic exchange. These subscribers get the same service after installation as those near the exchange. The reverse would apply if the exchange were built near the subscriber who was some distance away. This situation is causing more concern than most things in the Mallee electorate. Of course, the main cause of concern in the electorate at the moment is the drought.

In the electorate people are reasonable in their outlook. They do at times disagree with me but they do it with courtesy. That is why it is a wonderful electorate to represent. But they are really disturbed about this. The people in the electorate of my colleague, the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) are also disturbed about this state of affairs. The honourable member has been fighting this day and night for months and perhaps even for years. Of course, in many places his constituents are suffering the same as mine. We have cooperated to try to do what we can to assist these constituents to get their costs down.

The provision of telephone services helps to open up the country. We cannot expect people to go to far-flung places without any telephone communication. I have said in this House that telephones are much more important than television. After all, the people who go on to the land have families and have lo keep in touch with the town which in many cases is some miles away. These people may require medical services. We are always calling out for decentralisation. 1 said in a speech in the House on Tuesday that decentralisation is the catchcry of politicians. In my speech earlier this week I asked what was the good of calling for decentralisation. I pointed out that we had to do things that created conditions that would attract people to come out into the country. If this is not done then the people will drift to the cities.

I hope to have something done alum! the telephone situation, as does the honourable member for Wimmera. He and I have found that the local telephone managers, as they are called, at Ararat or Mildura or maybe at Bendigo say that this is a matter of policy and they are not able to deal wilh it. These men are excellent officers. They arc courteous and expert in their line. But what they say is true. They cannot deal with it. If you go to Mr Smith, the Director of Ports and Telegraphs in Melbourne, he will say the sams thing. If you go higher to the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, he will say the same thing. Indeed, if we come into this House and sa" it to the Postmaster-General we get exactly the same answer. So it is a mailer for the

Cabinet with the Prime Minister and all the Ministers interested taking this up and putting it on an even keel. Something must be done if we are to maintain the population in country areas. That is what we are trying to do in every possible way.

I agree that the Postmaster-General is not responsible for this extra cost. But I believe that he can instigate a movement as a result of which something will be done. I believe different things could be done. I called for an independent inquiry, but I am not pushing that request. We could have an inquiry by, if you like, officers from another department but what do we want an inquiry for at all? Everyone knows this is an injustice. A railway is built to open up the country. Many railways in Australia do not pay; they have been built to open up new country. They continue, however, to function in that capacity. We do not ask the people who are going to use the railway to pay lor its construction. The cost of construction is paid out of general revenue. The people pay their part for the railway when they use it for travel or for the transport, of goods. We should not ask the man who wants a rural telephone line on his property to pay for the cost of construction because he will pay for it through the very high cost of trunk line calls which he often has to book. The automatic service is different from the manual service. The initial cost of the automatic service is high; but it is very necessary that we have it because the cost of calls is less in certain circumstances. Every primary producer in Victoria knows that if he rings up Melbourne on a manual telephone exchange in order to obtain some spare parts for a machine that has broken down he may be asked to wait a minute or so by the person on the other end while he makes a check. Before the agent in Melbourne comes back it inevitably happens that the girl on the exchange says: 'Are you extending?' Of course, the primary producer has to extend and pay for an additional 3 minutes. However, in the case of an automatic exchange, the subscriber only pays for the amount of time of the call. On an automatic phone, if the subscriber waits for 3 minutes without getting an answer and then has to extend, he would pay only for the extra time taken. This is a very vital matter.

I do not intend to answer the numerous interjections from honourable members who live in city electorates. People in these electorates are getting their telephones on free and can speak on them for as long as they like for a nominal figure. What I am saying is that the members of the Labor Party who are interjecting, including the former Leader of the Opposition, the right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell) and the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns), should get behind me in this matter and realise that the country people must have telephone services. They should realise that this is in the best interests of the nation. It is in the best interest of decentralisation. It is something that will help to achieve uniformity of population throughout the country, and it is something that must receive serious attention.

I have one final word to say to the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme), who will recall that I wrote him a letter in which I set out my submissions and asked for his co-operation. 1 have not time now to read the letter, but I said in it: 'I would appreciate your co-operation in my objective' - which is to get a fair deal for my constituents, for the constituents of the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King), who has been fighting this cause for a long time, and for telephone subscribers in rural areas all over Australia.

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