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Thursday, 21 September 1972
Page: 1832

Mr HOLTEN (Indi) (Minister for Repatriation) - in reply - Like the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) my speaking time is restricted, in accordance with an agreement that has been arrived at. I should say for the benefit of those people who are listening to the broadcast that the Government is not deliberately restricting the debate on the repatriation legislation. It is part of an overall agreement that has been reached in the House between the Leader of the House (Mr Chipp) and the Whips because of the amount of business and the number of Bills that are on the notice paper both for today and for the future. For that reason I have agreed to be brief and !o the point. Therefore it will be impossible for me to cover all the points that have been raised by all the speakers who took part in this debate.

Firstly, I thank all honourable members who passed some kind comments about myself but more importantly I thank those honourable members who have commented on the staff of the Repatriation Department in both an overall sense and a particular sense. I pay my tribute to the staff of the Department who have helped to produce the proposals before this House tonight. Any words of praise uttered are well and truly justified, because of their general overall attention to duty, dedication to the job, and administrative efficiency.

A lot of the matters raised by honourable members in this debate are being considered by Mr Justice Toose, who is heading the independent inquiry into repatriation. They include some which were referred to by the honourable member for Hughes. No doubt they will be considered also by the Senate inquiry. I compliment the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) on the words he used and the obvious sincerity with which he uttered them. He is a young man compared with myself and a few others in the Parliament and it was good to see a young man with his heart in the right place. He has interests of ex-servicemen at heart. The honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) raised matters which he has raised before in this Parliament, although this time he went into a little more detail. He mentioned the percentage of favourable decisions by various tribunals. Other honourable members also referred to decisions of repatriation tribunals. I repeat that these tribunals are completely independent of the Department and of the Minister for Repatriation. These tribunals have an unenviable task. Another point that ought to be remembered by people who are critical of the. determining authorities is that every member - I think I am right in saying this - of every determining authority throughout Australia is a returned serviceman. To say that the men who sit on these tribunals have no experience in or knowledge of service conditions is not accurate.

One honourable member implied that claims for a pension entitlement for cancer as a war caused disability were hardly ever accepted. The statistics do not bear out that claim. In the last 12 years, arising from the 1914 war 1,050 claims were accepted and 5,000 were disallowed. I am speaking in round figures. For the 1939 war the acceptance rate for cancer claims was 37 per cent. There were 5,780 claims accepted and 9,500 rejected. For subsequent conflicts 115 claims were accepted and 127 were disallowed, the acceptance rate being 47 per cent.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Do you know how any of those cases were caused?

Mr HOLTEN - As I said, it is the job of the determining authorities throughout Australia to take account of all the evidence that is placed before them and then to use their judgment. What an unenviable task those people have. Honourable members have referred to the difficulty associated with having a case accepted. I wholeheartedly agree with this comment. I have had the opportunity to present cases myself both before I was the Minister for Repatriation and since my appointment. I have found it just as difficult as have other honourable members to have a claim accepted. Naturally by the time a claim reaches a member of Parliament it has usually been through, if not all, at least two of the three authorities concerned.

Mr Barnard - Not always.

Mr HOLTEN - Not always, i did not say always. I said that usually by the time a case reaches a member of Parliament it has been reviewed by at least one of the appeal boards. But like other honourable members all I can say is that I have found the members of these boards to be conscientious in their application to their duty of deciding the various claims. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) said - 1 was surprised to hear him say it - this Bill contains what could be described as quite generous provisions. 1 thought that was a very fair comment by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

I will deal with some of the other matters mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I repeat that I have contracted to limit my speaking time to 10 minutes and therefore I must be brief in replying to the various points which have been raised. There is a great deal of emotional sympathy on the part of everybody towards the 1914-18 war veterans and the Boer War veterans who require hospital treatment. People have said that it would not cost much to provide hospital treatment for all of them. The estimated cost for a full year is S6.8m. But the cost is not the only factor to be considered. Repatriation treatment is basically available for conditions caused by war service. Many of the 1914-18 veterans are service pensioners and if they meet the requirements of the means test they are entitled to treatment in repatriation hospitals. There is a shortage of bed space in some hospitals and there are staff problems associated with the giving of hospital treatment and medical treatment to all 1914-18 ex-servicemen.

But a great number of them who come within the service pension provisions and who are assessed to be in need are entitled to treatment.

There has been a lot of comment by members of the Opposition regarding the TPI rate and its relationship to the minimum wage, particularly in the year 1949. They are relating the TPI rate to the basic wage. There is a big difference between the factor composition of the basic wage in 1949 and the factor composition of the minimum wage today. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the percentages were approximately the same. But that does not tell the whole story because in 1949 all that a TPI soldier or a pensioner received was the TPI pension. Now he is eligible for a means test pension and for all sorts of concessions, and quite rightly so. The position is now entirely different from what it was in 1949. There is a close relationship now with the minimum wage. As to the true money value of the TPI pension - even taken at the bare figure of $48 a week - as it is tax free it is equivalent to $54 a week, approximately $2.50 above the minimum wage. TPI pensioners receive other concessions which members of the community who are earning the minimum wage do not receive; for instance, in the medical field, telephone rentals, sales tax and so on. Members of the Opposition, in particular the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard), have made statements which really do not give the Returned Services League or other interested ex-service organisations a definite indication as to what the policy of the Australian Labor Party in relation to pensions would be if it were elected to power. Its promises are rather vague, some apply for one year and some apply over an indefinite period. I do not think a great deal of confidence can be placed in the statements made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He probably will not have the opportunity to put them to the test. 1 doubt that his promises will be tested. 1 refer now to the inquiries that were mentioned earlier. I was interested to hear the various comments of people who were critical of witnesses at some of the public inquiries. I am not going to speak at length on this matter; I wish only to make a couple of observations. I have found that people often spoil their credibility and the soundness of their case by using over dramatic and exaggerated words. Further, they do not give all the circumstances relating to the case. A great deal of publicity has been given to the granting of a pension to an 80-year-old gentleman for a certain complaint. That is not correct. The fact of the matter is that the complaint for which he is receiving a pension resulted from a war caused injury. It has caused him a great deal of pain and suffering. Of course I am not at liberty to disclose the man's name or the medical details of his case, and I do not intend to do so. I do think that people who try to bolster a case and thereby receive widespread publicity through the news media by making a smartalec remark about an 80-year-old man getting a pension because he is impotent ought to be ashamed of themselves. That was not the case. When these people are painting a critical picture with a wide brush they should remember that they are causing embarrassment and ridicule to many thousands of decent and gallant exservicemen without whose efforts in war these people would not enjoy the freedoms and rights of criticism in Australia that they do today.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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