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Thursday, 21 March 1929

Mr D CAMERON (BRISBANE. QLD) . - I have no doubt that every other honorable member in this House welcomes with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) the introduction of this measure. The 'Government is to be congratulated upon its early fulfilment of the promises made to the people that legislation for the establishment of a system of war pensions appeal would bc brought down as soon as possible this year. The Government was also extraordinarily well advised in determining to ascertain first how similar systems have operated in other countries of the world. The Governments of Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and, I believe, the United States of America and South Africa, were asked to supply the fullest particulars in relation to their various systems, and of any difficulties or weaknesses which may have been disclosed during the years that they have been in operation. The Prime Minister and the Minister in charge of the measure also urged the Federal President of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia to get into touch with organizations representing ex-service men in those countries, and to ascertain the difficulties and weaknesses that from their point of view existed in the various systems of appeal established. Every honorable member must agree that that was a very wise procedure. I understand that in every case information was readily furnished, and I feel that the result is that the system of war pension appeals which this Parliament is now setting up will bc based on the soundest and most generous footing. The Minister has been able to take advantage of the experience of other countries, and Australia should benefit by it. I, personally, am convinced that the system of appeals provided for in this bill, with some amendments which I hope will be agreed to when the committee stage is reached, will be acceptable to the great majority of those vitally concerned, our exservice men and their dependants. We cannot forget, however, that much will depend upon the personnel of these tribunals, and also, of course, on the administration of the law, when passed.

I have sometimes been asked by persons keenly interested whether I am sure in my own mind that an appeal board system would be of advantage to exservice men and their dependants. I certainly would not have advocated the establishment of such boards if I had not believed that that would be so; but I desire briefly to state the reasons which have caused me to think for some time past that the Government would be wise in establishing such a system in Australia. W e must remember that there is no court in the British Empire, with the sole exception of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, from whose decisions there is not the right to appeal. As the years pass, and we are able to view matters in their true perspective, the story of repatriation iu Australia will undoubtedly be acknowledged to be a very fine effort. There is no precedent for what Has been done. The Government made a determined effort to re-establish its ex-service men in civilian life. Mistakes, of course, have been made ; but has there ever been any great undertaking in regard to which mistakes have not been made? We can all quote individual eases of hardship with which we have come into contact, and, perhaps, in some instances, grave injustice has been done; but taking our repatriation efforts as a whole, they compare favorably with those of any other country. I do not claim that we have been more generous than any other country, but we have been quit as generous, and with the passing of this measure we shall be in the lead in what is being done for disabled ex-service men. and for the care of their dependants and of the dependants of those who have died. But however generous and liberal a scheme of repatriation may be, there will, as time goes on, be found cases - hard cases - not provided for by legislation.

From the outset this work has been regarded as a great national undertaking, which should not in any way provoke party antagonism, and I believe that the people of Australia have been behind the Government in its efforts to treat our ex-service men in the most generous way possible, having regard to the resources of the country and the future welfare of the community. I hope that honorable members will continue to treat the subject as a non-party matter.

I shall briefly mention now my reasons for considering that a war pensions appeal system is advisable. The people of Australia, on a population basis, have borne a heavier burden of repatriation expenditure than any other country, and they have done it willingly. Comparisons are often odious; but, in comparing what Australia and Canada have done in this matter, I do not wish the comparison to be so; it is my desire merely to show the relative burdens which have been undertaken by those two countries. Four hundred and eighteen thousand and fifty men embarked from Canada to serve overseas during the Great War, and the deaths that occurred on service in the Canadian forces numbered 51,650. Three hundred and thirty-one thousand nine hundred and fifty men embarked as members of the Australian Imperial Forces, and of that number 60,200 were killed or died of wounds or sickness while on active service. At the 30th June, 192S, 72,667 incapacitated ex-soldiers were in receipt of war pensions in Australia, while 48,027 were receiving pensions in Canada. If one includes the pensions payable to the dependants of incapacitated soldiers, the number is 155,809 in Australia, and 93,955 in Canada. There were also 38,194 pensions paid to dependants of deceased soldiers in Australia, and 31,393 in Canada. The total annual pension liability at the date mentioned was £7,485,5S2 in Australian and £6,846,000 in Canada, showing an increased annual liability in Australia, as compared with the Dominion of Canada, of £649,453. In the four years ended the 30th June, 192S, 2,766 Australian war pensioners died, or on the average approximately 700 per annum. I think that the honorable member for Reid included in his figures all pensioners who had died, including the dependants of ex-service men. There is no record of the number of ex-members of the Australian Imperial Forces, other than pensioners, who have died since the war. But, notwithstanding the large number of war pensioners who have passed away, our pensions liabilities continue to increase, as 891 new claims for war pensions were accepted during the year ending 30th June, 1928.

Sir Neville Howse - Although that is the number of new claims submitted, it includes many from ex-service men who have previously appealed against the decision of the repatriation commissioners.

Mr D CAMERON (BRISBANE. QLD) - I understood that they were absolutely new claims that had not previously come before the Repatriation Department.

Mr Coleman - Then how does the honorable member account for the fact that many of the claimants are suffering from the effect of gunshot wounds.

Mr D CAMERON (BRISBANE. QLD) - One does not like to refer to his own experience on active service; but, when I returned from the war more than ten years ago, I was passed as being perfectly fit. Like many others, I was anxious to get away from everything military, and wanted to get home, so when asked how I felt I assured the authorities that I was quite right. I now find that, because of gunshot wounds, which I received on Gallipoli, I shall probably need the assistance of a member of the profession of which the Minister for Repatriation is an ornament. The honorable member for Reid will realize that many mcn suffering from gunshot wounds sustained at the war may now be applying for pensions for the first time. Those S91 new claims have involved payments of 13,547 new grants to ex-service men and their dependants. In the United Kingdom the position is different, and the number of ex-soldiers on pension is decreasing. The reason for that is that a limit, terminating on the 31st August, 192S, was set to the period within which ex-members of the British. Forces could apply for war pensions. There were then about 1,000,000 pensioners, including 4S9,500 ex-service men. Still, the British Government has found it necessary in some cases to continue the right of certain applicants to appeal, particularly when suffering from neurasthenia and similar complaints. But the official records indicate that the cost to the British Ministry for Pensions has been decreasing steadily for some time past, for, while in 1921 the annual payments amounted to £106,000,000, in 1928 they were only £57,000,000. During the ten years immediately following the armistice, it cost the British Government £7S7,000,000 for war pensions, which is striking evidence of the costliness and tragedy of war, that amount being actually greater than that of the national debt of Great Britain when the war began in 1914. France during the same period paid in pensions £450,000,000, and Germany £350,000,000 ; and the casualties suffered by those countries wore greater than those in the ranks nf the British forces.

Our war pension liabilities continue to increase, despite the death of pensioners, the re-marriage of widows and the adolescence of children. Our annual pension lull has increased from £7,3S6,S42 during the year ending 30th June, 1921 to 47,690,890 during the year ending 30th June, 192S, and it will continue 10 increase. This no doubt is due to the fact that since the present Minister of Repatriation has been in charge of the department, he has, as it were, constituted himself an appeal board, and has accepted liability for claims which otherwise probably would not have been successful. The honorable member for Reid( Mr. Coleman) mentioned this increase in our war pension liabilities, and the report from which he quoted shows definitely that it has been substantial during the last four years. This war pensions expenditure is a burden which the people of Australia have always displayed a willingness to carry, and they have shown that they expect the most sympathetic administration as regards exsoldiers and their dependants.

There is no time limit to claims for war pensions under our legislation. An ex-service man may at any age, if he can connect his disability with war service, claim a pension. I may, perhaps, be permitted to mention one case which came under my notice some time ago. It was that of an ex-soldier suffering from tuberculosis. This man, I may add, was never in the field ; but that was through no fault of his own. He developed tuberculosis some years after the war. His was an extraordinarily sad case, and when it came under my notice I made a most determined effort, as many other honorable members have done iu respect of deserving cases that have been brought under their notice, to have this man's claim for a war pension considered. Tn the end, he got it, but only after the Minister had succeeded in locating the medical officer who had attended him while overseas. The decision in his favour, I understand, turned on evidence that his chest had been painted with ifr. D. Cameron. iodine. The medical officer who attended him stated definitely that only the chests of those who were wounded or had some chest trouble such as bronchitis, pneumonia, were painted with iodine. This was accepted as the necessary connecting link between his post-war trouble and his war service.

In our legislation there is, as I have stated, no time limit within which an ex-soldier may apply for and receive a pension, if he can connect his disability with war service. There is no time limit in Canada, New Zealand, or South Africa. In the United States of America the time limit is five years; in France, the time limit expired on the 30th December, 192S; in Italy, it expired in 1923, and in Germany, two years after the cessation of hostilities.

Speaking in this House on the 8th March, 1928, and again on the 10th May, 1928, I urged the Government to consider seriously the advisability of following the example of Canada and New Zealand, and to establish a tribunal, to which ex-soldiers could appeal from any decision of the Repatriation Commission. I then expressed a doubt whether, without an amending and consolidating act appeal boards would achieve the object which we all desired. I have urged the Government in the past to make provision for exsoldiers who, because of some war disability which prevents them from earning a remunerative livelihood, have become, or may become, a charge upon the State. In quite a number of cases it is almost impossible for these men to make a living. They are like so much human flotsam washed backwards and forwards in the changing tide of human progress. They are suffering from definite war disability; but are not entitled to full pension payments. The Canadian Government makes provision for this class of ex-service man, and I am convinced that we shall have to consider the problem sooner or later. In Canada, ex-service men in this category receive quarters and maintenance, also medical treatment when necessary. I have also, on other occasions, suggested that the Minister should consider the adoption of the American system under which all ex-soldiers are given free hospital treatment. The military hospitals in the United States of

America are open at all times to ex-service men irrespective of whether their disability is recognized or not as being due to war service. It would, I think, be wise to permanently assess war pensions subject to an appeal at any time and with the provision for a voluntary periodical examination to ascertain whether the condition of the pensioner had retrogressed.

I know the Government is anxious to do everything possible for the welfare of exsoldiers so as to assist them to re-establish themselves as citizens of the Commonwealth. Consideration will, I hope, be given to these points which I have raised and regarding which I feel very strongly.

Entitlement is to-day the greatest repatriation problem, bound up of course with the questions of attributability and onus of proof. It is the knowledge that every day it becomes more difficult, in an increasing number of cases, to connect disability with war service that has made me so strong an advocate of the creation of an independent tribunal to which an applicant for a war pension may appeal should he so desire. If, after the tribunals have been created and have functioned, it becomes evident that certain amendments to our legislation are necessary in order that our appeal system may function in accordance with the expressed intention and wishes of this Parliament then the Government should, without delay, bring down a bill making the necessary amendments to the act.

I think it can be claimed that our legislation has, on the whole, been fairly satisfactory. There has not been an amendment of the law since 1923. The proposal to appoint an appeal board is not a reflection upon the Repatriation Commission, which consists of three exsoldiers. It is unthinkable that a commission so constituted would deal otherwise than sympathetically with ex-service men. Nor is the proposal a reflection upon the Medical Advisory Board, which consists of four of the most eminent members of the profession. Nor is the proposal a reflection upon the present Minister for Repatriation. I believe with the Prime Minister, that had Sir Neville Howse not been available, it would have been necessary years ago to appoint appeal boards.

In Canada the system of appealing to an independent tribunal has been in existence since 1923, and is working to the satisfaction of all concerned. Nevertheless, it has been found necessary to review the Canadian Pensions Act every year. The Canadian appeal system, I may add, is entirely independent of the ordinary departmental administration. The appeal board is appointed, not by the Minister for Repatriation, but by the Minister for Justice, and the latter Minister had charge of the bill in the Canadian Parliament. In Great Britain also, the appeal tribunals are under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chancellor, not the Minister for Pensions.

Under this bill the Entitlement Tribunal will be responsible to Parliament through the Minister. I have given notice of an amendment which has been circulated, and which I believe will, if accepted, remove any doubt from the minds of ex-service men concerning the absolute independence of the Entitlement Tribunal so far as the Repatriation Commission is concerned. I believe it is wise to make this provision, and that it will make the appeal system more acceptable.

Mr Brennan - Surely much will depend upon the personnel of the tribunal.

Mr D CAMERON (BRISBANE. QLD) - I have already said that very much will depend upon the personnel of the tribunal and also upon the administration of the act. We all realize that, and I sincerely trust that the Government will be able to get the very best men for this tribunal. There are, of course, differences between our system of administration and that which has been adopted in Canada. There are no State Boards in Canada. The whole system of repatriation is centralized. Under the Canadian Act the appellant has the right of personal appearance before the tribunal. That right is also given under the bill now before us. Entitlement is recognized as unquestionably the main subject in pension appeals. Repeated requests have been made to the Canadian Government to provide assessment tribunals such as those for which provision is made in the bill now before us, but the Dominion Government maintains that they are impracticable. 1 hope that our efforts will prove that there is nothing impracticable about them and that they will give entire satisfaction. If that should prove to be the case, I feel sure that the Canadian Government will be disposed to set up similar tribunals, because of the enormous amount of work that has to be done in the hearing of appeals. In Canada it is not possible to consider more than 2,000 appeals per annum, and a royal commission has been investigating the matter. It will, I firmly believe, recommend the establishment, of assessment tribunals. The Canadian Board of Appeal is directly responsible to Parliament and the chairman of the board was formerly the chief medical officer to the Board of Pensions. With all due respect for our Minister in charge of repatriation, I do not think that a similar appointment would be aceptable to ex-service men in Australia. No reflection is intended regarding the chief medical officer of our Repatriation Department; but there is a definite desire that medical men should not sit upon the entitlement board. The Canadian act allows one appeal only, but there is a proviso that should fresh evidence of a material nature be submitted within one year, another appeal can be made if the Board of Pension Commissioners, after considering the fresh evidence, again reject the application. If that appeal is again rejected, the applicant and the Board of Pensions must accept the decision as final. In our bill there is no such limit. An ex-member of the forces who can bring forward fresh evidence may continue appealing until he reaches any age, and this, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) must recognize, is most generous. It is a provision that should be acceptable to the ex-members of the forces. As a matter of fact, from what I am able to gather from communications I have received from the organizations in Queensland, they are most agreeably surprised that the Government has found it possible to establish assessment tribunals in each State as well as the entitlement tribunal- Distant States such as Queensland and Western. Australia will derive the greatest advantage from this. In the Canadian and New Zealand Acts provision is made that the hoard must not remain in one place, but must visit the large centres of population. There is, however, always a tendency for a board of this description to settle down in one spot, with the result that outlying centres do not see much of it. These assessment tribunals will save a tremendous amount of time.

The jurisdiction of the Canadian board is limited to the direct question of entitlement. It has no power to assess the rate of pension. The right of appeal to the board lies with the soldier or his dependant only. It is also interesting to note that the expenditure incurred in connexion with the Canadian board for the last year for which figures are available was £30,000. We can, therefore, appreciate the fact that the system proposed in the bill before us is likely to be expensive ; but, as I have previously said, the Government has not considered expense when anything could be done to improve the conditions of ex-service men and their dependants. I have already pointed out that the provisions for establishing assessment tribunals will prove acceptable, as also the generous provision which permits the applicant to appeal from the decision of the commission as many times as he chooses to do so if he can bring forward the necessary fresh evidence. It does not remain with the commission to finally say whether the evidence brought forward is or is not fresh and relevant. The ex-service man can appeal to the tribunal upon this question if he desires to do so. That provision should also give satisfaction. The assessment tribunals set up in each State will consist of a chairman, who will be an ex-soldier with legal knowledge - I think he is required to possess the right to practice in the High Court or the Supreme Court of a State - and two medical men, who will be selected from a panel. This method of appointing assessment tribunals has proved most satisfactory in Great Britain. The willing services of the greatest specialists in the land have always been available. I have heard from the officer actually responsible for the appointment of these tribunals that the system adopted has worked splendidly. On appeals, for instance, in cases of heart trouble, the services of men like Lord Dawson, probably the greatest heart specialist in the world, ure always available. These eminent men have always been willing to help in the work of deciding what is fair and just. I am easy in my mind that the members of the medical profession in Australia will be equally ready to help in this work. The Minister will have no difficulty in getting them in each State, and in every centre, to sit on these tribunals and help the work of repatriation in. every way possible, and the applicant will always be given the benefit of any doubt. Of course, it is essential that no medical practitioner associated with the Repatriation Commission, whether he be a specialist or not, should sit on one of these tribunals. Provision is made in the bill to enable the commission to increase the pension of a man who has already appeared before an assessment tribunal if subsequently it is found that his condition has become worse. The commission can grant the increased pension without further reference to the assessment tribunal; but it has no right, so far as I can gather, to decrease any pension once it has been assessed by an assessment tribunal.

Sub-section 2 of proposed new section 45 w is a most important one, dealing as it does with the great problems of attributability and onus of proof. It definitely sets out that an appellant shall have the benefit of any reasonable doubt when appealing to the entitlement or assessment tribunals. The question of onus of proof has been the subject of long debate in the Parliaments of New Zealand and Canada, and it is most interesting to read what occurred in 1923, when this legislation was introduced in the Parliaments of both Dominions. Practically the whole of the discussions centred round this most difficult problem. In August, 1923, the legislation for the creation of an appeal board was introduced in the New Zealand House of Representatives by Sir Heaton Rhodes, the Minister in charge of war pensions. When bringing down the bill, ho said that one of the greatest difficulties in connexion with the payment of war pensions was attributability. Doubts were expressed during the debate as to whether any lawyer could draw up a clause to meet the position. It was considered almost impossible to do so.

Mr Brennan - It is not an easy matter.

Mr D CAMERON (BRISBANE. QLD) - Do we desire to bring about such a position that an exsoldier well up in years, when he is, say, 60, 70 or 80 years old, and when he is afflicted with some disability such as senile tuberculosis, may be able to claim that he would not have been so afflicted if he had not been to the war? He might not have any proof that his trouble was in any way connected with war service. The question is whether it is the intention of this Parliament or the wish of the soldiers themselves that it should be possible for a man in such circumstances and at any age to become a charge on the country - whether a man should have the right, years after he has left the forces, to claim that he is suffering a disability from his war service, and the onus of proof must, rest on the commission to prove the contrary. I do not think that the ex-service men would ask this. Throughout the New Zealand debate it was generally recognized that the difficulties in connexion with this problem were innumerable. The Leader of the Opposition in the New Zealand House of Representatives talked at length on the matter. He welcomed the sub-clause which provided -

On any such appeal the Appeal Board may receive evidence as it thinks fit, whether of a strictly legal nature or not.

I think that provision is in our bill. Another honorable member in the New Zealand House moved an amendment -

Provided that the board shall not reject an application if in its opinion there is reasonable presumption that the death or disability was due to or aggravated by the applicant's employment as a member of the forces.

I have not succeeded in ascertaining the difference between "reasonable presumption" and "reasonable doubt." This honorable member advocated another amendment, which provided -

A record that an applicant was discharged as fit shall not be taken as conclusive evidence that his subsequent death or disability was not due to his employment as a member of the forces.

That seems to me to be a very sound provision.

Mr Brennan - It is a negative proposition.

Mr D CAMERON (BRISBANE. QLD) - I do not think so. A man may have been discharged as fit on his return to Australia. His sea voyage may have pulled him together, and in his anxiety to get his discharge he may not have mentioned his disability. In the Canadian House of Commons, on the 11th June, 1923, the Minister of Soldiers Civil Reestablishment, Mr. Belaud, moved the second reading of the bill which provided for a War Pensions Appeal Tribunal, and the debate which followed was most interesting. As in New Zealand, the whole discussion centred upon the discussion of attributability and onus of proof. Early in the debate an amendment was proposed which seems to me to be rather like the amendment which ha3 been circulated by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). It was -

That a member suffering from tuberculosis, neurasthenia, cancer, or any other disease or incapacity which could reasonably be attributed to war service, should be deemed to be suffering from a disease attributable to or aggravated by naval, military or air force service, unless or until it was shown that the disease or incapacity was neither attributable nor aggravated by such service, and for the purpose of the provision acceptance for such service should be conclusive that at the time of joining such service the officer or man was not suffering from any such disease or incapacity.

It is difficult for a man who has had no legal training to know what this provision means, but the whole of the debate in the Canadian House hinged upon it, although in the end it was not acceptable and even the mover of it agreed that it could not be adopted.

Sub-section 2 of proposed section 45 w provides that tribunals shall not in the hearing of appeals be bound by any rules of evidence, but shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case, and shall give to an appellant the benefit of any reasonable doubt. The honorable member for Reid does not like the word "reasonable"; but I take that sub-section to mean that if the appellant can show a case which can reasonably be attributed to war service, and a doubt exists, then the Appeal Board must give the benefit of the doubt to the appellant. That I know to be the intention of the Government and of honorable members, and I think that the sub-section fairly expresses it. So far as I am able to judge, ex-members of the Australian Imperial Force agree that any claim for a pension should be supported by evidence if possible. Proposed new section 45x provides that the information in the records may be made available to the appellants or their representatives under certain conditions. A soldiers' file should contain full particulars of his service and subsequent dealings with the Repatriation Department, and honorable members must be aware that in some instances it would not be kind to hand over a file to an applicant. I understand that in Canada the soldier is permitted to sign his medical report, and it cannot be used in evidence against him unless it is signed; but sometimes it would be unwise to disclose to the soldier all the evidence which the department has gathered, possibly on the Commissioner's assurance to the informant that portions of it would be treated as confidential. We know of instances in which the disclosure of such documents would, perhaps, cause the breaking up of happy homes. If we have a definite assurance that, whilst safeguarding confidential information, everything possible will be done to give the soldier all the facts bearing on his case, that should be sufficient. Perhaps it might be possible to arrange for the private medical officer of an applicant to have access to the files. I think that should be done.

Mr Coleman - Does not the honorable member think that soldier advisers should be appointed?

Mr D CAMERON (BRISBANE. QLD) - Speaking in this chamber on the 10th May of last year to the motion of the honorable member for Reid, I expressed the view that it would be wise to appoint at least one adviser in each State. I do not agree that the first duty of the officers of the department is to the department. The duty of every officer is to do all he possibly can to assist the applicant. Of course, an officer has hot always the time to give to a particular case, and it would be of advantage to the soldier if the matter could be followed up through an adviser. Organizations representing ex-soldiers do a lot of this work, but many ex-service men do not belong to them. 1 think it would be to the advantage of returned soldiers generally if each of them joined one of the leagues or associations. I support the suggestion of the honorable member for Reid, and I hope the Minister will give an assurance that he will investigate it. I shall support the second reading of the bill, and I hope that when it reaches the committee stage the Minister will agree to any amendments which are likely to improve the measure. I am convinced that honorable members will continue this debate in a non-party spirit. I was sorry to hear the honorable member for Reid say that all improvements that have been effected in the repatriation legislation are due to the advocacy of himself, the honorable member for Adelaide and the honorable member for Ballarat.

Mr Coleman - I did not say that.

Mr D CAMERON (BRISBANE. QLD) - That claim was not an evidence of the non-party spirit. Personally, I do not care who gets the credit so long as we can improve the legislation and make it more generous to the unfortunate ex-soldiers. We all are keen to make this appeal system a success and acceptable to the men, and I believe that by so doing we shall greatly help the unfortunate ex-soldiers and their dependants and also the dependants of the 60,000 of our comrades who now lie in many foreign lands - I might almost say wherever the glory of British arms was greatest.

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