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Thursday, 25 November 1971
Page: 3714


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think that the Committee has been interested to hear the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) and also the interjections made by the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen). These very significant developments have occurred during the course of this debate. Earlier in the debate, during the second reading stage, several honourable members stood alone on this side of the chamber when we were contending that the war service homes scheme was a profitable venture and that the Government should be able to extend it without cost to the country. Of course, this is the nature of the amendment that we have moved. Let me say at the outset in connection with the remarks of the honourable member for La Trobe, if I have not misunderstood him, that he is making the point that if the Opposition were to move an amendment which was designed to accommodate present members of the forces he would be prepared to support it.


Mr Jess - Yes, but that is not what you are saying.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would remind the honourable member of the terms of the amendment which is before the Committee at the present time. They are as follows:

Australian Soldier1 means a serving member of the Forces or a former member who has been honourably discharged.

If I. may engage in this aside, Mr Chair-, man. would I be correct in assuming that the honourable member for La Trobe would be prepared to support an amendment which did not contain the words after the word 'Forces' in the present amendment? That is to say, he stands for the proposition that eligibility for war service homes should be extended to people who can be described as Australian soldiers, because that means serving members of the Forces. If we moved an amendment which stated: '"Australian Soldier" means a serving member of the Forces', I understand that the honourable member for La Trobe would be willing to support us in that regard.


Mr Jess - You would be dead right.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have an indication from the honourable member for Reid that by making a correction to the present amendment we would be able to accommodate the honourable member for La Trobe, because he has been talking about members of the Navy more than about soldiers.


Mr Jess - I have been talking about servicemen.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course. If the word 'serviceman' were substituted for the word 'soldier' in the amendment, the honourable member would be more effectively accommodated.


Mr Jess - I would even agree with that.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Very well. I have an assurance from the honourable member for Reid, who is leading for the Opposition in this debate as the shadow Minister for Housing, that that amendment could now be moved on behalf of the Opposition. I have the imprimatur of the honourable member for Reid who has handed me a proposed amendment which changes the amendment which has been before the Committee up to this point of time to read:

Australian Serviceman' means a serving member of the Forces.

Of course, the intention is to provide war service homes benefits to people who fit that definition, lt has been a significant debate. 1 am pleased that the honourable member for La Trobe has brought a little sense to bear on this matter from the Government's point of view. I was particularly interested to hear the honourable member for Moreton, a former Minister for the Navy, interjecting this afternoon and indicating bis willingness, too, to do something towards this end. This afternoon we had crocodile tears from the ex-service Government supporters who were expressing their approval of the service given by the Australian forces in Vietnam. Of course, we all share in those expressions of approval. But we took the opportunity to say that more consideration should be extended to Australia's serving members by way of providing improved repatriation benefits and of course war service home benefits. Here we have the first test after that significant debate this afternoon, and it provides an opportunity for Government supporters more or less to put their money where their mouths are, if I can express it like that, and show that they are fair dinkum in what they say.

The honourable member for Moreton, a former Minister for the Navy, has indicated that he approves of the proposed amendment, too. I hope that he has the interests of the members of the naval forces at heart to the extent that the honourable member for La Trobe has indicated and is prepared to go along with this proposed amendment. Now that we will have a vote on this amendment in a short time, it seems that we will have the support of at least 2 Government supporters. 1 am pleased to see that the honourable member for Moreton has come into the chamber because I have been talking about him.


Mr Killen - 1 have just been out for a moment. I am very sorry. I hope the honourable member will forgive me.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Certainly. 1 have been expressing warm approval of the fact that he indicated that he would go along with the idea of providing war service home benefits to serving members of the forces. I know that the honourable member for Moreton will be pleased to know that the Opposition has decided to submit an amendment to that effect. Already we have an indication that the honourable member for La Trobe is prepared to assist us.


Mr Killen - May I take it that you are fining it down to serving member?


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Exactly. We are simply saying that the definition of 'Australian Serviceman' means a serving member of the forces. The amendment is designed to extend eligibility for assistance under the War Service Homes Act to serving members of the forces. My colleague the honourable member for Reid would be pleased to make a copy of the proposed amendment available to the honourable member for Moreton. I do not want to talk at great length about this matter. I had proposed to outline the way in which a serviceman is described in the War Service Homes Act. 1 do not know that it is necessary to do so. One effective summary is along these lines: Eligibility - that is eligibility for a war service home - in respect of current service in the forces is derived from the period of service as a member of the forces for the purposes of the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act 1962-1968. 'Member of the forces' is defined in the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act as meaning a' person who while a member of the defence forces has served on special service.

Of course, there are many members of the forces who are in far off places rendering their valuable service. The honourable member for Moreton knows, for example, that on the Equator on Los Negros or Mantis Island many members of the Royal Australian Navy are making very significant sacrifices under- very difficult conditions and that Australian servicemen are stationed in Darwin, elsewhere in the Northern Territory, Papua New Guinea and Singapore. The fact that they do not get into a theatre of war is obviously not the point. A serviceman can go to Vietnam, never hear a shot fired, come back and be eligible for a war service home loan. Why, then, should he not be entitled to war service home benefits if he goes to intolerable places such as Manus Island or if he serves in the bowels of a ship in the tropics for a long period of time?

If honourable members look at the report of the Department of Defence, they will see that in the year 1971 there were no fewer than 123,000 serving members of the forces made up of 23,000 in the Navy, 76,000 in the Army and 24,000 in the Air Force who will benefit at the present lime. Mr Chairman, we have been very willing to spend large amounts of money on deploying these personnel in times of war and in times of peace. In fact, the defence estimates for 1971-72 run close to $ 1,000m. When we can spend that kind of money on defence it ought to be reasonable for this Committee to support the allocation of money which will enable members of the Services to derive some benefit from the career that they have undertaken and the great sacrifices which they have made overseas. Accordingly, 1 am prepared to move-


Mr Uren - I should seek leave to move the amendment to my original amendment.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then I am prepared to commend strongly the amendment I have outlined to the Committee and if leave is given to the honourable member tor Reid to amend his amendment we will be able to test the feeling of the Committee and to seek from the honourable members for La Trobe and Moreton the support which they have indicated they are prepared to give to this proposal. If our amendment is carried a large number of servicemen - young servicemen - will be able lo derive great benefit in obtaining low priced dwellings under the war service homes scheme.







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