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Tuesday, 30 November 1971
Page: 3805

Mr BARNARD (Bass) - Mr Chairman,you may remember that, probably transgressing the rules and regulations of this Parliament, 1 did indicate while the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) was speaking that he was obviously not interested in the problems of the War Service Homes Division or of those who are not receiving assistance under the terms of this legislation and that he was more concerned as usual with taking a smart political point. Let me say to this- Committee, and particularly to the Minister for Social Services, that J am not prepared to sit back in this Parliament and decline to accept at least some of the credit for the attitudes that I have adopted on behalf of the Opposition in relation to the problems of ex-servicemen. If the Minister for Social Services is able to achieve as much as a Minister and as a so-called responsible member of the Ministry in relation to the abolition of the means test as I have been able to achieve in this Parliament in relation not only to war service homes benefits but also repatriation matters generally, he will be able to stand up in this chamber and talk in the way he did when he delivered his speech only a few moments ago. But no-one is surprised at the Minister for Social Services. He talks but he never acts. Indeed he wants to see justice denied to ex-servicemen. I agree with what you, Mr Chairman, said in rela- lion to this matter, that perhaps we ought to come back to the amendment and that probably the speeches that have been made this afternoon dealt with matters that are quite irrelevant.

I am disappointed al the fact that both the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) and the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) have decided after reflection - not mature reflection, but reflection nevertheless - over the weekend that they will not support the amendment which they indicated last Thursday night they would support. Let me remind the honourable member for Moreton and Ihe honourable member for La Trobe of the terms of the amendment which I moved, lt reads:

Before paragraph (a) insert the following paragraph: by adding at the end of the definition of "Australian soldier" in sub-section (I.) the following words: and includes serving members of the permanent forces'.

I emphasise the words 'and includes serving members of the permanent forces'. We make no apology for this. I am sure lhat every honourable member in this Parliament, government members as well as honourable members on this side, fully understand the policy of the Australian Labor Party in relation to the terms of the War Service Homes Act, and lhat is to extend the benefits of this Act to every member who serves in the regular forces of this country. This is our policy. Surely the Minister for Social Services would not suggest that we have been trying to make a cheap political point in this Parliament this afternoon by merely taking the opportunity to advocate what is, after all, our policy. I. am sure that if this is put to those who are responsible for speaking on behalf not only of the ex-servicemen in this country but also, as the Returned Services League of Australia has put it on so many occasions, on behalf of those who are serving in the armed forces in Australia, they would agree with the contention of the Labor Party that it is not beyond this Government financially or in any other way to extend the terms and provisions of the war service homes legislation to those who serve in the regular forces in this country.

I do not want to go back over the points that I made last Thursday night when I spoke on this matter but I did point out to the Minister that Labor Government did not deny to those who joined the forces in the 1939-45 War the benefits of the war service homes legislation if they joined for the purpose of serving this country overseas. That is, if they made themselves available to serve anywhere they were directed during their period of service they would be eligible for the benefits of the war service homes legislation. The Minister obviously does not understand this. I do not think he wants to understand it. While one could probably excuse the Minister for not knowing the Act when he was first appointed the plain fact is that he has held this portfolio long enough now to have some understanding of the legislation relating to war service homes. 1 have heard some criticism this afternoon about the intentions and actions of the honourable member for La Trobe and the honourable member for Moreton. But the guilty person in this is the Minister himself. I say that the Minister is guilty because he has had the whole weekend to reflect on what was said in this House on Thursday night. If the Minister is not prepared at this stage to accept that the benefits of the war service homes legislation should be extended to all regular serving members of the armed forces in this country then he at least might, in common justice and in a sense of decency, give consideration to the appeal that was made not only by myself but by the honourable member for Moreton as well, when we drew attention to the anomalies in relation to those who have served this country in Vietnam. How does the Minister justify these anomalies? Surely we do not have to await a long and considered judgment by the Cabinet to determine whether a member of the Royal Australian Air Force flying in a Hercules aircraft from Australia into Vietnam, into a war zone, and who stayed there overnight or even only a few hours and then returned to Australia, is entitled to benefits under this legislation? How can such a person possibly be denied the benefits of war service homes legislation?

I would go much further and say that he should be given not only the benefits of the war service homes legislation but also repatriation benefits. The honourable member for La Trobe claims - and I believe that probably he is justified to an extent in making the claim - that he is always looking for and has always looked for ways to extend benefits to ex-servicemen in this country and to serving members of the forces. If he is justified in making this claim then surely he can see the logic in extending these benefits immediately to this group of people. .1 can only repeal, as another honourable member did this afternoon, that this matter was raised not only last Thursday night during the course of a debate on the amendment I have referred to but also by me in this House nearly 12 months ago.

How does the Government justify its discrimination against someone who accepts the responsibility of flying into Vietnam, a Hercules aircraft, with all the value attached to that plane and all the dangers associated with such a mission? If I were to write to the Minister concerning one of these pilots the Minister would write back to me and say that the person is not eligible to receive the benefits of the war service homes legislation. What utter nonsense. Yet we have the hypocrisy of the Minister for Social Services who can stand up in this House and-

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock)Order!

Mr BARNARD - I withdraw the word 'hyprocrisy'. Yet we have the Minister for Social Services standing up in this House and suggesting that we are trying to score a point. Let the Minister stand up and justify the action of the Government that discriminates against this, section of the community, those who have served this country in a war that this Minister has consistently supported. Now we may argue whether Australia ought to have been involved or not, and we have so argued in this House, but when it comes to defending the rights of those who serve there then I intend not to be behind anyone in this Parliament in making my stand known. The plain fact is that if the honourable member for La Trobe and the honourable member for Moreton accept our propositions, if they believe that in common justice this country can now afford to extend the benefits of the war service homes legislation to all those who serve in the armed Services in this country, as we did for those who served during the 1939-45 war, and as we did again after the

Korean war, without any discrimination, then they will support the amendment which has been moved not for the purpose of scoring some political point but to provide a measure of justice to those who deserve this assistance.

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