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Monday, 12 November 1973
Page: 3146

Mr BONNETT (Herbert) - I should like first to remind the Government that the first principle of repatriation is compensation, and that there is a responsibility on governments to recognise that an individual's service in the armed forces in the defence of his country is worthy of compensation when, as a result of that service, he suffers some disability. I mention this as a lead-up to what I have to say later.

Unfortunately, as the period of time from the end of the war becomes greater people are apt to forget that there are some members of the community who remain handicapped and will be constantly suffering, regardless of the time that passes since they received their disability in war service, and that that will remain so until death claims them. People may forget such a man, but governments should not. Although I appreciate that since the repatriation system was introduced in 1917 extensions and modifications 'have been made to the original provisions of the scheme by successive governments, I feel that periodical reviews of those provisions and their administration should continue to be made. Medical science has improved greatly since the inception of the repatriation scheme, and is continuing to improve. This could mean that a particular treatment that 20 years ago was regarded as the best possible treatment might now be outdated and that a different type of treatment, recently innovated, might be better for the patient in question. This could mean the recall of a number of patients to hospitals to receive that modern treatment. But I am sure that the beneficial result to the Repatriation patient would more than compensate for any additional administration or finance involved.

Briefly, what I mean to suggest is that wherever there is a possibility of a Repatriation member being relieved of any suffering through receiving modern treatment for his disability, that treatment should be given regardless of cost. I also mentioned that a periodical review of the administrative system was necessary. While I appreciate the efficiency of the departmental staff, there are times through no fault of their own, when the administrative work load becomes very heavy, and besides inconveniencing the staff, inconvenience must flow on to affect the Repatriation member. This should not be allowed to happen. A member's business with the Department should be completed as expeditiously as possible with as little inconvenience as possible. Again, I mentioned earlier that the first principle of repatriation is compensation. But some people's idea of compensation is different from others, and this needs to be clearly defined. There are those who think that monetary compensation alone is sufficient. But I think that this is a negative approach. Rehabilitation must play a big part in compensating an individual who has suffered some disability in the service of his country. Successful rehabilitation of an incapacitated member can mean a lot to that member's dignity and pride and could be the means of enabling him to become a useful member of the community and of greater assistance and value to his family.

Mr James - Do you think that it might have the reverse effect?

Mr BONNETT - That could be. Where it is possible a member should be encouraged to avail himself of the opportunities of modern methods of rehabilitation and be assisted by the Government to do so. Successful rehabilitation in lots of instances could give a number of Repatriation members a new or greater interest in life and a reason for living. While this is being done to some extent at the present time, the scheme could be expanded, and as well as those members affected, the country would also benefit.

One other matter which could be given consideration .deals with the situation where a member appearing before a commission or a tribunal has his claim rejected and is informed of the reasons for the rejection by mail or is told in some other way. Now, the Government proposes that the tribunal or the commission must give him reasons for the rejection of his claim. I am of the opinion - and that is my problem - that where a member has a terminal disease, a problem of mental health, or some incapacity due to previous venereal disease infection, the reasons for his claim's rejection as not being due to war service should be guarded, coded or clouded in some way - I do not care how it is done - in order to avoid embarrassment to his family.

Unfortunately, in 10 minutes which is all one is allowed in this debate one is not able to deal adequately with all relevant matters. Another very pertinent point I would like to raise dealing with the treatment of Repatriation pensioners is the method of deciding just what a Repatriation member's worth is in the way of pensions. Under existing arrangements the establishment of rates of pension appears to be extremely complex and, even after this has been decided, any increases to pensions are left completely to the whim of governments according to Budget requirements. In other words, a Repatriation member gets an increase in his pension if the Government of the day regardless of its political colour thinks it is politically expedient for it to do so. I cannot help but feel that in many instances the real reason for the member receiving the pension has been forgotten, and the increase, or the size of the increase, is made according to what the Government of the day will think is popular in order to angle for the ex-servicemen's vote. I have felt this for many years and I still feel it. This arrangement must conflict with the principle of adequate compensation, and payment to incapacitated servicemen should be removed completely from this parliamentary scene and the subsequent dispute over it between Government and Opposition eliminated. I can see no. reason why a fixed relationship between, say, the special rate pension and the minimum wage - this matter has been raised before, but this is my feeling - could not be made, with the general rate and other pension rates being adjusted proportionately. These compensation payments could be adjusted automatically with changes in the minimum wage, and always effected as soon as administratively possible.

We know there are different degrees of disability. But if the special rate pension was related to the minimum wage rate, at least it would be a base to work from. We know that all special rate pensioner disabilities vary. Some such pensioners can undertake some form of employment, while others cannot. This we know. All of us have seen examples of it. With the introduction of the rehabilitation scheme that I mentioned previously, it could be possible that some of the special rate pensioners could be permitted to undertake some form of employment to bring their income up to a reasonable living wage. But in the case of a special rate pensioner not being able to undertake any employment whatsoever because of his physical disabilities an employability allowance equal to a percentage of the minimum wage could be paid. This is in respect of the case where there is no possibility of the man being rehabilitated or undertaking any form of employment.

If there were to be any restrictions on this pension, I would say the employability allowance would only be payable subject to the amount of any income from other sources. But where encouragement is given for the special rate pensioner to receive rehabilitation treatment for his physical disability, and where possible to assist the member to perform some type of employment, I would say that this would be gladly received by Repatriation members in that category, for I am sure - I know this from speaking to many of them - they would rather do this than receive any employability allowance.

Unfortunately, the time allotted to me has nearly expired. I wish to mention one point in conclusion. I hope that I can complete my remarks on this matter as it is something which disturbs me greatly. This is to do with hearings at tribunals. I believe that members of a tribunal should accept the evidence that is placed before them, treat it impartially and with justice, and should be allowed to make their decision without interference from any person or persons outside the tribunal. I have reason to believe - I have been informed - that there are members of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate who have been in touch with chairman of tribunals and/ or advocates prior to a case being heard. I believe that more will be heard on this matter later.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins) - Order! The honourable member's time, has expired.

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