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Wednesday, 7 November 1973
Page: 1580


Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) -In anticipation of an opportunity in the future for a fullscale debate on the report by the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare with respect to repatriation, I wish to make some brief remarks at this stage. I indicate at the outset that the presentation of the report by Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield was not necessarily an act of chivalry on my part, although I must confess that my actions could be categorised in that way. Rather was this a recognition of the work of Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield as chairman of this Committee. She was chairman at the time when this inquiry commenced. Eighteen months have elapsed between that time and the finalisation of the report. She saw the inquiry through that period.

One of the regrettable features of the report is to be found in paragraph 4 of the 'Preface'. This shows, regrettably, a lack of continuity in the membership of this Committee. Notwithstanding that fact, I do not think that, in the final analysis, this has militated against the quality of the work by the Committee. But I do feel that it probably in some part did have an effect, particularly when the business 'end of the inquiry began with the compilation of the Committee's report and recommendations to the Senate.

The most important chapter of the report is the one dealing with the recommendations of the Committee. As I said earlier, I do not propose to go into detail at this stage. But if honourable senators take the opportunity to examine in some detail the Committee's report as a whole, and particularly its recommendations, they will see that there is a genuine attempt to restructure the decision making apparatus of the existing repatriation system. This will require- the Government has acted in part on one of our recommendations in this respect- the decision making tribunal to give reasons for its decisions.

This, in my view, is an advance as it will give rise to a tribunal being required to set out in writing the reasons for its decisions, whether they be in favour of or against an applicant. In turn, consequent upon a decision, an applicant will be in the position of being able to ascertain precisely whether there is any worthwhile opportunity for him to lodge an appeal against that decision. We have recommended also that, in the case of an applicant wishing to go further than simply the next appeal tribunal or other tribunal, he should be given some help by way of assistance from a legal bureau.

I wish to make one other point. This is with respect to the Reservations in the report. It is a unique occasion for a former chairman of this Committee, namely Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield, to be afforded the opportunity to present a report on behalf of the Committee and at one and the same time to be a party to what is referred to as 'Reservations'. This is, of course, a minority report. At least this does point up something of the ecumenical and democratic nature of the Committee as a whole. I am greatly concerned to read one part of the Reservations to which Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield made particular reference when presenting her remarks. I wish to quote briefly portion of the Reservations. The Reservations state:

Prior to the change of Government, the Committee had discussed objectively and agreed to recommend that a change be made from the presently existing rights to make new claims for war-caused injuries from ex-servicemen from the 1914 and 1939 Wars who, like their civilian counterparts, served only within Australia. It should be pointed out that the proposed recommendation was limited to new claims only and therefore did not exclude claims for deterioration for already entitled disability. Significantly some Government members have now changed their views.

One would have to be extremely charitable not to recognise that that statement implies that, prior to the change of government on 2 December last, members of the then Opposition who were members of this Committee had a particular view and that, because of the change in Government, those same members had altered their points of view. I take umbrage at that statement. I contest it. I repudiate it.

I do so for one reason in particular. I speak as Senator Bill Brown from Victoria. Through no fault of my own, I was absent from meetings of the Committee for approximately 8 months or 9 months. I cannot recall whether I was a party to an alleged general agreement such as is implied in the Reservations. Irrespective of whether I was or was not, I formed my opinion objectively. I want that to be clearly understood. I do not for one moment question the right of any senator as a member of a committee of the Senate Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees group to write a minority report. But I do take strong exception to what is implied in the part of the Reservations that I have quoted.

Finally, I simply say this: I could never bring myself to the point of agreeing to dispossess people of a right that they have enjoyed for years and that they continue to enjoy, people who obviously still have an entitlement to believe that they have a right to some benefits. The matter is as simple as that. I ask for leave to continue my remarks.


The PRESIDENT - Order! Is leave granted?


Senator Byrne - I propose to speak to this report. Perhaps Senator Brown may wish to conclude his remarks in anticipation of my participation in the debate.


The PRESIDENT - In the special circumstances, I ask Senator Brown to withdraw his request. I now propose to call Senator Byrne.


Senator Byrne - If Senator Brown wishes to speak again at a later stage he could do so by leave. I am sure that the Senate would agree to that.


Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) -I intimate briefly that the object of my proposal was to seek leave to continue my remarks. I did not anticipate other senators wishing to speak now. I would have no objection to that. I intended to move that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting. That would have reserved my position.







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