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Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2630

Motion (by Senator Murphy) proposed:

That the Bill be now read a first time.

Senator DameNANCY BUTTFIELD (South Australia) ( 1 1.56) - I would like to take the opportunity of the motion for the first reading of this Bill to say a few words about the report presented to the Senate 2 or 3 weeks ago by the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare concerning repatriation. I hope the Government will consider the report during the parliamentary recess. I take this opportunity to give a little explanation of and perhaps justification for two or three of the recommendations contained in the report which I claim have been wilfully misrepresented and wilfully misunderstood by certain ex-service organisations. They have been very busy slating me, as a former chairman of the Committee, and threatening electoral action, which does not worry me because, after all, I am only the former Chairman of an entire Committee which came to these decisions. It also has been said that there will be a witch hunt if the report is adopted. I point out that there is no intention of there being a witch hunt but that there is a genuine concern for people who are not getting perhaps the best deal under the present situation. I am not pointing a bone at anyone. I am merely suggesting that this may be corrected in the near future.

By way of introduction to my remarks I should like to quote a short extract from one letter I have received. I have been receiving many letters on this subject, some in condemnation of the report of the Committee but many more in praise of it. The condemnatory ones come, of course, from those who claim that they will not be getting a fair deal. I wish to quote from one which is condemnatory. The letter states:

Greater emphasis on rehabilitation instead of financial compensation for disabled ex-servicemen is recommended' from your report. Kindly explain how you would rehabilitate men over the age of SO, in which group 90 per cent of those receiving repatriation benefits fall.

It is because there is that sort of doubt in the minds of so many people, including doctors, that I would like to explain what is meant by rehabilitation. As I explained in the report, rehabilitation means returning people to the capacity to enjoy life to the fullest. It does not merely mean vocational rehabilitation, as is known in the Department of Social Security which has vocational rehabilitation centres. This is a. much wider concept. It is a concept which has developed very much in recent years. There are 3 recommendations in the report to which I would like to refer. I refer firstly to recommendation 20, which states:

The Repatriation Commission should undertake regular review of all pensions, other than fixed statutory rates ....

Recommendation 24 states:

All persons for whom pension liability has been accepted should be referred to a rehabilitation unit for assessment of residual disability and if necessary, for treatment, and that no final assessment should be made until treatment is completed.

Recommendation 30 states:

There should be a change in emphasis from pension compensation to rehabilitation.

I suggest that that is a humane recommendation. So many people who are given a pension stay out of useful work in order to retain or get an even larger pension. It is contended that those people would be very much happier if they were living the fullest life possible. It is through the rehabilitation unit that this would be made possible.

I would like to cite a case to which I attended recently, to give an example of what I mean. It is the case of a man in Adelaide- I will not mention his name unless I am asked to do so, as I do not feel that is is necessary-who has never asked for an increase in pension. He is one of those conscientious people who want to work for as long as they can: But he is sick, and over the years he has had to go into hospital from time to time, at which time he has always been granted some increase in his pension rate without having to apply for it. At present he is receiving the 100 per cent pension rate. He recently had another operation and he was given the usual form which invited him to appeal for a higher pension. He did not appeal, but he wrote on that form details of his condition, particularly his anxiety state, and stated that he found it very difficult to continue in his employment. He had a most arduous job as a bread carter. He had to start work at about 3 o'clock in the morning and work for a solid 12 hours. It was a most arduous job for a man who is sick in more ways than one and, particularly, for a man who receives a pension for an anxiety state. However, when his remarks were sent to the Department, it apparently sent them immediately to the Assessment Appeal Tribunal, and he was notified that he should appear before the Assessment Appeal Tribunal. I repeat that he had not asked for an increase in his pension rate.

Hiswife came to see me because they were both very concerned about what should be done. They are both conscientious, but it was obvious that both were suffering from severe nervous conditions. I suggested that they should get a Returned Services League advocate to take up their case. They refused very vehemently. They did not feel that they had ever been treated very fairly by the RSL. I then said to them: 'Will it help you if I act as your advocate?'. That seemed to be what they wanted. So I went before the Tribunal as their advocate. I collected letters from the 2 doctors who had been treating this man and I presented them to the Assessment Appeal Tribunal, which was composed of a lawyer as chairman and 2 somewhat elderly doctors. They proceeded to question the man about some of his entitlements but not the one that was the problem of the moment, namely, his anxiety state. I suggested to them that they might shorten their proceedings if they questioned him about his anxiety state. However, that was not done. In the meantime the man was becoming very agitated. I advocated to the Tribunal that it send him to a rehabilitation unit for assessment of his anxiety state and that he be paid a temporarily incapacitated person's pension which would enable him to devote himself to rehabilitation for as long as the rehabilitation unit required. The report states that this should be done. The Tribunal immediately said: 'We cannot give him any increase in his pension because he is in a job'.

He was finding it increasingly difficult to stay in his job, but he had to stay in it because he could not keep his family unless he did so. We were trying to point out that he would be unable to continue in this job unless he was sent for some treatment and given a temporary pension which would enable him to keep his family. That was beyond the power of this Assessment Appeal Tribunal. It was also beyond the power or the Tribunal to refer him to a psychiatric unit for assessment or treatment. So the appeal was dismissed, which was the obvious result. I am not pointing a bone at the Tribunal. At the moment it has no power to do either of the things for which we asked. I hope that the Minister will see fit to correct this situation in view of the case that I cite.

I could see that the man was becoming extremely agitated and since I knew that already he was taking at least 28 pills a day and that previously he had tried to take his own life- due, probably, to the over-stress caused by the medication that he was receiving- I said to his wife: 'I would suggest that, if he is agitated tonight, you get his local medical officer to refer him to the repatriation hospital for admission and for psychiatric assessment'. Inevitably he did become very agitated and he was referred to the hospital and he is there now. I have kept in touch with the psychiatrist who is treating him. He was put on very strong doses of anti-depressants. I am pleased to report that he is now in a very much improved state. He has been taken off many of the 28 pills a day which he was taking for many months and years. He is now so much better that he is very eager to get back to his full time job which, without this anti-depressant treatment, he would never have been able to do.

What I am pointing out is that this is a genuine case of somebody who wanted to work but who, because of bis psychiatric condition, was being run down until he and his wife were on the verge of complete breakdown. While he has been in hospital his wife has been referred to hospital. She also is now undergoing treatment. It is hoped that both of them will be able to fulfil their fullest function in life from now on. I therefore beg the Minister and the Government to look seriously at what is meant to be a constructive suggestion, that people should be referred to rehabilitation units for this sort of treatment. This should keep such people off increasingly large pensions and it certainly will enable them to enjoy life to the fullest.

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