No compensation for 100-year-old PoW
FRED Collett is a true-blue Australian war hero but the Federal Government has turned its back on the 100-year-old World War II Digger in his moment of need.
Mr Collett escaped the clutches of the Germans in a rickety old wooden dinghy at the height of the war, dodging bombs at sea for three weeks to warn fellow soldiers of the enemy advance.
But 69 years after his daring escape from a PoW camp in Greece to the island of Crete in April 1941, the Federal Government has told the ailing war hero "you're not eligible" for compensation.
Mr Collett believes the Government wants him to "hurry up and drop dead" in his rundown shack at Mount Ossa, north of Mackay, after the Department of Veterans' Affairs "controversially" knocked back his claim for a one-off $25,000 payment for being a PoW in Europe.
"They have shirked out of paying what they promised and if they give it to me they have to give it to the others," he said. "They don't want to pay it out even though they squander hundreds of millions of dollars in these American wars."
Mr Collett's case, which he has taken to the Federal Court on appeal and lost, was the first test for changes to Veterans' Affairs laws, introduced in 2007, to give hope to 772 surviving PoWs who were held in Europe.
Since the introduction of the compensation scheme in 2007, the Federal Government has paid out 2456 PoWs held in Europe.
But because Mr Collett escaped - which was his military duty under the law of the time - he is sadly destined to get nothing for his wartime heroics.
However, men who surrendered and served out the rest of the war in a PoW camp in Austria are all eligible for the money.
Mr Collett's lawyer, Terry O'Connor, believes an exception should be made to pay compensation to the veteran Digger, who is now too ill to fight the case on appeal to the full Federal Court.
"Here is a man that the man on the street would regard as a hero," Mr O'Connor said.
"If he stayed and chose not to resume the fight, he would have got his $25,000.
"The only reason he didn't qualify is because two hours after the Germans captured them he decided he wasn't going to sit out the war in a PoW camp and was going to fight the good fight."
Although Federal Court Justice John Logan found Mr Collett was a genuine PoW, because his unit had surrendered, he ruled the Digger had never actually been "interned" by the Germans.
However, Justice Logan accused the military of using "rather terse and cryptic entries" on Mr Collett's service record, ending in a "controversy" in Mr Collett's 100th year.
"Mr Collett had, in my opinion, the status of a PoW from the moment his unit was surrendered to the enemy by his superior officers," Justice Logan wrote.
"That is so, even though he was not at that moment or when he left the surrender area under armed German guard ... (but) ... the spending of two hours in the designated surrender area did not residence make.
"In escaping and rejoining his unit he conspicuously and commendably did his duty. That does not mean that ... he met what decades later became the eligibility criteria for a compensation payment."
Veterans' Affairs Minister Alan Griffin said the case would not be revisited and only Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner could approve an "Act of Grace" payment. The Sunday Mail has launched an online petition for Fred Collett to receive an ex-gratia payment from the Federal Government. Go to thesundaymail.com.au to add support. We need 20,000 signatures.
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