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Thursday, 26 August 1920

Mr WEST (East Sydney) .- In June last, a general order was issued that the men of His Majesty's Australian Fleet in Sydney Harbor were not to don their jerseys, and were to be deprived of the extra blanket usually issued to each of them during the winter months. I brought the matter before the Naval Board, and the only excuse offered to me was that a similar order had been issued to the sailors on the Renown. Surely the health of the men, rather than any mere desire for uniformity, should be the first consideration; and I hope that the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) will see that the order is immediately cancelled. A few days after its issue, a number of the men were found to be suffering from colds, and other complaints usually due to insufficient clothing. I do not think many members of the Naval Board are familiar with Australian conditions. The blood of a man who has been on an Australian Naval Station for some time is not as thick as that of a man who has only recently arrived from the Old Country, and therefore our Naval Forces need to be amply clothed. I do not think the present Minister had anything to do with the issue of this order.

Mr Laird Smith - This is the first I have heard of it.

Mr WEST - It was issued while the present Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) held office as Minister for the Navy. I think the right honorable gentleman knew just about as much of Naval matters as did Sir Joseph Porter, who sang, in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera, H.M.S. Pinafore -

I polished up that handle so carefullee

That now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee.

I bring this matter before the House in the hope that it will receive the special attention of the Minister. Members of the Naval Forces, under the King's Regulations, are not permitted to approach members of Parliament, and this information has therefore been supplied indirectly to me. I hope that the Minister will not allow the men to be deprived during the winter months of the additional clothing necessary for the preservation of their health.

There is another matter to which I wish to direct the attention of the Ministry. A regulation was issued last June setting forth that when the Naval Board approached a warship in harbor a salute of fifteen guns should be fired. I could understand the firing of such a salute on the arrival of the Minister for the Navy, because his appearance on board a warship would be something in the nature of a curiosity. The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) is laughing, but this is not a laughing matter. I think the present Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), when he was at the head of the Navy Department, was possessed of too much sense and experience to sign a regulation enforcing this reception of the members of the Naval Board. Those gentlemen who compose the Board are, after all, only civil servants, just as Under-Secretaries are, and do not call for this special recognition. I know that when I approach, or write, to them on any naval matter, I am told to apply to the captain of the ship concerned; but this I refuse to do, preferring to communicate with the Department direct. As a representative man, I refuse to be snubbed; and as the men of the Navy are in my electorate I intend to let them see that their member is a " live " one. The firing of this salute represents an unjustifiable expenditure of ammunition and labour. Why is it necessary to announce the arrival of the Naval Board in this way? Is it to insure that the officers and men are in their places, or is it to awaken the officers in order that they may show themselves about the ship? The only excuse for such a salute seems to be that a similar one is accorded to the Lords of the Admiralty at Home, but those Lords of the Admiralty have some distance to go in the English Channel before reaching the vessels, and an announcement of their approach may be necessary. That, however, is not the case in Sydney Harbor. If the idea on the part of the Naval Board is to inspect the ships, the better way would be to arrive unannounced. This firing is so alarming sometimes, I am told, that children playing in the Domain run homo and telltheir parents a foreign foe is arriving. My relations with the members of the Naval Board are quite friendly, but it is my public duty to draw attention to this unwarrantable expenditure, and, if possible, see that these fireworks cease. I see that 'the regulation to which I refer was issued over the signature of the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith), on 13th May, this year. It describes the flag of the Naval Board, and directs 'that it is to be saluted "by firing fifteen guns, within the waters of the Commonwealth of Australia, on the same occasions as those on which the Admiralty flag is saluted." I hope that the Minister for the Navy will see the wisdom of revoking this regulation, so that our expenditure on the Navy may not be unnecessarily increased, and the whole administration conducted on the lines of Australian Democracy.

I should now like to refer to the position of our blind and otherwise hopelessly disabled returned soldiers, who have made some very strong appeals to me. Some of these men have lost both arms and legs, and they ask, and, I think, should have, special attention. One case, a very hard one, is described in the following letter : -

We have in our association two members - Mr. W. Lockyer, of Leichhardt, and Mr. A. B. Turner, ofRozelle - who have had each two legs and an arm amputated. These men should be given a home of their own. Mr. Lockyer's mother and wife told our association that at present Lockyer and his wife have one room at his mother's residence. To get about from room to room he rolls along the floor, as invalid chairs are too big to get through the doorways. This shows the necessity of building a house to suit such terrible cases. The house need not be big, but the doors could be made wider, and other little conveniences introduced, to make theirlot at any rate a little easier than it is now.

I can remember as a lad seeing the men from the Crimea and earlier wars, and realizing acutely the cruel treatment and hardships they suffered. We do not wish to see such cripples begging in the public streets of Australia.

Mr Poynton - Are you referring to our own soldiers here?

Mr WEST - Yes, in the streets of Sydney and other places. I will read a statement about the matter which has been sent to me -

The street bands, which consist mostly of able-bodied returned men, make a practice of engaging as collectors returned soldiers who have had a leg or an arm amputated. These men do not wear their artificial limbs even if they have one, and they rattle their collection boxes under the noses of the public, and as there are generally three or four of them out to each band the public are being exploited to an unjust extent. If the limbless men got the money themselves it would not be so bad, although begging would be deplorable, but the present position is that the able-bodied returned soldier " battens " on the limbless men.

That is a thing which we should try to stop. I do not know if the Minister can contradict the statements with which I havebeen supplied, but I would point out that they are the statements of the secretary to the Limbless and Maimed Soldiers Association. He says -

A man who has an arm or a leg amputated receives his pension of 31s. 6d. per week, and 10s. 6d. from the Repatriation Department while undergoing vocational training. A married man receives only £2 15s., out of which must be deducted pension of 31s. 6d. for himself and 13s. 6d. for his wife, in all a pension of 45s., so he only receives from the Repatriation Department 10s.

The present system of vocational training means that the man who receives £1 or £1 10s. per week from a private employer is better off financially with his pension added to that sum than if he went to the Repatriation Department and went through vocational training.

It is useless to put questions on the noticepaper, because very often the official replies do not accord with the views of the Minister who gives them, and I have known cases in which Ministers have been verymuch annoyed with the replies with Which they have been furnished. I think that I am justified in drawing attention to these matters on the day devoted to the discussion of grievances, and I hope that something may be done to give relief. I hope, too, that the popgun business with the Naval Board will be discontinued. It is a pity that we have not a Gilbert and Sullivan in Australia to take advantage of the burlesque situations which so often arise here, and would furnish out an opera or two which would be funnier than any of their famous series.

Mr Poynton - If the honorable member will give me a proof of the report of his remarks, I shall have the matters to which he has referred inquired into.

Mr WEST - The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith), being new in office, is, no doubt, anxious to please his officials, and has not given proper consideration to the complaints concerning the condition of Sydney Harbor.

Mr Laird Smith -I wish that the honorable member would come to my office and get the facts of the case, instead of getting them from Woolloomooloo.

Mr WEST - If the Minister wishes to be insulting in his reference to Woolloomooloo, let me tell him that there are no Labour " rats " there. Woolloomooloo is the equal of any part of Hobart, the town from which he comes. Should I ever sit on the Treasury bench, the House may rest assured that I shall be dignified, and say nothing disrespectful to my fellow members.

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