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Wednesday, 16 September 1942

Mr ROSEVEAR (Dalley) .- After listening to the jingoistic speech of the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), it will be refreshing to return to the issue raised by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). The honorable member for Wide Bay said that we shall do a great disservice to the members of the fighting forces by raising a matter of this kind to-night. The only means members of the services have to air their grievances is to obtain the help of an honorable member of this Parliament. Cliqueism, red tape, and the old school tie are still tolerated in the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force. If any rank and file member of the forces dared to ventilate a grievance in the press or to write to a Minister or member of Parliament about it, he would be quickly dealt with under regulations. The honorable member for Melbourne took the proper course to ventilate a grievance of this nature. It is ridiculous for the honorable member for Wide Bay to talk about the Japanese press being pleased about a debate of this character. What the Japanese press would be pleased about would be the toleration of this sort of thing by honorable members. It is wrong to seek to use the censorship to smother up complaints of this kind.

This is a unique occasion. I believe that Aircraftman Falstein is the first member of this Parliament to be placed in durance vile for an alleged offence in a branch of the fighting services. It has been said in some sections of the press that he has acted as he has done for the purpose of publicity, or for the purpose of wielding political influence in order to obtain favours which no other member of the force could obtain. I think more of his common sense than to believe such suggestions. I am sure that there is more than beer at the bottom of this happening. Aircraftman Falstein could have obtained much more advantageous publicity by calling attention to the food, clothing and accommodation of members of the services. Such action would, undoubtedly, have garnered him more helpful publicity than he is likely to obtain from a discussion of this nature.

It has been suggested that the dispute with Squadron Leader Gorrie arose out of an application by Aircraftman Falstein for a supply of beer for a send-off social to a member of the school. I am not a wowser, and I consider that if the regulations are so strict as to prevent a little levity on the occasion of the departure of a member of the school for advanced training elsewhere, they should be amended. A member of the Air Force is likely, very early in his career on active service, to face much more serious danger than the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) has faced in his long career in the defence force. No government should tolerate regulations which would prevent the issue of a reasonable supply of beer for a valedictory social in the circumstances I have outlined. It would appear from the evidence given at the inquiry before the tribunal that dealt with the case that this was not the first occasion upon which beer supplies have been sought and in some cases allegedly granted. There is a long history behind the rationing of beer for valedictory socials, and it looks to me as though Aircraftman Falstein has been victimized. The Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) should sift the whole of the evidence to ascertain the facts of the case. It is remarkable that Squadron Leader " Goering " Gorrie, who alleged that Aircraftman Falstein was guilty of gross insubordination and the use of insulting language, did not "lose I113 block", but should calmly proceed to read to him the regulations which forbade requests of the kind be had made. Anybody who knows anything about the conditions of members of the rank and file in the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force, must be well aware of what happens when an argument occurs with a superior officer. In such cases the offending individual is promptly put in the " clink ". There is no reading of regulations to him.

Mr Rankin - That is the right thing to do with such a man.

Mr ROSEVEAR - No doubt that is what the honorable member for Bendigo would do. I happen to know that Aircraftman Falstein had made a close study of the regulations applicable to members of the Air Force, for he was deeply interested in the subject. He had also made a close study of the control of the Air Force station at which this incident occurred. He had formed the opinion that some of the regulations revealed gross stupidity on the part of the authorities; In any case, regulations are made to be broken. The worst threat that railway employees can make to the authorities is to begin a regulation strike. Everybody knows that if railwaymen obeyed the regulations in the letter as well as in the spirit, the railways would practically come to' a standstill. I have no doubt that something of the same, kind of thing would happen in the defence forces if the regulations were obeyed to the letter. There is more than beer at the bottom of this trouble. Aircraftman Falstein probably said somewhere that he intended to expose in Parliament the gross mismanagement of this station and the stupidity of certain of the regulations in force, and that he would also reveal the injustices and favouritism that exist in the Air Force, and that every one of us, if we would tell the truth, know to exist. If any proof be needed, it is to be found in the cross-examination of Aircraftman Falstein by the Judge Advocate. That gentleman was particularly concerned to know whether or not it was the intention of the accused to raise in this House certain matters in connexion with the Air Force, as an AC2, or as a member of Parliament. When we realize that the gentlemen who were trying him, not those who were accusing him or defending him, were anxious to learn what his intentions were when he returned to Parliament, we begin to understand the verdict and the sentence of 28 days' detention. This period might be expected to be sufficient to ensure the absence of the honorable member from the remainder of the present sittings. Heaven knows where he may be before the next sittings are held. It has been shown in evidence that all the senior officers who were called in the case spoke favorably of him, and commended him for his conduct and the attention he had devoted to his studies since he had joined that station. Apparently, the only person who did not commend him was Squadron Leader Gorrie. It is apparent from the evidence that his senior officers would have been glad, had he been totally exonerated. It would appear that Gorrie had no friends amongst them. One of the principal statements which it was alleged that Aircraftman Falstein had used was that Gorrie was the most hated man on the station. The evidence of his senior officers seems to lend colour to that. I understand that the court martial unanimously decided that the honorable member did not use the expression which so upset Squadron Leader Gorrie; that, in effect, Gorrie was lying when he said that the statement had been made. The Minister for Air has to decide whether Gorrie, who has been adjudged by a court martial to have been guilty of lying in a statement that he made to it, shall be permitted to remain in charge, and whether the Government's majority shall languish, in durance vile. Viewing all the circumstances of this case, and knowing the brass-hat attitude that is typical of the heads of the Air Force, I should say that a Government which allows its majority to languish in gaol on the flimsy pretext which has caused Aircraftman Falstein to be detained, deserves all that is coming to it.

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