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Wednesday, 16 September 1942

Mr JAMES (Hunter) (12:13 PM) .I agree entirely with other honorable members who have spoken that the sentence passed on Aircraftman Falstein is very harsh. We are all aware of the nature of the offence committed. Aircraftman Falstein had approached his commanding officer in order to carry out a customary celebration. Honorable members of this chamber well know that a similar function has taken place at Canberra on the occasion of a send-off to members of the Royal Australian Air Force who have qualified for their wings or for promotion. Apparently certain restrictions have been imposed with regard to functions of this kind, and Aircraftman Falstein approached Squadron Leader Gorrie in order to get his permission to obtain certain liquid refreshment from the mess. Every body knows that Aircraftman Falstein is a non-drinker. He was not attempting to get beer for himself, but merely wished to make the celebration somewhat more convivial. He was told by the officer that he would not be allowed to obtain liquor from the sergeant's mess. It was all very well for the officer to adopt that attitude. We know that, while the rank and file of the Air Force would be quite satisfied with beer, the officers would be sure to have plenty of more expensive beverages. As has been pointed out, the customary punishment, even for such serious offences as theft is seven days.' detention, so that the sentence imposed upon our colleague was extraordinarily severe. Yet his offence was merely that he stated that the officer was disliked, and I can assure honorable members that he is disliked. Men from his station have told me just how disliked he is. They say that he is a very arrogant person, and that he was a military policeman during the last war. That probably accounts for his arrogance, and for a good deal of the hostility felt towards him. We recognize that military policemen are necessary, but although some of them carry out their duties in an inoffensive manner, others are arrogant bullies. This officer is of that type. I ask the Minister whether he proposes to be just a rubber stamp for men of that kind, or whether he proposes to institute an inquiry with a view to seeing that Aircraftman Falstein obtains justice, something he has not had yet. He volunteered for the Air Force for service in an air crew, and he is prepared to take his part in the fighting. He is only 27 years of age, and the officer with whom he came in conflict is a man past middle age. It might have been expected that he would have pointed out to Aircraftman Falstein that he was committing a breach of the regulations, and advised him to act with more discretion. Instead of doing that, however, he called another officer in and then invited him to repeat what he had said. If he had liked to be a squib, he could have denied saying what was attributed to him, but instead of that he had the courage to repeat it. He is a member of this Parliament, but as such he is not entitled to, nor do I advocate, privileges not enjoyed by other members of the Air Force. On that account the officer might at least have had sufficient respect for him to have tried to advise him. Instead of doing that, however, he showed his prejudice against the political party to which he belongs. Perhaps the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) is correct in saying that in existing circumstances the Government is in a precarious position, and is in danger of being challenged. Because of the action of this officer, its majority has been effectively disposed of for a month. I ask the Minister to listen to the pleas of Aircraftman Falstein's colleagues and friends, and to set up a committee of inquiry, which will be able to state whether it was really a matter of the supply of beer, or whether there was something; more behind it. But foi this unfortunate incident, it is probable that he would have risen as rapidly in the Air Force as he did in civil life. I ask that his future be not jeopardized. The electors of Watson expect that their representative will be treated justly.

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