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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) . - A week or so ago I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) whether it was the intention of himself or some other Service Minister to visit Port Moresby because of the importance of New Guinea to the defence of Australia, and because of the events there. It is singularly strange that neither the Prime Minister nor any Service Minister has visited any of the battle stations in the north of Australia. Neither he, as Minister for Defence, nor any Minister of a Service department has visited Port Darwin since the Japanese raids on that town. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) has been to Townsville; but, generally, all the activities of the Government have been concentrated in Canberra. This behaviour is in marked con trast to that of the British Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, who, before Dunkirk, visited the army in France, and who, since Dunkirk, has made several visits to America to see the President of the United States of America, Mr. Roosevelt. He has travelled by battleship and by aeroplane. He has visited Moscow and conferred with M Stalin and M. Molotoff. He has visited the forces in Egypt, and, generally, he has given proof that he is a dynamic personality, and that he wants to see things on the spot. I believe that it is vitally necessary for Australia, for the morale of the public, for the morale of the forces, and for the sake of this Parliament, that some senior Minister should visit Port Moresby immediately. There is so much being said about Port Moresby to-day, and there are so many fears in the public mind about what is happening there that I do not think that it should be left entirely to generals to report upon. I have no lack of confidence in our Army commanders; but, if it be wise for Mr. Churchill to visit vital points in the Empire's defence areas, it is equally necessary that senior Ministers should visit Port Moresby and Darwin.

The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has been saying a good deal lately about Port Moresby, and his statements cannot go unanswered. They may be right or wrong; but whatever answer there is should be given, and the best answer that could be given would be supplied by a Minister who had visited the scene. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has been to Port Moresby, and has formed certain opinions about it, and I have no doubt that he has given to the Advisory War Council the benefit of his opinions as to the conditions prevailing there. The right honorable member for North Sydney has not been to Port Moresby, but he has made some challenging statements, which have appeared in the press in recent weeks. The latest is a statement in the Melbourne Sun of Monday, the 21st September -

If Australians are to be sent into jungle fighting they must be led by men who understand jungle tactics, said the Federal U.A.P. Leader (Mr. Hughes) last night. The men's equipment must be lightened, their uniforms dyed green, and their rations compressed, he added.

Mr. Hugheswas commenting on a statement by Osmar White, the Melbourne Sun's war correspondent, that the Australians would not have been pushed back over the Owen Stanley Range if they had been adequately trained and deployed.

Civilians could not understand why the men had not been given intensive jungle training long ago. " One would have thought that what happened in Malaya would have stirred the military command to feverish action," said Mr. Hughes. " It came as a shock to learn that in the face of this tragic debacle nothing had been done to ensure the safety of Port Moresby.

The tactics that gave the Japanese a sweeping victory at Malaya arc being repeated in New Guinea, and so far with equal success. And now, as before the fall of Singapore, the commander is confident that all will be well.

A little over a month ago, when I commented on the fall of Buna and Kokoda, we were told that the occupation of Kokoda constituted no special threat to Moresby; that the Japanese would have great difficulty in holding Kokoda; and that in a.ny case the Owen Stanley Bango was practically impassable.

The Japanese have crossed the impassable Owen Stanley Range, and are now poised for an attack on Moresby, but the military commander still feels confident.

The Australian people most devoutly hope that this confidence may be justified by events, but their minds are naturally disturbed by what has happened."

The right honorable member for North Sydney has had a long career in federal politics. He certainly .possesses the art of the graphic phrase and a remarkable aptitude for timing his statements. He generally expresses himself in language that compels attention and provokes thought. His statement should be replied to by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), or some other responsible Minister, because the public mind will not be helped if it is left unanswered. The best way to answer it is for a senior Minister to go to Port Moresby himself and see whether it is necessary to alter the uniforms or lighten the rations and improve the equipment of the troops.

Mr Abbott - Why not send him to the Owen Stanley Range? Why stop at Port Moresby?

Mr CALWELL - The Japanese are 38 miles from Port Moresby. An Australian Minister could go as near to the battle line as the Prime Minister of Great Britain went.

Mr Abbott - Or as far as the late Honorable W. A. Holman went when Major-General Holmes was killed alongside him.

Mr CALWELL - Dozens of examples of that sort could be cited. Before Parliament adjourns, or immediately after, a senior Minister should look into things in New Guinea, because it is possible that, the military command is in error in believing that Australian troops wearing khaki and heavy boots, and weighed down with all the equipment that might be suitable for desert or trench warfare, are suitably equipped for jungle warfare. J do not necessarily subscribe to anything that the right honorable gentleman has said in his press statements; but, at any rate, he takes the responsibility for his own views and is entitled to express them.

Lately I have brought to the attention of the Minister for the Army quite a number of matters affecting his department, and there are others to which I shall direct his attention to-night. Parenthetically, I remark that, honorable members are at a disadvantage in discussing this proposed vote in the way it has been presented, in that, the Departments of Defence, Navy, Army, Air, Munitions, Aircraft Production, Supply and Development and Home Security are grouped. If the provision for each was shown individually, I and other honorable members would have been able individually to discuss matters affecting thevarious departments as they came up for discussion, instead of under the one heading.

I have received a letter from a married man in his 40's who has travelled extensively since I first met him years ago. As it deals with a. subject of some importance I shall read the following extracts to honorable members: -

Another matter I have studied somewhat closely, in wanderings through northern Queensland and some Pacific islands, is making itself felt - one aspect of it at least - in the demands by large concerns for "compensation " for the loss or damage to mining and commercial undertakings in New Guinea and elsewhere, due to war causes. One large company operating in New Guinea intends to get close on £2,000,000 from the Commonwealth, to enable it to resume, after the war, the socially useless gold-mining business it conducted, very profitably indeed, up to almost six months ago. Like others who have studied the workings of this and other corporations on the spot, I hope that yourself and other Labour men will insist that when talk of compensation begins in earnest, attention will be paid to the need of such compensation, however small, in view of the extraordinary profits made for many years by these people, whose sole function in social life was to secure gold from the soil of one country, by the soulless exploitation of white and native labour, and ship the gold to another country, where it was re-buried in the soil, for the protection of financial monopoly and the degradation of God's poor. In the paying of compensation preference could surely be given to those ordinary every-day people who have lost everything, before millionaire groups who have merely lost, temporarily, the use of one of several unbelievably rich undertakings. One or two of these .groups also deserve attention for their treatment of young Australian employees who, last year, were refused due rises in wages until they " voluntarily " joined the Militia in that area, and put in a lot of their spare time under military control; us soon as the Japanese invasion touched New Guinea these youths, some under eighteen years of age, were conscripted on the spot and sent out into the jungle (and no one knows what that means who has not been there), while the " staff " were flown to safety in Australia. After the war these young mon - those of them still alive - whom I know personally, will no doubt be permitted to work again for their at present absentee masters, whose sole activity while in safety in Australia is to agitate for the payment of " compensation " by the million, in order that a few bombed dredges and workshops shall be re-built at the public expense, rather than by drawing on the capital owned by these companies.

Mr Jolly - Would such cases be covered by war damage insurance?

Mr CALWELL - I do not know; but 1 doubt whether gold-mining risks would bc covered.

I now bring to the attention of the Minister for the Army complaints from certain men who have been returned to Australia following trial by court martial. These reveal that harsh treatment has been meted out to men under circumstances which, in my view, do not by any means warrant it. One letter reads as follows : -

I wish to bring under your notice the thanks we have got for joining up to fight for democracy and freedom of speech. I have been overseas for nearly two years, leaving a wife and daughter and seven pounds per week for 2s. (ki. per day, and the chap in the cell with me has been away for two and a half years.

When we came aboard under escort at Ceylon, we were placed in a small cell down tha bottom of the ship. The only air we got came through a little air vent, which came from the top deck of the ship. During the voyage we were taken up on deck for one hour each day for air.

Wc arrived at Fremantle on Tuesday, the 2Sth July. As soon as they started to coal the ship tho air vents were turned off, leaving us gasping to get our breath. We asked the military police who were our guards if we could go up on deck for a while. He told us that his orders from the Officer Commanding Troops were that we were not allowed to go up on deck while the ship was in port, although there were six armed guards with revolvers looking after the two of us. Even the Germans on the raider Wolf allowed prisoners one hour on deck each day, as stated by an English officer who was a prisoner on that ship.

I have been in hospital for nearly three mouths in Palestine, with chronic bronchitis, but that made no difference. I was still kept down below with no air coming in. The soldier in tho cell with mc is suffering from venereal disease, and the second day wc were at Fremantle he was rolling about in his bunk with pain, and when he asked for medical treatment he was told that the medical officer had gone ashore on leave. He was called up and treated on the Thursday, the 30th July. This is our fourth day here with the air cut off and not allowed up on deck for any.

It is bad enough to have to come back to your own countrymen under lock and key after nearly two years' service overseas owing to a mistake made through drink, without having to be subjected to Gestapo methods.

Owing to the man-power shortage, I respectfully ask you to go into the matter of prisoners returning home, some with two and a half years overseas' service and training, who have seen action. It has cost the taxpayer some hundreds of pounds to bring these men up to their present standard of training, and nearly all, of which many are only boys, have never been in trouble until joining the Army.

At the present time, and in view of the position Australia is now in, would it not be far better to utilize the valuable experience these men have had, by suspending their overseas sentences, in order that they may have the opportunity to fulfil their object in joining the Australian Imperial Force, that is by taking part in the fight for their own country, instead of being locked up, and kept at the expense of the people.

As you have been a friend to the boys while we were away, I am confident that you will give this matter your immediate attention. As the contents of this letter are perfectly true, I am adding my name and address, together with a few of the boys that are aware of these facts.

I also have a diary noting day to day events, which could be referred to regarding this letter. We were in port at Fremantle foi four days. During that time the air wa» turned off and we never left the cell except to go to the lavatory on the next deck.

You know, sir, it is utterly useless for us to attempt to bring these matters before any one, or to apply for an investigation. You are our only hope. I respectfully ask that you refrain from using mine, or any other numbers or names for publication. But you may use them for any enquiry by the military. The undersigned have read this letter and declare the facts true.

That letter is signed by five men of the Australian Imperial Force. It contains the following postscript: -

PS. - We have been given to understand that our allotment will be stopped. As my wife and daughter are solely dependent on mine, I respectively ask you to inquire as to whether they will have to starve while I am serving this time.

Several days ago I asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice, for a list of the sentences imposed upon returning members of the Australian Imperial Force while on transports, and after their return to this country. The list revealed that in some instances the sentences were savage. I cited several of the cases in speaking on the adjournment one night last week. I refer particularly to sentences by Major Cochrane, who is not an Australian, but who was a permanent presiding officer in respect of courts martial in Ceylon. The Minister promised me that he would inquire into those cases.

Mr Forde - I assure the honorable member that I am doing so. .

Mr CALWELL - I have received a number of letters from various people relative to the treatment by the Department of the Army of certain persons who, in my view, should receive allowances from the department but have been denied them. A gentleman who lives at Alexandria, New South Wales, wrote to the Minister on this subject on the 6th September. He informed me that up to the 20toh September he had not received a reply. His letter was as follows: -

A member of the Australian Imperial Force (widower with one child) is allowed ls. 6d. per day by your Government for the child. If the child's mother was alive your Government would pay 3s. per day for his child. That is what is being done with regard to .the daughter of P. F. Carwardine No. NX21220 (my son) whose daughter is living with mc, and tho District Finance Office states that that is the law, though admitting that it is most unreasonable and unfair.

I shall be obliged if you will, as Minister for the Army confirm the correctness of this or otherwise.

I wrote to the Minister for the Army on the subject, setting out the facts of the case. I consider that if a widower with children enlists his dependants should be entitled to the regular allowance payable in respect of children of soldiers who are not widowers. It is outrageous also that if the grandmother cares for a motherless child while its father is on active service, the department does not acknowledge a responsibility to pay an allowance. My reply to that gentleman's letter was as follows : -

In reply to your letter of the 20th instant concerning the differential treatment meted out in the matter of dependants' allowance for the motherless child of a member of the military forces, I beg to advise you that I have hall several cases of this sort brought to my notice from my own constituents and have mad( many protests thereon.

So far finality has not been reached by the Department of the Army, but I intend to insist that such children shall be treated like other children whose mothers have been spared.

I will bring to the notice of the Minister for the Army the fact that you have not hail a reply to your letter of the Ctb idem and will raise the general question in the House some time this week.

It is gross injustice that the Government of a country which, to use the words of parliamentarians and press agents, " is very grateful for the services of the men and women who fight for it, and will never forget their sacrifices " should refuse allowances in such cases.

I addressed a letter to the Minister for the Army on the 29th July on the subject of improper language by certain members of the forces, but I have not yet received a reply. My letter read -

I send you the enclosed cutting from the Sun of 14th July and invite your attention to the report that most of the songs sung by Australian soldiers when going to the battle front in Egypt were unprintable.

If the report is correct I feel sure you will agree that this is a most lamentable state of affairs. There are regulations forbidding soldiers to approach members of Parliament in regard to grievances and penalties are imposed for breaches of these regulations. There are penalties .too, some of them very heavy, for soldiers being absent without leave. I understand there is also a regulation which forbids the use of obscene, blasphemous and indecent language, but strangely this regulation has never been enforced, nor, as far as I know, has it ever been mentioned in any orders issued to the Army.

By comparison thu American forces are particularly clean-mouthed, whilst any form of filth and obscenity is not only tolerated in our Army but seemingly encouraged by the conduct of many high officers.

If the morale of our forces is low it will take more than the restoration of saluting, on and off parade grounds, to lift i.t to what it ought to be.

J he report is a gross reflection on Australia and must cause mothers perturbation to think that soldiers go into action singing unprintable songs.

Perhaps you might ask General MacArthur to give us a few ideas upon the question as to why his Army does not offend against every canon of decency as many of our men do.

I am told not only by chaplains, but by the men themselves, that the language in Australian camps is often disgusting.

The vast majority of Australians are decent and come from decent homes. Why should they not be able to look upon their service in the Army with pride instead of with regret at having to find themselves in such a degrading environment?

What seems, to be needed is a systematic campaign, sustained by example as well as precept, to encourage such a high, sense of individual responsibility that anything in conduct or language which is obscene, indecent or blasphemous, will be outlawed because it undermines the noblest qualities of a real soldier and betrays a weakness of character disastrous to morale in times of crisis.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).The honorable member's time has expired.

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