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Thursday, 24 September 1942

Mr MULCAHY (Lang) .-.! compliment the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) on the work that he is doing. To him has been given an enormous task. With war so close to our shores, some officers of high rank should not be spending their time at the' administrative centres at Victoria Barracks in Sydney and Melbourne, but should be at the front line, in order to imbue with confidence and courage the young men who are facing the enemy. The number of young officers of high rank who are to be found at Victoria Barracks in both Melbourne and Sydney, is astonishing. As decisions have to be made rapidly, and under changing conditions, these officers should be near the front line in order to make them on the spot. Some of them appear to consider that the front line is situated in Sydney, Melbourne, or Canberra. I hope that the Minister will have them removed to a forward operational station. I have heard extraordinary stories from men who have returned from the Middle East. The commanding officer of the enemy whom they face, according to reports, is never far distant from, the front line; but the men who are directing our operations have frequently been 400 or 500 miles distant. That does not imbue with confidence those who have to bear the brunt of the battle.

Mr Jolly - The necessary officers must be there.

Mr MULCAHY - That may be so. If I were to repeat the stories I have heard, they would cause considerable astonishment. I am assured that they are authentic.

Last night the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) mentioned certain matters in connexion with the Army. I entirely agree with the statements that he made. Men who have been trained in the science of war ought to lead their men, not push them. If that were the practice, I believe that we should meet with greater success.

I also bring to the notice of the Minister a matter that concerns the training of young men for commissions. A large number of very fine young members of the Army have been attached to schools for officers. Having completed a course of training covering a period of three or four months, they have been returned to their units; and frequently, students who have not been so successful as they in the course of training through which they have passed, have been given commissions. The others have not received promotion commensurate with their qualifications. Very often " the old school tie " comes into the matter, and men are given commissions because they are the sons of leading army officers. I can cite specific cases if the Minister wishes to know of them.

The Government is to be commended for bringing back our armed forces from the Middle East, and I hope that, if the opportunity offers, the Sixth Division also will be brought back. The return of our forces has given the people confidence, and will enable us to meet the Japanese on better terms. The Government is also deserving of praise for having secured the presence of General MacArthur and the American forces in Australia. Their presence here has, as much as anything else, saved Australia from invasion, and the people should be grateful to the Government for what it has been able to do. The AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) accomplished valuable work for Australia during his visit to the United States of America. The results of his mission are already apparent, and will become more so as time passes.

I am a member of the Joint Committee on War Expenditure which was appointed by the Menzies Government two years ago. The committee has investigated expenditure by the Department of the Army and by other departments, and already it has been instrumental in saving a great deal of money. It could render still greater service to Australia if it were given the opportunity, but, for some reason, it has not been called upon to visit any part of Australia other than Melbourne. Expenditure on the Army is colossal, and should be carefully checked. The administrative section, for instance, is very costly and is, in my opinion, overstaffed. Many of the young men, particularly in the uniformed section, could be transferred to the fighting forces. I do not care whether I continue to be a member of the committee or not, but I am anxious that it should be more fully used.

I hope that the Government will tackle the problem of the break of railway gauges, particularly as between New South Wales and Victoria. It is a shocking thing to see the waste of time and money involved in the transfer of goods and personnel from one train to the other at Albury. The standardization of the gauge on this section should be regarded as an urgent war job. Various devices for overcoming the break of gauge have been put forward from time to time, and they should be investigated.

The amendment of the Commonwealth Repatriation Act is long overdue. For many years, attempts have been made to have it amended, and I understand that the Government proposes to introduce an amending bill as soon as possible. Men are returning from the battle fronts every day, and their interests should be safeguarded. Only to-day I received a letter from a man who has just returned from service overseas. He fought in the last war, and in this war served in the Middle East, where he spent some time in hospital. He was again in hospital af ter his return to Australia, but when he applied for a pension it was refused on the ground that his condition was not attributable to war service. The applicant may appeal to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. I am unable to understand why the Repatriation Commission does not consider cases more sympathetically. It rejects approximately 70 per cent, of the applications; but the War Pensions

Entitlement Appeal Tribunal upholds many of the appeals. I trust that, when the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act is amended in the near future, the returned soldiers will be able to obtain a better recognition of their services.

In conclusion, I express the hope that my earlier remarks about the administrative section of the Army, and senior Army officers, will be heeded. We should not see them so often in the streets of our big cities. They should be doing their job nearer the front line.

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