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Thursday, 24 September 1942


Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) . - I take this opportunity to impress upon the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) the sacrifices that the dairying industry has made for the war effort. Dairymen are not receiving returns commensurate with their contributions to the national income, and the prices of their commodities should be substantially increased in order to give them an adequate return for their labour and offset the big rise of the cost of their production.

During the comparative lull in military operations in New Guinea at the present time, service Ministers should take the opportunity to visit the battle areas in New Guinea and Darwin. A splendid example to them has been set by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Winston Churchill, and Mr. Wendell Willkie, acting on behalf of the President of the United States of America. Churchill, who has taken extraordinary risks, has travelled as no head of a government ever travelled before in war-time, and has visited almost every theatre of operations. Visits by our service Ministers to New Guinea and the Northern Territory would have most beneficial results. They would be a great inspiration to the troops, and the experience would enable the Ministers to obtain a better appreciation of the value of reports from the commanding officers. Visits by Opposition members of the Advisory War Council also might be of advantage, but, of course, the administrative responsibility rests with the Government. Similar views were expressed by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), and I wholeheartedly endorse them. Any one who has been to New Guinea cannot possibly realize the extra ordinary hardships that our troops are enduring so courageously in the intense heat, torrential rains, and mountainous country.

On many occasions, I have protested to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) about the despatch of lads aged eighteen years to theatres of war before they have been adequately trained. The Minister has repeatedly assured the House that untrained youths of eighteen years of age would not be sent to battle zones. Evidently, the Army authorities have their own ideas, and ignore the Minister's assurances. The honorable gentleman should not be a figurehead; he should ensure that his instructions are observed.


Mr Forde - I shall be glad if the honorable member will submit to me a list of names of untrained youths who have been sent to battle areas. That will enable me to take action.


Mr FRANCIS - I have already forwarded to the Minister a number of these instances, and I have not received a reply to my representations. I appreciate the Minister's difficulty in dealing with his voluminous correspondence; but I have sent letters to him, and when I have not received a reply I have forwarded copies of the letters.


Mr Forde - I receive from 600 to SOO letters a day, and have to attend sittings of Parliament and meetings of the full Cabinet, War Cabinet, and Advisory War Council. Consequently, it is impossible for me to deal personally with every letter.


Mr FRANCIS - I realize that, and I have assisted the Minister by writing to him. When I have not received a reply, I have sent to him copies of the correspondence.


Mr Forde - I have not received from the honorable member a list of the letters to which he has not had replies. I shall be glad if he will give me a copy of the list.


Mr FRANCIS - I shall do so. I have received representations from a Mr. Frew, who is greatly disturbed because his eighteen-year-old son has been sent to a battle area. The lad had his eighteenth birthday on the 26th January of this year. When he was called up for medical examination, he was asked to furnish particulars of his educational qualifications. He did so, and officers advised him that it would be to his advantage if he enlisted before he was called up for military service. They pointed out he would be able to attend non-commissioned officers' schools, and take a course in artillery, and thus materially assist his promotion. Eis educational qualifications are: 1937, a State scholarship; 1939, Queensland University junior examination, and a special bursary for bookkeeping; 1940, preliminary examination of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and intermediate examination; 1941, intermediate accountancy examination. This boy and several of his companions took that advice and enlisted before being called up. When they went to the camp the training consisted of picket and guard duty on the first day, then a day off, and then home leave. Their training with the rifle before they moved north did not cover more than eighteen days. When the father heard that the regiment was moving to an advanced station he visited the commanding officer, and told him that he thought it was quite wrong to send the boys away to a forward area, as they had been in camp for only a limited time, whereas the other nien had been trained for six months.


Mr FORDE (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - When did that occur? I want to know, because it may have been contrary to my instructions.


Mr FRANCIS - I think it was in April. I shall be able to tell the Minister more accurately when .1 have a chance to refer to the father's letter to me. The commanding officer indicated to this lad's father that he thought it would be all right for the lads to go to the advanced station, because they would get special consideration. The area officer in Brisbane was very much against the enlistment of this lad and, when his application to enlist went before him, advised the lad to apply for exemption until he had undergone his final examination in April. I give the area officer full credit for having taken that view. Nevertheless, the boy's enlistment went through, and that suggests that the middle of March was the time when the regiment moved to an advanced area in Australia. The father received further news from his son on the 19th August to the effect that his regiment was going farther north and that his three months in camp had been spent in making and moving into different camps and in digging slit trenches. The commanding officer of the regiment, gave no satisfaction to the father, so 1 took up the matter with the Northern Command, but the reply was equally unsatisfactory. On the statement of the Minister for the Army, the public believes that men are not sent to advanced battle stations inadequately trained, but the instructions of the Minister on that point are not being carried out. The 27th Field Company of the Royal Australian Engineers contains a lot of boys just over eighteen years of age, and it has been sent to a very advanced battle station. I have received an extraordinary amount of correspondence on this point. I am strongly opposed to lads of eighteen years, partially trained, being sent to advanced battle stations. Tn the last war the policy was laid down by the Government, and rigorously applied that no lad should be sent from Great Britain to France before his nineteenth birthday, and commanding officers of units in France were instructed to return to the base any of their troops aged less than nineteen years. Those instructions were carried out. What could be done in that war can be done equally well in this war. Given longer training and time to harden their muscles, these young nien will make good soldiers, but not otherwise. The Minister has given instructions and he should ensure that they are carried out. If 1 were in his place, I should do so. The Minister's instructions should be brought constantly to the notice of commanding officers. My suggestion is that these young men should be put into training battalions and given at least six months hard training before being sent into action. No one knows the value of training better than General Sir Thomas Blarney and other high officers of the Australian Army. Physical fitness is essential. An old lady resenting what she considers an injustice to her son has sent tome the following extract from the Brisbane Telegraph : -







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