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Thursday, 11 April 1946

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) .- A development which has taken place recently concerning Army defaulters is reaching very serious proportions. We shall have to do something about it soon, and I should like the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) to make a dramatic announcement or order a swift inquiry relating 'to servicemen who, so long after the end of the war, are still confined a3 defaulters in various prisons throughout the country. No plan has been made for their future. In war-time the sentences of courts-martial were reasonably sound, but, in the light of peace-time conditions, what are we to do with these defaulters? If they defaulted in service alongside their comrades, perhaps they caused loss of blood and treasure. But if we keep them in prison so long after the end of the war they continue to cost us money for their own upkeep and that of their families. The treatment of these men must be drastically changed. Although they did not serve as they should have done, we should apply common sense to the problem when man-power is so scarce. I should like to know how many thousands of these men are involved, and how much man-power and money is being run down the sink every week in maintaining them. Many servicemen returning from overseas may consider that these defaulters should serve sentences. Obviously we cannot present them with a reward for not having served; but we shall have to direct our minds to -solving the problem. There must surely be a quick and effective way of returning these men to the manpower stream. Every key industry in this country requires man-power, and many of the defaulters are skilled men who enlisted or were called up for military service. We are waiting for that collection of skilled men to start operations which will provide employment for unskilled men. So long as key men do not resume their occupations, . just so long will there be a fear of unemployment in the unskilled section. With our limited man-power in Australia in peace and war, we cannot afford to have idle units. Perhaps sentences for absence without leave or desertion could be revised dramatically in the light of present-day circumstances. We may be doing greater injury to these people and to ourselves by continuing their incarceration, which must result in a loss of morale. The early release, under proper conditions, of many of those now being held in prison camp* may be 'advisable. They could, perhaps be placed in useful jobs in industry. T know that I may be treading on someone's corns in making these suggestions.. but we must remember that many soldiersare waiting for homes and it may be a good plan to allow persons who evaded their duty during the war to undertake now work of a kind which, to a degree, might repair the damage done by their earlier conduct. It certainly will be of no advantage to drive these people to the verge of lunacy. Much can be said for changing their conditions of living. The problem should be attacked in three ways. First, we must take steps to put an end to the savage sentences that are still 1 being imposed by , courtsmaartial, which seem to consider that wartime conditions still obtain. Secondly, these prison camps must be examined to ascertain whether they contain any highly skilled people who could be released on parole to do useful and necessary work. I do not mean that anything in the nature of labour corps should be created, but we must do something to enable these people to rehabilitate themselves. They should not be left to languish. Thirdly, we must face the situation created by neurotics, who absented themselves without leave from Army life and who are doing considerable damage to their own morale while they are in their present position. Many of these individuals should be placed under treatment by first-class psychiatrists. The savagery of commandants and staffs of prisoner of war camps has been ex- / plained to us by the ex-prisoner of war members of this House. We have learned a good deal about the savagery of conditions in Malaya. It is a fact that many military men have shown genius and initiative in war operations, but sometimes these very qualities lead to abuses in other directions. We should do something to help the people still in these camps to reorientate themselves. They should not be allowed to become human driftwood; and they certainly should not be forgotten.

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