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Thursday, 20 June 1946

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) .- I had not intended to encroach on the time allotted for this debate had it not been for the rather pressing invitation from the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) to the Minister that " the subject should be thrown open so that the threads may be tied together ". Whenever an invitation of that sort is given I think that something should be done about it. Some of the remarks of the honorable member for Wentworth call for analysis by an honorable, member on this side of the chamber. L refer particularly to the persistent and almost nauseating way in which the problems of returned service men and women are used in this chamber for political purposes. In view of the overwhelming vote given to the Labour party by service men and women at the last general elections, those Opposition honorable members who use this chamber for publicity purposes, in an attempt to convince their hearers that the welfare of servicemen depends on their efforts, have little ground for their statements. They should know that there is in office a Government which is prepared to look after the interests of the men and women who served their country so well during the war. Those who look with unbiased eyes on the re-establishment and employment legislation of this country will admit that when it is fully implemented it will be one of the finest pieces of legislation in the interests of service men and women that has ever been enacted. I am tired of those small Australians who consistently gibe at every effort made in the interests of those who served their country well, during the war. Men who, in the classical language of the late Prime Minister, "interposed their bodies between us and the enemy ". There are many who for political purposes make claim to be concerned greatly about the welfare of service men and women in this connexion. The worst offender in this House is the honorable member for Wentworth. He is continually " beating the drum " in his profession of interest in the men who fought. At times it is difficult to understand what he is talking about, because his remarks consist of sound and fury rather than logic. Time after time in this chamber he noisily propounds propositions which, even on the face of them, cannot be sustained. His latest effort: is in connexion with the rehabilitation of service men and women. With tears in his eyes and a sob in his voice, he told us of the strange experience of a serviceman who went, first, to 'the Printing Industry Employees Union, and then to the Master Printers Association, seeking employment, only to be told that applications for employment in the industry were being turned down. In considering the claims of the men who fought w

Mr Harrison - There is preference to unionists.

Mr HAYLEN - I ask the honorable member what would happen to an exserviceman if he applied to-morrow morning to the Sydney Stock Exchange and said that he wanted to become a stockbroker? Would he be made a member of the exchange? Let us suppose that an ex-serviceman approached an organization of newsagents and asked for a newspaper block. Would his request be granted ? If an ex-serviceman wanted to obtain a licence for an hotel, would he' be able to obtain preference? Honorable members opposite know as well as I do that there is a real preserve in which preference, so far as they are concerned, is not to be given to the ex-serviceman. Finally, I come to the most callous and brutal practice in this matter, namely) that adopted by employers who, while mouthing their support of preference to ex-servicemen, advertise vacancies under a post-office box number. That is a practice about which Mr. Bolton should concern himself. Since he recently developed a column of his own in a Sydney newspaper, his main object seems to be to slam the Government instead of giving a factual picture of the real position. The box number advertisement is causing great embarrassment to exservice personnel in search of employment. It is the means by which the big business man is evading the giving of preference to ex-servicemen. ' It is evident that the interests which honorable members opposite support wish to bring about, the failure of preference; and the exserviceman is realizing that fact. Certainly the mares' nests discovered by the honorable member for Wentworth make no real appeal when measured against the balanced judgment of the serviceman. When we . examine against the background of experience of exservicemen overseas what the Australian Government is trying to do compared with what other allied governments are doing for those who fought in the war, we find that our record is not unworthy. But the Government is obliged to stand up against the blitz of the press which indulges in the most dastardly misrepresentations. Within the last two weeks the most glaring case in this respect has been an article published by Smith's Weekly. That journal, like the honorable member for Wentworth in his political capacity, has no future; audit has no past. In a recent issue. Smith's Weekly blazoned on its front page the statement that 15,000 army deserters had been given clear discharges. The writer of the article suggested that the whole of the population of Australia should march on Canberra and demand that this slur on the fighting man should be removed. The fighting man is pretty tough but he is not given to moving on anybody except the enemy. His natural reaction to this article was that it had been written by an hysterical typist. That is how the article struck me. A report of that kind indicates that regardless of whatever ethical standard may have been observed by the press of Australia in the past this journal will stop at nothing in its lying to bring the Government into disrepute. The cold and sober facts of the matter were told by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde). In the "brilliant" story perpetrated by this typist in the absence of the boss, it was said that 15,000 deserters had* been granted clean discharges. The fact is that the Army authorities in Melbourne decided to do something about 7,000 illegal absentees who could not be discovered. Their whereabouts are unknown. The authorities decided to follow the practice which was followed after the war of 1914-18, of which there are so many battle-scarred veterans in this House, the object was to cut down army costs, and, incidentally, thereby help in the rehabilitation of the serviceman who saw through the whole of the job. As the war had concluded over twelve months ago, it was logical that a. re-examination be made of the army expenditure associated with detention camps; and the inevitable practice is that if these illegal absentees cannot be traced they are written off. What does Smith's Weekly suggest the army authorities should do? These men cannot be found and discharged in the ordinary way. Certificates are issued on which, contrary to Smith's Weekly allegation, is specifically endorsed the fact that they are. illegal absentees. By this means the authorities will save an expenditure of £4,000,000. That is the estimated cost of crowding these men. into detention camps, involving the services of provosts and the supply of those concerned in the conduct of such camps with uniforms, housing and food and all the impedimenta involved in sustaining a vast army being held in durance vile twelve months after the conclusion of the war. It has never been considered to be practicable, so long after the conclusion of hostilities, to deal with an army of deserters who cannot be found. As these illegal absentees could not be traced, it was decided to discharge them in their absence. The only thing which will accrue to them is their deferred pay which they earned during their service in the forces. They have earned that money, and no one would argue that it should not be given to them. In due course, if ever they present themselves they will lose their rehabilitation rights, their gratuity, their medals and privileges as servicemen which they would have retained had they earned an honorable discharge. The army authorities have been unable to communicate with them, because it is impossible to find them. In view of these facts, the story published in Smith's Weekly abounds in misstatements. With crocodile tears in her eyes, the writer of that article- suggests that the honest exserviceman feels bitterly that those men have not been rounded up. The article abounds with obvious insincerities, because wherever the words " clean discharges " or " honorable discharges " arc used the terms are quoted. That is an old trick of the journalist to avoid prosecution for libel. It is a trick of the man who is not. sure of his facts, but hopes against hope that the story will "get by" purely on -its sensationalism. I understand that the Minister forwarded to the editor of that journal a full copy of the statement which he made to the country on this matter. Nevertheless, thijournal published a second story on the subject, more scurrilous, absurd and stupid than its first article. I wonder what is to become of our journalistic ethics. 1 should like to know as a former journalist, what is to become of the fourth estate, of which I am a prideful member, if we do not take cognizance of the present drift, in this respect in Australian journalism. We do not mind its becoming the recorder of " chit chat " around the House. We have no objection to its being a second opposition to us as a Labour government. But. when it can foist a canard on the public, and can misrepresent, to the horror of journalists who are proud of the ethics of their profession, something very serious is happening. Always, these stories are associated with the re-establishment of the serviceman. It is a long-range plan to break down confidence in the only people who can help the men to whom we owe everything. I feel very strongly about the matter. In America, prizes are awarded for clean journalism. The Pulitzer prize of thousands of dollars is awarded to the man who is responsible for the best news story of the year. It may be necessary for the Government to come to the rescue of pressmen, since owners and proprietors are not prepared to do so, by offering a prize for decent, journalism. These stories, which are published for election propaganda purposes and do a dis-service to the ex-serviceman, should be considered very carefully by this House. An ethics committee has been established by the Australian Journalists Association. It 1702 Supply Bill [REPRESENTATIVES.] (No. 1) 1946-47. has had a very checkered career. Its requirements are simple - that a journalist shall report fairly what he has seen, and that the text of his story, without any embroidery by sub-editors or owners, shall appear in the newspaper. "When this ethics committee was formed, notices stating when its meetings were to be held were removed from the notice boards of several Sydney metropolitan dailies. Having had pointed out to it what may happen as the result of stories such as that which appeared in Smith's Weekly, it may be necessary for the Government to apply itself to the preservation of the decencies of life in this country. It may be necessary to suggest to journalists that they cannot do this by means of the solidarity of their own union, and that they cannot enforcetheir will upon the owners, who have completely disorganized them within the last ten years. It may be necessary for the Government to set up a statutory committee on ethics ; because journalism will last longer than the Liberal party, and will not change its name quite so rapidly.

Mr Blain - Did the article to which the honorable gentleman has referred consist wholly of lies?

Mr HAYLEN - I have analysed the article. If the honorable gentleman would like me to do so again in short, terse terms of simple English, I shall oblige him. I conclude on this note: It may be necessary to arrest at some stage the commercialization of newspapers, and their deterioration into electionand opinion sheets, for the protection of craftsmen among whom I have many friends; men who are, and should be, an ornament in the development of this country. Perhaps that stage will be reached when the Government asks journalists to establish an ethics committee with statutory authority. We may then be able to discipline people who disgrace a noble profession by writing such utter " bilge " in an endeavour to stir up the exserviceman, who has his own problems of reestablishment, in the hope that he will contribute to a failing cause, and to agitate the community on. what, after all, is a rotten issue.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Gullett) adjourned.

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