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Thursday, 27 June 1946

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . - I was particularly interested in the speech of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) regarding the incidents at Ambon and Rabaul. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), who followed him, complained that the honorable member had introduced heat into the debate. Although Australian troops had been killed in the islands and the whole episode was most deplorable, the honorable member considered that references to it. now were most regrettable. I emphasize that those responsible for the disaster may still be in the service. Therefore, the documents which the honorable member for Richmond mentioned should be laid upon the table of the House so that we may know who were the guilty persons. The honorable member for Parkes declared that the honorable member for Richmond should have raised this matter on the departmental level. Actually, the honorable member for Richmond had done so, and he received from the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) a reply which, according to .Brigadier Lind's report, was incorrect. Evidently the Minister's reply was written by a departmental official with the object of shielding some one who was responsible for the massacre of Australian troops.

Mr Ward - What Government was in office at the time3

Mr ABBOTT - The Curtin Government was in office at the time of the tragedy, and had been in office for some time before it. occurred. Colonel Roach and Brigadier Lind protested that the troops were not adequately armed, and should be given field guns which were essential to enable them to make a stand.

Mr Calwell - This speech sounds like an attack on General Blainey. .

Mr ABBOTT - At that time, General Blarney was in the Middle East, so in no circumstances could he be held responsible for the tragedy. But there may be persons in high positions in the Department of the Array to-day who were responsible for the deplorable condition of affairs that, led up to the despatch of our troops to Ambon without adequate weapons. If those officers are still in the Army and the documents show that they were responsible, the unmasking of them is not muck-raking. The relatives of the dead Australian troops raised this matter because they do nol want other Australians in the future to suffer from the mishandling of which certain Army officials were guilty in the past. If any exposures are made, those responsible should be discharged from the positions that they now occupy.

The honorable member for Richmond also dealt exhaustively with the evacuation from Rabaul of the civilian employees of the Department of External Territories and 22 missionaries. I was particularly impressed with his remarks. I read the report of Mr. J. V. Barry, K.C. on the incidents which occurred in Papua between certain dates in December 1941, and January, 1942, but the matter which I recall most vividly was that Mr. Leonard Murray telegraphed frequently to the department in Canberra, and made strenuous efforts to obtain replies from, the then Minister for External Territories (Senator Fraser). But no replies or instructions were received. If those telegrams are produced, I feel confident that it will be shown that events occurred at Rabaul similar to those reported by Mr. Barry to have taken place in Papua. To all requests for instructions, the Department in Canberra was silent. Had instructions been given, they" might- have saved the lives of the brother of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) anr! ether members of the civil staff in Rabaul, and 22 missionaries. Apparently all were massacred. If what Mr. Barry stated was correct regarding Papua and similar events occurred in Rabaul, they were the result of the in- efficiency and ineptitude of the Minister, who did not reply to requests that the -taff be allowed to leave by one of the vessels in Rabaul Harbour. As honorable members know, the lives of those people were sacrificed; later when the 1/ ontevideoMaru was lost.

Mr Calwell - That is a scandalous statement. It is muck-raking.

Mr ABBOTT - The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) is the arch priest of scandalous statements, and has the most malignant tongue in the House, lie is a fit and proper person to. judge what constitutes muck-raking. I repeat that those civilians were massacred probably as the result of the inefficiency of the then Minister for External Terri.tories and his department. The Opposition demands that these papers shall be laid upon the table of the House so that we may study them. Later we may demand the appointment of a royal commission so that those responsible shall be branded with the ignominy of their crimes.

The Commonwealth Disposals Commission is disposing of Crown lands that were used by the Army during the war. The Crown does not consider that it is bound by the Land Sales (Control) Regulations, and, consequently, it is selling this land and the huts thereon at most inflated values. Advertisements are published in the press describing these military huts as modern flats. The purchasers who are being "taken down" are exservicemen. They are buying the huts because they are unable to get other accommodation. It is a particularly mean action to rob ex-servicemen of their deferred pay by charging extremely high prices for huts and land that are being disposed of by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. In order to show what is taking place, I shall read from the Sydney Morning Herald of the 26th June, an extract relating to certain sales which took place recently at the military hospital at Tamworth, in the New England electorate -

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