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Thursday, 27 June 1946

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - It was only to be expected that sooner or later some honorable member would take the course which the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has taken to-night. A question which agitates the minds of many people in the community who are not actuated by party . political bias, particularly exservicemen, is the reason why certain units came to be placed in exposed positions. If a piece of cheese is put out at night one is not surprised that it is eaten by rats. I have endeavoured to get some information on this subject. On the 2nd -January last I wrote to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) suggesting that, in the public interest, it was time that certain matters relating to the conduct of operations were cleared up. I had no axe to grind when I wrote that letter. Like all letters from the Prime Minister, the reply of the right honorable gentleman on that, occasion was fairly lengthy, but it could have been summed up in one sentence, namely, that it was a matter for the historians. I propose to visit South Australia at the week-end, and when I return to Canberra next Wednesday I shall have the correspondence with me. Questions relating to Rabaul and the battalion at Koepang are inter-related. Another matter referred to was what happened at Singapore. The campaign in Malaya is not purely an Australian affair; it is rather one for the Imperial Authorities. I have little doubt that, in due course, the United Kingdom Government will institute its own inquiry into what happened in Malaya. I say that because of certain things that have occurred in the United Kingdom. In similar cases it has been customary for the Imperial Government to undertake its own inquiry. Honorable members may recall that, after the evacuation of Gallipoli, which certainly was not a victory for the Allies, the British Government of the day appointed its own commission of inquiry. The facts were sifted and the blame was apportioned. I am not greatly concerned about fixing the blame for some of the things that happened during the war of 1939-45; I am not concerned with getting hold of some Army officer, or even the Minister in control at the time, and holding him up like a kitten because of something that was done when conditions were difficult. I have some knowledge of such conditions. We were faced by strong Japanese forces, and, as the result of the consistent policy of the Labour movement, Australia did not have forces capable of meeting such an onslaught.

Mr Calwell - The honorable member wanted to send all Australian fighting men to the other side of the world.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - When that matter arose in this Parliament, I recorded my vote on it. At the time, the honorable gentleman was not here, but if his colleagues wish to say that they were right in not agreeing to men being sent to the Middle East, I should be interested to hear them. However, I shall not press for any statement on the subject tonight, because I know that it might be considered wise to hold a caucus meeting first. The most important thing to be obtained from any sifting of facts is the gaining of knowledge which at some future date, should similar circumstances again arise, will prevent a repetition of the mistakes that have been made.

Mr Calwell - That is not the .purpose of the amend ment.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - That i? the purpose of the honorable member for Richmond. So far as the Rabaul incident is concerned, it should te possible to ascertain whether instructions were, or were not, given. The honorable member for Richmond desires to know whether instructions were given and, if so, what, those instructions were. I have received letters from people in different States who had relatives on the Montevideo Maru. They are most anxious to know the circumstances in which their relatives caine to be left at Rabaul and placed on that vessel, seeing that they were not part of the fighting garrison that was sent to Rabaul. That is a. pertinent question which cannot be baulked ; sooner or later it will be inquired into by direction of this Parliament. I shall not attempt to dictate to the Government in the matter because I realize that it is not in a position to dictate to any one. It is more accustomed to being dictated to. If the present Government will not undertake this inquiry, .a future government will do so.

Mr Calwell - The inaction of . previous governments, which resulted in Australia being left defenceless, wipes out that possibility.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - One man in Queensland has written a book on the subject. He obtained every copy of Ilansard from 1924 until the end of the Japanese war. His book will contain many things which the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) will be able to read at his leisure after the next elections. I suggest that the holding of an inquiry into- the Malaya campaign should be discussed between the Commonwealth and Imperial Governments. .

Mr Haylen - Does the honorable member think that the United Kingdom Government will order an inquiry into the Malava campaign?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I do not say that such an inquiry will be ordered by the present Government there; it has a different approach to world and imperial problems from that of the Commonwealth Government. But sooner "or later it will be inquired into. Public opinion in Australia- will demand that certain matters shall be investigated, and among them will be the matter raised to-night by the honorable member for Richmond. Honorable members may have seen in the Melbourne Herald articles" written by Air Vice-Marshal Bostock, and they probably know that' few, if any, airmen who have returned from overseas are altogether happy about what took place in the Royal Australian Air Force. T do not know anything about these things - they are outside the scope of my knowledge - but I have read certain articles in the press. I put it to the Minister that those articles call for ii reply. They not only say that certain things were wrong; they have also named the Minister in the present Government as being responsible for the things which Air Vice.-Marshal Bostock alleges to have been wrong. I realize that it may not be politically convenient to hold an inquiry just now, but I remind the House that the Government was obliged to appoint a commission of inquiry into the escape of LieutenantGeneral Gordon Bennett. I do not know that that inquiry did a great deal of good. My personal view is that it did not matter much whether Bennett stayed in Malaya or came away from there, because in either case he would have been adjudged by some people to have done the wrong thing.

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