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Wednesday, 10 July 1946

Mr SPEAKER - There being an abso- lute majority of the whole number of members of the House present and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.

Mr.DRAKEFORD (MaribyrnongMinister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation). - Allegations of maladministration, and of unsound organization, of the Royal Australian Air Force during the war, involving charges of injustice done to Air Vice-Marshal Bostock, have been given head-line publicity on a syndicated basis by a section of the press. In a series of articles originating with the Melbourne Herald, and written by Air Vice- Marshal Bostock himself, strong endeavours have been made to create the impression that, as Minister for Air, I, together with the Air Board, have fostered and developed a condition of affairs out of which has grown a state of dissatisfaction that is detrimental to the interests of the Air Force, to' those serving in that force, and to the Commonwealth generally. On entirely false .premises, these malicious and unjustified attacks on the Government, the Air Board, and. myself, have built up for ulterior purposes what, without a factual reply, might be regarded , as a formidable indictment.' It is a matter for much regret that newspapers which have a wide circulation should take advantage of their privileged position in the community to belittle the efforts and achievements of an ad ministration responsible for a service which is acknowledged throughout the world, and particularly the Englishspeaking world, to have achieved a standard of performance which compares favorably with that of any other air force.

These articles endeavour to make it appear that what has been accomplished - and no one appreciates more than I do the magnificent service given by the personnel in every branch of the Air Force - has been achieved in spite of the Minister and the Air Board. Let me .again, as I have frequently done in the past, pay great tribute to the heroism, skill and complete devotion to duty, very often in the face of tremendous odds, that have been displayed by members of the Air Force in the skies and on the ground in the operational zones. May I here also pay tribute to the work of the supporting organizations associated with the administrative, equipment, technical maintenance, personnel, and like branches of the service.

Throughout the period of almost five years in which I have held the portfolio of Minister for Air, I have conscientiously striven to ensure, in every way possible, that the rights and interests of the members of the service should be protected and preserved. I assert now, and shall prove later, that the main charges in the articles to which I refer were based on entirely false premises, and were presented by Air Vice-Marshal Bostock in a way quite obviously calculated to confuse the minds of readers regarding the matters discussed in them, and the real problems that confronted the Government and the higher command of the Royal Australian Air Force, as well as te detract from the splendid results that were achieved. Doubtless, however, some individuals with axes to grind will endeavour to maintain the clamour raised by these bitter articles. For that- reason, I shall reply specifically to what, comparatively, are the most important of the general .allegations. In doing so, it will be necessary for me to make public facts, the necessity for the disclosure of which I deplore. But as I am forced to defend ' not only my own reputation but also the reputations of officers who have given outstanding and loyal service, and who are unable to defend themselves publicly, by reason of their appointments and of

I heir observance of the traditions and practice of the services, I give the. facts to the Parliament.

In his introductory passages, preceding the main case presented in his articles, Air Vice-Marshal Bostock refers to his' version of the story of Royal Australian Air Force Command with this studied comment, which appeared in the Melbourne Herald of the 24th June - lt is most unlikely that it will find a place in the official history of the Royal Australian Air Force as prepared bv the Department of Air.

To that taunt, I. make this reply: The official history of Australia's part in the war of 1939-45, including the Royal Australian Air Force's share, is not hema, prepared by the Department pf Air. It will be supplied by three writers, who will work under contract to the Commonwealth, and under the editorship of the general editor of the Official History. Subject to the reservation of technical military secrets, these writer? will have at their disposal all official documents, including those of Royal Australian Aif Force Command and the units comprising that organization. They have been given the same freedom from censorship as was given to the previous Commonwealth War Historian, Dr. C. E. W. Bean. Theappointment of each of them was approved by a committee of which I am not a member, but which comprises the PrimeMinister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Ministers for Defence, External Affairs and the Interior. I proceed now to the proof of false premises.

In his second article,' published in the Melbourne Herald on the 24th June, Air Vice-Marshal Bostock raises the issue of a vital War Cabinet decision which defined the responsibilities in relation to the components of the Royal Australian Air Force, as assigned respectively to the Commander of the Allied Air Forces and to Royal Australian Air Force Headquarters. Let us here examine the words on which both Air Vice-Marshal Bostock and the Herald rely as the " basic causeof the Royal Australian Air Force's difficulties in the Pacific war Printed in black type they read -

Retention by the Royal Australian Air Force head-quarters of all matters such as personnel, provision and maintenance of aircraft, supply and equipment, works aud buildings, and training of the Royal Australian Air Force.

He states in his articles that the words I have just quoted, and which are printed in black type, are important because -

The interpretation of the Minister for Air. who know nothing about the realities of war, differ from that of an air chief marshal of long experience in operational requirements. And that difference was the basic cause of most of the Royal Australian Air Force's difficulties in the Pacific war.

Here are the facts : On the 28th April, 1942, War Cabinet reached a decision concerning' the assignment of the Royal Australian Air Force service squadrons, and associated head-quarters formations to the Supreme Command. The relevant War Cabinet minute reads -

On the recommendation of the Advisory War Council (Minute 910) the following interpretation of the decision relating to the assignment of Australian forces to the Supreme Command was approved -

With the service squadrons there is also assigned Royal Australian Air Force Area Head-quarters, Air Combined Headquarters, all Fighter Sector Head-quarters nml such Station Head-quarters as have been established for the operational control of Royal Australian Air Force service squadrons.

Operational control of the Royal Australian Air Force service squadrons and necessary Operational Head-quarters as indicated above is vested in the Commander of the Allied Air Forces.

The Australian Chief of the Air Staff will be responsible for all matters associated with Royal Australian Air Force personnel, provision and maintenance of aircraft, supply and equipment, works and buildings,' and training. These functions are not assigned to the CommanderinChief.

Now let me quote verbatim the relevant excerpt from my own minute to the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett, dated' the 30th April, 1942, and referred to by Air ViceMarshal Bostock in his articles-

That fullest co-operation should be offered Lieutenant-General Brett in his tasks as Commander Allied Air 'Forces, -under which he would take over control of all .the service squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force, as well as Area. Operational Head-quarters, Air Combined Head-quarters and Fighter Sector Head -quarters, which concern operations only, but that the Chief of the Air Staff would assume responsibility for all matters such as personnel, provision and maintenance of aircraft, supply and equipment, works and buildings, and training of the Royal Australian Air Force. it is to be noted particularly that my directions to the Chief of the Air Staff were in strict accordance, practically word for word, with the War Cabinet decision. Thus there is not a scintilla of truth in Air. Vice-Marshal Bostock's observation that I - -to quote his own words - "put an entirely different construction on the War Cabinet's ruling". I emphasize here that, having established beyond question the complete falsity of Air Vice-Marshal Bostock's basic accusation, I also provide proof that his own improper interpretation of such a vital decision by War Cabinet accounts for a succession of wrong conclusions, not only in his current attack through the press, but also in the actual performance of his highly responsible duties as Air Officer Commanding Royal Australian Air Force Command.

By his article on the 24th June, it is clear, as I have proved, that Air ViceMarshal Bostock deliberately quoted as the basis for his charge, not, as he alleges, my interpretation of War Cabinet's decision, but the interpretation placed upon that decision by Sir Charles Burnett, the then Chief of the Air Staff to whom Air Vice-Marshal Bostock was deputy, and contained' in a minute written by him on this matter on the 29th April, 1942, the day following that on which the decision was taken. That minute obviously was at considerable variance with the actual decision taken, in that it incorrectly stated that certain of the functions assigned by War Cabinet to the Royal Australian Air Force Head, quarters were allotted to the Commander, Allied Air Forces. On receipt of a copy of Sir Charles Burnett's minute I immediately directed his attention, to the pre?cise terms of the decision as promulgated by War Cabinet. That decision was strictly observed by me and by the Royal Australian Air Force Head-quarters, and the directions that I issued following" its promulgation were in complete conformity with it. I may add that not in any instance have directions issued by me been at variance with any War Cabinet decision on this or any other matter.

As I have already stated, the spearhead of his whole attack is his accusation that the interpretation placed by me on this War Cabinet decision was - I again quote his words..- The basic cause of most of the Royal Australian Air Force's difficulties in the Pacific war ". It is most unfortunate that Air Vice-Marshal Bostock still obviously accepts Sir Charles Burnett's interpretation of that vitally important War Cabinet decision as the basis of the most vicious phases of his attacks, and disregards the actual official decision which itself is the comtplete answer to that particular, and his principal, charge. Apart from that fact, his apparent non-acceptance and disregard of the War Cabinet decision shows quite conclusively that Air Vice-Marshal Bostock has, since 19.42, been labouring under a definite misconception, which he appears to have fostered to the point of obsession, of the real functions of his command, and that that misconception was, to a large extent, responsible for flip difficulties that awe between him and the Air Board. I am fully convinced that if Air Vice-Marshal Bostock had observed and given the co-operation involved, whatever difficulties were experienced would have been considerably minimized. The organization of the Royal Australian Air Force, of which he is so critical, has proved efficient in some other services of the Empire, which is a clear indication that the disabilities of the Air Force .which are the subject of his attack can, in a large measure, be truly attributed to the matter of personalities. His irresponsible and unjust criticisms of others holding high appointments and carrying big responsibilities confirm this.

I must here make, it quite clear that, under governmental decision, the Air Board was the authority directly responsible to the Government, through the Minister, for all functions of the Royal Australian Air Force except operational control of the service squadrons and other formations assigned to the CommanderinChief, South-West Pacific Area. Air Vice-Marshal Bostock's disregard of that allocation of duties and responsibilities was itself the primary and major cause of many of the difficulties to which he refers. I will show later that, as late as February last, Air Vice-Marshal Bostock asserted in a letter that, while he was Air Officer Commanding Royal Australian Air Force Command, he had no responsibility whatever to any Australian authority - that is his view. This is obviously erroneous, and his adherence to that attitude throughout his service was responsible for me having to make direct contact with, the Commander, Allied Air Forces, on the matter.

The Air Vice-Marshal's introduction of the Barry Commission of Inquiry into his attack is also, for him, another very damaging aspect of his whole case. In his summing up of the causes of the trouble that arose within the First Tactical Air Force,' Mr. Barry," K.O., had this to say: -

I am satisfied that the immediate cause of the applications for permission to resign their commissions by--

Here the Commissioner named the eight officers concerned - was dissatisfaction with the operational activities of the First Tactical Air Force.

Elsewhere Mr. Barry reports that the basic causes of the trouble were, first, the type of operations on which the Wings were engaged, and, secondly, the dissatisfaction with the attitude of the senior staff officers of the Tactical Force. It is significant that in the course of his articles on the subject Air Vice-Marshal Bostock, Air Officer Commanding Royal Australian Air Force Command, omits any reference to the primary cause of the trouble, lack of operational opportunity, which was not the responsibility of Royal Australian Air Force Head-quarters.

The Air Vice-Marshal further chose to make some cynical comment in his articles by comparing the men who fought the war from " cramped cockpits " with those in swivel chairs in offices thousands of miles behind the combat areas. It is interesting to note that while Air Vice-Marshal Bostock was in command of a formation the function of which was operational control, his Command Head-quarters was located in Brisbane, Queensland. It was not until March-April, 194-5, that an advanced echelon of that head-quarters was transferred to Morotai to control the Borneo operations. And so, his cynical references which I have quoted have equal application to the conditions under which he himself served for practically the whole period of the war.

Another point I would emphasize is that quite obviously -many factors other than those he has covered in his articles and those of which he was aware, yet has not mentioned, had very important bearing on the decisions of War Cabinet, the Government and Royal Australian Air "Force Head-quarters during the war years having full regard to all Commonwealth war commitments.

And now, I come to what perhaps will weigh most in the minds of all openminded observers and critics - I refer to the all-important question of responsibility to the Commonwealth. I therefore invite close attention to this extract from a .letter received from the Air ViceMarshal as recently as the 25th February of this year -

Upon my services being made available to the Commander, Allied Air Forces, he appointed me first as his Chief of Staff, and, shortly afterwards, when General Kenney took oyer from General Brett, as Air Officer Commanding Royal Australian Air Force Command. Iri both these appointments I was responsible, directly and only to the Commander, Allied Air Forces, for all the duties incumbent on the appointments.

Another excerpt from that letter reads -

Up to a date early in 1942 when I ceased to he responsible to the Australian authorities.

Those statements 1 have quoted come from a man who professes to have Australian interests at heart and who, in fact, commanded Royal Australian Air Force operational units consisting of thousands of Australian personnel. They como from one who was the senior officer of the Royal Australian Air Force serving with our allies; yet, according to his own words, he had no responsibility to any Commonwealth authority. That is his own declaration and it describes accurately his behaviour. And yet, when lie received the notice of his retirement - I ask the House to note this - this same officer made special written request that his retirement be reconsidered and that he be retained in the Royal Australian Air Force. Further than that, lie has even appealed for " redress of grievance " in respect of his retirement. Had his application to remain in the service been approved, it is clear that the articles' under reference would not have been written by him. I draw special attention of honorable members to this important point.

Having persistently pursued a policy based on his own misinterpretation of my actions and those of the Air Board, Air Vice-Marshal Bostock will no doubt continue to draw his pay and serve the interests of his employers by contributing further columns of explanations and criticisms of. the competency and capacity of almost everybody who had, or still has, authority in the Royal Australian Air Force, except himself. "Neither I, as Minister, nor the Air Board has laid claim to infallibility. However, I take this opportunity to say that the Government has full confidence in the Air Board.

Having proved beyond doubt that Air Vice-Marshal Bostock, who has received the equivalent of approximately nineteen columns of publicity in one newspaper, syndicated by other sections of the after noon press, which has been given him based his charges on false premises, I ask the Parliament and the public to treat anything further which flows from his facile pen as the partisan outpourings of a person who, having frustrated his ambition in the service by his own actions, finds satisfaction in belittling a force which has a proud record of servicefor Australia and. the Allied cause.

I lay on the table the following paper : -

Royal Australian Air Force - Newspaper articles alleging maladministration and unsound organization - Ministerial Statement. and move -

That the paper be printed.

Debate (on motion by Mr. White) adjourned.

Mr McEWEN (INDI, VICTORIA) - Will the Prime Minister give an assurance to the House that the motion for the printing of the paper will he debated before the end of this session?

Mr Chifley - I shall examine . the notice-paper, ' and see whether it will be possible for this subject to be brought on within a. reasonable time.

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