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Thursday, 2 June 1949

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) . - The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) has just urged members of this chamber to bring their complaints to the notice of Ministers rather than ventilate them in this chamber. I have taken a complaint to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Riordan), but have received no redress at all. Therefore I am bringing it before the Parliament, and I have selected the motion for the adjournment as the appropriate occasion .because the broadcasting of proceedings has ceased, and I have no wish to do the Navy recruiting campaign any harm. I remind the House, however, that I could have easily selected another occasion on which to offer my criticism. However, I do so now, and my criticism, I think, is shared by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson), who asked a question a day or two ago on a similar subject. I refer to the recruitment in the Navy of young men for a long term of years. When some of the young men find that for family or other compassionate reasons it is necessary to seek relief, not the slightest compassion is shown by the officials of the Department of the Navy. I should not like to regard the Minister for the Navy as merely the echo of the voice of his department, but I contrast his attitude with that of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Chambers) when similar problems are taken to him. He certainly, in my view, assesses the problemsaccording to what he thinks ought to be done, and tries to do what he thinks ought to be done. But, when problems are presented to the Minister for the Navy, they are met with a reply like, " I shall take the matter up with my officers ". When they have knocked back an application, that is the stone end of it. I shall relate the facts of the case which I brought to the notice of the Minister. I think it merits consideration. A. young man occupied a position in a bank in a country town. He was only seventeen years of age when he was attracted by the advertisements that the Navy has all over the country about the adventurous life at sea and so forth. As soon as he turned eighteen, he enlisted and signed indentures for twelve years. I ask, as I have asked the Minister, whether it is fair to tie a boy down for twelve years when he is only eighteen years of age and is at a most impressionable period of his life, and then not give him a chance of changing his mind or occupation? . The lad I have in mind served for about two months, found that he did not like being in the Navy, and deserted. His parents wrote to me about it. They told me that he was completely unhappy and would never do any good in the Navy. They asked me whether I could do anything to obtain his release. Naturally, I placed the facts before the Minister for the Navy. He gave me the reply any one would expect, which was that nothing could be done while the sailor was a deserter, but that, if he gave himself up, consideration would be given to his case. I told his parents that and said that it was also my opinion that the boy should give himself up. He did so. He then served the appropriate sentence for desertion. I have forgotten what it was, but I presume that it was severe. Then he resumed his place in the Navy, but still wanted to get out. His superiors asked him why he did not give it another try and undertake the examination for stoker. He did so and passed. But he is still completely unhappy. The point is that the boy's mother has been practically driven into the lunatic asylum by her son's experiences. The boy's father came to me and told me that the mother had suffered a complete breakdown owing to her worry about the boy. The father is only a working man, but he said, " There used to be a time when a man could buy his son out of the Navy. I own my own home, but I am willing to sell it for what it fetches and pay the proceeds to the Government, if it wants the money, to buy my son out. I will do anything to save my wife's health ". I related all the circumstances to the Minister, without the slightest result. The boy is still tied down for twelve years. The mother's health is breaking down. The father is ready to buy the son out if that is required.. But there is not the slightest show of compassion by the department. Before a boy of eighteen is required to sign on for twelve years, he should have to undergo a probationary period of three or six months. A period of probation is almost universal in vocations that call for a long period of indenture. A girl wishing to train as a nurse first has to go through, a period of probation to see whether she is likely to settle in to the profession. Similarly, other jobs requiring a long term of indenture provide for a period of probation. My interest in this matter is not so much on behalf of the son as of the mother. I have done everything in my power in letters to and personal interviews with the Minister to have something done, but without avail. "When I heard the honorable member for Hindmarsh ask a question about a similar matter, I realized that, not only I, but also he and perhaps other honorable members, are concerned about the way the Navy is treating boys who have enlisted in its service. I repeat that I have chosen this hour of the night, when we are not on the air, to bring these facts to light. I do not want to damage the Navy's recruiting campaign. I realize the difficulties it faces in recruiting. Its difficulties in obtaining recruits these days are no less than those than those of other services. But if the Navy wants to retard recruitment, it has only to keep on doing the sort of thing that I have complained about. Then, if its actions are publicized, as they should be, when it shows no compassion in cases like that which I have instanced, its recruiting campaign will undoubtedly be seriously affected. If the department continues with its present attitude I shall have no compunction in seizing every opportunity to publicize the facts.

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