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Thursday, 2 June 1949

Mr RIORDAN (Kennedy) (Minister for the Navy) . - I wish to reply to the speech that was made by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony). The honorable gentleman said that if an officer " knocked back " an application for discharge from the Navy, that was the end of the matter. If that was the way in which h he allowed his department to be administered when he. was in office, I have nol-bing further to say. But if he intended that remark to be a gratuitous insult to me, I hasten to assure him that the statement was not true. I shall tell him what happens when seamen apply for release from the Navy on compassionate grounds. The application is made in the first place to the man's commanding officer. It is then sent to the Naval Board, and instructions are issued for a naval padre of the religious denomination of the applicant, to make an investigation and furnish a report. The department acts on the padre's report. If an application is subsequently made to me by a member of this House, I refer the matter to the department and ask for a report. If an investigation has not then been made by the appropriate padre, arrangements are made for him to make inquiries so that I may be supplied with detailed information. Action is taken according to the padre's report. I cannot recall all of the details of the case mentioned by the honorable member, although he discussed it with rae yesterday after he had asked a question on the subject in the House. I asked the department to send me the file dealing with the application, but it has not yet arrived.

Mr Fuller - The question was asked only yesterday.

Mr Anthony - I asked about the cas* months ago.

Mr RIORDAN - The honorable member spoke to me about it yesterday, and 1 said then that I would send for the man's file. It has not yet arrived. I have adopted the usual procedure. In order to make the situation abundantly clear to the honorable member, I shall explain the grounds on which releases are granted from the Navy. Incidentally, the grounds for release which now exist have been in existence almost since, the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy. In th, first place, a man may be discharged on the ground of medical unfitness. In the second place he may be granted a compassionate release. A third method by which a man may gain his discharge is to " buy himself out ". That procedure is not permitted at present for reasons that I shall explain. As I informed the honorable member yesterday, the Government decided after the war to maintain an interim navy until it made its final decision upon peace-time naval policy. Men were enlisted in the interim Navy for a period of two years, and the last enlistment of that character was made prior to the 30th June, 1947. All enlistments made since the 1st July, 1947, have been in the permanent Navy. Members of the interim Navy are now being discharged from the service if they have not re-enlisted in the permanent force. In consequence, the Navy is in a similar situation to that, of industry. There is a shortage of manpower due to the fact that the Navy is not attracting recruits in sufficient numbers because economic conditions outside the service are too attractive, apparently, to young men. However, when the first winds of an economic blizzard blow, there will be no dearth of recruits for the Navy. The present Tate of enlistment is about 120 men a month. The recruits are sent to Flinders Naval Depot for their initial training. I emphasize that men can secure their release from the Navy at present only on medical or compassionate grounds. Every application for discharge is investigated carefully on its merits.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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