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Tuesday, 9 October 1956


Mr BRIMBLECOMBE (Maranoa) . It must be evident to the listening public, and to honorable members in this chamber, that Opposition members, in adopting their present attitude to the vote that we are discussing - the defence vote - are running true to form. During the short period I have been a member of this chamber, I have heard the same criticism levelled, each year, by the Opposition in respect of the defence Estimates. Although 1 concede to Opposition members the right of criticism, I believe that when they criticize and try to pull certain things down, they should have something to put in their place, but such alternatives have not been forthcoming from the Opposition so far. It makes one think that the criticism has been levelled for the purpose of trying to get political advantage.

The matter about which 1 want to speak particularly is the national service training scheme, which, I believe, is one of the greatest defence measures undertaken by this Government. Not only is it a scheme whereby we are training lads in basic military training, but it is a scheme whereby we are also training them to be citizens. When this scheme was introduced by the Menzies Government, it was bitterly opposed by the Opposition, which made all sorts of attempts to upset the scheme and ridicule it. But, in spite of that opposition, I believe that the general public of Australia is satisfied that the national service training scheme has made a wonderful contribution to the country, not only in training the boys in basic defence, but, as 1 said before, in making them citizens.

I have made a particular study of the national service training scheme. I agree that there are certain ways in which improvements could be made to it. Certain mistakes are made, and always have been made, in dealing with defence measures, and they cannot be avoided, but I believe that the boys, in addition to receiving military training, are coming out of the scheme as better citizens. That is a speciality of the national service training scheme. Only last week, while I was proceeding from Brisbane to my home, I picked up two national service trainees who were going to their homes for week-end leave. When I see boys on the road, I pick them up and ask them what they think of the national service training scheme. Without knowing who I am, they all say the same thing. Without exception, they have told me that it is a wonderful idea and that the Government should be congratulated on producing it. Last week I picked up two boys who, in civil life, work in a bank - a white collar job. They were doing their training in the Royal Australian Air Force and they said that, apart from training in the use of aircraft and the other instruction that they were given, they were receiving training in how to take a more responsible place in civil life.

I should not like the national service training scheme to be disbanded. Last Thursday night, in stating that there would be a review of the whole of the defence scheme, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) said -

I am not going to say for a moment that, now that we have these large numbers of men who have had basic training - some are continuing their training with the Citizen Miltary Forces -we must continue on the same scale.

I hope that those remarks do not indicate that there is to be a cutting back of the national training of our boys insofar as the call-up and the length of service are concerned. I am in favour of economies being made, but I hope that they will not be at the expense of the national service training scheme. I believe that the Government will do a great disservice to our country if it cuts back on that scheme.

I wish to raise another matter; I think that you will allow me to do this, Mr. Chairman. It comes under the proposed vote for the Department of the Army, and is in respect of boys who have been permanently injured while doing their national service training. In the first place, it must not be forgotten that these boys are compulsorily called up. They have to do their training. When they have been injured while doing military duty, they are taken into a repatriation hospital for a few months, and eventually they are discharged from the Army. Their treatment is then given to them, as private citizens, by public hospitals in the various States. A permanently injured boy who may be on his back for the rest of his life - and thank God there are only a few of them - is certainly paid compensation by the Commonwealth, but I do not think it is good enough. It is time that the Army set up its own hospital and continued to look after these boys, because they are soldiers in the strict sense of the word. They do their training under military officers and when they are injured they should not be, as it were, cast off into civil life as though one had said to them, " This is the finish of you. We will pay you compensation. Now you can get treatment somewhere else ".


Mr Griffiths - Some of them are not paid compensation.


Mr BRIMBLECOMBE - I am talking about boys who have been compensated. I do not know of any who have not. I am talking of what I know, not of what I hear. There are boys who have been compensated.


Mr Griffiths - There are those who have not.


Mr BRIMBLECOMBE - The honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) can speak for himself. 1 am speaking of what I know. I am speaking of the boys who have been compensated but who have been cast off as civilians. I believe that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) is sympathetic towards these boys, but as yet, the act does not make any provision for them. I should like these boys to remain the chief care and responsibility of the Army and the Government instead of being cast off, paid compensation, and told, in effect, " We are finished with you. You are of no more use to us ". That is the position as it appears to the general public. These boys should not be. treated in that manner. 1 know of such a case in Brisbane. A boy, aged eighteen years, was injured in camp. He is now on his back, and will remain there until he dies. His spine was permanently injured while he was doing his military duties. His parents are poor people - his father is a linesman in the Postmaster-General's Department - and they Jive 160 miles from Brisbane. The mother, who is not a complaining woman, has spoken to me about her son. She has not asked for any concession other than that the boy should be put into hospital among other boys and men who have a similar outlook in life to his, but not in a public hospital with older men who have nothing in common with him. If the act cannot be amended for this purpose, although I think it can, I should like the Government to give consideration to the granting of a free travel pass to parents of boys in such circumstances so that at least once a month they may be able to visit the hospital where their sons are patients. This is not being done at the present time.

I bring forward this matter because, in view of the small number of trainees involved - and even if there were more of them the same consideration should be given - the Army should retain an interest in them and give them the best possible treatment. I ask the Minister for the Army and the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) to examine this matter again. Any economies to be implemented in regard to defence should not be at the expense of the national service training scheme.







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