Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 16 March 1966

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - by leave - Mr. Speaker, this unfortunate case commenced when Gunner O'Neill went absent without leave when rostered for operational guard duty on 16th January of this year, by day from 5.30 p.m. until 7 p.m. and for the same night from 8 p.m. until 9 p.m. When the case was heard by the commanding officer, Gunner O'Neill was awarded 21 days' field punishment and 21 days' forfeiture of pay. The field punishment awarded involved reporting to the orderly sergeant at 6.30 a.m., 12.45 p.m., 4.45 p.m. and thereafter at hourly intervals until 10 p.m. Gunner O'Neill was also to wear field dress at all times and forgo canteen privileges, movies and stand down days. He was also required to carry out tasks or drill as laid down.

The field punishment was awarded to Gunner O'Neill on the morning of 17lh January 1966. On the afternoon of the same day he refused a direct order to leave his tent to attend a field punishment parade and later a routine administration parade. He was then placed under close arrest. The battery commander directed that the relevant instructions regarding restraint be examined and applied. When the Rules for Field Punishment are read in conjunction with certain provisions of the United Kingdom Army Act, it is clear that the attachment of individuals to fixed objects is for bidden. In the event, Gunner O'Neill- was secured by one hand being handcuffed to what is known as a star picket in a weapon pit which had cover to protect him from enemy action and provide shelter from the sun and which afforded privacy. Reports which have been published stating that Gunner O'Neill was secured to the picket for 20 days are incorrect. The total period involved was seven days. He was removed from the weapons pit each night and slept in a tent with one hand secured to his stretcher. I have now had an opportunity to study the proceedings of Gunner O'Neill's court martial and in particular his own evidence on oath in which he stated -

.   . apart from the hands being fastened to the star picket I cannot recall being treated badly.

The maintenance of discipline in the field is of the greatest importance as the lives of soldiers may depend on their response to the orders of their superior officers. At the same time it is recognised that commanding officers must observe the requirements of military law in the exercise of disciplinary control. This matter has been carefully examined in accordance with normal military procedures and the appropriate military authority, Brigadier Jackson, Commander, Australian Armed Forces Vietnam, has indicated that appropriate disciplinary action will be taken in this case as soon as operational circumstances permit.

I might add, in relation to the two charges on which Gunner O'Neill was court martialled, the proceedings were reviewed in the normal way by the Judge Advocate General. On his advice, the conviction on the second charge relating to failure to attend a field punishment parade was quashed, although the conviction on the first charge, dealing with failure to attend an administrative parade, to which Gunner O'Neill pleaded guilty, of course stands. In respect of that conviction the sentence has been reduced from 6 months to 90 days' detention. The remainder of the original sentence directing his discharge from the Army stands.

I present the following paper -

Case of Gunner O'Neill - Ministerial Statement, 16th March 1966- and move -

That the House take note of the paper.

Mr Galvin - Before moving that the debate be adjourned, Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask the Minister whether he would be prepared to table the transcript of the court martial of Gunner O'Neill.

Suggest corrections