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Thursday, 24 March 1966

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) . - Tonight and over recent days we have heard a fine flurry of patriotic fervour from the Government regarding the threat lo Australia. The nation has been told of the definite need to conscript men and to send them to fight in South Vietnam. We have been told that conscription is absolutely necessary because the voluntary system is supposed to have been tried and has failed. But when we strip the Government's case of its synthetic patriotism and look at the Government's action, what do we find to be the real consideration for the men called upon to fight? The matter to which I am about to refer concerns one of my constituents. Every recent expression of the Government's concern is denied by action more indicative of the Government's true disposition. The question has arisen concerning the salary that is to be paid to members of the Public Service who are called up for national service training. I am indebted to my colleague, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam), for providing me with a copy of a question that he put on notice to the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) quite recently. I shall quote the question and the answer the Deputy Leader of the Opposition received to it. It is Question No. 1512 and it is under the heading: " Government Employees: Payment while on Military Service". It is to be found on page 201 of " Hansard ". The Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked -

1.   In what circumstances and to what extent do the Government and Commonwealth statutory authorities (a) pay or make up the salaries of employees who are on military service and (b) require them to maintain their superannuation contributions?

2.   On what dates, by what means and with what results has the Government communicated with State Governments concerning the salaries and superannuation contributions of the employees of those Governments and their statutory authorities while on military service?

The answer provided by the present Prime Minister on 10th March 1966 is in the same terms as the answer to a previous question asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition of the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, which was answered in January of this year. The present Prime Minister answered in this way - 1. (a) Officers and employees employed under the Public Service Acts who are called up for military service are subject to the following conditions in relation to salaries during military service -

(i)   as a member of the Defence Forces in time of war or as a member of the Defence Forces allotted for duty in an area in which the Forces of the United Nations are engaged in warlike operations, full salary is paid for the first 14 days of military service.

I want to remind the House again of the answer. If these officers and employees are engaged in war or in operations involving United Nations Forces, then the Commonwealth Public Service benevolently pays them their full salary for the first 14 days of their service. The Prime Minister added -

(b)   Contributors under the Superannuation Act 1922-1965 are required to pay contributions at the normal rates while on leave of absence for military service.

Further, the Prime Minister said -

2.   Such correspondence as had passed between the Commonwealth and State Governments in relation to National Servicemen has not touched on the subject of salaries and superannuation contributions of employees of State Governments and Sta'." statutory authorities.

Let us come to the crux of the whole matter. I have found out the position and had it confirmed today. The Government will make up the salaries of national servicemen who at the time of being called up were employees of the Commonwealth Public Service for only the first 14 days of their military service; it will not pay a whit more to them. The New South Wales Public Service and all New South Wales statutory authorities, I understand, make up the full salary of all their officers while they are in the national service training scheme. That is the difference. The Commonwealth Government should be setting the example. This is the new Government which believes, in the words of the Prime Minister tonight, that everything had been done to induce men to volunteer for the Services. A young officer of a Commonwealth Department, which I will not name here tonight, has indicated to me that he is to be called up and will begin national service training next month. For the next two years while he is in the national service scheme, instead of receiving the full adult rate of $48.20 per week to which he is entitled, he will be paid the national service rate of $33.60 a week. 1 have confirmed this position today with the New South Wales Public Service and also the Commonwealth Public Service. This is the difference between the two Public Services. If the young man was employed in the New South Wales Public Service he would receive his full civilian salary during his national service training. Admittedly, this decision was made by the previous Labour Government; but all Government employees in New South Wales - whether they be in the State Public Service or are officers of statutory authorities - will receive their full salaries while undergoing national service training. From this Government and from the Liberal-Country Party Government in Victoria, which takes the same attitude as is taken by this Government, public servants will receive no subsidy to make up their pay.

This attitude is in line with other actions of the Commonwealth Government. We all recall how long servicemen in Vietnam had to wait to get the special allowance that was eventually paid to them. We all recall how long it was before we got anything resembling decent amenities for the troops serving in Vietnam. I was one who spoke up in this Parliament about that. We all recall how long it took and how much badgering went on in this Parliament before the Government agreed even to pay the cost of returning to Australia for burial the bodies of soldiers killed in Vietnam. We all recall the trouble over equipment, especially boots, in the early stages of the service of Australian forces in Vietnam.

Mr Benson - There is also the matter of repatriation.

Mr REYNOLDS - Yes. We all recall the Government's hesitancy on that. It is asking young men to come forward and serve. But they have every reason not to volunteer and we cannot get volunteers. So we have to draft men into the Army. We have to conscript them. This is indicative of the real attitude of the Government. It is more preoccupied with gaining for big business enterprises in this country large defence contracts for the supply of munitions and equipment than it is concerned about the welfare of ordinary service men and women. It is more concerned about big business than it is about the welfare

Df its own servants in the Public Service. This is a scandalous situation. The constituent whom I have mentioned, instead of receiving $48.20 a week, will receive $33.60. He will be $14.60 a week, or in our old currency £7 6s. a week, worse off. Yet this Government not only asks him to risk his life in Vietnam but also penalises him to the tune of $14.60 a week in loss of salary. This indicates the Government's real attitude. This sort of action is typical of it and in sharp contrast to the attitudes that are professed in this House by Government supporters.

As I have said, tonight we heard from the Prime Minister that the Government had increased the pay of servicemen, that it had provided them with better benefits under the defence forces retirement benefits scheme, that it had done this and that it had done that. None of us really believes that the Government has made a sincere and honest attempt to do the right thing by those who are prepared voluntarily to serve our country in the forces. As I said before, the Government has shown itself to be much more willing to obtain defence contracts for private enterprise and big business than to do the right thing by its own servants in the Commonwealth Public Service and make up their pay while they are serving in the forces. Commonwealth officers not only will be under a disability because their pay will not be made up. They also will be required still to meet their normal superannuation contributions. Labour's attitude, on the other hand, is typified by what was done in New South Wales when a Labour Government was in office. What was done by a Labour government in that State is in sharp contrast to what the present Commonwealth Government is prepared to do. as I have pointed out tonight.

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