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Wednesday, 19 March 1941

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) .- The answer that I was given to-day to a question about the fares charged soldiers travelling between Tasmania and the mainland was a deliberate attempt to evade the question.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - Order! The honorable senator must not accuse a Minister of deliberate evasion.

Senator AYLETT - I withdraw the word " deliberate ", and say that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender), whose answer was transmitted to me through the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll), entirely misunderstood my question. In the recess I made representations to the Minister for the Army, the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister for Air (Mr. McEwen) for more equitable fares for soldiers, sailors and air force men crossing Bass Strait on leave. My representations were acknowledged, and it was stated that the Ministers concerned would confer in order to ascertain what could be done to meet my requests, but it would appear from the answer that was supplied to me to-day that nothing has yet been done. The position to-day is that members of the forces, Tasmanians encamped in other States and men from other States encamped in Tasmania, are discriminated against in comparison with those on the mainland who are encamped in mainland States other than their home States.Whereas the men who have to cross to Tasmania when going home on leave have to pay full fare, less 10 per cent. by air and less 15 per cent. by sea, men who go home on leave on the mainland are given concessions of much greater value. Moreover, a Tasmanian training at Duntroon has to pay 14s.10d. return fare to Melbourne in addition to the fare across Bass Strait, whereas a Victorian training at Duntroon is charged only 5s. return between Canberra and his home town. The men in the forces are equally imbued with the desire to fight for democracy and the preservation of this country and they should all, therefore, receive equal treatment. No member of the forces should be placed at a disadvantage in respect of fares merely because of geographical considerations. Discrimination, bad in any circumstances, becomes worse when one man is enabled to go on leave from a camp in Victoria to his home in New South Wales for 5s. return, whereas a Victorian who crosses Bass Strait on leave from a camp in Tasmania is compelled to pay a minimum of £3 10s. 3d. return. About 180 Victorians, in camp in Tasmania for a few months, had to pay £3 10s. 3d. each when they first went home on leave. On the second occasion, because there were insufficient secondclass berths on the boat, some had to go first class and some second class. The cost of their passages was pooled and the fares averaged £4 3s. a head. In the few months in which those men were in Tasmania they paid about £1,300 in fares to the shipping company to enable them to see their families in Victoria. A good many of them were married men. Honorable senators will readily imagine the inroads that their fares would make into the small amount of money that would be available from their small wage on which many have to maintain homes.

Senator Keane -Why not carry them free?

Senator AYLETT - I have made that suggestion to the Government, and I. shall make it again before I conclude. Another aspect of this matter concerns soldiers from the mainland serving on certain islands. These men obtain leave for the same period as other members of the military forces, but, owing to the limited time available, and because of the infrequent boat services operating between these islands and the mainland, it is absolutely impossible for them to return from leave within the specified time. As a result, they are liable to punishment for being absent without leave. I have placed this matter before the Government, and have asked that the aeroplane services be made available to them. The council clerk at Flinders Island has written to me saying very definitely that the men are told that they cannot travel by air and must use the boat service. In reply to a question which I asked in this chamber, I was informed that the men could travel by air, but that is not so. I do not know of any reason why they should not be granted passages by aeroplane, either free, or at rates equivalent to those applying to soldiers travelling interstate on the mainland. Why should there be discrimination against them merely because they are Tasmanians and live in an isolated portion of the Commonwealth? Surely there should be equality among all men who are serving their country. They are prepared, if necessary, to give their lives in the defence of this country, and the least that any democratic government can do is to place them all on the same basis.

Senator Collett - How often do they get leave?

Senator AYLETT - I am not concerned about that. They are just as much entitled as are any other soldiers, sailors, or airmen, to visit their homes and to see their loved ones as frequently as possible.

Senator Collett - I merely asked how often they obtain leave.

Senator AYLETT - That does not affect the case that I am putting to the Senate.

Senator Collett - It is half the case.

Senator AYLETT - They may, for instance, allow their monthly leave to accumulate in order to go home, say, every three months. It is not fair that they should be required to pay up to ten times as much as is paid by other soldiers to reach their homes, merely because they are stationed in remote parts of the Commonwealth. That is something that should not be tolerated by a democratic government.

Senator Collett - Does the Tasmanian Government carry them free?

Senator AYLETT - The Government of Tasmania has made a greater contribution to the transport of the soldiers than this Government has ever made.

Senator Collett - Does the Government of Tasmania carry them free?

Senator AYLETT - I am asking if the Commonwealth Government intends to carry them free? Representations which I have made on this matter have been evaded.

Senator Collett - To what Minister is the honorable senator referring?

Senator AYLETT - I am referring to the Minister for the Navy, the Minister for the Army, the Minister for Air, and the Ministers representing those Ministers in this chamber. To-day I asked a question on this matter and the Minister (Senator Collett) knew perfectly well the import of my question. It read -

Has anything yet been done to reduce the fares of soldiers travelling between the mainland and Tasmania when on leave? If not. is anything likely to be done, and if so, when?

The answer given by the Ministerrepresenting the Minister for the Army read -

A fifteen percent. reduction in fare is allowed by a shipping company to members of the forces travelling between the mainland and Tasmania when on leave.

The 15 per cent. reduction has always been allowed. I want to know if the Minister will approach the shipping companies with a view to obtaining a further reduction, and also will he consider granting free transport, to which the sailors, soldiers, and airmen are justly entitled.

When a soldier enlists for service in the defence of his country and is prepared, if necessary, to give his life for. the preservation of democracy, surely he is entitled to some consideration. Quite apart from his final leave, he should be able to visit his home as frequently as possible. When the180 Victorians in Tasmania objected to paying their fares at Christmas time, and trouble seemed likely to develop in the camp, the Government said that it would grant them a free fare home, but it would be regarded as their final leave. Under those conditions, should a soldier be in camp for a further four or five months, he would have to pay his own fare home. I am aware that soldiers are provided with their fares home when they go on final leave. These boys are prepared to give their lives in the defence of this country, and when they areon leave surely they are entitled to free rail transport such as is available to members of Parliament.

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