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Friday, 22 August 1941

Senator ARTHUR (New South Wales) . - I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Air to a matter of the utmost gravity to the members of the Royal Australian Air Force who are undergoing training at the Richmond aerodrome. The condition of affairs of which I complain is due to the treatment received by the men from the officer in charge of the aerodrome. This officer, whose name is Wilson, has recently received a promotion, possibly because of the defects of his administration. Owing to the treatment received by the airmen employed there they decided to have a one-day sit-down strike on the 11th August. This matter came to my knowledge through a private individual who, when taking a morning stroll past the aerodrome, heard the commanding officer requesting the personnel at the aerodrome not to hold the proposed strike, because the fact might reach the ears of the enemy and be used as propaganda, which would help to undermine Australia's war effort. The men decided to strike because they had been granted shorter periods of leave than had been given to the personnel at other aerodromes. The personnel of the Richmond aerodrome were getting four days' leave a month, whilst at other training centres, five and six days' leave were allowed. The Air Board issued an instruction from Melbourne that the men at Richmond were to have four days' leave, and later this was increased to five days. The commanding officer then decided that the men should be given two and a half days' leave each fortnight. During the first fortnight, this arrangement was adhered to, but because some of the men desired to catch a particular train to enable them to get the benefit of their leave, their autocratic commanding officer cancelled the whole of their leave. I understand that he has since been promoted to the Central Area Command in New South Wales. If he is still adopting the same Hitler-like tactics there as he did at Richmond, he will cause considerable dissatisfaction among members of the air force. When the personnel ceased work on a recent occasion, rain was falling. The practice of the men, at the end of each day's training, is to wash their hands and parade in order to go to the mess. Owing to the fact that the men were hurrying to escape the rain, he marched thom backwards and forwards three or four times in the rain, and as recently as last Friday evening, this treatment was repeated, merely because they endeavoured to avoid the rain.

I have also ascertained that when the men leave camp to catch a train at the Clarendon station, they have orders that they must not board the train from the railway platform. They have to climb into the carriages from, the end of the platform which is reserved for officers whose rank is above that of flightsergeant. The platform is at a long siding which is used for race trains. Two or three hundred yards away from the station there is a militia camp, and all of the militia-men are permitted to ascend the platform and wait for the train, but the air force personnel are noi allowed to do so because a " Brass Hat " named Wilson has so decreed. This state of affairs at the Richmond aerodrome cannot be permitted to continue. I urge the Government to take steps to see that the new commanding officer does not act in this autocratic manner towards the airmen. Harmony at this training centre should be restored. There is a stupid regulation which prevents a member of the Defence Forces from presenting complaints to members of this Parliament, and I suggest that conduct of that kind resembles what might be expected from Hitler. I hope that the Minister representing the Minister for Air will immediately bring this matter under the notice of the Government, so that the war effort may not be impaired by irritating tactics such as those to which I have referred.

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