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Friday, 6 March 1942

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - I should like to make several observations, two of which relate to the speech made by Senator Brown. First, it is true that the minds of most people have been greatly exercised with regard to the situation in India, especially in view of the fact that our aggressors in the Pacific belong to the coloured race. The honorable senator will be gratified to know, as I am, that steps are being taken to give to India a certain degree of autonomy. It was reported on the short-wave radio to-day that a certain gentleman whose enthusiastic support for a measure of reform in India is wellknown is likely to enter the British Cabinet.

Reference was made by Senator Brown to a certain manufacturer. It seems that somebody is blocking the firm which desires to engage in the production of necessary appliances. There is no shortage of finance. I assure the honorable senator that government assistance has been given for the manufacture of many essential commodities. I know that quite well from my association with the Joint Committee on War Expenditure. Hundred's of thousands of pounds have been made available to people requiring assistance. I am sure that if the honorable senator puts his case before the appropriate authority, action will be taken. The Director of Finance has authorized the advancing of large sums of money, in varying circumstances, for the manufacture of essential requirements. These advances have been made throughout the Commonwealth, and I believe they have extended even to the north of Queensland, an area which is exercising our minds greatly at present. Even the benighted and- forgotten State from which I hail has had a fair share. There can be no doubt that producer-gas unite are urgently required in this country if motor transport is to remain on the roads, and if the case be placed before the Minister concerned, I am confident that there will not be the slightest difficulty in securing assistance, provided of course that the firm concerned has sufficient equipment to do the job, and is producing an article that the Government requires.

I am afraid that the Minister for External Territories (Senator Fraser) did not get the point made by Senator Collett. There is not the slightest doubt in regard to Major-General Bennett's courage or his worthiness as a man.

Senator Fraser - That was the point raised. There was a doubt.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am sure that Senator Collett did not suggest ' anything of the sort. I point out to the Minister that laymen such as myself rather rejoiced when we heard what Major-General Bennett had done. We thought that he had achieved a personal victory over our enemies, and would be able to give the military authorities here a great deal of valuable information. However, a closer examination of the esprit de corps, and the degree of liaison existing between military authorities in other countries of the world, shows that for centuries it has been recognized that no commanding officer should desert his men. In these circumstances, it seems desirable that in order to rehabilitate Major-General Bennett in the eyes of the people - not in the eyes of the Prime Minister or other Ministers who have interviewed him, because they are more than satisfied - an inquiry of a military character should be held.

Senator Fraser - The old school tie.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Certainly not. What we have to bear in mind is this: It has been intimated that Major-General Bennett will be given a high command in the fighting forces in this country. Therefore, in the interests of all those who serve in our military forces, from the private to those holding the highest rank, it is essential that there should be some pronouncement by a military authority. That is well known by Major-General Bennett himself, and no doubt he is prepared to stand up to the fullest examination by men of his own rank. I have no doubt that he will be able to justify his action. I have great admiration for the courage, skill and intrepidity of Major-General Bennett and the others who participated in the daring escape.

Senator Allan MacDonald - It certainly took a bit of doing.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes. It showed tremendous courage and great organizing capacity. However, the defence authorities have to go a little farther than that, because, in the first blush of the affair, many people said unpleasant things and are continuing to whisper them, to the detriment of those concerned. If a military inquiry be held, these people will have to remain silent. I only say this because of my desire to assist in the rehabilitation of this soldier, who I believe has done a good job for Australia. I am sure that that is the opinion of the Government. The honorable senator who has brought this matter forward has done so in the best interests of Australia and of Major-General Bennett himself. I ask the Minister to give consideration to the representations made by honorable senators, with a view to doing what is best in the interests of the officer concerned, and of the men whom he is to command. It is essential that the men who are to serve under him should be inspired with confidence in their leader, and an inquiry such as has been suggested will create that confidence.

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