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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 1293

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have listened with a great deal of interest to the remarks made by my colleague, Senator Cavanagh, this evening. It concerns me very much that a senior military officer rather than the Minister for the Army (Mr Katter) can reply to accusations made by an honourable senator in this Parliament. The accusations were of a very serious nature. They referred to men who have been conscripted and called up for military service attempting suicide because of the conditions that have been imposed upon them. A member of this Parliament, who has been elected by the people of Australia;, makes accusations in this Parliament. It is not the Minister in charge of the Department who replies but the colonel who is in charge of the military establishment! When that is tolerated by the Australian people and by this Government we will be at a very serious stage. Indeed, you are not establishing a police state; you are establishing a military state. 1 suggest to the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman), who is sitting at the table, that he should confer with the Minister in another place to see that any reply that is given to accusations made in this Parliament should be given by him as the ministerial head of the Department and noi by some Army officer who is in charge of men, be they volunteers or conscripts. The accusations that Senator Cavanagh made caused the Minister for Air last week to make the statement that he would call for an inquiry into the Army conditions at Puckapunyal. After the Minister's statement last week that he was ordering an inquiry Into those conditions-

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Do not point yOUr finger at me.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I regard this as a very serious matter because it leads me to another matter. After the Minister had made this statement that he would order an inquiry into the conditions at Puckapunyal, the Army officer in charge of the camp answered on his own behalf. That, I think, is a very serious matter. If the Government had ordered an Inquiry, then I would have thought that at that stage the matter was sub judice and the Army officer in charge of the camp had the responsibility to answer in his own defence in the course of that inquiry and not to make a reply on behalf of the Minister outside this Parliament to the allegations made by my colleague.

But this leads me to another matter. In 1970 I made accusations, by way of correspondence, to the then Minister for the Army, Mr Peacock, about the serious state of the military prison at the Kapooka military camp. As a result of complaints that were made to me I asked the then Minister for the Army to make an inspection of the military prison at the Kapooka military camp which is just outside of Wagga. I was accompanied there by officers not only of the Kapooka military establishment but also of Eastern Command, Victorian Barracks. I was shown over the camp and over the military prison at the camp. To say the least, it was in my opinion a Black Hole of Calcutta. From recollection, I saw it in May or June 1970, and the winter in Kapooka is pretty severe. The interior of the establishment was lined with tin that was painted black. It was something akin to the internal appearance of a refrigerator, except that it was painted black.

There was a little window which was of the order - I am speaking from recollection now - of about 2 feet 6 inches by 1 foot 6 inches. There was what one might call a makeshift bed. There were 2 blankets, a bucket in which to urinate and a utensil for drinking purposes. I regarded those conditions as inhumane, and I told the officers who accompanied me on that inspection that I thought they were inhumane. I reported the conditions to the then Minister for the Army who agreed to inspect conditions at the camp. As a result of his inspection of the conditions, I well recall that he rang me shortly afterwards - I was in Tamworth at the time - and agreed with me. He told me that the interior of the cells would be painted a light colour, such as white, cream or whatever it might have been, that the conditions would be improved and that in the 1970-71 works programme, arrangements would be made for a new military prison to be built at Kapooka.

I feel very strongly about this matter because an undertaking was given to me in May or June 1970 - unfortunately I do not have the correspondence with me - that in the works programme of 1970-71, arrangements would be made for a new military prison to be erected at Kapooka military camp. That undertaking has not been fulfilled by this Government at this stage. I assure you, Mr President, and I assure the Minister for Air who is at the table, that the residents of the Wagga district are very concerned that these undertakings which were given by the Department and by the then Minister for the Army have not been implemented.

Frankly, it appears to me that the Army has set itself up as being above the rights of this Parliament. We had an officer of the Army answering allegations which were made by Senator Cavanagh when they should have been answered by the Minister for the Army. In the case to which I have referred, the then Minister for the Army undertook that a new military prison would be established at Kapooka in the 1970-71 works programme to bring it up to modern, humane conditions. We are now in 1972-73 and that undertaking has not been fulfilled. I urge the Minister to see that the Army wakes up to itself and brings itself up to modern, everyday thinking.

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