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Wednesday, 9 September 1942

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) (Minister for the Army) . - The representations made by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) regarding leave for naval ratings from Darwin will be referred to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin), who, I am sure, will give sympathetic consideration to the matter. Members of the Australian Imperial Force and the Militia serving in the territories are granted leave on the basia of two days a month. Leave may be accumulated, though it must not exceed in the aggregate 24' days annually. Troops returning recently from Darwin had been granted leave on this basis with four days' travelling time added, making the maximum leave 28 days. The Government is anxious to grant leave to men serving in advanced operational stations such as Darwin. The exigencies of the war position, of course, determine to what degree we can liberalize leave.

The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) raised the matter of the conditions under which soldiers are given a civilian outfit when they are discharged from the Army. This matter was raised in questions earlier to-day by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn). The honorable gentleman asked me -

To what discharged soldiers is a civilian outfit issued free of charge?

I replied -

To all soldiers who are in necessitous circumstances and who at the time of their discharge have less than £20 (twenty pounds) due to them, including deferred pay.

The honorable member also asked -

Is it a fact that a free issue of civilian outfit is not made to a soldier who is entitled to £20 or more in deferred pay?

My reply was " Yes ". That answers the queries raised by the honorable member for Melbourne, but consideration will be given to the further representations which he has made with regard to the desirability of liberalizing that provision.

The honorable member for Melbourne also raised the question of a certain order that was issued by the CommanderinChief, General Blarney, about June last in regard to the representations made on behalf of members of the forces by outside persons. There was issued, however, a later order of which he evidently is not aware. I refer the honorable member to General Routine Order A.108 of 1942 issued by the Commander-in-Chief on 7th August -

1.   With reference to G.E.O. A.108, Commanders and Commanding Officers will ensure that, when representations are made on behalf of soldiers by Members of Parliament or members of the public, suitable replies are furnished.

2.   Precise rules cannot be laid down to meet every case but. generally the reply should state that the legally authorized method for obtaining redress of grievances is that the soldier must make application through or to his Commanding Officer, in accordance with a procedure which is regularly explained to all ranks, and that any complaint made through the authorized channels will be thoroughly investigated and if it is established that the individual has suffered a wrong, action will be taken to redress it as fully as possible. Care is to be taken that the tone of letters is such as to inspire confidence that the Army is willing and anxious to adjust complaints if properly submitted and that men submitting genuine complaints have nothing to fear.

3.   It is essential if the prescribed channel is to be preserved, and proper organization and discipline is to be maintained, that men should have ready access to their Commanders regarding grievances and that those who submit matters which they believe constitute just cause for complaint, are made to feel that Commanders will ensure to the utmost of their power that justice be done. Such an attitude is essential if leaders are to obtain and hold the confidence of their men.

All Commanding Officers will therefore ensure that complaints by soldiers are expeditiously and impartially considered, and, if a grievance is well-founded, that it is redressed without delay.

Mr Rosevear - Does the Minister believe that that is being done?

Mr FORDE - The CommanderinChief issues that instruction to all commanding officers. I cannot answer for what is done by 500 commanding officers throughout Australia, but, if a case is brought to my notice of a commanding officer disobeying the CommanderinChief, the commanding officer will be suitably dealt with, because as the Commander-in-Chief has said, the commanding officer should deal with his troops in such a way as to inspire confidence.

Mr Blackburn - Some do and some do not.

Mr Pollard - When the late Mr. Street was Minister for the Army members of the forces were allowed access to members of Parliament.

Mr FORDE - I was told that by some one else, but I cannot find any record in the department of any such instruction having been issued. Since federation there has been a section in the Public Service Act laying it "down that no outside influence must be used by a public servant. There has also been a similar Army regulation since the establishment of the Australian Army; it is nothing new.

Mr Rosevear - Does the Minister accept something laid down more than 40 years ago?

Mr FORDE - No, but it is well to realize what the law provides. The provision that men in the Army shall not use outside influence is not new. It has been in existence for many years. There is a similar regulation in force in the Royal Australian Air Force. Since there has been an army in Australia it has been laid down that the men must in the first instance apply to their commanding officer to redress any grievance.

Mr Rosevear - Is this not a Labour Government?

Mr FORDE - Of course it is. We are anxious to do all we can to improve the conditions of the men in the forces throughout Australia. I realize that it is of great importance that we should have in the Army a high standard of not only efficiency and equipment but also discipline. I believe that it is the duty of the commanding officers and men to do everything possible to improve the standard of efficiency, morale and discipline. I consider that justice must be done by the men, but, at the same time, no steps should be taken by the Minister for the Army or the Government that would undermine discipline in the Australian Military Forces.

Mr Calwell - Does the Minister think that discipline is interfered with if a member of the forces writes to a member of Parliament?

Mr FORDE - Not necessarily; but any continued and persistent undermining of the authority of the commanding officer would be detrimental to Army discipline. I believe that frequently members of the forces are not aware of the procedure by which they can have their grievances redressed. 1 believe that in the first instance they should apply to the commanding officer, because, if they do not do that, and if members of Parliament are burdened with every grievance of thousands of men, and if all their letters were to come to me, it would be utterly impossible for me to do the bigger work that the Minister for the Army has to do in regard to policy. All my time would he taken up with thousands of grievances, in regard to each of which I should not have the time or the facilities to reach a just decision. That is why it is necessary to have machinery in the Army for men to make application to the commanding officer. The commanding officers have strict instructions from the CommanderinChief that they must inspire confidence by giving immediate and sympathetic consideration to every grievance brought before them, and in that way settle matters. I repeat that I cannot answer for the actions of 500 commanding officers throughout Australia. The Australian Army has increased from about 30,000 men a couple of years before the war to the greatest army ever assembled in Australia. We have had great difficulty in training men for the position of officers. One cannot expect 100 per cent, efficiency in any organization which has grown so rapidly as has the Australian Army, but at officers' training schools throughout Australia everything possible is being done to improve the Army organization. While I will not tolerate any failure on the part of commanding officers to observe the strict instructions issued by the Commauder-in-Chief to redress grievances sympathetically and expeditiously, I do not intend, as Minister, to take any action that wouldbe subversive of discipline or of the ibest interests of the forces in Australia.

Mr Calwell - How many majorsgeneral do you propose to sack?

Mr FORDE - This is not the place for me to deal with the question of the sacking of majors-general. I have had no complaint that any major-general has been responsible for lack of sympathetic consideration of complaints made to him. If the honorable member has any instance that he can bring before me, I shall be glad to hear it.

As regards the statement made by the honorable member for Melbourne that an instruction was given by Major-General Herring that no one should be promoted to commissioned rank who had not passed the intermediate examination, I am not aware that any such instruction has ever been issued. I doubt very much whether it was everissued by MajorGeneral Herring. All I have to say is that that officer is one of the outstanding men in the Australian Military Forces. For character, integrity and ability, he has few equals, and I do not think he has any superiors. He is a man of the highest integrity and character, and I do not think he would be responsible for any instruction that would deprive promising young men, who have devoted themselves to military work, of promotion of officers' rank on the ground that they had not had the benefit of a secondary education.

Mr Calwell - That is hardly a judicial attitude. The Minister assumes that Major-General Herring is not guilty of all these things because he has, in the Minister's opinion, a good character, which was not impugned in the slightest degree.

Mr FORDE - One has to know the man to realize that he would be actuated by the highest motives in any action he may take. In my opinion, if we had more General Herrings in the Australian Army, the Army would be a very much more efficient organization. He is one of those very bright and capable men who would adorn any military organization, and he holds a very important military position in this country.

Mr Calwell - It was a returned Australian Imperial Force officer who gave me that information.

Mr FORDE - Even if it were true we have to realize that a certain educational standard has to be reached by persons seeking appointment to important civilian positions. I have travelled from Hobart to Townsville and Perth, and met Australian Imperial Force men and officers, and they all have the very highest opinion of Major-General Herring and speak of him as one of the outstanding men who came to the front in the Middle East. They say they would follow him anywhere, and that they have implicit confidence in his leadership.

The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) raised matters with regard to the Allied Works Council, and went to great trouble to point out some of the anomalies in the administration of that body, which, I think he will admit, has donegreat work in the building of over 100 aerodromes in Australia, and employs upwards of 60,000 persons. I am not going to try to justify everything the Allied Works Council does.

Mr Calwell - Or many of the staff that are there, either.

Mr FORDE - I do not intend to go into that matter. The honorable member for Dalley raises a question that should be considered by my colleague, the Minister for the Interior (Senator Collings) and I shall have much pleasure in bringing the honorable member's remarks to his notice. The honorable member went into considerable detail regarding the employment of this man and that, and the calling up of men without sufficient notice, and so on. I assure him that, in addition to what the Minister for the Interior will do, the Government will be pleased to give sympathetic consideration to any representations he may make on this or any other matter.

Mr Calwell - Will the Minister deal with all my little points also?

Mr FORDE - Yes.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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