Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 16 September 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) . - I wish to deal with the treatment of Aircraftman Falstein by a Royal Australian Air Force court martial last week, who was found guilty of a certain offence, and was sentenced to 28 days' confinement at Holdsworthy military gaol. I am advised that Aircraftman Falstein has been deprived of his money, his watch, fountain pen, and all of his possessions except his clothing, and has been forbidden to have access to a newspaper, or to make any contact with the outside world, the exception being that certain people may visit him between 9.30 a.m. and 10.30 a.m. every Sunday morning. Aircraftman Falstein has been very harshly treated. I believe that if he had not been a Labour member of Parliament, he would not have been provoked in the first place by Squadron Leader A. R. Gorrie, and, that being so, the incident would not have occurred. Squadron Leader Gorrie said to him, " It is like your hide to make an illegal request. Just because you are a member of Parliament you think you can do everything." That remark in itself is sufficient to provoke an argument. A squadron leader should display more tact, or should be possessed of a better temperament than to express his spleen against a member of this Parliament who happens to be a Labour representative. It was the initial error - to put it mildly - on the part of the Squadron Leader that started the trouble. Having said nasty things to Aircraftman Falstein, and the latter having replied in kind, which was unfortunate for him because he was the junior, the Squadron Leader began to show his authority. He had the big stick, and he used it; and Aircraftman Falstein was placed under close arrest. His request was certainly against the regulations, but it was not against common practice. It is the common practice in these establishments for liquid refreshments to be served at passing out functions.

Mr Anthony - Does the honorable member approve of that?

Mr CALWELL - No, I do not approve of wet canteens under present conditions. Officers can have any quantity of drink in their messes at any time of the day or night, at the discretion of their commanding officer, and sergeants can have a beer at certain times of the day. However, a private can get only so many pints according to the number of coupons issued to him, or none at all. It would be better for all concerned if no differentiation existed in the dispensing of liquor in these establishments. It would make for the better training of the officers and men if they were obliged to take their liquid refreshment outside the camps. The fact is, however, that the officers have as much as they want. Aircraftman Falstein, very foolishly, requested that he be allowed to have this liquor taken to an aircraftmen's assembly, which was being held to celebrate the fact that they had just concluded a period of intensive training extending over eight weeks, and had passed their examinations. Aircraftman Falstein himself secured a brilliant pass. He acquitted himself as brilliantly as those who know him expected he would. These air force orders are like the " safety first " regulations displayed on trams and trains. Nothing happens when they are not observed until someone wants to revenge himself on somebody else. Had it not been for the fact that a Labour member of Parliament was involved, no court martial at all would have been held in this instance. I am informed on good authority that 99 per cent, of the personnel at that air training station believe that Aircraftman Falstein has been the victim of a political vendetta. I put it to the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) that he cannot ignore this feeling, nor the fact that there is a distinct feeling in the Labour movement that the man who arrested the honorable member for Watson, and the people who tried him, not only have no sympathy for the Labour movement, but are also antipathetic towards it.

Mr Anthony - What evidence does the honorable member possess for that statement?

Mr CALWELL - I base it on moral certitude; and that is quite sufficient for my case. The people who tried Aircraftman Falstein were WingCommander G. Mitchell, Squadron Leader Rothe, and Flight Lieutenant Levy. Aircraftman Falstein was defended by Mr. Barwick, K.C., who was instructed by Landa Abram Barton and Company. The court, which was presided over by Wing-Commander Mitchell, who is a barrister, did not, as is usual in civil courts, summon counsel for the defence before it passed sentence. The legal representative of the accused knew nothing about the sentence until he read it in the newspapers. To me, it seems significant that counsel for the defence was not asked to be present when sentence was promulgated.

Mr Morgan - That is most unusual.

Mr CALWELL - Of course it is. Who are these people who passed judgment upon a member of this Parliament? Wing-Commander Mitchell is very wealthy, and has very strong United Australia party leanings. He is a prominent barrister in New South Wales. Squadron Leader Rothe, I understand, is connected with the Macarthur Onslow family; and no member of that family had ever had a ticket in the Labour movement. The third gentleman. Flight Lieutenant Levy, is associated with very wealthy people in Sydney by the names of Cohen and Phillips. I have not the slightest doubt that the selection of a person named Levy was made for the purpose of camouflaging the whole proceedings and attempting to create the impression that there would be no prejudice against Aircraftman Falstein. Now, in all these things wealth determines the issue, and the wealthy interests decided that Aircraftman Falstein should be taught a lesson, and that the Labour movement, through him, should be made to feel the power of these extra tall blue orchids. So a sentence of 28 days was imposed, and has been promulgated, and, in my view, it was imposed for the express purpose of keeping Aircraftman Falstein from attending this Parliament during this session. A man on the same station who was charged with having stolen £10 from a wallet was also court martialled, and sentenced to seven days' imprisonment. Apparently stealing from a fellow aircraftman is not so serious as answering back after one has been maliciously provoked.

Mr Morgan - What about removing half of his moustache?

Mr CALWELL - Yes, he was subjected to a number of indignities on that station, and he "took it", but, when he was insulted on this last occasion, he considered that he had the right to say that he would ventilate his grievance when he came to Canberra. Aircraftman Falstein is in no different a position from that occupied by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), and other honorable members, who hold military rank and come to this Parliament, and in exercise of their indisputable rights challenge the Government and criticize its administration. In the case of Captain Sandys, a son-in-law of the British Prime Minister, a select committee of the House of Commons held that a member of Parliament was justified in disclosing to Parliament official information, even secret information, which came into his possession in the discharge of his duties. The honorable gentlemen whom I have named come into this Parliament and criticize Ministers and other honorable members, sometimes honorable members on their own side of the House. Speaking from near where I am now standing the honorable member for Barker, in the uniform of the Australian Military Forces, moved a vote of want of confidence in the then Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender), and, if I remember rightly, used some information which may have come into his possession as a member of the Intelligence Corps.

Mr Anthony - He did not. He made it clear at the time that he was not using information which had come into his possession in the course of his military duties.

Mr CALWELL - The honorable member for Barker used information which he was perfectly entitled to use. I concede that he may not have used all the information that he had in his possession, but he could have done so had he wanted to.

Mr Pollard - He was guilty of insubordination.

Mr CALWELL - No, not insubordination. Honorable members, now in opposition, said on that occasion that the honorable member for Barker should get either out of uniform or out of Parliament. But he was entitled to do what he did when he challenged the then Minister for the Army on information which had come into his possession.

Mr Marwick - The honorable member for Bendigo got it where the chicken got the axe for his outspokenness in this Parliament.

Mr CALWELL - I am not sure that he did, but I have had occasion to admire some of the sentiments expressed by that honorable member. What Aircraftman Falstein said at the air force station was not half so bad, in many respects, as has been said in this Parliament. Had he committed here the offence with which he is charged, he could not have been punished under the Air Force regulations.

Mr Rankin - It would not have been insubordination.

Mr CALWELL - No, but he may have said worse.

Mr Anthony - Does the honorable member want to destroy air force discipline?

Mr CALWELL - No, but I do not think that aircraftmen should receive harsh sentences and be victimized.

Mr Anthony - When he enlisted he knew what his duties were.

Mr CALWELL - That . raises the question whether men should be allowed to serve simultaneously in Parliament and in the forces. It would be better for the country if the choice were between one or the other. Honorable members who try to serve the forces and Parliament at the same time create difficulties for themselves. There can be no question of the sincerity of the' motives of Aircraftman Falstein in entering the Air Force and in desiring to serve. The people who imposed this penalty on him apparently did not like him from the start. Senator Amour desired to ascertain from the Air Force establishment where he was and when he could see him. [Extension of time granted.] He was told that he could see him at 9.30 on a Sunday morning. It is obvious that at that time the wife and family of Aircraftman Falstein would be seeing him and that it would be impossible for Senator Amour, or any other honorable senator or honorable member from New South Wales to intrude for the purpose of interviewing him on political matters. Aircraftman Falstein is a member of Parliament and honorable members and his own constituents should have a reasonable right of access to him, but some one on the station said, " No, we are going to punish him ", and it does not matter what he thinks and what other honorable members, and, presumably, even the Minister for Air think about it. I can visualize quite a different situation arising for this Government if the Opposition repudiated its pairs arrangement and the honorable member for Watson could not be paired with an Opposition supporter who could be in this House.

I believe that Aircraftman Falstein should have his case reviewed, not by the Air Board, because I have no more faith in the Air Board now than I have ever had. The Minister for the Army dis pensed with the Military Board, and nobody in Australia would shed any tears if the Air Board and the Navy Board followed it into the limbo of forgotten things. It i3 the responsibility of the Minister for Air to arrange for a review of the whole matter. I think that seven days would have been more than sufficient to expiate whatever offence he is considered to have committed. The Minister will be failing in his duty if he does . not take some action against Squadron Leader Gorrie, who provoked the whole matter.

Mr Rankin - There are laws to govern these matters.

Mr CALWELL - Yes, bad laws. Some date back to the days of the battle of Waterloo. It is time that they were brought up to date. At any rate, the court martial was unanimous when it rejected Squadron Leader Gorrie's statement that Aircraftman Falstein had said to him, "You are the most hated man on the station". In other words, it found that Squadron Leader Gorrie was not telling the truth. When it found that fact in regard to some of the most important parts of his evidence it should have utterly discarded the whole. Whatever penalties have been imposed on account of subsequent findings should be immediately reviewed. I do not know whether Aircraftman Falstein should be exonerated altogether, but in any case he has long since paid the penalty for any thing he committed. He has been in durance vile, and very vile at that, for at least ten days, and the Government ought to see that he is released. It cannot refuse to accept the responsibility for reviewing the whole position at once. If I were Minister for Air I should order his release immediately, and have the squadron leader court martialled for starting the trouble. I have not seen anything yet to suggest that Squadron Leader Gorrie is to be even interrogated in the matter. Quite a number of rumours are circulating, which I used as a basis for a series of questions to-day, about this officer who is supposed to have been removed from the control of the station, and then to have regained control by the exercise of pressure on the Air Board. That aspect of his case particularly needs to be looked into. There is amongst many people in the higher ranks both of the Army and the Air Force a very decided antipathy towards the Labour movement. It was not without reason therefore that Mr. Keir Hardie, the first leader of the Labour party in the British House of Commons, referred to the officers of the British Army of his day as strutting popinjays, and that the Honorable King O'Malley, in this Parliament when it sat in Melbourne, referred to certain military people whom he suspected as " gilt-spurred roosters ". That feeling still persists in the ranks of the Labour party, who naturally feel, particularly in the case of the Air Force, with its high educational standard for officers, that only those with public school qualifications have a chance of obtaining commissioned rank. That was so at any rate a little time ago, and the tradition still lives. It is true that as the Army has expanded the old school tie has not been so successful in getting people into positions, but anybody who understands the way armies and departments grow when war breaks out knows that immediately the conflict starts the old pitchfork, by which people hoist their friends into jobs, begins to work overtime.

Mr Rankin - We have had experience of that lately.

Mr CALWELL - There is no need to concentrate attention on recent times. During the whole period of the war we have seen all sorts of people put into all kinds of jobs. The Victoria Barracks in Melbourne and Sydney contain quite a number of people, with no war experience, occupying important positions. These military establishments are full of ersatz colonels and brummagem majors, who, politically, as a class, hate the Labour movement and Labour men. I am sorry for the plight in which Aircraftman Falstein finds himself, and to which he partly himself contributed. He is the only one who has suffered, and he has suffered grievously. I protest against the imposition of any more punishment upon him, and ask the Minister at least to direct the Air Board that any honorable member who wants to consult the honorable member is to be given the opportunity to visit him, in that filthy hole to which the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) directed his attention about eighteen months ago, without being interfered with by some temporary squadron leader or wing commander.

Suggest corrections