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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Prowse (FORREST, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Order! I shall be obliged to name the honorable member if he continues to interject.

Mr RANKIN - The Government has adopted the policy of placing young men in command of units throughout the defence forces. I do not entirely oppose that policy, but I believe that the Government has carried it out to an unreasonable degree. An officer who has returned from the Middle East, and who commands a division in Australia to-day, states that a lieutenant aged 25 years is too old for an armoured unit. I say without hesitation that an officer who makes that statement is unfit to command a division, and does not know what he is talking about. He declares that a captain is too old at the age of 30 years, and a major too old at the age of 35 years, for an armoured division. In one regiment ten lieutenants between the ages of 25 and 28 years were displaced on the ground that they were too old for an armoured division. I am referring to a country regiment composed largely of farmers and graziers. Men who created militia units the members of which have since joined the Australian Imperial Force are to-day in the position that they cannot be promoted beyond the rank of sergeant. I know many of them well, and they are excellent men of no more than 26 and 27 years of age, yet they are supposed to be too old. Some one ought to examine that commander in order to see what is wrong with him.

Mr Calwell - What rank does he hold ?

Mr RANKIN - He holds the rank of major-general, and he is able to write a very good story about himself.

Mr Frost - How old is he?

Mr RANKIN - He is about 48. This man is destroying the morale of the regiment. The men knew their officers, and were prepared to follow them anywhere.

Mr Spender - The man to whom the honorable member refers has a very good record.

Mr RANKIN - Whatever his record, I believe that he is wrong.

Mr Spender - The honorable member should not make statements of that kind about a fellow officer.

Mr RANKIN - The honorable member who interjects did very little for the Army, even though he was Minister for the Army at one time. He is partly responsible for the fact that the Australian Imperial Force went away from this country lacking in discipline. [Further extension of time . granted.

Mr Spender - If I had had anything to do with it, the honorable member would not have been given a commission.

Mr RANKIN - J. do not think that the honorable member for Warringah is much of a judge of the capacity of officers. He was known throughout the Army as the Minister against the Army - not the Minister for the Army. There are scores of officers in the Army to-day who, before joining up, were oil travellers, or insolvent garage men, or lawyers who could not make a living. The day after they joined they were lieutenants, a week later they were captains, and a little while after that some of them were lieutenant-colonels. Such men bring the Army into disrepute. They are laughed at because they know nothing of soldiering, yet they strut around Victoria Barracks as if they were fieldmarshals. All they know of soldiering is to go down to Snows and buy a uniform. They are nothing more than glorified clerks. There are plenty of returned soldiers, too old to take an active part in the war, who could very well do their jobs. I know two men who last January were oil travellers, and who are now lieutenant-colonels in the intelligence branch. A great deal has been said about the Allied Works Council. The man in charge of it undoubtedly has ability. We know that he has a great record also. He has taken over club premises in Melbourne which were very well furnished, but not well enough furnished for him. Everything was cleared out of the building, and new furniture installed. He appointed a man of 25 years of age to be Deputy Director of the Works Council, a man who is a very close relation of a Minister. Twelve months ago, he was office boy in the employ of a mining company. There is another man named McNamara, an exsuperintendent of police who, after he retired on a pension of £S a week, started an inquiry agency. With him he had two men, one named Coffee and the other named Lacey, who were kicked out of the Victorian detective force because they were running a dope ring. Then there is Mr. Packer who, as Lieutenant Packer, was stationed at Seymour for a while. He engaged all the available accommodation in an hotel in a nearby town, and was seen very often in Menzies Hotel at night when other officers could not get leave. He returned at any hour of the night that suited bini, and when the armoured division, of which he was a not very distinguished member, was likely to be sent north, he transferred to the Allied Works Council. These things should be looked into. Men of this kind are in charge of better men than themselves. They are able to order returned soldiers getting on in years to Darwin or Moresby or North Queensland. Why should these fellows of 25 be suddenly jumped up into positions of authority? Why should they not be on active service? Gordon Webber, exmember of the Legislative Assembly, was a tanner who, after going out of business, was appointed to the Milk Board, although the only milk he knew anything about was his mother's milk, and I suppose he has forgotten about that long ago. Later, the Minister for War Organization of Industry appointed him to the Bread Rationing Commission. Then we have Comrade Considine, an ex-member of the House of Representatives, who called the King an illegitimate, and was sentenced to three months in prison for it. He is now an employment officer in the man-power branch. There is also Douglas Maloney, son of an ex-Member of the House of Representatives, who never worked in his life, and who is young enough to go to the war. He, too, is an employment officer. Half of the former inmates of Selbourne Chambers are in the legal branch doing so-called work for the Army. Those who cannot be found jobs in the legal branch are given some other office job - anything but the job they ought to be doing. Then there is Major Greville, a man with no army experience, who has been put in charge of the rationing of troops. He spends his time arguing about whether potatoes and carrots should be peeled or scraped. His experience of catering before the war was to sell sandwiches, oysters and saveloys at Caulfield. Squadron Leader Wagstaff had an hotel at St. Kilda, and went broke. He has had no flying experience, and is young enough to be at the war. It is a revelation to see these men streaming out of Victoria Barracks into St. Kilda-road at the end of the day, or out of the barracks in Sydney. Their places should be taken by returned soldiers or by women, and they should take their part in the defence of the country, instead of hiding in the barracks.

Mr Conelan - They put the honorable member out.

Mr RANKIN - When I was put out I was told that the Government had decided, as a matter of policy, to bring in young men who had seen service in the East. The Minister will agree that I made no complaint. Unlike the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan), who squeals whenever things do not go his way, I did not squeal. On the contrary, I did my utmost to see that the man who took my place was given all the advice and assistance I could provide. I did not think that either he or I mattered at all, but I did believe that the men under our direction mattered. That division was one of the best disciplined' divisions in Australia, not excluding the Australian Imperial Force. When the Government gave instructions that there was to be no leave last Christmas, only eleven men out of 9,000 men were missing from that division. The armoured division, from which the man who took my place came, had as many as 400 men absent from one regiment. That was a fairly general record in the various camps. I went out without squealing, and I returned to uniform, not at my own request, but. at the request of the Minister for Defence. I admit that I was somewhat disgruntled because of the treatment that I had received, but I came back, not because I wanted a job, or even, because I was asked to do so, but because 1 believed that any man who had any knowledge of soldiering and was capable of doing a job would be a cur if he did not take a job when he was asked to do so under present conditions. In my opinion, the only thing that matters to-day is that we get the money, arms, and troops that are necessary, and, in addition, the right men to lead them to victory. As the Right Honorable R. G. Casey said before he left Australia, " If I get out of this with what I am standing up in I believe that I shall be extremely lucky ", so I believe tha t if we get out of this struggle with our lives and our freedom, and with our women and children untouched, we shall be fortunate. It will then be our duty to build this country up again and populate and develop it, otherwise it will be taken from us eventually.

I believe, however, that we in this generation have the spirit of the pioneers who came to this country and developed it, that we have the same determination to make it a great country - the brightest jewel in the British Empire - of which every citizen should be indeed proud. If we do not do that we shall go down. And we shall deserve to go down.

Mr. JOHNSON(Kalgoorlie); [2.50 a.m. J. - The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) has paid a tribute to the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), or if not to him personally, to the Government of which he is a Minister. The fact that the honorable gentleman had to go back to .1918 for an argument with which to try to bring discredit upon the Government demonstrates that Ministers are doing a good job. The honorable gentleman also referred to the treatment of returned soldiers when they returned from the war of 1914-18. I remind him that those men depended largely upon Labour organizations in order to get some measure of justice.

Mr Rankin - The returned soldiers were not allowed into Labour unions. That was so in connexion with the wharf labourers' union.

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