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Wednesday, 19 June 1946

Mr FORDE (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for the Army) - by leave - On my return to Canberra on the 14th June, 1 received an explanation of the order issued by the Army authorities on the disposal of illegal absentees from the Army, about which there has been some misrepresentation and criticism. The fact of the matter is that the order was issued by the Adjutant-General as a normal administratis act.

During the war, it was necessary for the Army to maintain in each Military District, an Investigation and Provost Staff for the apprehension of members of the forces who were-absent without leave. With the rapid demobilization of the forces maintained during the war, the Army authorities 'had given consideration to the action that should be taken in relation to 7,S79 members of the forces who had been declared to be illegal absentees during the years 1939 to 1945.

As a result of a review, the Army authorities have decided that action be taken in respect of those members who have absented themselves without leave, and had been declared to be illegal absentees prior to the 1st January, 1946, and had not surrendered or been apprehended, to discharge them in absentia immediately. There has been some criticism, of this action in one newspaper on the grounds that what has been done by the Army authorities gives those who went absent without leave before the 31st Dec-ember, 1945, an honorable discharge with all rights of war gratuity and other benefits accruing to the ex -soldier. That is absolutely incorrect. As a matter of fact, the records of such members will be indorsed to the effect that their discharges were made on account of misconduct during service.

Mr White - Their records, but not their discharge certificates.

Mr FORDE - The discharge" certificate when issued endorsed to indicate that the member's discharge was effected in absentia because of illegal absence. Furthermore, his Army recordwill be endorsed to the effect that such discharge was made on account of misconduct during service. Discharge under these conditions automatically precludes the member from eligibility for war gratuity under the provisions of the War Gratuity Act 1945, which provides that any member who has been discharged for the reason that he has been guilty of misconduct will be disqualified for war gratuity. A discharge of this nature also renders the member ineligible for war medals, and rehabilitation benefits and war service homes. Under the instructions issued by the Army authorities a discharge certificate will not be issued to the member unless V: makes personal application therefor.

The procedure which had been followed by the Army authorities in this, instance is in accordance with the action which had been taken on the termination of hostilities in the last war, when an order was issued by the Gover.nor-Gene.ral in Council discharging from the First Australian Imperial Force all soldiers who had been continuously absent without leave for three calendar months immediately prior to the 31s'; July, 1920. As a. result of the issue of this order, members of the First Australian Imperial. Force concerned, forfeited their right to repatriation, service medals, leave and gratuity money. The Government which was then in office was of a political colour different from that of the pres'.-nt Government, and of course there was no criticism of the action taken then.

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