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Friday, 21 June 1946

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- I bring to the notice of the House ari injustice suffered by a young former naval rating. I have chosen to raise this matter in the Parliament rather than with the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin) privately, because the injustice arises, not out of an administrative act, but out of a set of regulations. If it be agreed that this young man has suffered an injustice, it may well be that many others similarly situated have suffered the same injustice, and I propose to ask that if the case, as I. shall present it, be correct, there should be an alteration of the regulations, and a change of government policy to eliminate what I am sure honorable members will agree with me is an intolerable state of affairs. I shall not mention now the name of the young man concerned, but I shall supply it later to the Minister for the Navy. The man enlisted in the Navy at the age of seventeen years, and served for a period of three years, returning to Sydney last December from service in enemy waters north of Australia. That, of course, was some time after the war had ended. He was then twenty years of age. He states that he applied for leave to visit his home, not having had leave for this purpose for eighteen months. His application was refused, so he absented himself without leave and visited his home which is situated in a country town in my electorate. After about fourteen days he rejoined his ship which had moved to Melbourne - a fact of which he was aware. He returned voluntarily and reported to his ship. He was apprehended and held for eight days pending the hearing of charges laid against him. Upon conviction he was fined £1 a pay for the ensuing six months - I am not quite sure what the pay period is. In addition, he was informed that he would be granted no further leave during that six months. He received his discharge from the Navy in April last and he informs me that his discharge certificate bears no record of bad character, his conduct sheet being marked " V.G." and " G ", which I assume, mean " very good " and " good ". But he found that all of the deferred pay which had accrued to him prior to his going absent without leave had been cancelled. He forfeited £75. That was the penalty which was imposed upon him for having gone fourteen days absent without leave after the war had ended. In my opinion the penalty was outrageously severe, but apparently provision for the imposition of such a fine is made in certain regulations of the Royal Australian Navy. So far as I am able to discover, this kind of penalty is not imposed upon Army and Air Force personnel for a similar offence.

Mr Archie Cameron - It would have been better for him had he been one of the Minister for the Army's " deserters ".

Mr McEWEN - Yes. A few days ago the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) stated that he believed that a .serviceman was entitled to his deferred pay for the service which he had performed, and I assume that the right honorable gentleman was speaking as Minister for the Army, and not as' 'Minister for Defence. To illustrate how harshly such a regulation can bear upon a serviceman I shall inform the Minister for the Navy of some of the family history of the lad. I have here a letter written to me. by the president of the branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia in the country town in which this lad's home is situated. The official wrote -

The following personal particulars about - might help you. His father was accidentally killed, leaving a widow and seven children. Four children were put into a home. Victor was then under five years of age and at twelve and a half years was boarded out to work at- farm at- , near

Ballarat. He milked thirteen cows night and morning. His wages for the first year were L2s. (id. a week, second year 15s. and third year 17s. (id. The pocket money allowed was is. (id. a week. At sixteen he left the farm and joined the Navy voluntarily. Victor had not seen his brothers since they parted and were sent to various homes. We can vouch for the foregoing statement as the family were close neighbours.

The official proceeded to give the history of other members of the family. Four or five of the lads joined the services. One, who was taken prisoner at Tobruk, escaped from Italy into Switzerland and returned to service here. Two other brothers were taken prisoner by the Japanese. One died in captivity, and the other was a prisoner in Changi camp. Two other step-brothers joined the services. This lad stated that he had not seen his brothers since they all went into the services. Months after the cessation of hostilities, three years after he commenced his active service and eighteen months after he had had any home leave lie asked for leave so that he could see those of his brothers who had been released from imprisonment. When his application was refused he decided to take leave. At first, he took one week's leave, but as one of his brothers had not then returned the lad waited for a few more days until the brother returned. As soon as he had seen him he returned voluntarily to his ship, and reported within an hour of the vessel berthing at Melbourne.

That is a very human story. The lad has forfeited the only money that he has ever had the chance to retain. I know that the Minister for the Navy bears none of the responsibility for this penalty, which was imposed under the regulations, but I submit to the honorable gentleman, who is a very human person, that this is a very sad story. The penalty which has been inflicted on the lad should be corrected. In addition, the regulations should be reviewed because a common policy should pertain to servicemen regardless of the uniform that they wore during' r he war. It is the policy of the Government and the wish pf this Parliament that deferred pay shall be paid to servicemen. Service offences should be punished by service penalties, and not by such an alteration of government policy as will bear harshly on a man who served in one branch of the forces whilst leaving unaffected a man who offended in a similar or even worse manner but who wore a different uniform. I shall hand to the Minister the name and number of this lad, and hope that the honorable gentleman will see that the penalty is removed.

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