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Thursday, 27 June 1946

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- We have heard the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) tell us what he thinks. Wo should always' be glad to hear him. He has emerged from the silence." He has told us what he and his fellow members of the Sth Division suffered from the Japanese in the years of their confinement as prisoners of war, while we sat here in safety. His story is one that we should never forget. I agree with what the honorable gentleman has said about the.way in which the Government lias allowed our relations with the Dutch to be strained. I feel equally strongly on that subject, and I advise the

Government to make up its mind quickly to come to our way of thinking.

The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) raised a subject that has been exercising my mind, namely, the fate of our forces at Ambon and Rabaul. I have had conversations with the officers who returned. There are 'not many of them. I have also, talked with bereaved parents of the men who lost their lives in those ill-fated ventures. An inquiry is needed. It is a fact that outposts are often overwhelmed by an enemy because they have to stand their ground in the early stages of the war. The history of the w.ars in which the British have fought shows that at the outset of those wars that has been the fate of many of its. outposts. That may be unavoidable, but that cannot be said without qualification about the Ambon force. It is beyond comprehension that it. should have been sent there without .a single field gun. 1 have talked with Lieutenant-Colonel Roach, formerly commander of the' 21s.t Battalion, who was recalled and replaced and was not even granted an interview on his return to Australia to give him the opportunity to explain but was merely put on the reserve and thereafter debarred from taking any part in the war. He told me that the battalion had no guns, although he had asked for them, and plenty were available at Darwin, The tragedy of the 21st Battalion at Ambon is that one section of the battalion completely disappeared. It is believed that they fought magnificently, but whether they died at their posts or were captured and executed later is not known. If the Government had any regard for the feelings of the relatives of those men it would grant the inquiry that they seek* That inquiry must be directed to discovering the fate of the men and to fixing responsibility for the ignoring of the protests of the commanding officer against the fact that they had no artillery.

Another necessary inquiry is into the revelations in the Melbourne press by Air Vice-Marshal Bostock, who recently retired from the Royal Australian Air Force. He has drawn attention to the duplication in the command of the Air Force in Australia that led to inefficiency. Every one in .the Air Force knows of the long-standing feuds between senior officers at head-quarters and in the Royal Australian Air Force commands. The squadrons themselves did- splendid work. A royal commission like that asked Ivy the honorable member for Richmond to inquire into the Ambon and Rabaul affairs is required to- inquire into the Royal Australian- Air Force. Either a royal commission or some other competent authority, such as a parliamentary select committee, ought to be set up to make that inquiry, not only to verify the revelations made by Air Vice-Marshal Bostock, but also to ensure future avoidance of such happenings and to inquire into policy. There has been too much secrecy about the Royal Australian Air Force. It is, perhaps, 'understandable in war, although matters that went wrong in the Army were ventilated in the Parliament while the war was still being fought. Probably that is because the Parliament contains many honorable members with army experience, but few of us know much about the Air Force. I have never criticized the Royal Australian Air Force in any political way, as I think all honorable members will agree. All my questions have been directed to the promotion [ do not regard it as something that ought to be used as a political football. It is because I want to ensure a high pitch of efficiency in the Air Force that I ask for a searching inquiry into its administration. Last year, Mr. Slater, M.L.A., and others were appointed as a committee that inquired into various aspects of air force administration, but I think something that will go deeper into the matter thanthat committee probably went is needed. At any rate, that committee made several reports, and although I pressed the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) many times to table them, because I believe that they are helpful, they were never able gentleman, in his capacity as Minister for Civil Aviation, in my request that the report of the interdepartmental committee on civil aviation be tabled. I desired that it be made avail-, tabled. I got no further with the honorable because I believed it would be helpful and instructive to the Parliament. The Minister has kept that report in the dark for two years. We know nothing of its contents. Yet the Government insetting up an expensive organization to conduct civil airlines.

If an investigation of the administration of the Air Force is made, I am sure that those charged with the investigation would agree that the proposal that an interim air force be established is quite unsatisfactory. Airmen, particularly members of air crews, have been invited to enlist in the interim air force for two years. M.any young men who have given four to six years to the Air Force want to make a career of it, but the best that the Government can do is to offer two years' service. These men have fought in the skies from Iceland to New Guinea. Fifteen thousand went to Great Britain and flew over Germany night and day. But, on- their return to Australia, they are offered the miserable opportunity of two years in the interim air force with the rank of flying officer, regardless of what rank they rose to, on war service. Even if a man had ' achieved the rank of group captain, if he is only a duration man and wants to continue in the Air Force, he must accept the humiliation of reduction to the rank of flying officer in the interim force, because that is the only substantive rank available. That will not induce the enlistment of men of the best type. Indeed, so little inducement . does it offer that enlistments are flagging. Something better should be devised. There ought to be a greater number of permanent commissions. We have to think to-day in different terms of time and space. The bombers that served 11: in the war are obsolete. Our attention must now be directed to aircraft that will fly in the stratosphere and will be propelled by jets or rockets. Yet tile Government is carrying on a force that is only a shadow of its former self. The splendid force we had in the ' war has disintegrated.

Pensions ought to be provided for members of the Royal Australian Air Force on their retirement. The Royal Air Force has had a pensions system, for many years. Many Australians have taken permanent posts with the Royal Air Force, because the inducements in the Royal Australian Air Force, are not so good. Amongst many I could name are the late

Sir PeterDrummond, Air Commodore Guilfoyle, who is now in Australia, and Group Captain Edwards, V.C.. I met many of them when I was abroad. They will not come back- to the Australian service because of its shortcomings.

The spirit of the Empire Air Training Scheme ought to be preserved in peacetime. Squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force ought to be able to serve anywhere. That would make for integrated' training and the use of standard aircraft instead of a multiplicity of types.

I recently referred to the policy under which £9,500,000 is to be expended on the manufacture in Australia of 61 Lincoln aircraft, a variation of the Lancaster bomber, which devastated German industry and cities. I take this opportunity to impress upon the Government the waste of money, which would be better expended on the building of houses than on- the manufacture 'of obsolete aircraft. Because the Lincoln is an improved version of the Lancaster, whose 10-ton bombs created the funeral pyre of Germany's ambitions, some thoughtless adviser of the Government recommended that the Lincoln be built in Australia. Foolishly, the Government is constructing 61 obsolete flying arks when it could have obtained from the British Government 60 Lancaster bombers, possibly free of charge. The metal which is being used in the construction of these obsolete aircraft could have been better employed in prefabricated houses. This is an opportunity for the Government to make a substantial saving. Australia should have a small but highly efficient air force capable of dealing with any initial emergency. In the ranks of that force we should have men who have a knowledge of .the latest developments, including atom-bomb strategy. Fast, light bombers carrying atom bombs will replace the heavy bombers of World War II. Therefore, the inquiry which Air ViceMarshal Bostock has requested should be made, and this matter of policy should be probed.

At present, the war gratuity is available only to the widows of servicemen, blind and totally and permanently incapacitated personnel, and those who intend to build homes. Many exservicemen desire to purchase furniture, and the withholding of the gratuity is driving them into the hands of money-lenders. The Department would be relieved of considerable responsibility, and officialswould not be badgered so often, if the Government would reconsider its policy. Evidently this matter was not thoroughly considered when the conditions governing the gratuity were prescribed. The Government should now revise those conditions, and make them more generous in the interests of the men who are in straitened financial circumstances to-day.

When Australian' forces occupied' Thursday Island, they did considerable damage to the property of the residents,, whom the Government has subsequently treated in a miserable manner. To-day t]ie Minister for External Territories (Mr. Ward) informed the House, with great pride, that the Department of External Territories is erecting near Port Moresby, at a cost of £118,000, a model village for the natives. Undoubtedly, the natives will keep their pigs and goatsthere, but evidently the Minister considers that the village is more important than is the provision of homes for our own citizens. A Thursday. Island pearler, whom I know well and whoseword I accept, has informed me that the island suffered severely as the result of military occupation after the compulsory evacuation of the residents early in 1942. He stated that through buildingshaving been burnt down, only 200 or 300- remain, and they are empty shells.- All conveniences including sinks, baths and tanks have been stolen. My correspondent informed me that all his furniture, including the refrigerator and piano, . havebeen stolen, and the internal fittings of" the house have been smashed. Our own troops were responsible for this looting. He stated .that the War Damage Commission, has paid certain sums in compensation, but the money does not represent one-quarter of the replacement value of" the goods. Very few buildings are left in the main streets, which are overgrown with weeds 6 feet high. The luggerswhich were impressed for transport services have been wrecked. The' pearlers of Thursday Island constituted a valuablenucleus of white people in the north. They rendered valuable service during the- wm:. When I was Minister for Trade and Customs, I endeavoured in every possible way to encourage them to remain there. They could live in Sydney or Melbourne in greater comfort. Now that the war is over, they should not be forgotten. Their furniture should be replaced or they should be amply compensated for its loss. Undoubtedly, this is a consequence of the war, and the claims of these pearlers are more important than, is the construction of a village for natives in New Guinea. When next the Minister visits the Territories - to see whether hot water has been provided in the village for the native inhabitants - he should call at Thursday Island for the purpose of ascertaining whether he can overcome the difficulties of the white residents.

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