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Wednesday, 23 November 1960

Mr BEATON (Bendigo) .- While I acknowledge that the intention of the government of the day, when introducing postal concessions for the defence forces in 1939, was, in the words of the then PostmasterGeneral, to withdraw the facilities at a suitable date after the termination of the war, I ask the Government: Why 1961? Why not two years ago, five years ago, or ten years ago? Have conditions of service in the armed forces changed substantially in recent months, or even in the last ten years? By virtue of the fact that our servicemen volunteer for service, they still' may be required to serve overseas. They still may be required to serve in what are termed little wars. They are still required to serve anywhere in this country, whether near to or far from their homes and families. Even while in Australia, the possibilities of overseas service are a reality. We must acknowledge, too, that our armed forces would naturally bear the brunt of any attack made on our country, regardless of how unlikely invasion may seem at this moment. These are the conditions of service. Every serviceman recognizes his responsibility and I submit that in this uneasy peace, referred to so freely as "the cold war ", a fair comparison between civilian life and that of the forces could not place them on the same level.

I have no doubt that in years gone by the Government considered those responsibilities and disadvantages when stating the conditions of service under which servicemen signed their agreement to serve. At that time those conditions included postal, telephone and telegraphic concessions and I suggest that the Government is committing a breach of contract in withdrawing those concessions to the servicemen.

The facilities granted under the Post and Telegraph Rates (Defence Forces) Act provided an essential opportunity to maintain family contacts when servicemen were forced to leave their homes. Young men - in some cases apprentices of very tender years - are separated from their families by long distances and the withdrawal of the concession on telephone charges will make them feel even more isolated from their families. Family men, too, are often posted to places where married quarters - despite what the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) said - are impossible to obtain. In the recent re-organization of the Army this has happened on countless occasions. In view of the inconvenience already caused to these married servicemen I think the concession rates could still help them to maintain their family ties by keeping them in contact with their families.

Because of the great number of transfers connected with the Army reorganization other disadvantages of Army life have become painfully apparent. Servicemen who thought they were permanently settled in one place have outlaid their savings in the purchase of homes and in many cases have found that they cannot sell them without considerable financial loss. Such a case was recently brought to my notice in Bendigo. A married serviceman has been transferred from Bendigo to Melbourne because of the Army reorganization. An Army veteran, he took the opportunity, when he came to Bendigo years ago, to enlist the help of the War Service Homes Division and he now faces the problem of obtaining a home for his family in overcrowded and outgrown Melbourne, with his one opportunity of war service homes finance used up and his chance of obtaining war service homes finance again very doubtful indeed.

A survey unit is stationed in Bendigo. Periodically its members travel far and wide in surveying and mapping outback areas. They may be away from home for months on end. Surely they should be given some concessions for keeping regular contact with their loved ones at home. Again, I submit that even in peace-time the responsibilities and possibilities of life in the armed forces are well outside the civil sphere and the Government should recognize this by maintaining the concession postal, telegraphic and telephonic rates.

Question put -

That the bill be now read a second time.

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