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Tuesday, 8 March 1966

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - All the relevant information relating to this matter has not yet reached Australia from our Command in South Vietnam. The court martial that arose as a result of Gunner O'Neill's refusal to obey commands occurred last week and messages have been sent forward so that the full proceedings will arrive in Australia as soon as possible. I ask honorable members to bear in mind the circumstances of the theatre of operations. It is not easy, from the ease of security of Australia, to appreciate the situation in Vietnam.

Mr Pollard - What rot.

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The honorable member may wish to visit Vietnam to see for himself. There is one point that I should like to emphasise. The original charge against Gunner O'Neill was that of being absent without leave when he was rostered for operational guard duty. This is regarded as a most serious offence. When he was discovered after this particular incident he opted, after discussions with his Commanding Officer, to take the C.O.'s punishment instead of insisting on a court martial for that offence. The C.O.'s award involved field punishment for 21 days. This required the soldier to wear field uniform instead of his being able to go around more lightly clad. It involved also the loss of privileges, such as that of using the canteens, during this time. It also involved half an hour each day either cleaning' out the storm drains or drilling. Gunner O'Neill refused to undertake this field punishment, though he had opted to take the field punishment instead of being - court martialled for his initial extremely serious offence of absence without leave from operational guard duty. The full proceedings of the court martial will arrive in Australia as soon as possible, and the matter will be fully examined then. Until this incident there had been no cause for our battalion in Vietnam to need a normal place of detention. This incident has demonstrated the need for it and instructions have already been issued so that suitable facilities may be provided for detention purposes. I think that is all I should say at this stage, having regard to the fact that full information about this matter has not yet reached Australia.

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