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Thursday, 11 June 1970

Mr KILLEN (Moreton) (Minister for the Navy) (11:44 AM) - The honourable member was courteous enough to inform me earlier that he proposed to raise this issue. I had the opportunity to ask my colleague the Minister for Air (Senator DrakeBrockman), whom 1 represent in this House, to give me the file on the matter. I have looked at the file. The honourable member started off by saying that this issue was a denial of natural justice. I respect any person who makes that claim but I expect a person making that claim to substantiate it. It is not merely by way of instinct but also by way of discipline that I warm to any suggestion that there has been any denial of natural justice, that a person has not had the opportunity to be heard. I can think of nothing worse than a person not being able to put his own view forward in his defence. I say, with no sense of animosity whatever, that on this issue the honourable member has allowed his sense of passion to dominate what might be described as his sense of perception. The honourable member referred to this young lad who joined the Royal Australian Air Force at the age of 18 years. He is not alone in that.

Mr Martin - He was seventeen.

Mr KILLEN - Seventeen? I was 18 when I went off to the last lot of international sports. When a person goes into one of the Services he enters into a contract, and that contract must be honoured. A person just cannot go into the Services, be it the Air Force, Navy or Army, and whistle against all authority. The Services cannot be run on those lines. This is a hard, practical world, and 1 am sure the honourable member for Banks would not argue that anyone in the Services should be able to say to a corporal or a petty officer, 'Well you can go to Bourke' and expect to get away with it. The Services could not be run on those lines. This lad joined the Air Force at 17 years of age. Obviously he found himself to be incompatible to that service. As a result of his sense of incompatibility he absented himself for 7 weeks. That is the fact, and he is not the first such absentee in history. He committed an offence by absenting himself without leave. To put it in Service vernacular, servicemen cannot expected to shoot through for 7 weeks and get away with it. Of course, when apprehended this lad had to atone for his sin.

Mr Martin - He was not apprehended: he surrendered.

Mr KILLEN - Be it surrender or apprehension, he had to atone for his misdemeanour, this breach of Service discipline. He was asked by his commanding officer, as was his right, whether he wished to be court martialled. I have always said that I make no admissions and sign no confessions. Looking back on the past I remember that I have had that question put to me.

Mr Foster - Did you accept a courtmartial?

Mr KILLEN - No, 1 was too cunning for that. I preferred to say, 'All right, I will face my music here.' All servicemen charged with an offence are asked whether they want to have a court martial. Most of them hope that the CO. happens to be in a good mood, so they say, 'No, 1 will face the music here.' That question was put this lad and he said, in short, that he would accept what his commanding officer had to say.

The honourable member has said that the hearing took only five minutes. What would he expect it to take? Five hours? This lad surrendered himself, made an admission that he had been absent without leave for 7 weeks and was before his commanding officer. Does the honourable member expect some elaborate investigation to be made in this case?

Mr Martin - The commanding officer said that he had made up his mind before the hearing.

Mr KILLEN - That is nol on. The lad said to the commanding officer that he would accept the summary justice of the commanding officer, and subsequently he was awarded 28 days detention, lt might be a matter of judgment as to whether in all the circumstances that sentence was adequate or severe. It was the commanding officer who saw the person, who formed an opinion and who had all the circumstances under review and he would be the only person in a position to make an assessment. I have often listened to people criticise a judge or magistrate who has handed down a sentence, some saying the sentence was severe, others saying it seemed inadequate. Until you are there and you are the person who has the responsibility of making the decision you do not know (he full and real position. Having regard to the fact that this young man absented himself without leave for 7 weeks and told the Air Force it could go its own way it would be unreal to expect the commanding officer to say: 'Well now, this is most kind of you. I will submit your name for the next honours list.' That would be entirely unreal. If a case could be made out for this lad on medical grounds then it should be done. A case can not be made out on the basis that this person was absent without leave for 7 weeks and that his commanding officers sentenced him to 28 days detention. I am sure that my colleague the Minister for Air would be happy to listen to any argument the honourable member might advance on medical grounds. But I ask him to bear in mind the simple dominant fact that the Services cannot be run along the lines of a church bazaar.

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