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Wednesday, 28 April 1915


Sir ROBERT BEST (Kooyong) . - The Defence Department and the Assistant Minister are entitled to the sympathy and encouragement of the House, in view of - the gigantic task they were called upon to perform in the appalling emergency which has arisen. I feel sure that every effort in that direction will willingly be made by the House generally. We have a common national duty in that regard, and a common anxiety to help. I feel, therefore, that, so far as personal grievances are concerned, we should be very chary about encouraging their ventilation in this House. Such a practice might result in interference with discipline, which is so essential to the efficiency of our Forces. I feel that the Minister is sufficiently cognisant of the responsibility imposed upon him in regard to personal grievances, where they are circumstantially supported, as these cases have been by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, to give them promptly the most searching and exhaustive investigation. The Minister should be given the opportunity to make such an investigation of these grievances upon statements privately laid before him by honorable members. We cannot too strongly urge the undesirability of making Parliament the arena for the discussion of these grievances. After all, these charges are of an ex parte character. There may be substance in them, or there may not. If there is substance in them, the fact will be ascertained by the Ministerial investigation to which I have referred. But when such complaints are brought up in public in this way, they involve serious charges against responsible officers, who may thus be subjected to a great injustice. The task which was undertaken by the Department on the outbreak of war was not only of magnitude, but it had to be attended to with the utmost expedition. The Department was unprepared for the emergency, but, nevertheless, they made a fine effort to cope with it. Fault-finding was easily resorted to, and necessarily there was room at first for much faultfinding and complaint. But, speaking broadly and generally, I do think that the Department' has proved itself equal to the emergency, and is entitled to the utmost credit for what has been done. It was an extraordinary emergency, and, as regards the equipment of the Forces that have already been sent away, I think the response of the manufacturers and others concerned, and the devotion generally of the responsible officers to their duty, are deserving of the highest praise. The fact remains, however, that after the departmental officers have had at least six or seven months' experience in administration, we have a' right to expect greater efficiency and less room for complaint. That much room for complaint exists at the present time cannot be denied. Every man about town hears of many cases which appear to be cases of unnecessary hardship. If there be a tithe of justification for the complaints which are constantly heard regarding the administration at Broadmeadows camp, particularly as to the arrangements for treatment of the sick, the position there does not reflect very much credit upon those who are responsible for its management. I hope that these complaints are not warranted, but the Assistant Minister of Defence cannot ignore their gravity. I have never brought before this House complaints of any description, although I have been the recipient of them daily. But some of these complaints are of such a character that my honorable friend should direct a very close attention to the management of our Forces at Broadmeadows. I do not say for a moment that the complaints are well known to the responsible officers in charge of that camp. But it is urged that neglect lies at the door of the management of the Broadmeadows camp by reason of the existing hospital arrangements and of the inadequate attention which is devoted to the sick. These general statements are of such a character as to warrant investigation, particularly in regard to the manner in which sick patients are being treated. I am told that there is an abnormal amount of illness at the camp - why, I am at a loss to know.- That circumstance, in itself, is a reflection upon its administration, and the allegations which should either be refuted or their causes amended. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports has referred to the troops in Egypt, and I must say that some grave statements are being made regarding the management of affairs there. It is only fair to

Bay that my own son and son-in-law were there - if they are not there now - and I have never, directly or indirectly, received a word of complaint from them.


Mr Joseph Cook - I have a son there, and I have never heard a whisper of complaint.


Sir ROBERT BEST - Yet we cannot ignore the allegations which are constantly being made in such a circumstantial form.


Mr Poynton - Is the honorable member's son-in-law among the rank and file, or amongst the officers,?


Sir ROBERT BEST - My son is a full private, and my son-in-law is an officer, so that I should be in a position to hear something on both sides of this question. Only on Monday last a responsible newspaper like the Argus, in an article by its special reporter, made some very serious allegations respecting our Expeditionary Forces in Egypt - allegations which can be readily confirmed or refuted. I do not propose to enter into details of these charges. One statement was that 2,500 Australians were simultaneously on sick leave. Another was that 1,200 Australians were lying ill at Heliopolis. Seeing that these statements are direct charges, circumstantially stated and not cloaked in any way, and that their accuracy* can be either confirmed or refuted without much trouble, I say that it is not likely they would be made if they could not be substantiated. We have been told, too, that the cases of pneumonia amongst the men represent 70 per cent, of the cases of sickness.


Mr Mathews - And they are amongst the mon - not amongst the officers. The former get inferior food.


Sir ROBERT BEST - The newspaper to which I have already referred has contrasted the conditions which obtain amongst the men with those which obtain amongst the officers. These statements are of such a serious character, and reflect so gravely upon the administration of our Forces in Egypt, that they cannot be overlooked. Other direct allegations have been made, not only as to the insufficiency of the food, but as to its inferior quality. I regret that I have to repeat them on the floor of this chamber. 0I do hope that a most exhaustive investigation will.be made with a view to determining the truth or otherwise of these statements. Personally, I know nothing of them, but I cannot ignore re ports which are so circumstantially stated when the material for their confirmation, or refutation is so readily obtainable. I am sure that the Assistant Minister of Defence will, credit me with having refrained from uttering an ungenerous word, either against him or the Defence Department. But this is a question in which the whole community is interested. With other public men I have recently been engaged, night after night, in endeavouring to encourage the youth of this country to realize their responsibilities by joining the colours in the defence of the Empire. But if charges of this character are brought under the notice of the youth of the community, I recognise that enlisting will be discouraged, and that the success of our recruiting efforts will be seriously menaced. If Australia does not provide her fair proportion of troops to take part in the titanic struggle which is now being waged in Europe, it will be a serious reflection upon her national escutcheon. Speaking, therefore, in the broadest possible spirit, I commend my remarks to the attention of the Assistant Minister, and hope that, to the credit of the military administration, they will receive immediate attention, so that there may be no room for complaint in the future.







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