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Wednesday, 28 April 1915

Mr ANSTEY (Bourke) .- The Minister who has just resumed his seat has given an indorsement to the services of the medical officers with the .Expeditionary Forces. He is quite right. I am not inclined to blame Ministers. I suppose that they are doing all they possibly can. At the same time, there is no need to defend the medical men if they are not doing the correct thing. To show the sort of medical men at the front, let me cite a case. A doctor started to experiment with a man. He commenced on one side, and cut the man up for gall-stones, and when he found that the man had not that complaint, he wanted to start on the other side. The man said, " You are not going to have a post-mortem on me until I am dead." That is the type of medical man we have sent to the front. What answer has been given to the statement made in the Argus the other day in connexion with numerous cases of pneumonia in Egypt? It is not necessary to weigh pros and cons in the matter. When our men were taken over by the Imperial officer, General Birdwood, he said that they Vere completely overworked, being sent out at 5 in the morning, coming back at night, lushing for their food, many being unable to get it, and then lying down physically exhausted. Some of the men died in a couple of hours after they came back to the camp. The Imperial officer said the Australian soldiers were completely overworked. Nothing has been said either about the charges made in connexion with the men who returned from Egypt. On their arrival at Fremantle a wireless message was sent to Melbourne, but the authorities did not know who the men were or where they had come from. When the men went to get their discharges, they were told that the necessary information had not come through. The authorities can find money to pay the men off; they know how much money is coming to them; they know how much the men drew in Egypt and on the return trip, but they do not know anything about their characters. That is sheer bunkum and indolence on the part of officials. The duty of the Minister is not to applaud the conduct of such men, but to condemn it at all hazards. The duty of the Minister, I take it, is not to support wrong-doing, but, when he finds it out, to hit the wrong-doer pretty hard. Is it not a fact that on the arrival of these men their blankets were taken from them, and they were left to sleep in their clothes all night ? Here are a few accusations which want to be answered. These men were returned, but were left to sleep without their blankets, which were taken from them. They were left to sleep in their clothes. That is either true or false.

Mr Joseph Cook - Where did this happen ?

Mr ANSTEY - In Australia. It has never been denied. It is an admitted fact that men were left to sleep all night in their own clothes. Who was responsible for that situation? The man who did that thing ought no longer to be left in the position he occupies. Is not that sound logic ? Is it not justice ? Is it not common sense? If I were the Minister of Defence, I would take that man and say to him, " Are you the individual who was responsible for that thing? The custody of no man's life shall be left in your hands in the future. Out of your position you shall go." Again, men were taken down to the barracks in Coventrystreet, and although there was nothing against them, they were not permitted to go out, while undesirables were allowed to go up and down Bourke-street, parading their uniforms. I refer to men of good character, with not a word or a mark against their names, who were detained at the barracks all night, deprived of their blankets, and compelled to sleep in their clothes. The men were kept there without proper provision being made; and there would have been no escape had not some of them violated the regulations, scaled the fence, and informed the honorable member for Melbourne Ports of their treatment. That is how the matter became public, and the men got their liberty. The next step was to take the men out of the barracks in shoddy clothes. Men who had been returned on the ground of sickness were not permitted to wear their uniforms. How natural for a man to say, " I would like to go home in my uniform." At least, these men should have been allowed to put on their own clothes. But the authorities said, " No. Here are some clothes that we want you to put on. Off your uniform must go." Those who refused to submit to this ignominy were stripped, even the very underclothing that their wives had brought them being taken from them. If that is not an outrage, I should like to know what is. Who are the men responsible for these happenings? Those who are responsible should be retained in their positions no longer. It is the duty of the Crown to ask them, " Did you authorize these things to be done?" I wish now to refer to complaints coming not directly from men at the front, but embodied in re ports by the correspondents of the Tory journals of this city, who tell us that the Australian army is being decimated, not by the bullets of the enemy, but by disease, and notably by pneumonia. We are told that the officers do not suffer from this disease, and while shiploads of the rank and file are being returned, no officers have been sent back. Are officers immune to sickness? Is there something in 'their constitution which makes them unassailable by disease? In describing the pleasures of the troops, the correspondents tell us that one place is reserved for officers and another for privates. When the officers have anything the matter with them, they are kept at the front, drawing their allowances, . and hobbling about on crutches. They can suffer from venereal disease, or have anything at all the matter with them, and the whole force of officialdom is used to maintain them in their positions, and to cover up the true state of affairs. We are told that all the immorality, all the disease, is to be found among the rankers. No officer is immoral, or yields to the temptations of the flesh. No officer hankers after women, or touches what is not his. Why are the men coming back by the hundred, stricken down with pneumonia? Because they are overworked to the point of exhaustion, and are underfed. It is the duty of the Government to call upon the officers to disprove the allegations that have been made, and, if they cannot do so, to make them resign their positions. So far, there has been no answer to the questions asked by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. When the War Precautions Bill is brought forward, I shall have something to say on another interesting phase of this subject.

Question resolved in the negative.

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