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Tuesday, 16 August 1960

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) .- Before the sitting was suspended, the House was discussing the paper that was submitted by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) on the Rip tragedy, and the Opposition was directing attention to some curious aspects of the Minister's statement. One of these was that the paper was not presented to the House fresh in its pristine glory but had appeared in the newspapers as long ago as June. It is a pretty compliment that the Minister pays the Parliament - the supreme legislative authority of this country - when he brings before it a re-hash of something that was released to the press months ago. Because of that feeling of shame, the Government put up various supporters to suggest that the Opposition is playing politics because we want to investigate the death of three young men in an Army exercise. Of course, that charge is completely irrational and stupid. Any Government should welcome a powerful Opposition which is prepared to fight the Government on certain issues, to direct attention to certain discrepancies on the part of its servants and to refer to it obvious anomalies in connexion with the military that have been evident in the past few years.

The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray) and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) were rather cheap and rather stupid when they said that the Opposition was playing politics. Both of them are junior officers in one way or another, and when there is a question involving a serving soldier they come down heavily on the side of the brass. The Opposition believes that this matter should be investigated further; and we have not raised this question only at the last minute. Some months ago, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) said this was a matter for an all-party inquiry. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) has been most assiduous in pursuing this matter and has put a case in this House time and time again. There are too many ifs and too many co-incidences in this situation. There has been too much whitewashing somewhere about what happened.

We proudly call ourselves Her Majesty's Opposition. What would be thought of us if we did not raise this matter in view of the fact that a man was thrown from a lorry or a jeep in Singleton and was killed, and in view of the deaths that occurred in an exercise in Stockton Bight in the electorate of the honorable member for Shortlands (Mr. Griffiths), and then the tragic loss of three lives in the Rip? What would be thought of us if all these tragedies were passed over and if we did not discuss them, beyond paying lip service to a coroner's inquiry, because we might hurt the Government's feelings? That is what we are here for. We do not charge the Minister for the Army or the Government with anything concerning the planning of this fatal exercise, but we do charge them with being inclined to smother up, to go to water and not to give the facts as we require them. The facts have been probed by the Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Yarra and many other honorable members who have spoken.

But let us look at the chronological sequence of events. Surely the Minister for the Army has a case to answer. In February, an inquiry was held; but in the long weeks that intervened, nothing was done. When Parliament was safely out of the way, a statement was made. Now, Parliament has re-assembled and the House has received a statement which went first to the press. We are alarmed to find that the Minister has talked round and round this situation as if he were afraid that ministerially he might be responsible. We do not say that; but surely we should find out why these grave accidents occur.

A man who dies in the service of his country comes under the compensation provisions of the Commonwealth Government which are the weakest and worst in the world. If the man who was thrown from the jeep or those who were drowned in the Rip or in Stockton Bight had been the victims of circumstances in industry, their relatives or dependants would have received many thousands of pounds as compensation. But in the case of the Rip disaster, I venture to say - and I challenge the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) on this - that compensation will not be more than £500, £600 or £700 because, for some reason, the Commonwealth compensation falls far below that provided in private industry.

Mr Griffiths - In my electorate the compensation in one case was £400.

Mr HAYLEN - A young man named Jones was killed at Singleton and his parents, both of whom are pensioners, received £400. As an Opposition, we have to keep our finger on the ramifications of these things. These accidents are too frequent. The coroner who investigated the Rip disaster was vague, extremely vague.

Mr Chaney - No, he was not.

Mr HAYLEN - Read the evidence. The honorable member for Herbert was vague in his speech. As a practising colonel he should have been much more definite. The Minister for the Army was vague. The Government is vague. We want to know the final position in this matter. On 9th June the Leader of the Opposition, with a sense of his responsibility, said -

Only an all-party committee of Federal Parliament could be trusted to find out the full facts of the Rip deaths . . . Mr. Cramer was not a suitable man to hold the Army portfolio. He had made lots of blunders.

The blunder we are charging the Minister with is not, as suggested by his colleagues, that he had anything to do with this unfor- lunate incident. We believe, however, that he must get on top of the Army brass. The generals, I understand, refer to him as Private Cramer. That is not good enough for the Minister in charge of the Army. He should be on top of these fellows and tell them where they get off. He should tell them to do their jobs. Nothing is so bad as a military bureaucracy. We have trouble enough with Parliamentary bureaucrats and departmental bureaucracy, but the red tape of the military bureaucracy is almost impenetrable. It is like a jungle. Unfortunately, similar accidents may happen again. Our charge is that the Minister has not been strong enough. He has not been able to stand up against the Army brass; and the things he has accepted would not pass muster with an ordinary member of Parliament endeavouring to find out what was wrong in his electorate. So, the Leader of the Opposition has said that we should have an all-party inquiry on this matter.

The honorable member for Yarra whose electorate is contiguous to the area concerned has taken a strong line in this matter and he has said that there has been whitewashing of the facts.

Mr Chaney - What would be the terms of reference of a new inquiry? There have been two inquiries already.

Mr HAYLEN - If you give us an inquiry, we will sit in and discuss the terms of reference. I cannot give them to you now, but, broadly, the first would be to investigate the whole of the evidence that was given at the coroner's inquiry and the s'.range incidents that were associated with the disaster. Should we not look at the extraordinary fact that although a man was given the job of predicting the weather in a port where the Rip was the danger point and the whole point of the commando exercise was to go through those dangerous waters, when the weather man gave a message to the camp it was not relayed to the commanding officer? Is not that worth investigating? Of course, it is.

Mr Cramer - We know all about that.

Mr HAYLEN - It is all very well for the coroner to say the message was sent to the camp but was not passed on. There was dereliction of duty there in that respect, and the Minister should look at it.

An allegation has been made by men who have been in the Army and by members of this Parliament that the amphibious vehicle known as the duck is obsolete. This has become a debate about the obsolescence of the duck. The Minister has said that it was fabricated in 1945 and there have been no changes since. The duck is like the Government of the day. It has been allowed to fall to pieces and become obsolete. In these circumstances, the Government cannot wonder that the public is alarmed because we find, in addition, that the duck concerned would not start. It would not get mobile. When it began to move, there was a break-down in one of the vessels. In addition, the machinery of the formation to carry the men across the Rip would not move, and the wireless went out of action. Surely, in any decent inquiry, in any legal inquiry, in any properly constituted inquiry, such a long and dramatic list of coincidences, all geared to create an accident, could not be passed over. It is said, " Well, first of all the fellow in the tower, the weather man from the lighthouse, rang up, but nobody took any notice ". Then, it is said, " Well, when we tried to start the duck it would not go. When we got it going the wireless would not work, and then, when we got it into the rip-way it was making five miles an hour and the tide was making eight." Is not that an indictment that has to be investigated? We say that it has been glossed over.

There are so many vague generalities. If we read the coroner's report we see that it is a necklace of negatives. It seems to say, " We must at all costs avoid offending anybody ". That is the thing that this Parliament should take up. That is why we want an all-party committee to look at it. Honorable members opposite talk about inquiries. The military have an inquiry from Caesar to Caesar. The Minister has an inquiry, under the domination of his brass, and he agrees with what they say - " I concur, and that's that ". But the position remains that the people of this country are not satisfied, so far as the Army is concerned, with this sequence of incidents. None of us blames the Minister, except that it was unfortunate that it happened during the recess.

Mr Timson - That is not right. Your colleagues have been blaming the Minister ail day and for months past.

Mr HAYLEN - From this side of the House, we have not blamed the Minister personally.

Mr Timson - The honorable member apparently has not listened to the speeches from his own side.

Mr HAYLEN - From my point of view, we are blaming the Minister for incompetence, but not in relation to deaths and things of that sort. We have to fulfill our role as an Opposition and tell you where we think you are wrong. But we do not impugn the honour and integrity of the Minister, except to say that he is a weak Minister. We attack him in that way because that is part of our job. We heard this afternoon mealy mouthed statements from the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray). He got up and said, " Oh, you are trying to make a political football of this ". His was the weakest speech I have heard in this House on an important subject. We had the Minister who comes in as a sort of pinch hitter in any debate, the main requisite being that he should know nothing about the matter in question. He gave us a few moments of rhetoric with no balance to it, as did the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon). They both came back with the cry, "You are belting us". Of course, we are! That is our role. We want you to wake up to the fact that this must not occur again. Three young men died in the Rip disaster. There was the matter of the Stockton Bight incident, and later, there was the incident at Singleton.

We want to reiterate what has been said, and we ask you to answer us. We do not want honorable members opposite to get up and say, " Oh, that is political. You are hurting the Minister and not hurting us." It is not that at all.

Mr Timson - This is a big climb-down!

Mr HAYLEN - It is not that at all. We have never departed from our original point of view, and I do not see how the honorable member can truthfully say that that is so. What we ask the Government to consider, and what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) himself has asked for, is the appointment of a committee. Is the Minister prepared to let us have such a committee? ls he prepared to ask the

Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) for an allparty committee to investigate this matter? Honorable members opposite may ask me what we wish to investigate, and upon saying again what we want to investigate I intend to sit down.

We want to find out why an inquiry, started in February, did not bring its findings back to this House but published them in the press. What answer has the Minister to that dereliction of the procedures of this House? Which is the more important unit of government in this country - the daily press or the Parliament?

Mr Cramer - The report was not available before the Parliament adjourned.

Mr HAYLEN - Of course it was available, but it was held back. You might not have done it, but some of your brass made sure that it did not hit the House before we went into recess. The statement is then repeated here to-day, with some very slight variations. We say that that has not been a satisfactory approach to the matter. We say, too, that the coroner's approach is consistently vague, that the Minister is consistently vague also, and that the Government is vague. I do not think that the Government has answered the demand of the people outside to know- why these persistent accidents have occurred and whether they have been due to faulty equipment, bad management, laisser faire, or some other reason. The Government has not told us anything.

Then, we have the categorical statements that the duck was hard to start, that it broke down, that the wireless failed, that the tide rate of the Rip was eight miles an hour and that the duck travelled at five miles an hour, losing sea-way all the time. What a monstrous aggregation of errors! Finally, the lighthouse keeper's warning did not come to the military commandant at all. It came to some one lower down who thought it was not worth while. Surely, if they knew anything about military tactics they would have realized that this was a hazardous experience. Commandos were involved in it. As the honorable member for Herbert said rather inelegantly, they were not a lot of girl guides. But there is no reason why they should have been subjected to hazards beyond the call of duty - and I suggest that the hazards were beyond the call of duty. There was a broken-down duck; there was no wireless communication; there was no knowledge of the water; there was a movable military object floating in the seaway in which there was an eightmilesanhour tide, while the engines were capable, when they did start, of going at only five miles an hour. Those are the indictments we think ought to be made in this matter. But they have not been touched upon. There has been evasion on the part of the Government. The statements of the Minister, which we have read, are full of vague inconsistencies and do not get down to cases. He makes no admissions but says that there is no question that, under military law, there has to be a charge. Of course, we agree with that.

The final thing we say is that, if this is so, why should the Minister leave it so. Why does he not ask the Prime Minister to give us a joint inquiry and let us sit in together? The Government is very anxious to get our services on other committees. Give us one which we demand, so that, in a couple of days, with reasonable-minded members of the Government parties, we could say, " We will go quietly if you can prove to us that everything is o.k." Does not the Government think it owes something to the young servicemen of the community? Does it not think we ought to know these things? How derogatory of government is it when the Government says, " It is all right to have a committee here but it is not all right there." Let us have some unanimity amongst Australians on serious problems in relation to the safety of our servicemen.

The final point that I want to make - I know that it is not the responsibility of the Minister, but he could busy himself with it - concerns the intolerable rates of compensation given in these cases. As I said earlier, I think that the rates of compensation paid under the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act belong to the nineteenth century. We had the temerity once to ask that there be conferences with the States with regard to achieving what might be called uniformity and a general approach to the matter of compensation. First of all, the Government has to look at Commonwealth compensation. The compensation for injury to a Commonwealth servant, whether he is a civilian writing up a ledger or a soldier crossing the Rip, is twenty or 30 years out of date. The payments are scandalous. You can write as many brilliant enlistment advertisements as you like. You can write as many booklets as you like and play the brass band as much as you like, but when the potential recruit looks down the list he sees that, while the wages offered are not bad, and the pension is reasonable, in the matter of liability for compensation the position is quite without reason. This matter ought to be looked at.

Possibly this matter of payments to the relatives of the dead men is sub judice in that the payments have not yet been made, but I am sure that they would be well under £1,000. The Minister, as a New South Wales businessman, knows that if similar liability were contracted in industry the amounts involved would be between £10,000 and £20,000. I shall leave it at that.

We on this side of the House believe that we have no apologies to make, either to the Minister or to the Parliament, for the fact that we have raised this matter. There is no question of politics in it so far as we are concerned. It is a question of finding out the facts. If the Government is prepared to give us a committee so that we may sift the facts we shall go quietly, but if we are brushed aside, as we have been, we shall feel that the serviceman is not being properly cared for and that the Minister has evaded our attack.

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