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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 1974

Mr BARNARD (BASS, TASMANIA) - In directing my question to the Minister for the Army I refer him to the high rejection rate of volunteers for service in the Army. Are the same exacting standards applied to the admission of national servicemen? If so, how is it possible for young men with previous records of mental instability to be admitted to the Army as national servicemen? Has the Minister investigated allegations made about recent incidents at Puckapunyal and Kapooka military camps? The Minister will remember that one of his departmental officials or Army public relations officers reported that there had been 5 incidents of attempted suicide. If the reports are correct, what action has the Minister taken?

Mr KATTER (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for the Army) - I would say first that it is a pretty fair question. In answer to the first part, which related to the high rejection rate of volunteers, I remind him that a few weeks ago in a question he made a point of that very situation. Perhaps the reason for the high rate of rejection is now becoming clear to the honourable gentleman and probably he can now see why these high standards are necessary. I discussed this matter with some of my medical friends over the weekend. It is rather difficult to detect those people who might be on the verge of a psychiatric reaction. The condition of a person who is mentally unstable may not be apparent until he is subjected to pressures such as are encountered in an institution like the Army.

Turning now to the more important part of the honourable gentleman's question, I am having investigated not only the allegations regarding Puckapunyal and Kapooka but also the complete situation regarding attempted suicides and suicides in the military forces. I have further asked that in the report to be furnished comments be made on the reaction of the men to some elements of our training programme which might cause unfortunate pressures to be exerted on these young men. I am not suggesting that there are those pressures but it is a possibility. I have asked for a comprehensive report and I hope that it will be forthcoming shortly to enable me to make it available to the nation.

I made is perfectly clear when I took over this portfolio that apart from matters affecting national security I wanted to reveal to the Australian public how our Army works, the pressures involved and how our soldiers react to various circumstances. In this respect the Press has helped me very considerably and we have brought the Army much closer to the people of Australia. This is the situation. I hope that when the Prime Minister reveals the date of the election I can step up the tempo of this investigation to produce all the relevant facts prior to the rising of this Parliament if at all possible.

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