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Thursday, 14 October 1971
Page: 2449

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - I rise tonight to refer to a subject which has concerned me now for 12 months and which must cause one to question the efficiency of the Department of the Army. It concerns a national serviceman who was accidentally killed in Victoria.

Mr Peacock - He was an apprentice.

Dr PATTERSON - I am sorry. It concerns an apprentice who was accidentally killed in Victoria. For 12 months the parents of this boy have been trying to get an inquest into his death but they have not yet succeeded. On 10th September 1970, apprentice Colin Jackson of Mount Charlton, near Mackay, was performing an assisted front somersault with a forward roll as part of a progressive series of gymnastic exercises. A qualified physical training instructor was positioned and was supervising the training of this boy. Unfortunately for the boy, during the physical training exercises something happened and he had a serious fall. He was subsequently transferred to the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg where he was admitted with spinal injuries. He died in the hospital at 12.20 p.m. on 23rd September 1970 as a result of his injuries.

During the period that he was hospitalised his mother and father travelled south to visit him. They were looked after by the Army and they have no complaint in that respect. The boy's body was sent to Mackay in North Queensland. I understand that were were problems in getting his body to Mackay in time for the funeral because of a strike in Sydney, but through the good offices of the Minister for the Army (Mr Peacock) and particularly with the assistance of his private secretary and the courtesy of Trans-Australia Airlines who broke a few rules, the problems were overcome. The parents were satisfied. I had told them, and the Minister had informed me in writing, that there would be a coroner's inquest and that the parents would be advised when this was to take place. Naturally one believes that an inquest will take place fairly quickly after a death. Mr and Mrs Jackson approached me several times during the next few months and inquired when the inquest would be held. They also asked me whether they could be represented at the inquest. The Minister for the Army again advised me that no date had yet been fixed and said that it was a matter entirely for the parents as to whether they would be represented at the inquest. That advice was given on 28th January 1971, approximately 10 months ago.

After waiting for about 6 months, the parents started to get extremely agitated, as one would expect. I sent a telegram to the Minister for the Army pointing out that the parents of the deceased were most concerned at the long delay. I received a telegram in reply from the Minister saying that inquiries had been made of the Crown Solicitor's Office in Melbourne concerning the date of an inquest into the death of apprentice Colin Jackson but it had advised that a date could not yet be given and when a date had been set for the inquest, be would notify me. That was on- 4th August. After more inquiries, I was then informed by the Minister that the delay was not the fault of the Department of the Army. Apparently the reason for the delay was that the coroner's court in Melbourne bad not received a report of the death from the Mornington police. It would seem, therefore, that the blame now rests with the Victoria Police. The Minister said that, according to the Crown Solicitor's Office in Melbourne, the coroner's office was very concerned about the delay and had requested that the report be forwarded as soon as possible. However, it is now October and after repeated requests - almost every week - I am no further advanced and neither are the parents. In summary, despite repeated requests by the parents of the soldier, the Army still has not seen fit to arrange an inquest. Worse still, I cannot accept the reasons given by the Minister for this delay. I could accept them for some months perhaps but not for a period of 12 months.

Perhaps this delay of 12 months is the fault of the Victorian police. I do not know to this day whether the Mornington police have made a report, but there is something very wrong when a person can be accidentally killed and 12 months later the Victorian police still have not furnished a report. This is particularly so if the person concerned happens to be somebody who comes under the province of the Department of the Army. Incredible as it may seem, neither the Army nor the police has been able to secure a report on this accident which can be acted upon by the coroner. During all this time, the parents have had to experience heartbreaking distress while the authorities have adopted what must be called a very callous disregard for all the pleas for an official inquest. The boy cannot be brought back to life. He is dead. But we must have some feelings for the parents. Surely after 12 months one would expect that in all decency the whole matter would be finalised.

I did not want to raise this matter in the Parliament, but 1 am under pressure from the parents and other relatives. I did warn the Minister's office that if I did not get a suitable reply I would have no alternative than to raise it in the Parliament, and this is what I have had to do. I do not think it is good enough to put the blame on the Victorian police on the one hand or to put up with this as an excuse on the other hand for 12 months. From the point of view of the Commonwealth it is simply not good enough treatment of anybody who happens to be in the Army. I believe that if the Government, the Minister or the Department of the Army really had cared and had gone into this matter carefully and sincerely some action might have been taken. I say this to the Minister: If this is not cleared up quickly I will get the permission of my Party to take some drastic action in this Parliament in relation to this case.

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