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Thursday, 23 August 1973
Page: 278

Mr BENNETT (SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - In view of the controversy which has arisen in Western Australia over transport difficulties of prisoner-of-war survivors of the United States vessel 'Houston' going to Western Australia for a reunion and appeals which have been made to give them financial assistance, will the Minister for Defence clarify the past practice in these matters? What is the true situation in relation to the survivors of the'Houston'? Further, in view of proposals to hold an international convention of prisonersofwar in Australia in the future, what will be the policy with respect to transport assistance?

Mr BARNARD (BASS, TASMANIA) (Minister for Defence) - I received a communication from the secretary of the ExPrisoner ofWar Association of Australia who wrote to me asking for assistance to provide flight services from Learmonth and from Woomera for 30 exprisonersofwar and their wives from the United States of America. I understand that United States authorities have arranged for their airlift according to the availability of aircraft into Learmonth and Woomera and according to availability of space on aircraft. I gave sympathetic consideration to the request I received and to representations which had been made to me by the honourable member for Swan on this matter. It is clear that it would create a precedent in Australia. Quite frankly, it would not be possible for me to justify the expenditure involved in using Royal Australian Air Force aircraft to transport the ex-prisoners ofwar and their wives from Learmonth and from Woomera.

The only precedent that has been established by previous Australian governments in relation to providing assistance for ex-prisonersofwar to attend reunions I should point out to the House that if I approve the airlift by RAAF aircraft on this occasion it will, of course, be necessary for me to approve similar requests from Australian ex-prisonersofwar for reunions in this country was for the national reunion of those who served in New Guinea. That was the only deviation from the established criteria. They were provided with transport to New Guinea for the 25th anniversary of the signing of the surrender document in that country. That was the only occasion on which financial assistance was approved for exservicemen or ex-prisonerofwar organisations in Australia. Clearly expenditure of this kind, however sympathetic one may be, cannot be justified.

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