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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2681

Mr HAMER (Isaacs) - I rise to put to the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) a problem which has been concerning me for some time. I have been approached by a considerable number of sailors who served on HMAS 'Vampire' under my command from 1963 to 1965 in respect of their eligibility for repatriation benefits. HMAS 'Vampire' served during the Indonesian confrontation in Singapore between July 1964 and early 1965 and was on patrol duty in the Malacca Straits for a very high proportion of the time it spent in the area. She did in fact do more operational patrol service in that area during the Indonesian confrontation than was carried out by any other Australian destroyer or frigate. Members of the crew of the 'Vampire' were awarded the General Service Medal for those operations but are not entitled to repatriation benefits. The reason for this exclusion from repatriation benefits is that in order to qualify for such benefits one had to serve in a declared special area. The special areas for repatriation benefits during the Indonesian confrontation were the Borneo coast from 8 December 1962 to 14 December 1966 and the Malacca Straits from 7 July 1965 to 14 September 1966. The reasons for the selection of these particular dates are extremely obscure. During the period that 'Vampire' was in the area patrol duty in the Singapore and Malacca Straits was at least as dangerous and arduous as patrol duty on the Borneo coast. As far as I have been able to determine there were more incidents in the former area, that is, the Malacca and Singapore Straits, than there were in Borneo.

It seems to me that the only reason for the selection of these particular dates for the declaration of special areas was dictated by 3 factors. The first was the desire of the British authorities - not the Australian authorities - to exclude from special awards a large number of base personnel in Singapore. I entirely agree with this. The second was the substantial numbers of Australian Army and Air Force personnel in West Malaysia who were in no way involved in the confrontation. The reason those personnel were not involved in confrontation operations was the effective patrol service of the Navy in the Malacca and Singapore Straits. The third factor which I think may have influenced the Cabinet decision was that all destroyers and frigates, with the exception of the 'Vampire', served in both the Malacca Straits and in Borneo waters and therefore personnel serving in them qualified for repatriation benefits. The fact that the 'Vampire' did not serve in Borneo waters was solely due to the accidental fact of the relative seniority of the captain of the 'Vampire' and the senior officer in Borneo waters. In fact, I repeat that the 'Vampire' did more active patrol work in the Malacca Straits than any other Australian ship and patrols in the Malacca Straits and Singapore waters were at least as dangerous as patrols in Borneo waters.

In my view this exclusion of the crew of the 'Vampire' from repatriation benefits which are available to the crews of other ships is unfair. This Government has taken several actions to widen the availability of repatriation benefits. Now all personnel who serve for more than a 3-year engagement receive them and national servicemen who extended their service by only a few weeks receive them. The numbers involved in the crew of the 'Vampire' are relatively small. Any members still serving, of course, would qualify separately for repatriation benefits and any who subsequently served in the Indonesian confrontation or in Vietnam would also qualify. About 80 persons have been excluded from these benefits. I think it is grossly unfair and I ask the Minister for Defence to have another look at the situation .and see whether it can be corrected. I have made repeated applications to successive Ministers for Defence without success. I ask this Minister for Defence whether he can do something about it. The men involved received medals for their war service but they have been excluded from repatriation benefits and I think this is entirely wrong.

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