RCB Recognition of Service – Submission to Minister for Defence Personnel

To date our submission of 4th October 2021 remains unanswered but the Minister has agreed to our request for a ZOOM meeting with him on the 2nd December 2021. We want a decision without further delay. His decision will determine our campaign’s future direction

Here is an extract of our submission.

RIFLE COMPANY BUTTERWORTH – RECOGNITION OF SERVICE

The Rifle Company Butterworth Review Group commissioned an ethicist to review the Department of Defence and the government’s approach in determining the nature of service of Rifle Company Butterworth 1970 – 1989. The report is attached and our submission below flows from that report.

We seek your agreement, as responsible Minister, to consider and set aside previous decisions and determinations made by various Ministers and officials relating to Rifle Company Butterworth’s operational deployment from 1970 to 1989 for the purpose of protecting RAAF assets at Air Base Butterworth (ABB) during the Communist Insurgency in Malaysia (1968-1989), and make a fresh decision according to law.

Specifically, this submission seeks recognition of Rifle Company Butterworth’s operational deployment as qualifying ‘warlike service’, on the basis that RCB’s service has been classified, wrongly, as ‘peacetime service’ due to previous failures by various decisionmakers to correct significant errors of fact and misrepresentations of the nature of the RCB service deployment, and the continuing failure to apply the relevant criteria for determining the nature of that service. 

For example, it is self-evident that qualifying ‘warlike service’ may take place in peacetime, where the service occurs outside Australia in a theatre of war, as it did in this case.

In particular, it is our submission that various decisionmakers have failed to take proper account of what is known as the ‘Incurred Danger test’, which has underpinned nature of service determinations since WWI. In Cabinet Directive 1048 of 7 July 1965, the Commonwealth Government set down the criteria for ‘warlike’ service that would be applied under the Repatriation Special Overseas Services Act 1962, and later, the Veterans Entitlement Act 1986. The Directive identified that the criteria for qualifying ‘warlike’ service was the relevant ‘incurred danger test’.

As a result of failing to take account of the relevant test, the various decisions in regard to RCB service in protecting RAAF assets at Butterworth as ‘peacetime service’, similar to garrison duty in Australia, has denied those troops (9,000 RCB members and 12,000 RAAF personnel) eligibility to Commonwealth repatriation benefits under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, and the award of the Australian Active Service Medal (AASM).

We contend that the historical record shows that the origins of the present situation stem from the Whitlam Government’s 1972 election undertaking to withdraw all Australian forces then deployed in SE Asia. This contention has been confirmed by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral David Johnston, in a letter dated 26 April 2019. Until 1972, Australia, under its international treaty obligations, had a leading role in deterring Communist expansion in SE Asia, in particular in Malaysia.

In 1973 the Commonwealth’s Defence Committee recommended to the incoming Government that a rifle company be retained at Butterworth.  The Defence Committee Secret Minute 2/1973 para 28. (e) refers.

When the Australian Battalion is withdrawn, the requirement for a company for security duties at Butterworth will be met by providing the unit, on rotation, from Australia. This could be presented publicly as being for training purposes.”

It is our submission that this deliberate misrepresentation of the nature of RCB service, as recommended by Defence officials and effectively adopted by successive governments, for explicitly political purposes, has continued to contaminate all subsequent decision making concerning that service deployment.

We would welcome an opportunity to discuss directly with you our submission, and the evidence supporting it, at any time.

Ray Fulcher,
Chair, Rifle Company Butterworth Review Group

The Deception

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