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Wednesday, 10 June 1914

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) . - I understood Senator Rae to say that a lad who had been sentenced by a Civil Court was afterwards tried by court martial, and condemned to solitary confinement. The Minister did not say whether he had ascertained that that was so.

Senator Millen - I said nothing about a court martial.

Senator PEARCE - I should be surprised to hear that there had been a court martial. I think that, under the circumstances, a court martial would be illegal.

Senator Rae - I have been informed on good authority that three officers tried the lad for refusing to drill during his period of detention, and that then he was put into the cells for seven days.

Senator PEARCE - I do not think that the Defence Act allows courts martial in regard to cadets, and there are very narrow limitations to the holding of them, even so far as soldiers in the Citizen Forces are concerned.

Senator Rae - The Minister knows all about it, because the Postmaster-General waited on him to ascertain if the boy could not be relieved.

Senator Millen - That does not prove that there was a court martial.

Senator PEARCE - I suggest that the Minister should ascertain how the sentence of solitary confinement came to be imposed. Senator Rae drew a terrible picture of solitary confinement, but I am confident that cadets are not treated in the manner described.

Senator Gardiner - You ought never to be too sure of these things.

Senator PEARCE - I can speak of what I saw when Minister. I then made it my business to visit places where lads were undergoing detention. At Queenscliff they were then being detained in tents. I know of no case in which a lad was detained in a cell there.

Senator Rae - This lad is in a cell.

Senator PEARCE - At Glanville, in South Australia, a lad underwent detention in what might be called a cell, but on inquiring into ithe circumstances I found that he was placed in the gunners' quarters, adjoining the caretaker's cottage, in an old fort, which is now out of service. He was placed in a room in which the gunners on duty at the fort used to sleep. Yet his confinement was alluded to in leaflets distributed throughout the State as solitary confinement in a cell.

Senator Guthrie - He was locked in.

Senator PEARCE - At night time. How, otherwise, could he have been prevented from escaping?

Senator Rae - I understand that the lad to whose case I have drawn attention is locked up for twenty-four hours consecutively.

Senator PEARCE - The Minister has said that he is allowed out twice a day for exercise. At Queenscliff there are cells which are used for permanent soldiers who have merited confinement, and they are similar to the ordinary police cells, but before I left office, such cells had not been used for cadets.

Senator Rae - I understand that this lad is confined on Swan Island.

Senator PEARCE - Some lads under detention escaped, and on being recaptured were sent to Swan Island, from which they could not escape. I think that they there slept, not in cells, but in the ordinary sleeping quarters of the soldiers who are guarding the island. There should be no brutality or barbarous treatment in the punishment of offences under the Act, nor should the punishment be such as could injure the moral or physical health of those to whom it is applied. What the Department has aimed at, and I hope is still aiming at, is to get the lads to do their drill. If a lad will not do his drill in the ordinary way, he is made to undergo a period of detention ordered by a magistrate, and during the twenty-one days for which he is detained, he goes through the drill for the year, and some extra drill by way of penalty. But what about the boy who, when under detention, says, "I will not drill"? All that the law has behind it is force, and the penalties for the infraction of any law must in the last resort be enforced. In this case, the penalty is exceedingly humane. It cannot be said that detention and drill - healthy physical exercise - is inhuman. Those who are detained are given a liberal diet, and, in many cases, live in tents. I visited Fremantle to see a lad who was there undergoing detention, and found that he occupied the same quarters as the permanent soldiers, and there are now in the permanent garrison artillery at Fremantle three men who, after they had served a period of detention, enlisted in the regular forces. Evidently they did not consider their treatment inhuman. I do not think any of us would say that a Tad should be confined under the conditions pictured by Senator Rae as those of solitary confinement in our gaols. But there must be some form of punishment. While the Act remains on the statute-book I shall support its proper administration. If we are going to say that the time has arrived when we should not enforce it, then we ought to be honest enough to move at once for its repeal. Its administration, of course, should be characterized by justice, tempered with mercy. Youths should not he treated as criminals. They should not be subjected to treatment calculated to make criminals of them, and solitary confinement of the character referred to by the honorable senator would undoubtedly make criminals of many. I hope that the Minister will make an investigation, and let us know the facts leading up to the sentence and whether the sentence was imposed by court martial.

Senator Millen - It was not.

Senator PEARCE - I hope that the Minister will let us know by what authority it was carried out, and whether or not the boy was placed in a healthy, well-ventilated cell. If he would not drill, it would have been absurd to allow him to remain with the other boys, and to sit still while they went out to do their drill. The effect would have been demoralizing. The other boys would have said at once: "We have only to say that we will not drill, and we, too, shall be allowed to remain idle." When this boy refused to drill, he was separated from the other detainees, put in a cell, we are told, and taken out for an hour's exercise twice a day. Could that be said to be solitary confinement such as takes place under our penal laws? It is something totally different. If honorable senators are going to say that lads who refuse to drill should not be separated from the detainees who are prepared to drill, then they should tell us what ought to be done with them.

Senator Guthrie - What power should inflict the punishment?

Senator PEARCE - It should be the civil power; the military authorities should not be permitted to impose it. A boy, having been ordered into detention by a magistrate, the military authorities should not have power to send him into solitary confinement if, while suffering that detention, he refuses to drill. When he refuses to drill, he should be brought once more before the magistrate, and the magistrate, after hearing the facts, should state in open Court what further punishment should be imposed. Those who raise conscientious objections to drill are taking up an attitude reconcilable only with the immediate repeal of the Act. Nothing short of that will satisfy them. I said to those who interviewed m

Senator Stewart - It is pure laziness.

Senator PEARCE - Such an attitude is utterly irreconcilable with the Defence Act. The Act can be reconciled with the views of these people only by wiping it out altogether. Many of the placards which are being circulated all over the country, and also overseas, are being put out by people who take up the attitude I have just detailed. Most of the cases have been exaggerated. I am prepared to go as far as any one in securing the humane treatment of detainees, but whilst the Act is on the statute-book it will have my support. I see no reason for its repeal ; but nothing short of its repeal would satisfy those who are now organizing a campaign against universal service.

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