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Thursday, 12 May 1921

Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) .- I am by no means sure that the Minister is correct as to the legal effect of the section to be amended by this clause. I think there is a good deal in what Senator Duncan has said, because the section does appear to give some sort of legal ownership to moneys or band instruments subscribed in the way referred to.

Senator Pearce - We must vest the ownership of such property in some one for the purpose of legal proceedings. The question is whom should we vest it in ?

Senator ELLIOTT - I think that there should be a provision in the section to the effect that nothing contained in it should authorize the commanding officer of a corps or ship's company to dispose of any such property without the authority of the Minister.

Senator Pearce - We can do that at present under our Treasury regulations. Even for the disposing of obsolete material the Minister has to give authority. Rags from the Clothing Factory cannot be disposed of without authority.

Senator ELLIOTT - That is so where the goods are Government property, but , where moneys subscribed by the public are placed in the hands of the commanding officer of a corps or ship's company it is somewhat doubtful whether he might not make an improper use of the property without rendering himself liable to be brought to account for doing so.

Senator Pearce - Even the funds of a mess cannot be disposed of -without the authority of the Minister, although there are mess committees.

Senator ELLIOTT -I am not speaking of Government property. It seems to mo that the section which this clause is intended to amend does confer something in the nature of a legal ownership of money or property subscribed or appropriated, in the manner set out in the section, upon the commanding officer. Throughout the war there were many private subscriptions by various persons of . money and goods, and there were rumoursthat on certain occasions money and goods subscribed in this way were improperly disposed of. The section would appear almost to legalize that kind of thing.

Senator Drake-Brockman - If some one stole these goods the section merely provides that the commanding officer shall be the person to take legal proceedings for their recovery. '

Senator ELLIOTT - But what would happen if the commanding officer himself improperly disposed of the property?

Senator Drake-Brockman -Under the Statute law of the different States he would commit a theft.

Senator ELLIOTT - He might commit a breach of trust.

Senator Drake-Brockman - More than that,he would commit a technical theft.

Senator ELLIOTT - Who is the owner of these goods?

Senator Drake-Brockman - That would depend on the trust.

Senator Foster - To whom did regimental funds belong ? ' We used to have an idea abroad that, as in previous wars, they would be distributed ' pro rata amongst all ranks, but we found out afterwards that they really belonged to the officers' mess.

Senator Cox - The honorable senator should know that that is not a fact.

Senator ELLIOTT - They were, as a matter of fact, appropriated willy-nilly to the canteen fund, and eventually were made good use of in the assistance of widows of deceased soldiers.

Senator Pearce - With the full consent and approval of the Returned Soldiers' League.

Senator ELLIOTT - Quite so, although the League, as such, had no right to dispose of those funds.

Senator Drake-Brockman - The commanding officers, who were trustees for' them, were never consulted in the matter, and I may say that some of them felt a little hurt in consequence.

Senator ELLIOTT - It seems to me that there is some legal difficulty involved in the section which might be removed by such a proviso as I have suggested. I am not prepared to draft a proviso while standing on my feet, and my preoccupation with other matters has prevented me' from giving this section the consideration it deserves.

Senator Pearce - It has been in operation for years, and has operated well.

Senator ELLIOTT - The clause under consideration will not affect the matter one way. or the other, but I think that at some future time the section which the clause is intended to amend should he given serious attention.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 54 (Disrating of persons serving under Part XII.).

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