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Wednesday, 28 October 1914

Mr JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) . - This is in some respects an extraordinary Bill, and one intended, I presume, to meet circumstances which are extraordinary. We shall have to trust the Minister absolutely in regard to it, because in the very nature of the case he cannot inform the House of, and thus make public, the circumstances which require the passing of it.

Mr Hughes - That is so.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - As a layman, I do not know the exact setting of the Bill in our general scheme of civil and military law. Clause 5 deals with some such act as the denaturalizing of persons who have been naturalized. I do not see what is to be done in regard to offences of that kind that might not be done under our existing military law. The possibility of martial law being proclaimed seems to be contemplated. What else does subclause 2 of clause 4 mean? It enacts, among other things, that the regulations may authorize the trial by courts martial and punishment of persons contravening any of their provisions. That is a very serious power to take, and one to be taken only in exceptional and extraordinary circumstances. It means, I imagine, that private persons may be court-martialled, and that the authority to set the court martial in operation is to be the Naval and Military Board.

Mr Hughes - The Bill does not create trial by court martial, but it empowers the Governor-General to make an order which will have that effect Full power is still left in the hands of the civil authorities. This is a civil law, and deals with civil powers.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - You are proposing to clothe the Naval and Military Board with power to do certain drastic things. Is the Board to exercise discretion in these matters, or is the Ministry to instruct it in all cases when and how far it may proceed?

Mr Hughes - It is proposed to give, not a general, but a special, power for a special purpose.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - A special power for each case?

Mr Hughes - Yes; limited in extent, and for each purpose.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - That does not appear here.

Mr Hughes - Yes, it does.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I should like that to be made clear. As a civilian, I am not prepared to place tremendous powers in the hands of the Naval and Military Board to deal with citizens for offences other than those created under our present drastic laws.

Mr Hughes - I am with the honorable member. If it were proposed to give the Naval and Military Board such powers, I should object. It is proposed to clothe the Governor-General with authority to delegate to the Naval and Military Board such powers as he may think fit.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - That means that the Government, through the GovernorGeneral, may clothe the Naval and Military Board with discretionary power if it thinks fit.

Mr Hughes - As it may think fit. We may do this by proclamation. Practically, the authorities are now acting under a proclamation which gives them power to search.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - That is so. One wonders, therefore, how the Bill fits in with our general scheme of law.

Mr Hughes - I told the honorable member privately that we have a reason for wanting to get the Bill through quickly. I assure him that the present law is not sufficient for our purpose.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I must accept that statement.

Mr Hughes - It is not proposed to clothe the Naval and Military Board with any authority incompatible with the full supremacy of the civil law.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I am glad to have that assurance. However much I may object to some of the provisions of the Bill, I feel that I must support the measure, leaving the Government to take full responsibility for it. This is not the time to do anything but to give full and cordial support to the Government in regard to ail measures proposed for the maintenance of our supremacy in our own domain, and for assisting the Empire in the great war in which it is engaged. I am only anxious that the Government shall not make a mistake in its procedure.

Mr Fisher - Would it not be more dangerous to take too little than to take too much power?

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Clause 2 provides the safeguard that the Act is to continue during the present state of war and no longer. May the end of the war come soon, is the earnest wish of us all. Recognising that these drastic powers are necessary to enable those in our midst, who seek to destroy the integrity and to injure the interests of the Empire, to be dealt with, I shall give the Government cordial support in passing this and other measures having that object in view.

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