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Thursday, 28 May 1942

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - 'Comments by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) are always interesting, but I hope that the Government will not accede to the request he has made this afternoon. He appears to have a pronounced horror of anything in the nature of a court martial, and not to be over-enthusiastic in his attachment to any military subject. For his week-end reading, he might very well study the Manual of Military Law, which provides for a procedure quite different from that of our civil courts. I defy him or any of his colleagues to name a fairer trial than any soldier on service receives from a court martial - the only court in the British Empire of which I have knowledge in which the prosecuting counsel has to put, to the best of his ability, the case for the accused. The procedure in civil courts is entirely different, being point against point. The honorable gentleman has expressed deep abhorrence at the American forces having jurisdiction over their own men. In having agreed to that course, the Government acted wisely. The American forces are under American law. They are citizens of the United States of America, and probably have been conscripted for service outside their own country without their wishes being consulted by their Government. We have sent forces out of Australia during this war as we did previously. Even the honorable member will agree that such forces should be amenable to the laws of their own country. They continue to be citizens of this country even though they are serving overseas. Would the honorable gentleman ask that our forces in Egypt shall be subject to trial by Egyptian rather than Australian law for any offence committed in that country? Such a contention would be absolutely preposterous. Even in the Army, murder is a crime. In fact, the ten commandments are enforced practically in their entirety - even to the satisfaction of the honorable member, I believe he would find if he studied the list of crimes for which any member of the armed forces of this country may be tried. That applies also to the American forces. The only sensible course, in the circumstances in which we are placed, with a large number of foreign troops in this country for the first time in its history, is that any member of the American forces shall be tried by an American court in respect of any offence committed against the laws of this country. If we interfere with dispensations of justice by those tribunals, and determine to deal with American troops as we please, according to our law, we may find very shortly that there will not be many of us in certain parts of this country, for reasons that need not to be stated. If some of our men get into mischief, as I have known them to do at times, they may find themselves being tried in their own country according to a law which, although similar to, is not identical with our own. As one who has had some little experience, I affirm that the Government has acted wisely. I hope that it will stand its ground, and will not be led aside in this rather important matter by either the requests or blandishments of its supporters or opponents.

I shall now deal briefly with a point raised by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Duncan-Hughes). It is a serious matter that a government department, the costs of which are defrayed by this Parliament, and the transgressions of which against common sense are notorious and numerous, should publish a pamphlet of the character of that which has been delivered to us lately. Why such a department should be allowed to exist is beyond my comprehension. Its very establishment gave rise to a first-class argument in this House. Had it never seen the light of day, the country would have been better pleased. The wine industry is in a particularly bad state. It does not follow that every man who comes into this country is from the wild west of America. I am afraid that some of the publicity put out by the Department of Information suggests that members of the American forces are little boys who are beyond the control of their mothers for the first time in their lives. Such statements will do no good to the American troops in Australia, and, I am confident, do not enhance the reputation of the Australian Government, as exemplified through that awful enormity, the Department of Information. Hardly a thing touched by that department does not bear the imprint of the cloven hoof of incompetence. As the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) is anxious to save money, and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) is anxious to conserve man-power, the Government could not do better than have a clean-up in the Department of Information, removing from it a few gentlemen who might look better in some other avocation than that of writing nonsense which merely excites the disgust of persons who otherwise might be inclined to enjoy the amenities offered by our country.

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