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Wednesday, 19 October 1910

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I move -

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until 2 o'clock to-morrow.

I recognise the seriousness of intervening with a motion of this kind which temporarily delays the discussion of important business on the notice-paper, but I think the facts I have to bring forward will justify my action. The case I have to submit is that of Mr. J. Wise, who was a warder in the Fremantle prison.- He was engaged there for three and ahalf years, and during the last two years he has been a member of the Garrison Artillery.

Senator Pearce - That is the Militia garrison ?

Senator NEEDHAM - Yes. It appears that the present State . authorities have taken exception to this man carrying out his duties as an Australian citizen.During the two years he has been a member of the Garrison Artillery, he has attended necessary parades and drills without asking for a moment's leave from his employers, the State Government of Western Australia.

Senator Millen - Is not that the point in dispute?

Senator NEEDHAM - I dare say it is, but I think that when the honorable senator hears the facts of the case, he will agree that some remedy should be found for this man's grievance. As a prison warder he was sometimes engaged at night, and sometimes during the day. When he was on night duty he attended parades and drill on the Saturday afternoon, and when on day duty he attended his drills and parades one night in each week. About five months ago it was suggested to him by the prison authorities that his attendance at drills and parades interfered with his duties as a warder, and also inflicted hardship on other officers of the prison. That is one side of the case presented by the prison authorities, but, in view of the fact that during the whole of the two years this man did not occupy a moment of the Government's time in the performance of his duties as a member of the Garrison Artillery, it' is difficult to understand how it can be contended that the time be put in as a member of the Commonwealth Military Forces inflicted any hardship upon other officers of the Fremantle prison. I could understand the contention if, because Wise wished to attend a parade or drill, some other warder had been called upon to take his place, and thereby compelled to work longer hours. But that is not the case. He has never asked for leave, and has done all his military work in his spare time. He was then asked to resign from his position as a warder of the prison or from the Commonwealth Military Forces. His interest in military matters might _be considered a hobby, but, seeing that he devoted only his moments of leisure to it, he felt that in being called upon to resign from the prison staff, in the circumstances, his rights as a citizen were invaded.

Senator Millen - Can the honorable senator tell me his age? Would he be over twenty-six years of age?

Senator NEEDHAM - I do not know, but he may be over twenty-six years of age. He is the father of two children. In last September he was called before the Comptroller of Prisons, and was given his choice to resign from the Military Forces or from his position as a warder. He refused to do either, and. was then dismissed from the prison service. It has to be borne in mind that, as a warder in the Fremantle prison, so far as I am aware, this man received no privileges or concession* as a State civil servant.

Senator St Ledger - Assuming that to be true, has he no remedy under the State law regulating the Public Service?

Senator NEEDHAM - That is a point with which I shall deal later. Wise is not considered to be a State civil servant, but merely a daily-paid man, and, from my recollection of the Public Service Act of Western Australia, prison warders are not included in its provisions. He very properly, I think, considers that he is entitled to equal rights with every other citizen of the Commonwealth, and may spend his leisure time as he deems fit. That is a right which honorable senators will not deny to any citizen of the Commonwealth. It should also be remembered that in performing his duties as a member of the Garrison Artillery this man was doing something for the benefit of Australia. I remind honorable senators that we have already this session passed a Bill for the compulsory training of the citizens of Aus tralia. If we permit this sort of treatment to be meted out to an employe' of a State before compulsory service has actually been instituted, what sort of treatment may we expect the private employer to mete out to his employes? I have already said, in reply to an interjection by Senator Millen, that Mr. Wise is a married man with a family of two children. When he was. asked to resign either his position in the Fremantle prison or his position in the De1 fence Forces, he considered that a big principle was at stake. Of course, it may be urged that he should have resigned his position in the Military Forces and have contested the matter afterwards. But there are times when men conscientiously believe that they are called upon to fight for a big principle. In the action which he took, Mr. Wise not only sacrificed his own employment, but jeopardized the future of his wife and family. Senator St. Ledger has asked whether a citizen placed in that position has no "protection under the State law. It is very difficult to answer a question of that sort. The Commonwealth Parliament cannot dictate to an employer as to whom he shall employ. But in the case which I am discussing, one of the States of the Commonwealth was the employer. Because Mr. Wise spent his leisure in taking part in the Military Forces, he has lost his employment.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator says that he has spent his " leisure in taking part in the Military Forces " ; but I understand that the contention of the authorities is that he was trenching upon their time. That is the whole point.

Senator NEEDHAM - Mr. Wise has never been absent from his duties for a single moment during a period of two years.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator will admit that he is making an ex parte statement.

Senator NEEDHAM - I will not. The reason assigned for Mr. Wise's dismissal is that the Commandant of Western Aus.tralia supported the view of the Colonial Secretary that members of the police force and persons engaged in prison service are exempt from compulsory military training. So they are; but only in time of war. Clause 7 of that measure reads -

Section sixty-one of the principal Act is repealed, and the following sections are substituted in its stead : - "61. The following shall be exempt from service in time of war, so long as the employment, condition, or status on which the exemption is based continues : -

(d)   Persons employed in the police or prison service of the Commonwealth or of a State."

But the present is not a time of war ; and, consequently, that provision cannot apply. Another reason which has been advanced for Mr. Wise's dismissal is that a prison warder must always be within call of the superintendent. I admit that that may be highly desirable, because, at any moment, a revolt may occur amongst the prisoners. But surely it will not be urged that when a warder is off duty, he should not- be at liberty to attend a theatre, to indulgein a row upon the river, or to play a game of cricket or football, without first securing permission to do so. If such a course of action be necessary, the warder, in my judgment, will occupy a very much worse position than will the prisoner.

Senator Millen - Probably the prisoner will not think so.

Senator NEEDHAM - Either prison warders must be freed from any penalty for becoming members of the Military Forces, or our Defence Act must be amended so as to exempt them from military training. Last Friday, I received a telegram from Fremantle in reference to this matter, and, in conjunction with my colleagues, I submitted it to the Minister of Defence. 1 understand that he has since been in communication with the authorities in Western Australia ; but I am not aware of the nature of any reply which he may have received. I have no desire to labour the matter. I merely say that an Australian citizen who has dared to spend his leisure in a legitimate way - and in a way of which this Parliament approves - has been penalized for so doing by the Government of Western Australia. Whether we can offer him redress, I do not know; but if we cannot, the sooner we are in a position to do so, the better. Otherwise, our legislation in regard to defence will be a mere farce. I think it is wise that a matter of this sort should be brought under the notice of honorable senators and of the country.

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