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Wednesday, 19 October 1910

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - Some days ago, this question was brought before me by Senator Needham on behalf o? himself and other representatives of Western Australia, on a telegram which had been sent to him by Mr. Cameron, of Fremantle, and which reads as follows -

Much indignation here State Government's action dismissing Warder Wise because declined resign Commonwealth Military Forces. See press reports. Can any step be taken by Federal Government to protect Wise's right Common wealth citizen? Consult Western Australian members. Reply.

I despatched the following telegram to the Premier of Western Australia -

Representations made to me re action State Government dismissing Warder Wise owing to his refusal to resign from Commonwealth Military Forces. Respectfully urge reconsideration, of decision in interests of Commonwealth Defence.

That message was sent on the 13th inst, but, so far, we have not received a reply. I have since taken the trouble to ascertain the practice in the States. To the Military Commandants I sent the following wires : -

Has State Government at any time placed any embargo prison warders joining or belonging to Citizen Forces? Reply at once.

I am now able to inform the Senate that in Victoria the Government does not place any obstacle in the way of warders joining the Military Forces. "The Military Commandant in New South Wales sent this reply -

Your telephone message this morning; ComptrollerGeneral Prisons states no general embargo; each case dealt with on its merits.

The Military Commandant in Tasmania replied, "No; State Government rather encouraged it." The Military Commandant in Queensland wired in these terms -

The occupation of warders owing to hours of duty prevents men enrolling Citizen Forces other than Rifle Clubs. State Government have never issued any special instructions on matter.

The Military Commandant in South Australia informs me that the question has never been raised in that State. On the- 13th September, this case was raised in the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia. On page 695 of the State Hansard, I find this* report -

Mr. Troyasked the Premier : 1. Is the Premier aware that efforts have been made by certain officials in the Prisons Department to compel men under their control to leave the Federal Defence Forces? 2. What reasons, if any, are given by such officers for their attempt to interfere with State employes serving the Defence Department during their own time? 3. Has any appeal been made to the Government, against this official attempt to deprive men of their rights as citizens, and, if so, what reply has been made to such appeal? 4. Are the Government in favour of allowing all State employes, in common wilh other citizens, facilities for serving in the Defence Forces, provided such service does not interfere with their duty to the Department in which they are employed?

The Premier replied : - 1 and 2. The exigencies of the prison service necessitated the ComptrollerGeneral of Prisons requesting the resignation from the Defence Force of two wardersemployed in Fremantle prison, as it interferedwith their duties as warders. 3. One of the two warders affected by the instructions did make a request for reconsideration of the matter. His request was refused by the Colonial Secretary, after conferring with the State Commandant, who reported that he had no hesitation in granting this, or any other warder, a free discharge, as he could readily see that the nature of the duties must clash. 4. Yes. The Commonwealth Government, however, have recognised the difficulties attending the disciplinary staff of prisons, and the amending Defence Bill provides, inter alia, for the exemption from service of persons employed in the police or prison service, &c.

I am assured that the last statement is hardly accurate.

Senator Needham - It is only in time of war they are exempt.

Senator PEARCE - I do not know whether the statement in regard to the expression of opinion by the Military Commandant is correct, as we have no record of it. But, as regards the statement that the amending Defence Bill provides, inter alia, for the exemption from service of persons employed in the police and in prisons, I have here the principal Act, which contains the exemptions in time of war, but does not give any exemption to prison warders, either for training or in time of war. Referring to the section which gives the exemptions from service in time of war, clause 7 of the Defence Bill 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 services of the Commonwealth or of a State.

Clause 18, which contains the exemptions from training, does not exempt prison warders. The latter are not exempt from training, nor are a large number of persons who are exempt from service in time of war, for the simple reason that a person needs to be trained because, on the outbreak of war, he might not happen to be in that particular service. Take, for instance, persons employed on railways. In time of war, probably we should not take them from the railways, but we need to train them because, when war breaks out, they might not be employed in that service.

Senator Sayers - If a man is over twenty-six years of age, will he still be bound to go up for training?

Senator PEARCE - Not after he is twenty-six years of age; but, in time of war, he may be called upon to serve. If the Premier of Western Australia meant his statement to apply to training, he was not correct.

Senator Millen - It seems to me that he used the word " service " in contradistinction to the word "training."

Senator PEARCE - I do not think SO but, whatever he meant, warders in prisons are not exempt from training. If a man were under twenty-six years of age, we should require him to. train, and, under the Constitution, our law would override any State law or regulation. If a State Government were to penalize an employe* who was compelled to train, the serious question would arise of what action we could take. We have a provision under which a private employer can be fined and subjected to serious disabilities for preventing an employe from undergoing training.

Senator Gardiner - I suppose that unification is the way out of the difficulty.

Senator PEARCE - I do not propose to say any more at present, because, until 1 receive a reply to my telegram, I regard the matter as sub judice, from the departmental point of view. 1 hope that the Premier of Western Australia will be willing to reconsider his decision, especially as we shall now be able to bring under his notice the fact that, under no other State Government is it found necessary to prevent warders from joining the Military Forces. I shall make further representations to the State Premier, and probably call for a report from the State Commandant, seeing that his name is mentioned in the reply to Mr. Troy's questions as to the actual position in regard to this warder. On the receipt of the replies, we shall decide what further action can be taken.

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