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Wednesday, 23 November 1910

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I was very much astonished to hear the speech delivered by the VicePresident of the Executive Council. Listening to him, one would think that the whole intention of the Government in opposing the amendment which was carried in another place was to conserve the interests of the poorer people of this country. Yet I stand up here deliberately, and say that, while that amendment, if adopted, would assist the sons of poor men, the new proposal submitted by the Government would have exactly the opposite effect. Let us view the position calmly, with the desire to do what is best in the interests of the Defence forces. Under the Bill as it stands, the age limit for admission to the Military College is nineteen years. I ask honorable senators to make a mental survey of the educational position of the vast majority of the sons of working men in the Commonwealth. How many of them have ah opportunity before they are nineteen years of age to qualify to pass the examination necessary to secure their admission to the Military College? There is only a very small number who are in that position, and the great majority of our students at the Military College, unless some latitude is allowed, will be grammar school lads, the sons of rich and middleclass parents, who are in a position to give their children a secondary education, to meet the expense of keeping them at a grammar school or of hiring tutors for them,, and equipping them in every way to pass the examination. These are the young men who, under the Bill as introduced, will become officers in the Permanent Forces. If the amendment carried in another place were adopted any young man' who had entered the Forces might, up to the age of twenty-seven years, qualify himself to pass the examination, and- so gain admission to the College. He would have the educational advantage, and, in addition, the advantage of experience' in the Forces, and would Be doubly armed for the defence of the country. Such a proposal would permit ambitious young men to proceed further with their study, and . qualify themselves to take leading positions in the Permanent Forces. So far as I have been able to gather the opinion of the people of Australia in connexion with this matter, it is that positions of command in the Forces should be as open as such positions can be made to everybody. This Bill does not provide for that. The Government may say that the clause under consideration merely applies to officers of the Permanent Forces, and that in time of war. the generals of our army may be citizen officers. My humble opinion is that the professional is always better than the amateur. Even in politics the professional politician, much as he has been maligned and criticised, is more effective than is the amateur.

Senator Millen - He survives, anyhow.

Senator STEWART - He does, and that is the. greatest test of his effectiveness.

One cannot imagine an amateur figuring effectively in any profession. To be an adept in any occupation or profession a man must devote his whole time to it. He must become a specialist. To imagine for a moment that our army whilst fighting the enemy would, be officered by amateur officers, by men who in their spare time played a little at soldiering, is unthinkable to me. The Army will, I believe, be officered by men of the Permanent Forces, that is to say, the best officers available will be placed in the positions of command. If the proposal which the Government now seek to graft on to the Bill is adopted, the officering of our army will be almost wholly in the hands of people of the middle and upper classes, and the sons of working men will be debarred from holding any position of responsibility in it. That portion of the amendment proposed by the Government which provides for the recommendation of the Governor-General in Council is most odious. It seems to me that it is bringing us back to the old era of patronage. Wherever you have patronage you have corruption, wherever you have corruption you have inefficiency, and wherever you have inefficiency you have danger.

Senator Long - And wherever you have danger you have Senator Stewart.

Senator STEWART - I am trying to net the part of watch-dog' at the present moment. Perhaps the honorable senator does not agree with me, but I hope he does. I have tried to appeal to his strong common sense as forcibly as I could, and if I have not been successful that is my misfortune. This appears to me to be one of the most odious proposals that has ever been submitted in the Senate. It is a compromise between the Bill as it stands, and the amendment agreed to in another place. We are all aware that the military authorities raised a storm of opposition to the amendment which was inserted in the Bill by another place. We know, too, that the Minister of Defence is very largely influenced by his military advisers, and that the Government are necessarily in his hands in regard to defence matters. The proposal of the VicePresident of the Executive Council represents a compromise which has been decided upon with a view to saving the face of the Government, and of preventing the feelings of the rebellious portion of the Labour party in another place from being outraged. Like a great many other compromises it is exceedingly unsatisfactory. It is ten times worse than is either of the other proposals. Take the position of any ambitious and capable young man. At nineteen years of age he may say, " I feel that though I am not able to pass the examination for admission to the Military College now, I shall be able to pass it by the time I am. twenty-one years of age."

Senator Long - Every year would make it more difficult for him to pass it.

Senator STEWART - Probably the honorable senator's intellect has ceased ex- panding, but if he has dived into the history of" the prominent men in literature, art, and science, he must know that their intellects have continued to grow almost to the last hours of their lives.

Senator Long - But the intellects of those men who are ahead of the candidates who cannot pass the examination at nineteen years of age will also be growing.

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