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Thursday, 5 October 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) (Minister for Defence) . - I do think,, with all respect to Senator Chataway, that' he has not been well advised in bringing; forward this motion. I accept his assurance that he has no desire to make defence, a party question. But, while accepting that assurance, I say that, in my opinion, he| has been extremely ill-advised in givingto the leaflets to which he has referred a., prominence and importance that I am sure nobody outside Parliament, and very fewinside, would think of. giving them. There are many people in Australia who have' never heard of these leaflets before, but who will hear of. them now by reason of" this motion for the adjournment of the Senate. We have to remember that the compulsory training law affects a very largenumber of the youth of this country.. Nearly 150,000 youths registered under thelaw, without a solitary prosecution. . That, number exceeded the estimate. of the Department - based -on returns furnished bythe statistical bureau - a fact which should* bring home to all. of. us that. there is art overwhelming mass of public opinion behind the law. It should also assure us how freely, ungrudgingly, and splendidly, the people, and especially the youths, of Australia have responded to the obligations imposed by Parliament. It is obvious, however, that, no matter what law is passed, a minority will always be opposed to it. In this case there is a minority - undoubtedly a small one - who are opposed to compulsory training. It is a well-known fact that all minorities who hold strong opinions are inclined to be vehement in the expression of them. The smaller the minority, the noisier it is often disposed to be, in order to direct attention to its particular set of opinions. The more hopeless their case, the more extreme are the measures such people take to attract attention to themselves. I have dealt with the registration. The fact that I mentioned related to what occurred some months back. Since then the law has been put in force. While it may be said that many of the lads registered not knowing all the obligations that they would be called upon to take upon themselves, it is also a fact that since the law has been put into operation - that is, since the 1st July - singularly few prosecutions were necessary in order to keep the youths up to the duties imposed by law. To-day, nearly 90,000 cadets are registered. They are called upon to sacrifice a certain amount of time, and to undergo certain obligations which were never imposed upon them before. When we remember the love of Australian youths for outdoor sports, this fact bears remarkable testimony to the way in which the Act has been cordially indorsed by the people. We have no reason whatever to believe that the puny efforts which have been made to defeat the law are having the slightest effect. These leaflets were distributed months ago. But I say - and say advisedly - that they have had no more effect upon the carrying out of the law than the proverbial fly has on a wheel.

Senator Chataway - I spoke about a newspaper.

Senator PEARCE - The Government are quite prepared, if circumstances show it to be necessary and advisable, to take action to prevent the law being thwarted, and. also to deal with those who incite to disobedience. We are quite prepared to do that. As regards the use of the Post Office for the circulation of literature of this character, it is my intention to bring the subject under the notice of the Post- master-General and to askhim to see that the Post Office is not. used for such a purpose. With regard' to Senator Chataway's other proposition, that we should prosecute these people, I say that if circumstances show such a course to be necessary this Government will not hesitate to take it. But. since this question has been raised, I ask honorable senators to put to themselves the question - would it have been wise for us to take such action ? We know that this is not a new question in the history of the British people. History shows us that the British race have been remarkable for the amount of personal liberty that their Government has allowed, especially to those who were in a minority in respect to their opinions. It has been the practice of the British Government, as it has been the practice of Australian Governments, to give considerable latitude to those who were in a hopeless minority, and who were struggling to put their opinions before the people. I venture to say that in this very city, on any Sunday afternoon, you can go down to the Yarra Bank and hear doctrines preached by one or two individuals that are wholly subversive of the laws of State and Commonwealth. Yet those doctrines are there preached in the hearing of policemen. I ask honorable senators who know that that kind of thing has been going on for twenty years - has it had any effect? Has it incited the people of this State to be law-breakers or to defy the law ? We know that it has had no more effect upon public opinion than water has on a duck's back. But if you were to arrest any of those men the mere fact of the arrest would at once appeal to the sympathies of many people who would pay no heed to the doctrines preached. Prosecution would make martyrs of them and would give them a case where to-day they have none. One of the grandest features of British government, I am proud to say, is that itcan afford, and has afforded, to treat that kind of thing with contemptuous indifference. The very thing that has killed such incitations to break the law has been that very contemptuous indifference. I have said that we are faced with a similar situation in regard to almost every law that imposes obligations upon the people. There are other people than the International Socialists who have broken the law in this respect. Only this week in Queensland, the Rev. Mr. Garland, dealing with the regulation which calls upon the cadets to go into camp at Eastertime, said that if an attempt were made toput the regulation into force -if the Government did not withdrawit - he and others would feel that it wastheir duty to ask the cadets not to go into camp and the parents not to permit them to do so.

Senator Chataway - When people do that kind of thing they ought to be prosecuted.

Senator PEARCE - That gentleman would be greatly astonished if he were told that he was a law-breaker, and that he was guilty of treason. Does Senator Chataway suggest that the Government should at once rush in and prosecute him ?

Senator Chataway - No. But when he does what he threatens to do the Government should prosecute him.

Senator PEARCE - As a matter of fact the reverend gentleman was barking up the wrong tree, because there is no such regulation in existence. But I wish now to give honorable senators an illustration of what happens elsewhere. Quite recently titled legislators in Great Britain have declared at public meetings that if the British Parliament carries a measure conferring Home Rule upon Ireland, they will advise the people of the north of Ireland to resist it by force of arms. Did the British Government arrest these gentlemen for treason ?

Senator Chataway - Wait till they do what they threaten.

Senator PEARCE - I would point out to Senator Chataway that the persons whom he condemns have not yet done anything. They have merely talked and written just as have the titled individuals to whom I refer. The worst thing the British Government could do would be to call upon these individuals to face a charge of treason. In many cases persons do these things in the hope that ihe Government will take action, and in my judgment it would have been wiser for Senator Chataway, and those associated with him in this motion, to have treated the authors of the pernicious literature to which reference has been made with contemptuous indifference. We can afford to treat them in that way, because their statements have not the slightest effect upon the success of our defence scheme. I would also point out that the prosecutions which Senator Chataway cited were not instituted for breaches of the law as the result of this class of literature, because, in the case at Rockhampton which was mentioned by him, the lad had complied with the law by enrolment. But his conduct on the parade ground was bad.

Senator Chataway - He was guilty ' of jeering at his officer.

Senator PEARCE - The worst thing: which the Government could do at the present juncture would be to make martyrs of these persons. Nothing would please the originators of the leaflet to which Senator Chataway referred, more than would any action on our part which would place themon the pedestal of martyrdom. They are not worth it. At the same time, if circumstances show that action is necessary toenforce the law, we shall not hesitate totake it. The Government certainly cannot be accused of having exhibited any lack" of courage. They have demonstrated that in connexion with this very law.' Past Governments have merely talked about it, but the present Government put it intoforce. We are prepared to take whatever action may be necessary to make it a success. I exceedingly regret that Senator Chataway has given such undue prominence to the authors of this pernicious literature by directing attention to it from his place in this Chamber. In my opinion, he would have been better advised had he not done so.

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