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Thursday, 5 October 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) - - The speech of the Minister of Defence affords ample justification for the action of Senator Chataway in bringing forward this motion. The Minister prefaced his remarks by a declaration which pleased everybody - a declaration which will be gratefully received by the entire community. But unfortunately he marred that portion of his speech by proceeding to draw parallels from history, which were tantamount to offering encouragement to those offenders, whose conduct is the subject of complaint, to repeat their offence.

Senator Rae - How?

Senator ST LEDGER - By pointing out how, time and again, certain persons of distinction, upon equally important questions, had incited the people to break the law, and by emphasizing that no notice had been taken of their action. In such circumstances, how can we understand the real attitude taken up by the Government? I wish to direct the Minister's attention to sub-section 3 cf section 75 of our Defence Act, which reads -

Any person who counsels or aids any person who has enlisted or who is liable to enlist in any part of the Defence Force not to perform any duty he is required by this Act to perform, shall be liable to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for any period not exceeding six months.

Either that section of the Act must become a dead letter, or any repetition of treasonable conduct must be punished. Youths have been fined for insubordination, and magistrates have already warned them that any repetition of the offence will be severely punished. The Minister's declaration, that any person may incite the youth of the country to insubordination without being liable to the penalty prescribed by the law for such conduct, may be destructive of all discipline in our Defence Force. What will be the effect of the Minister's speech? The conclusion which will be drawn from it is that, in the future, the authors of treasonable literature will be placed upon the same level as the orators on the Yarra Bank, and will escape the consequences of their treasonable conduct. The Minister went even further, and hinted that we may well condone such conduct, because illustrious and titled persons in Great Britain have made worse declarations in regard to Home Rule for Ireland. He was most unfortunate in his reference to Home Rule, seeing that the measure which will endow Ireland with the powers of selfgovernment is not yet Imperial law. But the acts which have been committed by the persons to whom Senator Chataway has directed attention, constitute a breach of the provisions of our Defence Act, which is the law of the land. When ; Home Rule becomes Imperial law, it will be the duty of the Imperial authorities to see that effect is given to it. That is the difference between the two cases. The Defence Act is the law of the land, and an incitement to break that law is being published by some persons. Because the offence is the first or the second one, because it comes from insignificant persons, that is no reason why the Minister should proceed, if not to wink at it, to palliate it, by a speech which, in parts, was dangerously weak. As the question of Home Rule for Ireland has been introduced, I will give an anecdote from history. At one time the granting of Home Rule was considered very near. Mr. Davitt asked Mr. Parnell what he was going to do with the land question. Mr. Parnell answered, " As soon as I get Home Rule, Mr. Davitt, the first thing I shall do for you if you go on with your settlement of the land question will be to clap you in gaol." But they were good friends all the time. Neither faced the issue because it had not arisen, nor did it arise in their time. But the issue is before us now with regard to this offence. I take it that the Senate will be generous enough to take what is right and proper from the Minister's speech, to dismiss from their minds that which, with all respect, I submit is improper, and demand that this kind of incitement shall not be allowed to continue.

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