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Thursday, 7 December 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I do not know whether, if the Minister had not spoken, I would have supported my leader in this matter. Of the two cases in which the death sentence can be inflicted, I think that the offence of treason is altogether too vague and indefinite. We ought not to lightly allow any citizen to pay the last penalty without making the fullest investigation into the case. This is, I think, a matter which might possibly be better left to the Parliament than to the Executive. Ministers are so closely engaged in reading and signing papers that they really have not time to go into the evidence in these cases. In these circumstances, they are more inclined, I think, to take the view of the court martial than to dip into the evidence. Parliament is qualified to conduct an inquiry by reason of the diverse views which are held by its members. An alert Opposition, for instance, might bring out some points which would be favorable to a condemned person which otherwise would not be elicited by an overworked Ministry.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - No Executive Council ever allows a sentence of death to be carried out without giving the matter the most painstaking and careful consideration, sometimes day after day.

Senator Rae - In New South Wales there have been some pretty savage executions, of which we ought to be well ashamed.

Senator GARDINER - I agree with the view which has been expressed by Senator Gould. I think that we can safely assume that the members of every previous Government gave careful consideration to every case which came under their notice. But I believe that we have arrived at an age when this barbarous method of punishment is altogether out of touch with the community. I recognise with the Minister, however, that this is not the measure in which to deal with the question of its abolition. To my mind, one of the offences which the Minister mentioned does not justify the infliction of this awful penalty. Many things may constitute treason.

Senator Pearce - Treason, under the Naval Discipline Act, refers to treason in the face, of the enemy, and not a refusal to take off one's hat when " God save the King " is played.

Senator GARDINER - To my mind, it is one of those things which we ought to handle with particular care. A hundred things may happen in the face of the enemy which may look like treason. A humane soldier might let somebody off instead of doing what he ought to do, and that is butchering him at once ; and the person let off may secure an advantage by the humane act of the other man. The duty of a sentry is to shoot immediately a man who does not answer his challenge. Suppose that, out of humane consideration, a sentry refrains from so acting, and a person is let off, it may be concluded by those iri charge that he has really given a position away. All that may look like treason.

Senator Mcgregor - That would not be treason, but only silliness.

Senator GARDINER - The verdict against the sentry might be that he had given up a position, and it would look like treason in the face of the enemy.

Senator Guthrie - Nelson was guilty of treason when he put the glass to his blind eye.

Senator GARDINER - Senator Guthriehas reminded me of a most remarkable case where an officer refused to obey his commanding officer through putting the glass to his blind eye.

Senator Pearce - Under the Naval Discipline Act, that would not be treason, because it has to be proved that the man acted from cowardice. Nelson did not act from cowardice, but in a spirit of bravery and courage.

Senator GARDINER - I can see that if I proceed on these lines I shall open up a long debate. 1 merely rose to justify any position which my leader, Senator Rae, may have taken up in this matter.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

Motion (by Senator Mcgregor) proposed - .

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Bill being passed through its remaining stages without delay.

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