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Friday, 16 August 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I venture to say that the statement just made by the Minister of Defence confirms the suspicion which induced me to object to this clause when I saw it.

Hisstatement of the facts is abundantly clear. They are these : A number of officers have passed an examination which, at the time they passed it, was what the law required. They had qualified themselves for promotion. The Minister proceeded to promote some of them to higher positions. But one of them, who had qualified and applied for promotion, has been held down until another officer is given, not one, but three, opportunities of qualifying, to enable him to come into competition with the gentleman who is denied the promotion which has been given to other officers similarly situated.

Senator Pearce - That is not quite correct.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister has said already that these are the facts. He has admitted that there is this competition of two officers for a vacant position.

Senator Pearce - This position has arisen within the last three months.

Senator MILLEN - It is more than three months since the position arose, and correspondence took place. Speaking from memory, it is a great deal more than that since I first heard of the matter in Sydney. But that is not material.

Senator Pearce - It is not more than three months since I heard of it.

Senator MILLEN - The position now is this : The Minister proposes to give, if not a fourth, at any rate a third, chance to an officer to pass an examination which he has failed to pass before, whilst another officer, who has qualified for promotion, is kept waiting and held back. Am I not justified in assuming that there has been some special influence or favouritism in this case? A number of appointments have been made under exactly similar circumstances. The officers so treated are now in possession of higher positions. Does the Minister propose to say to them that they shall vacate their positions and stand down, in order that other officers, who have passed later examinations, shall come into competition with them ?

Senator Pearce - The position of the other officers is different. We have only recently discovered that these appointments are illegal. They will be validated by this amendment of the law.

Senator MILLEN - Similarly, the Department ought to validate the position of an officer who, having qualified, has been waiting for promotion, and who apparently has only been kept .back by influences which I have suggested.

Senator Gardiner - Will the Military Board take that into consideration?

Senator MILLEN - The Military Board may be guided by the influences to which I have referred. Here is a gentleman who is qualified for a position under an examination, which is now being legalized, and who was a candidate for a higher position. Another applicant, who failed to qualify, wants the qualified man to be held back in order to give him a further chance of qualifying for the position.

Senator Pearce - What influences does the honorable senator suggest have been brought to bear upon me?

Senator MILLEN - I do not suggest that the Minister himself has been subjected to influences, but I do say that those who made the reports to him may have been; and I ask the Minister for a reasonable explanation as to why this particular officer, who is highly qualified for a position and has every claim to it, should not get it?

Senator Pearce - The reason is that when it was proposed to appoint the officer to whom Senator Millen refers, the other officer put in his claim, and raised the question of whether we could legally appoint the other officer, because he had not passed his examination in conformity with the Act. Immediately I received that objection, I referred it to the Crown Solicitor, and he said that the point was correct. I should -have appointed the officer, as othershave been appointed, except for* that opinion.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister can legalize the appointment now. If, to get over the difficulty, he will make the appointment at once, he will place this office! in the same position as others who are already in positions obtained in exactly the same way.

Senator Pearce - Does not the honorable senator see the difficulty ? In the other cases I believed that I was acting within the law. Now I see that I was acting outside the law.

Senator MILLEN - I put this position' - that in view of the circumstances theofficer to whom I am referring is as much entitled to his promotion as were other officers who had precisely the same qualifications and whose promotion is now being validated. If it is a fair and right thing, why should not this Bill take the legal power which is necessary to extend a measure of justice to that officer?

Senator Pearce - I think that the twoof them should be put on an equal footing.

Senator MILLEN - The same opportunity should be extended to other men.

Senator Pearce - So it will.

Senator MILLEN - .Is the Minister going to put the men out of their offices?

Senator Pearce - No; there are three cases.

Senator MILLEN - I am speaking of men who were fortunate enough to get their appointments prior to the discovery of this defect in the law. They ought to be put on an equal footing with the man who qualified a month ago.

Senator Pearce - In many cases there was no competition for the appointments.

Senator MILLEN - I have not the slightest doubt that there are men who will say that if the Minister will treat them in the same way as he is treating this particular officer, and give them a chance to qualify, they will start to do so. All that I ask for is absolute fairness to an officer who has qualified, and who, but for the discovery of a defect in the law, would have received an appointment. Why should he be penalized1 when other officers, who are no more highly qualified than he is, are not interfered with ? Why should this special and tender consideration be shown to an officer who has twice failed to pass the examination ? It is carrying favoritism to one man to such an extent that it represents a gross hardship to the other officer who is concerned.

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