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Friday, 12 December 1913

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - This is a very short Bill, but honorable senators ought to have been afforded a clear idea as to what it really means. A most dangerous principle sometimes gets into a measure through honorable senators accepting the assurance of a Minister, made in all good faith, that there is no harm in it, and that nothing but a formal alteration is to be made in an existing Act.

Senator Millen - Has not the honorable senator seen the memorandum which has been circulated, showing exactly what this Bill will do?

Senator RAE - No. I have not. Another point to which I wish to refer is this:If this measure lessens the harshness which sometimes results from the peculiar interpretations placed upon the existing Act, it will do good. I agree with the reduction of the period of detention which may be inflicted in any one year. Indeed, if the period were made less than thirty days, it would be an improvement. This is an appropriate time to mention the fact that there is a good deal of unnecessary friction in the working of the Defence Act. It may be a matter of gratification to the Governor-General and others, when reviewing cadets and citizen forces, to notice the manly bearing of the troops, and their correct method of going through evolutions. But it is a cause of regret to many of us, who desire to see our defences become a success, to learn of the unnecessary harshness that has been introduced into its administration. When a complaint is made, the only sympathy one gets is to be told by some flippant officer, who probably never had to face any harshness in his life, that it is a good thing for the lads that they should be treated in this way, because it teaches them what they will have to endure in actual warfare. I have in mind several instances that have come under my personal notice, wherein a great deal pf harshness in the administration of the law has been displayed. Sometimes positive injustice and cruelty have been perpetrated. Much has recently been heard about the military encampment at Liverpool. I was assured by some who have- inside knowledge of what has gone on, that nearly all the trouble which arose occurred through the unnecessary harshness of the officer in charge, the man at the head of affairs. I find that in very many cases there is a tendency on the part of imported men to apply ideas of discipline which are modelled on those applicable to the standing armies of Great Britain and Europe. This breeds a spirit of discontent, which, in my opinion, will tend to militate against the success of our defence system, and may, indeed, lead to its breakdown. If this Bill will go any distance towards mitigating that state of things, I welcome it. No matter how perfect the Act may be, if we have unsympathetic, stupid officers in charge - pompous, overbearing, and arbitrary men, who deliberately try to inflict unnecessary hardship on the cadets in the name of discipline - there will be trouble.

Senator McGregor - No Act of Parliament could avoid that.

Senator RAE - No, but criticism in Parliament is useful in calling attention to it. I trust that the Minister of Defence, and every man who occupies his position in the future, will not delay in getting rid of those who utilize their positions in that way. I am very much afraid that the tendency of the present Administration is to go in for more and more of the imported military official, the " English Johnny " sort of man. I hope that my suspicions are ill-founded, but I have a strong suspicion that the tendency of the Government is to increase the number of British officers employed in the service. It is, in my opinion, all fudge and nonsense to say that we must have a large number of these officers in order to provide the necessary training. The various volunteer systems in force for several years in the States were largely organized and conducted by imported military men, and there should be a sufficient number of capable men trained under those systems to give us all the help we need in inaugurating the new system in the Commonwealth. I think that too much reliance is placed on the supposed perfect knowledge and ability of the imported British officer. I hope that the Government, instead of increasing their number, will go in for giving Australians a chance which they have not hitherto had to the extent they should have had, and will not allow themselves to be influenced by the fetish and silly superstition that we can only get a man with brains by sending to England for him.

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