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Friday, 12 December 1913

Senator MILLEN (New South WalesMinister of Defence) . - Upon the whole, I appreciate the tone of the debate which has taken place on this Bill, and I am impressed with at least one of the suggestions that has been made. I would like to refer to one or two observations by honorable senators, taking them in the order in which they were made. Senator Pearce has suggested the desirableness of appointing special magistrates to deal with defaulters under the universal training regulation's. I shall cer tainly give consideration to that suggestion. I may say that my own thoughts were running along lines not quite parallel, but leading in the same direction. It appears to me that a good deal of the trouble experienced under our compulsory training system is due, not so much to the magistrates as to the different officers who are charged with launching the prosecutions. What I had in my mind was not to attempt an alteration in respect of the magistrates, but to see if it were not possible to appoint in each State an officer whose special business it would be to deal with prosecutions.

Senator Guthrie - We have the Area Officers now.

Senator MILLEN - But the Area Officers vary as much as do the individual magistrates.

Senator Rae - Will not the special officer vary, too ?

Senator MILLEN - I do not wish it to be understood that I have finally committed myself to that course. It is true that the Area Officers vary, but the duty of the special officer which I had in my mind would be to instruct the Area Officers, and to supervise prosecutions before they were launched. Such a system would, at any rate, bring about uniformity. Unnecessary prosecutions would be eliminated, and in other cases a postponement might be granted, and an intimation made to the Court as to the sense of gravity with which the Department viewed those cases. I shall consider side by side with that the suggestion which has been made by Senator Pearce.

Senators Rae and Blakey each used a phrase which I think fell from their lips without any idea that it might be construed by those reading it in a different way from that which they intended. Senator Rae said that " harshness is now being introduced into the administration " of our compulsory training system, and Senator Blakey spoke of " the pinpricks which now exist." I do not suppose that either honorable senator intended to suggest that something was being done which was not being done previously.

Senator Rae - I should have said that it has been in existence all the time.

Senator MILLEN - I took the phrase down as Senator Rae uttered it, and it did seem to me that he intended to convey that harshness was now being introduced into bur administration. So far as

I am concerned, there has been no alteration in the system of universal training since my advent to the Defence Department. But when a large staff is created upon which serious responsibilities are thrown, it is inevitable that there will be occasional acts of indiscretion. Upon the whole, we may congratulate ourselves that those acts have been so few. Having said that, I do not wish the Senate to assume that we have reached finality. In my judgment, we shall never reach it. Experience will gradually suggest where we can remove some little weakness, and provide for some little improvement. It will be the duty of the Minister of Defence for the time being to be continually looking round with a view to seeing if he cannot eliminate friction from our compulsory training system, the success of which must rest on the goodwill of the people themselves. I do think that those who are friends, of that system should be very slow to accept as substantiated either press statements or statements which emanate from the few discontented lads in any unit. I do not mean to say that officers never do wrong. But it is strong presumptive evidence that the system is working well when we find that, out of 500 boys who are being trained under one officer, 495 are contented, and make no complaints, whilst the other five are discontented, and full of complaints.

Senator Guthrie - It is' the other fellows who have the pluck.

Senator MILLEN - It may not be pluck. It may be crankiness. .

Senator Pearce - If Senator Guthrie saw some of them, he would not say that.

Senator MILLEN - I was about to make almost the same remark. The greatest cure for those who are inclined to champion the cause of these defaulters would be to attend one- of the Courts when a batch of them is being presented.

Senator Guthrie - I have been there.

Senator MILLEN - I propose to refer to one case for the purpose of showing how a newspaper report is apparently accepted, even by a gentleman who professes to be a friend of the compulsory training system. Senator Blakey referred to a case of hardship at Ballarat, where the boys were required to march a distance of 14 miles.

Senator Pearce - They were all over eighteen years of age.

Senator MILLEN - Yes; and the individual who led them was a little boy who, if he had not been in uniform, would have been in knickerbockers. The fact that that little lad could lead t» column without experiencing any discomfort is fair evidence that no hardship was inflicted upon them. In regard to the same camp, I wish now to deal with another statement by Senator Blakey to the effect that a military officer went into the town and kidnapped a defaulter. The information which comes to me is that there was a defaulter following the occupation of a billiard-marker in a saloon in Ballarat. He was required by the Court, and a policeman was sent to take him; but the officer who went with him went, not to act as arresting officer, but to identify the lad. It is easy to see that the journalists - they are after sensational copy, and that is why they occasionally come here - immediately listened to the grievance of the proprietor of the saloon, or the lad, or the lad's father. But there was nothing to complain of. The real point to be borne in mind is that the cadet was a defaulter. The fact that a military officer went to the billiard saloon with a policeman to identify the lad is no evidence, I venture to say, of harshness.

Senator Findley - In what newspaper did that statement appear?

Senator MILLEN - I saw the statement in the Melbourne newspapers, and Senator Blakey quoted it just now.

Senator Findley - Was it the Age or the Argus?

Senator MILLEN - I remember reading the statement in the Melbourne newspapers at the time, and I immediately asked for a report on that, as I do on all similar statements in the press.

Senator Findley - I am surprised at the statement appearing in the Age.

Senator MILLEN - I ask friends of the system to recognise how easy it is for statements of this kind - idle chatter, as much of it is - to find publication through the press. It is, perhaps, the duty of the press to publish these statements, but it is not the duty of the friends of the compulsory training to accept them as evidence, or worthy of repetition, until some inquiry has been made. I do not wish the impression to go abroad that I am closing my eyes to the possibility of defects in the system; I am not. Whenever anything appears in a newspaper that suggests improper conduct, the first and regular step is to call for an inquiry. I am doing that now in regard to the matter to which Senator McDougall has referred - the camp at Liverpool. I think that before it is all over I shall be able to make a public statement, which, at any rate, will not be designed to cloak anybody, if anybody hascommitted a wrong. But my statement that half-a-dozen were at fault had reference, as the honorable senator may possibly recollect, to the alleged revolt at the bridge.

Senator McDougall - But he punished the whole camp.

Senator MILLEN - I do not say whose fault it is. I am not saying whether the officer is in fault or not. Until I get further information, I prefer not to express an opinion; but, to prevent a misapprehension, I wish to explain that my reference to half-a-dozen being at fault - it was only a figurative reference - related to that much exaggerated riot at the bridge at Liverpool.

Senator McDougall - It was not fair to punish the whole camp.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee :

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 -

Section one hundred and thirty-five of the principal Act is amended -

(a)   by inserting in sub-section (5.), after the words this section ", the words " or either of the next two succeeding sections " ;

(b)   by inserting in sub-section (6.), after the words " and that ", the words ", in the case of a person committed to custody for an offence against sub-section (1.) of this section,";

(c)   by inserting in sub-section (7.), after the words " this section ", the words " or either of the next two succeeding sections " ; and

(d)   by omitting sub-sections (8.) to (10.) in clusive.

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