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Wednesday, 10 June 1914

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) (Minister of Defence) . - I move -

That thu Senate do now adjourn.

In submitting the motion, I take the opportunity to go more fully than I could have done in answering a question into the matter upon which information was sought by Senator Rae. The honorable senator referred to the case of a cadet named Roberts, at present undergoing detention at Queenscliff. I wish to give honorable senators all tho facts of the case, as they were reported to me. This lad was, as Senator Rae has stated, committed by the civil authorities for twentyone days' detention for failure to render the -services required by the Defence Act. There was some representation made that this boy's health was such as to render it undesirable that he should undergo the drill. When that representation was made to me I gave special instructions that every precaution should be taken in the way of a medical examination to see whether there was the slightest justification for that plea. The boy was examined by the principal medical officer here, Colonel Ryan, who distinctly stated that in his opinion Roberts was fit to serve, but, to make sure, he recommended the postponement of his going into detention for three weeks. The boy went into detention, and the report from there is that he is a strong, healthy boy. When there, he refused to do any drill or to render any service, although ho was offered the choice, usually offered in such cases, of non-combatant duties - physical drill, flag signalling, and other duties of that kind. The boy refused for reasons which, as Senator Rae has indicated, are conscientious ones. When the question is put to me as to whether I am prepared to do anything in the case, I wish, first of all, to assure honorable senators that it is not a pleasure to me in a Ministerial position -to insist upon the carrying out of a law which has disagreeable consequences to certain individuals.

Senator Gardiner - Does the honorable senator think solitary confinement harsh?

Senator MILLEN - Of course I do. I think that any punishment is harsh. But I put it to honorable senators to say whether, if Parliament wants the law relaxed to ease up the obligations upon a lad physically able to perform the duties required of. him, it is not for Parliament itself, rather than for me, to say what the relaxation shall be?

Senator Mullan - Is it a fact that this lad is subjected to solitary confinement ?

Senator MILLEN - Yes, he is there now. For refusing to do his drill, he was given, as was done in many cases during my predecessor's time, seven days' solitary confinement. That may seem harsh, but it seems to me to be necessary unless we are going to make some special provision for exempting those who object to drill on conscientious grounds. There must be some provision to meet a difficulty of this kind. Quite recently some seventy-nine boys ' were at Queenscliff. One of them refused to do any drill. He was allowed for a day or two, until some decision in his case could be arrived at, to wander aimlessly about avoiding the drill, which the other seventy-eight boys had to do. But seventy-eight young Australians are not slow to size up a position like that. When they saw that one boy could go on strike with impunity, it would not be long before the whole seventy-eight had intimated that they also were prepared to make a picnic of it. The position at Queenscliff then became serious. When it was pointed out to the boys that very unpleasant consequences would follow if they did not immediately do their drill, there was no further trouble with regard to the seventy-eight. I want honorable senators to acquit me, at any rate, of being unnecessarily harsh in the administration of the law. But I wish them also to ask themselves what they propose to do if they allow any boy to elect for himself whether he will obey the law or not ? That is the only alternative.

Senator Mullan - A punishment less severe than solitary confinement might be imposed.

Senator MILLEN - I make the same offer to Senator Mullan as I have already made to deputations from the Society of Friends, and other similar bodies, I have- said that I shall receive most sympathetically a ny suggestion they can make, by means of which we can ease up in the case of conscientious objectors, which does not at the same time open the door so widely to fraud as to break down the Act altogether.

Senator Mullan - Solitary confinement is very severe. Some less severe punishment should be sufficient.

Senator MILLEN - It is all very well for Senator Mullan and others to say that this punishment is harsh.

Senator Rae - It is more than harsh; it is barbarous and atrocious.

Senator Russell - We should know what this solitary confinement is.

Senator MILLEN - The lad is put into a cell which is by no means a dungeon, and is given a ration which, I submit, in the circumstances, is an extremely liberal one. I am not finding fault with the ration prescribed by my predecessor, but I made it a little more liberal than it was in his time.

Senator McGregor - What time is allowed for exercise ?

Senator MILLEN - Twice a day for a certain period.

Senator Henderson - Is the lad allowed to speak to anybody ?

Senator MILLEN - Not, of course, when he is detained in the cell.

Senator Rae - It is simply atrocious. It is enough to drive one mad to be kept in solitary confinement for long.

Senator Stewart - Is the cell a dark one!

Senator MILLEN - No. When honorable senators are pointing out defects in the administration of the law, I want them to show me a practicable alternative. When you have 999 boys honestly discharging their duty to the country, and one who chooses to defy the law, I wish honorable senators to see that the problem before them is whether they can ease up with the one boy without offering an open invitation and premium to the others to shirk their duties.

Senator Russell - I do not think that any of us knows what solitary confinement is, and. the Minister might explain it.

Senator MILLEN - That is Senator Russell's good luck. Like the honorable senator, I have managed, fortunately, to keep out of such a place so far, and cannot speak from actual experience, but

I am assured that these cells are airy and well lighted.

Senator Keating - The detention at Queenscliff is totally different from prison detention.

Senator MILLEN - I know that the cells are not such as the cells in ordinary criminal gaols. I should have very great pleasure in providing all the facilities possible to enable Senator Russell, by personal experience, to understand what the conditions are.

Senator Rae - Would not the honorable senator like to afford the same facilities to twenty-eight of us?

Senator MILLEN - No, because I should then be left without a quorum.

Senator Henderson - All that is done is to see that the cadet speaks to no one but the man who has charge of him.

Senator MILLEN - Except when he is allowed out, which is twice a day. I wish honorable senators to recognise the difficulty with which I am confronted. It is all very well for a boy to say that he is a conscientious objector to drill. I respect every man's conscience as I like others to respect mine. But we have a law which places a universal obligation on the young people of this country. It is obvious that we cannot take anybody's mere declaration of objection, or otherwise the whole Act must break down.

Senator Pearce - And we should get back to the voluntary system.

Senator MILLEN - Exactly. I have thrown out the invitation to representatives of the Society of Friends, Seventh Day Adventists, and others on more than one occasion to bring before me a practical provision which will enable me to meet their objections without, at the same time, opening the door to fraud, and said that, if they did so, I should be prepared to take the responsibility of. submitting it to Parliament, and consulting Parliament about it. They have been candid enough to admit to me that they cannot suggest such a provision. Much as we may sympathize with them, I want the Senate to understand that unless an alternative can be suggested to the mere granting of exemptions in the case of those who decline to obey the law, we shall break down the whole system. I am sure that everybody is keenly anxious to see this law carried to a successful issue.

Senator Rae - Did the Minister of Defence ever hear anything of what the authorities attempted to do in New Zealand in similar circumstances?

Senator MILLEN - What they attempted to do in New Zealand was nothing, and they did it most successfully. I have it from one of the highest authorities there, that, although Parliament passed a law, that law is not being carried out, and the result is that the Dominion is drifting into a system which, as Senator Pearce has said, is very much of a voluntary system. If this Parliament desires a similar result to be brought about here, very well. But it is not right for the Commonwealth Parliament to pass a law, and then call upon the Minister to evade the consequences of it by granting exemptions. It has pained me more than once to know that these boys are placed in this position, and I shall appreciate any suggestion which will enable me, without violating the integrity of the Act, to meet such special cases.

Senator RAE(New South Wales) £4.26]. - The Minister of Defence has related some oi the facts concerning this matter, and has stated that he is in a difficulty in regard to it. I believe that, if we have a compulsory military system, we cannot allow conscientious objections to be merely a matter of statement. I am quite at one with those who urge that we cannot make exceptions in the case of persons who entertain religious objections any more than we can make exceptions in the case of persons whose conscientious objections are founded upon other grounds. But that does not free the Government, or any Government, from reproach if they allow the barbarous and mostly discarded punishment of solitary confinement to be inflicted - and inflicted in particular on a youth. I have had some gaol experience, and, therefore, I am not like my friend, Senator Russell.

Senator Russell - Perhaps the honorable senator was unlucky.

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