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Friday, 18 December 1914

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I am sorry I cannot fall into line with the Minister in this matter. We are asked to take a distinctly retrograde step. This is a proposal for times of peace, and it is only in times of peace that it ought to be considered. In a time of war other conditions prevail. We must guard in this country against, not only the creation of a caste with military privileges, but even the suspicion that an effort is being made to create it. I suggest that this is such an effort. I see no reason why a clerk who, in ordiary times of peace keeps his ledger or records in. the Defence Department, should not give hia afternoons for training in the same way as a clerk in private employment. The Minister says inconvenience is caused, but it is caused also in every private factory in the country. There is always power to exempt on special occasions, and we certainly should not grant to these lads a privilege not enjoyed by their fellows in private employ.

Senator Pearce - It is not done for their convenience, but the convenience of the Defence Department, which is in a very different position from private employers.

Senator MILLEN - In a time of war a different set of conditions obtains, but the Minister himself said that the amendment was to operate in times of peace.

What inconvenience is caused to the Department in times of peace by one of its junior clerks having to do his drill on Saturday afternoons the same as others?

Senator Pearce - He may not be a junior clerk.

Senator MILLEN - Whatever his age, it corresponds with that of the man in a similar position outside who is doing his duty. When the Defence Department ask everybody to fall into line and sympathetically support the compulsory training movement, they should' not say " All you people in private employment must do your duty, but those employed by us are to be exempt from these extra departmental duties." Physical improvement has always been urged as one of the chief advantages of universal training, and if there is anything in that argument these boys in the Defence Department should not be deprived of it. The Minister referred to the anomalies that might be caused if some one in the Department was junior to another to whom in the camp he became senior, but yesterday the Senate unanimously applauded Senator Keating's statement that, in one tent in a military camp, a number of privates were under the direction of a sergeant who, in private life, had been shearing for two of them.

Senator Pearce - You do not quote me correctly. I said he might be junior to himself.

Senator MILLEN - These things are inevitably associated with a Citizen Army.

Senator Pearce - I referred to a man holding an honorary rank* in the Department becoming a corporal or private in the Citizen Forces.

Senator MILLEN - I see no difficulty about that, beyond consideration for the man's dignity. If citizens who to-day are in the position of employers feel no loss of dignity when to-morrow they go into camp and place themselves under the orders of one whom they previously directed, I see no reason why clerks in the Defence Department should be allowed to stand on any different footing.

Senator Pearce - If that were all there is in the amendment it would never have been brought forward.

Senator MILLEN - Still, the Minister has put that forward as one of the reasons for the amendment. The matter was pressed upon my attention when I was in the Department. There was some evi- deuce that many of the departmental officers wanted to escape the obligation which the young men of the country generally are compelled to fulfil.

Senator Pearce - I do not think that that is quite fair. It was not put to me by the civil officers, but by the military officers.

Senator MILLEN - Never mind who put it forward, we shall discuss it on this basis. I ask the Committee to consider whether it is fair that these lads who, because of the positions they occupy and their hours of work, are envied by many outside, should be exempt in times of peace from a liability which we have decreed shall fall generally upon the young men of this country. I see no reason for this exemption. It has a very unsavoury aspect, inasmuch as it must create an impression outside that those who are fortunate enough to be employed in the Defence Department will enjoy privileges which are denied to others. If we are going to have a compulsory system, let us have it. If at any time the calling out of these young men for training would be inconvenient to the Department, the Minister has ample power under the existing Act to exempt them from training, as he frequently does in the case of those in private employ. I am sorry that the measure should have been brought forward at this period of the session, because I feel that it is now impossible for the matter to be as fully considered as its importance deserves.

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