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Friday, 16 April 1915

Senator LONG (Tasmania) . - In offering a few observations on the Ministerial document presented for our consideration, I shall endeavour to avail myself of the advice tendered by the VicePresident of the Executive Council last night, by being more moderate in my language. Prom my point of view, indeed, I may say from Australia's point of view, the Ministerial statement is entirely satisfactory, and constitutes a triumph of the defence and financial policies of the Labour party. Yesterday it was most refreshing to hear the Leader of the Opposition informing us for about the sixth time that it is the intention of his party to most cordially co-operate with the Government in the despatch of business during this session. In making that declaration, however, I think that he quite overestimated the powers of himself and his followers. The Government - although they are thankful for such an assurance - realize to the full that we have been sent here by an overwhelming majority of the electors of Australia with a definite mandate to give effect to the policy upon which we appealed to the country, and that either with or without the assistance of the Opposition, that mandate must be respected. Although there may be a good deal of quality in my honorable friends opposite, there are not sufficient of them to seriously obstruct the progress of business in this Chamber. One would have imagined that, at a period like the present, Senator Millen and his colleagues would have been inclined to be a little generous, and to give the Government that credit which all right-thinking people recognise they have earned duringthe past six or eight months of strenuous work. We might have expected from them some eulogy of the magnificent work which has been accomplished by the Commonwealth Bank, and of the blessings which have flowed from our note issue. We might also have anticipated that they would have paid some tribute to the efforts of the Labour party during the past eight or nine years to perfect our Defence policy. Had that policy not been actively pursued by our party the Commonwealth would have cut a very inglorious figure in the great conflict which is now raging in Europe But, happily, we are able to say that our response to the call of the Empire has been quite as generous and effective as has that of any other component portion of it. I repeat that had it not been for the wisdom of the Labour party in promulgating and perfecting the naval and military schemes which are now in operation we would not have been able to play the worthy part that we are playing in this great and unprecedented cataclysm. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, when all the energies of the Minister of Defence and of his officials were concentrated upon equipping our Expeditionary Forces, we had nothing but carping criticism from the Leader of the Opposition in another place, who was ably supported in that criticism by Senator Millen in this Chamber. Both affirmed that the Government . were not doing their duty - that they were not sending sufficient men to the front - although they both knew perfectly well that the real trouble with which the Government were confronted was not that of finding the necessary men, but of furnishing the requisite equipment. Had these gentlemen not been aware of this difficulty there would have been some excuse for their criticism. But seeing that they had been fully taken into the confidence of the Government, their conduct was inexcusable, and anything butpatriotic. In any case, it is definitely laid down in the Ministerial statement which we are now considering that the unchangeable policy of the Government is to equip and transport to the seat of war every available man who is fit to help us in the task of defeating our enemies. When we consider the number of men who have already been despatched for service abroad, and the number who are now in training for such service, it will be conceded that we have every reason to be proud of the part Australia is playing, and that we have every right to honour those who have been responsible for bringing about these results under such trying and adverse conditions. There is no more ardent supporter of our defence scheme than myself. One of the ideals of the Labour party, when that scheme was contemplated, was that promotion should be a reward of a man, no matter what his social standing might be, provided that he had earned it, and that the class distinction and prejudice which characterized military life in the Old Country and other parts of the world should not find a place in Australia. But that ideal has not been realized, and to-day, unfortunately, we have in a measure as much class prejudice against the ranker here as there is in the Old Country. It is necessary in a time of crisis that promotion should be rapid, and, consequently, there must be a great many promotions; but urgent as the matter may be, the authorities ought to hesitate before any action is taken which would inflict an injustice upon good and effective members of the Defence Force who have served Australia very faithfully and capably for many years past. I know that in a very complicated system such as our defence scheme one cannot expect the Minister of Defence to give personal attention to every detail, but I do contend that when matters are brought under his notice by a member of the Senate or of the other House, he ought to take some action in the way of inquiry, and to right that which the honorable member making the representations to him believes to be an injustice. I regret to say that I have not found the Minister at all sympathetic in that respect. He is quite willing to delegate the responsiblity of making promotions to a Military Board here, and to a Military Board who, no doubt, carry out their duties to the best of their ability, but who, in my opinion, entertain a distinct prejudice against the ranker going up. Almost every day we have the spectacle of young lads who have had practically no experience being given commissions.

Senator Blakey - Do you advocate that the Minister ought to make all promotions ?

Senator Long - No.

Senator Blakey - Must he not delegate that power to somebody ?

Senator LONG - The Minister must delegate the power, but the ultimate responsibility, I think, rests with him, and I have pointed out how impossible it is for him to give attention to every little matter. I think that when representations are made to the Minister by a member of Parliament concerning what he believes to be a gross and flagrant injustice, the Minister should give the case some attention, and not dismiss or dispose of it in the stereotyped Ministerial way.

Senator Blakey - Do not forget that there are only twenty-four hours in the day, and that the Minister is a busy man.

Senator LONG - In Australia we have a number of men upon whom largely depends the successful development of out defence scheme. I refer to the staff non-commissioned and warrant officers - men who have given many years of loyal service to Australia, and who could worthily fill a position in the forces much higher than that which they occupy, but which, except in a few instances, they have not been able to obtain. Over and over again these members of the administrative and instructional staff have the humiliation of seeing young and inexperienced members of the Citizen Forces brought into concentration camps and placed in authority over men who have forgotten more than they are ever likely to know. In my mind's eye I have the case of a young man - enthusiastic, no doubt, and ambitious probably - who was sent down to the concentration camp at Claremont, near Hobart, and instructed by the non-commissioned officers. Two staff officers sat as a Board of Examiners, and examined the aspirant for his captaincy. He passed his captaincy according to the standard then required, and he was placed in charge of that camp, at a salary of £375 a year, over the heads of men who are capable of instructing him, and of the two staff officers who sat as his Board of Examiners, and each of whom had passed an examination for captaincy on a basis equal to the Imperial standard two and a half years ago. These officers had to stand by while a novice was brought into the camp and placed in authority over them, and all that he is capable of doing is simply to sign the official papers. Furthermore, be it remembered that that man - Captain Payne as he is now - was placed in command of the camp in opposition to the recommendation of the Commandant of Tasmania. Still the Minister of Defence said that everything is all right, that Captain Payne is only appointed temporarily, and that his services can be dispensed with at any moment. I am aware that it is only a temporary appointment, but it is a temporary appointment which surely might have been conferred upon one or other of the more capable members of the. Defence Force who had by all the elements of justice rightly earned promotion ! Notwithstanding the fact that the Commandant recommended this man as being competent to perform junior staff work only, he has, a3 I have stated, been placed in charge of the whole staff. That is not the kind of thing which is going to inspire the ranker - and these two men have risen from the ranks - with any confidence in the justice of the military administration. Nor does it make for good discipline. It does not make these men work as they would like to work, did they believe that promotion would come to those who earned it. That was the ideal of the Labour party, but I claim that that has not been given effect to by the present Administration, . and principally because of the constitution of the various Military Boards or Selection ^Committees that regulate appointments and promotions in the different States.

Senator McDougall - They will not take their recommendations.

Senator LONG - Often they will not. The staff and non-commissioned officers ought to have at least one representative on every such Board, so that the genuine interest of the class of men to whom I have referred should be looked after.

Senator Pearce - You see the difficulty of pleasing' everybody. In one case where the recommendation of a Selection Board was not accepted, Senator McDougall is after my gore, but in a case where I did accept the recommendation of a Selection Board, you are after my gore.

Senator LONG - I am not after the Minister's gore; I am after justice for a section of the Defence Forces, who, I say, are entitled to it.

Senator Pearce - -AEsop's fable again.

Senator LONG - I do not think that the j3Esop fable to which the Minister refers has any connexion with this matter. Let me give him my assurance at once that, never in my life, have I seen the two staff officers of whom I have spoken - Lieutenant Davis and Lieutenant Tackaberry.

Senator Pearce - I cannot please everybody.

Senator LONG - No; but by referring to an JEsop fable the Minister implied that I had an axe to grind.

Senator Pearce - No, I was alluding to the fable of the old man who tried to please everybody and pleased nobody.

Sentor LONG. - That is not an -3Esop fable.

Senator Pearce - I thought it was.

Senator LONG - TheÆsop fable refers to the person who has an axe to grind.

Senator Pearce - I defer to your superior knowledge.

Senator LONG - It is stated that those in good social circles -by good I mean select - boldly declare that it is no trouble now to get a commission. A day or two ago I was travelling from Bridgewater to Hobart in a train with a young fellow who, barely nineteen, was in the uniform of a lieutenant. I got into conversation with him, and asked him if he was at the Claremont camp. He said, "Yes; but as soon as the war is over I am going to the Military College." I remarked, " I thinkyou will have some difficulty in getting there, as you are over the age. Now there is only one process by which you can reach the Military College, and that is by competitive examination." " Oh," he said, " I do not think that there will be much trouble to get there. If it is no more trouble to get to the Military College than it was for me to get this commission, I shall be there all right."

Senator Pearce - That gossip proves something, does it not?

Senator LONG - It proves that social influence is at work, and that there is a prejudice against the ranker getting that recognition from the Military Department which his work and bis service entitle him to receive.

Senator Grant - But that was always so.

Senator LONG - Yes; and it was the hope of the Labour movement to knock that out.

Senator McDougall - It is worse than ever it was.

Senator LONG - I do not know. The Minister may treat this matter as lightly as he chooses, and can place himself unreservedly in the hands of his subordinates. I had some hope that we had at the head of the military affairs of Australia a man who would not tolerate that kind of thing,and that he was one of the very best.

Senator Pearce - Are you satisfied that that kind of thing exists ?

Senator LONG - I am satisfied that there is something very unfair in the administration of our defence system.

Senator Pearce - You are willing to accept a single statement and condemn the whole Department?

Senator LONG - That is not the only instance that I have in mind. This young fellow comes from Launceston. I say there is no better exponent of Labour ideals, and no better defender of the Labour platform in public, than the Minister of Defence, and if I am asking anything unreasonable when I ask him to give effect to the ideal for which the military movement of Australia has been established by the Labour party, then I confess I do not know the Minister of Defence as well as I thought I did.

Senator Pearce - Apparently, you are prepared to condemn me on the ' ' say-so ' ' of some young whippersnapper in military uniform.

Senator LONG - No; I am condemning the Minister on my own personal experience. I have asked over and over again that personal representations made in connexion with these matters should receive his closest attention, and that, if he finds my statementsto be correct, he should right the wrong that has been done. The Minister has not done that.

Senator Pearce - I have inquired into every matter you have brought before me. I have not been able to agree with you, and, therefore, it appears that I must be wrong.

Senator LONG - Does the Minister say that he inquired into the matter I referred to just now - the promotion of Captain Payne over the heads of staff officers ?

Senator Pearce - Yes.

Senator LONG - And does he say that he found that matter to be wrong?

Senator Pearce - No, I did not say that. I say we differ on that matter, and, therefore, I must be wrong, it appears.

Senator LONG - No ; the Minister did not differ. He decided, as he had a perfect right to do, as Minister, that I am wrong. But I want to say that if I am wrong I am in very good company, for I err with the Commandant of the Military Forces of Tasmania. If the Minister takes the view that a grave, gross, and flagrant injustice only means a difference of opinion, it is useless for me to pursue the subject further.

Senator Pearce - The difference is that you think it an injustice, and I do not.

Senator LONG - Then all I can say is that the Minister takes a very peculiar view of an injustice. Now, leaving the matter of defence for the moment, I want to come to another subject, which is one of very grave concern to all honorable members, and I am sure it is a matter of no little concern to the Minister. I refer to the matter upon which Senator Needham spoke a few minutes ago - the small expenditure on public works for the eight months of the financial year. Parliament authorized an expenditure of £4,303,000 on additions and new works, and, although eight months have expired, we find that only £1,513,000 has been spent.

Senator Pearce - That was up to 28th February.

Senator LONG - Yes, and it is a very small proportion. Surely we could reasonably expect that in these bad times at least half the amount voted by Parliament would have been expended by this time.

Senator Pearce - You must remember that the Works Bill was not passed until after the elections. It was very late 'u September.

Senator LONG - I realize that, and I want to say right here that I am not going to hold the Minister altogether responsible for this. I maintain that the officials of the various Departments are responsible for it, and I urge that they should be compelled to " get a move on," and make this work, which has been authorized by Parliament, available to the great number of men out of employment all over Australia who are very much in need of work. There are openings for men in almost every capacity, but the officials usually say there is " nothing doing " yet, and that they hope to get the work in hand in two or three weeks' time. Invariably we get a reply like that after two or three weeks have elapsed. What we want is a Minister bold enough to say to these officials, " This work must go on at once. Put it in hand. If you do not, I will make it my business to get somebody who will." The war is a serious matter, bub the drought, which, fortunately, has terminated, has also been a very serious matter to Australia, and the unemployment problem will become more serious for Australia if it is allowed to extend. Ministers representing the different Departments should use all the powers with which they are invested by Parliament to compel the officials to wake up, and get these works in hand without further delay. We have only two or three months more to go before the present financial year terminates, and yet there is a very large proportion of the money which was voted for specific works last year still unexpended. I hope the Government will realize the seriousness of the situation to many thousands of men and women throughout Australia, and that what can be done will be done at once to expedite the works already authorized. I join in the wish expressed by the Minister of Defence, Senator Millen, and by Senator Needham, that the awful conflict now in progress in Europe will terminate at an early date in a complete triumph for the allied forces, which are standing up for the rights of humanity and civilization.

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