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Friday, 23 April 1915

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - It seems to me to be a strange omission in the principal Act that it does not include powers to survey land which we may require to use for military purposes. I suppose that the fact that we are now engaged in war accounts for the discovery of this omission. No one will object to give the fullest powers necessary for the proper carrying out of all defence operations. I am pleased to hear that the Government has taken action to compel members of the Expeditionary Forces who have gone abroad to make some provision for those whom they have left behind and who were dependent upon them. I hope that the appropriation of the wages of members of the Expeditionary Forces will not be confined to the rank and file. I trust that men in higher positions in the service will be compelled to do their duty towards those they have left behind them, especially in the case of wives and children.

Senator Bakhap - Many married officers have taken the same course as the married rank and file, and allowed certain payments to be made to their wives.

Senator DE LARGIE - Perhaps the. honorable senator has information that X have not. The only complaint that I have had has been against the Department for the inconsistent treatment of rankers and officers, notably, in the case of a major who went away with one of the contingents. This case is a perfect scandal in Perth - one of the most scandalous possible. I have applied to the Defence Department to get bare justice for the wife and children, but have absolutely failed. This officer left a wife and three children, who are actually living on the charity of neighbours, and of the clergyman of the denomination to which the wife belongs. She has been sick, and I have had medical certificates to that effect, which I have sent to the Defence Department, with the testimony of men occupying high positions in Perth, and all the satisfaction that I could get from the Department was that, as the major had left no authority behind him-

Senator Pearce - The trouble was that he did leave an authority. He left an allocation order to some one other than his wife.

Senator DE LARGIE - If Senator Pearce had waited until I finished my sentence, I should have explained that the officer left an allocation order to his sister, who, according to the evidence I have got, has been the busybody, and has caused a good deal of the trouble to this woman and her children. No matter what allocation order was left, the Department had no right to ignore the claims of the wife and children. It is scandalous that any woman in Mrs. Mills' position should be actually living on the charity of neighbours and of her clergyman.

Senator Bakhap - The Minister is now asking for the power; he had not the power before.

Senator DE LARGIE - I have read the clause and would prefer that the honorable senator should tell me something I do not know. I hope that the major and others of his type will be compelled to do the right thing by their families. The Minister has admitted taking the law into his own hands in other cases, whether he had legal authority to act or not, and I was therefore the more surprised to get a communication from him to the effect that as this officer had not given any legal authority for payment to be made to his wife, the solicitor of the Department had advised that nothing should be done, for otherwise the Government would be held responsible for any money they might give away. Why should an officer's money be held sacred in that way, when the money of other men in the contingents has been distributed according to the Minister's will?

Senator Shannon - Are the cases on all fours?

Senator DE LARGIE - I do not know what the other cases are. I know that this case is a scandalous one.

Senator Shannon - Does not the allocation order to the sister rob the Minister of his power to make payment to the wife?

Senator DE LARGIE - I do not think it does; and even if it does, what about the authority the Minister has taken in other cases?

Senator Pearce - That is where there is no allocation order left.

Senator DE LARGIE - What right had the Minister to ignore this man's wife and children?

Senator Pearce - I did not ignore them. It was the man himself who did so.

Senator DE LARGIE - He had no right to ignore them. Senator Shannon is evidently quite satisfied that they should be ignored, to judge by the frequency and tenor of his interjections.

Senator Shannon - I am not. I want to put the man's " pot " on if he has done wrong.

Senator DE LARGIE - If this man had not been drawing such good pay, I could have understood the excuse being made that he had not enough to distribute amongst so many, hut it is utterly wrong for a man drawing such a good " screw " to refuse to make any provision for his wife simply because he may have had a difference of opinion or quarrel with her. Even if he had, he could have no quarrel with his children, who certainly should not be dependent upon the charity of the public while their father is drawing a good salary from the taxpayers, and he and his sister are allowed to do what they like with it. The case was of sufficient gravity for the Department to take the law into its own hands and distribute the man's pay in a different way. I am glad the Government now see the necessity for legal authority to deal with such a case.

Senator Shannon - This Bill will not give the Minister authority to do what you suggest.

Senator Pearce - Yes, it will. Clause 6(da) gives the power.

Senator DE LARGIE - That provision is sufficiently comprehensive to extend to very distant relatives, to say nothing of the wife and children of any member of the Expeditionary Forces. I certainly hope we shall see justice done. I am surprised indeed that when the Minister has dealt in a different way with other cases, a glaring case of this kind should have been so persistently ignored by him when the matter was brought before him.

Senator Pearce - It is not right to say that it was ignored.

Senator DE LARGIE - It was ignored so far as concerns giving relief to the wife and children.

Senator Pearce - I did not have the power.

Senator DE LARGIE - The Minister had not the power in other cases, but he acted. Why did he not do the same in this case?

Senator Pearce - In those cases no allocation order was left; in this ease there was.

Senator DE LARGIE - What difference does that make? What sort of a miserable excuse is it to say that, because an allocation order is left in favour of a person who has little or no claim on the money, you will recognise that allocation and ignore the fact that the man's wifeand children are left without anything tolive on, and have actually to subsist on the charity of the public?

Senator O'KEEFE (TASMANIA) - Do you contend that the Minister has the power to tell a man how he shall leave his money, simply because he is a soldier?

Senator DE LARGIE - The Minister has told us that he took that power into his own hands.

Senator O'Keefe - The Act gives that power where no order has been made. But if, as in this case, an order was left by the man in favour of his sister, do you contend that the Minister should have the same power?

Senator DE LARGIE - The Act did not give him power; but he took the power, and in doing so did right. My contention is that he should have ignored the allocation to the sister and done justice to the wife and children. They had the first claim on the money.

Senator O'Keefe - That is another matter. We should require fresh legislation to do that.

Senator DE LARGIE - I do not think you require any legislation to relieve such a glaring case.

Senator O'Keefe - The man might contend that it was not an injustice, and how could the Minister be the judge?

Senator DE LARGIE - I would not hesitate to act in a case like this, where an officer goes off without making provision for his wife and children. Is there any question of what should be done in a case of that sort?

Senator O'Keefe - It is generally accepted that a man ought to be able to give instructions for his money to be paid to any person he likes.

Senator DE LARGIE - Then your argument is simply that any officer or member of the Forces may say, " You can give my money to anybody you like; here is an order for it, but I can clear out and leave to the charity of the public those who have natural claims upon me."

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