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Friday, 30 April 1915

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - When this Bill was previously under consideration in Committee, the Minister had before him the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Bill, in the form in which it had been submitted to the Imperial Parliament. He pointed out that, in the original draft of that measure, regard was necessarily had to the possibility of an invasion of Great Britain itself, and that it was deemed advisable to afford an opportunity for the trial of cases by court martial, because it might;-, happen that the ordinary civil tribunals would not be available. He emphasized the fact that, though the possibility of an invasion of Australia was very slender, it was nevertheless desirable that we should provide that, throughout the Commonwealth, or any specified portion of it, an accused person might be tried by court martial. Do I understand that the proposed new paragraph does not derogate from that position - that it will still be competent for the Governor- General to declare any area in Australia an area within which offences may be tried by court martial?

Senator Pearce - It does not derogate from that position.

Senator KEATING - I have only had' an opportunity of seeing the amendment since the message was received from the other Chamber, and, consequently, I have not had time to look at the original provisions of. the Bill with a view to appreciating its exact effect. But it seems to me that, in another place, the Government might have stressed more than they did that the emergent conditions under which such a proclamation would issue would be only of the character I have just indicated, namely, the possibility of an invasion of this country or of any portion of it. In such circumstances, everybody would recognise the wisdom of providing that trials for various offences should be by court martial. I do not think for a moment that the Government desire to deprive the ordinary citizen of a civil trial, such as he has under normal conditions. When the measure was last before us, the Minister clearly indicated the scope of this seemingly extraordinary provision. In the few words which he uttered, he brought home to us the necessity for it. But the Government might have stressed that aspect of the case a little more than they did in another place, and the Bill would not then have met with so much opposition. I think this new paragraph is a provision which should appear in the Bill at this juncture. Nobody can foresee what may be the condition of affairs, even in this remote portion of the Empire, at no distant date. It is all very well to flatter ourselves that we are secure from invasion, but there are always possibilities. Anything may happen in the North Sea, and it is quite possible that some German vessels may break through there. As the Minister has moved that the amendment made in another place he agreed to, I think that the Committee will be justified in supporting him.

Senator McDOUGALL(New South provision has been inserted in the measure. I object to any private individual being tried by court martial, because I contend that in such circumstances he does not get a fair trial. My experience of courts martial teaches me that, under them, there is one law for the private and another law for the officer. Unfortunately that fact has been brought home to us in too many instances. To make civilians liable to trial by a military tribunal under officer-made law would be unfair

Senator Keating - It would be justifiable only under emergent conditions.

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