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Friday, 30 April 1915

Senator GUTHRIE (South Australia) . - I intend to support the amendment. I agree with the Minister of Defence that many matters arising out of the conditions existing at the present time are surrounded with difficulty. I refer honorable senators to one case to show what might happen if these powers were handed over absolutely to the military or to the naval authorities. A few months ago there was a little. labour dispute here in Melbourne between the captain of a ship and some of his men, and the captain got the worst of it in the law Court. Immediately afterwards the ship was commandeered by the naval authorities to take troops to Rabaul. The captain, cherishing a feeling of bitterness towards the men, who had beaten him in the law Court, thought he would make them sit up when he got them to sea. The result was that, because of some little shortage of steam, he said that the crew had mutinied. He hoisted his signals, and a major in charge of troops put the whole of the firemen on board the ship under arrest in charge of a guard of soldiers with fixed bayonets. Some of the men were taken out of their bunks to be put under arrest.

Senator Pearce.i ; There was an inquiry held into the matter.

Senator GUTHRIE - What sort of an inquiry ?

Senator Pearce - By a special magistrate in Brisbane. Not by a court martial.

Senator GUTHRIE - There was a court martial when the men were arrested.

Senator Pearce - There was no court martial in that case at all.

Senator GUTHRIE - At the command of an officer the men were arrested by soldiers with fixed bayonets.

Senator Pearce - At the request of a merchant captain, and not of a military officer.

Senator GUTHRIE - It was a military officer who ordered the arrest.

Senator Pearce - At the request of the captain of the ship.

Senator GUTHRIE - I regret that although the inquiry was held several months ago, we have not yet seen the report of the gentleman who held it.

Senator Pearce - The report has not been sent on.

Senator GUTHRIE - It is remarkable that the gentleman who was appointed to hold the inquiry, and who was a retired magistrate, should hold back his report for three months. The whole case was thoroughly gone into, and both the Crown and the men were represented at the inquiry. Tlie facts are that because the ship lost a mile or two behind the convoy, as the result of some special circumstances, the firemen were arrested, and if they had not had a strong union behind them, to insist upon an inquiry into the matter, they would probably have been shot.

Senator Bakhap - Surely the honorable senator is pressing his point too much ? Does he assert that there was any danger of these men being shot?

Senator GUTHRIE - Why were these men arrested by a guard with fixed bayonets? I presume it was intended that the bayonets should be used. I am satisfied that they would have been used if the men had resisted arrest. The Minister of Defence says that the military arrested these men under orders from a merchant captain; but what military authority would take orders from a merchant captain ? The military officer arrested these men on his own authority. The master of the ship might have made a report to the military officer, but he took upon himself the responsibility of arresting the men, and placing them under a guard with fixed bayonets. I could go into the evidence given at the inquiry at some length, and show why it was not possible for the men to get up the steam required, but I shall not do so, aa the official report of tlie inquiry has not yet been received. I say that if these men had not had a union behind them they would have been absolutely powerless to have secured any inquiry into their case at all. The facts in this case supply strong reasons for the acceptance of thi* amendment.

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