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Friday, 30 April 1915

Senator BAKHAP (Tasmania) . - I am going to give the Government my whole-souled support in regard to tin's amendment. I suppose that all wisdom is not confined to the members of this Chamber, and from the stand-point of the maintenance of civil liberty I consider the amendment an improvement upon the clause as it waa passed by the Senate. As we passed it, the clause gave to ari accused civilian the option of claiming the right to be tried before a civil tribunal. It is possible that a comparatively ignorant civilian would not ba aware of his rights in this respect under the clause as we passed it, but as amended by the House of Representatives ib will secure even to such a person thi right of a trial before a civilian tribunal. Viewing the matter from the point of view of sticklers for civil liberty, the amendment of the House of Representatives is a distinct improvement on tlie Bill as passed by the Senate. I was a veryinterested listener to the discusion which took place in another chamber, and thc dispute was not so much between those who desired to uphold martial law in its entirety and those who desired to preserve a reasonable measure of freedom for the civilian population, as it was between those who were prepared to give the Government the powers considered necessary, and those who wished to amplify the freedom of the civil population beyond all reason, and to such- an extent as to make this measure as a War Precautions Act of practically no avail. I am personally satisfied if the pre-eminence of the civil power in a general way is secured, and I am consoled by the fact that this measure, as soon as we reach a state of peace, will become like the baseless fabric of a vision. It might, perhaps, have been better to have limited the operation of the measure to one year, and then, if necessary, to re-enact it as the Imperial Parliament re-enacts the Mutiny Act. T suppose that we shall be meeting here every year, and, if the operation of tha measure discloses the necessity for its amendment, wo shall be able to amend it as desired. We have to remember that we are in a state of war, and it is necessary to arm the military authorities with sufficient power to take prompt action which may be essential to the success of military movements. I do not think that Australian civilians are likely to suffer any great injustice under the provisions of this Bill. It is difficult to contemplate that any man, Australian born and bred, who will have reserved to him the right of trial by a civilian tribunal, will do anything so injurious to the interests of his country as would justify his trial before a military tribunal. But in regard to the military there is no doubt that the authorities must have the power to act promptly. In my view the only people who are likely to be affected in any way by the passage of this measure will be those who are inimical to British supremacy.

Senator Guthrie - No; it will affect any person who contravenes any regulation or order. Under this Bill, a man in a woollen factory who fails to comply with an order may be tried by court martial.

Senator Pearce - No; that could not be so, even if the amendment we are considering was not made. Before what the honorable senator suggests could take place, martial law would first have to be proclaimed.

Senator BAKHAP - If . the occasion should arise for the proclamation of martial law, the war will have taken on such a bad complexion that the most drastic measures will be justified. Senator Guthrie is aware that violent remedies are sometimes required to deal with desperate situations. We know that Cromwell actually tore a sergeant out of the ranks and shot him in order to check incipient rebellion. I support the amendment as being an improvement on the clause passed by the Senate.

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