Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 27 April 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I listened, to the opening, remarks of Senator Elliott. I know how disposed the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) is to give advice, and that his advice is generally good. I am still of opinion that we are indebted to Senator Elliott for bringing this matter before the Senate. I think that honorable senators should insist upon a full inquiry into the whole conduct and management of our troops from the time they left Australia until the war ended. We know that many injustices have been committed that will never be rectified . unless something is done to give those who have suffered injustice an opportunity of having their cases ventilated. I was much struck by the way in which Senator Elliott took up the statement 'made by the Minister for Defence, that he was greatly influenced through having read. the life of a certain great soldier, and had consequently determined, that his officers should be freed from any political interference. Strange to say, I arrived, at a conclusion almost identical, with that arrived at by Senator Elliott when I considered- what the Minister for Defence had probably in mind in making the: statement referred to. I happened to hear a very flattering remark made about the Minister for Defence during the conduct of the war. I do not think that it is out of place sometimes for even a member of the Opposition to direct attention to praise given to a member of the Government by people competent to form a valuable opinion. In the course of conversation, and in my hearing, a very distinguished personage in this country remarked that Senator Pearce would make an ideal Defence Minister for Great Britain. Being so close to the honorable senator, and knowing him so well, I did not put that estimate upon his abilities at that time. I questioned the statement, and the gentleman I refer to said that he would make a most excellent Minister because he would: let the military have their own. way in everything..

Senator Pearce -. - And the honorable, senator says that he considers that flattering to me.

Senator GARDINER - I ask. the pardon of the Minister for Defence if he does not think that it was flattering to him to say that he would make an ideal Minister for the British War Office.

Senator PEARCE - The- reason assigned is not flattering.

Senator GARDINER - The reason' given was that which I have already stated. The Minister for- Defence said that, from reading the life of the great soldier to whom reference has been made, he drew the conclusion that in the American Civil War the South was winning early in the war because of non-interference with the officers, and the North was losing because of political interference with generals in the field. That is all a matter of how one reads history, and as I read the history of the American Civil War the South was winning in the earlier days of the war because of their better preparation for it, and because in Generals Lee and Jackson they had two remarkably successful officers conducting their operations with great skill andcapacity. On the question of the wisdom of - political influence in the conduct of military affairs, I have been reading recently the opinions of a very high. German military authority, General Ludendorff. I never realized how badly Germany was beaten until I read his memoirs. In his opinion, one of the chief reasons why Great Britain and France won the war was because of the way in which the British and French nations were kept up to the work by their political heads, Mr. Lloyd George and the Premier of France. It is not a question of the military against the political head so much as a question of the two sections working together. In this connexion' I wish to say that I should like very much to see the Senate take its rightful place, not only in the civil affairs of the community, but also in connexion with military affairs. When Senator Elliott brings such a case before us as he has submitted to-day, I ask what better body could we have as a final Court of Appeal where officers are dissatisfied with their treatment by the military authorities, than a Committee of the Senate?

Senator Foster - Why only officers ?

Senator GARDINER - If the honorable senator had given me time I would have asked that question myself. I see jio reason why all persons 1 dissatisfied with their treatment by the military authorities should not have the power to appeal to .an impartial ; Committee of the Senate. It should not be necessary to appoint a separate Committee to deal with each case. There might be a Committee appointed to act continuously to inquire into. complaints of injustice by officers, non-commissioned officer s> or the rank and -file.

Senator Pearce - Is "the honorable senator suffering from lack of employment?

Senator GARDINER - Twenty years is not long in the establishment of the Commonwealth, and so far as the Senate is concerned, . we- may be said to be gradually defining our 'powers, and we know that in military matters in the United States of America the Senate plays a very important part. I consider that' Senator Elliott -has made out a very good case in complaining of the treatment he has received. I know from my personal experience in Australia that injustice -has < been done in connexion with military affaire in numberless cases. When the Minister for Defence suggests that I am suffering from lack of employment, he knows as well as I do that there would be plenty of employment for such a Committee of the .Senate. as I have suggested. It is better that the work which such a Committee -could do should be.done than that it should be -allowed to stand over. I again suggest that a Committee of the Senate would form an excellent final Court of Appeal in all these matters. We know that the military method is order and obey, . and there is no room for question. That may be all right on the battlefield. It may be that officers should be permitted to blunder there as much as they will ; but when we come to the. time when we are no longer at war we> should have some regard for the fact that many of the very best men in our community have not been given a fair deal.- We know very well that there is such a thing as "social pull" in connexion with military affairs in Australia. We know that very -strong social pull has prevented excellent men getting the fair deal to which they were, entitled. I do not wish to prolong the debate : but I wish to support Senator Elliott in the step he hae taken in bringing this matter before the Senate and the public of Australia.

Question resolved in the negative.

Suggest corrections