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Wednesday, 27 April 1921

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable senator will be clearly in order in referring to any such Act; but I cannot connect that with the British Army Act.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Imperial Air. Force Act incorporates the British Army Act in its constitution.

The CHAIRMAN - If that is the case the honorable senator is in order.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - - I should like to repeat words that I heard only to-day, that we are a free people, that we care nothing for precedent, that Australians were never great on drill or red-tape, but were always great on fight, and that in ceremonies and pomps they have their weak moments. What is the Army Act which, in this indirect manner, is sought to be imposed on the Military Forces of the Commonwealth in times of peace? It is, in effect, a manual of military law consisting of 900 pages, most of which is in explanation of the Act itself and the rules and regulations in connexion with the Act. In the middle of the manual appears the British Army Act of 190 sections. It begins at page 370 and goes on for 200 pages. AH those sections, unless they conflict with our Defence legislation, are to be applicable to our Citizen Forces in times of peace. This manual of military law was codified and consolidated when the British War Office was presided over by the Hon. H. C. E. Childers, in 1880. The first edition was issued in 1884, the second in 1887, the third in 1894, the fourth in 1899, .the fifth in 1907, and the sixth in 1914. The two copies placed on the table to-day contain 200 sections, and were issued in 1914. The whole of this manual was specifically designed, for- the 186,500 redcoat soldiers that constituted the British Regular Army. It is well known to all of us that the British Regular Army formed a calling for a good many of the " Tommy " soldiers. They were allowed to enlist up to twelve' years, and to reenlist so as to make their total military service run to twenty-one years. I submit, in all , seriousness, that the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) should, in the first place, have placed that Act properly before the Senate section by section, and should also have placed in juxtaposition the whole of the Defence provisions now existing in the Commonwealth, for not only have we to deal with this Act and ite regulations, but we have also to deal with the Commonwealth Defence Act itself, containing, as honorable senators know, some hundreds of pages and, probably, nearly 1,000 regulations, before we can properly understand what sections of the British Army Act apply to Australia and what do not. The British Army Act is a measure purposely 'designed for a strictly military army, a permanent force, that consisted in some cases of men who had. never been disciplined in their lives, who had no idea of patriotism, and who had no other object than to become warm and comfortable. I believe it was an Act properly designed for those circumstances. It would not be objected to in the circumstances for which it was created, but I urge the Minister, and propose to test the opinion of the Committee on the matter, to give careful consideration to the task we are approaching. The temper of at least some honorable senators is that we must have that Act read, section by section, in connexion with the Bill we are passing, otherwise we shall not be doing our duty to our country in the way that is expected of men in our representative position. With these preliminary observations on the British Army Act, I now ask the Minister if he will carefully consider the position in which honorable senators are placed. Will he consider first their inability, without a careful and detailed dissection of what is intended, to record intelligently their votes and opinions; and, secondly, in order to enable them to do this properly, will he place the fullest possible information in the hands of each of them, to show them what it all means ?

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