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Thursday, 28 April 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) , - I suggest that the Committee should now devote a little attention to the amendment.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - Order! I cannot permit the Minister to cast upon the Chair the imputation that discussion has been allowed to proceed outside the scope of the amendment. The debate has .had bearing upon the question of promotion, to which the proposed new clause clearly refers.

Senator PEARCE - The bearing which the question of what General Elliott's batman said to General Tivey's batman' may have upon the amendment is, at any rate, beyond my comprehension.

Tie CHAIRMAN- The reference to which . the Minister has drawn attention was a mere passing, observation. In their general purport the remarks of honorable senators have been distinctly directed to the question of promotion, which is involved in the proposed new clause.

Senator PEARCE - I dp not propose to follow Senator Elliott in the discussion of personal matters such as he has been bringing forward in regard to differences of opinion between himself and- other officers of the Australian Imperial Force. I suggest that honorable senators confine themselves to considering whether the amendment, if it should be agreed to, would prove to be in the best interests of our Citizen Forces. . The section of the Act which Senator Elliott proposes to amend is not brought within the scope of the Bill as it stands. Honorable senators, therefore, must turn to the Defence Act itself. Section 16 does not deal with the question of supersession at all. It reads -

Officers shall hold their appointments dur- - ing the pleasure pf the Governor-General, but the commission of an officer shall not be cancelled without the holder thereof being notified in writing of any complaint or charge made and of airy action proposed to be taken against him, nor without his being called upon to show cause in relation thereto. 'Provided that no such notification shall be necessary in the case of an officer absent from duty without leave for a period of three months or upwards.

Senator Elliottis now proposing the insertion of words therein which will introduce a subject entirely foreign to the section. That is to say, he desires to include, in a reference to the cancellation of commissions, the matter of supersession. It may be desirable from his view-point; but, if he were to succeed, hopeless confusion would result, and a state of affairs would be brought about in our legislation for -which no Government could be responsible.

I now come to the question whether the Committee should deal, in the manner suggested by Senator Elliott, with the subject of supersession. First, that matter is determined not by seniority, because all promotions above those on the regimental list - as indicated in the cases quoted by Senator Drake-Brockman - are determined by selection. If the amendment is agreed to, the effect will he that in a section of our Defence legislation dealing with cancellation of commissions, there will -be a- provision that, before any. supersession can be given effect to, any officer and all officers who are to be superseded shall have the right of -having their cases gone into in writing, so that no supersession can take place until their complaints have been dealt with. I ask honorable senators to imagine what it would mean in the cases of those fifty officers among the fifty-six who superseded General DrakeBrockman, and whom, again, he subsequently superseded.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But would this procedure apply in time of war?

Senator PEARCE - During peace or war.

Senator Duncan - We would have to ask the enemy for an armistice while we decided these things.-

Senator PEARCE - Yes, an armistice, or even a prolonged postponement of the conflict, until we had settled the quarrels which, apparently, are plentiful even on the field of battle. I do not know whether the cases which have just been quoted are correct or otherwise; but I can imagine the distraction of commanding' officers who may be carrying on operations attended with frightful loss of life. Honorable senators should try to picture these commanders turning aside from their efforts to conquer the enemy in order to inquire into the circumstances of officers who complain of having been superseded. Let us take the very instance quoted by Senator Elliott and substantiated by Senator Drake-Brockman, namely, the incident having to do with the mismanagement of the tanks at Bullecourt. Let us suppose that the officer commanding said, in the very midst of the battle, " Colonel Jones is to take the place of Colonel Smith owing to this muddle over the tanks. You, Colonel Smith, are to be superseded because of your mismanagement; and Colonel Jones is to carry on and finish the action." But Colonel Smith would say, " ~No, you don't. Please remember the Defence Act as amended by Senator Elliott. Before you can supersede me I have the right to protest - and you must give me notice in writing - against such supersession. You must first hold an inquiry and hear my side of the case." So Colonel Smith continues to carry on, and to lose more lives, until General Elliott, or whoever may be the brigadier involved, can find time in the middle of his harrowing responsibilities to inaugurate an inquiry.

Senator Elliott - Stick to facts.

Senator PEARCE - I am doing so.

Senator Elliott - Regulations exactly similar were in force throughout the war.

Senator PEARCE - I will read the section as Senator Elliott proposes to amend it -

Officers shall hold their appointments during the pleasure of the Governor-General, but the commission of an officer shall not be cancelled nor shall any officer be superseded without such officer being notified in writing of any complaint or charge made and of any action proposed to be taken against him, nor without his being called upon to show cause in relation thereto.

I appeal to honorable senators to seriously consider if they are prepared to support such an amendment as that moved by the honorable senator, knowing that it must lead to hopeless confusion if the illustration which he has himself given the Senate is true. In giving the illustration, Senator Elliott seemed quite unable to realize that it was the best justification we could have for' the right of, immediate supersession without the formalities of the giving notice and the hearing of evidence. The amendment is not in the interests of the Army, and in conclusion I warn the Senate that ° if it is carried a principle that is absolutely foreign to any Army Act in the world would be established, because the logical consequence of it would be that promotion would not be by selection on the ground of ability, but on seniority alone.

Senator Duncan - It would be on the same basis as the Public. Service.

Senator PEARCE - It would be worse.

I cannot discuss the other amendments of which Senator Elliott has given notice; but I may say that they are even more far-reaching than this one, as they embody the right of civil action in the event of an officer being charged with having been actuated by. improper motives. I ask the Senate* not to bring about a state of chaos which can have only a disastrous effect.

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