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Thursday, 28 April 1921

Senator FOSTER (Tasmania) .- I wish to give my reasons for 'registering a vote 'against the amendment, as I intend to do. My -first objection to it is that it applies only to senior officers. I consider that supersession and promotion should be grouped under one heading; and if Senator Elliott's idea is a good one, it should apply to other than senior officers. The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) has admitted that in the case of ordinary regimental promotion the men of a regiment receive promotion up to the rank of major, in due course, by virtue of seniority. If, in the case of ordinary regimental promotion, a man believes that he has been superseded for two or three stripes, Senator Elliott is not prepared to give him a chance to make and ' defend his complaint. My experience abroad was that such men did not get very much of a hearing if they complained that they had not received one or two stripes which they considered they were entitled to. "When we were on Gallipoli, I remember hearing the statement made that there was more row amongst the " heads " over an extra star than there was amongst the "diggers" over one stripe.

Senator Duncan - The " digger " only wants his tucker ready at the right time.

Senator FOSTER - So long as he got three meals a day and a sleep, and not too much work in the trenches at night, the " digger " did not worry. I regard the amendment as conferring a privilege upon officers, and if such a privilege be granted, it should be extended to all ranks.

Senator Pearce - Even to the men in the ranks.

Senator FOSTER - Exactly. I am not prepared to support- such a proposal. Senator Elliott referred to some anonymous " war lord " in England who expressed the opinion that supersession in the Army was as common, I think he said, as prostitution, and a number of other things which he placed in the same category. It is very difficult for us to judge the merits of any case of alleged supersession such as Senator Elliott has referred to. I think it is unfortunate that men in the position of General Sir John Gellibrand, and' others similarly highly placed, should have been mentioned by name in this debate when they are not in a position to reply to what has bor said concerning them. I do not believe that Senator Elliott would have us consider that, in his opinion, Sir John Gellibrand is a " dud " officer.

Senator Elliott - Not at all.

Senator FOSTER - Not by a long way. It is a fact that it rested with the officer in superior command to decide between certain officers which should receive a divisional command.

Senator Pearce - He had to pick the best of a good lot.

Senator FOSTER - Quite so. And I take it that when objection is taken to the supersession of an officer, it is not suggested that the officer who is given the job to which the superseded officer thinks he was entitled is a " dud " and should not have received it. After all, then, whether a supersession is right or wrong, is a matter depending on the judgment of the senior command. I am inclined to think that just as a great many of us in the lower ranks of the Service were talked to very freely by those who occupied higher positions, so even men in command of brigades must be content to be judged by their senior commanders. What would be the position if these Boards were set up and every officer who felt he was not receiving due recognition of his merits could go before a Board and say He was 6 ft. 6 in. in height and his fighting weight 12 st. 7 lbs." ?

Senator Elliott - Then why give this right to the Civil Service ?

Senator FOSTER - If the discipline of a military damp were applied to the Public Service I feel sure that Senator Elliott would, for seven days of the week, be fully occupied telling us about complaints from among his constituents. I do not think for one moment that the discipline, so necessary in an army, would work .satisfactorily in the Public Service. While an officer may feel aggrieved at his treatment, it would be unbecoming the dignity of an officer and a gentleman, unless of course he were very deeply injured in his position, to appear before a board of senior officers and present his views as to his own status as a soldier and a man. Seeing that the question of suppression has been raised by the honorable senator apart from the question of promotion, for which he proposes no remedy-

Senator Elliott - There is provision already in the Act for promotion by examination.

Senator FOSTER - I suppose that on many occasions during his military career General Elliott has had to determine questions as to the relative merits of men under his command, and say whether a man was to have one stripe or two stripes ; and I have no doubt that his judgment has not always been indorsed by the men concerned. In the Army, I found that when a man squealed most about what he did not get, he was usually properly adjudged by his senior officers as being in his right place. Because it is not suggested to apply this remedy from the private upwards, I propose to leave the matter as it is.

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