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Thursday, 28 April 1921

Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) .- I am not clear why the Minister opposes my amendment, because, as a matter of fact, it is only an attempt to insert in the Act what is already provided by regulation.

Senator Pearce - Only to officers on the regimental list; not to any officer outside the list.

Senator ELLIOTT - We now have the Minister pinned down to the admission that this right has been recognised.

Senator Pearce - There is no pinning down at all. I made this statement yesterday.

Senator Cox - The right has always been in the Act.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then why trouble about it now ?

Senator Pearce - Senator Elliott's proposal deals with senior officers.

Senator ELLIOTT - Ne, every officer. It has been put to us that it is an entirely now principle-

Senator PEARCE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - This is only applied to senior officers.

Senator ELLIOTT - It is not new. Senator Poster has indicated that as this right is not available to junior officers, therefore it should nob apply to senior officers. But I have pointed out that already junior officers have this right secured to them by regulation.

Senator Foster - Da not put word6 into my mouth. I did not say I would not give this right of appeal to the senior officers because the junior officers do not get it. I said you only applied it to senior officers, not to junior officers.

Senator ELLIOTT - No. My amendment refers to all officers. As regards the junior officers this right is actually secured to them now.. They cannot be superseded unless they are told, and have a chance to make representations by way of appeal.

Senator Foster - You mean those who hold commissioned rank.

Senator Pearce - Those in the regimental list.

Senator ELLIOTT - Well, if the principle is applicable to those officers, why not give the officers a little higher up a chance too? Surely this is a democratic principle. I may add that in the Australian Imperial Force there were Australian Imperial Force regulations as well as Commonwealth Military Force regulations, and the Minister must know there was no limitation in those regulations to junior or senior commanders. I knew that, but General White tried to bluff me that the regulations only applied to officers in the regimental list, when, as a matter of fact, they are absolutely definite that no officer shall be superseded unless he is informed.

Senator Foster - Would you go so far as to say that you know .of a colonel who ought to have been off the regimental list before he was a lieutenant? Sitting suspended from 6.S0 to 8 p.m.

Senator ELLIOTT - When the sitting was suspended I was addressing myself to a point upon which there seems to be considerable misunderstanding amongst honorable senators regarding the object which I have in view. This amendment might well be termed a provision to prevent favoritism in the Army. Honorable senators have frequently interjected during the course of the debate that the amendment, if adopted, would result in promotion by seniority. But if it be viewed critically it will be seen, that it will accomplish no such thing. It merely provides that if it be desired to supersede an officer by the promotion of a junior over his head, the officer to be superseded shall be told in what respect he has failed to gain the confidence of those who are above him. This disclosure should be in writing, so that he may know that there is a definite charge against him instead of merely possessing the consciousness that he is being superseded from personal spite, or because the man who has been promoted has a wife who is making things sweet with the head.

Senator Earle - That is stretching it a bit too far.

Senator ELLIOTT - Not at all. In England it is recognised as a crying scandal that petticoat influence is rampant to secure advancement in the Army. Even during the late war, the headquarters of General French were the rendezvous of thousands of fashionable women who resorted there in order to bring their personal influence to bear upon the Commander-in-Chief with a view to getting their favorites pushed forward.

Senator Earle - The honorable senator does not imply that General French was so influenced. I do not doubt that the women tried to influence him, but I cannot imagine that a. general would submit to such influence. ,

Senator ELLIOTT - The fact of which I am speaking was published in the English newspapers far and wide. By a very remarkable coincidence, I have here some documents, which show that such things can be done. Whilst I was in England recently I visited the home of my people, and there I was shown some old family letters written by my great grandfather, who was a lieutenant in the Navy at the time Lord Nelson was in command.

Senator Gardiner - There are no Lady Hamiltons now.

Senator ELLIOTT - I am going to quote that very instance. This great' grandfather of mine was an officer of the Foudroyant, at the time he wrote the letter which I intend to quote, when Nelson was in command.

Senator Foster - But we want te know the wives who are working the oracle to-day.

Senator ELLIOTT - This system of promoting a junior out of a group of good officers, none of whom is visibly better than the other, is justified by the fact that it is the custom of the Service. If I were in the position of the Military Board to-day I could, by searching the precedents of the British Army from which the customs of the Service are drawn, discover cases which show that officers in the Navy were promoted on the nomination of a pandar - Sir "William Hamilton, and countersigned by a harlot, his wife. That appears here in the correspondence. The letter which I desire to quote reads: -

Lord Nelson, as I have said, remains on shore - he resides with Sir William Hamilton and his lady. This lady is not only literally Admiral of the British Fleet (for she absolutely governs the Admiral, who is infatuated with her), but she, in conjunction with the Queen, governs the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies - this I know from those whose authority cannot be doubted. She is consequently the fountain-head of all interest - I myself know two captains who have been promoted by her means. One of these is an old shipmate. You will probably doubt some part of this account and think I exaggerate, but I assure my dear aunt that it is strictly and literally true.

This custom of the Service is usually invoked when the authorities have some rotten case which cannot be bolstered up otherwise. It is the constant complaint in Great Britain to-day that such influences are still at work.

Senator Benny - Still it is not the custom of the Service that the women should have control.

Senator ELLIOTT - The custom of the Service is based upon precedent, and if sufficient precedent were obtainable, the Military Board, under this Bill. could adopt any system that it chose. Thus there is a strong probability that we shall have the same kind of influence creeping in to the detriment of eur own Service. This Bill, which some honorable senators appear to regard merely as a means to enable me to voice my own personal grievances, has far deeper roots than that. It is not a new principle that I am endeavouring to establish. The Minister himself has admitted that there are in existence regulations which are designed to accomplish my aim. But that is a very different thing from inserting the requisite provisions in 'this Bill. At the present time, if a senior officer disregards the regulations, there is no means of bringing him to book except by voicing the matter in this Parliament. The Minister can then deal with it.

Senator Duncan - Cannot he deal with it upon his own responsibility?

Senator ELLIOTT - I can see no effective method whereby observance of such regulations can be enforced. During the late war they were repeatedly disregarded by those who were powerful enough to escape the consequence of their acts. During the whole term of my association with the Australian Imperial Force I never failed to observe' the regulations with the utmost strictness, and I had none of the advantages which honorable senators imagine that I possessed. Upon one occasion I considered that an officer, who was the senior subaltern of the battalion was not fit to be promoted to the position of captain. I told him so, whereupon he appealed to my Divisional Commander, General Hobbs. The latter said, " This man has something to say in his defence. He admits that for the moment he is inefficient, because he has been absent from the division) for a long time, and consequently has not had a chance of familiarizing himself with the present conditions of warfare. Suspend the promotion you. are going to make for three months. Give the man in whom you have confidence the promotion temporarily, but do not make it permanent for three months. If, in the meantime, the senior subaltern justifies himself, drop the . temporary appointee, and give him his fair due." That course was followed. In point of fact, in the British Army it had to be followed, because, when the war started, that Army was a tiny one, though it subsequently expanded into a huge force. Assuming that it was desirable to appoint one of a group of brigade commanders to the command of a division, and there was an. argument as to who should be appointed, the commander of the force would notify each of the senior officers, " You will be superseded because of such and such."

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - Order! The honorable senator's time has expired.

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