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Thursday, 28 April 1921

Senator EARLE (Tasmania) . - I do not know that I can contribute anything very useful to this debate, but I. would not like to record a silent vote upon the amendment. I cannot quite follow all the arguments which Senator Elliott has advanced in favour of it. As far as I can understand, it is merely intended to prevent the supersession of officers. It has nothing whatever to do with appointments. But, under the amendment, when once an officer had been appointed, he could not be superseded unless he had had a hearing and been given a trial.

Senator Elliott -That is the object of it.

Senator EARLE - I am not a military man, but I imagine that it would be absolutely impossible for a general charged with the conduct of a. war to conduct it upon those lines. If he had not the power to supersede an officer whom he thought was inefficient for reasons which probably he could not put in black and white, he might lose a whole battalion. A whole battalion might be sacrificed simply because of the inefficiency of an officer whom he could not supersede without a trial. During the late war one of the achievements which led to the triumph of the Allied arms was the centralization of the control of the Allied Forces. The appointment of General Foch as- Generalissimo, was the beginning of the Allied successes.

Senator Gardiner - No. The beginning of their successes was when the Germans were turned back from Paris in 1914.

Senator EARLE - That is so. We do not require military knowledge to know that whilst each of the Allies was at liberty to plan its own separate campaign, it was hopeless to expect success' against a wellorganized army like that of Germany. If Foch could not remove a general-

Senator Elliott - He could not remove any British. general.

Senator EARLE - With all the honorable senator's military knowledge, .he cannot tell me that. I cannot quote instances to specifically disprove his assertion, but I know .that Foch had the power to remove any officer under his command if he deemed him inefficient. Senator Elliott, in support of his argument, went so far as to say that an officer commanding a battalion should have the right to give his own decision concerning whether a movement should be carried out or not. How could any general hope to successfully conduct a campaign in such circumstances ? He might make mistakes. He might appear, to the battalion commander immediately concerned, to be committing- a blunder in ordering that battalion into a position which courted disaster ; but' if the general, in the conduct of his campaign, were subject to the will of his battalion commanders, there would certainly be disaster and chaos. It may be that the' general would see fit to risk the sacrifice of a' battalion in order to achieve success all along his line. Such a sacrifice might appear to the battalion commander, from his restricted view-point, to be unwarrantable. Yet, if he were to disobey orders, and to refrain from taking up the hazardous position to which his command was allotted, the result might entail the obliteration of half-a-dozen battalions. And, if a battalion commander were permitted to question an order, why should not the officer commanding a company be similarly privileged, and also the lieutenant in command of a platoon, and so on, right down to the unit? What an impossible situation there would be ! What chance would there be of achieving victory ?

Senator Elliott - Does the honorable senator deny that Foch laid it down that the infantry commands, actually in the line, should be the judges as to when they should make an attack ?

Senator EARLE - I cannot credit that General Foch would consent to any subordinate officer having the right to obey or disobey orders at his own sweet will. Foch would naturally look for advice from those best equipped to give it; but I am sure he would demand that his orders be carried out promptly and to the letter. I am as keen upon doing away with favoritism in the Army as is Senator Elliott.

Senator Elliott - Well, what does the honorable senator suggest?

Senator EARLE - I do not know of anything better or other than is provided in the Bill. Human nature is human nature, in peace or in war. If the Committee were to accept the amendment with the object of preventing favoritism in respect of the supersession of officers, vastly more harm would be done than if the circumstances which have been criticised by Senator Elliott were permitted to remain.

Senator Elliott - How does the honorable senator account for the fact that the very provision which I am trying to have inserted in our Act was actually in force throughout the war?

Senator PEARCE - Only regimen tally.

Senator Elliott - No; but generally.

Senator EARLE - I would suggest that if the procedure which Senator Elliott now seeks to embrace in our Defence laws has been in general practice, it would be wiser to allow matters to remain as they are. At any rate, I have not heard the honorable senator advance any convincing arguments, and, therefore, I intend to oppose the amendment.

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