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Thursday, 5 May 1921

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - In view of your ruling, sir - which I do not wish to question - I do not desire to press my amendment, although its framing could have been altered to meet the special exigencies created by this clause. I now propose to move another amendment.

Senator Pearce - Why not negative the clause?


That the words " or onduty " in paragraph (a), be left out.

This will, in effect, place the Australian Military Forces in time of peace in exactly the same position as at present, so far as concerns the incorporation of the British Army Act. The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) will realize that the Committee is in the humour to fairly and temperately deal with the position with which it is now faced. I am not prepared, as one who strenuously objects to the holus bolus incorporation of the Army Act in this clause, to take a division straight out upon it. If that course were adopted and the clause were agreed to - perhaps, by only a narrow majority - all further power and opportunity to discuss the Army Act would be lost. In view of the public importance of the whole matter, honorable senators should take the consideration of this clause step by step. I had already endeavoured to do that by raising the point of order upon which, sir, you ruled against me. I have no desire to object to your ruling, Mr. Chairman, but the amendment I desired to move was that all reference to the British Army Act be omitted from this clause. The amendment I now move will in effect, prevent the application of the British Army Act to our Citizen Forces in time of peace. During the second-reading debate, the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) plainly told us that at first he hesitated to apply the British Army Act. He also said that the training aimed at in connexion with our Cadet Forces was to develop the physical and moral qualities of the Cadets, and that it was only in the last year that Cadet training was of a military character. That is one of the reasons why I wish to exclude the British Army Act from the. Bill, in order to prevent the inclusion of the Cadets under the provisions of that Act. On the Minister's own showing, it is only during the last year that training of a military character is undertaken, and the effect of the clause, as drafted, will be to bring every youth or boy in the country under it. We are told by the Minister for Defence that the Permanent Forces number about 2,000, and that the Citizen Forces" will number from 60,000 to 80,000. The British Army Act may have been excellent in the time of Queen Anne, or during the Napoleonic regime, or even during the recent great war.

Senator Pearce - Cadets will not come under the Army Act, as they are not on active service.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - To show that the British Army Act was designed for a regular army, which had to be disciplined, I shall read, for the information of the Committee, a portion of the preamble of the Army Act of 1913.

Senator Gardiner - Are we incorporating that?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We are incorporating the whole of it. A portion of the preamble reads -

And whereas no man oan be forejudged of life or limb, or subjected in time of peace to any kind of punishment within this realm, by martial law, or in any other manner than by the judgment of his peers and according to the known and established laws of this realm; yet nevertheless, it being requisite, for the retaining of all the aforementioned Forces, and other persons subject to military law, in their duty, that an exact discipline be observed,

I desire honorable senators to follow closely the concluding portion, which reads - and that persons belonging to the said Forces who mutiny or stir up sedition, or desert His Majesty's service, or are guilty of crimes and offences to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, be brought to a more exemplary and speedy punishment than the usual form of the law will allow.

Senator Bolton - Does the honorable senator not approve of that?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - So far as I have been able to ascertain, the Act is full of old military ideas, some of which are of crushing severity. Section 40 of the British Act reads -

Every person subject to military law who commits any of the following offences, that is to say, is guilty of any act, conduct, disorder, or neglect, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, shall, on conviction by court martial, be liable, if an officer, to be cashiered, or to suffer such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned; and if a soldier, to suffer imprisonment, or such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned.

That is a drag-net provision that may include anything the military authorities may desire. Section 41 sets out the offences punishable by ordinary law, and, apart from those particular offences, all other offences against military discipline are punishable by military law. But this has been properly qualified by the Minister in this Bill by making amaximum term of three months' imprisonment.

Senator Pearce - Offences tried by civil Court.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Up to three months can be imposed by the Military authorities for certain offences. On page 537 of this marvellous Manual of Military Law, it is provided that those about to enter upon service shall be informed that they will be subject to military law, and will have an opportunity of abstaining from entering upon service should they object.

Senator Keating - That does not apply in Australia.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is applied by this Bill, and there is nothing in the Defence Act in contravention.

Senator Pearce - If they refuse to serve, that is a civil offence.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The point I am making is that this provides that every man, when entering the Military Service, shall be informed that he will be subject to military law; and if he objects, he will have the opportunity of abstaining from entering the Service. On the face of it, it seems that some citizens objecting to military law, when once they heard of it, objected to serve and an opportunity was provided for them to back out.

Senator Keating - If that applied, our compulsory training system would go by the board.

Senator Pearce - But it does not apply, because it is inconsistent with our Defence Act.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - In the schedule of this Act there are twenty-seven pages of short specimen charge-sheets for breaches of military discipline, and there is an average of five on each page. As has already been pointed out to the Committee, it is possible to make ridiculous regulations in regard to saluting; and if two men were to appeal, or attempt to lodge an appeal, they could be charged with mutiny. I am not quite clear as to the application in peace time of No. 1 field punishment. I trust it cannot be ap plied, but it is an obligation in war time, and was objected to by our soldiers during the recent war. A penalty could be inflicted by those outside the Commonwealth.

Senator Pearce - For what offence?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - For a capital offence.

Senator Pearce - Not for desertion.

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