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Thursday, 5 May 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I am glad that we have had a discussion on this matter; but I do not know if, as a member of the Opposition, I shall be able to support the proposal. In moving, around, as I am compelled to, I am frequently approached by men who have been to the Front, who have urged me to do all in my power to prevent the British Army Act being embodied in our legislation. There is a widespread feeling of opposition amongst the rank and file, and generally men strongly object to being spread-eagled in the sun and compelled to stretch their limbs firs't one way and then the other. They know that if this becomes law, and they fail to comply with military orders, they can immediately be punished under the stringent provisions of the British Army Act. In this country, which is a peculiarly free Democracy, we should avoid anything that has even a shade of unpopularity, because if we are to maintain our Defence Forces we must make the Service as popular as possible. If one can judge by the opinions expressed by men on trains, trains, or in the street it is not difficult to assume that there is a good deal of opposition to the proposal of the Government.

The Minister has assured us that by incorporating the Army Act we shall be following the safe footsteps of South Africa, and the excellent example of New Zealand. Australia can well afford to follow those countries when they are right, but they have not yet shown themselves to be such leaders of thought that we should adopt a system merely because they have adopted it. My chief objection to the incorporation of the Army Act is that there is not one member of the Committee, and I include the 'Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) who knows just what the Army Act contains. I have had an old copy of the Act in my possession for some weeks, and have tried to make myself acquainted with its provisions, t found, from the answer given by the Minister for Defence to the question I put, that the Army Act is not a permanent Act in Great Britain itself. The people of Great Britain have such a repugnance, shall I say, to the idea of a standing army that the British Army exists for only twelve months at a time.

Senator Pearce - That is not the reason for the Annual Army Act. It has to do with the prerogative of the King.

Senator GARDINER - Senator Fosterhas very obligingly supplied me with a reference to the point I am making. I find, on page 14 of the Manual of Military Law for 1914, the statement made -

The Army Act has of itself no force, but' requires to be brought into operation annually by an Act of the Parliament, generally known as the Army Annual Act. This is to secure the constitutional principle of the control of Parliament over the discipline requisite for the government of the Army. These annual Acts afford opportunities for amending the Army Act, of which considerable use has been made.

Senator Foster - We have no proposal of that kind here.

Senator GARDINER - I have said that in Great Britain there is a strong repugnance to a standing army. The people there have suffered from its dangers, and we may suffer here from the dangers of a permanent army. I should prefer the British system requiring the annual passage of an Army Act, so that if any one became desperate, as our own Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) might become at any moment, and took possession of the Army, after twelve months its use would be illegal, because it would require to be renewed by an Act of the Parliament. I am a great believer in Parliamentary control of the 'Army. The Government are proposing the incorpora-, tion of an Imperial Act with the provisions of which honorable senators are not familiar.

Senator Foster - They are proposing that an Act which is not permanently in force in England shall be permanently in force here.

Senator GARDINER - That is so, and they go further, and propose to give effect here automatically to any amendments of the Army Act, which may from time to time be made in Great Britain. The Minister for Defence told us that he was not inclined to accept the proposed application of the Army Act to our Forces, but has convinced himself that it would be advantageous to do so. We know how thoroughly the honorable senator goes into these matters, and he should give other members of the Senate time to convince themselves that it would be advantageous to apply the Army Act to our Forces, before he takes 'this Bill any further. If the Minister finds that a considerable section of the party supporting him is inclined to swallow the British Army Act merely because he has submitted this Bill-

Senator Pearce - I say quite frankly that unless the Government can carry this clause with a fair majority, I shall drop the proposal.

Senator GARDINER - That is a very fair statement, and I am very pleased that the Minister should deal with the Bill in such a manner. It is not a question of humiliating the Government. If there is a feeling of dissatisfaction with the proposal amongst the followers of the Government in the Senate, it is safe to say that in another place dissatisfaction with it will be expressed. The Minister's statement that he will be guided by the votes of honorable senators is satisfactory, but I hope that, if he succeeds in having the clause passed, we shall have an opportunity to consider the Army Act section by section. I might commence by proposing that sections 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the Act should be excluded, and Senator Duncan might later take up sections 7, 8, 9, and 10, so that eventually the whole of the provisions of the Army Act would be brought before the Committee, I welcome the amiable frame of mind which the Minister for Defence has displayed, and I shall do nothing to prevent the Committee going to a division on the proposal quickly. I hope that the result of the division, will save the Minister a large amount of trouble in endeavouring to put through the Senate a measure to link us up with the provisions of the Army Act, about which we know so little. I have heard honorable senators claim that it is one cf the finest pieces of legislation it is possible to produce. It may be an excellent piece of legislation for the British Standing Army. It exists for only twelve months, and must be called into existence each year by an annual Act of the Imperial Parliament. It may contain the Wisdom of centuries, hut I venture to say that it contains the wisdom of men who have been accustomed to dealing with other Men as if they comprised two distinct passes. Half the training of the British officer is directed to the training of the rank and file as pieces of machinery to be used at the will and pleasure of the officers. The whole training of the Australian Army must be the training of men who claim equal rights.

Senator Cox - We should have a poor Army if \hey aid.

Senator GARDINER - I have read that just as high military authorities as Senator Cox have said that the Australian soldier, with his contempt, shall I say, for the appearance of discipline, became a better soldier the nearer he got to the fighting line.

Senator Cox - I quite agree with the honorable senator. He submitted to discipline then.

Senator GARDINER - There are two distinct forms of discipline. There is the discipline of the British Army, which would enforce upon the private a sense of his inferiority, and the superior discipline of the Australian, who, no matter what his position in the Army may he, asserts his right as the equal of any other man.

Senator Pearce - He was one of the best disciplined soldiers in Europe.

Senator GARDINER - I have said that the nearer he got to the fighting line the better the soldier he became. I do not believe that any one who has read anything of the history of militarism will deny that it has always been the military idea that the officer is altogether superior to the man.

Senator Cox - Nearly every officer we had in the Australian Army had been a trooper or a private.

SenatorGARDINER. - I suppose that accounts for the mighty success of our Army. The officers came from the commonsense section.

Senator Cox - Then what is the honorable senator talking about?

Senator GARDINER - I am talking of the English proposal to incorporate in our Defence Act' a system which is essentially British. I have read letters from young officers going through schools of instruction in which they said that care was taken to make them adopt outwardly the English method and the English manner - the swagger, shall I say, of the English officer.

Senator Bolton - What is wrong with it?

Senator GARDINER - I am sure that Senator Bolton can see nothing wrong with it. But the fact remains that it is impossible to make a real Australian adapt himselfto it.

Senator Foster - And we do not want to make him do so.

Senator GARDINER - As Senator Foster very properly says, we do not want to make him do so. .

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -brockman. - And we never tried to do so, even when we were operating under the Army Act.

Senator GARDINER - There is evidently something in the Army Act which the Government desire to incorporate in our Defence Act, and about which they are not prepared to enlighten us. They propose to make our Forces swallow a system which is largely repugnant to them.

Senator Pearce - Three-fourths of our soldiers have never served under any but the Army. Act.

Senator GARDINER - And they are the very men who complain most about it.

Senator Pearce - The freedom and independence which the honorable senator says they asserted was asserted under the operation of the Army Act.

Senator Elliott - At the risk of becourtmartialed.

Senator Pearce - No.

Senator GARDINER - I know that on the arrival of soldiers in Melbourne there was occasionally a kind of demonstration made with a view to securing some concession, and the officer in charge informed the men that they were guilty of mutiny, and that the penalty, if they persisted, was death. I remember that when some lads arrived in Melbourne from Sydney, some stupid officer decided that these men who were leaving Australia, and were taking their lives in their hands, should not be allowed to land in Melbourne. They asserted their right, and took a walk around the streets of Melbourne, and the next day they were brought up on the charge of mutiny, and many were punished. Some were put out of the Army, and sent back to the State from which they came. When men are placed in positions over other men there is always a certain class who will hold that it is necessary to keep others in a subservient position in order to get the best out of them. But the results of our soldiering show that that is not the way in which to get the best out of men.

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