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Thursday, 5 May 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I also am against the incorporation of the Army Act in our Commonwealth defence laws. I am not prepared to vote for the inclusion of anything in a measure unless I am familiar with its subject-matter.

Senator Drake-Brockman - The honorable senator was in Parliament when the Bill to apply the Army Act in time of war was passed.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - During the war period we did, and agreed to the doing of, many things for which' we would not stand to-day.

Senator Pearce - We passed that law at a time of peace.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If that was so, I am willing to admit that there are. many measures for which I have voted without being fully cognisant of their contents and application; but if I have been wrong in the past I do not intend to make that wrong right by committing another wrong now. Senator Foster has said that the British Army was one of the finest, if not the best, in the world. His implication was that that was due to its discipline under the Army Act. I remember listening to a speech by General Hutton, in Western Australia, a little while after the Boer war. General Hutton remarked that at one period of that campaign he had only British troops under him. Lord Roberts desired him to undertake a special task, and he acquiesced, of course, stipulating only that he would like some Australians under him in the performance of the job. The Commander-in-Chief replied that General Hutton might have his Australians, but that they were, at the time, under General Pole-Carew. However, if the latter would permit of the transfer, he was quite agreeable. General Hutton thereupon went to General Pole-Carew and made his request, but he received the reply, " No ; you can have any troops serving under me, except my Australians." It is true that these Colonial soldiers were, at the moment, under the Army Act, but they had not been trained under it.

Senator Bolton - Yes; our Colonial Forces in those days were under the Army Act.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Well, that may be; but how many of them had had any pre-war training at all, as a matter of fact? The point is that General Hutton wanted Australians, and could not have them, since a British general preferred to keep them.

The Minister for Defence has said that, if we embody the British Army Act in our legislation, it must be distinctly understood that there will be no clashing or inconsistency with our own legislation. That, however, does not satisfy me. While there may be no inconsistency, there is much in the British Act that is not in our Defence Act, and which, if the Commonwealth Legislature were asked to pass in a separate and specific Bill, would not be accepted . for one moment. The alternative proposal of the Minister,' however, is admirable. Senator Pearce has said that, if this clause is negatived, it will be the duty of the Government to separate the administrational from the disciplinary features of our Defence legislation, and to bring in a distinct Bill. embracing the disciplinary code. I hope that course will be adopted. It is quite possible that, owing to the different atmosphere, legislation may be passed in Great Britain that would be quite unsuitable in Australia. I am not able to give what may be regarded as a military illustration, but perhaps I may be permitted to recall a civil occurrence. At the inception of Federation it was necessary to frame Standing Orders under which the Senate was to operate, one of which was that. if any point should arise in connexion with our procedure that was not covered by a specific standing order, we were to be guided by the Standing Orders and parliamentary practice of the House of Commons. One of the most eminent Presidents we. have had in the Senate, the late SirRichard Baker, would not adopt such a proposal, because he considered that the Senate should conduct its business under its own Standing Orders.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap -I cannot allow a general discussion on the topic which the honorable senator is introducing ; but if he is mentioning it by way of illustration only, he may proceed.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am only using it as an illustration. The proposal to be guided by the Standing Orders of the British House of Commons when our own did not apply was not acceptable to the President to whom I have referred, but the principle was adopted in another place. The consequence is that they have a standing order which provides that if a point should arise that is not covered by their own Standing Orders, they shall be guided by the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. A certain incident occurred when a member outside the chamber cast a reflection upon the then Speaker, and, according to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, that honorable member could be dealt, with as if he had made the reflection within the chamber, and he was dealt with accordingly. Honorable senators will see that the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives is very different to that of the Speaker in the House of Commons, as immediately an honorable member becomes a Speaker in the British Parliament he has to dissociate himself from anything of a party nature. He immediately ceases to become a member of the Marlborough, Carlton, Reform, and Liberal Club, or any such social institution. He never addresses a political meeting, when he stands for Parliament, and is usually returned . unopposed. In these circumstances the Speaker is in a totally different position, and consequently it is manifestly unfair to be guided by Standing Orders that are not applicable. In the- past I may have unwittingly agreed to the incorporation of certain matters in our Acts, full particulars of which were not before us, but I am not prepared to embody in an Act of Parliament a Statute passed in another country, 99 per cent, of which may be unsuitable, and the remaining 1 per cent, unsuitable.

Senator Cox - In 1903 you took it on trust.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If I did, I am prepared to admit I was wrong, and am now going to rectify my previous mistake. We do not understand the British Act, and if any amendments are made in it they would automatically become the law of the Commonwealth. We do not know what is in the British Act, and for the reasons given I shall vote against the clause.

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