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Thursday, 5 May 1921

Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) .- 1 am distinctly opposed to any attempt to incorporate the provisions of the British Army Act in our Defence Act, and particularly to any attempt to do so without giving honorable senators the fullest opportunity of considering those provisions down to the minutest details. It has been said that the Army Act is perfect; that it is the embodiment of centuries of experience. It all depends on how you regard this weapon - this perfect Act, as it has been called.

Senator Vardon - This perfect piece of draftsmanship ?

Senator ELLIOTT - I might call it a perfect instrument of torture. If you are in a position of advantage, you can swing it round like a machine gun, and wipe out anybody who is opposed to you. Starting from the ranks myself, I know what it feels like to be the under-dog with another man wielding this instrument of torture over me. My earliest experiences of this Act date from the time when I joined the ranks for the South African war. I attained to the dignity of one stripe, and one day was in charge of a gang of men unloading some bags of mealies. We took advantage of the fact that the sergeant-major's back was turned, and, as the day was hot, we had a " spell-ho." Suddenly the sergeantmajor, who was an old Imperial soldier, dashed up, called us a loafing lot of blackguards who had never done a day's 'work before in our lives, and so on. He made a number of other uncomplimentary remarks which I need not retail here. After the men had gone away, I said to him, *' Sergeant-major, that was not a fair way to talk to these men.. We came here to fight, and we have been kept for a month feeding mules. I, for one, want to get back to my university course, which I broke off to come over here and help the Empire. Surely they can get niggers to do this work." The sergeant-major called me to attention, summoned a file of the guard, and had me paraded before the captain charged with " being insolent to a superior officer," and stated "he is not fit to be a corporal; too much sympathy with the men." Now, if my captain had been an Imperial officer, he would have said, " Sergeant-major', what shall we give the blighter?"

Senator Cox - And yet you have not done so badly under this Army Act. You started as a trooper, and are now a general.

Senator ELLIOTT - I must ask honorable senators not to take any notice of Senator Cox, for, although his grey hairs entitle him to respect, the feebleness of his reasoning betokens the early approach of second childhood. I have said that it all depends upon how you view the regulations of the British Army Act. I admire my machine gun when it is in its emplacement, so that it can mow the Germans down, but I have a wholly different point of view when the German has it trained on me. That is how I view the Army Act. .

Senator Vardon - But you did not finish your story about' the sergeantmajor.

Senator ELLIOTT - I was about to say that, had I been brought before a British officer, imbued with all the traditions of the British Army and trained under that Act, I would have been reduced to the ranks, and the charge and its sentence would have been a bar to my future career. I might still have been a private. Fortunately, my captain, being a Victorian, and not having been trained under this perfect instrument of torture, looked at the sergeant-major,, then looked at me, and said, "Admonished. Corporal, do not do it again." I may add that my captain had "sized" up that sergeant-major pretty accurately, and watched him closely; with the result that not long after he got him reduced.

The manner in which the British Army Act is administered reminds me of the scene in the Merchant of Venice in which Shylock demands his pound of flesh under what he regards as a perfect law, but when he discovers that he cannot have his due without a drop of blood, it is a case of "Oh, dreadful law!" It all depends upon the point of view.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I think you had better stick to your soldiering. Leave Shakespeare alone.

Senator ELLIOTT - I believe' a shoemaker will stick to his last, and so I had very little to say yesterday in contradiction of Senator Guthrie's remarks about the wool position. It might be advisable now for him to say little about these things.

No one cam say that my brigade in the field was undisciplined. If honorable senators care to read the history of the 5th Division, edited by General Hobbs, they will find that, contrary to the British, reports, I prepared the whole of the plan for the counter attack on Villers-Bretonneux and that it was my brigade that carried out the operations in conjunction with General Glasgow. The operation is described in last week's Argus as one of the most perfect examples of battle discipline. I may add that I communicated the plan to my Commanding Officer, General Hobbs, and he, in turn, communicated it to the British Commanding Officer, because the British were going to counter attack first. Then as this man could not, or would not .advance, they borrowed the two Australian brigadiers I have mentioned. But in British orders it is described thus : " The idea so brilliantly con- *ceived by the Third Corps was ably and gallantly carried out by the Eighth British Division, assisted by the Australians." As a matter »f fact, in training my brigade for that opera- tion, which was admitted by the British staff officers to have been the most perfect battle discipline under extraordinary difficulties, I employed most of my time in breaking the British Army Act for the benefit of my men. I well remember, when I first formed the brigade, they marched me across a desert, and camped me at a place at 9 o'clock in the morning, with only* about a pint of water.

Senator Cox - There was faulty staff work on your own part if you marched your men across that desert without water.

Senator ELLIOTT - It was said on one occasion by a Marshal of France that he was unable to beat the British troops, in spite of their generals. In the honorable senator we see a typical example of the class, of officer whom the Frenchman indicated. *

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - Order ! I beg honorable senators to re frain from recriminations in. respect of their various military qualifications.

Senator ELLIOTT - I have said that 1 had no water except a pint of the fluid. However, I was told, " Never mind; march!" And I was compelled to march. My Force arrived at its destination, and. still there was no water. I appealed through the telephone to every superior officer whom I could raise; and at last they promised me water at 6 o'clock in the morning. I did not believe them, however. I had my horse saddled.

Senator Bolton - What' has this to do with clause 18 1

The CHAIRMAN - I acknowledge that the connexion is apparently remote;

Out I deemed it probable that the honorable senator was employing his illustration in regard to some point of discipline under the Army Act.

Senator ELLIOTT - I am trying to illustrate the kind of thing that goes on under the Army Act. But, in deference to Senator Bolton, and to his inexperience in military matters, I will not press the point.

Senator Payne - Did you get the water ?

Senator ELLIOTT - I will drop my story, in deference to Senator Bolton, since it seems to' hurt him. It has been urged that the British Army, under the Army Act, was the most perfect Force that could have been created. I admit that the British Regular Army was a very fine army. It was capable of splendid work against a similarly constituted regular army, such as were the Germans. But it failed against the irregularly constituted troops in America. It hopelessly failed against the irregular forces in South Africa ; and it would fail again in similar circumstances. In fact, it may be said that the British Army is excellent in spite of the Army Act, rather than because of it. However excellent that Act may conceivably be, as applied to men with the training and early associations of the British Army, I am convinced that it would utterly break down if efforts were made to enforce it in respect of our own troops. Half the time, during the war, we would have had mutinies if the senior officers of the Australian Imperial Force had not been constantly watering down the severe provisions of the Army Act.

Senator Bolton - That practice has to be undertaken at times in regard to any law.

Senator ELLIOTT - The point is that it had to be left to the good sense and sound judgment of our senior officers. The Act was there all the while; and I would beloth to give some of my fellow countrymen - and I speak from the fullness of experience - the opportunity to strictlv enforce its provisions.

Senator Pearce - It has been said that if the railway authorities were to insist upon the observance of all the. railway regulations, the whole system would come to a standstill. But would the honorable senator do away with the whole of the regulations governing the railway service because of that?

Senator ELLIOTT - If the regulations are unworkable it is the height of redtape folly, and typical of government by roublic Departments, to perpetuate such a state of affairs; there should be a drastic cleaning up. I will give an instance of the extremity to which the stupid system of discipline was put during the war, under the Army Act. I hope to have the opportunity of describing this illustration, since I was ruled out of order when I endeavoured to do so at an earlier stage. An effort was sought to oompel every Australian officer and man to salute a motor car whenever it passed with a flag on it, no matter whether there was anybody in the car or not. It- had to be presumed that the car contained a general. I raised my voice in emphatic protest. It was a shame and a travesty to enforce this absurd regulation, for example, on troops who had just come out of the line, covered in mud and blood, and dazed with, lack of sleep and the strain of it all.

Senator Duncan - They wete required to salute the flag, and not the car.

Senator ELLIOTT - I have no objection to that. I protested against the infliction of this form of discipline, and not against the recognition of the flag.

Senator Duncan - The Union Jack is not a bad flag to salute.

Senator ELLIOTT - I agree; but I objected to this pin-pricking and harassing of our war-bedraggled and weary men. Nothing could have been more irritating or hurtful to our soldiers, particularly when coming straight, out from the front lines, and I objected against the infliction of what was really nothing more than a petty form of punishment. Eventually I got my own way.

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable' senator's time allowance has expired.

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