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Thursday, 5 May 1921

Senator FOSTER (Tasmania) . - When my time expired, I was saying that a great many men in Australia objected to the Army Act, not because they knew much about it, but because they were fearful that some of the punishments which have been applied by the British officers would be inflicted on them. The Army Act may be a good piece of legislation, and there may be quite a number of disciplinary provisions which are almost identical with some of those in our own Defence Act and its regulations. The fear that ex- Australian Imperial Force men have in regard to its inclusion in our Act is that punishments may be inflicted by the military caste.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator FOSTER - If the provisions of the British Army Act were em bodied in our Defence regulations, I am afraid that what is known as the No. 1 field punishment would be inflicted. This particular punishment was strongly objected to by the Australian Imperial Force men, and I think I may safely say that I do not think it was ever inflicted by an Australian commander.

Senator Bolton - It has been inflicted in Victoria.

Senator FOSTER - Then all the more disgrace on the officer who inflicted it. What is known as No. 1 field punishment is tantamount to imprisonment, with hard labour; but when the Army is in the field, a soldier cannot be imprisoned, but has to be punished in some other way. I remember when our troops were in the field some of our Australian boys saw the. punishment being inflicted on British soldiers, who were actually crucified by being stretched out at arm's length in. the burning sun for two hours at a time.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What was that for?

Senator FOSTER - They could not be imprisoned, and so they had to be punished in that way. It is a most severe; form of punishment, and our troops were so incensed at the sight that they ran amok, and cut down the two British soldiers. Not satisfied with that, they wrecked the canteen, and had enough "booze" to last them for a couple of day's. That was the attitude of. Australian soldiers towards this particular form of punishment.

Senator Elliott - That was in wartime.

Senator FOSTER - Yes, and the Australian soldiers will always be strongly opposed to such punishment as that I have mentioned. I think Senator Elliott will support me when I say that as far back as the South African War, when such punishment was inflicted, it always, caused' a riot.

Senator Elliott - Absolutely.

Senator FOSTER - As Senator Duncan mentioned this afternoon, there is no doubt that in the field the majority of Australian officers were afraid to inflict any such punishment on the troops undertheir command. I want honorable senators to bear in mind that that particular form of punishment is inflicted in the field, not for an offence under which we could proceed against a man under ' the civil lav, but for a military offence.

Senator Duncan - It might be for saying " Bosh ! " to an officer.

Senator FOSTER - Exactly ! I have been given specific examples by men serving in the British Army of punishment for what is known as " dumb insolence." An officer may do something to annoy a mau - he may even curse him - and if he declines to reply he may be charged with " dumb insolence." I have known officers inspecting men standing at attention to peer into their eyes as if they were dogs, and to endeavour to make them flinch', oi in some way to make them guilty of what is known as " dumb insolence."

Senator Pearce - If the man were so stupid, would he not do it under any Act?

Senator FOSTER - I do not think so.

Senator Elliott - This is to train them up in that sort of thing.

Senator Pearce - Is it? How can an Act make a difference in a man's character or temperament ?

Senator FOSTER - It is not the question, of a man's character, but of the power given a superior officer to handle his "machine gun."

Senator Pearce - He has a " machine gun " under the Defence Act.

Senator FOSTER - He has power under that Act to proceed against the man who is charged with behaviour prejudicial to good order and discipline.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator is dealing with the behaviour of an officer.

Senator FOSTER - Yes, because I am endeavouring to show that an officer can adopt such an attitude under the British Army Act, but not under our own Act.

Senator Pearce - There is a similar punishment under the Defence Act.

Senator FOSTER - There is no punishment for " dumb insolence."

Senator Pearce - There is a punishment for insolence, but not dumb insolence.

Senator Elliott - That is one of the customs of the Service.

Senator Pearce - "Dumb insolence" is merely a nickname. There is no mention of it in the Army Act.

Senator FOSTER - I cannot find a specific mention of it in the Army Act, and in the Defence Act we have no such offence. The soldiers can be charged with conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline, and on more than one occasion the power to punish for such an offence has -been abused by officers. In my own regiment a man, charged with threatening behaviour to his superior officer for breaking away from the escort, being drunk on duty, threatening to blow out the brains of a major, was further charged with conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. Sometimes punishment is necessary, but our experience has been that when you give too much power to officers - I am not even prepared to give too much authority to ' our own Australian officers - it is likely to be abused. I am not in favour of giving greater power than we have in our present Act, because I am afraid that injustices may arise, and an attempt be; made to inflict the No. 1 field punishment. If the British Army Act is incorporated in. our Defence Act that punishment could be applied, and soldiers could also be charged with " dumb insolence." If we adopt the proposal of the Government we will not be acting in the best interests of the citizens and soldiers of Australia.

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