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Thursday, 5 May 1921

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . -The wisdom or otherwise of the general application of the Army Act to Australia is a question! that cannot be properly discussed by an honorable senator who has not had military experience, and is a point which a layman hardly cares to dogmatize upon. Whatever may have been allowed in the past, ' to-day the Senate is better able to determine whether or not the British Army Act shall be. applicable to our Forces, and, if so, to what extent, at what times, and under what circumstances. For the first time in the history of the Senate there is a' considerable number of senators, in proportion to its full strength, who have seen a good deal of the manner in which the British Army Act operates. When we were dealing with this question on any previous occasion, we did not have that advantage, and a layman or non-military senator hesitates to dogmatize about these matters. All we can do is to listen to the experience of those who have been to . the Front and can tell us what the administration of the Army Act, as applied to our Forces, has meant.

I am against anything like the adoption of the principle that the Army Act shall, in time of peace, he applicable to the Defence Forces of Australia. There are two reasons in particular why, as a result of this debate, I have come to that conclusion. Senator Drake-Brockman, who supports the principle of the application of the British Army Act to our Forces, says that the Act, as a code, is excellent and, so to speak unimprovable. No doubt it is excellent, admirable and unimprovable for its purpose and for the circumstances to which it has application, but, as has been pointed out in this debate, those who enlist in the British Army are expressly warned in regard to the principles of the Act before they enlist, and are afterwards given the opportunity to proceed with their enlistment or withdraw, whereas, under the Australian system of compulsory training, no- such option is given to the individual. That is the most distinguishing characteristic between the British Army and the Australian Army, and one that should carry some weight with honorable senators in considering the proposition now before us.

Another feature of the British Army Act referred to byprevious speakers is that it must be renewed annually by Parliament. In the course of annually renewing the Act it is competent for the British Parliament to modify it or amend it, and, as a matter of practice and experience, on more than one occasion, it has been so amended. Then again, quite apart from the original Army Act and its subsequent modifications introduced on its annual consideration, there are regulations, both under the Army Act and under that measure as amended from time to time, so that if we adopt in our legislation a provision that the Army Act and the regulations framed under it shall he applicable to the Defence Forces of Australia, we accept not only what is in the existing Army Act of to-day and the regulations under it, but also that Act as it stands from year to year, subject to such modifications as may be introduced into it by legislation and whatever regulations may be framed under it from year to year.

Senator Pearce - If they are not inconsistent with our own Act.

Senator KEATING - Yes ; if they are not directly inconsistent with our own provisions, but there may be. in the modifications of the Army Act or in the regulations, some provisions which, al though, not inconsistent directly and expressly with our own conditions, may be, nevertheless, obnoxious to Australia. Then it would be necessary for us to keep our eye continuously on the British Army Act and regulations, and from time to time to introduce legislation here -

Senator Pearce - Or regulations.

Senator KEATING - Or regulationsif the matter came within the ambit of a regulation - to the effect that such-and-such a provision of the British Army Act or the regulations framed under it should not be applicable to the conditions of Australia. - That is a procedure which, I think, the Commonwealth Legislature should not adopt. It would mean that we wereabdi-, eating our own . responsibilities. We ought to be able to adopt a code applicable to the conditions of military service in and for Australia, and might very well be guided in the framing of such a code by the provisions of the British Army Act. We might adopt all that we thought was excellent in it, or the regulations framed under it.

SenatorRowell. - Does not the honorable senator recognise that in peacewe are training officers and men under one system, and that as soon as war occurs we place them under another system which they have not learned?

Senator KEATING - If we take the course I am now suggesting, they would very rapidly learn the difference between the two systems. By adopting a code of our own based primarily upon the British Army Act we would, to a large extent, familiarize them with the provisions of that Act and the regulations under it; and when it became necessary for our officers and men to learn the provisions of the British Army Act and the regulations under it, all they would practically have to learn would he the differ- . ences between the two codes. If we adopted that course, we would be doing something consistent with the dignity of this Commonwealth Parliament and our responsibilities. For that reason, I am opposed to the proposal to adopt the British Army Act and apply it to our Forces, or to adopt in advance regulations that may be made under that Act from time to time .

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