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Wednesday, 11 May 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) . - I had a doubt as to whether the amendment really effected what Senator Gardiner aimed at, but the draftsman assures me that it does. As the honorable senator points out, we can take the vote on the amendment, and if the wording does not carry out what the Committee desire we can afterwards recommit the clause. What Senator Gardiner intends is to strike .out the death penalty altogether, that is, that it would not be competent for any court martial to sentence a person to death for any of the offences now provided for in the Defence Act. In order that the Committee may know what they are doing, I shall read section 98, which we are now proposing to amend -

No member of the Defence Force shall be sentenced to death by any court martial except for mutiny, desertion to the enemy, or traitorously delivering up to the enemy any garrison, fortress, post, guard, or ship, vessel, or boat, or traitorous correspondence with the enemy, and no sentence of death passed by any court martial shall be carried into effect until confirmed by the Governor-General.

If Senator Gardiner's amendment were carried it would have the effect of striking out the death penalty for any of the offences I have indicated. The Committee has inferentially indicated generally that it is prepared to agree to the death penalty for murder, although there is a division of opinion in the Committee as to whether the confirmation of the sentence should be reserved 'for the Governor-General. The issue before the Committee is clear so far Senator Gardiner's amendment is concerned. It is whether or not the death penalty can be imposed by a court martial for any crime whatever. On that I ask the Committee not to support the amendment, because if murder is to be punished by the civil law with the sentence of death, we ought not to have any less sentence for the citizen who becomes a soldier. We should certainly be inconsistent if a soldier committed murder and received a less punishment than a civilian who committed the same offence. Some. of the other classes of offence are even more serious, because by traitorously giving up a post to the enemy a soldier may kill thousands, and may indeed kill the nation, because he may by that act lose the war. Therefore, as the greater contains the less. I content myself with putting the issue to the Committee on the offence of murder only.

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