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Wednesday, 11 May 1921

Senator FOSTER (Tasmania) . - I am not in favour of SenatorĀ®' Gardiner's amendment to eliminate the death penalty. Some of us who were abroad upon active service., and who heard of the deeds perpetrated by men in uniform, would not wish to see them alive anywhere. It is rather peculiar to hear such consideration expressed for men who had no regard whatever for the lives of their comrades. That is all I desire to say upon this subject. I made it pretty clear the other day that I had absolutely no time for British Army methods. If the words " within the limits of the Commonwealth" be inserted in this clause, it may empower those in command of the British Army at some future time to inflict the death penalty upon our troops who may be serving abroad. That I' do not desire. I recognise the necessity for capital punishment.- Some honorable senators appear to Be rather confused in regard to the offences for which the death penalty may be applied under our De- . fence Act. They have mixed up the offence of desertion to the enemy with that of ordinary desertion. I would point out that a man who is on leave, and who exceeds his leave by twenty-one days, is guilty of desertion. Under' the British Army Act that offence is punishable bv death, but under our Defence Act, which applied in England during the recent war, a man could be sentenced to death only for deserting to the enemy - a vastly different thing. If a man were found guilty of some of the offences enumerated in this clause, I fear that a hasty sentence might be passed upon him by British officers, without proper consideration being given to his case by some of our Australian officers. I would be content to leave the matter in the hands of the General Commanding the Australian Division, if he were an Australian officer. But I am not prepared - particularly in view of what we have recently read of certain officers in the British Army who appear to have acted rather hastily - to hand over to those officers the lives of our Australian troops. If the Minister (Senator Pearce) can suggest some method by which control may be vested in an Australian officer serving abroad, I shall be satisfied; but, otherwise, I shall vote to retain the clause as it now stands.

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