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Wednesday, 11 May 1921

Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) .- During the debate on the Defence Bill I moved an amendment to provide that members of Parliament who accepted positions in the Australian Army should immediately be placed on the unattached list, and the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) said that such a course was unprecedented. I have had the opportunity of looking up Hansard of the 26th May, 1904, on page 1594, on which I find reference to a regulation, having precisely the same effect, which was passed by the military authorities. There was an officer in the House at the time who had unearthed something in the nature of a military scandal at Queenscliff, and had made use of his position to criticise an officer. 1 think ' it was in connexion with an officer getting away with coal belonging to the men, and this member who was also an officer exposed it. A regulation was immediately passed which placed him on the seconded list because of doing his duty in Parliament, and he had difficulty- in getting back on to the active list when later on he lost his seat. I endeavoured to insert a similar provision, because the seconded and unattached lists are practically the same. In looking up, Hansard I find that Sena-' tor Pearce at that time made a very powerful defence of the regulation, which was attacked by Senator Neild and others. The present Minister for Defence said -

I think, with other honorable senators, that there are very good reasons for this regulation being included. As Senator Fraser hae said, ?very one ought to obey .the dictates of good taste in matters of this kind, but we know there may come times, and there may be men. in either House who may not be governed by the dictates of good taste, but who may make statements on the floor of Parliament seriously impugning the ability' of the General Officer Commanding, and the efficiency of the Forces. While we are considering the position of a member of Parliament, in what position do we place the General Officer Commanding, who is responsible for our troops and whose reputation is at stake 1 A member of Parliament is practically one of the employers of the General Officer Commanding, and. he may make charges in a privileged chamber, of which the door is shut to the officer whose ability he impugns. The member of Parliament may make statements criticising tha ability of a general in the discharge of his duties, but the month of the general will be tied, except that the Minister may ask him to reply. Even then, in what position do we place the Commandant? He has to take .upon himself the task of replying to parliamentary . attacks. Is it advisable' that the General Officer Commanding tho Military Forces should be called upon to reply to an attack made by officers under his command in a privileged chamber? I agree that such attacks may be justifiable in certain circumstances. They are of service to the community if they are made on legitimate lines, that is to say, if the member who makes them does bo as the result of knowledge that he acquires, in some other way, than by reason of hia position as an officer. But if hia position as an officer gives him access to documents, and to information to which he would not have access were he not an officer, and as a member of Parliament he uses that information

Senator WILSON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -Colonel Neild. - He ought certainly to have his commission cancelled if he reveals official secrets.

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