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Wednesday, 23 March 1927

Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

About five years ago tlie Government introduced into the Senate a bill for an act to amend the Defence Act 1903-1918. During the course of the debate a question was raised as to the omission of certain sections of the British Army Act from the bill. After a prolonged debate the Minister (Senator Pearce) introduced certain clauses which were similar to those in the Army Act. I refer to sections 42 and 43. Section 42 reads -

If an officer thinks himself wronged by his commanding officer and, on due application made to him, does not receive the redress to which he may consider himself entitled, he may complain to the Army Council in order to obtain justice, who are hereby required to examine into such complaint, and, through a Secretary of State, make their report to His Majesty, in order to receive the directions of His Majesty thereon.

Senator Pearce, in introducing these amendments, said -

I have brought forward this proposal in response to the suggestion of certain honorable senators that Die provisions which are in the Army Act, and which apply in time of war and which in time of peace are contained in our own regulations, should he embodied in the statute itself. A promise was made that that course would be followed, and these proposals give effect to that promise. The proposed new section goes farther and meets the case put by Senator DrakeBrockman, who pointed out that as the officer appointed to a divisional command is appointed on the recommendation of the Military Board, an officer's appeal under the existing regulations can go only to that Board, and that, therefore, it is really an appeal from Cæsar to Cæsar. The honorable senator suggested that an officer should have a right of appeal to the Governor-General, and that is provided for in the proposed new section. It will also give an officer similar power to obtain redress to that which is provided in the Army Act, but for the Army Council it substitutes the Military Board or the General Officer Commanding of the Australian Forces; for the Secretary of State it substitutes the Minister; and for His Majesty it substitutes the Governor-General. It is similar to the Australian Military Regulations, but it goes farther by providing for an appeal by an officer to the Governor-General, both in time of peace and in time of war, whereas the present regulations provide that an appeal in time of peace may go only as far as the Military Board. Under the proposed new section a soldier will have a right of appeal to a different authority from that which has caused the thing to be done of which he complains. In other words, if a wrong has been done by his captain he may appeal to the captain's next superior officer, and so on, right up to the General Officer Commanding. In the British Army the appeal by a soldier does not go to the King. This, however, is not a class distinction as between the officer and the soldier. The distinction is made because in the case of an officer he would be appealing for redress from the act of his superior officer to that superior officer. A further reference to the King is therefore given in the case of an officer in order that the civil authority may intervene between the officer of whom complaint is made and the officer who makes the complaint. Under the Army Act the right of appeal is up to the General Officer Commanding in the case of the soldier. The proposals I have submitted provide for a right of appeal in peace time from the General Officer Commanding to the Military Board. In the case of an officer, however, the appeal is to the Governor-General, who, in some cases, is the only authority through whom redress can be obtained.

Ex-Senator Gardiner, at that time the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, in his speech on the bill, said -

The Minister (Senator Pearce) has made a very fair attempt to meet the wishes of the committee as expressed when the subject was previously discussed.

That the amendment was accepted by all parties in the Senate indicates that the application to Australia of these provisions of the Army Act relating to the right of officers to appeal was in accord with the wishes of all sections of the community. Subsequently, the bill went to another place, where it was heatedly debated, with the result that the Government was compelled to abandon it. Matters have remained unchanged since then, although I had expected that before now amending legislation would have been introduced. I bring this bill forward now in the hope not that the Senate will pass it to-day, but that the Government will see the desirability of doing something in the direction I have indicated. So far as their right of appeal is concerned, there is no reason why military officers in Australia should not be on the same footing as those in the British Army.

Senator Thompson - Are these proposals in keeping with the King's regulations 1

Senator ELLIOTT - They are modifications of the Army Act, in that, for the Army Council the Military Board or the General Officer Commanding the Australian Forces is substituted; for the Secretary of State is substituted the Minister, and for His Majesty is substituted the Governor-General.

Debate (on motion by Senator Glasgow) adjourned.

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