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Thursday, 6 October 1927

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - Another subject which I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister for Defence (Senator Glasgow) is the decision of the High Court in October last in the action brought by the Defence Department against the English Electric Company of Australia, Limited, Sydney. It appears that some time ago a young apprentice, who, under the compulsory training conditions of the Defence Act, had to attend training camps, was penalized by his employers, who required him at the end of his apprenticeship term to serve an additional period to cover the number of days during which he was absent from his employment on military duties. The Defence Department brought an action against the firm for a breach of the Defence Act, and the magistrate imposed a fine of £10. The Supreme Court of New South Wales, to which the firm appealed, quashed the conviction, and the High Court, on appeal, on the casting vote of the Chief Justice, decided in favour of the firm. In view of the decision of the High Court, the Senate is entitled to know if it is the intention of the Government, to amend the Defence Act so as to protect other apprentices from being penalized in the same .manner. Theseyoung men are being trained to equip, themselves for the defence of Australia.. If, unfortunately, war broke out, they would be assisting to defend the property of some employers who might have penalized them during their apprenticeship. Certainly it was not the intention of Parliament, when the Defence Act was passed, to allow any trainee to be penalized in this way. I am sure that, as a whole, the employers of Australia will not take advantage of the High Court decision, which has disclosed a weakness in the law. The case put up by the company was that the trainee was absent from his employment without leave. I ask honorable senators to consider the position of apprentices, and, indeed, all young men in employment. They are obliged under the law to attend military training camps for a certain period each year. If they fail to do so they may be proceeded against and fined. If, on the other hand, they obey the law, they are liable to be penalized by their employers, who may require them to serve an extra period at the close of their apprenticeship. This state of affairs cannot be tolerated. The sooner the Defence Act is amended the better.

Senator Sir WILLIAMGLASGOW (Queensland) [4.31]. - I have no personal knowledge of the case mentioned by Senator Needham. I think the incident occurred before I took over the department.

Senator Needham - It occurred in October, 1926.

Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW -When the next amendment of the act is being considered, I will see that the anomaly referred to by the honorable senator is considered.

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