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Friday, 6 March 1942

Senator ARMSTRONG (New South Wales) . - It is extraordinary that this matter should have been brought up and pressed in the manner in which it has been pressed this afternoon. I approach the subject simply as a layman, as do most other honorable senators. The community generally is in great heart because at least one responsible officer has returned from Malaya and can give the benefit of his experience to the Government. Senator Sampson spoke of courts of inquiry to deal with stolen material. Such inquiries often involve a great deal of waste of time and energy, and they only add to the paper war that is being fought within the Army. If a tin of petrol is missed from Army supplies, a court of inquiry is established, and sometimes it takes a fortnight or longer to decide whether the petrol was wasted or stolen. Surely honorable senators realize that, in these days, we are not counting the days but the hours. It would be ridiculous to pull MajorGeneral Bennett out of whatever job he has been given and force him to wait about while half-a-dozen "brass hats" consider whether he should have stayed in Singapore with his men, or whether, having done all that he could, he should have endeavoured to escape to his country in order to make his knowledge and experience available to us. British newspapers regarded this officer as the one general in the Malayan campaign who fought from the word "go". Mis last cable message to the Australian Government, as published in the press, was that the Australian Imperial Force line would "hold as usual ". When the flag of surrender unfortunately had to be raised, and the Australian troops had to lay down their arms, he had done all that he could do. His next responsibility was to the Commonwealth, and he endeavoured to discharge that responsibility in the right way. I believe that the great majority of Australians approve his action. If the military gentlemen opposite want to stand by what has been happening in the Army for 40 years, they should wait for the war to finish, and then hold a court of inquiry at leisure. In my opinion the sooner we forget about what has been done in the Army for the last 40 years, the better it will be for us. The Japanese will not wait upon the decisions of any courts of inquiry. Anything that impedes speedy action by our military leaders and the Government in preparing, first, for the defence of this country, and, secondly, for the offensive that must be initiated in this country, is criminal. I hold strong views on this subject. f am pleased that MajorGeneral Bennett has escaped and returned to Australia. He fulfilled his duty to his men, and then he successfully endeavoured to do his duty to the Commonwealth. He should be placed immediately in a position in which he can use the knowledge which he gained under extraordinarily trying conditions in Malaya and Singapore. If a court of inquiry is to be held, it should be held in happier circumstances, when there will be plenty of time for the members of a court to make whatever long-winded decisions they want to make. Apparently there are still many men in this country who would rather die, choked by the old school tie, than live without it.

Senator COLLINGS(QueenslandMinister for the Interior [4.6]. - in reply - Several important announcements have now to be made. First, I inform honorable senators that a proclamation has this day been issued under the Defence Act calling up persons specified in classes IV and V. of sub-section 3 of section 60 of the Defence Act to enlist and serve as prescribed by that act and the regulations thereunder. This has been done because of the serious position which confronts the nation.

A rather clever plot was unfolded before the eyes of the Senate this morning. Senator Spicer arranged that certain action should be taken which undoubtedly was intended to be ultra-smart. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) read a regulation. Senator McBride promptly demanded, under the Standing Orders, that the document should be tabled. I inform the honorable gentlemen concerned in that very smart move that there was not the slightest occasion to do anything of the kind. It is not necessary to table a regulation at all. Honorable senators can move for its disallowance without the regulation being tabled. This is due to a High Court judgment, which is as follows : -

Held,by Rich, Starke and Dixon JJ. (Gavan Duffy G.J. and Evatt -/. dissenting), that it was not a condition essential to the validity or operation of a resolution of disallowance that the regulations should first be laid before the House and notice of such resolution given.

I pass that information on to honorable senators opposite. Honorable senators can move for the disallowance of a regulation so long as they do so within fourteen days of the assembling of Parliament.

Senator Spicer - If the honorable senator will read the report of that case he will see that precisely the same procedure was followed then.

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