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Tuesday, 19 December 1905

Mr MALONEY (Melbourne) Although I intend to vote against the second reading of this Bill, I do not desire my action to be misunderstood. I protest against granting to Colonel Price a sum of money which, I understand, will have to be paid by Victoria alone.

Mr Ewing - This money, will come out of the funds of the Commonwealth.

Mr MALONEY - I understood that a large portion of it would be contributed by Victoria, and a small portion by Queensland.

Mr Ewing - It is Commonwealth expenditure.

Mr MALONEY - I have spoken to many Victorian representatives, and they have strongly objected to the proposed vote being deducted from the revenue of Victoria.

Mr Ewing - The preamble of the Bill makes it clear that it is Commonwealth expenditure.

Mr MALONEY - When these claims were first submitted to Parliament, it was generally understood that they would be paid by Victoria. However, the Minister now assures me that they will be paid out of the Commonwealth funds. That fact makes the wisdom or otherwise of their payment an Australian question. I hold that Colonel Price - and I am speaking with no enmity whatever - was, in receipt of .a large salary for a very long period, and that he should have been able to save a certain sum of money. I regret that he was not able to do so. The party to which I belong have always advocated that when a person becomes too old to earn his livelihood he should be granted an old-age pension. The State of Victoria occupies, an almost unique position in that connexion. Her Public Service old-age pension claims amount to more than those of the rest of Australia and New Zealand combined.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That fact has no bearing on. the rights of these officers.

Mr MALONEY - It has. It is time that those who have not been, privileged to obtain a pension should be assisted to get one. New South Wales does not pay half the amount which Victoria annually disburses in pensions. If we are going to grant pensions to persons who are unable to work, thev should be granted upon an equitable basis. The honorable member for Darwin has suggested an amendment for the payment of the grant of £500 in each case in yearly instalments, or, failing that, that we should provide for the payment of a pension which would keep the recipients from want. I should have no objection to the payment of a pension if it were placed upon a fair basis. Even if I were lacking in feelings of humanity, I certainly should not object to assistance being granted to Lt. -Col. Bayly, who is suffering from one of the most painful diseases known to the medical world. But the point remains that there are many others suffering from the same disease, contracted under circumstances equally as honorable as those under which Lt. -Col. Bayly became a victim, and I am sure that the Minister will agree that the most generous consideration should be extended to these people. Society, unfortunately, is most brutal in its treatment of the young and the old, and the party to which I belong is seeking to make life a little easier for those who have had the roughest times. The Treasurer said very truly that Colonel Price followed a very dangerous calling. I agree with him ; but I have here a small pamphlet, entitled The Tragedy of Toil, written by John Burns, a member of the present British Ministry, in which it is shown by figures that cannot be controverted, that the profession of the Army is less dangerous than most other occupations. Mr. John Burns points out that, as compared with the dangers of mining, those attaching to service in the Army are a mere bagatelle; and that, as compared with the dangers associated with any calling in which machinery is required, they are as nothing. Tn mv student days I went round with a subscription-list, trying to collect sixpences

*npurchase an invalid's chair for one of the heroes of Balaclava, of whom something like thirty-five were allowed to die in the work-house, while many others filled paupers' graves. I object to a Bill being brought in to grant compensation to officers while the men are left in the back-ground. I feel confident, however, that the Minister will extend as much sympathy to those in the lower ranks as any other honorable member is prepared to do. The right honorable member for East Sydney has pointed out that in no instance has a Bill been submitted to provide for compensation to a private.

Mr Ewing - We can deal with the privates by Executive act.

Mr MALONEY - I know of many privates, who have suffered in the service of their country, but have been treated badly.

It has been stated by the honorable and learned member for Corinella that the agreement between Colonel Price and the authorities was fair and square, and that when he went to Queensland, Colonel Price absolutely understood the terms and conditions upon which his appointment was made. I admire the man for determining to go to Queensland, notwithstanding that he might gain but little by doing so. The desire to fill the post of commanding officer in one of the States, before finally retiring from the service, was certainly a most laudable one. But, so far as I have been able to examine the papers, I am not prepared to say that he was entitled to the sum of £1,160 to which reference has been made. I believe that two successive Ministries refused to entertain his claim for £400, in respect of an accident suffered by him whilst on his way to Queensland. When Major-General Hutton said that Colonel Price was entitled to something like £1,600, I think that he was under a misapprehension - that he included in the total sum of , £1,160, the amount of£400, in respect of which a further claim has been made. On the 14th May, 1902, an offer was made to Colonel Price to become Commandant of Queensland. At that time the colonel was in his sixtieth year, and, by the rules governing the Defence Department, he would have been retired at a certain date. Major-General Hutton, however, permitted him to have two years' extra service. Had he remained in Victoria, that permission would not have been extended to him, but it was allowed in order that he might have an opportunity to secure the higher post of State Commandant of Queensland.

Mr Wilkinson - I suppose that any rubbish is good enough for Queensland.

Mr MALONEY - I do not suggest anything of the kind. I have more reason than has any other honorable member to know that nothing can be said against Colonel Price so far as his physical courage is concerned. At one time I had a very serious quarrel with him, but I never questioned hig personal courage. I believe that he is possessed of those qualities that go to make good soldiers and leaders; but I certainly object to the suggestion that he is the bravest of the brave. He may be amongst the number, but some of the rank and file are as brave as any who ever handled a rifle or marched a step. It was pointed out by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, during the debate on the Estimates of the Department of Defence, that -

In June ot July, 1902, Colonel Price actually proceeded to Queensland, and the Commonwealth Gazette of 18th July, 1902, contained the notification of his appointment as dating from 1st July-

Prior to that, the General Officer Commanding had written the following minute : -

Please assure Colonel Price that I can only regret that under the regulations of retirement for age it will be impossible for him to hold any active command under the Commonwealth after the age of 62, which he will, I understand, attain on the 21st October, 1904.

It will thus be seen that Colonel Price is now sixty-three year9 of age. The General Officer Commanding went on to state that -

I propose to recommend Colonel Price as a special case, to be retained in the service for two years, from the 21st October next, when he, in accordance with the date of his birth given in the gradation list, attains the age of 60.

The honorable and learned member for Corinella went on to point out that -

Six weeks after Colonel Price had entered upon his command in Queensland, the honorable and learned member for Corio asked the honorable member for Hume - who was then acting as Minister for Defence - a question as to whether any compensation was to be granted. The Acting Minister replied that he was then considering the question. The importance of this fact lies in the circumstance that at the time Colonel Price went to Queensland, the most that could have taken place was that Major-General Hutton - and Colonel Price alleges that this is so - had said that the retiring officers were , to receive gratuities. I may add that Major-General Hutton contradicts that statement, and asserts that what he promised was that he would do his best to obtain the gratuities, but that the question of granting them would depend upon Parliament.

Mr Ewing - The honorable member understands that we are not now dealing with that point. All that has been abandoned.

Mr MALONEY - The fact remains that, if the question of these gratuities does not come up in one way, it must come up in another. It reminds one of the legend of the hydra with the many heads, any one of which when cut off was immediately succeeded by two others.

Mr Crouch - It, is unfortunate that Major-General Hutton's recollection of the incident is different from that of about five or six officers.

Mr MALONEY - We all have lapses of memory. Colonel Price carried on from the 1 st July, 1902, and in October of that year he raised the question of gratuities. The honorable and learned member for Corinella pointed out on the occasion to which I refer that on the 29th October, 1902, the right honorable member for Swan, who was then Minister of Defence, wrote the following minute: -

I consider that, so far as the Government is concerned, Colonel Price's case is the only one in which the Government is committed, and in his case only to a limited extent. In order to avoid any misunderstanding in cases like that of Colonel Price, it is absolutely necessary that the General Officer Commanding should not make any promises to recommend officers for advancement, &c, until he has obtained the approval of the Minister.

The Treasurer interjected that that was a general statement.

Mr Kennedy - I think that we ought to have a quorum. [Quorum formed."]

Mr MALONEY - It was further pointed out by the honorable and learned member for Corinella that, as the result of further correspondence, the then Minister added -

I am unable to make any promise as to whether any gratuity will be paid to him on his retirement, as the present appropriation of gratuities to retiring officers and men was made on the distinct understanding that it should not form a precedent.

That is a fair answer to the statement that, if he had not gone to Queensland, he would have been entitled to a larger retiring allowance. On the 30th October, the right honorable member for Swan wrote -

A copy of my minute should be sent to Colonel Price, so that there may be no misunderstanding on the retirement question.

That minute was communicated to Colonel Price, who, on the 5th November, wrote -

I also note that I am given the opportunity of retiring on gratuity on 31st December.

Apparently, had he retired on that date, he would have received' his salary right up to the time of his retirement -

From a sordid point of view the latter would have been the course which I should have accepted, but careful consideration has caused me to feel that so long' as I am able to give my service to my country pecuniary considerations (unless extreme) should not weigh against the clear call of duty. ... I further note that your telegram informs me that the Minister is unable to make any promise as to gratuity on retirement at any future date, but I am constrained to believe that services, such a-s I have rendered to the country, will not be allowed to pass unrewarded, because I do not voluntarily give up my appointment at thepresent time.

The Minister wrote on the 16th' November -

I have told him that no promise can be made, so that he can have no cause for grievance with me if his hope is not realized.

To that Colonel Price replied -

Noted. - I shall have no cause of grievance- if I do not get compensation on retirement, but seeing how small the addition to my salary has been, I retain the hope that when my time comes to retire I may receive generous treatment for my past services.

I have alluded to the fact that there was a claim for £400, which both the Watson Ministry and the Reid-McLean Ministry refused to entertain.

Mr Watson - We were willing to entertain it as a claim foE compensation for injuries, if the Queensland Government would" consent ; but they refused.

Mr Kennedy - I think that we should have a quorum. [Quorum formed.]

Mr MALONEY -The honorable and learned member for Corinella, referring to his position as Minister of Defence, in December last, said - all I would say on behalf of the Government was that if it was the general desire of honorable members the Government would reconsider thequestion. There was, however, no general desire expressed ; but, notwithstanding that, the Government did reconsider it. I have been through thepapers at least four or five times.

I do not think that it can be denied that the honorable and learned gentleman went into the matter thoroughly, and the speech which he delivered on the 27th October last showed how he would have voted' had there been a division on it. There were other cases quite as hard as that of Colonel Price. Let me mention one which was referred toby the honorable and learned member for Corio in 1903. I will quote his own words -

I wish to refer specially to the treatment of a non-commissioned officer, Regimental Sergeant. Major Coffey. This is the third time I havecalled attention to his case, and I have no desireto be bringing it up constantly, but I find that it is necessary to reiterate a thing until it is absolutely forced into the mind of Ministersbefore they will think of doing even justice toa man. I am not now fighting for SergeantMajor Coffey, because he is dead ; but he hasleft a widow and five children, who are deserving of some consideration. He was a regimental drill instructor in Victoria, and he was directed" to go with the First Contingent to South Africa. He did not come back with that contingent, but continued in South Africa, attaching himself to the Second and Third Contingents, and he returned to Victoria with phthisis of the throat.

He died after two years from this disease, contracted while on duty. Neither he, when alive, nor his widow could get the slightest compensation from the Commonwealth, because the Commonwealth authorities insisted that he was a State man. When application was made to the State Ministry, the reply was that the Commonwealth had taken over the Defence Force.

Sir John Forrest - I suppose he died before the Commonwealth was established.

Mr CROUCH - He died only last year, but he had served in the State forces. Between the two authorities his widow is left to live in a way which must be considered disgraceful by every man in the Commonwealth who contemplates the position. She has applied to the State Defence Department and to the State Premier of Victoria. Their answer was that the Commonwealth had taken over the Defence Force. When she applied to the Commonwealth authorities, their answer was that the case is one for the consideration of the State authorities, because SergeantMajor Coffey went with the First Contingent before the ist January, 1901

Is it right for the Commonwealth to refuse that widowed mother and her five children the consideration which they ask for, if this case is to be dealt with ?

Mr Kennedy - There is not a quorum present. [Quorum formed.]

Mr MALONEY - I remember the promises which were made by the Chief Justice of Victoria and the Premier of the State, when these men were going to South Africa, and, as a Labour member. I was one of the first to object to the breaking of them. They have been broken disgracefully.

Mr Chanter - In other States besides Victoria.

Mr MALONEY - The breaking of these promises should cover those responsible for it with infamy. The party to which I belong regarded the South African war as an infamous one, and I think that the concensus of good opinion is now with us. That, however, does not justify the scandalous treatment which our soldiers have received. The honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne has said that the amount proposed to be voted is only a small sum, but a similar amount would go a good way if distributed amongst men of the rank and file, and I ask him to assist us in widening the scope of the measure. I shall have to vote against the' Bill as it stands, though I recognise that the case of Lt. -Col. Bayly is a very sad one, and. should the Bill be thrown out, would be willing to contribute mv share to prevent his being in want until the end of the recess. But is 'it right to vote money to these officers when there are so many thousands in want? I have come to-day from a dying mother, who absolutely needs food for herself and her children, and whom it is hard to get into an institution. Colonel Price was paid a large salary, and if he is not now able to maintain himself that is a misfortune which is common to many. He should not be allowed to want. No officer or private, and no member of the larger army of toilers outside, should suffer in his old age. The annals of toil show that the death rate is larger among the workers than among the soldiers. Miners, run many more risks of injury and death than do military men. Therefore, if we are going to make any provision for the officers of our Defence Forces, we should extend the same consideration to others. As the honorable member for Darwin has suggested, it is. extremely unlikely that the £500 proposed to be granted to Colonel Price will serve to keep him for more than two years. Therefore, it would be better to make him an allowance that would extend over, say, five years. If the House desires to grant pensions, I shall not object, provided that all of the community are treated on the same footing. In Victoria, it is considered a crime to apply for a State old-age pension. Some justices, of the peace make it as difficult as possible for the old and helpless to obtain the pensions, which should be granted to them without putting them to any more trouble or inconvenience than is absolutely necessary to safeguard the interests of the community. No doubt Colonel Price is a brave man ; but the same thing may be said of thousands of others who went from Australia to South Africa. I give him full credit for the fact that whilst he was in command of the Mounted Rifles he insisted that all his officers should graduate in the ranks. He is also to be commended for disapproving of the absurd frill which so frequently characterizes military officers. I think that it would be well for the Government to withdraw the Bill and introduce a more comprehensive measure next session.

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