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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) (6:54 AM) . - Honorable members will recollect that, when this subject was last before us in another Bill, strong objection was taken to the measure, because it incorporated the Imperial Army Act. It was withdrawn for that reason. Though this Bill seems to be an innocent measure I find that it contains the same obnoxious provisions to which exception was taken in the Bill that was withdrawn. If passed in its present form we shall be in exactly the same position as we would have been in had the other measure been accepted. I am quite sure that honorable members, the people, and our soldiers, do not want that. We all took it for granted that the measure to provide for the establishment, organization, and government of the Australian Air Force would contain none of those provisions. We were under the impression that the new Bill would make the Australian Air Force purely Australian, and omit all reference to the British Army Act. The definition clause states that "Defence Act" means the Defence Act 1903-1918. The Air Force Act is defined as "An Act to provide for the discipline and regulation of the Air Force," being the Army Act modified in accordance with the provisions of the Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917. It will be remembered that, when discussing this subject before, I pointed out .quite clearly, and it was generally accepted, that the Air Force Act in Great Britain incorporated the Imperial Army Act, and that for all purposes they were one and the same. The Minister, instead of bringing the ^Australian Air Force under the Imperial Air Force Act, is bringing it under the provisions of the Imperial Army Act in time of war, and, as all honorable members know, the Imperial Army Act contains provisions to which we strongly object. Clause 3 of the Bill provides -

(3)   The Defence Act (except Part XV. thereof) and the regulations thereunder, shall, with certain modifications and adaptations as are prescribed . . . apply in relation to the Air Force and . the members thereof, whether serving within or outside the limits of the Commonwealth.

Section 15 of the Defence Act 1917 reads as follows : -

The Military Forces shall at all times whilst on war. service, whether within or without the limits of the Commonwealth, be subject, to the Army Act, save so far as is inconsistent with this Act, and subject to such modifications And adaptations as are prescribed, including -the imposition of a fine not exceeding £20 for an offence either in addition to or in substitution for the punishment provided by the Army Act and the increase or the reduction of an amount of a fine provided by the Army Act. . . .

Mr Bowden - That refers only to the Military Forces. The section will not apply to the Air Force, which is made a separate Force.

Mr CHARLTON - From my reading of the Bill the Defence Act, having adopted the Imperial Army Act, will automatically bring the Australian Air Force under that measure.

Mr Bowden - The honorable member is in error. _That section refers only to the Military Forces.

Mr CHARLTON - According to my reading of clause. 3, the Australian Air

Force, whilst on war service, will be under the Imperial Army Act, because the Defence Act of 1903-1918 includes the Defence Act of 1917, and automatically it brings us under the Imperial Army Act.

Mr Bowden - If the honorable member does not think -the .Bill is sufficiently clear on the point, I am prepared to insert a provision that the British Army Act shall not apply to the Air Force.

Mr CHARLTON - I wish first to complete my case. This is a very important matter, and it passes my comprehension, in view of the discussion on. the first of these Bills introduced, that the Government cannot establish an Australian Air Force without embodying in the Bill for the purpose the provisions of the Army Act. Section 20 of the Defence Act of 1917 reads -

Section 78 of the principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - ' " 78. Any member of the Citizen Military Forces who, having! been required- to serve pursuant to a proclamation made tinder Part III. of this Act, and any person who, having been required to serve pursuant to Part IV. of this Act, absents himself without leave for a longer period than seven days from his corps or from the place at which he should be present, shall be deemed to he a deserter, and shall he liable to the punishment -provided for desertion by the Army Act."

If we pass this Bill as it stands the men in the Air Force will be subject to the punishments provided by the British Army Act. I do not think that the Min- .ister intends that, but the Bill provides for it, and I suggest that the honorable gentleman should withdraw the Bill for the time being. The public of Australia will not stand for a Bill of this kind. That was made apparent through the press and in other ways when the first of these measures was under consideration. There is not one returned soldier in twenty who will stand for the application of the Army Act to an Australian Force. I make another quotation from the Defence Act of 1917- - Nothing in this section shall affect the powers conferred by the Army. Act in regard to the Military Forces or of the Naval Discipline Act in regard to "the Naval Forces of convening courts martial and confirming the findings and sentences of those courts. That brings us again to courts martial under the British Army Act. The mean- ing is so plain to me that I hope the House will not allow this Bill to pass in its present shape. Australia desires the establishment of an Air Force on Australian lines, and wants to have nothing io do with the British Army Act. Here is another section of the Defence Act of 1917-

Section 88 of the principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - " 88. Except so far as is inconsistent with this Act, the laws and regulations for the time being in. force in relation to the composition, procedure (including the reception of evidence), and powers of courts martial in the King's Regular Land Forces, the revision, confirmation, effect, and consequences of the findings and sentences of such courts martial, and the mitigation, remission, and commutation of the sentences thereby imposed, shall apply to courts martial in the Military Forces, and their findings and sentences, and the like laws and regulations in relation to the King's Regular Naval Forces shall similarly apply to the case of the Naval Forces."

Whether the Minister desires it or not, this Bill embodies the British Army Act. There should not be the shadow of a doubt that the British Army Act is not incorporated in our legislation in any shape or form. It cannot be disputed that if we pass this Bill in its present form it will embody the British Army Act. When I looked at the Bill first I thought there was not much in it, but when I looked into it more closely I discovered what I have now placed before the House. Clause 3 in this Bill is, with the exception of the omission of a few words, the same as a clause in the first Air Force Bill that was introduced. Whilst in this measure there is no direct reference to the British Army Act, it is indirectly incorporated by the incorporation of our Defence Act of 1917. The Minister would be well advised to drop this Bill or amend it in such a way as to provide for a purely Australian Force subject only to Australian legislation.

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