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Wednesday, 17 October 1956

Mr CRAMER (Bennelong) (Minister for the Army) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Defence Act in two main respects: First, to provide that a soldier may re-engage for further service prior to the expiration of his current engagement, and secondly, to stabilize the provisions of the Imperial Army Act in their application to the Australian Military Forces. At the present time, section 36 of the Defence Act provides that a soldier may re-engage for further service on the expiration of his current engagement. It is not now possible for a soldier to re-engage prior to the expiration of his current engagement. This causes various administrative difficulties. For instance, a soldier may desire an overseas posting, but his current engagement may be due to expire prior to the completion of his overseas tour. It would be both unsatisfactory and uneconomical to post the soldier overseas, only to find that, when the time came, he decided not to re-engage. The Army would then have to return him to Australia for discharge as well as provide a replacement in the overseas posting. The amendment to section 36 is designed to enable a soldier to re-engage for a further period of service in advance of the expiration of his current engagement. It is also proposed to omit the second proviso to section 36 as, since the amendment to section 40 made in 1949, this proviso is no longer needed.

I turn now to the amendments relating to the stabilizing of the provisions of the Imperial Army Act. Ever since the passing of the original Defence Act, following federation, a section has been included providing that, in general, the laws and regulations relating to the court-martial system in the British Army shall also apply to the Australian Army. Similar provision was also included for the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force. However, British court-martial procedure is now applied to the Navy and Air Force by reason of section 36 of the Naval Defence

Act 1910-1952 and section 5 of the Air Force Act 1923-1952, respectively. There is, therefore, no further need for these latter provisions in the Defence Act.

In the case of the Army, by virtue of section 88 of the Defence Act, the whole court-martial system is built on the existing British Army Act and Rules of Procedure. Certain modifications to meet Australian requirements have been made by Australian Military Regulations and these have been included in the " Australian Manual of Military Law ". Moreover, under section 55 of the Defence Act. members of the Australian Military Forces, when on war service, are subject to the disciplinary code of the Army Act, as modified and adapted. Section 54 \ of the act, enacted in 1917, also provides, inter alia, that members of the military forces serving with Imperial Forces or travelling to and from Australia for such service, shall be deemed to be on war service and shall be subject to the Army Act as modified or adapted. This has been the basis of discipline in the Australian Military Forces, whilst on war service in two world wars.

The United Kingdom Parliament has recently passed a new Army Act, and this will come into force on 1st January, 1957. The new British act is of different construction from the present act and has different sections and provisions. The result is that references in Australian regulations and the " Australian Manual of Military Law " would, if read in conjunction with the new act. be meaningless. For example, a wellknown section of the old British Army Act is section 40, which deals with offences of "conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline ". Many courtmartial charges are laid under this section. However, in the new British Act. section 40 relates to the particular offence of falsely obtaining or prolonging leave. References in Australian Military Regulations. and the " Australian Manual of Military Law " to section 40, would, under the new act, be without meaning.

To re-write Australian Military Regulations, and the " Australian Manual of Military Law" to conform to the new British act would be a lengthy process. In the interim period, the Australian Army would be left with no legal court-martial system. It is, therefore, desired to ensure that, pend ing the completion of our new Australian defence legislation, the provisions of the existing Imperial Army Act continue to apply to the Australian Army; in other words, that we should retain, for the time being, the existing system which has been in force for very many years. To give effect to this intention, amendments are necessary to sections 4 and 88, first, to amend the definition of " Army Act " so that it refers to the present British Act and not to the new act, and, secondly, a consequential amendment to section 88.

A somewhat similar situation exists in regard to the Air Force. It is proposed to stabilize the application of the Imperial Air Force Act by an amendment to its definition in the Defence Act. and by a short amendment to the Air Force Act 1923-1952, which I shall bring down on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley). This bill will noi change in any way the disciplinary code or the court-martial procedure under which the Australian soldier serves to-day. Moreover, its passage is necessary before 1st January. 1957. to ensure that the present codes and procedures are preserved. 1 commend the bill to the consideration of the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.

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